Diverse Books, YA Books

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le – Book Review

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

This is a cute fun story of two teens who despite being from rival family restaurants end up secretly dating after they are paired together to write reviews for local restaurants. I really liked both Linh and Bao. I also really liked their friends and how they supported and helped each other.

Although this has a cute romance there are also some more serious discussions that happen in the book too. Discussing the difficulties of growing up in a country that isn’t safe to live in, becoming a refugee and then having to start over in a completely new place. The racism that they face and this is something that both Bao and Linh also have to deal with.

Some of the things that Bao and Linh have to deal with this throughout this book was so relatable as a child of immigrant parents. Choosing between doing what you love and what will pay the bills and can they both be the same thing. Pursuing your passion which may disappoint your family or living up to their expectations. Surviving the gossip of the community and reducing yourself so that you aren’t the next target or living life on your own terms. I loved seeing these discussed in the story.

The first half is a little slow but the story picks up a lot in the second half and we learn that there could be more to the family rivalry than just rival restaurants and this added layer just made the story even more interesting. Linh and Bao both have their own individual arcs too in learning more about themselves and what they truly want from life and if they’re willing to take the risk to fight for it. I loved that their arcs wasn’t solely their romance.

But their relationship and how it slowly built was absolutely adorable. They helped each other in their lowest moments and also pushed each other to fight for their dreams. Bao especially stole my heart because he was so sweet, kind and thoughtful. Linh’s passion for art was so wonderful to see and how her teacher encouraged her to pursue it. How she really spoke through her art and showed the emotions through her it. I could picture it in my head.

I cannot forget to mention the food. All the food. The Vietnamese food was described throughout the book and was a big part of the story and it left my mouth watering. I loved how food was such a big part of both their lives and how it’s more than just food. It brings the community together and it is comfort and more.

Overall this was a great read and one that will stay with me for a long time.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Jade Fire Gold by June CL Tan – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

In an empire on the brink of war…
Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.
Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.
When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities.
But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

I was so excited to read this as it sounded like exactly my type of book and while I did enjoy it mostly I was a little disappointed by it. This had great potential to be amazing but the execution just wasn’t quite there. That isn’t to say that it’s a bad book, I know that a lot of people will enjoy it I just wanted that bit more, especially when it came to the characters.

The story itself is interesting, but everything happens so conveniently and quickly that there’s no build up or tension considering the story and the powers that Ahn has. Evey new aspect to the story and any trouble that the characters get into is resolved so quickly and easily that I never felt worried for them when I should have. The ending with the climax was so rushed and the time jumps that skipped over parts left me feeling underwhelmed. The beginning was slow especially the travelling parts and I feel that this should have been reduced to extend the climax more and give us more answers because I was left with a lot of answers for a book that is standalone. It was great to see Chinese folklore inspired elements in the book though.

When it comes to the characters, I actually liked the side characters more than the main characters. Ahn confused me because she just so easily accepted everything that was told to her without me but refused to trust the one person that was actually trying to look out for her. Altan was so busy trying to get revenge that he was either brooding or pining for Ahn while also denying said feelings. His revenge wasn’t very thought out because he didn’t want to become emperor but was happy to create a power vacuum which would absolutely lead to war and cause more suffering. Their romance was also rushed and had no substance, I didn’t feel any chemistry between them or felt like I should root for them. It was interesting to see how the choices they made resulted in the events at the end of the book. And they both learn how the history they are taught is not always the full truth.

My favourite character was Leiye and I just want to know more about him and his past. We aren’t given any answers about why he chose to help Ahn and I want to know more about him. I also liked all the other side characters too but again wish we had been given more information about them. There was a lot that wasn’t explained about any of them which left me just wanting more answers than feeling satisfied when I finished.

This book didn’t work for me, maybe because I have read a lot of fantasy so my expectations were higher but I do think that anyone that wants to start reading fantasy would enjoy this book and younger teens would too.

Diverse Books, YA Books

Our Violent Ends by Chloe Gong – ARC Review

Thank you to Hodderscape and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The year is 1927, and Shanghai teeters on the edge of revolution.

