Monday, April 4, 2022

You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao

 You've Reached Sam
Author:  Dustin Thao
Wednesday Books
Publication date: November 9, 2021
Pages: 305
Source/format: Hardcover//library
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from Seventeen-year-old Julie has her future all planned out—move out of her small town with her boyfriend Sam, attend college in the city, spend a summer in Japan. But then Sam dies. And everything changes.

Heartbroken, Julie skips his funeral, throws out his things, and tries everything to forget him and the tragic way he died. But a message Sam left behind in her yearbook forces back memories. Desperate to hear his voice one more time, Julie calls Sam’s cellphone just to listen to his voicemail.

And Sam picks up the phone.

In a miraculous turn of events, Julie’s been given a second chance at goodbye. The connection is temporary. But hearing Sam’s voice makes her fall for him all over again, and with each call it becomes harder to let him go. However, keeping her otherworldly calls with Sam a secret isn’t easy, especially when Julie witnesses the suffering Sam’s family is going through. Unable to stand by the sidelines and watch their shared loved ones in pain, Julie is torn between spilling the truth about her calls with Sam and risking their connection and losing him forever.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

You've Reached Sam by Dustin Thao starts off with how Julie met Sam in Ellensburg, WA. The prologue gives readers context of how Julie and Sam first met and how they started their friendship which ends up budding into something more. Fast forward to after the death of Sam, Julie is having a hard time grieving; she skipped his funeral. Julie tries to process her emotions by gathering all the items that reminds her of Sam in order to get rid of his belongings/gifts. As she touches each item, she gives a a glimpse of a memory of her past with Sam such as his favorite denim jacket that he lets Julie borrow after it rains during a Screaming Trees concert. 

If you are looking for a character driven novel, this is it! Thao delves the emotions and the character development of Julie, Sam and even some of Julie's friends and family. The way Thao writes is somewhat poetic. The reader can feel the emotions and can picture them at the scene of each memory. I haven't cried when reading a book since In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. I'm hardly teary-eyed when I read a novel but sometimes the author's words tugs at your heartstrings in a way you empathize with the characters. You feel their sadness, their loneliness and their grief. You want to comfort them somehow. 

At the end of senior year of high school, Julie is trying to get by each day. It's already hard to be in high school, waiting for the college acceptances and processing the death of a loved one. Mika, Yuki, Rachel, Jay, Tristan and Oliver only want the best for Julie even if she pushes them away at times. Readers learn how Oliver and Mika are processing Sam's death. Julie realizes how others are processing their grief and that they need her. Even Sam needs her. That voicemail at the end broke me! The whole novel comes full circle with that voicemail. 

You've Reached Sam is a heartbreaking novel that readers can relate to. How does one process grief after losing a loved one? We join Julie during her journey through grief, recovery and acceptance. The magical realism of hearing Sam through a phone call is exuberating! It gives Julie the time to say goodbye and to find some closure. This actually reminds me of Landline by Rainbow Rowell where a phone call can create an opportunity for the main character to find explore their past, present and future selves.

I highly recommend You've Reached Sam. It's a beautifully written debut novel and I am looking forward to future books by Thao. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Hello, Again! How are you?

So it's been awhile since I posted here. With the pandemic still looming, it's been incredibly hard to balance my work and personal life. But I am happy to see that a lot of changes have been made since last year. I'll update you what I have been up to lately and what I am looking forward to for the holidays and the rest of the year. 


Sometime in the summer, my husband and I decided to relocate and we moved to an apartment that had a better work commute for the both of us. We ended up moving early September. I love the apartment! The living room has the best natural light since it's a south facing room. I finally have my own bookcase. I used to have all of my books in boxes at my previous residence. So, it's nice to see most of my books on shelves. However, I own way too many books and I have to donate or sell a bunch. I am trying to cull my collection and only keep my favorites or nostalgic books. Some of the books I own carry many memories like I met the author or the book created a huge impact in my life. 

The kitchen is probably the biggest room in the apartment which I love because I enjoy baking and cooking. I cannot wait to try out new recipes this year. I have been slowly building up my cookbook collection over the years. Although the bedroom is small, it's quite cozy and gets a decent amount of light for most of the day. I am very excited that I am close to town, public transit, a diner, and a lot of great places to eat. I am super close to a bubble tea shop which is awesome in my book.


