Review: “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

42051103Title: Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune
Author: Roselle Lim
Publication Date: June 11, 2019
Imprint: Berkley
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Pre-order: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

ARC provided by the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest opinion.

 

Warm and touching, Roselle Tan’s debut touches on loss, family, culture, self-discovery and the healing power of food.

At the news of her mother’s death, Natalie Tan returns home. The two women hadn’t spoken since Natalie left in anger seven years ago, when her mother refused to support her chosen career as a chef. Natalie is shocked to discover the vibrant neighborhood of San Francisco’s Chinatown that she remembers from her childhood is fading, with businesses failing and families moving out. She’s even more surprised to learn she has inherited her grandmother’s restaurant.

The neighborhood seer reads the restaurant’s fortune in the leaves: Natalie must cook three recipes from her grandmother’s cookbook to aid her struggling neighbors before the restaurant will succeed. Unfortunately, Natalie has no desire to help them try to turn things around – she resents the local shopkeepers for leaving her alone to take care of her agoraphobic mother when she was growing up. But with the support of a surprising new friend and a budding romance, Natalie starts to realize that maybe her neighbors really have been there for her all along.

There are those rare books that leave you feeling light and full all the same time. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune is one of those books.

Deliciously magical and vibrant, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was a treat to read. Roselle Tan weaved together a charming story that centers on family, community, and self-discovery using food a mediator – a bridge – between characters, bringing them together.

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Loss – the dealing and accepting of it- is another theme central to this book. Having lost her mother right before the start of the story, Natalie had to deal with anger, loss, and grief. She hasn’t seen nor spoken to her mother in the whole seven years she was gone from their home in San Francisco, and the suddenness of her death understandably brought out some hidden resentments and, of course, regrets. It was heartwarming how Tan handled this part of her story, depicting with great care and love the nuances, values, and rituals of an Asian family.

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Though Natalie carries the task of moving the story, the secondary characters added more color into the narrative. They are the community Natalie re-discovers and gains amidst her loss, and each one of them has their own thread in the story. Celia and Old Wu are the most memorable of these characters for me, and they were quite contrasting. Celia is such an open person, friendly and bright and vivacious. She takes in Natalie immediately, welcoming her into the fold and guiding her and re-introducing her to their old neighborhood. Old Wu, meanwhile, is a traditionalist. I’ll admit that I didn’t like him at first. He was too harsh Natalie and I felt that he judged her without even trying to get to know her. As the story went on and I got to know his connection with Natalie’s laolao, I understood where he was coming from. I thoroughly enjoyed reading parts where these two supporting characters appear and the difference between them only made them all the more fun to get to know.

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While I loved most of this book, there were still a few things I thought could have been done better. The story meandered at times, spending too much time dwelling on one moment instead of moving on. The connection between plot threads also felt spotty at some points in the story, but perhaps the biggest issue I had was the romance. It was unnecessary and it felt like it was added as an afterthought. The story could have stood on its own without it. Daniel didn’t add much into it anyway, and I actually think Natalie talking about her ex-fiancé had more page-time than Daniel.

Overall, Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune was an incredibly delightful read. This is not YA but could easily be enjoyed by a younger audience. It was such a heartwarming and delightful story about family and community. All the food mentions in this book will certainly make you hungry so take it from me and have some snacks handy by your side before reading this.

P.S. I’ll definitely try my hand at all the recipes in this book even if I know I’m a Celia and no Natalie. You’ll get the joke when you read this book.

about the author

Roselle LimROSELLE LIM was born in the Philippines and immigrated to Canada as a child. She lived in north Scarborough in a diverse, Asian neighborhood.

She found her love of writing by listening to her lola (paternal grandmother’s) stories about Filipino folktales. Growing up in a household where Chinese superstition mingled with Filipino Catholicism, she devoured books about mythology, which shaped the fantasies in her novels.

An artist by nature, she considers writing as “painting with words.”

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Book Spotlight + Author Q&A: “Bright Burning Stars” by A.K. Small

Today I feature a debut that promises a whole lot of drama, romance, and ballet.

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Title: Bright Burning Stars
Author: A.K. Small
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers
Pre-order: Publisher | IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Books-a-Million | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Would you die for the Prize?

Best friends Marine Duval and Kate Sanders have trained since childhood at the Paris Opera Ballet School, where they’ve forged an inseparable bond through shared stories of family tragedies and a powerful love for dance. When the body of a student is found in the dorms just before the start of their final year, Marine and Kate begin to ask themselves how far they woud go for the ultimate prize: to be named the one girl who will join the Opera’s prestigious corps de ballet. Would they cheat? Seduce the most talented boy in the school, dubbed the Demigod, hoping his magic will make them shine, too? Would they risk death for it? Neither girl is sure.

