Tag Archives: Chinese American

Review: Theo Tan and the Iron Fan by Jesse Q. Sutanto

Theo Tan and the Iron Fan by Jesse Q. Sutano

Theo Tan and the Iron Fan (Theo Tan #2)
Jesse Q. Sutanto
Feiwel & Friends
Published June 27, 2023

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About Theo Tan and the Iron Fan

A Chinese American Boy and his snarky fox spirit face down demon kings as they race against time to be reunited with his brother’s spirit in Jesse Q. Sutanto’s magical, action-packed sequel to Theo Tan and the Fox Spirit.

Theo Tan and his fox spirit, Kai, are willing to go to hell and back for their family. Literally.

After exposing the corruption at Reapling Corporation and trapping the demon king Niu Mo Wang, they learn that Jamie (Theo’s beloved brother and Kai’s first human master) was not allowed to move on after death, and is now trapped in a waiting room in Diyu.

If they can reach his soul before it faces judgment on the solstice, they might be able to convince King Qingguang to send his soul back to earth! Still, a trip to Diyu is no easy matter, and Theo and Kai can’t do it alone. Fortunately, they have good friends who are happy to help.

But even with Namita’s knowledge and Danny’s powerful dragon familiar, the odds are stacked against them. Can Theo and Kai’s new bond hold up against lying demons with grudges, impatient Kings of Hell, and the wrath of the demon king’s powerful wife, Princess Iron Fan?

My Review

I’ve heard so much about Jesse Q. Sutanto, so I am really excited that I was finally able to read one of her books. Kai’s character is a lot of fun. She makes snarky comments under her breath or in her mind a lot of the time, sometimes even leaving them in footnotes that appear at the end of her chapters. I liked that though she is prickly and particular, she is also loyal to her friends and will do whatever it takes to protect them.

I also loved the scene in which Theo and Jamie first reunite. It was so easy to feel the connection between them as brothers and the pain of their separation.

So much happens in the book. It was a wild ride from start to finish, and a lot of fun too. I think readers who enjoy goofy characters and stories about folklore and mythology will find a lot to love here. It reminded me a little bit of DRAGON WARRIOR by Katie Zhao, but the voice in THEO TAN AND THE IRON FAN is a little more upbeat and goofy than in that series.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 8 to 12.

Theo and Danny are Chinese American. Namita is Indian American. Kai is a fox spirit.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Mild profanity used infrequently. Theo and his friends journey to hell (literally). Most uses of the word are in reference to the place.

Kai and Danny encounter a ruler of one court of hell who is badly constipated. They are tasked with providing medicine that will help him or else face torture.

Romance/Sexual Content

Spiritual Content
Theo and his friends journey to hell to find and free his brother’s spirit. They encounter various spirits and demons, all of whom are bent on causing suffering to the souls who inhabit the various courts of hell. One character is a fox spirit who shares a bond with Theo. Another character is a dragon spirit who shares a bond with Danny.

Violent Content
Some scenes show souls (blue translucent shapes) being tortured by a fall down a mountain of knives or being ground on a giant millstone.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THEO TAN AND THE IRON FAN in exchange for my honest review.

Review: The Cartographers by Amy Zhang

The Cartographers
Amy Zhang
Published January 31, 2023

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About The Cartographers

Struggling to balance the expectations of her immigrant mother with her deep ambivalence about her own place in the world, seventeen-year-old Ocean Wu takes her savings and goes off the grid. A haunting and romantic novel about family, friendship, philosophy, and love.

Ocean Wu has always felt enormous pressure to succeed. After struggling with depression during her senior year in high school, Ocean moves to New York City, where she has been accepted at a prestigious university. But Ocean feels so emotionally raw and unmoored (and uncertain about what is real and what is not), that she decides to defer and live off her savings until she can get herself together. She also decides not to tell her mother (whom she loves very much but doesn’t want to disappoint) that she is deferring—at least until she absolutely must.

In New York, Ocean moves into an apartment with Georgie and Tashya, two strangers who soon become friends, and gets a job tutoring. She also meets a boy—Constantine Brave (a name that makes her laugh)—late one night on the subway. Constant is a fellow student and a graffiti artist, and Constant and Ocean soon start corresponding via Google Docs—they discuss physics, philosophy, art, literature, and love. But everything falls apart when Ocean goes home for Thanksgiving, Constant reveals his true character, Georgie and Tashya break up, and the police get involved.

Ocean, Constant, Georgie, and Tashya are all cartographers—mapping out their futures, their dreams, and their paths toward adulthood in this stunning and heartbreaking novel about finding the strength to control your own destiny.

My Review

This is another book where I feel like the cover copy doesn’t truly reflect the story. I get it, though– this is a really hard one to put into a neat and catchy few paragraphs. Ocean spends a lot of time obsessing over her relationship with Constantine and trying to understand her depression. But that makes the book sound like a downer, which isn’t good.