Work started back in person five days a week in mid-August. Let's say it's been rough since I was working 1.5 years at home with going into work one day a week. Transitioning from one to five days has been a lot on me. I always feel guilty taking off time since we are super understaffed. At least when I was working at home, I didn't feel the need to take a lot of time off. I guess it's healthy to take a break once in awhile but I despise going back to work with more things to go compared to when I left work.

Speaking of time off, I am going on vacation. Yes, I am a little nervous about it since I will be on a plane but I figured it's safer on a plane than me commuting on subway to work everyday. At least airlines are very strict with the masking protocols. My place of employment is super strict with surveillance testing even though over 95% of people here are fully vaccinated. We also have to do daily symptom checking. An app lets us know whether we are cleared to go on-site or if we are restricted.

WWoHP and Orlando Informer Meetup

So back to the vacation...I will be visiting the Wizard World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) in December as part of the Orlando Informer Meetup (OI Meetup)! I am so excited! It's legit the week after Thanksgiving and my friend, Jess, and I have been planning this trip since maybe earlier this May. We got a good deal on the hotel too. I cannot wait to return back to the WWoHP. I haven't been there since maybe 2016. Jess has never been to the WWoHP and I cannot wait to show her the magic. We will make a lot of memories in December. And I am so excited we are going during the holiday season. All the decorations will be up and the shows will be tweaked to include holiday theming. I cannot wait to have some frozen Butterbeer and also to try the hot Butterbeer. And can I say no humid, hot Florida summer! Yes, please!!!

Although I traveled around New England during the past couple of years, New Hampshire and Maine in particular, going to Florida is a huge step. Many of my conventions I had planned for 2020 were postponed to 2021 and then they are postponed yet again to 2022. I am not sure if the 2022 conventions will happen but at leas this magical trip will happen. Before people panic about the increase COVID cases and lax protocols in Florida, Jess and I are going to an afterhours event where there is less people going into Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Masking is required indoors. The parks are practically empty and I heard maybe 2 rides have lines. Most rides are walk-ons.

We enter the parks at 5:00 pm on Friday, December 3rd and on Saturday, December 4th. The public will need to vacate the premises by 7:00 pm on Friday and 8:00 pm on Saturday. We OI Meetup goers will then be able to roam around both parks until 12:30 am for the Friday meetup and 1:30 am for the Saturday meetup. And can I say that the admission includes unlimited free food!! Yes, you heard that right...Unlimited free food at the parks and also non-alcoholic drinks! So that means free Butterbeers and ice cream from Florean Fortscue's! Of course there is real food too. Can't load up on all that sugar all night long. However, each attendee with receive a $15 meal card for each day of attendance for eating a small meal before the free food sessions are launched. I believe the free food starts around 8:00 pm on Friday and 9:00 pm on Saturday.

For more information about the meetup, check out the Orlando Informer Meetup webpage. I heard that the meetup for next year is June 3-4, 2022. If you are interested, make sure to get your ticket early and book your hotel early. With the OI Meetup, you get access to discounted on-site hotel rooms. The discount is pretty substantial too. 

Also, speaking of Harry Potter, this month is the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone film. WOW! It's crazy how it's been 20 years! I remember being a freshman in high school when I saw the film for the very first time. 

All I can say is that I am looking forward to a magical end of the year. I might even do a mini HP marathon of the films before my trip. Be on the lookout for a blog post or two regarding my Orlando Informer Meetup recap. I cannot wait to share the magic with you!

Monday, April 26, 2021

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle

 In Five Years
Author: Rebecca Serle
Atria Books
Publication date: March 10, 2020
Pages: 225
Source/format: Hardcover gifted
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from

Where do you see yourself in five years?

When Type-A Manhattan lawyer Dannie Kohan is asked this question at the most important interview of her career, she has a meticulously crafted answer at the ready. Later, after nailing her interview and accepting her boyfriend's marriage proposal, Dannie goes to sleep knowing she is right on track to achieve her five-year plan.

But when she wakes up, she’s suddenly in a different apartment, with a different ring on her finger, and beside a very different man. The television news is on in the background, and she can just make out the scrolling date. It’s the same night—December 15—but 2025, five years in the future.

After a very intense, shocking hour, Dannie wakes again, at the brink of midnight, back in 2020. She can’t shake what has happened. It certainly felt much more than merely a dream, but she isn’t the kind of person who believes in visions. That nonsense is only charming coming from free-spirited types, like her lifelong best friend, Bella. Determined to ignore the odd experience, she files it away in the back of her mind.

