Book Review: Frankly in Love by David Yoon

Title: Frankly In Love 

Author: David Yoon

Goodreads Score: 3.92

My Score: 4

Highlights: funny, lively voice; great Korean-American representation

Other Lights to Know: Fake-Dating trope, for those who are either seeking this out, or avoiding it

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Now that the weather in New York has finally reached that perfectly crisp temperature, I’ve been craving snug evenings spent buried under a massive pile of blankets, with a good book in my hands, and a cup of tea to the side. And what goes better with a cozy night like that then a little romance? With that in mind, I picked up David Yoon’s debut novel, Frankly in Love. I’ve been hearing tons of buzz about this book lately, and what with the Korean representation and rave reviews, I had a feeling that I, too, would be . . . well . . . frankly in love with it. However, while I was expecting a fluffy love story, this book delved into deeper issues, balancing family matters with struggles of navigating identity. If you’re anything like me, Frankly in Love will bounce you back and forth between laughter and tears.

At the start of the book, we meet Frank Li, a Korean-American going into his senior year of high school. Despite the fact that he was born and raised in Southern California and speaks only a little Korean, his parents still expect him to exclusively date Korean girls. So, when Frank falls for a white girl, Brit, he knows his parents will never approve. However, a family friend of his, Joy Song, is in a similar situation with her boyfriend, Wu, who is Chinese, so the two decide to fake date each other. After all, that will appease their parents and free up more time for them to spend with their respective partners. Simple, right? But, as anybody who likes to read books with fake-dating tropes knows, love is never simple, and as Frank spends more time around Joy, he begins to realize how little he actually knows about love.

While many summaries of Frankly in Love focus on the fake-dating aspects of the book, in reality, a lot of the central conflict revolves around Frank’s struggles with his identity (until the last hundred pages of the book, when there are suddenly so many plot events happening at once that the pacing feels a bit rushed). Frank is Korean-American, and he interrogates the ways in which he is both Korean and American and the tension between the two. He often feels not Korean enough, as he doesn’t speak the language, which is something I could completely empathize with. As a half-Korean woman (who looks more white than Korean) who is also not fluent, I sometimes feel like I’m somehow being Korean wrong, as if there’s a right way to be Korean. I grew up eating Korean food, watching Korean dramas, and visiting family in Korea, but the language barrier has always made me feel like a disappointment. I think it works as a compliment to Yoon’s writing that he made me feel so connected to the character that I was frequently tearing up throughout the narrative—and not even at some of the more overtly sad events.

I also appreciated that, in his exploration of Korean identity, Yoon made sure not to simply romanticize Koreans but also to spotlight the anti-blackness and racism that exist in Korean communities. Frank loves his parents but acknowledges that they are also anti-black—at the start of the book, we find out that Frank’s sister, Hanna, was disowned after marrying a black man, and his parents often make extremely discriminatory statements against almost anyone who isn’t Korean.

While I definitely connected with Frank and loved his voice, I wasn’t as enamored with his character as a whole—which isn’t so much an indictment of the book as it is of his personality. First of all, he ends up cheating on one of the love interests, and regardless of who I was rooting for him to end up with, it still made me like him less. But I suppose that’s what happens when you instantly fall in love with somebody, which Frank tends to do. Let me give you some context. This is a 400-page book. Frank introduces us to his first love interest, Brit, on page 33. They know each other but don’t seem close. On page 35, Brit asks Frank to be her partner on a school project. On page 42, they’re making out in a random minivan. And then, in the next chapter, they’re officially dating and completely obsessed with each other. I get that sometimes infatuation is quickly formed and passionate, but I just wish there was more time and attention spent on constructing both of Frank’s love interests.

However, while there were a few points of critique regarding the romance aspects of the book, I still completely enjoyed it. The gripes I had with Frank as a character were overcome by his voice—at his best, he is witty, breezy, fun, and sharp, and I found myself compulsively turning pages. Despite the size, I finished it in a day. I also liked some of the side characters—Wu Tang, for example, is such a lovable jock, and I kept wanting more of Frank’s best friend, Q, who is nerdy, wholesome, and always comes through for Frank. Plus, there were at least three different points in the book where I laughed out loud . . . or at least snorted quietly through my nose.