But then Kate gets closer to the Demigod, even as Marine has begun to capture his heart. And as selection day draws near, the competition – for the Prize, for the Demigod – becomes fiercer, and Marine and Kate realize they have everything to lose, including each other.

Bright Burning Stars is a promising debut by an equally promising debut author. This book reminded me of Center Stage (go watch it if you want to see baby Zoe Saldana,) The Company and Black Swan. A.K. Small’s ballet beginnings certainly helped in the makings of this book. The drama, the highly competitive setting all felt real.

Want to get a little taste of this gorgeous book? You can read the first chapter here. This one is from Marine’s perspective, but you also get to meet Kate. The whole story revolves around these two best friends as they compete for and against each other for the Prize.

Author Q&A (1)

I was lucky enough to be invited by Algonquin Young Readers to the Bright Burning Stars blog tour. I certainly had a fun time reading all the ballet references in this one. The descriptions of all the performances in this story were gorgeous. It all made me curious about A.K. Small’s inspiration for her book, and here she talks about her writing process, inspiration and the songs she listened to while writing Kate and M’s story.

  1. How did you write BRIGHT BURNING STARS? All at once or did you outline the story?

I wrote it all at once but multiple times! I’m trying to learn how to outline. Man, is it hard. My brain goes to the creative before the analytical.

  1. What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating your characters? Which of your characters do you most identify with, and why?

I think that the most surprising aspect of character building is that it took me years to understand and relate to Kate. I had to spend a long time with her before she finally clicked on the page.

I identify with Marine because M and I both believe that any artistic success comes not from talent but from sweat and grit.

  1. What gave you the idea for BRIGHT BURNING STARS?

I wrote a short story titled The Art of Jealousy and then I knew I wanted to write a larger piece.

  1. Do you have a favorite scene, quote, or moment from BRIGHT BURNING STARS?

I love the scene where Marine dances to Biggie Smalls and there is a Luc scene I adore but I don’t want to give it away.

  1. If you could tell your younger writing self-anything, what would it be?

I would tell her never to forget about the magic of process and to always trust her instincts.

  1. What is on your current TBR pile?

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo, The Meaning of Birds by Jaye Robbin Brown, Wilder Girls by Rory Power, How It Feels to Float by Helena Fox, Heroine by Mindy McGinnis. I’m a sucker for books. I LOVE to read.

  1. Do you write to music? If so, what artist were you listening to while writing BRIGHT BURNING STARS?

I usually don’t, but as I was trying to figure Kate out I listened to Unsteady by X Ambassadors and I put on classical piano pieces, literal ballet music, while I worked on studio scenes for atmosphere and rhythm purposes.

Author Q&A (2)

Angela Small credit _Becky Thurner Braddock.jpg

A.K. SMALL was born in Paris, France. At first years old, she began studying classical dance with the legendary Max Bozzoni, then later with Daniel Franck and Monique Arabian at the famous Académie Chaptal. At thirteen, she moved to the United States, where she danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet for one summer and with the Richmond Ballet Student Company for several years. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary and has an MFA in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts. When she’s not writing, she spends time with her husband, her puppy, and her three daughters, and practices yoga. Bright Burning Stars is her first novel.

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Review: “You’d Be Mine” by Erin Hahn

You'd Be Mine (Erin Hahn)

Title: You’d Be Mine
Author: Erin Hahn
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Imprint: Wednesday Books
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
TW: Grief, trauma, alcoholism, drug use, parental death, mentions of suicide
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Teen country music stars find love in this sweet YA romance by debut author Erin Hahn.

Annie Mathers is America’s sweetheart and heir to a country music legacy full of all the things her Gran warned her about. Superstar Clay Coolidge is most definitely going to end up one of those things.
But unfortunately for Clay, if he can’t convince Annie to join his summer tour, his music label is going to drop him. That’s what happens when your bad boy image turns into bad boy reality. Annie has been avoiding the spotlight after her parents’ tragic deaths, except on her skyrocketing YouTube channel. Clay’s label wants to land Annie, and Clay has to make it happen.
Swayed by Clay’s undeniable charm and good looks, Annie and her band agree to join the tour. From the start fans want them to be more than just tour mates, and Annie and Clay can’t help but wonder if the fans are right. But if there’s one part of fame Annie wants nothing to do with, it’s a high-profile relationship. She had a front row seat to her parents’ volatile marriage and isn’t interested in repeating history. If only she could convince her heart that Clay, with his painful past and head over heels inducing tenor, isn’t worth the risk.

