Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao | Blog Tour

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ARC Provided by the Author & Caffeine Book Tours 
Publication: September 21, 2021 by Penguin Teen

“This world does not deserve my respect. It is not worthy of my kindness or compassion.”

I’ll be completely honest, when I read the author note at the start of this book I knew I was about to fall in love with a new story. Xiran Jay Zhao lets the reader know that you are about to get a love letter to Chinese culture, Chinese history, and the only female Chinese emperor! The author does not shy away from the ugly things, but always shines such a powerful light on all the beauty, and truly crafts such an inspiring tale of a girl who will rise up the ranks and become more powerful than anyone ever let her believe or dream, including her family, her country, and even herself.

This story is Asian, queer, and all about abolishing the patriarchy and gender roles that every society tries to make people fit with their judgement, expectations, and laws. “Pacific Rim meets The Handmaid’s Tale in a polyamorous reimagining of China’s only female emperor” is the perfect tagline for this book! And this story is truly so powerful, so beautiful, and so high on my recommendations lists for you all!

Okay, on to the giant transforming robots and what the story is actually about! In this world, Huaxia is trying to protect the Great Wall against Hunduns and their alien mechs (who have already developed and established their own society and way of life on the other side of the wall And Huazia has modified versions of these robots that they call Chrysalises, and constant waves of battle are happening and being broadcasted for the people to watch and be entertained by. The pilots of these mechs are able to transform them into East Asian mythical creatures, and sometimes they are able to gain more special abilities under very specific circumstances when two pilots are able to bond together, weave their qi together, fight stronger together, and have a big adventure in battles together. But there are so few bonded pilots in this world.

But in Huaxia, young boys are hailed as heroes for piloting these machines, but it always takes two pilots, no matter how much society wishes to forget about the evils of the other seat. Young girls are given up by their families to serve the army and have their qi tested to see if they would be able to help pilot alongside a powerful boy. The thing is, most times the boy completely invades, using a psychic link, and uses up every ounce of lifeforce the girl has, killing her during battle.

“I wouldn’t live and suffer for anyone else, but I would die to avenge my sister.”

➽ Wu Zetian – our main character, who is ready to enlist herself in to the army, to the same pilot who her big sister was enlisted to, but only her ashes were given back. On a mission of pure vengeance, and being sick of being held back because of the gender she was assigned at birth, she finally wants to reclaim some semblance of power for her sister, even if she has to pay for it with her life. But when she gets into her first mech as a concubine-pilot, the world is not ready for the power she truly has to offer, even if it could change the war for once and for all. She also uses a cane and sometimes a wheelchair because of the seriousness and pain of her footbinding.

➽ Li Shimin – the Iron Demon, pilot of the Vermillion Bird, and the scariest and most powerful pilots of them all. Not a single girl has made it out of his mech alive during battle. Was on actual death row for murder because his qi power was tested and noticed and now he is forced to endure another type of prison. He also is bisexual and half Rongdi. He is also struggling with alcoholism and immense trauma and grief. (unrelated, but I would give my life for him this very second.)

➽ Gao Yizhi – son of a powerful man who controls many of the social and public relations standards of Huaxia. Yizhi would sneak out and meet Zetian once a month in the forest of her village and help teach her things and just be a good friend to her. When I tell you I would die for this character. I also feel like the author really gave him some 11/10 one-liners. He is also bisexual and really does such a beautiful job teaching Zetian about polyamory. (yes, these three end up in a relationship together, even though it is not the central plot, it is perfect and I hope we are able to see more stories in the future normalize polyamorous relationships in the seamless way this one did!)

“love isn’t some scarce resource to battle over. Love can be infinite, as much as your heart can open.”

But we follow (and fall head over heels in love with) this trio, while they attempt to dismantle the patriarchy and different types of oppression these people have been facing since even before Zhou fell. I know I just gave you a lot of information, but I promise you the author does so much of a better job immersing you in this story and world. Their writing is actually the best writing I’ve read in the past few years and the amount of highlights my eARC has is actually sickening.

I also just deeply loved the themes of feminism and how sometimes things can feel exceptionally heavy when you have been raised your entire life to honor your elders and trust that they know best, when we still have so many systems (and corrupt governments) to dismantle in our world today. I’m typing this review in 2021 where you are still unable to get a divorce in the Philippines that isn’t an annulment, and how living in the US means constantly seeing powerful men make laws that take away women’s rights to their own bodies.

