Author Interview: Judy Lin

This is the second in my author interview series for Taiwanese American Heritage Week. Today’s special guest is Judy Lin, who is currently agented and hopefully soon to be published.

Since there isn’t a cover for Judy’s novel [yet], here’s a visual teaser in the form of an aesthetic collage she made:

Dead and Waiting aesthetic collage.jpg

That collage is imposing and mysterious but also hunger-inducing. Pork belly buns and mango shaved ice are among my favorites. Now, on to the interview! As with previously, my comments and questions will be marked in bold and labeled “SW.”

SW: I’m asking this to all of the authors I’m interviewing for this series, but since the protagonist of your novel is a food blogger, it’s perfect for you: What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? You are allowed to choose more than one!

Judy: My favorite Taiwanese snack is pineapple cakes. Buttery pastry outside and pineapple/winter melon jam on the inside. I’m also fond of fresh made egg/biscuit rolls. I love how they’re warm and crunchy and then crumbles into sweetness. My favorite flavor is original with black sesame seeds, but they come in tons of flavors like matcha or taro. I can probably write an essay on my favorite Taiwanese foods, but I’ll stop there!

SW: I would read said essay if you wrote it, ha. Tell us a little about your novel.

Judy: My novel Dead and Waiting is about a foodie named Lydia who goes back to Taiwan with her cousin to attend summer language camp. She accidentally summons a vengeful ghost with her fellow campers and they have to make their way off campus alive.

It’s filled with lots of descriptions of Taiwanese food, cousins who are more like sisters, and a dorky love interest. As well as a murderous ghost lurking in the hallways! I’m convinced all schools are haunted.

SW: So YA horror edition of Love Boat (a documentary on a famous summer camp for diaspora Taiwanese) or Seoul Searching (a dramedy film about diaspora Korean teens at summer camp). I’m very much looking forward to reading this. To be honest, I haven’t read much horror because it’s not my usual genre. What does the publishing landscape look like for the YA horror genre? Would you say it’s more or less diverse than other genres, for example, contemporary or SFF?

Judy: I wouldn’t say that YA horror is a very popular genre. It was difficult to think of comparable titles when I was querying my book, and even more difficult to think of horror novels set outside of North America. The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco draws from Japanese legends. A Darkly Beating Heart by Lindsay Smith is more of a dark contemporary fantasy with horror elements set in Japan. That’s the two that come to mind. Which is too bad because I grew up with Chinese and Japanese stories about hauntings and spirits and demons. There’s lots of creepy material there for inspiration. I would love for there to be more horror stories set outside of North America.

SW: For me, horror brings to mind the 1987 Hong Kong romantic comedy horror film (yes, it is all of those things) A Chinese Ghost Story, which is kind of a classic and features Leslie Cheung (R.I.P.) and Taiwanese actress Joey Wong, who rose to fame playing otherworldly maidens. The film is based on an 18th Century collection of supernatural stories called 聊齋誌異, which is translated as Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. From yaoguai to jingling to jiangshi, there are so many creepy creatures and beings in Chinese culture.

Your novel is specifically about hungry ghosts. Ghosts, especially the spirits of our ancestors, are an integral part of Taiwanese culture, which is why families burn paper objects for their relatives in the afterlife to make sure they’re living comfortably. To stay up-to-date with modern technology, some families even burn paper iPhones or computers. If you were a spirit in the afterlife, what kinds of paper objects would you want your descendants to burn for you to keep you happy?

Judy: I would need a notebook and pen so that I can keep on writing stories and won’t be bored in the afterlife! Other than that I need a music player with 90s music and then I’ll be happy.

SW: I would probably want a laptop because writing by hand in the afterlife sounds like too much work, ha. Which authors have inspired you and influenced your writing?

Judy: When I was a teenager, I first fell in love with horror because of L.J. Smith. I devoured her Night World, Dark Visions, Secret Circle and Vampire Diaries books. I loved the idea of secret societies and people with magical/superhuman powers. I also loved the romance in those books.

Another author that I loved as a teen was O.R. Melling. She’s a Canadian author who was born in Ireland and writes books filled with Irish and Celtic folklore. Her books have a great sense of place and wonder. I hope one day a reader will tell me that my stories make them feel the same way.

I talk about this a lot, but seeing the cover of Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix was the book that made me realize – Hey, someone out there is writing stories featuring people who look like me and are from my culture! It made me feel like I might have a chance at pursuing my dream of publication, and it also made me less afraid of writing stories inspired by myths and legends I grew up with.

SW: Ooh, I’ve read O.R. Melling’s Chronicles of Faerie series as a teen, and I have to agree, they were atmospheric and richly imagined. I’m also in the same boat in that Silver Phoenix was the first fantasy YA with a main character that represented me. Seeing that plus subsequent Asian speculative YA getting published has been a great source of encouragement in my own writer’s journey, and I’m now at a point where I’m considering querying agents soon. What advice do you have for aspiring authors who are looking for an agent?