I love music and I love stories. Combine those two elements together and you have me practically eating out of your hands. So you’d understand my excitement over Erin Hahn’s debut You’d Be Mine.

And it was a treat to read.

Summer, music, the sweetness of first love – You’d Be Mine has it all. I can’t remember the last time I fell in love so quickly with a YA contemporary. It completely reeled me in with its first few pages and had me swooning by chapter four. All of these was largely due to the story’s main characters, Annie and Clay.

YBM Quote #1.png

Annie and Clay were interesting characters. They were different from one another with their contrasting personalities and temperament, and yet they were still similar. Both had some serious emotional baggage – Annie with her parents and Clay with his brother. These unresolved issues and the different way they dealt and coped with them kept Annie and Clay from really acting on their obvious attraction. At the start, at least. The two young country stars, getting to know each other more and growing closer during their summer tour, eventually getting together close to the end.

YBM Quote #3.png

I really enjoyed reading this book. The sweet, satisfying ending of course factors in, but it was more than that. You’d Be Mine tackled grief and trauma, and the different ways people handle these two issues. Clay turned to alcohol to numb the pain of losing his grandfather and brother almost simultaneously. He was close to the edge, driving himself to his own destruction. Annie, meanwhile, became too careful, setting strict rules and boundaries for herself wanting to steer away from the path her parents took. These – their grief and trauma – was a big part of Annie and Clay’s story, and Erin Hahn did a great job tackling this element of their characters. It was realistic but was still handled with great care and sensitivity, something that I hugely appreciate as it opens up avenues for discussions in relation to these to very real issues.

YBM Quote #2

This was a character-driven story – Annie and Clay doing most of the labor with supporting characters adding more color and nuance – but it did not take anything away from the plot. It was still fun and sweet. The glimpses into the inner workings of the country music scene were definitely intriguing. Other readers got A Star is Born vibes from this book, and while I agree it did have that going for it, I was more reminded of two of my old time favorites – Nashville and ­Hart of Dixie – which was a nice surprise for me.

With characters you’d cheer for and a swoony romance, You’d Be Mine is the perfect summer read for YA contemporary lovers. Trust me, this book will definitely give you that funny butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling just by reading it. Erin Hahn may just be a new auto-buy author for me. I’m definitely going to look forward to any other future works of hers.

Author Q&A (2)

Erin Hahn

ERIN HAHN spent the first half of her life daydreaming in a small town in northern Illinois. She fell in love with words in college when she wrote for the campus paper, covering everything from drag shows to ice fishing and took way too much liberty with a history essay on the bubonic plague.

She started writing her own books when her little sister gave her shade about a country music-themed Twilight fanfic. By day, Erin gets to share her favorite stories with her elementary students. By night, she writes swoons. She married her own YA love interest whom she met on her first day of college and has two kids who are much, much cooler than she ever was at their age. She lives in Michigan, aka the greenest place on earth and has a cat, Gus, who plays fetch.

Website | Twitter | Goodreads | YouTube

Review: “The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls” by Anissa Gray

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry GirlsTitle: The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls
Author: Anissa Gray
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date: February 19, 2019
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐ ½
TW: Eating disorders, body hatred, child abuse, neglect
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo | iBooks

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Debut author Anissa Gray presents a startling oftentimes harsh picture of a family in The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls.

The Butler family has had their share of trials – as sisters Althea, Viola, and Lilian can attest – but nothing prepared them for the literal trial that will upend their lives.

Althea, the eldest sister and substitute matriarch, is a force to be reckoned with and her younger sisters have alternately appreciated and chafed at her strong will. They are as stunned as the rest of the small community when she and her husband Proctor are arrested, and in a heartbeat the family goes from one of the most respected in town to utter disgrace. The worst part is, not even her sisters are sure exactly what happened.

As Althea awaits her fate, Lillian and Viola must come together in the house they grew up in to care for their sister’s teenage daughters. What unfolds is a stunning portrait of the heart and core of an American family in a story that is as page-turning as it is important.

If you follow my blog then you’ll know how I feel about family dramas. They either work for me, like in the case of Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics (which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago) or, well, lull me to sleep. But even with the genre’s track record I still, somehow, picked up another family drama to read hoping that I’ll once again hit the jackpot like I did with The Last Romantics.

It didn’t quite work out the way I wanted to.

