Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Ryka Aoki, Author of Light from Uncommon Stars – On Inspiration, Learning the Violin, and the Magic of Queerness in Speculative Fiction

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

Friends, I genuinely think Light from Uncommon Stars is the best book I’ve read this year so far. The premise of a runaway violinist who ends up getting mentored by a legendary musician (who may or may not have struck a deal with the devil) was already so compelling, but I truly did not expect the story to grab me by my heart and shatter all of my emotions—only to put the world back together kinder, sweeter in the end. It is such an honor to have Ryka Aoki at the Pond to talk about her lovely balm of a book today, and I’m so excited to share our discussion with you!

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Book Review: Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki – An Affirming Love Letter to Violins, Donuts and Found Family, and the Transformative Power of Hope

light from uncommon stars by ryka aoki, book review by cw, the quiet pond
Synopsis:

Shizuka Satomi made a deal with the devil: to escape damnation, she must entice seven other violin prodigies to trade their souls for success. She has already delivered six.

When Katrina Nguyen, a young transgender runaway, catches Shizuka’s ear with her wild talent, Shizuka can almost feel the curse lifting. She’s found her final candidate.

But in a donut shop off a bustling highway in the San Gabriel Valley, Shizuka meets Lan Tran, retired starship captain, interstellar refugee, and mother of four. Shizuka doesn’t have time for crushes or coffee dates, what with her very soul on the line, but Lan’s kind smile and eyes like stars might just redefine a soul’s worth. And maybe something as small as a warm donut is powerful enough to break a curse as vast as the California coastline.

As the lives of these three women become entangled by chance and fate, a story of magic, identity, curses, and hope begins, and a family worth crossing the universe for is found.

I was provided an eARC by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

How do you begin to review a book that reawakens your long-dormant memories, bittersweet regret and love for the violin? How do you even review a book that lays bare trauma and never once lies about the pain whilst also being one of the most affirming and heartening stories you have read in recent memory? How do you review a book that doesn’t just tell you that life is worth living, but shows you with gentle scenes about two broken queer women who feed ducks at a park and a trans girl who, despite all the trauma she’s endured, learns how to love herself? How do I even begin to review Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki?

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Our Friend is Here! An Interview with Michelle Quach, Author of Not Here to Be Liked; On Her Feminist Debut, “Unlikeable” Characters, and Challenging Expectations

Our Friend is Here! is a guest feature at The Quiet Pond, where authors, creatives, and fellow readers, are invited to ‘visit’ the Pond! In Our Friend is Here! guest posts, our visitors (as their very own unique character!) have a friendly conversation about anything related to books or being a reader — and become friends with Xiaolong and friends.

If you are looking for your next feminist read that is as funny as it is complex with characters feel real and relatable, then I would kindly like to nudge you in the direction of Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach, a young adult feminist contemporary romance that releases in September. When I read Not Here to Be Liked earlier this year, I thought to myself: finally; finally a feminist contemporary that I can relate to, that tackles head-on the intersectionality and complexity of feminism in its most human and down-to-earth form. Suffice to say, I fell in love with this book’s witty and sharp humour and how it openly and vulnerably lays out the messiness of feminism, high school politics, and love.

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Book Review: Not Here To Be Liked by Michelle Quach – A Sharp and Funny Feminist Contemporary that Explores Unlikeable Characters, Double-Standards and Feminism

Not Here to be Liked by Michelle Quach. Reviewed by CW at The Quiet Pond.
Synopsis:

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

I was provided an eARC of the book in exchange for an honest review.

When asked for feminist contemporary fiction recommendations, I always seem to draw a blank. When I think about feminist young-adult fiction, I think the likes of Moxie. Though Moxie is a relevant and important piece of fiction in the ways that it engaged young readers into thinking and exploring sexism, I also wondered how Moxie, a book about a young white feminist who fights the patriarchy in small town Texas, is relevant to me – an Asian woman.

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Book Review: A Clash of Steel by C.B. Lee – A Spirited Sapphic Asian Retelling of Treasure Island about the Thrills of Adventure, the Legacy of Piracy, and Finding Yourself at Sea

A Clash of Steel: A Treasure Island remix by c.b. lee. reviewed by cw at the quiet pond.
Synopsis:

Two intrepid girls hunt for a legendary treasure on the deadly high seas in this YA remix of the classic adventure novel Treasure Island.

1826. The sun is setting on the golden age of piracy, and the legendary Dragon Fleet, the scourge of the South China Sea, is no more. Its ruthless leader, a woman known only as the Head of the Dragon, is now only a story, like the ones Xiang has grown up with all her life. She desperately wants to prove her worth, especially to her mother, a shrewd business woman who never seems to have enough time for Xiang. Her father is also only a story, dead at sea before Xiang was born. Her only memento of him is a pendant she always wears, a simple but plain piece of gold jewelry.

But the pendant’s true nature is revealed when a mysterious girl named Anh steals it, only to return it to Xiang in exchange for her help in decoding the tiny map scroll hidden inside. The revelation that Xiang’s father sailed with the Dragon Fleet and tucked away this secret changes everything. Rumor has it that the legendary Head of the Dragon had one last treasure—the plunder of a thousand ports — that for decades has only been a myth, a fool’s journey.

Xiang is convinced this map could lead to the fabled treasure. Captivated with the thrill of adventure, she joins Anh and her motley crew off in pursuit of the island. But the girls soon find that the sea—and especially those who sail it—are far more dangerous than the legends led them to believe.

I was provided an eARC of this book from the author. This does not influence my opinion in any way.

One of the best feelings in the world is reading a book that you were excited for, a book that you were anxiously anticipating, and then to discover that it was better than you could have ever imagined. A Clash of Steel was that book for me. Though loving A Clash of Steel should have come as no surprise – I have, after all, read and loved every single book that C.B. Lee has ever written – I was blown away by A Clash of Steel, its spirit, and its delightful sense of adventure.

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