Judy: I think it’s so important to write the book of your heart. I didn’t know how marketable my story would be, but I knew it was the story inside me I wanted to tell. And I think it’s important to not self reject either once you finish the story if it might not be the current trend or a popular genre. I found my agent via a contest called Pitch Wars. I submitted my manuscript to Pitch Wars thinking that it wasn’t ready and that no one will ever pick it. But my mentors Axie and Janella picked my story and worked on it with me and helped me with my manuscript and beyond.

Contests like Pitch Wars contributed so much to my growth as a writer. I believe all writers should find their people. Writing doesn’t have to be a trek down a lonely road even though at times it seems like it. Find others to talk about writing, share stories, critique each other’s work and celebrate each other’s successes. Seeing people work hard and achieve their dreams is extremely inspiring to me and encourages me to work harder.

SW: I agree that finding friends and community is so important. Even as a blogger, that’s really sustained me and my work.

Now, back to horror. What is your favorite Asian horror movie?

Judy: I can’t pick one! My favorite is probably Shutter, a Thai film. It tells a great story and is spooky without being gory.

The scariest one I’ve ever watched is the Japanese version of The Grudge. Gave me nightmares for weeks. My childhood is filled with memories of being scared of creepy children (seems to be a popular concept in 80s and 90s horror novels and movies) and that fear has stayed with me still!

I recently watched Train to Busan and loved it. It was not a traditional horror film, but I was on the edge of my seat the entire time and cared a lot about all of the characters.

I think Asian horror movies are a wonderful blend of scary and heart. They are character driven instead of relying on jump scares, which makes them a lot more memorable than a violent slasher film.  

SW: I actually watched Train to Busan recently as well because my friends were watching it in the room I was in at the time, and I couldn’t concentrate with the noise in the background, so I joined in. I was not expecting to be hit with so many feelings, but that’s exactly what happened. I think I may need to give horror a chance from now on. Do you have any YA horror recommendations?

Judy: The Girl From the Well by Rin Chupeco as mentioned above. I love how it plays with structure and tells the story from a different perspective.

Ten by Gretchen McNeil was a fun read. Flashback to the Fear Street novels by R.L. Stein that I devoured as a teenager.

 Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is one of my favorite YA horror novels because it has a great cast of characters, especially Anna.

Finally I want to recommend The Mall by S.L. Grey. Really creepy South African body horror. I’ve never read anything like it and don’t think I ever will. It’s not quite YA but it has “YA sensibilities.” Has commentary on consumerism and pursuit of youth and conjures up my teenage fears of being trapped in a mall.

SW: I’ve actually read other books by both Rin Chupeco and Kendare Blake (The Bone Witch and Three Dark Crowns, respectively), so I guess this is my sign from the universe to read their other books, among others. Thanks a bunch for participating in this interview. I wish you all the luck in getting published!


Judy Lin was born in Taiwan and moved to Canada when she was eight years old. She grew up with her nose in a book and loved to escape to imaginary worlds. She now divides her time between working as an occupational therapist and creating imaginary worlds of her own. She lives on the Canadian prairies with her husband, daughter and geriatric cat.

You can visit Judy’s website here and find her on Twitter @judyilin.

Author Interview: Cindy Pon

Welcome to the first in my author interview series for Taiwanese American Heritage Week! Throughout the week I will posting interviews with diaspora Taiwanese authors about their work. Today’s special guest is Cindy Pon! She’s making her sci-fi debut with Want, which releases June 13th. Before we get into the interview, let’s take a look at the beautiful cover of Want and the synopsis:

want

The cover art is by Jason Chan, who is a gift to Asian SFF. He also illustrated the covers for Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn, which are super kickass.

And the synopsis from Cindy’s website:

From critically acclaimed author Cindy Pon comes an edge-of-your-seat sci-fi thriller, set in a near-future Taipei plagued by pollution, about a group of teens who risk everything to save their city.

Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits, protecting them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO.

Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is, or destroying his own heart?

Now, on to the interview! My comments and questions are in bold and labeled “SW.”

SW: Since your book takes place in Taiwan, and food is essential to Taiwanese culture, I’ll have to ask about it. What’s your favorite Taiwanese food? (You are more than welcome to list multiple foods as I’m sure it is impossible to choose just one.)

Cindy: It IS impossible to choose. And there are always so many new Taiwanese eats, and I have not been able to visit enough. *crying* I do love stinky tofu. I prefer the soft tofu cooked in giant vats of spicy broth that singe off your eyebrows in the night markets. In fact, I wrote that into the beginning chapter of WANT. Ha! Other than that, anything sticky rice. I’m a sucker for it. Sticky rice intestines come to mind as well as migao. I’m drooling just thinking about it. I also love iced and fresh sugar cane juice, and fresh made bite sized mochi.

SW: I feel like a bad Taiwanese person for not liking stinky tofu. Sticky rice, on the other hand, is the best. And mochi is amazing, especially mochi ice cream! Now that we’ve gotten past the appetizer, let’s talk about the main course, which is your book. Want is your first venture into science fiction. Has your writing process for this book been significantly different from the process for your previous ones?

