The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan

Title: The Astonishing Color of After
Author: Emily X.R. Pan
Pages: 480 pages
Release Date: March 20th, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Magical Realism
Rating: 5/5 stars
Leigh Chen Sanders is absolutely certain about one thing: When her mother died by suicide, she turned into a bird.

Leigh, who is half Asian and half white, travels to Taiwan to meet her maternal grandparents for the first time. There, she is determined to find her mother, the bird. In her search, she winds up chasing after ghosts, uncovering family secrets, and forging a new relationship with her grandparents. And as she grieves, she must try to reconcile the fact that on the same day she kissed her best friend and longtime secret crush, Axel, her mother was taking her own life.

Alternating between real and magic, past and present, friendship and romance, hope and despair, The Astonishing Color of After is a novel about finding oneself through family history, art, grief, and love.

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** I received an advanced readers copy from the publisher. All of the thoughts and opinions stated in this review are my own. **

Everyone deals with grief in their own way. When her mother commits suicide, Leigh Chen Sanders refuses to believe that she's really gone from the world. She's sure that when her mother died, she took the form of a crimson bird. When Leigh receives a mysterious package that leads her to travel to Taiwan to meet her grandparents, she discovers a whole other side of her mom's life she wasn't aware of and even learns a thing or two about herself.

The writing was descriptive and gorgeous without being too flowery. Trust me, I'm a picky person when it comes to writing style. It kind of reminded me of the writing in The Secret of a Heart Note by Stacey Lee, which you must know is a book I could talk your ear off about. Pan does something completely unique, which is use color to describe emotion. Whoosh. Absolutely mind blown. It came so naturally and it wasn't like someone intentionally finding colors to match their emotions with. Read it for yourself:
"... I was colorless, translucent. I was a jellyfish caught up in a tide, forced to go wherever the ocean willed."

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After 
The book followed a non-chronological sequence that was both entertaining and fulfilling. At first, it was a little disorienting to jump back two decades, but it's something you pick up quickly and the chapter titles make it even easier.

Before reading this book, I was convinced that magical realism was not my genre. The magical realism element was used as a coping mechanism for Leigh, so that she could remember her mother and learn how to live on with her life. There was symbolism that appeared in carefully constructed times throughout the story making it feel like an easter egg hunt. I don't think this book would have been what it was without that element, and I am grateful to this book for showing me a new side of this genre.

What I enjoyed most about this book was the exploration of mental illness and suicide. Some books stick to you years after you read it, and I can predict this being one of those titles. The author states in the author's note that her family previously lost one of their own to suicide. She partly wrote this book in homage to breaking the stigmas behind mental illness and suicide.

I don't mean to get personal, but there was once a time in my life when I felt like suicide was the only option. Just like it was hard for Leigh to understand why her mother was depressed, my friends and family would often ask me why I felt that way when I had such a good life. First of all, that doesn't help. Second, there doesn't have to be a reason to explain someone's depression. Leigh's mother, like so many people, fell victim to a terrible disease. Depression is different for everyone. When I noticed that this was a recurring theme in the novel, I appreciated it a billion times more. Yes, you probably would have guessed by now that I cried while reading this book.

In the story, Leigh struggles with blaming herself and the people around her for her mother's dead. I just wanted to crawl through the pages, enter the story and hug Leigh because she didn't deserve to be so hard on herself. Even though we follow Leigh as the narrator, we're not just simply following her actions through the story. We also get a glimpse of her motives and desires through her internal thoughts.
"Whose fault was it? That's the question on everyone's mind, isn't it? Nobody will ever say it out loud. It's a question people would call inappropriate. The kind of thing where everyone tells you, 'It's nobody's fault.'"

- Emily X.R. Pan, The Astonishing Color of After
Let it be known that I absolutely adored this book. It is everything I ever wanted in a Young Adult contemporary that not only entertains but teaches and promotes. Why read this book? It's hard to understand mental illness, depression, and suicide. Sometimes when we, as humans, don't understand something we automatically fear it. We need to promote books like this to end the stigma. Help people. Break the cycle.