All in all, if a book manages to both make me cry and laugh (sometimes in the same chapter!), then, despite some mild criticisms here and there, I know that it will definitely be a book that I’ll remember and recommend to others. And to be frank? Frankly in Love fits that bill.

Prediction for a Sequel: Frank is running low on eggs, so he goes to the grocery store. As he is paying, his fingertips brush the cashier’s palm. They make eye contact. Frank has never seen such a pretty cashier. They move in together the next chapter.

Book Review: Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

Title: Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee 

Author: Jeff Zentner

Goodreads Score: 4.05

My Score: 4.05 (in sync, Goodreads!!)

Highlights: Hilarious dialogue, strong friendship between the two girls, and oh DID I MENTION THEY RUN A SHOW ABOUT TERRIBLE HORROR MOVIES SDFDS THIS WAS MADE FOR ME

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So, I don’t know about y’all, but I love horror movies. I love the quality ones, of course, like The Babadook, Train to Busan, and Halloween. But even more than those, I love love loooooove bad horror movies. I’ve watched Zombeavers about five times now, and The Gingerdead Man is next up in the queue. All that to say, I was captivated by Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee from the start.

In this contemporary YA novel, best friends Delia and Josie become Delilah and Rayne and host a public access TV show, Midnite Matinee, about so-bad-they’re-amazing horror movies. While the show is steadily growing in popularity, the two girls are in their senior year of high school and facing some life-changing decisions. Josie struggles with the weight of her parents’ expectations and her own ambitions, and she must decide between continuing to grow Midnite Matinee or going to college and interning at the Food Network. However, when she begins to fall for Lawson—an adorable, pancake-loving MMA fighter—her choice becomes even more excruciating.

Meanwhile, Delia clings to their TV show as her last, tenuous connection to her dad, who left her and her mother when she was just a child but who used to bond with Delia over their shared love of horror movies. Delia is convinced that if their show goes viral, her dad will see it and come back to her. So when Delia a) manages to track down her father’s new address and b) sets up a meeting with Divine, a horror legend that could increase their show’s exposure, she convinces Josie to make a special road trip with her. One that could either solve all of their problems, or one that could just make everything that much worse . . .

Due to the aforementioned love for cheesy horror movies, I think my rating of this book might be a tad bit biased. I toggled back and forth on how to review this book, because while I loved everything about the setup, the second half of the book seemed to lose momentum for me, and the ending left me feeling more “meh” than anything else. But, on the other hand, Zentner is an incredibly funny dude, so even when I wasn’t fully loving the plot, I was still enjoying myself.

To me, the tiebreaker for this book would have to go to the characters, both of whom I really enjoyed in different ways. I’ve read a few different reviews for this book, and what surprised me was that while most people love Delia, more than a couple people didn’t like Josie—my favorite character. Don’t get me wrong, I empathized a lot with Delia—she’s a girl struggling with the feeling that everyone will always end up leaving her, and her emotions were raw and real. But at the same time, I thought Josie was spunky, bold, and downright hilarious. Of course, she’s also arrogant and has her share of flaws—but nobody is perfect, and Josie is a good reflection of that. I think a solid glimpse of her character can be summed up in this little sisterly interlude:

“I kick Alexis under the table. ‘Dude, seriously. You’re basically a stack of rats standing on each other’s shoulders and wearing a hoodie and sweatpants.’ She mewls in protest (sounding not unlike a stepped-on rat, if I’m being honest). ‘We’ve warned you several times specifically about comparing Alexis to a stack of rats in human clothing,’ Mom says.” (134)

Is Josie always the nicest, sweetest person? No. Do you want to listen to her insults and jabs forever? Please. And I think that, for me, about summarizes my feelings on this book—sure, the plot in the second half fell a little flat for me personally, but at the end of the book, I wanted to keep turning the pages, and I don’t know about you, but to me, that’s a book worth reading.

Prediction for a Sequel (If there was one): Lawson is injured in a high-stakes fight, and becomes obsessed with creating the perfect pancake in his free time. Josie and Delia decide to make their own terrible horror movie…but in a cruel turn of events, they end up making a perfect horror movie instead.