Cindy: I’m not sure if significantly different, but it was definitely different. It is my first novel written in the first person and in a contemporary teen boy voice. The research was more tech involved, and the whole book just challenged me a lot. Because of that, I decreased my daily writing goal from the usual 1k words to 500. I’m all about going easy on myself when it comes to writing and a lot of pats on my back for even the smallest victory. No one else is gonna cheer me on like I have to cheer myself on. Ha!

SW: Speaking of research… Writing a book that’s considered “own voices” means you’re writing about a character whose identity or experience you share in some way. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that no research is required. What kind of research did you do for Want: that is, for what topics, and what form did it take (e.g. reading, traveling, interviewing people, etc.)?

Cindy: I think my main form of research was actually going back to visit Taipei in 2013. It was a mother-daughter trip (with my mom), and it was lovely. I tend to naturally be a very sensory writer, and nothing is more sensory than to be on location of the place you are writing. I really wanted to bring Taipei alive in WANT—it was an ode to my birth city. In the end, I wound up using many locations in actual scenes of places I had visited. I had taken hundreds of photos, visually, everything can be an inspiration, a moment captured in time that I could relate to the reader. For me, it was a trip of a lifetime (seems strange to say because I was born there, but it was), and this book holds a very special place in my heart!

SW: I visited Taipei in both 2015 and 2016, and both times I took tons of pictures because there’s so much to take in. If I ever decide to write a book set in Taipei, I’ll probably already have half the hard work done. Which brings me to the next question… What would you say was the hardest part about writing Want?

Cindy: I would say the tech stuff, which thank goodness I had friends who could help me with, and also most definitely writing in first person contemporary teen boy voice. I can much more easily fall into the narrative voice of my Xia titles. Fantasy is what I have written for years and what I’m comfortable with. Grasping Zhou’s voice was a challenge, but when I did manage, I loved what I heard from him.

SW: You’ve mentioned in the past that you faced barriers in getting published because you wrote about Asians. Do you have any advice for aspiring Asian authors who are writing about Asians?

Cindy: F ‘em! 🙂 ha! Is that not good to say? Seriously though, it was a very personal choice on my part. And as a writer, and especially someone who wants to be published, you are going to be faced with hard and difficult choices all along your journey. I knew that I wanted to stay true to my stories and the characters in my head. I knew that I wanted to write what I loved and what drew me. Because writing is so damned hard already! And there are no guarantees in publishing. So why NOT write what you love? It’s too easy to lose your way in the craft as well as in the business. So my inner compass was always: Is this the story you want to tell? Are these the characters that matter to you? That simplified things for me.

SW: I’ll keep this in mind as I work on my own Asian stories. ^o^

Speculative YA seems to be your genre, but have you ever considered writing a contemporary YA? Contemporary YA could definitely use some more cute Asian boys. ;D

Cindy: #cuteasianboys 4evah! I always say never say never, but I honestly and truly cannot imagine NOT writing genre. I mean, I love to read to be whisked away, to be transported. It’s not that contemporary stories do not do that, it’s just that I want literally more magical journeys, I guess? So I don’t think I would? But again, never say never!!

SW: Well, if you ever do venture into contemporary, I will be first on the list of people demanding to read it! Now, for the last question. Do you have any hints as to what’s next after Want?

Well… I’m headed to Shanghai mid-May to do research for the sequel? I’m very excited about this trip. My first ever visit to China was in 2014 when I was asked to be the resident artist for a private school in Hangzhou. I was able to stay in Shanghai for just two nights, and the city totally captivated me. It just felt like the right location for the WANT sequel to take place. I won’t say anything else, other than I’m excited to write this story!

SW: Excuse me while I scream with excitement!!! I’m probably going to die waiting for more news about this sequel. But in the meantime, I’ll keep myself busy with a bunch of other amazing diverse books. Thanks a bunch, Cindy, for doing this interview! Can’t wait for my copy of Want to arrive! >o<


cindyauthor1dCindy Pon is the author of Silver Phoenix (Greenwillow, 2009), which was named one of the Top Ten Fantasy and Science Fiction Books for Youth by the American Library Association’s Booklist, and one of 2009′s best Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror by VOYA. Her most recent duology Serpentine and Sacrifice were both Junior Library Guild selections and received starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal. WANT, a near-future thriller set in Taipei, will be published by Simon Pulse in June 13th, 2017. She is the co-founder of Diversity in YA with Malinda Lo and on the advisory board of We Need Diverse Books. Cindy is also a Chinese brush painting student of over a decade. Learn more about her books and art at http://cindypon.com.

You can add Want on Goodreads here.

You can find Cindy on social media:

Cindy is doing a pre-order giveaway through her local indie bookseller, Mysterious Galaxy. If you pre-order Want from Mysterious Galaxy, you can get a signed and/or personalized copy of the book, and you’ll receive the following art prints:

a post card featuring illustration of Zhou and Daiyu by Jason Chan

WANT_postcard01a

and a peach blossom brush art card by Cindy herself

peachblossoms1

Asian Lit Bingo TBR!