That is, until four-and-a-half years later, when by chance Dannie meets the very same man from her long-ago vision.

Brimming with joy and heartbreak, In Five Years is an unforgettable love story that reminds us of the power of loyalty, friendship, and the unpredictable nature of destiny.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

I haven't read a book in awhile that tugged at my heart strings. The question at many interviews is "where do you see yourself in five years?" It's definitely easy said than done. At first you think you are reading a typical contemporary novel where a woman is trying to juggle her career with her romantic love life.

Dannie has a promising career and her boyfriend popped to question to marry her. You would think that everything will be a happy ever ending and everything will go according to planned. One night, Dannie has a dream. This is no ordinary dream but a dream that will haunt her for the rest of her life since she has a different ring on her hand, she is in a different home and there is a different man in her life. What is going on?

However, this dream is more like a premonition of something that will happen to Dannie in her future but Dannie doesn't know the details of how she got there. While she tries to collect the pieces of this puzzle, time flies by to almost five years which is when the events occurred in her dream. Dannie has no clue if the dream will come true but she is determined to do whatever it takes to make sure it doesn't. The premonition is part of her fate and she cannot undo her fate. She can only accept her fate. 

The way Rebecca Serle writes about relationships is realistic. She writes like the reader is at the scene to witness these companionships. We see how the relationships grow and how much they mean to each of the characters. I loved the friendship between Dannie and Bella. They are there for each other no matter what. During the good times and the bad times, they are always thinking of one another. They grow older together and they each grow to be better person. While the relationship with Bella grows, her relationship with her boyfriend, David, becomes more stagnant. 

Serle created a novel that is relatable yet she adds a bit of magical realism to novel. The twist at the end completely caught me off guard but it makes so much sense. I haven't sobbed over a book for a long time. Serle penned characters who I had grown close to like good friends. So when one character is in anguish, I can feel their anguish. I can feel their happiness when some good happens. 

In Five Years has some heavy content. There is instances of death, cheating, grief, etc. This is not a light hearted book but it covers topics in occur in real lives.

Friday, February 5, 2021

A Pho Love Story by Loan Le

 A Pho Love Story
Author: Loan Le
Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: February 9, 2021
Pages: 416
Source/format: e-ARC from publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from

If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.

If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.

For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.

But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.

Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?

When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.

M Y  T H O U G H T S

A Pho Love Story is a cute contemporary romance about Linh Mai and Bao Nguyen who both have parents that run a pho restaurant on the same street. What complicates things the most is that their families are rivals. With this budding romance between the two teens, Linh and Bao must endure facing many obstacles.

Loan Le tackles some topics such as racism and immigration. The novel included a lot of descriptions regarding food that make your mouth water. The novel has dual perspectives. However, I found it hard to differentiate which character is speaking at times. Is it Linh or is it Bao that is speaking? Sometimes that have a similar voice unless I understand the context of what they are talking about. I enjoyed reading about the blossoming friendship that becomes something more between Linh and Bao. Nothing was too forced or rushed between them. Also, the pacing of the book is slow in certain sections compared too others.

Vietnamese culture incorporates the language, the food and the customs within A Pho Love Story. As with many Asian cultures, careers or interest in things like art is not praised. Linh is very passionate about art but it's hard to pursue that path when her family want something more for her. Gaining the acceptance from her family has put a damper to her confidence. Bao, on the other hand, is still in a phase where he is trying to find himself and what he wants in life. Many teenagers don't know what they want to do with their life and Bao reflects that perspective.

A Pho Love Story is modern retelling of Romeo and Juliet with a Vietnamese twist. The novel is also a discovery of one's self and a coming-of-age story.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Everything That Burns by Gita Trelease

 Everything that Burns
Author: Gita Trelease
Flatiron Books
Publication date: February 2, 2021
Pages: 448
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆1/2

Synopsis (from

Magic. Betrayal. Sacrifice

Camille Durbonne gambled everything she had to keep her and her sister safe, and now the Vicomtesse de Seguin seeks a new life in Paris. But revolution roils the bloody streets and “aristocrat” is a dangerous word. Safety may no longer be possible.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Camille prints revolutionary pamphlets, sharing the stories of girls.

M Y  T H O U G H T S 

Camille Durbonne is back and fine as ever. Living a life of a well off young lady, she is a feminist and pushes for the rights of women in France. Because she couldn't sell her pamphlets at the local bookstore, the bookkeeper mentions the revolutionary pamphlets would not capture the interest of the masses since he cannot merely suggest women being true citizens.