“I close my eyes, picturing myself taking command of a Chrysalis, towering over buildings and smashing the earth with my colossal limbs or luminous qi blasts. I could crush anyone who’s ever tried to crush me. I could free all the girls who’d love to run away.”

Overall this was just the Asian, queer, polyamorous, feminist sci-fi story of my dreams. The layers were so haunting and deep, the themes were so loud and important, the writing was pure perfection and genius levels of lyrical, and the characters were completely and wholeheartedly unforgettable. And I truly believe that book two, and the conclusion to this duology, will be even better come 2022.

Also, this author is just really cool and creates really amazing content on youtube and their blog. I truly think they are just so inspirational, and I believe one day they will have a few stories written about them and the hope and happiness they are giving to so many, including so many Asian kids all around the world who are feeling so seen and feeling even more pride in their cultures.

Also (lastly for real), this book being published on September 21st, the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, and celebrating another story about a woman, a rabbit, and their sacrifices brings actual tears to my eyes. Very galaxy brain of this author and pub house and just a really beautiful final touch.

Iron Window will for sure make my best books of 2021 list, and I am so truly proud and honored to have been on the blog tour for such a powerful story.

Content + Trigger Warnings: murder, death, torture, violence, gore, human sacrifices, thoughts of suicide, a lot of abuse (including domestic abuse and parental abuse), talk of sexual assault, extreme alcohol addiction, lots of consumption of alcohol, lots of depictions of blood, lots of depictions of trauma, depictions of depression, anxiety depictions and panic attacks, many mentions of needles, forced body modifications including footbinding and stolen organs, humiliation, misogyny and sexism, talk of disease, themes of colonization, and war themes

5


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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

(i’m the worst) buddy read(er) with May ❤

Xiran Jay Zhao is a first-gen immigrant from small-town China who was raised by the Internet​. A recent graduate of Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, they wrote science fiction and fantasy while they probably should have been studying more about biochemical pathways. You can find them on Twitter for memes, Instagram for cosplays and fancy outfits, and YouTube for long videos about Chinese history and culture. Iron Widow is their first novel.

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Favorite Asian Books of 2020

Hello friends! I hope you enjoyed My 2020 Reading Year in Review, but I just wanted to give a little bit more love and celebration to a few books that mean the whole world to me! Growing up, I couldn’t even dream that I would be able to pick from so many books from Asian authors, featuring Asian main characters, with Asian families, and just celebrating Asian lives. I truly feel more and more blessed every year, because I feel like every year this list gets harder and harder to make because we are getting more and more ownvoices stories that are going to make it easier and easier for kids to see themselves completely whole, not just bits and pieces. (Obviously publishing has SO MUCH work to do, but I can’t help but smile when looking at this list and how much overflowing love I have for these stories!) But here are my five favorite books written by Asian authors in 2020. 💕

➽ 5.) Eva Evergreen, Semi-Magical Witch by Julie Abe 

“Sometimes all you need is a pinch of magic…”

Japanese influences + Kiki’s Delivery Service inspirations + the power of friendship and having people who will unconditionally love and support you = perfection. This was truly the perfect middle-grade for me, and one that will be in my heart forever. 

➽ 4.) The Bone Shard Daughter (The Drowning Empire, #1) by Andrea Stewart

“A made thing could grow and change beyond its original purposes. I would show the Emperor: I’d grown beyond mine.”

Every pov, every storyline, every plot twist, every companion, perfection. I am still so blown away by the debut novel, the magic system, and how the last page left me feeling. I am absolutely begging for book two and more of this Asian inspired kingdom! (and more of my favorite crustaceans love story sapphics!)

➽ 3.) The Wolf of Oren-Yaro (Chronicles of the Bitch Queen #1) by K.S. Villoso

“They called me the Bitch Queen, the she-wolf, because I murdered a man and exiled my king the night before they crowned me.”

This so beautifully (and sometimes heartbreakingly) incorporated Filipino culture, I was completely immersed and utterly captivated on every page. I truly inhale read this in 48 hours and I could not be bothered to tear myself away for anything besides work. This book truly reminded me of that magical feeling that reading can give you, especially when you feel safe and seen and so in love. 

