The Bride Test by Helen Hoang – I cried. I laughed. I will definitely re-read.

Text: The Bride Test, a novel, Helen Hoang. Image: An illustration of a woman holding a pencil, completing pencils.

One evening around dinner time at the Pond, Xiaolong smelled a rich, delectable aroma of something slightly tangy and warm.

“Mmm,” she mused, “I wonder what’s cooking. It sure smells great!”

Cuddle the otter, wearing a pajama cap, is holding a ladle with a pot of orange-coloured soup in front of her.She wandered in the direction of the scent to find Cuddle huddled over the fire with a ladle in her paw, stirring what looked to be an orange colored soup filled with noodles, sprouts, and various meats. The steam wafted up from the pot towards Cuddle’s face as Party sat peacefully on a log behind her, awaiting dinner.

“Oh, hi, Xiaolong, come over here! I looked up the recipe for an authentic Bún bò Huế. After I read THE BRIDE TEST, I couldn’t stop thinking about this soup. I had all this fish sauce saved up and reading that scene where Esme used it in her recipe made me want to try to make it myself. Taste it. I hope it’s good!” Cuddle shifted nervously from side to side.

“We just had fish snacks the other day, remember? I loved them!” said Xiaolong.

“No, Silly, fish sauce! Not fish snacks!” giggled Cuddle.

Party the stuffed otter, sitting up right with a bowl of soup in front of her.She scooped Bún bò Huế into three bowls: two big and one small, added lime slices, and carried them carefully over to a tree stump by the log where Party was perched.

“Speaking of THE BRIDE TEST, I loved it so much. Let me tell you more…”

Blurb:

Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

Joce’s Review:

THE BRIDE TEST opens in Ho Chi Minh City, where Khai Diep’s mother, Cô Nga, takes Trấn Ngọc Mỹ, or Esme, by surprise, and propositions her with the opportunity to move to the Bay Area of California to date her son, in hopes of them one day marrying. Esme is not well off and lives in poverty, so with the hopes of securing a better life for herself and her daughter, she agrees and moves in with Khai, attempting to seduce him. Their story is romantic, exploratory, and well-rounded.

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Internment by Samira Ahmed – Incisive, Deliberate, and Unforgettable

Text: Internment, Samira Ahmed. Image: A brown girl wearing a black cap with the word 'RESIST', her face partially concealed by her long hair. An illustration of a barbed wire stone fence is imposed on her shirt
Blurb:

Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.

With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.

Joce’s Review:

Samira Ahmed’s INTERNMENT is both dystopian and contemporary, transporting readers into a terrifying alternate reality. One day, suddenly, Layla Amin’s home is stormed and her family is forcibly removed and placed in an internment camp for Muslim-American citizens. There, she forms friendships and alliances in a rebellion, hopeful for freedom. With each act of resistance against the Director and his guards, Layla and her companions become more calculated but also more frantic. They struggle to balance hope with powerlessness, two hugely polarized extremes. No one knows who to trust, and all dialogue feels tense.

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Opposite of Always by Justin A. Reynolds – A Movie-Ready John Green-esque Novel

Text: Opposite of Always, Justin A Reynolds. Image: A black male teen (left), sits across the stairs from a black female teen with natural hair. Above the stairs are the same teens, their legs pressed against each other, the image cut off above their knees.

Blurb:

When Jack and Kate meet at a party, bonding until sunrise over their mutual love of Froot Loops and their favorite flicks, Jack knows he’s falling—hard. Soon she’s meeting his best friends, Jillian and Franny, and Kate wins them over as easily as she did Jack.

But then Kate dies. And their story should end there.

Yet Kate’s death sends Jack back to the beginning, the moment they first meet, and Kate’s there again. Healthy, happy, and charming as ever. Jack isn’t sure if he’s losing his mind.

Still, if he has a chance to prevent Kate’s death, he’ll take it. Even if that means believing in time travel. However, Jack will learn that his actions are not without consequences. And when one choice turns deadly for someone else close to him, he has to figure out what he’s willing to do to save the people he loves.

Joce’s Review:

OPPOSITE OF ALWAYS presents the burning questions of many time travel loop novels: If you had the power to change the past, would you, and how? Jack King took me along his journey through time, revisiting the same incidents again and again, beginning at a party where he meets Kate on the stairs and they share a bowl of cereal. From there, he wrestles with friendships, family relationships, and self-care, and the time loop ends and rewinds upon Kate’s death, totaling a six month span each round.

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The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory – Slow Burn Romance Done Right

Text: The Proposal, Jasmine Guillory. Background images: An illustration of the profile of a dark-skinned woman with natural hair, wearing glasses facing the right, and the profile of a brown-skinned man wearing a blue cap, facing the left.
Blurb:

When freelance writer Nikole Paterson goes to a Dodgers game with her actor boyfriend, his man bun, and his bros, the last thing she expects is a scoreboard proposal. Saying no isn’t the hard part—they’ve only been dating for five months, and he can’t even spell her name correctly. The hard part is having to face a stadium full of disappointed fans…

At the game with his sister, Carlos Ibarra comes to Nik’s rescue and rushes her away from a camera crew. He’s even there for her when the video goes viral and Nik’s social media blows up—in a bad way. Nik knows that in the wilds of LA, a handsome doctor like Carlos can’t be looking for anything serious, so she embarks on an epic rebound with him, filled with food, fun, and fantastic sex. But when their glorified hookups start breaking the rules, one of them has to be smart enough to put on the brakes…

Joce’s review:

I have always loved reading romance novels, and in early 2018, I read THE WEDDING DATE by Jasmine Guillory and instantly fell in love. However, I am notoriously bad at only reading the first book in a series and then completely abandoning the rest of the series (or in this case, I guess the companion novels), so I made a conscious effort to forge on. So here I am, reading THE PROPOSAL five months after it was published! (Oy.)

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A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua – On Reading the Right Book at the Right Time

Text: A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua.
Blurb:

Holed up with other mothers-to-be in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles, Scarlett Chen is far from her native China, where she worked in a factory and fell in love with the married owner, Boss Yeung. Now she’s carrying his baby. To ensure that his child—his first son—has every advantage, Boss Yeung has shipped Scarlett off to give birth on American soil. As Scarlett awaits the baby’s arrival, she spars with her imperious housemates. The only one who fits in even less is Daisy, a spirited, pregnant teenager who is being kept apart from her American boyfriend.

Then a new sonogram of Scarlett’s baby reveals the unexpected. Panicked, she goes on the run by hijacking a van—only to discover that she has a stowaway: Daisy, who intends to track down the father of her child. The two flee to San Francisco’s bustling Chinatown, where Scarlett will join countless immigrants desperately trying to seize their piece of the American dream. What Scarlett doesn’t know is that her baby’s father is not far behind her.

Joce’s review:

As a new mother and a first-generation Chinese immigrant living in the United States, I knew A River of Stars would strike a chord, but I could not have prepared myself for how deeply. I met Scarlett and Daisy, our two main characters, when they were pregnant. They suddenly go on the lam, desperately trying to piece together a full life for themselves and their babies. As they both have very little to no family in the USA, they create a found family, and I am honored to have witnessed it as a reader.

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