Oh…and by the way….HAPPY HALLOWEEN YA’LL!!!

 

 

 

Book Review: The House in Poplar Wood

Title: The House in Poplar Wood

Author: K.E. Ormsbee

Goodreads Score: 3.97

My Score: 4.02 

Highlights: Spooky middle grade read, Death, Passion, and Memory are living entities

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You know how some people celebrate Christmas for the whole month of December? Well, I’m like that, too, except with Halloween. (And okay, Christmas too—I really like holidays, okay?) That means that ever since October arrived, I’ve been knee-high in spooky reads. The Shining, a collection of YA Poe retellings, Coraline—give me more, please! Of course, sometimes I’m feeling the autumnal vibes but don’t want to have recurring nightmares. For times like those, I crave spooky books that aren’t too spooky, and I recently finished a perfect example of such a balancing act—The House in Poplar Wood by K. E. Ormsbee.

In this atmospheric middle-grade read, Felix and Lee Vickery might be twins, but they live two completely different lives. In one section of their house, Felix helps his father serve Death—curingpatients who still have life left in them and allowing Death to take them if they don’t. In the other section of the house, Lee helps his mother serve Memory, bottling up the memories of those who wish to part with them. The Agreement, forged long ago by Death and Memory, prevents Felix from seeing his mom and Lee from seeing his Dad. While Lee longs to find a way to break the Agreement, Felix feels less optimistic about the chances of doing such a thing—especially since their last attempt to thwart Death and Memory went terribly wrong. But then Gretchen Whipple, the mayor’s daughter, comes barging into the twins’ lives, demanding their help to solve the murder of Essie Hastings, the apprentice of Passion. In exchange for their help, Gretchen promises the boys that she’ll help them break the Agreement. If the kids succeed, then the Vickery family can be allowed to be a true family, finally. However, the twins know better than anyone the kinds of punishment Death and Memory can dole out to those who cross them. Last time was a warning. If they are caught this time? The consequences could be as deadly as Death himself . . .

I don’t know why, but I enjoy books with Death as a living entity. But a book where Death, Memory, and Passion are all separate entities with their own histories and grudges, manipulating and working alongside humans? Adore. I thought the premise of this book hadstrong potential, and I wasn’t disappointed! There was intrigue throughout almost every chapter, and I finished the book in a solid sitting—something that happens more rarely nowadays since I actually do a few things with my time. (And yes, binge-watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer counts—come at me!)

The book is told from the rotating perspectives of Lee, Felix, and Gretchen, and although I enjoyed Lee’s and Felix’s chapters, I felt most pulled toward Gretchen’s voice. As I mentioned in the summary, Gretchen is the daughter of the town’s mayor. However, what I didn’t mention is that each mayor is also a summoner—a human who has the power to call on entities like Death and Memory. Gretchen’s older brother, Asa, is allowed to know all the summoner secrets, but Gretchen, as the second born, is largely disregarded by her family. However, when she suspects her father of helping hide what really happened the night Essie Hastings was murdered, she becomes determined to undercover the secrets lurking in her own home—no matter the consequences.

Despite being treated poorly by the majority of her family, Gretchen isn’t a passive voice. Instead, she is fiery, blunt, insatiably curious, and obstinate to the point of fault. She is full of life and passion—an excellent complement to the twins. I also felt so invested in her storyline that I think it could have made an excellent book told solely from her point of view. Despite the twin bond of Lee and Felix, the most interesting relationship to me was between Gretchen and her (sometimes cruel) brother Asa, who is definitely hiding secrets. Asa initially comes across as rude and condescending, but despite the author never dipping into his thoughts, Asa is one of the characters who changes the most throughout the book, and by the end, he had totally endeared himself to me.

Speaking of the end—Ormsbee did a solid job wrapping up the book. While the ending wasn’t a huge shock, it made sense, although I do wish that there was some sort of confrontation with Gretchen’s father. But other than that, I thought it tied up a bunch of loose ends in a way that left me thoroughly satisfied. And only a little bit spooked.