➽ 2.) The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar 

“What I want more than anything else in the world is to feel like being myself isn’t something that should be hidden and a secret.”

This book was everything and had so many perfect layers, from seeing this main character unapologetically talking about their diaspora experiences, from the real truth about fetishization, from cultural appropriation and how it is never okay, and how westerners treat Asians, but south Asians in particular. But also, this book had the perfect sapphic romance interlaced throughout, where real learning (and unlearning) happened so beautifully. 

➽ 1.) The Burning God (The Poppy War, #3) by R.F. Kuang 

“Rin had spent so long hating how she felt when she burned, hating her fire and her god. Not anymore.”

The Poppy War trilogy is truly once in a lifetime and this conclusion was honestly a work of art all itself. This series is a military epic fantasy that is ownvoices and inspired from the authors family history and the stories she learned from them. Heavy themes of war, colonization, racism, colorism, genocide, cycles of abuse, and so many different types of trauma are never shied away from. I’ve read and reviewed many books these last six years of my life, and I’m not sure a series has impacted me more than this one. Every sentence has meaning, every chapter is so well planned, every event conveys layers and layers of thoughts and feelings. History is truly created by the victors mostly with the most blood on their hands, and the stories that get told are mostly through a white and colonized lens. R.F. Kuang has done so much with these three books and they mean so much to so many Asian readers. 

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The Dragon Republic (The Poppy War #2) by R.F. Kuang

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1.) The Poppy War ★★★★

“Our world is a dream of the gods. Maybe they have other dreams. But all we have is this story unfolding, and in the script of this world, nothing’s going to bring [him] back to life.”

This was a masterpiece. I really loved The Poppy War, but this second installment was the book of my dreams. I’m a bit speechless, and I am not sure I can express exactly how much this story meant to be, but I shall try. Especially because that means I can start my ARC of The Burning God and immediately start crying for another 500 pages.

This series is an ownvoices Chinese inspired military fantasy, and this sequel, The Dragon Republic, picks up after the dark events in book one.I am going to try to be a little vague about the plot in this review, and just focus on the important themes and discussions, while also talking about the characters who own my entire heart. But this book very much focuses on shamanism, and I was very invested from the first to last page!

You may also all call me president of the Fang Runin defense and protection squad. I live my life for one sneaky snake, and it is her. Also, Kitay, my baby, will love and cherish and protect at all costs. Also, seeing the way that this world has changed him has broken me beyond repair, but his friendship with Rin means everything to me. Not at the way I was praying for his life throughout the last half of this book though.

Next, I was already sailing on this ship in part two of The Poppy War, but let’s talk about how rinezha is my new OTP of all time. Like, I cannot believe. I truly don’t want to get into spoilers for the middle book of this series, but when I tell you the end of this book had me gasping for air like a fish out of water, I’m not lying. The forehead kiss will haunt me until the end of my days, I promise you.

(the most breathtaking arc by paper-ish)

Seeing Nezha try to live his life for his family, for his country, for something within him, and for his immense loss that he is still harboring, is just heartbreaking. Rage and grief can take so many forms, so very differently. Carrying things you didn’t ask for can be the heaviest of all burdens, but the way my heart breaks double for Nezha. I think we all can feel like sometimes something is living inside us, but seeing him and Rin both try to live these lives that they are now forced to live is very harrowing and you can’t help but feel all the empathy in the world for them. (And I can’t help but ship them until my last dying breath!)

Something that I really love how it was depicted in this book was Rin’s healing. Rin is dealing with the aftermath of all the actions she committed, and she is living with immense grief, immense depression, immense trauma, and immense PTSD. I feel like so many times in stories we get to see characters “heal correctly” or whatever our society deems is correct. Yet, we get to see Rin make “bad” choices in her healing process. From drug addiction, to denial, to darker thoughts even. Yet, this is such a real depiction of trauma and grief, and one that we normally never get to see, especially in a fantasy setting. Rin is so rightfully angry, and her pain is so loud, you hear it unapologetically, and I loved it a lot.

“She was afraid that if she stopped being angry, she might crack apart.”