During the first novel, All That Glitters (Enchantée), Camille was able to bring her sister and herself to safety from a life of poverty after the deaths of her parents. She was able to use magic and glamours to climb the ladder and to provide for her family. In Everything That Burns (Liberté), there is a bigger focus on feminism and equality. Camille wants to share her and her father's ideas through revolutionary pamphlets about girls whose stories need to be told. These are girls who live in outskirts of society; they are marginalized. These marginalized girls are the Lost Girls living in the Flotsam House are the ones Camille helps and seeks to have their voices to be heard.

And then there is Louis XVI who declares that magic a crime and all magicians are traitors. While Camille is very adept to magic, she must be careful while walking the dangerous path. She must hide her true self in order to stay safe. In Everything That Burns, the feminism takes the driver seat in the plot while the magic takes the backseat. The dazzling breath of magic fizzles out slowly in the novel since Camille cannot use her glamours and enchantments like before. It's less turning of coins and more printing of pamphlets. This novel shows humanity's true self and what issues the people suffer through everyday.

Everything That Burns shows what is underneath all the glitz and glamour of the royal courts. The nitty gritty truth of the revolution is rising to the surface. All though the magic isn't as charming, Everything that Burns has wonderful characters. I wish this is a more plot driven novel but I do enjoy the character development. Readers are reunited with familiar characters such as Camille, Sophie, Lazare, Chandon, Rosier, etc. but they also introduced to a variety of new faces of the Lost Girls such as Giselle, Odette, Henriette and Celiné. 

I recommend both All that Glitters and Everything That Burns for readers who are interested in a dark historical fiction duology. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Admission by Julie Buxbaum

Author: Julie Buxbaum
Delacorte Press
Publication date: December 1, 2020
Pages: 304
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆

Synopsis (from

From the New York Times bestselling author of Tell Me Three Things comes an of-the-moment novel that peeks inside the private lives of the hypercompetitive and the hyperprivileged and takes on the college admissions bribery scandal that rocked the country.

It's good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer. She's headed off to the college of her dreams. She's going to prom with the boy she's had a crush on since middle school. Her best friend always has her back, and her mom, a B-list Hollywood celebrity, may finally be on her way to the B+ list. It's good to be Chloe Wynn Berringer--at least, it was, until the FBI came knocking on her front door, guns at the ready, and her future went up in smoke. Now her mother is under arrest in a massive college admissions bribery scandal. Chloe, too, might be facing charges, and even time behind bars. The public is furious, the press is rabid, and the US attorney is out for blood.

As she loses everything she's long taken for granted, Chloe must reckon not only with the truth of what happened, but also with the examination of her own guilt. Why did her parents think the only way for her to succeed was to cheat for her? What did she know, and when did she know it? And perhaps most importantly, what does it mean to be complicit?

M Y  T H O U G H T S

Chloe Berringer is your average student who is trying to obtain a high SAT score in order to get into a good college. She attends Wood Valley and is super stressed out about the SATs. Chloe's best friend, Shola, has amazing SAT scores and high GPA, which causes Chloe to freak out a bit whether Chloe will succeed in life since she struggles academically. 

Admission flips back and forth between the present (now) and past (then) of what is happening now when Chloe's mother is arrested and charged for being apart of an admissions scandal and the past of what events lead to the scandal. Readers see what it's like for being the teenager whose mother is involved in such a scandal.  Dealing with the pressure of being a teenager is already hard enough. Now Chloe must endure cyberbullying and doxing as Chloe tries to navigate her life after her mother is arrested.

What hurts even more is Levi, Chloe's boyfriend, doesn't want to talk to her anymore after learning about the scandal. She tries to tell him it's not what he thinks but he blocks her via text. Chloe is devastated so many people hate her. Even Shola refuses to return Chloe's texts. Chloe feels alone and even her lawyer tells her not to talk to anyone. This isolation affects her immensely.

Julie Buxbaum's novel touches upon college admissions bribery scandals that have happening lately involving celebrities. I love how she included text messages involving Shola/Chloe, Levi/Chloe and the encrypted chat Chloe has with other teenagers involved with the admissions scandal. This makes the story plot realistic and current. 

