[Blog Tour] Playlist and Fanart for These Violent Delights

Hello and welcome to part 2 of my stop for the These Violent Delights blog tour hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. In case you missed it, my review can be found here.

The Playlist

1. Trouble Maker – Trouble Maker (Hyunseung and Hyuna)

I feel like this song fits the vibe of Juliette and Roma’s tension-laden chemistry and uneasy alliance, where everything feels like it could go up in flames at the smallest spark. The music video also happens to have a heist-ish plot that fits the story of TVD. I’ve included some of the translated lyrics here (translation credit: infinity13):

When I look in your eyes, I’m a Trouble Maker
When I stand next to you, I’m a Trouble Maker
A bit more, more, more
As I go more, more, more
Now I can’t do anything for my heart

So that you can’t forget me, I stand next to you again
I make your heart waver, you can’t escape
I steal your lips again and go far away
I’m a Trou-ou-ou-ouble Trouble Trou-Trouble Maker

2. Last Romeo – Infinite

As the title suggests, this song alludes to the story of Romeo and Juliet and the lyrics are written from Romeo’s point-of-view. I thought it was perfect for expressing Roma’s Roma-ntic (don’t shoot me pls) longing for Juliette and single-minded determination to fight for their forbidden love. Here are the translated lyrics for the song (translation credit: popgasa):

I don’t care if it’s poison, I will gladly take it
No other temptation can be sweeter or stronger than you
The dazzling you swallows all the darkness of the world
And that light blinds me
Any kind of darkness loses its strength in front of you
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you

(Rap) I push myself into broken music,
in the bleakness of a tragedy
A creaking prelude of love,
I’m gonna lose myself
That was sweet start
I don’t know how to stop,
my different emotions rise
An illusion that I’m sure of, you and I, got the top of the emotion

Flowers wither and scatter,
the moon tilts and disappears
But my heart won’t ever change,
I love you, I love you

Your lips embrace my sinful lips,
making me drunk with your scent
No other reward is stronger than this
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come
I can’t see anything else but you

Look world, let me win
Sun, rise and give me strength
Listen destiny, don’t block me
I will protect her

I’ll be the last man to fight against the world over one love
I can face any kind of threat for you,
I only need you

Shine on my path,
whether I want it or not,
the decision has been made
I will put everything at risk
I will protect you no matter what hardships come

I can’t see anything else but you
I can’t see anything else but you
I can’t see anything else but you

(Rap) You’re complicated like a maze
Why do you keep pushing me away
Trust me, your Romeo

I have no one but you

3. I Hate – Infinite

This song is Juliette’s side of the story. The simmering hatred, the painful longing, it’s all there. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: popgasa):

I breathe but I’m not really breathing
My heart isn’t really my heart
Though you won’t understand
Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you

I try to stop myself, try to comfort myself
But no matter how much I comfort myself, this pain won’t heal
You’ll probably never know
These days that are like hell

Only one thing I need, it’s you
But I can’t reach you, I can’t let you go
So what do you want me to do?

Let me break down, I can’t even turn around
It’s useless, hate you yeah
I hate you but I love you
I can’t take it, it hurts, it hurts so much, I miss you
My heart breaks so I can’t do anything
I Hate I Hate

I hate you but I don’t hate you
I said I forgot you but I haven’t forgotten
My heart doesn’t feel like my heart
Baby I don’t wanna love you but I love you

This place is a desert with only doubts and no answers
I’m sure you’re comfortable leaving me behind here, go
I’ll probably never know
Why you left me

Only one thing I need, a short answer
But I can’t figure out, I can’t even ask
Why did you leave me here?

Trying to put my broken heart back together
But I’m getting cut from the pieces
Only thing left to do is endure for a long time
Please teach me how to withstand

Isn’t there a way?
So I can breathe comfortably again?

4. 反撃の刃 (Hangeki no Yaiba) – 和楽器バンド (Wagakki Band)

The aesthetic of this music video feels perfect for TVD. Decadence and a feast ruined by calamity? Yes.The title translates as “The Blade of Counterattack,” and indeed, it’s a song about vengeance for what was stolen. It represents Juliette’s hatred for the shadowy enemies that have wreaked destruction upon her city and people. Here are some of the translated lyrics (translation credit: Aka @ Robot and Lyrics):

In the fiercely burning hatred
Climbing over the corpses…

I’ll give my body over to the burning, boiling feeling
Hating the squirming crowd, my eyes open
As we search for an answer to guide us
we join hands now and run away

The flowing tears are countless
The vows I reflect upon and a sword

The time for retaliation has come
Now, voices, crying loud
Attack the towering enemies
with obstinate will and these hands
I’ll twirl in the air and now strike
Until I die
What was stolen,
beyond the line of the high wall

The memories of the wails that pierced me
wander as they continue to search for a place
Like the husk of thirsting affection
the days that pass are a mirage

In the fiercely burning hatred
I accept the cruel reality
The flowing tears are countless
The vows I reflect upon and a sword

5. 你是情人還是敵人 (Are You a Lover or an Enemy) – 孫耀威/依拜·維吉 (Eric Suen and Ipay Buyici)

Angst, angst, angst. The title seems pretty self-explanatory in how it relates to TVD. Here are the translated lyrics (translation by me, do not use or repost without my permission and credit):

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Lovable or loathsome, it’s hard to separate
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Should I embrace you or resent you?

Forget it
At every moment when our vows were overturned
With no choice but to struggle
How could I have time to dispute truth and fiction?

Are you a lover or an enemy?
The more earnest I am, the more my body is covered in scars
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Why is it that happiness seems like a stranger?