The Dragon Republic really focuses more on colorism more than The Poppy War did. Yes, we got to see Rin getting treated as lesser because of her darker skin, but in this second installment we really get to see how colorism runs rampant in this whole world, not just in small towns, or private school settings, or military branches. And Rin calls other characters out on this, and my heart was soaring, truly. Also, just the entire discussion of xenophobia at the heart of this story, while also always highlighting colonization, is so important and I can’t wait to see all of this discussed even more in The Burning God.

“Rin was so tired of having to prove her humanity.”

Another thing that I also really loved about The Dragon Republic is that it really showcases how bad things don’t only happen on battle fields. Humans are capable of terrible, horrible, evil things, and they don’t need to use war as an excuse. The backdrop of war will only ever be a backdrop, and heinous acts can be committed in the safest seeming of cities and places. Again, not to get into spoilers but every scene with Petra left me shaken to my very core. I’m not sure if I’ve ever felt so deeply uncomfortable over a character ever, and it’s truly a testament to this story.

I feel like at this point I am witnessing Rebecca Kuang become a literary legend. The themes she isn’t only touching upon, but she’s completely dissecting. Her writing is truly so out of this world it’s mind-blowing to think how this is her first series, and how many more series she will be able to craft if she wishes to do so. Her characters are so beautifully flawed, and raw, and grey, and real, that I forget they only live between these pages.

It’s an honor to read and review these books. Also, I’m just so proud that a young Asian girl is putting all these old, crusty, white, cis, SFF men to shame. And I truly believe this is a once in a lifetime series, but I more so even believe that Rebecca Kuang is once in a lifetime author.

Trigger and Content Warnings: genocide, colonization, racism, colorism, murder, substance addiction, grief, PTSD, depression, talk of suicide, suicide, self-harm, abortion, talk of rape, rape, forced medical examinations, human experimentations, humiliation, animal death, animal torture, loss of a loved one, genital mutilation (to a character who was doing a bad thing), abandonment, violence, gore, and war themes. This is a very dark book at times, please use caution and make sure you are in the right headspace, friends!
5

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(Extra special thank yous to my 2 emotional support bbies: Maëlys & May! Who both got to laugh at me for spiraling about tridents, got to listen to my heavy breathing over my OTP, and also crying as every theme developed. I’m sorry & I love you.) 💕💕

The Bride Test (The Kiss Quotient, #2) by Helen Hoang

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ARC provided by Berkley in exchange for an honest review.

“It felt too big. At the same time, it didn’t feel like enough.”

The Bride Test is the most anticipated sophomore novel from Helen Hoang, AKA: the goddess who we do not deserve and who gifted us The Kiss Quotient! And this book is following a couple of characters who we originally met in that debut! I didn’t love this installment as much as I did The Kiss Quotient, but I still think that this book is a treasure and that Helen Hoang is a gift to the world.

And like The Kiss Quotient, this is an ownvoices novel, Helen is Vietnamese and is Autistic. And one of my favorite things about this book is seeing the difference of Stella, from The Kiss Quotient, and the main character of this book’s Autism. I think people just like to group marginalized people together and act like their experiences are all the same, and this author does such a wonderful job at truly showing the Autism spectrum and how vast it truly is. This book has a completely different Autistic main character, because everyone’s experiences are different, and I truly loved it more than I have words to express in this review.

Khai Vietnamese, Autistic, Michael’s cousin from The Kiss Quotient, living in California, and completely happy being on his own, especially after losing someone very close to him when he was younger. Even though that loss has made him think that he is incapable of love.

Esme – Biracial (Vietnamese and white), living in Vietnam as a cleaning woman, when Khai’s mom travels there to try to see if she can find a woman who would be compatible with her son. And Esme accepts because she is a single mom, living in poverty with her own mother and grandmother, and she thinks this is an opportunity to give them and herself a better life. Khai’s mother promises her a summer in California, where she can see if she can make Khai fall in love with her and marry her, but if not, she will return back to her family.

But with this set up, the power imbalance always is at the forefront. I always was questioning Esme and her feelings, because she has so much at stake. Also, Esme doesn’t tell Khai about her daughter for far too long, and that also felt extremely bad to me. And it’s always hard for me to root for a romance that is founded on a power imbalance and then also have it harboring such a big secret, especially after the two individuals are choosing to have sex. Now, I will say that the author does such an amazing job at putting consent at the forefront of this story constantly, yet I still could never find my footing on this shaking ground. And because of this, I can’t give this more than four stars.