I announced the launch of Asian Lit Bingo yesterday, and since then, I’ve been busy putting together my own tentative TBR for the challenge. It’s a good opportunity to read a lot of the books I’ve had sitting on my shelves but haven’t gotten around to because of reasons. So without further ado, here is my super ambitious TBR!

AsianLitBingo

  1. East Asian MC – The Emperor’s Riddle by Kat Zhang – #ownvoices, MG, Contemporary, Adventure, Chinese American MC
  2. Asian Refugee MC – The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen – #ownvoices, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Vietnamese MCs
  3. Asian Immigrant MC – Something in Between by Melissa De La Cruz – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, Undocumented Filipina American MC
  4. Asian MC with a Disability – Four Weeks, Five People by Jennifer Yu – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, Asian American MC w/ OCD/anxiety
  5. Multiracial/Multiethnic Asian MC – Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, Biracial white/Korean American MC
  6. LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC – Seven Tears at High Tide by C.B. Lee – #ownvoices, YA, Fantasy, M/M Romance, Bisexual Vietnamese American MC
  7. West Asian MC – Ten Things I Hate About Me by Randa Abdel-Fattah – YA, Contemporary, Lebanese-Australian MC
  8. Asian Muslim AC – That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, Pakistani American MC
  9. Religious Asian MC – A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki – #ownvoices, iterary Fiction, Magical Realism, Zen Buddhist Japanese American MC
  10. Poor or Working Class Asian MC – One Half from the East by Nadia Hashimi – #ownvoices, MG, Contemporary, Afghan MC
  11. SFF with Asian MC – The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana – #ownvoices, YA, Fantasy, Indian MC
  12. Historical Fiction with Asian MC – It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel by Firoozeh Dumas – #ownvoices, MG, Iranian American MC in the 70s
  13. Free Space – The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard – #ownvoices, Fantasy, French Vietnamese MC
  14. Retelling with Asian MC – The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni – #ownvoices, Fantasy, Retelling of the Mahabharata, Indian MC
  15. Contemporary with Asian MC – She’s So Money by Cherry Cheva – #ownvoices, YA, Thai American MC
  16. Graphic Novel with Asian MC – Monstress Vol. 1 by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
  17. Queer Romance with Asian MC – Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky – #ownvoices, Science Fiction, F/F Romance, Biracial Japanese MC
  18. Romance w/ POC/Indigenous Love Interest – It’s Not LIke It’s a Secret by Misa Sugiura – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, F/F Romance, Japanese American MC, Latina LI
  19. Central Asian MC – Jamilia by Chingiz Aitmatov – #ownvoices, Literary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Kyrgyz MC
  20. Translated Work by an Asian Author – Dragon Sword and Wind Child by Noriko Ogiwara – #ownvoices, YA, Fantasy, Japanese MC
  21. Southeast Asian MC – Roots and Wings by Many Ly – #ownvoices, YA, Contemporary, Cambodian American MC
  22. Asian Superhero MC – The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang and Sonny Liew – #ownvoices, Chinese American MC
  23. Asian Transracial Adoptee MC – The Leavers by Lisa Ko – #ownvoices, Literary Fiction, Chinese American MC
  24. Non-Fiction by an Asian Author – The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee
  25. South Asian MC – Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai – #ownvoices, YA, Historical Fiction, M/M Romance, Sri Lankan MC

Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge Announcement and Master Post

ETA: Rules and point allotments have been updated for the Contests.

I am pleased to announce that a bunch of Asian bloggers and I will be hosting a month-long reading challenge during May. This is the master post with all the relevant information for the reading challenge.

Background

Inspiration and Purpose: In the U.S., the month of May is Asian American Heritage Month*, so I thought, what better way to celebrate than to do a reading challenge that spotlights books with Asian characters and centers Asian voices? In publishing, there are power dynamics in play that marginalize Asian authors, especially those who write Asian characters and draw from their heritage for their writing. In the context of publishing in countries where white people are the majority/dominant group, diaspora Asians in those countries have a hard time breaking into publishing. In a more global context, Asian writers in Asia have a hard to reaching a wider market beyond regional publishing due to their perceived foreignness, plus a general lack of infrastructure for translations for those that don’t write in English (and many do write in English). There are also double standards in the industry that facilitate publication for white authors writing Asian[-inspired] characters/settings/stories while Asian writers who write from the place of a cultural insider are often told their stories are “too Asian” or “not Asian enough.” For this reason, I feel it is especially important to highlight #ownvoices Asian stories, where the authors share the heritage of the characters they write about.

*May is technically designated as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. However, a number of Pasifika activists and friends of mine have stated that lumping together Asian Americans with Pacific Islanders results in the erasure and co-opting of PIs and that they want to have their own spaces to discuss their issues. I am respecting that and keeping the two separate for this challenge.