Do you love me?
Could it be that heaven and hell have no time difference?
Might as well go crazy
So you won’t have to feign ignorance for me anymore

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Until what point will we keep loving and hating?
Are you a lover or an enemy?
Our hearts must shatter before it’s considered excessive

Let it go
Just admit that you and I can’t give anything
In the end, we are deficient
Of ways to not grieve over tears

Are you a lover or an enemy?
Are you heartless or my destiny?
Are you an instant or eternity?
Are you naive or cruel?

The Fanart

The Background: My original plan was to draw Juliette and/or Roma. However, when I was shopping got groceries at Walmart one day, I saw some packets of beads with color schemes that I thought were perfect for These Violent Delights, and it inspired me to make some earrings based on the characters instead.

The Process: This was my very first time ever making jewelry, so I had to buy some basic jewelry making supplies, including pliers, wire cutters, pins and earring hooks, etc. in addition to the 2 sets of assorted beads. After consulting a few tutorials on YouTube, I got to work stringing beads on the pins and opening and closing loops to attach stuff to the pins and attach the pins to the earring hooks. The results are pictured below. You can’t tell from the photos, but the loops at the bottom, from which the tassels are hanging, are extremely badly formed/ugly, but it’s my first time, so I won’t give myself too much grief over it. Considering how cheap the supplies were, they don’t look too shabby, in my opinion.

The Result:

The pair on the left is for the Juliette and the Scarlet Gang while the pair on the right is for Roma and the White Flowers.

[Blog Tour] Review for These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong+Giveaway

I am slightly late because school is kicking my butt, but I’m excited to present my review for the These Violent Delights blog tour hosted by Shealea at Caffeine Book Tours. The countdown to this release was a long one, but the wait is over! Stay tuned after my review for a TVD-inspired playlist and some fanart (specifically, DIY jewelry I made!) in a separate post.

Title: These Violent Delights
Author: Chloe Gong
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 17 November 2020
Age Group/Genres: Young Adult, Historical

Synopsis:

Synopsis:

The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.

A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.

But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.

Review:

(Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as a part of my participation in the promotional blog tour in exchange for an honest review and that did not affect my evaluation of the book.)

There has been a lot of hype for These Violent Delights this year, and I’m happy to say that the book lived up to and perhaps even surpassed the hype for me.

Some people like to hate on prologues in books, but the prologue of this book hooked me from the first line. It sets the tone of the story quite well and establishes the sense of place with immersive details. You get the impression that the city will be its own character (and it is).

The story never lets you forget that the characters are in in China in the early 20th century. Beyond mere aesthetic anchors, the narrative is contingent upon the geopolitics of its time and place: a Chinese city that is grappling with the encroachment of foreign European powers and a steep class divide. The push and pull between the natives and the foreigners, the Nationalists (Kuomintang) and the Communists, the Scarlet Gang and the White Flowers, the factory owners and the factory workers suffuse the story with tension.

Situated within this landscape are the two main characters, Juliette Cai and Roma Montagov, who are constantly negotiating their sense of belonging and loyalty to their families and to their own hearts. Both characters are morally gray and complex, making them compelling leads. They contrast a lot in their relationship with violence: Juliette often shoots first and asks questions later whereas Roma harms when he must but hates it most of the time. For those who found Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet somewhat vapid and lacking in chemistry, this story fills in the blanks and builds something substantial between the two star-crossed lovers. The events of the story take place four years after they first met, and there is a pronounced difference between their relationship as younger teens and their present one as 18-year-olds. Not only have they not seen each other in years, much of their innocence has been burned away by the violence they’ve experienced and inflicted since they met. The weight of these histories fuels the conflicting feelings they have toward each other. They oscillate between love and hate, yearning and guilt, and it’s simply *chef’s kiss*.

While Juliette and Roma dominate the story, the supporting cast is also well-developed. All have their struggles and motivations, and their relationships with one another and with Roma and Juliette enrich the story. My two favorites are Kathleen, who’s Juliette’s cousin and a trans girl, and Marshall, a queer Korean boy in the White Flowers who has an unspoken but obvious Thing going on with Roma’s cousin Benedikt. I might be biased because they’re queer, but they have my entire heart.

These Violent Delights gets very real about several issues, such as colonization, class conflict, and diaspora/immigrant experiences. Identity and power differentials play a central role in the story and shape the characters and their choices. The monster and the contagion give corporeal form to existing anxieties and bring them to the surface. While they facilitate violence, they also enables unprecedented alliances. They are not merely an external boogeyman to defeat, they are what expose the humanity of all the characters.

Reading These Violent Delights is over 400 pages, but it doesn’t drag at all. The suspense kept me turning pages, and the build-up was executed well, culminating in an incredible climax. The story provoked a lot of visceral reactions from me because it doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an immersive sensual and emotional experience. I can’t say much about it, but the ending is guaranteed to have you screaming. R.I.P. to all of us who must wait for the sequel.


Book Links:

Amazon — https://amzn.to/2RuiOIO
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/these-violent-delights-chloe-gong/1136314561?ean=9781534457690 
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/These-Violent-Delights/9781534457690 
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781534457690
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/50892212-these-violent-delights

About the Author:

Chloe Gong is a student at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English and international relations. During her breaks, she’s either at home in New Zealand or visiting her many relatives in Shanghai. Chloe has been known to mysteriously appear when “Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s best plays and doesn’t deserve its slander in pop culture” is chanted into a mirror three times.

Author links:
Author website — https://thechloegong.com/ 
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18899059.Chloe_Gong 
Instagram — http://www.instagram.com/thechloegong Twitter — http://www.twitter.com/thechloegong

Enter the giveaway!