BLOG TOUR | To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo + Book Review

Title: To Kill A Kingdom
Author: Alexandra Christo
Pages: 384 pages
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Source: ARC from Macmillan
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 4.5/5 
Princess Lira is siren royalty and the most lethal of them all. With the hearts of seventeen princes in her collection, she is revered across the sea. Until a twist of fate forces her to kill one of her own. To punish her daughter, the Sea Queen transforms Lira into the one thing they loathe most—a human. Robbed of her song, Lira has until the winter solstice to deliver Prince Elian’s heart to the Sea Queen or remain a human forever.

The ocean is the only place Prince Elian calls home, even though he is heir to the most powerful kingdom in the world. Hunting sirens is more than an unsavory hobby—it’s his calling. When he rescues a drowning woman in the ocean, she’s more than what she appears. She promises to help him find the key to destroying all of sirenkind for good—But can he trust her? And just how many deals will Elian have to barter to eliminate mankind’s greatest enemy?

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2018 is the year of mind-blowing and spectacular Young Adult fantasy books, I just know it! First Everless by Sara Holland blew me away with its unique plot and well-executed world-building and magic system, and then To Kill A Kingdom steals the spotlight with a dark spin on the classic, The Little Mermaid. I wonder what's next...

In the short time that I've been reading avidly as a book blogger, I don't think I've ever actually read a good Young Adult mermaid book. There is a scarcity of really popular YA mermaid books, so I think that the pitch that this book has going for it- "dark Little Mermaid retelling" - is going to help this book sell really well. Not to mention, that the cover is drop dead gorgeous. And thankfully in this case, looks are not deceiving. This book is beautiful both inside and out.

With every chapter, I was enticed to read more and more even if that meant sacrificing sleep. There was no shortage of adventure and intrigue. I don't think the world was so difficult to understand that the author had to fill the reader in that much, but there were a lot of rules that were cleared up in the first 50 pages. I think the only critique is that I wasn't able to get a sense of how far or close the kingdoms were to each other. There might be a map of the world in the hardcover copy, which would really help. What I liked especially was the clear distinction the author drew between mermaids and sirens.  Although mermaids and sirens bow down to the same Sea Queen, they are very different. Our main character Lira is a siren, not a mermaid.

Anyone who is a huge fan of The Little Mermaid (me me me!) will appreciate the small things that the author kept in the novel to keep the authenticity and the classic tale alive, but with dark and deadly twists. It was really intriguing, and I was just honestly blown away by how the author was able to take the infamous classic and make it her own. I won't spoil anything, but she takes really big elements of the classic Little Mermaid story and completely turns them around. It's very unexpected and simply refreshing.

A note to make: there is a lot of verbal and physical abuse from Lira's mother, so please be cautious. Like shit, it gets really intense. Trigger warning for verbal and physical abuse! 

We've got a host of fabulous leading ladies, and of course your occasional prince charming. But Prince Charming be damned, I wanted to take all the strong females in this book and put them in a all-female singing group. Lira, the main character, is a ruthless and ambitious siren. There's Madrid, another fearless female who holds a high rank on the Prince's fleet. Let's not forget Kahlia, Lira's siren cousin.

A lot of people will read the synopsis and simply dub it as a "mermaid book". What people don't expect though, is a pirate adventure filled with mischief, mayhem and a LOTTA romance.

I think one of Christo's biggest challenges with writing this book was to try and set her book apart from all the other Young Adult mermaid novels out there. And she did just that. Her writing is something that can only be experienced by reading this book. She's so descriptive, and she was really able to capture the beauty of the ocean and what it holds.
"With it comes the smell of dawn as the pink-lipped sky barely stays tucked behind the line of the ocean."

"When I open my mouth to sign, the air caramelizes on my tongue."

- quoted from an uncorrected proof of To Kill A Kingdom by Alexandra Christo
For all you folks that love the trope of hate-to-love romances, you will eat this book up. It was steamy and just...

Take whatever preconceived notion you have of this book and throw it out the window! This 2018 debut is already turning heads with the promise of being a book about "mermaids", and I'm glad to say that it lived up to my expectations and more. It's already out, so don't forget to get your hands on it. 

BLOG TOUR | Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Title: Children of Blood and Bone
Author: Toni Adeyemi
Pages: 525 pages
Release Date: March 6th, 2018
Source: ARC from publisher
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Rating: 5/5 stars
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Sabaa Tahir.

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope.

Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good.

Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

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I am so honored and thrilled to be apart of the #NowWeRise blog tour, inspired by the book Children of Blood and Bone by Toni Adeyemi. Before publication, COBB was acquired by Fox 2000 in one of the biggest YA debut publishing deals ever. And for good reason... this book is lush with beautiful writing and rich world-building that sucks you into a world filled with magic and blood. I don't remember loving YA characters this much but the cast in this book was so flawed and three-dimensional. Not to mention that this book features an all black cast of characters. This is one of the very few fantasies I've read that have done a good job in confronting race.

This book had no shortage of fast-paced fight scenes, and at times I felt like I wanted to jump into the book and throw down some punches! This book was more than 500 pages long, but I wanted more. Some moments were light-hearted, while others were tear-jerking and serious.

I highly encourage any fantasy lovers out there to give this one a go. It is very unique and diverse, as it mixes West African culture with magic to create an entirely new world and history. I hope you enjoy today's post inspired by the magic in COBB!

What's your maji power? 

The world in this book centers around a magic system composed of different clans that have different powers. Our main character Zelie is a Reaper, which means she can manipulate the spirits of the living and the dead. Look at the graphic below to find out what your maji power is. 

I am a... LIGHTER! 

Image result for light superpower gif
My birthday is on May 23rd. 5 + 23 is 28, which means I am a Lighter! I honestly thought I was going to be a Tider because of how much I love the water, but I'm really happy to be a Lighter. As a Lighter, I can manipulate light and darkness. I think this power fits well with my personality because my emotions can either be really light and upbeat or sometimes I'll be down in the dumps. I can imagine myself as Alex Pettyfer in I Am Number Four throwing those flashing balls of light at the bad guys. 

American Panda by Gloria Chao | Book Review

Title: American Panda
Author: Gloria Chao
Pages: 320 pages
Release Date: February 6th, 2018
Source: Hardcover from Amazon
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Rating: 3.5/5 stars
An incisive, laugh-out-loud contemporary debut about a Taiwanese-American teen whose parents want her to be a doctor and marry a Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer despite her squeamishness with germs and crush on a Japanese classmate.

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents' master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can't bring herself to tell them the truth--that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels?

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I am so touched to see someone that looks like me on the cover of a highly promoted book in the Young Adult genre. When I first heard about this book, I was too excited to get my hands on it. I preordered the book, which is something I don't do anymore and it just shows how excited I was. I'm so delighted to be featuring this book on my blog and to be part of getting this book into the hands of other readers.

That being said, I really wanted to love this book. I don't read contemporary often, but when I do its usually diverse contemporaries. American Panda took me a little more than over a week to get through. While it was a pretty short book, I noticed that I wasn't that eager to pick up the book from time to time. Maybe that's why it took me so long to finish it! I'll be honest and say the book was slow and the plot didn't entice me as I originally hoped it would.

17-year-old Mei Lu knows that when she grows up she's going to be a doctor, marry a pre-approved Taiwanese man, have lots of male babies and provide for her family. What her parents don't know is that Mei doesn't want to follow the path they've carefully constructed for her. However, there is even more pressure on Mei to do what's expected of her because her brother shamed the family. Mei struggles with appeasing her family's age-old traditions while also trying to follow her own dreams.

Although I am Asian American, I have yet to face some of the things that the main character faced in this book. I think that's such an important thing to note- just because I come from the same background as a character, doesn't mean I'm going to have the same experiences. This is extremely important and something I stress because we can't judge a book based on how similar the character's experience was to our own. We must value all experiences. Fortunately for me, my parents did not push the notion that I had to be a doctor or a lawyer when I was growing up. They told me that I could be anything I ever wanted, as long as I was happy. Even though I didn't really grow up with the same experience, I could totally relate to Mei.

If you're looking for an authentic representation of what it's like to live under the pressure of cultural traditions, I would highly recommend this book. I think that a lot of Chinese traditions are very misunderstood and could even be considered cruel. This book explores what it's really like for someone to live under the pressure of these traditions and how difficult it can be to reconcile your own life with your parents expectations of you.

I enjoyed this book. It won't be making my list of top books any time soon, but I appreciated it for the representation and the storytelling. I just know this book is going to help a lot of people who feel the same way as Mei- pressured by her family's expectations and her culture to follow an already set path in life. The author said she wished she had this book when she was in school. I'm very grateful that I was able to read it at this stage in my life. So please, I encourage you to read and share it for others who might be experiencing the same thing.
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