Scope: Aside from the reading challenge, my co-hosts and I have planned a series of blog posts (e.g. discussions, author interviews, author features, etc.) and social media events to complement the challenge and celebrate Asian literature in other ways. I’ll be adding links to these posts and details on the social media events on this master post as they go up. If you are an Asian blogger/vlogger/bookstagrammer/etc. and have your own idea for a post/video you want to make about Asian lit, go for it, and feel free to leave a comment here with the link so I can add it to the list. You can use this template for your blog header if you’d like.

The Hosts

Shenwei @ READING (AS)(I)AN (AM)ERICA (#AsianLitBingo Creator)
Isabella @ The Book Pandas
Glaiza @ Paper Wanderer
Janani @ The Shrinkette
Wendy @ Written in Wonder
CW @ Read, Think, Ponder
Sophia @ Bookwyrming Thoughts
Mish @ Chasing Faerytales
Hazel @ Stay Bookish
Sue @ Hollywood News Source
Cassidy @ Quartzfeather
Stephanie @ Igniting Pages
Anisha @ Sprinkled Pages
Sinead @ Huntress of Diverse Books
Rana @ Words Across Borders
Aila @ One Way Or an Author
Aentee @ Read at Midnight (Graphic Designer Extraordinaire)

Reading Challenge Information

The reading challenge is a general challenge and also a contest with prizes!

The Hashtag

Use the hashtag #AsianLitBingo when posting on Twitter or Instagram about the challenge. Check out what other people are reading and find posts and reviews related to the challenge by searching the hashtag.

The Setup

Similar to the Diversity Bingo 2017 challenge, the Asian Lit Bingo challenge takes the form of a bingo board, a 5 by 5 grid with 25 total prompts for books to read. The baseline goal is to read prompts for a single line, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally on the board, for a total of 5 books. Post your progress on Twitter with the hashtag #AsianLitBingo.

Eligible Books:

  • Fiction books should have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but reading #ownvoices books is strongly encouraged!
  • Nonfiction books should be by an Asian author with a focus on Asian people, whether it’s a[n] [auto]biography, history book, essay collection, etc. A nonfiction book can count for prompts other than the nonfiction square provided that it that focuses on a person/group that corresponds to that prompt (e.g. an autobiography of a Asian trans woman could count for either the nonfiction category or the LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC category).
  • The free space is for any book with an Asian main character by an Asian author.

Below is the bingo board, designed by Aentee. You can find the original image file here. Note: “MC” stands for “main character” (though as specified above, it can be a book about a real person).

AsianLitBingo

Book Suggestions

My co-hosts and I compiled a [far from exhaustive] list of book titles that fulfill each prompt. Here’s the link to the list.

Reading Challenge Sign-up

To sign up for the challenge, simply make a blog post/vlog/etc. with a summary of what the challenge is about, a link to this master post, the bingo board, and your tentative TBR if you put one together (you won’t be penalized for the contest portion if you don’t follow your TBR). You can add any book recommendations as you see fit for other people who are interested in participating in the challenge (optional). You are welcome to use the header image of this post for your post. Once you’ve posted your announcement, add your post to the link-up below:

Contest Information

There are two contests associated with this reading challenge, each with a prize.

General Rules for Qualifying Books:

  1. Book must have an Asian main character (can be one of several main characters) and be by an Asian author to qualify. It does not have to be #ownvoices, but #ownvoices is strongly encouraged.
  2. Book can be a novel/novella/novelette or comic book/graphic novel.
  3. Book must be read during May 1st through May 31st to qualify.
  4. Review link-up will close end of June 1st at midnight PDT. The extra margin is to give people the opportunity to write up a review for a book they might have finished late May 31st. We’ll follow the honor system assuming you didn’t read the book on June 1st.

If you have any questions about whether something qualifies, feel free to message me through Twitter (@theshenners) or my blog contact form.

Contest 1 – Equal Opportunity/Participation Contest

Every person who participates in the reading challenge and reads at least 3 books for the challenge will have one entry each for this contest. The winner will be randomly drawn. If somehow the winner drawn is the same as the winner of the second contest, I will draw a different winner.

Prize:

  • Your choice of one 2017 release by an Asian author.
  • Signed hardcover of Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky
  • Signed paperback of Paper Wishes by Spencer Hoshino
  • Ebook of Songs of Insurrection by J.C. Kang
  • Ebook of No More Heroes by Michelle Kan
  • Open to international.

Contest 2 – Extra Credit/Merit-Based Contest

For the more competitive folks, the competition for the prizes is based on the number and type of books you read and review for the challenge. The person who accumulates the most points wins. Here is the point system:

  • 1 point per book read
  • 1 extra points per #ownvoices (ethnicity-wise) book (so 2 points total for an #ownvoices book)
  • 1 point per review for qualifying books. Please write at least 300 words for the review that are not quotes or copy pasted synopses.

Prize: 

  • Your choice of one 2017 release by an Asian author
  • Signed ARC of The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee
  • Signed paperback of Gates of Thread and Stone by Lori M. Lee
  • A custom-designed mug with a book quote of your choice by Aentee @ Read At Midnight.
  • Open to international.