GIVEAWAY INFORMATION

Prize: Five (5) hardcover edition of These Violent Delights by Chloe Gong

  • Open to international (INTL)
  • Ends on 25 November 2020 (Philippine time)

Rafflecopter link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/950d261642/

[Blog Tour] Review for Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao

It’s finally release week for Rent a Boyfriend!!! I’m so excited to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. Rent a Boyfriend was one of my most anticipated releases of this year. I already interviewed Gloria about the book and her second book Our Wayward Fate on my blog earlier this year for Taiwanese American Heritage Week, so if you haven’t read that, go check it out (I also interviewed her about her debut, American Panda, in 2017 if you want to go back even further). Also, stay tuned for my favorite quotes/a bonus mini playlist (did not sign up to do one but I couldn’t help putting one together as I read) for Rent a Boyfriend in a separate post.

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: November 10, 2020
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 320 pages

Synopsis:

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Review:

It just occurred to me that I never reviewed either American Panda or Our Wayward Fate on my blog (sad life), so this is my first time really gushing about Gloria’s books/writing here. American Panda captured my heart with its mix of humor and heart back in 2017 when I was lucky enough to read the ARC ahead of its early 2018 release. Gloria has a signature style that has appeared in each of her books, including Rent a Boyfriend. It’s an unapologetic celebration of and tribute to the language and culture of Taiwanese and Chinese Americans, full of tongue-in-cheek puns and allusions.

While Rent a Boyfriend has mostly been hyped as a romcom with the fake dating trope, and it definitely did make me laugh out loud multiple times, it’s also very much a sentimental coming-of-age story that explores the complicated relationship between diaspora kids and their parents and culture. Both Chloe and Drew struggle to reconcile what they want for themselves with what their parents want for them. Drew puts up a front around everyone but his family and paid the price when he decided to drop out of college and pursue art. Meanwhile, Chloe has been playing the role of the perfect daughter in front of her parents and is realizing just how suffocating and unsustainable it is. When their paths cross, they begin to push each other onto a path toward being confident in their true selves.

The romance between Chloe and Drew is a mix of playful inside jokes and deeply vulnerable heart-to-hearts. Both Chloe and Drew have deep-seated insecurities that have held them back, and their budding romance brings all of those issues to the fore in messy ways. The thrill and joy of finding someone who gets them is shadowed by the lies they’ve constructed and the secrets they’ve kept close to their hearts to protect themselves after being hurt by those they love most. These tensions and conflicts are explored throughout the book, establishing its emotional core and fueling Chloe and Drew’s character arcs.

Although the romance is central to free story, I’d argue that the biggest conflict within the story is between Chloe and her mother. Chloe desperately wants her mother to be happy but resents shrinks under the constant criticisms she receives from her. Money, appearances, and purity are everything to Chloe’s mother. Their mother-daughter relationship is poisoned by internalized misogyny. Chloe tries her best to push back against these oppressive ideals, with limited success. She later learns that there is a reason behind it all, and the story balances understanding where her mother is coming from with breaking the cycle of toxicity.

As the comp to The Farewell hints, there’s a hidden cancer diagnosis in the story. Chloe finds out her parents have been hiding her father’s cancer from her and it is a source of sadness and fear for her. She struggles to understand why they would keep something so important from her, among other things. This aspect of the story hit very close to home for me since I also experienced something similar, albeit on a milder level, when my family hid my mom’s cancer diagnosis from me for a week to keep it from affecting my mental state while preparing for a college interview. Even knowing why they did it, it still hurt.

Overall, Rent a Boyfriend was such an emotional experience. I was so invested in Chloe and Drew’s stories. I laughed and sighed and teared up at various points in the story. I think it’s my new favorite from Gloria.

Content/Trigger Warnings: misogyny, slut-shaming, fat-shaming, classism homomisia, cancer


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Bookshop.org | Book Depository

About the Author:

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, and Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.
Visit her tea-and-book-filled world at GloriaChao.wordpress.com and find her on Twitter and Instagram @GloriacChao.

Author Links:

Twitter: @GloriacChao
Instagram: @GloriacChao
Goodreads: Gloria Chao
Facebook: GloriaChaoAuthor
Website
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[Blog Tour] Favorite Quotes and Book Playlist for Rent a Boyfriend

Hello again, this is the second half of my stop for the Rent a Boyfriend Blog Tour hosted by Hear Our Voices. If you haven’t read my review for the book, you can check it out here, otherwise welcome to favorite quotes and book playlist segment!

Favorite Quotes

It wasn’t hard to find quotes to include for this post, I could do a lot more than ten, but for the purpose of not overdoing it, I’m keeping it to ten. I hope to showcase the humorous, the serious, and the romantic sides to the characters and the story. These quotes are spoiler-free, so don’t worry if you haven’t read the book yet.

Note: Chloe uses the name Jing-Jing around her parents, a doubling-up of her Chinese name, Jing (晶). Drew’s fake boyfriend persona name is Andrew.

Quote #1

“So they named you Jing as in…” He broke off and wrote the character in the air with perfect stroke order. Quite elegantly, I might add, forming each of the three “sun” characters that comprised “Jing” like he was painting.

“Yes, that’s me. Three suns. Shiny, bright, and so successful others can’t open their eyes.”

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #2

She was gradually becoming more like the girl from the application, the one with oomph and humor and a sparkle hinting at the three suns’ worth of light beneath. I stared at her with a lopsided grin before catching myself and wiping it off, only to realize that, wait, I was supposed to be looking at her like that.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #3

Were we all pretending, putting on a better face to fool everyone around us, even our family? I guess I’d been doing that my whole life, with Jing-Jing. Did anyone else go by two names and feel like that separated who they were? Did Andrew’s other clients?