I will say that, besides always putting consent at the forefront, this story has a lot of other amazing elements. Like, just seeing Esme in a foreign country, doing whatever it takes to make a better life for her loved ones, and seeing her getting the education of her dreams, I am soft and so happy. My favorite part of this book was easily the acknowledgements, where Helen really shares about her personal life and her mother’s personal experience being an immigrant and coming to American in search of a better life. I shed so many tears at how beautiful and powerful these final words were, and it truly was the cherry on an already amazing ice cream sundae.

Also, much like The Kiss Quotient, the family in this book is everything. Quan plays such a major roll in this story, and honestly was the shining light for me. And I am counting the days until we get his book next!

But this is a story about loss and love, yet also healing and becoming the person you want to be, no matter the circumstances. We get to see both Khai and Esme dealing with their own traumas, and healing separately, but we also get to see them building something really beautiful together; a future where they can be accepted and happy. And seeing them realize they were worthy of that love and acceptance all along? So damn beautiful.

“My heart works in a different way, but it’s yours.”

Overall, I just love being in Helen Hoang’s world. From the important elements and themes, to the beautiful diversity and inclusion, to some of the steamiest and most romantic scenes ever, these books are just really easy to fall in love with. I hope she never stops writing, and I hope Berkley signs her for five more books after these five, because she is a gift to the world.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Content and trigger warnings for depiction of grief, talk of loss of a loved one, abandonment, and some talk of one’s body/body issues that I think could potentially be a little triggering,

Buddy read with Kathy from Kathy Trithardt & Julianna at Paper Blots! ❤

 

Blog Tour Review | The Shadowglass (The Bone Witch #3) by Rin Chupeco

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ARC provided by Sourcebooks in exchange for an honest review.

1.) The Bone Witch ★★★★
2.) The Heart Forger ★★★★★

“There are worse things than black heartsglass, Tea. Silver is just as capable of hate.”

Most of you know this The Bone Witch trilogy is a series I hold very close to my heart, but I truly have been looking at this word document for the last twenty minutes completely unable to start this review. I’m not ready to say goodbye, and I’m equal parts in denial that it’s over, but in awe of how perfect Rin Chupeco closed this series out. I am so thankful for these books, and I will truly carry them with me forever.

The Shadow Glass is the concluding book in an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy series, that stars a bone witch named Tea who has the power to resurrect and control things, which she finds out in The Bone Witch when she accidentally resurrects her brother at his funeral. From there, Tea and her newly risen brother, Fox, go on a journey for Tea to learn about her asha powers, but they quickly feel and realize the expectations that all eight kingdoms are going to put on her.

In this world, all the people wear heartsglass around their necks. Your heartsglass will change colors depending on what you’re feeling but will overall stay mostly the same color. Yet, silver means you draw runes and they are so very important and are so very sought after. Other ashas control elements; fire, earth, water, and wind. But Tea is a dark asha who can control death. Bone witches are not very respected in this world, even though their powers hold the most important job in this world; defeating Daeva, which are different demons who dwell in this world, who are resurrected every so often.

“The darkness was inside me, I think, long before I raised my brother from the dead. My silver heartsglass merely gave it a mouth, made the darkness realize that it too can hunger…”

This story is told in my favorite format ever, which is half of it being told in present day from a bard, where you see the ramifications of everything that has happened in the past, where Tea appears to be the villain, but the other half is the past, from Tea’s perspective, where we get to slowly see the events unfold to bring us up to date with current day. Two timelines brilliantly woven together to give us the most epic finale of all time and truly is a masterpiece.

I feel like I can’t say that much more of a synopsis, because this is the last book in a trilogy, but watching Tea grow, from this girl who was so unsure of her future and her new powers, to this woman who learned to love not only others, but also herself and this power that felt so uncontrollable, and it was an honor to read, truly. And seeing this new journey that Tea has to take for herself in The Shadow Glass was completely enthralling and such a treat to read.

“I knew that shadowglass spell; I had committed it to memory nearly two years ago, and it was now a mantra, buried so deep within my psyche that nothing could pull it loose. I had pored over those words for so long that sometimes they came easier to me than my own name.”