After sacrificing her relationship with Roma to protect him from the blood feud, Juliette has been a girl on the warpath. One wrong move, and her cousin will step in to usurp her place as the Scarlet Gang’s heir. The only way to save the boy she loves from the wrath of the Scarlets is to have him want her dead for murdering his best friend in cold blood. If Juliette were actually guilty of the crime Roma believes she committed, his rejection might sting less.

Roma is still reeling from Marshall’s death, and his cousin Benedikt will barely speak to him. Roma knows it’s his fault for letting the ruthless Juliette back into his life, and he’s determined to set things right—even if that means killing the girl he hates and loves with equal measure.

Then a new monstrous danger emerges in the city, and though secrets keep them apart, Juliette must secure Roma’s cooperation if they are to end this threat once and for all. Shanghai is already at a boiling point: The Nationalists are marching in, whispers of civil war brew louder every day, and gangster rule faces complete annihilation. Roma and Juliette must put aside their differences to combat monsters and politics, but they aren’t prepared for the biggest threat of all: protecting their hearts from each other.

This book completely ended my life. I have not stopped thinking about the final scene since I read it. I am a complete mess.

This book begins shortly after the events of These Violent Delights and we are instantly thrown into the thick of things. Chloe really said this book will be pure stress and it truly was but I loved every single second of it.

I absolutely loved Roma and Juliette and their arcs and the pure angst and chaos it was and knowing how Romeo and Juliet ends had me completely terrified for them and yes the end of this book broke me but for multiple reasons and I was up at 4am trying to get it together so I didn’t wake my husband.

This book pulls together all the things that started in the first book from the future of the gangs and the political changes happening in Shanghai and rivalry within each gang for those vying for the leadership positions. Even though there is a lot going on, we get each plot point fully fleshed out and the second half especially is action packed and will keep you on the edge of your seat.

I loved that despite all the action we get some sweet tender moments between the characters and we get some hilarious and complete chaos scenes too. I loved that we also get really great arcs for the side characters too. Kathleen’s arc of accepting her true self and Benedikt and Marshall also had great arcs. And of course the banter between Marshall and Juliette was amazing. I love them all so much!

This duology is absolute perfection and will stay with you long after you finish reading. I loved all the important discussions about sexism, colonisation and how the youth are often torn between two cultures. That of their parents and the one that they grew up with and that we live a mixture of both but we are often not enough for either side and the way that affects us.

It was so interesting to see how Juliette had to be a ruthless and uncompromising and always on alert simply because she is a woman and so being less than perfect can mean she will instantly lose her leadership but that men can make many mistakes and still be respected. How Roma has to also put on a façade for the rest of the world where he is stoic and shows strength because emotions are not for men to show but he is soft and there is nothing wrong with that.

I loved every second of this book and I cannot wait to see what Chloe will write next!

Diverse Books, YA Books

Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao – ARC Review

Thank you to Rock the Boat and Netgalley for sending me this arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn’t matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.

When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it’s to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister’s death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​

To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.

This book was a phenomenal read! From the first page we are thrown into this incredibly vivid world that Xiran has created and I loved every second of it. Zetian has become one of my favourite characters and I love the trio so much, they are pure chaos and I am here for it!

This is set in a world where women are considered worthless and only there to sacrifice themselves for the male pilots or to be good wives and mothers. By good I mean silent and obedient. Zetian has had enough of this and after the death of her sister she vows to get revenge and does so in the most spectacular fashion and in that moment I fell in love with her.

I loved seeing Zetian and how she battled against the  systemic injustice that women are subjected to on a daily basis and the pure rage she felt. I related to her a lot; I understand her rage. I loved how it was shown in the book and through her. She has every right to be angry but what I loved most was watching her opinions and thoughts about how to become empowered changed and grew as she learnt more and interacted with different people in different situations. How that impacted how she fought for herself and for women’s empowerment everywhere. This book is honestly such a powerful read and had me feeling all the emotions.

I especially loved her internal conflict of how can she fight for empowerment and yet love and care for a man and be vulnerable with them. Her learning it isn’t an either or situation, she can have both. There is so much depth to her character that we see more and learn more about her as the story goes on and I just need everyone to read this book.