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #4

Worse, what if I failed? What if I shared only to learn that I sucked at this and I’d thrown away my family for nothing? I had already fought and lost; I couldn’t lose again with the one thing I had left.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #5

And suddenly it felt like the dam within was bursting, and I couldn’t hold everything in anymore. The desire for him to lean down toward me until our breath mingled was winning pushing out all the other thoughts that no longer felt so important. How much could it hurt the mission if we did kiss just this once? In that moment, with his glistening lips not far from mine, with the scent of sugar and holiday warmth emanating from his tall, lean body, I couldn’t think of a single reason why this could be a problem.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #6

“My Asian community was a little different. The kind that brings food over when a neighbor loses their job, takes care of the kids when so-and-so’s grandma is sick–not this Hunger Games version you seem to have, where you’re all trying to murder each other with Rhodes scholarships and doctorates.”

from Drew’s POV

Quote #7

Long-buried emotions seeped back in, but in her arms I could tell her about it. All of it. Everything from how I was scared to break that last wooden plank on the bridge to my parents, to how I worried I wasn’t good enough, to how she had inspired me to try harder.

from Drew’s POV

Quote #8

“Yup,” I said with way too much enthusiasm. [My mother] didn’t notice. Or maybe she did and we were all playing our parts. Maybe Andrew was the most real out of all of us.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #9

“Drew looks a little out of your league,” he said to me with a toothy grin that clashed with his tone. “How’d you bag him?”

“I strung up some Sichuan food as bait and waited a few days,” I yelled back.

from Chloe’s POV

Quote #10

I’d sacrificed so much for my parents’ sake, yet we were still landing in this purgatory where no one was happy. Maybe the problem was trying to please both of us, having my (moon)cake and eating it too.

from Chloe’s POV

The Playlist

1. Numb – Linkin Park

To me, this song expresses Chloe’s relationship with her mother perfectly.

2. Man in Love – Infinite

Some of you may know from my occasional Twitter digressions into kpop fandom that Infinite is my favorite group, so of course I had to include one of their songs. Their title tracks tend to be on the angstier side, but this one is very upbeat and sweet, and I thought it was fitting for Drew’s romantic streak. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: popgasa)

I can’t escape because I’m in too deep
The letters in my book are dancing
as they form your name
As if you’re the main character of the movie,
as if you’re the moon in the sky, I keep seeing you
I draw you out every day
My heart will rest only when you come into my arms
I’ll be your resting place that will never cool down

3. Life – Heo Youngsaeng

This song also represents Drew’s feelings but in a more somber way. It expresses his thoughts on how Chloe has inspired him to move forward in life. Here are some of the lyrics (translation credit: KookieKane13 on YouTube):

At the weight of life that is like an endless rat race
At the endless homework and unsolvable problems
Just like an answer, like a time of rest,
Just like destiny, you come to me
Making me walk through the thickly setting fog

You drag me outside of the world that exhaustively pestered me
I found a reason to live and breathe

Just when things were getting so thick and I couldn’t see
Just when I was getting lost, wondering where I was
Just like a ray of light, like a map
Like a lighthouse, you appeared to me
Making me walk through the thickly setting fog

When I was getting so tired and collapsing, you found me
You raise me up and make me take a step forward

4. My Love – Ailee ft. Swings

This song expresses the tension between Chloe and Drew arising from Drew’s insecurity over their class differences. Aside from this one line about being “not like other girls” (sighhh), I thought the lyrics were pretty spot on.

5. 君さえいれば (Kimi Sae Ireba/If You Were Here) – DEEN

This is another sentimental love song expressing Drew’s feelings. Selected lyrics (translation credit: Kiwi Musume):

We’ve come so close
That there’s only a few centimeters between us,
And what started by chance becomes fate.
For the sake of your carefree laugh,
I get used to the 4-dimensional conversations,
And, without realizing it, lock myself away.

If only you were here,
I could walk the most distant of roads —
I’ll take care of you all the time.
The earth’s water is
Nourishment for these invisible flowers…
I need your love,
A light that breaks through the darkness.

What if we were reborn…?
I keep saying things like that —
It’s my weakness.
I know I’m getting cold feet,
But vowing an eternal love
Isn’t so simple — I just like being with you.

Is it because you know its fragility
Is the very thing that makes this beautiful?
We hide each other behind kisses…
If tomorrow is looming on the horizon,
Then the wind and the waves aren’t so bad —
I’m no match for you.

[Blog Tour] Book Playlist for Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

Hello, welcome to the second half of my tour stop for the Spell Starter blog tour hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours. If you missed my review, you can find it here.

For this playlist, I picked a bunch of songs with a darker tone, and they’re also heavy on the electric guitar. The links direct to YouTube.

Break the Wall – Dreamcatcher

This song expresses a struggle against extreme obstacles and I thought it was a good fit for the central conflict of the story. Here’s a translation the chorus (credit: 7DREAMERS Kim Hojoon):

Come on break the wall
That you protected till now
Fight it with all your strength
Defeat those hardships

Come on save your world
Above your world
Leave deep tracks
Shout towards a higher place

Don’t Don – Super Junior

Aside from presenting a gritty and edgy aesthetic in the music video, this song also talks about greed and corruption in society. I think it captures the spirit of Aza’s struggle with hunger for power and control. Here are the translated lyrics from the first chorus (credit: eeconomistt on LyricsTranslate)

Don’t Don
Everything in this world is about money
You that’s stuck in the middle
What is your mind?
You outta control (what is your mind)
I beg you to look around yourself
You can see the desire in one’s eyes
Stop bangin’ my head (my eyes gone red)