But I couldn’t write up this review and not talk about the romance and how it completely still leaves me weak in the knees. I would completely lay my life on the line for Tea and Kalen and they are honestly everything. Also, I am just such a sucker for the protector/bodyguard/personal-warrior element in romances, and I seriously will never stop swooning over them. Truly the stuff dream OTPs are made of.

I do want to take a minute and talk about the sexual and gender representation in this book! There is a side f/f romance, which you don’t get to see that much of in this installment, but I still love them with the sum of my being! But what I really want to talk about is Likh and her transition. In all three books, we see Likh discovering how fluid gender can be, yet also testing out the waters of new things because of the gender roles, and power imbalances, people place on so many things in the societies all these characters explore, but in this book she decides her pronouns and after that everyone instantly respects her pronouns and her transition and it’s truly beyond words beautiful.

Okay, so I feel like I should write up a little personal paragraph, even though I don’t want to take away anything from this masterpiece of a trilogy. Rin Chupeco pulls from many Asian inspirations, but as a biracial Filipino it just means the world to me to see a Filipino author not only writing books that are completely in my wheelhouse, but to really have it reflect so much of my culture. Then, I also get to see an Asian girl and her Asian brother be best friends and willing to sacrifice anything for one another, and if you’ve followed my reviews for a while, you will know my brother is my best friend in the entire world, and I would sacrifice anything for him, and I’m just weak and soft and it really means so much to me. But lastly, we really get to see Tea living during the good mental health days and living during some really terrible mental health days. Mental health and Tea’s guilt, grief, and trauma is never shied away from in this story, and to even see this in an Asian inspired fantasy story is enough for me to build a shrine to Rin right this instant.

“I will save the kingdoms, and I will save you in the process, and maybe I will save the bits and pieces of myself that need rescuing too.”

And I don’t have an eloquent way to say it, this ending broke me. I read the last twenty-percent of this book with tears streaming down my face. So much perfection. Overall, this really is the book of my heart, and Tea is the character of my soul, and Rin Chupeco truly wrote a love letter for every girl out there who wants to change the broken world that people think is the default. If you haven’t started this series yet, please give it a try. I truly love it with my whole heart and soul, and I truly think it is so very worth your time.

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Content and trigger warnings for violence, death, loss of a loved one, grief depiction, brief mention of past parental abuse, and war themes.

The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

(Thank you so much FFBC, for letting me be a part of this tour!)

 

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

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ARC provided by Hachette in exchange for an honest review.

“We might be Paper Girls, easily torn and written upon. The very title we’re given suggests that we are blank, waiting to be filled. But what the Demon King and his court do not understand is that paper is flammable. And there is a fire catching among us.”

Once I heard that this was an ownvoices Asian inspired fantasy world where two girls, who are forced to be concubines to a demon king, try to overcome it all and fall in love, I knew this was going to be a book for me. But friends, I fell in love. Girls of Paper and Fire will make it onto my best books of 2018 list come December.

In this world, there are castes that people are born into which determine your social standing in the world:

Paper – Humans. Lowest class. They look just like you and me.
Steel – Half human, half demon. Middle class. Look mostly human but will have a little bit of an animal attribute.
Moon – Demons. Highest class. Take on animal characteristics.

“Demon men can take what they want. Our homes. Our lives. Our bodies.”

And each year, the demon King takes eight paper girls to be concubines; some willing, others completely unwillingly. And these eight girls will live an entire year in the palace, living somewhat in the life a luxury, waiting to see if the King will call one of them to his chamber every night. And the impression they leave on the king will impact how their future goes after the year is up. And no girl can afford to make a mistake, because they will be punished in unthinkable ways.

This story stars a young girl named Lei, whose mother was ripped out of her life and taken by the king seven years ago. She has since grown up in a remote village with her father. But even though Lei is Paper caste, she has golden demon eyes that make her very unforgettable. So, palace guards eventually come for her. And this year, Lei gets taken to become one of the King’s paper girls.

“But perhaps the gods have forgotten us, or grown bored with our small corner of the kingdom. Because here I am, about to share the last thing I’d ever want to offer the King. Myself.”