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was a well-written story about the complex entity that is family. It dug deep into the core, dragging secrets, betrayals and shifting alliances into the surface.  Anissa Gray created a deeply flawed, utterly believable set of characters. There’s Althea, the eldest of the Butler siblings. She takes on the matriarch role when her mother dies at a young age, taking care and raising her siblings almost on her own. Then there’s intelligent Viola, the middle child who harbors a deep secret of her own. Last is Lilian, the baby of the family. Nervy, flummoxed, and unsure of herself, Lilian seemed to be the opposite of her formidable older sisters.

I greatly appreciated the way Gray wrote these three characters, these sisters who are so connected to one another. They are her narrators and movers both. These three women – Althea, Viola, and Lilian – were so effectively written, their voices and personalities so distinct that a reader would be able to easily tell who is who. Together, these three women carry the whole story on their shoulders, moving and dictating its flow, pace and direction with their every choice and decision.

This is one powerful story about family and all its complexities, and I appreciate that. I love that Anissa Gray tackled the topic of incarceration, giving us readers a glimpse into what the families of felons go through with the use of the Butler family. It’s something that you don’t see so much of.

That said, even with how amazingly well-crafted this story was, I still couldn’t connect with the characters. They felt far away. Reading this story was like watching from a distance as things happen to strangers. There isn’t much emotion involved.

Another part that could have used more work were Althea’s daughters Kim and Baby Vi. I felt like they were underutilized and only partly explored, a missed opportunity for the author. I honestly think these two characters could have added so much more to the story, maybe provide a contrasting image to their mother and aunts. Gray’s portrayal of bulimia though was particularly jarring and so realistic.

Overall, The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls was an excellent literary work. Anissa Gray is a promising new author. Her writing was beautiful and she created complex and very human characters. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more from her. However, I’ll be an outlier and say that while I enjoyed this book it didn’t quite stir my emotions. It could simply be a matter of personal preference, but this is my honest opinion of the book. I would still definitely recommend this to other readers, especially those who appreciate reading about complex family relationships.

Author Q&A (2)

Anissa GrayANISSA GRAY was born and raised in western Michigan. She graduated from Western Michigan University and received her Masters in English from New York University. After graduate school, Anissa went on to work as a print reporter at Reuters in Manhattan, covering global financial news. That was followed by a move to Atlanta and the initiation of her career in broadcast journalism at CNN, where she has held roles as writer, editor, and producer, receiving Emmy and DuPont awards for contributions to the network’ coverage of major stories.

After more than 20 years as a journalist, Anissa, a lifelong book lover and voracious reader, pursued fiction writing, applying her love of storytelling from the realm of real-life, newsworthy happenings to the events and encounters that shape our lives.

Website | Facebook | Instagram

 

Can’t-Wait Wednesday: “The Tiger at Midnight” by Swati Teerdhala

Can't Wait Wednesday

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted Tressa at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted Jill at Breaking the Spine.


Happy Wednesday everyone! This year it is truly raining great debuts and, today, I’m going to be featuring one of the titles that I’m most looking forward to.

38205303Title: The Tiger at Midnight
Series: The Tiger at Midnight #1
Author: Swati Teerdhala
Publication Date: April 23, 2019
Publisher: Katherine Tegen Books
Get it: IndieBound | Book Depository | Barnes and Noble | Amazon | Kobo

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/39863498-the-gilded-wolves

Esha is a legend, but no one knows. It’s only in the shadows that she moonlights as the Viper, the rebels’ highly skilled assassin. She’s devoted her life to avenging what she lost in the royal coup, and now she’s been tasked with her most important mission to date: taking down the ruthless General Hotha.

Kunal has been a soldier since childhood, training morning and night to uphold the power of King Vardaan. His uncle, the general, has ensured that Kunal never strays from the path—even as a part of Kunal longs to join the outside world, which has only been growing more volatile.

Then Esha’s and Kunal’s paths cross—and an unimaginable chain of events unfolds. Both the Viper and the soldier think they’re calling the shots, but they’re not the only players moving the pieces. As the bonds that hold their land in order break down and their game transforms into a breathless chase of impossible attraction, both the soldier and the rebel must decide where their loyalties lie: with the lives they’ve killed to hold on to or with the love that’s made them dream of something more?

The Tiger at Midnight promised to be an epic read and I’m looking forward to get to know Esha and Kunal more. If you’re on the same page as I am, pre-order this book. Swati Teerdhala has a wonderful pre-order campaign for her baby, and the best part *queue drumroll* it’s open INTERNATIONAL. Pre-order The Tiger at Midnight until April 29 and enter the pre-order giveaway to get a signed bookplate, a bookmark and two exclusive illustrated character cards of Esha and Kunal. Here’s the link if you’ll be pre-ordering.

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Rachel

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What book/s are you excited for this week?