Strong Fate – Wagakki Band

This is a haunting song that sings of decay and a calamitous fate. Here are the translated lyrics for the first verse (credit: Kimhren/Aka at Robots and Lyrics):

One, two
Pasts fold over
A line between two points,
That is the voice that calls death

In this endless place,
Awaiting the cycle of rebirth

Not knowing that you’re confined;
If you examine it, (you’ll know) it’s a trap
Words of power that creep up
Fill your ears

Black eyes peer in,
Questioning the chain

Cries at the number of betrayals become yells
Gasping, shadows reflect in your vision

Roll the Dice – Takanori Nishikawa (T.M. Revolution)

This song is about risk and chance and being chained by darkness. It expresses Aza’s harrowing encounters in the tournament and also her broader sense of disillusionment and powerlessness. Here’s a translation of some of the lyrics from the second chorus (credit: newsonglyrics):

The wind that stroked my cheeks,
Is it the mercy of God or is it the whistle of a devil?
Seeing through the confusion,
Like fearing for the darkness unable to awake from it.

What the Hell – B.A.P

This song expresses revenge and righteous anger and captures the feelings Aza has toward her tournament rival Finch, who killed her sister. Here are the lyrics from the chorus (credit: Kaeryn & namtroll @ TSUndercover via itsbap.tumblr.com)

No way, no way, you strangle me
Even if I scream, no one helps me
Mayday, mayday, I am suffocating
Even if I shove you, even if I stand against this
Oh why are you you you you

What the hell you do, I will repay back
I will find you and wait until the end of the world
What the hell you do, even if I die, I will repay you back
Wait and see, in some time you you you you
You’re gonna break down

[Blog Tour] Review for Spell Starter by Elsie Chapman

Hello again! I can’t believe it’s already fall. 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride. Today I’m reviewing one of my most anticipated fall 2020 releases, Spell Starter (the sequel to Caster, which I reviewed last year and is getting a film adaptation!), as part of the blog tour hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours. I’m also sharing a playlist for the book in a separate post, so check that out as well!

Title: Spell Starter
Author: Elsie Chapman
Publisher: Scholastic
Publication date: 06 October 2020
Age group: Young Adult
Genre: Fantasy

Synopsis:

The Sting meets Fight Club in this magical, action-packed sequel to Caster by Elsie Chapman.

Yes, Aza Wu now has magic back. But like all things in her life, it has come at a great cost. After the tournament, Aza is able to pay off her parents’ debt to Saint Willow. Unfortunately, the cost of the gathering spell she used to strip Finch of his magic has put her permanently in the employ of the gang leader. Aza has been doing little errands using real magic — collecting debts, putting the squeeze on new businesses in the district. But that had never been the plan. Saint Willow is nothing if not ambitious and having Aza as a fighter is much more lucrative than as a fixer. Especially if she can control the outcome. Aza is going to have to put it all on the line again to get out of this situation!

Review:

Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as part of the tour in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my evaluation of the book.

Listen. I need everyone to support the heck out of the Caster movie when it comes out because I need Spell Starter to be adapted as well. Like Caster, Spell Starter is dark and atmospheric and a feast for the senses and would make a visually stunning experience on the big screen.

It was interesting to see how the author built upon the world, events, and stakes of the previous book. While the primary antagonist is the same, their relationship has changed since Aza is being forced to work for Saint Willow directly, under the threat of ruining her parents’ business. Aza is once again competing in a tournament, but it’s a different situation because the tournament is run by newcomers who have a different agenda and fewer scruples than the Guild. Furthermore, Aza is using magic that isn’t hers that she struggles to control, and her goal is no longer to win but rather to earn Saint Willow money from bets on the outcome.

Aza is no longer the same person she was at the beginning of the first book. Any naivete she possessed is gone; her psyche is haunted by bitterness, guilt, and anger. As her stolen magic drives her to new lows of excruciating pain, the anger grows and the temptation of power and destruction lurks in the shadows. Watching Aza grapple with this temptation and the costs of succumbing was a visceral and immersive experience because of the evocative imagery used to describe it.

The lows caused by the magic extend beyond Aza’s mind and body, affecting the entirety of Lotusland. The magic from the casting tournament wreaks greater destruction on the city than imagined and there is an ominous sense of impending apocalypse throughout the story. The magic is unstable and unsustainable, and the power and ego of a few threaten the whole population.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the new bits of worldbuilding explored through the tournament. The tournament stages are more than aesthetic plot accessories, they’re very deliberately constructed to evoke a bygone era of abundance, a nostalgic tribute to a world that they cannot return to. Clear blue skies and verdant growth exist only in illusions. The final tournament stage in particular is a resurrected image of Lotusland’s Chinatown, and the announcer explains its origins and demise. It seems to serve as a warning to the casters about the consequences of greed and hubris.

The ending is a bit open-ended, but it feels right for the story that the author’s trying to tell. Both in the story and in real life, the destruction of the world (i.e. climate change) is an ongoing process that you can either enable, whether actively or passively, or fight against, and the ending seems to ask, “what will you choose?”

Content/Trigger Warnings: blood, death, murder


Book Links:

Amazon — https://amzn.to/31ioSK6
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spell-starter-elsie-chapman/1135037083?ean=9781338589511
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/Spell-Starter-Caster-Novel-Elsie-Chapman/9781338589511
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781338589511
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49090458-spell-starter

About the Author:

Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the middle-grade novel All the Ways Home, and the coeditor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.