Wrap-Up Post Link-Up

In order to verify your participation and points for the contests, please make a post/video that lists all of the qualifying books you’ve read (please label whether they’re #ownvoices) and links to reviews for any books you’ve reviewed.

Review Link-Up

This is to keep all the reviews for the challenge in one place for easy access. Please add links to your reviews to the link-up below:

Social Media Events

Asian Lit Twitter Cha

Asian Lit Posts/Videos

    Credits and Acknowledgements

    A huge thank-you to Aentee @ Read at Midnight for designing all the gorgeous graphics for this challenge and for donating a custom-designed mug as a prize for the contest.

    I’d also like to thank each and every one of my co-hosts for their time, labor, dedication, and ideas. You transformed this reading challenge from a little pet project of mine to something so much bigger and better. I am grateful to be working with all of you. ❤

    Review for The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

    Note: This review is based on the ARC I received from NetGalley. The book will be published on August 8th.

    My Summary: Genie Lo already has her hands full trying to do everything necessary to get into a top college. But then she witnesses a demon attack the attractive new transfer student Quentin Sun and discovers she has the power to smash open the Gates of Heaven with her fists, and all of a sudden her priorities get scrambled in favor of saving the world from impending doom.

    Review:

    This is one of my favorite YA reads of this year. I pretty much read it in one sitting while live-tweeting my reactions. It’s a jam-packed mix of action, comedy, romance, and character growth. I laughed my way through most of it and yelled at the characters because I was engaged with the story.

    Genie is a character that I was eager to root for because I related to her feelings a lot. She is uncertain and angry and she’s not shy about expressing her anger. Anger is an emotion that gets policed a lot, especially in POC and especially for Asians because of the stereotype of us as passive and non-threatening. It was refreshing to read about a character who embraces her inner angry Asian.

    Another thing I loved about her is that she’s tall because I’m tall (though not quite as tall) and having some variety in Asian physiques is always nice. We’re not all tiny and dainty, mind you.

    Genie’s anger and brawn become purposeful when demons start attacking the Bay Area. Of course, the attractive transfer student is involved, and she gets embroiled in a conflicting much greater than herself.

    Although people tend to discount worldbuilding in contemporary, it’s no less important than in a secondary world fantasy. Genie lives in the Silicon Valley, and the author really captures the atmosphere and landscape well, down to the bubble tea shops that have taken over in recent decades.

    On the fantasy side, we have demons and immortals from Chinese folklore putting in appearances, including some big shots that many diaspora Chinese readers will find familiar. Knowing Mandarin and having a background in the Chinese folklore integrated into the story was a bonus; my prior knowledge didn’t make the story feel reused or trite, it enriched the experience. For those who aren’t familiar, the narrative provides sufficient background and humorous cliffnotes versions of the relevant myths, so it won’t go over your heads.

    Outside of the action, we get character development. Genie’s demon fighting problems bleed over into her normal life and affect her relationships with friends and family as well as her academics. She vents to and receives advice from a college application coach in a way creates humor because she is being literal about demon-fighting while her coach takes her complaints as figurative/hyperbole. Throughout the story, Genie’s priorities, sense of self, and agency are explored parallel to the action of kicking demon butt.

    The romantic relationship between Genie and Quentin is rife with tension as despite her visceral attraction to him, Genie refuses to be less than equal to him or disrespected (which is a good thing of course). The development and changes between them that happen between start and end are dramatic but justified. For those who are into the hate-to-love trope or tall girl/short boy dynamic, this one’s for you. 😉

    One of my favorite things about this story is how over the top it is. There’s definitely a sense that the story isn’t taking itself too seriously, and it almost feels like an Asian drama or anime/manga. It’s difficult to explain but leaves a distinct impression.

    Recommendation: Highly recommended!

    P.S. If you haven’t read my interview with F.C. Yee, check it out here!

    Review for Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

    cilla-lee-jenkins-future-author-extraordinaire

    My Summary: Cilla Lee-Jenkins has ambitions to become a bestselling author, an achievement she is certain will ensure her family won’t forget about her in favor of her soon-to-be-born younger sister. Since you’re supposed to write what you know, she writes a book about herself and her life, including her experience as a biracial girl with a family divided by cultural differences.

    Review:

    This book is in sort-of-epistolary format, in the sense that what you’re reading is supposed to be the book that Cilla is writing. The narrative is addressed to the reader, so it doesn’t hesitate to break the fourth wall, if there even is a fourth wall to begin with, ha.

    Cilla’s voice is very distinct and full of spunk, so it grabs you from the beginning. She’s precocious, but she’s still a kid in second grade, and the author does a great job of striking the balance between showing off Cilla’s wit and keeping her voice age-appropriate.

    A substantial part of Cilla’s story is about being caught between cultures, which is something I could relate to as a fellow Asian American. For example, I was amused by her insightful and direct commentary on the cultural differences between white American and Chinese table manners, having pondered those disparities myself at various points in my life.