Prediction for a Sequel (If there was one): Felix starts attending school for the first time, and is dazzled by concepts like detention and homework. The twins and their parents try to come up with conversation topics now that they’re free to be around each other after more than a decade. Gretchen breaks another window.

Do y’all like to read spooky books in the fall, too? Let me know your favorites, or what’s on your TBR!

Picture (Book) This

When looking back at the different books I’ve reviewed or even just discussed on this blog, I realized that while I’ve bounced from contemporary YAs to antiquated classics to high-stakes thrillers to rom-coms, I haven’t ever talked about picture books. Which feels like a SHAME. Even though picture books are usually aimed at the early reader crowd, the amount of care, craft, and dedication that goes into them are incredible, in terms of both the illustrations as well as the prose – after all, every writer knows the struggle of trying to trim down their word count during the edit phase. With picture books, I can only imagine that that process of parsing down and making every word valuable is about 5 times as hard.

With that said, I thought I would send some love to picture books by listing my favorite old picture book, my favorite new picture book, and a picture book I want to read!

Favorite Old Picture Book: Love You Forever by Robert Munsch – as a slightly grumpy child, I think I was comforted by this tale of a mother’s unconditional love toward her little boy (who she loves just as much even when he isn’t so little anymore). A sweet read, with soothing pastel colors that feel just as safe and cozy as the message of the story. (From what I remember anyways…but my memory is kind of trash, so please let there be no comments that are like “Uh, Erin….you do remember that the mom dies halfway through leaving the little boy to run away and become that scary looking purple mascot for McDonald’s, right?”)

Favorite New (Ish) Picture Book: The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield – in a classic 180, this book (published in 2016) is not safe and cozy at all – instead it’s a spooky, eerie read about the dark – but also about overcoming your fears and chasing your ambitions. Written by an astronaut, this picture book is out of this world. Hehehehe.

Picture Book I Want to Read: A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin – “Lin’s lyrical text and nighttime paintings successfully combine three distinctive and memorable elements into this story about why the moon waxes and wanes: an uncontrived fable, a vision of a mother and child living in cozy harmony, and a night kitchen of Sendakian proportions” (Publisher’s Weekly). I don’t know if I’m just hungry right now, but the title of this book immediately caught my eye, as well as the huge, captivating moon smack in the middle of the cover, that seems to beckon the reader closer.

Do any of ya’ll read picture books? What’s your favorite one? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

I Finished My First Draft!

How the *heck*in is it already December 11th? Throw sixteen dice at me and call me Boggled. But I guess time does speed by when you’re busy. In an earlier post, I mentioned that I was working as a writer for a children’s publishing house, and I just finished the first edit of the manuscript of my new book!! It’s a fractured classic based off of Great Expectations, with a 12-year-old Korean girl as the protagonist. Now the document is off with my editor, and so for the first time in many months, I’m not constantly tinkering with it. Which is a nice break. But even though drafts are not people, and even though I still have the whole thing on my computer, I still miss it. Is that weird?

Anyways – now that I have a little bit of free time on my hands, I want to tackle some kind of holiday themed book challenge. Maybe the 12 days of Christmas, but with a different book for each day? Or Christmas themed books. Or books about winter. Or maybe just reading books curled up in a blanket with some hot cocoa…surely that counts as themed reading, right? Any suggestions for December appropriate books? Any suggestions on keeping warm? Either would be appreciated!

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Merch

I love Top Ten Tuesdays.

But I am so scatter-brained that I almost always forget that it’s Tuesday until Tuesday has already passed…I will seriously, actually get to Thursday, blink at the calendar, and be like “whoah where did the week go??” This is mostly because I work as a writer for a children’s publishing house, and so although I do go into the office a couple times a week, I don’t have a set schedule, and I also work from home a lot — all that to say that the days can sometimes pass in a blur.

BUT THIS WEEK I DID NOT LET TUESDAY PASS ME BY. So, Top Ten Tuesday here we go! Today’s topic is Top Ten Bookish Merchandise, and lemme tell you, as a compulsive shopper, there are just too many items on my wish-list. But, since I also hate hyper-linking and tracking down photos, for this Top 10 Tuesday I decided to do more of a Top Five Tuesday (gotta ease back into it slowly…right?). That said, here are my picks!