Author links:

Author website — https://elsiechapman.com/ 

Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5441417.Elsie_Chapman 

Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/elsiechapman/ 

[Blog Tour] Miss Meteor Book Playlist and Book Recommendations

Hello and welcome to the second part of my stop for the Miss Meteor blog tour hosted by Karina @ Afire Pages. I’ve curated a short playlist inspired by the book. As with my previous playlists, I’ll add some commentary and lyrics translations where appropriate. I also have a few book recommendations based on Miss Meteor. If you missed my review with all the details about the book, you can read it here.

Book Playlist

Links redirect to YouTube.

1. Dreams – Alysha

2. I Will Show You – Ailee

This song is actually about bouncing back from heartbreak/being dumped, but it’s also about a makeover and getting revenge, so I felt like the vibe fit this story about empowerment.

3. Watch Me Shine – S.H.E

This song is a remake of a song by the same name originally sung by Joanna Pacitti and was apparently featured in Legally Blonde, but I was exposed to this remake sung by this popular Taiwanese girl group first. The lyrics of the Chinese version are much more poetic and include a lot of starry imagery. I’ve translated some of the lyrics below (please do not repost):

Your heart that flashes light and dark still wavers
I can only feel a faint electricity
If you want a bright, hot love, then you cannot hesitate
Sincerity demands that you have confidence in yourself

Even if there’s a great distance from me to you
Love is a star that can be plucked

No matter how many light-years separate my love
As long as you concentrate, you will see it
There’s such an intense hint in my eyes

No matter how many light-years remain in forever
As long as we start, it can be realized
If you want to know how dazzling love is
Watch me shine

4. Makin’ My Way (Any Way That I Can) – Billie Piper

5. Explosive Remix – Bond

Book Recommendations

Miss Meteor is a story about underdogs joining a competition and growing into themselves. Here are three other YA novels featuring queer girls of color who challenge the preconceived notion of stardom and prove their detractors wrong. I read all of these back in June and they were all amazing.

I’ll Be the One by Lyla Lee

I’ll Be the One follows the story of bisexual Korean American Skye Shin, who goes against her mother by entering a kpop competition. She passes her audition and becomes part of an internationally broadcast elimination contest. Unfortunately, the industry is not welcoming of fat girls, so she must find a way to win without compromising herself. Along the way, she also falls for her rival Henry Cho.

If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann

Winnie was expecting to pass her summer uneventfully working at her Granny’s diner and hanging out with her ungirlfriend (kind of like a queerplatonic partner), but the universe has other plans. When she is crowned Misty Haven Summer Queen, she’s thrust into the spotlight and a newfound friendship-with-attraction with her Misty Haven Summer King. Brimming with humor and heart, If It Makes You Happy is a story about learning to assert your desires and draw your boundaries with the people you care about.

You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

In order to attend her dream college, Liz Lighty makes the decision to campaign for prom queen with its promise of a scholarship. Winning a popularity contest as a poor Black girl in a very rich white town isn’t the easiest thing to do, though. She finds a bit of solace in the new girl Mack, who knows what it’s like to be a misfit, but falling for her rival could spell disaster for Liz’s goals.

[Blog Tour] Review+Giveaway for Miss Meteor by Tehlor Kay Mejia and Anna-Marie McLemore

Happy Latinx Heritage Month! I’m super excited to present my review for Miss Meteor as a part of the blog tour hosted by Karina @ Afire Pages. In a separate post I’ll be doing a playlist and book recommendations inspired by the book, so stay tuned after the review.

Title: Miss Meteor
Author: Tehlor Kay Mejia & Anna-Marie McLemore
Publisher: HarperTeen
Publishing Date: Sept. 22nd 2020
Pages: 320
Age Category & Genre: Young Adult Magical Realism

Synopsis:

There hasn’t been a winner of the Miss Meteor beauty pageant who looks like Lita Perez or Chicky Quintanilla in all its history. But that’s not the only reason Lita wants to enter the contest, or why her ex-best friend Chicky wants to help her. The road to becoming Miss Meteor isn’t about being perfect; it’s about sharing who you are with the world—and loving the parts of yourself no one else understands. So to pull off the unlikeliest underdog story in pageant history, Lita and Chicky are going to have to forget the past and imagine a future where girls like them are more than enough—they are everything.

Witty and heartfelt with characters that leap off the page, Miss Meteor is acclaimed authors Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia’s first book together.

Review:

I’ve read and loved every book by Anna-Marie McLemore and Tehlor Kay Mejia (minus Paola Santiago which is on my TBR), so I was prepared to love this book, which is their first collaboration together, and I did.

I’m not from a small town, but the narrow-mindedness of Meteor reminded me of my own childhood spent in majority white cities at a majority white schools. Lita and Chicky’s status as misfits definitely resonated with my experiences from when I was a teen. While I was not subjected to the slurs that they were, I was made to feel lesser, like an alien for my race and my gender nonconformity. People can be cruel.

One of the things I love the most about this book is the themes woven into it. Both Lita and Chicky struggle to defend themselves and feel confident in their skin at the beginning, and as the story progresses, they grow so much. In particular, I thought it was cool that they were each able to reclaim something that had formerly been weaponized against them, taking ownership of the pain and transforming it into something affirming. The ending felt so triumphant, and I’m so proud of these two girls.

The other supporting characters, especially Junior and Cole (who is a trans boy) were also well developed and had their own journeys that were intertwined with those of Lita and Chicky. The four of them had an interesting dynamic, and I loved how friendship was at the center of the book, not only between Lita and Chicky but also between Lita and Cole and between Chicky and Junior. The intimacy between them was poignant and served as a solid basis for their respective romantic arcs, which were less about falling in love than realizing and/or articulating that they were in love.