To me, this is a book about rape, and rape culture, and how rape survivors will reclaim their bodies in all the different ways. And how rape is always about power, never about sex. This book is about how rapists can be charming, good looking, friendly, and have the entire world at their feet. It doesn’t matter. This is a book about reclaiming your body after someone forcibly takes it. And how everyone heals differently at their own pace.

Content and trigger warnings for rape, attempted rape, sexual assault, slavery, sex trafficking, abandonment, heavy grief depictions, loss of a loved one, murder, abduction, captivity, torture, branding, violence, a forced medical/health exam, physical abuse, graphic animal death, and war themes. Please use caution, this book can get pretty dark at times. Make sure you are in the right headspace.

“Order was restored the only way the King knew how. Bloodshed.”

This book is also about finding love; for others but also for yourself. And it is about finding your worth and knowing that you are worthy of love regardless of what has happened to you in your life. The world can be such an ugly place, but unconditional love still hides within it, and it’s so very beautiful. And love is always worth not only a risk, but it’s worth everything. And the f/f romance in this? One of my favorites of all time. It’s slow burn, but I say that in the best way possible. Without a question, my biggest ship of 2018 is within this book’s pages.

“Her kisses heal the parts of me that the King broke. They tell me: You are strong, Lei. You are beautiful. You are mine. And, always, most important: You are yours.”

And not only is the story amazing; Natasha Ngan’s writing is out of the world. I was completely captivated by the world and felt completely teleported into this world. And the masterpiece that she created? So damn impressive. My amazing friend, May let me in on some of Natasha’s inspirations with the paper girls and the regions they are from, and I’m just blown away. It’s so impressive the amount of work and love this author truly put into this story. This is seriously a work of art, and it just made me appreciate and love this world, characters, and book even more.

Overall, this meant so much to me. From the messages and the themes, to just me seeing queer, Asian girls falling in love against a world that wants to tear them apart, it meant everything. Yet, this book does end on a massive cliffhanger, so be warned. But it has hyped me so much to see what Natasha will do next! And book two will for sure be one of my most anticipated releases of 2019. But in the meantime, I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with the start of this amazing story.

“Our kingdom believes words have power. That the characters of our language can bless or curse a life.”

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Dude read with Em at Runaway with Dream Thieves! ❤

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

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“If he looked in my eyes straight on, he would know how he’d pierced me with an arrow, how its shaft was still sticking out of my chest, twitching each time my heart contracted. And maybe he’d see how my mother had sliced up everything else.”

This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read in my entire life. It’s powerful, moving, poignant, lyrical, important, and touched me beyond words. From the discussion about mental health and the stigmas we still have in 2018 (especially in Asian cultures), to the true portrayal of grief, to the heartbreaking truth about depression, to the realistic depiction of what it means to be not only biracial but to be white passing, to the discovery of your identity. The Astonishing Color of After is a book I will cherish for the rest of my life.

“I would’ve carved out my heart and brain and given them to her just so she could feel right again.”

But this is a very heavy book, so big trigger and content warnings for suicide, depression, loss of a loved one, depiction of blood, very intense suicidal thoughts, abandonment, racial slurs/remarks, and mention of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). But if you’re in the right state of mind, I recommend this book with my whole heart and soul. This will easily make my best of 2018 list.

The Astonishing Color of After is a story about a girl who has just realized that her mother has committed suicide. This book follows her suffering with the loss of her mother, who she is also seeing in the shape of a bird. This bird has convinced our main character, Leigh, to travel to Taiwan, because there is something there that her mother wants her to remember.

“My mother is a bird. This isn’t like some William Faulkner stream-of-consciousness metaphorical crap. My mother. Is literally. A bird.”

Mental Health
This is a book about mental health and how depression impacts everyone around the person who is living with it. In the acknowledgements, Emily X.R. Pan states that she was inspired to finish this book after someone close to her took their own life. And I’m not going to say that her experience, or my experience, are the only experiences, but the depiction of depression in this book sends a chill up my spine because it feels so real and accurate.