    Cilla’s particular experiences are also affected by her background as a mixed race kid with a Chinese dad and a white mom. Some of Cilla’s anecdotes involve racist microagressions, not only against Asians but against mixed race people. Since the reader is experiencing the events through Cilla’s perspective, these microaggressions are treated in a different way than they might be in a story for older audiences, in which the character has a greater awareness of and vocabulary surrounding race to address what is happening. Given the younger narrator and audience, I feel like the framing was handled pretty well, showing that Cilla is aware of things being off or hurtful about these incidents, even if she doesn’t quite understand their root causes. In general, these microaggressions are either handled by any adult bystanders in the situation, or they are cleverly subverted through Cilla’s own innocent responses that effectively sidestep the original aim of the microaggressive questions/comments and interject something that was outside the realm of the perpetrator’s expectations.

    Both sets of Cilla’s grandparents feature prominently in this story, and I loved reading about her relationships with them and her quest to bring the two sides together despite their years of avoiding one another. As someone who has never been close to my grandparents, physically or emotionally, I always appreciate seeing positive and intimate grandparent-grandchild relationships portrayed in fiction.

    Along with family bonds, this book also explores friendship and socialization in a school/classroom setting. I adored Cilla’s bond with her best friend Colleen, who’s Black and wants to be an astronaut or something space-related when she grows up. Despite their vastly different dream jobs, they make a perfect pair who have each other’s backs and share in the other person’s excitement. One of the things I appreciated was that the story depicted and worked through a part of their friendship where they messed up and said the wrong thing and had to figure out how to apologize. There was great modeling of healthy and constructive approaches to relationships and communication, something that is always welcome in kidlit.

    There’s another really cute friendship featured in the book, which is between Cilla and a boy in her class named Ben McGee. She starts out finding him annoying for various reasons, but eventually warms up to him and finds more common ground with him. I guess in general I enjoy reading about dynamic friendships in kidlit because they’re realistic and also a good learning/teaching tool for topics like change, conflict, and empathy.

    Last thing I wanted to comment on is the lovely interior illustrations by Dana Wulfekotte, who is also Asian American. They were a wonderful complement to the story and helped bring Cilla’s personality and imagination to life.

    Recommendation: This is going on my mental Favorites Shelf for middle grade alongside Grace Lin’s The Year of the Dog and sequels. The target age range is a bit young for some of y’all among my blog followers, so it may not be to your taste, but if you’re a parent or teacher or librarian of elementary school age kids, this is perfect for them. 🙂

    Review for The Crystal Ribbon by Celeste Lim

    crystal-ribbon

    My Summary: Li Jing lives in a village that is protected by the Great Golden Huli Jing. Her name promises a great destiny but also invites mockery from other children. Because her family is poor, at the age of eleven, she is sold to be the bride and caretaker of a three-year-old boy. Her new home brings her suffering and more danger, until she decides to run away. With the help of some friends, she sets off on a quest to go back home and find herself.

    Review:

    After reading Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon series, I was craving more [#ownvoices] middle grade Chinese fantasy, and The Crystal Ribbon was exactly what I needed. Set in the Song Dynasty and drawing on Chinese folklore, this book brings to life a wonderful tale of resilience, family, and friendship.

    The Crystal Ribbon has some Cinderella-esque elements to it. Instead of an evil stepmother and two stepsisters, she has a mother-in-law and two sisters-in-law who are nasty to her and treat her like a servant because they can. Thankfully, she’s not alone. There is a kind cook who looks after her well-being, and she meets a spider and a nightingale who help her along the way, among others. She also has a letter from her younger brother and memories of her family to hold onto.

    Far from being helpless, Jing fights against the people and forces that try to beat her down. She plots and acts to escape her horrible situations and doesn’t give up despite the odds being stacked against her. Her story is one of hope and light in dark times, something I needed for my current low in life.

    One of the magical things about reading this book was the familiar cultural references woven into the story. From the history, to the literary allusions, to the holiday celebrations, to the superstitions and religious/spiritual practices, I felt at home. Even some of the language used was taken directly from common Chinese sayings/idioms.

    Though it’s not a horror story, there were definitely some creepy elements and scenes to this book. Jing is forced to be out at night during the Ghost Festival and witnesses the supernatural come to life. Also, a prominent part of the story are the jing (精) that Jing’s name is a homophone for. I’d loosely translate jing as fae. They are supernatural beings that can take different forms, and you never know whether they are friend or foe, for the sinister jing feed on the chi of humans. The good and powerful ones serve as protectors of villages.

    I have two minor criticisms of the book. One is that the romanization wasn’t consistent throughout. In some places, ch was used instead of q. A notable example was chi, though that might simply be because chi is familiar to English-speakers. Another thing that didn’t follow consistent rules was the spacing in disyllabic names. Some had spaces between syllables and others didn’t.

    My other criticism was that the prose read awkwardly in some places because it sounded like the narration (first-person from Jing’s perspective) was directed to someone who’s a cultural outsider. As a result, it came off as overly explain-y and heavy-handed with the info-dumping.