Chicky’s sisters were so much fun and provided a lot of comedic relief in the story with their bickering and wit. As former participants and runners-up in the pageant, they served as Lita’s Fab Five (or rather Fab Three?), providing equal parts fashion consultation and moral support. You couldn’t find a better crew.

I also liked the way the setting was developed, with the tourist attractions and space theme. It gave the town a unique character while also providing context for the magical realism elements of the story. The way Lita’s starry origins and impending return to the sky/cosmos reinforced the themes about belonging and identity was poetic, to say the least. In other words, Anna-Marie McLemore’s signature style shines through in Lita’s narrative.

Last but not least, I really liked Cole’s character. He’s out and has been out for a while prior to the start of the book, so his arc isn’t about coming out or seeking validation for his gender. While he does face some trans-antagonism, his story is more about the relationship he has with his sister who is toxic and verbally abusive toward people like Lita and Chicky. He is a person with problems not unlike the problems of cis people. He’s athletic and articulate and astute. I’m sure everyone will love him.

In short, Miss Meteor is a heartfelt, triumphant coming of age story dedicated to all the people who felt like they don’t/didn’t belong.

Purchase Links:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound | Book Depository

About the Authors:

Tehlor Kay Mejia is a YA author and poet at home in the wild woods and alpine meadows of Southern Oregon. When she’s not writing, you can find her plucking at her guitar, stealing rosemary sprigs from overgrown gardens, or trying to make the perfect vegan tamale. She is active in the Latinx lit community, and passionate about representation for marginalized teens in media. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @tehlorkay.

Her short fiction appears in the ALL OUT and TOIL & TROUBLE anthologies from Harlequin Teen. Her debut YA fantasy, WE SET THE DARK ON FIRE, is out 2/26/2019 from Katherine Tegen/Harper Collins, with a sequel to follow. Her debut middle grade, PAOLA SANTIAGO AND THE DROWNED PALACE, releases from Disney-Hyperion/Rick Riordan Presents in 2020, with a sequel to follow in 2021. METEOR, co-written with Anna-Marie McLemore, is out fall 2020 from HarperTeen.

Anna-Marie McLemore was born in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains and taught by their family to hear la llorona in the Santa Ana winds. They are the author of THE WEIGHT OF FEATHERS, a finalist for the 2016 William C. Morris Debut Award; 2017 Stonewall Honor Book WHEN THE MOON WAS OURS, which was longlisted for the National Book Award in Young People’s Literature; WILD BEAUTY, a Kirkus Best Book of 2017; BLANCA & ROJA, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice; and DARK AND DEEPEST RED, a reimagining of The Red Shoes based on true medieval events. THE MIRROR SEASON, a story about two teen sexual assault survivors, is forthcoming in spring 2021.

Giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the other tour stops:

Tour Schedule

Sept. 20

Afire Pages | Favorite Quotes

Sept. 21

Bookworms Anonymous
Wilder Girl Reads
Books Beyond Binaries
Sage Shelves

Sept. 22

Kirsty’s Book Reviews
Kathrynbooksville
READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA | Playlist & Book Recommendations

Sept. 23

Enthralled Bookworm | Playlist
Sleepydoe Reads
Ambivert Words | Books, Comics & Podcast by Latinx Creators Recommendations

Sept. 24

Honorary Trickster | Instagram Photo
A Bronx Latina Reads
Oro Plata Myta

Sept. 25

Dragon on a Book
TBR and Beyond
Pages in Waves
Bookish Wanderess | Playlist

[Blog Tour] 5 Books to Read After Lupe Wong Won’t Dance

Hello and welcome to the second half of my stop on the blog tour for Lupe Wong Won’t Dance hosted by Colored Pages. You can read my review of the book here if you haven’t already.
Since I love middle grade books and want to spread the love, I thought I would feature and recommend some middle grade novels by Asian and Latinx authors with similar themes or vibes as Lupe Wong Won’t Dance.

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly

I reviewed this book several years ago and knew that I would read everything by Erin Entrada Kelly after I finished it. Blackbird Fly features a Filipino American girl who wants to be a famous rock star but is struggling to fit in at her predominantly white school, where she ends up on a horrible list called the Dog Log ranking the girls considered the ugliest in their grade. This book gets very real about racism and bullying but emphasizes the beauty of true friendship.

Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

Merci Suarez Changes Gears features a Cuban American protagonist and captures the essence of middle school perfectly: the troubles of fitting in among peers, the frustration of butting heads with your parents, puberty and the confusing aspects of people around you developing crushes and acting weird. It also tackles classism and the experience of being poor in an environment where everyone else is rich and the alienation that comes with it.

My Year in the Middle by Lila Quintero Weaver

My Year in the Middle is set in 1970 in Alabama and features an Argentinian American girl who loves to run track and is figuring out her place in a school where classrooms seating is segregated into Black and white. Lu is a passionate, sensitive protagonist whose personality jumps off the page. This story provides a nuanced view of racism in history and sets a great example in showing young readers how to stand up for what is right in spite of doubts and peer pressure.

Pippa Park Raises Her Game by Erin Yun

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a modern reimagining of Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Pippa is a Korean American girl from a lower class background who attends a private school on a basketball scholarship and has major impostor syndrome from having to hide her family’s laundromat from her classmates. Unfortunately, an anonymous troll on social media threatens to expose her secret.

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom by Booki Vivat

Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom is the first in a hilarious middle grade series featuring Abbie Wu, who is an anxious Asian American tween trying to keep her head above the water as she enters the dreaded institution known as middle school. The story is told in a combination of simple but expressive doodles and prose that’s super dynamic and fun to read. If you’re prone to catastrophizing and overthinking, you’ll probably find this book super relatable.