The discussions on misogyny and patriarchy are done so incredibly well and we see just how deeply these views have impacted women in so many ways that are completely invisible to men. There’s also discussions around how the powerful and wealthy just continue to grow in wealth and the poor become poorer. Honestly there was so many interesting and nuanced discussions in the book but it didn’t take away from the plot and suspense of the story. It just added more layers to it.

I loved the mechas and the battle scenes, I would love to be able to see this in a film, I think some scenes would have some breath-taking visuals and it was all described so vividly that I could picture everything. We learn about the world through Zetain, Shimin and Yizhi who all come from different situations in life. All three characters are morally grey and despite some of the awful things they do, you can’t help but root for them. Especially as everyone seems equally monstrous.

The build up to the ending had me on the edge of my seat and the second half especially had me completely hooked and I thought I knew what was happening but the ending still left me completely shook and I was left screaming! I am ridiculously excited to read the sequel and honestly I don’t know how I’m going to wait a whole year for it.

YA Books

Defy the Night by Brigid Kemmerer – ARC Review

Thank you to Bloomsbury YA and Netgalley for sending me an arc in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

The kingdom of Kandala is on the brink of disaster. Rifts between sectors have only worsened since a sickness began ravaging the land, and within the Royal Palace, the king holds a tenuous peace with a ruthless hand.

King Harristan was thrust into power after his parents’ shocking assassination, leaving the younger Prince Corrick to take on the brutal role of the King’s Justice. The brothers have learned to react mercilessly to any sign of rebellion–it’s the only way to maintain order when the sickness can strike anywhere, and the only known cure, an elixir made from delicate Moonflower petals, is severely limited.

Out in the Wilds, apothecary apprentice Tessa Cade is tired of seeing her neighbors die, their suffering ignored by the unyielding royals. Every night, she and her best friend Wes risk their lives to steal Moonflower petals and distribute the elixir to those who need it most–but it’s still not enough.

As rumors spread that the cure no longer works and sparks of rebellion begin to flare, a particularly cruel act from the King’s Justice makes Tessa desperate enough to try the impossible: sneaking into the palace. But what she finds upon her arrival makes her wonder if it’s even possible to fix Kandala without destroying it first.

Set in a richly imaginative world with striking similarities to our own, Brigid Kemmerer’s captivating new series is about those with power and those without . . . and what happens when someone is brave enough to imagine a new future. 

I loved this book so much! The characters are written so well, they are complicated and nuanced and this book is full of morally grey characters!

Despite the characters doing questionable things, I still felt myself rooting for them because they were put in such difficult situations and you can see they are trying their best to do what’s right but also make decisions that aren’t the best. But they acknowledged what they had done and that it wasn’t right but they did it because it was the lesser of two evils. They had remorse for it and actively tried to do what’s right. It just made the two brothers so interesting to read. I especially loved Corrick’s point of view because of that. Seeing him and his brother from other perspectives it seems as though they are just heartless people who care nothing for the suffering of it’s people but when you see how they think and everything they are trying to do and trying to juggle and balance between so many groups of people.

Corrick is probably my favourite character just because of how complex and nuanced he was. He did questionable things but he also deeply cared for his people. He could trust no one and so struggled with all this alone unable to even speak to his brother because he had to protect him. I did like Harristan as well but we didn’t get to see as much of him but I hope we see more of him in the sequel as I think he will also be a really interesting character.

Tessa was another interesting character because she sees everything as black and white at the beginning of the book. But as she learns more about the complexities of everything that is going on she realises that everything isn’t as simple as she first thought. I also really loved that she is a healer and that she uses that to help those who are the most vulnerable and even helps the King to help the people. I liked seeing that she had confidence in her skills and yet still has moments of self doubt, it made her seem so much more real.

This book surprised me with a plot twist early on that I did not see coming at all and left me shook! I literally had to stop reading to scream because WHAT! But I loved that twist so much because it made the story so much more interesting! I also loved the slow build up to the climax where all the pieces finally fit together and I liked that the ending felt like a complete story but also that there’s more and honestly I am so excited for the sequel!

I highly recommend reading this the story had me hooked from the beginning and I just couldn’t stop reading. I loved the complex characters especially and cannot wait to read more about them.