Admission includes huge theme about what privilege means including socio-economical privilege and racial privilege. Shola tries to show Chloe what it is like not to be super rich and not to be white. Things are not handed to people on a silver platter. Shola talks about FAFSA and Chloe had know clue what Shola was talking about. Shola tells Chloe that she doesn't have any private tutors or private consultations for appointments. She even tells Chloe how her younger siblings didn't get into Wood Valley and how she didn't get into Southern California College, a college Chloe gains an acceptance letter to. Shola tries to describe what it is like in her shoes when she mentions to Chloe, "Welcome to the real world, Chlo." But instead, Chloe says, "Maybe you guys should move to a better school district." What a slap in the face! 

I found Chloe to be a bland in personality. She is always putting herself down and whining about everything. There is nothing interesting about her. Chloe is insensitive and is stuck in this super privileged bubble that she doesn't see the struggles of others. She is super naive. I don't understand how she didn't think it was strange to take a SAT test at another site who doesn't ID SAT test takers, to give her college application login to a random person or to overhear a "donation" for 250k. Chloe didn't even question these random requests. I would love to get to know Shola better in a short story or a companion novel. Reading Shola's journey to success would be a great read and it would be inspiration for many teenagers.

Overall, Admission is a novel for readers who want to read a fictionalized version of the college admissions scandals. I highly suggest readers to pick up Tell Me Three Things, also by Buxbaum, and is also set at Wood Valley. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

Love & Olives by Jenna Evans Welch

 Love & Olives
Author: Jenna Evan Welch
Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers
Publication date: November 10, 2020
Pages: 512
Source/format: e-ARC//Publisher
Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Synopsis (from

Liv Varanakis doesn’t have a lot of fond memories of her father, which makes sense—he fled to Greece when she was only eight. What Liv does remember, though, is their shared love for Greek myths and the lost city of Atlantis. So when Liv suddenly receives a postcard from her father explaining that National Geographic is funding a documentary about his theories on Atlantis—and will she fly out to Greece and help?—Liv jumps at the opportunity.

But when she arrives to gorgeous Santorini, things are a little…awkward. There are so many questions, so many emotions that flood to the surface after seeing her father for the first time in years. And yet Liv doesn’t want their past to get in the way of a possible reconciliation. She also definitely doesn’t want Theo—her father’s charismatic so-called “protégé”—to witness her struggle.
And that means diving into all that Santorini has to offer—the beautiful sunsets, the turquoise water, the hidden caves, and the delicious cuisine. But not everything on the Greek island is as perfect as it seems. Because as Liv slowly begins to discover, her father may not have invited her to Greece for Atlantis, but for something much more important.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Love & Gelato comes a Mamma Mia–inspired tale about a teen girl finding romance while trying to connect with her absent father in beautiful Santorini, Greece.

M Y  T H O U G H T S 

Liv Varanakis lives with her mother and her stepfather in Seattle. Her father left her family when she was about eight and he currently lives in Santorini, Greece. Liv has always had a good relationship with her father and when she was younger, she would always be Indiana Olive uncovering the secrets of Atlantis with her dad. One day, a postcard with her name on it beckons her to Greece. She refuses to go but her mother convinces to reunite with her father for 10 days.

So during the summer before senior year, Liv travels to Greece. At first her father is no where to be found and she has to hop on a motorbike with Theo, her father's friend's son, in order to meet her father at Oia. Liv spends time in Greece to mull over what life means to her. Her boyfriend wants her to go to Stanford but she really wants to go to RISD to pursue art. Liv tries to forgive her father and to make up for lost time. I love how Theo nicknames Liv Kalamata. Even though Theo and Liv don't warm up to each other at the beginning, their relationship slowly blossoms. And the fact that Theo wants to be an adventure filmmaker, it definitely intrigues Liv. In Love and Olives, Liv breaks out of her shell and embraces who she is not only as a person but to really hone on her artistic skills and to make long lasting relationships. 

Jenna Evans Welch not only transports her readers to another beautiful European country but she is able to tell us a wonderful story. I love how Welch starts each chapter with one of the items that Liv's father left behind...from Big Red chewing gum to pages of Plato's Timaeus and Critias. Liv is able to reconnect with her father through a documentary they are filming about finding Atlantis for National Geographic. They both rekindle their daughter/father relationship over one of their favorite things they bond over. 

I highly suggest Love & Olives for readers who are consumed by wanderlust and those who want to be transported somewhere new. I also enjoyed reading other books by Welch such as Love & Gelato and Love & Luck