[Blog Tour] Review for Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera

Hello again! I hope everyone is faring okay. I just started school last week and am trying my best to juggle school and blogging. This week I’m pleased to be a part of the blog tour hosted by Colored Pages for a middle grade debut novel featuring a biracial Mexican/Chinese American protagonist.

Title: Lupe Wong Won’t Dance
Author: Donna Barba Higuera
Publisher: Levine Querido
Publication Date: September 8th, 2020
Genres: Middle Grade, Contemporary

Synopsis:

Lupe Wong is going to be the first female pitcher in the Major Leagues. She’s also championed causes her whole young life. Some worthy…like expanding the options for race on school tests beyond just a few bubbles. And some not so much…like complaining to the BBC about the length between Doctor Who seasons.

Lupe needs an A in all her classes in order to meet her favorite pitcher, Fu Li Hernandez, who’s Chinacan/Mexinese just like her. So when the horror that is square dancing rears its head in gym? Obviously she’s not gonna let that slide.

Not since Millicent Min, Girl Genius has a debut novel introduced a character so memorably, with such humor and emotional insight. Even square dancing fans will agree…

Review:

There’s nothing like middle grade fiction to remind me of my bygone days as an awkward tween/teen. In some ways, reading Lupe Wong Won’t Dance felt like peering into my own middle school memories. This book really evokes the way school is basically your entire life, your peers and teachers have the power to make your existence a living hell, and having friends you can lean on means everything.

The story is told in first-person narration from Lupe’s point of view and is imbued with the humor and emotional honesty expected from a kid who’s trying to assert her will in a world where she only has so much control over her life. I honestly related so much to Lupe’s stubborn opposition to the concept of square dancing. If I had been forced to dance as part of my P.E. class I would have hated it with every fiber of my being as well. Unlike me, however, Lupe actually acts on her will and begins a campaign to cancel the whole affair, with mixed, surprising, and even hilarious results.

Lupe Wong Won’t Dance is a wonderful representation of different friendship dynamics and the ups and downs of those friendships. The struggles of causing and mending a big falling out with your best friend, watching your close friends make other friends who either hate you or don’t vibe with you the same way–all of these experiences are explored in the story, along with the exhilaration of having friends who will stand up for you and make you feel less alone.

I enjoyed the family dynamics portrayed in the book. Lupe’s brother is annoying yet somewhat endearing, and her mom is the epitome of “I love you but please stop embarrassing me.” Her grandparents on both sides are doting, and her grandmothers have a funny competitive streak against each other. The book touches on grief a bit as Lupe’s father passed away prior to the start of the story. Her obsession with meeting the baseball player Fu Li Hernandez is motivated in part by the resemblance he bears to her dad in her mind.

Aside from grief, the story also addresses issues like bullying and racism. Lupe’s mixed race background isn’t the primary source of conflict or the main focus of the story, but some of the microaggressions surrounding that are present. More salient to the plot is the hidden history of square dancing and quintessentially “American” traditions that are steeped in racism and how schools can work to make educational environments safe and inclusive for students of color.

One last thing I liked about this book was the representation of one of Lupe’s best friends, Niles, who’s autistic. I was pleasantly surprised by the way Niles’ sensory issues and boundaries around touch and other neurodivergent traits were brought up in the story organically and without too much fuss. He receives accommodations for certain things, such as navigating crowded hallways, something that I think is important to depict and normalize in children’s literature. Disabled people exist and we deserve equal access to education just like everyone else.

If you’re looking for a diverse middle grade story that will make you laugh and maybe even cover your face in secondhand embarrassment, read Lupe Wong Won’t Dance!


Book Links:

Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Indigo | BAM!

About the Author:

Donna grew up in central California surrounded by agricultural and oil fields. As a child, rather than dealing with the regular dust devils, she preferred spending recess squirreled away in the janitor’s closet with a good book. Her favorite hobbies were calling dial-a-story over and over again, and sneaking into a restricted cemetery to weave her own spooky tales using the crumbling headstones as inspiration. ​

Donna’s Middle Grade and Picture Books are about kids who find themselves in odd or scary situations.​ From language to cultural differences in being biracial life can become…complicated. So like Donna,  characters tackle more than just the bizarre things that happen to them in their lives. 

Donna likes to write about all things funny, but also sad, and creepy, and magical. If you like those things, she hopes you will read her books! ​

Donna lives in Washington State with her family, three dogs and two frogs. 

Author Links: 

Website – https://www.dbhiguera.com/
Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18946765.Donna_Barba_Higuera
Instagram – https://www.instagram.com/donnabarbahiguera/
Twitter – https://twitter.com/dbhiguera
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/donnabarbahiguera

Check out the other stops on the tour!

Schedule

September 8th

Polly Darling’s Books and Tales – Interview and excerpt 
Salty Badger Books – 15 thoughts while reading
El Blog de Aldara –  Playlist 

September 9th 

Melancholic Blithe – Review
Book Lover’s Book Reviews – Review 
Binge Queen – Review 

September 10th

Ecstatic yet Chaotic – Review
Tasting Pages– Review 
Scorpio Reader –   Review

September 11th

Her Book Thoughts – Favorite Quotes
Marshmallow Pudding – Review
Dinah’s Reading Blog – Journal Spread 

September 12th

Yanitza Writes – Review
Loveless Degrees – Review 

September 13th 

By My Shelf – Playlist
READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA – Book recommendations based on book
Nox Reads – Reading vlog video

September 14th 

Too Much Miya – Review
Sometimes Leelynn Reads – Review as GIFs
distinguished detective phantom – Mood board / Aesthetics