  1. This super simple, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Don’t Panic Cuff . The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of my all-time favorite books, and the simple motto of “Don’t Panic” is one of my favorite quotes. I used to write the phrase on the inside of my wrist, just so I could look down and remind myself that no matter how chaotic things are, I don’t have to panic…not as long as I have my trusty towel by my side, that is.

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2. Harry Potter definitely has the best of both quantity and quality when it comes to bookish merchandise. That’s why it was so hard to not make this entire list just Harry Potter themed things. Luckily, this Harry Potter Gryffindor House Gift Trunk  has the best of multiple worlds, including a Hogwarts acceptance letter (it was just a wee bit late) an adorable owl, and tons of warm Gryffindor merch to make you the most fashionable prefect of the bunch. I know that this is beginning to sound like a paid advertisement, but I just really love Harry Potter stuff. Which leads me to number three…

 

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3. A Honeydukes Scented Harry Potter candle. I WANT. There are also a bunch of other Harry Potter themed candles available, and they all look so cool! But obviously Honeydukes, a literal magic candy shop, has got to be the sweetest scent of them all.

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4. An iconic Mockingjay pin – these are available from a bunch of different sellers, and in today’s political climate, a little symbol of resistance seems even more relevant.

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5. What’s better than reading? …obviously a chilly fall afternoon spent reading by the window, curled up underneath a pile of blankets with a dog on your lap and a cup of tea resting close beside you. Swoon. These classic inspired tea blends make me wanna be real cozy, right now.

 

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So, those are my top “ten” picks for bookish merchandise that I’m currently eying. (Good thing next month is December!) Have you picked up any of these items? And what’s on your wish list? Let me know! 

Penguin Minis: Extra Cute or Just Extra?

So, anyone who knows me knows that I am an impulse buyer.

Those brightly colored check-out lines were created just to tailor to my shopping type – that is, the people who pop into Target for a quick purchase (hahaha, as if such a thing exists), but come out staggering under the weight of seventeen candles, two new notebooks, a sweater, a few snacks, and the weight of capitalist despair.

That said: when I saw that Penguin had just released John Green’s books in miniature version, my vision blurred a little bit and before I knew it, I had snapped up a bite-sized copy of Looking for Alaska – my favorite Green book.

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The pic above (which I found on The Washington Post) perfectly illustrates the size of these cute curiosities. While undeniably adorable, I was curious to find out more about this format.

According to Penguin’s website, the format was first introduced in the Netherlands back in 2009, and the patented design of Dutch printer Royal Jongbloed features a “horizontal format, hinged cover, and ultra-thin paper to offer a complete, unabridged text with a trim smaller than 5″ X 3″ and weighing an average of 5 ounces that can be easily held in the palm of one hand. Pages can be turned with the flick of a thumb, much like scrolling on a cell phone.”

My copy of Looking for Alaska came in the mail a couple days ago, and I had a few feelings about it, obviously.

On the positive side:

  1. It truly is adorable ohmygod it’s so smol I love smol things
  2. It’s pretty convenient for the fall/winter seasons…it can easily be thrown into a spare coat pocket, and just like ten dollar bills, old poems on torn out notebook paper, and cherished lipglosses, I’m sure I’d get that thrill of finding random books in purses and old jackets many years down the line.

On the less positive side:

  1. Like you’d imagine, the paper is super thin, (as one of my friends commented: “oh, it’s just like those pocket bibles”) and so the idea that you can read the book just as easily as scrolling through pages on a cell phone doesn’t exactly live up. In fact, I found the horizontal formatting a little weird, and would have preferred a more traditional vertical alignment.
  2. Additionally, the text is smaller than I was used to, which could take some getting used to. Again, not exactly unexpected, but something to note.

Overall Thoughts:

While a novel (lol) experience, these books seem meant for those who love John Green and can’t get enough of his stuff, or collectors who just like having aesthetically refreshing books in their lives. Personally, I would find it a bit of a headache to read new books in mini-size, but I would pick up a couple more (at roughly 10 dollars each) if they released some of my favorites.

What are your thoughts on this new format by Penguin? Would you switch over from full-size to mini? What books would you love to see this smol? Let me know!