While THE CARTOGRAPHERS doesn’t shy away from emotional anguish, I wouldn’t describe it as a downer. I liked the way the writing pressed into messy feelings and relationships without closure or clear communication and how addicting they can sometimes be. I found myself nodding along with some of Ocean’s observations and thinking about a particular relationship in my own past that reminded me of the dynamic between her and Constantine.

The philosophy conversations were really cool, too. The whole book felt really smart to me and also a little bit whimsical. Sometimes funny, sometimes deep. Lots of chasing wild ideas. I loved that.

Some of those things make this a tough book to categorize. It’s not really a romance. Maybe it’s more of a coming-of-age story? A journey through depression? It’s a lot of thing, so many of them heartfelt, brave, and smart.

Something about this book reminded me of THE PARADOX OF VERTICAL FLIGHT or AWAY WE GO by Emil Ostrovski. (Both of which I LOVED!) I think readers looking for a book that doesn’t shy away from messy relationships and emotions, that explores the connections between people, will like this one.

Content Notes

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Ocean Wu is Chinese American. Two minor characters (girls) are in a romantic relationship.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat infrequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to a boy and girl having sex.

Spiritual Content
Ocean and Constantine talk philosophy in person and a Google Doc they share.

Violent Content
Ocean has suicidal ideations.

Drug Content
Ocean drinks alcohol with her roommates and at a dinner with her roommate’s family.

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of THE CARTOGRAPHERS in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Direwood by Catherine Yu

Catherine Yu
Page Street Kids
Published September 20, 2022

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About Direwood

In this velvet-clad 1990s gothic horror, Aja encounters a charming vampire who wants to lure her into the woods—just like her missing sister.

No one ever pays attention to sixteen-year-old Aja until her perfect older sister Fiona goes missing. In
the days leading up to Fiona’s disappearance, Aja notices some extraordinary things: a strange fog
rolling through their idyllic suburban town, a brief moment when the sky seems to rain blood, and a
host of parasitic caterpillars burrowing their way through the trees. Aja’s father, the neighbors, and
even her ex-friend Mary all play down this strange string of occurrences, claiming there must be some
natural explanation. It seems everyone is willing to keep living in denial until other teens start to go
missing too.

Aja is horrified when she meets Padraic, the vampire responsible for all the strange occurrences. His
hypnotic voice lures her to the window and tells her everything she’s longed to hear—she’s beautiful and
special, and he wants nothing more than for Aja to come with him. Aja knows she shouldn’t trust him,
but she’s barely able to resist his enthrallment. And following him into the woods may be the only way
to find Fiona, so she agrees on one condition: He must let her leave alive if she is not wooed after one
week. Though Aja plans to kill him before the week is out, Padraic has his own secrets as well.

In the misty woods, Aja finds that Padraic has made his nest with another vampire in a dilapidated
church infested by blood-sucking butterflies. Within its walls, the vampires are waited on and entertained by other children they’ve enthralled, but there is no sign of Fiona. Before her bargain is up, Aja must find a way to turn her classmates against their captors, find her sister, and save them all—or be forced to join the very monsters she wants to destroy.

My Review

I have some mixed feelings about DIREWOOD. It definitely had a lot of creepiness to it, which I enjoyed. Even though the vampires weren’t around during the day, the caterpillars/butterflies became this constant threat and reminder that they were there and that nothing was okay. I like how they were connected to the vampires’ existence, too.

The blood rain was kind of weird, though. It’s never really explained, and it kind of gets lost in the other things happening at the end of the book.

Strangely, I think Padraic was my favorite character. I loved the way we’re never sure what to make of him. Like, obviously he’s dangerous, but he seems to take steps to protect Aja at cost to himself. I liked that my feelings about him were as mixed up as Aja’s. That felt really realistic.

On the other hand, I was frustrated by Aja’s feelings about other characters, especially her sister Fiona and her best friend Mary. I liked that her feelings were complex and the fact that she had kind of a love-hate thing going on, but it was sometimes hard for me to follow her reasoning. Sometimes she forgave things super easily that I was like wait, what? And other times she held onto things that didn’t seem fair.

On the whole, I’m glad I read DIREWOOD. I love sister books, so this definitely scratched that itch for me, even though their relationship was complicated. I also thought the spin on vampire stories with the blood-sucking butterflies was really cool. Readers who enjoyed THE IMMORTAL RULES by Julie Kagawa will like this one.

Content Notes

Content warning for violence and some body horror.

Recommended for Ages 14 up.

Aja and her sister are Chinese American. Other characters are white.

Profanity/Crude Language Content
Extreme profanity used somewhat frequently.

Romance/Sexual Content
Kissing between boy and girl. References to romance between two girls.

Spiritual Content
Some characters are vampires.

Violent Content
The vampires feed on the humans they’ve lured into the woods. Blood-sucking butterflies drink from wounds left by the vampires. Two girls discover the body of another teenager. A vampire tortures a girl, letting caterpillars eat into her body. A girl stabs another girl.

Drug Content

Note: This post contains affiliate links, which do not cost you anything to use, but which help support this blog. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.