    For example, the dizi, which is a transverse flute, was described as being a “Chinese transverse flute.” However, you would call it a Chinese flute and not just a flute when the default “flute” is assumed to be the Western flute. In a story where Chinese culture is the norm, there wouldn’t be a need to refer to dizi as a Chinese flute.

    Another example is the references to the “lunar calendar” and “Lunar New Year.” To someone who was immersed in Chinese culture during the Song Dynasty, the calendar they used wouldn’t be referred to as a “lunar calendar,” nor would the New Year be called the Lunar New Year since the lunar calendar was the default calendar. When someone in the West says “lunar calendar,” the lunar descriptor is marking it as in opposition to the solar/Gregorian calendar, which is used as the standard calendar.

    Other than those small nitpicky things though, I absolutely adored the story.

    Recommendation: Lovingly recommended. Trigger warnings for extreme physical punishments/abuse.

    Review for Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

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    Note: My review is based on the ARC I received.

    My Summary: The 8th grade is putting on Romeo and Juliet this year. Although Mattie has no prior experience with theater, she discovers that she enjoys acting. On top of practicing for this play, Mattie has to juggle a complicated web of middle school secrets and relationships, including her own budding crush on classmate Gemma, who is starring as Juliet. As obstacles pop up, Mattie is pushed to take the lead in the play and her life.

    Review:

    Star-Crossed really transports me back to my tween years, when things were awkward and complicated and your peers’ opinions meant everything in the world. Mattie is thrust into many an uncomfortable situation by life, and we as readers get to experience the rollercoaster of emotions she goes through as she navigates her relationships with her classmates and friends. Whether it’s figuring out how her crushes feel, keeping secrets from her best friends, being the only person not invited to a social event, or worrying about how others will react to knowing she has a crush on a girl, Mattie has to make a lot of tough decisions.

    With both humor and heart, the author brings Mattie’s middle school experiences to life. The 8th grade production of Romeo and Juliet is not only a plot device but a way of enriching Mattie’s character development. As she works to understand the feelings of the characters in the play, she also makes connections to her own situation and works through her own feelings. She learns to empathize with and see a different side to a classmate she wouldn’t have otherwise gotten close to.

    Though I didn’t figure out I was bi until later in my life, I could still relate a lot to Mattie’s experiences. The newness of being attracted to someone of a different gender than before, the uncertainty as to how people around me will react to finding out about you being bi, the guilt of keeping secrets from people that you want to trust, these were all familiar feelings for me.

    I guess one of the most relatable aspects of Mattie’s experiences is her anxiety when interacting with her crush. I can never be completely at ease when I interact with my crushes, even when we’re good friends. The awkwardness Mattie feels is so real to me.

    If there was one thing I didn’t like about the book, it was a few passages that came off as really white-centric. There were two different passages describing Mattie and Gemma and their respective levels of attractiveness that felt like they were centering white beauty standards. There was also another minor scene where Mattie wants to play the part of an immigrant in a class activity and she described immigrants in an othering way. Other than these bits, I enjoyed the book a lot.

    Recommendation: Recommended for the cute and fun story and charming characters.

    A Discussion About Asian Representation

    I shared it on Twitter a while ago, but I participated in a discussion (hosted by Puput at Sparkling Letters) with some other Asian bloggers from different backgrounds about Asian representation in YA and books. We talked about topics like common misconceptions, things to avoid when describing Asian characters, our wish list for what we want to see more of in Asian rep, books with problematic Asian rep, and recommended books with good Asian rep. I highly recommend reading the post. You can find it here. 🙂

    A Very ARC-ish Readathon TBR

    So Aimal over at Bookshelves & Paperbacks is hosting a readathon during the month of April dedicated to burning through those ARCs that have piled up over time because you went overboard and requested too many at once. I have a whopping 13 ARCs, so I decided to join in. I probably won’t get through all of them in 27 days I have, but I’ll try. Here are the ARCs I need to read:

    Middle Grade

    Crossing Ebenezer Creek by Tonya Bolden

    The Gauntlet by Karuna Riazi – I actually have the finished copy of this one now, oops.

    Young Adult

    The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

    Dreadnought by April Daniels

    Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World edited by Kelly Jensen

    Mask of Shadows by Linsey Miller

    The Education of Margot Sanchez by Lilliam Rivera – Also have the finished copy already lmao.

    Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman

    The Edge of the Abyss by Emily Skrutskie – I reviewed the first book, The Abyss Surrounds Us, earlier this year.

    Welcome Home: An Anthology on Love and Adoption edited by Eric Smith

    Adult/Literary Fiction

    The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories featuring the following authors:

    Neil Gaiman, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherine King, Claire North, E. J. Swift, Hermes, Jamal Majoub, James Smythe, J. Y. Yang, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J. Parker, Kuzhali Manickavel, Maria Dahvana Headley, Monica Byrne, Nnedi Okorafor, Saad Hossein, Sami Shah, Sophia Al-Maria, Usman Malik

    The Leavers by Lisa Ko

    Inheritance from Mother by Minae Mizumura