This book discusses how people always think they could have saved the person who ended their life. Or how pills and medications are the fix that depressed people need. Sometimes people believe in other, terrible, treatments that will cure depression, no matter what it costs that person. Depression is an illness, just like anything else. It can come once, it can come and go, and it can come and never leave. But depression is real, and it can be hard, really hard, and it’s not something that’s an “easy fix”, and it’s not something that we should keep stigmatizing and pretending that it’s not a real illness. And this book respectfully and beautiful depicts that. And there is absolutely no suicide shaming in this book.

“Long before doctors put a label on her condition and offered slips of paper bearing the multisyllabic names of pharmaceuticals. Long before my father started leaving on his work trips. Long before everything: She was already hurting.”

Grief
The start of this book was really heavy and hard to read for me. When Leigh discovers what her mother did my heart felt like it was being shredded. But seeing her mother live with her own grief shredded my soul. Depression, loss, and grief are highlighted themes through this entire book, and they are so real and so important and I have no words to express how much they meant to me that they were huge components of this YA story.

“In the beginning, that mother-shaped hole was made of blood. Dark and sticky, soaked to the roots of the carpet.”

Discovery
Ultimately, this is a book about Leigh discovering her self in every sense of the word. From discovering her sexuality, to discovering her creativity, to trying to figure out what she wants to do with her life. To also living with a parent that is depressed, to sharing a life with a parent who is never home. To finally discovering her culture that has been somewhat hidden from her for her entire life. Also, this book is the biggest love letter to the healing power of art.

“Maybe that’s where all the other colors are hiding—in a dimension of the world we just can’t see, between our sky and the rest of the universe.”

Being Biracial
I feel like this is something I never talk about because I feel shame because of all the privileges I’ve received my entire life from being so very white passing, but apparently 2018 is the year I bring up my Filipino heritage in every review I write. I’m a lot more white passing than Leigh, but the things she deals with and feels, especially when she travels to Taiwan, is something so real and something I’ve never had depicted in a book before. From my light hair and eyes, to my barely basic understanding of Tagalog, this book was the book I’ve been searching for my entire life. I have no word combination for how seen I felt in the book. (Also the love interest is half Filipino, and was the cutest little cinnamon role who warmed my heart throughout the book!)

“I suck in a deep breath and quicken my steps to press closer to my grandmother. Her proximity feels like a shield. If only I didn’t stand out so obviously with my lighter eyes, with my lighter hair and its streak of green. If only I had been raised more Taiwanese, and could somehow prove to these people that I belong here.”

Identity
But seeing Leigh claim back her identity is something so beautiful that I don’t even have words for. This story is crafted and woven so exceptionally between different pasts and her present, and seeing Leigh come into her own is something I can’t possibly put into words.

“We try so hard to make these little time capsules. Memories strung up just so, like holiday lights, casting the perfect glow in the perfect tones. But that picking and choosing what to look at, what to put on display—that’s not the true nature of remembering.”

Overall, I loved this (if you couldn’t tell)! This, again, is a story that I will carry inside of my heart for the rest of my life. Emily X.R. Pan has crafted something that is so raw, but so magical. Plus, this is one of the most impressive debuts that I’ve ever read in my entire life. I recommend this with my entire heart and soul.

Oh, and real quick I want to mention that Leigh has a lesbian best friend who has the most supportive mom (and family) in the world and it was such a bright shining light for me! Also, the mom’s name is Mel and I’m going to totally believe her name is Melanie and it was a glimpse of my future if I ever have kids. Okay, now, go buy this book and come gush with me!

And lastly, here are some amazing resources that are actually in the book:

SUICIDE PREVENTION:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org
In a crisis, call their free and 24/ 7 U.S. hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Contact their Crisis Text Line: text TALK to 741-741
National Hopeline Network: http://hopeline.com / 1-800-442-HOPE (4673)
American Association of Suicidology: http://suicidology.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: http://afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: http://sprc.org

FOR SUICIDE LOSS SURVIVORS:
Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors: http://allianceofhope.org
American Association of Suicidology survivors page: http://suicidology.org/ suicide-survivors/suicide-loss-survivors
Friends for Survival: http://friendsforsurvival.org
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline survivors page: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/ loss-survivors/
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education: http://save.org

UNDERSTANDING MENTAL ILLNESS:
Mental Health America: http://mentalhealthamerica.net
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://nami.org
National Institute of Mental Health: http://nimh.nih.gov

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Buddy read with Yusra, Caidyn, & Alexis! ❤