K-Drama Review: The Penthouse (season 1)

The Penthouse: War in Life might just be the craziest Korean drama I’ve ever watched. I can’t recall a K-drama ever inducing this much stress and frustration—and I’m no stranger to makjang (highly exaggerated) dramas. It’s the ultimate revenge thriller with elements of suspense, crime, and mystery. The staggering plot twists and shocking revelations will leave you blindsided, continually second guessing what you think you know. While there are some logical pitfalls and questionable sub-conflicts, Penthouse is certainly a K-drama to remember.

Penthouse takes place in Hera Palace, a 100-story luxury apartment where South Korea’s elites reside. The drama opens with a bang when a student falls to her death, landing on the statue of the Greek goddess Hera; cradled in those cold marble arms, crimson splattered on pale open wings. It’s a symbolic scene that set the tone for the rest of the show. Hera is known as the goddess of women, marriage, and family in Greek religion and mythology. It represents the three women that the plot revolves around; three women with different backgrounds who all seek power and revenge in some way.

No one is completely innocent, except, maybe the poor girl who was murdered, but this drama is full of despicable characters you’ll love to hate (emphasis on the hate). The lies, deceit, betrayal, and corruption—there were times when I felt so upset that I had to take a break. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did, and boy did my blood boil. Aside from the highly dramatized plot twists, Penthouse also meaningfully explores themes of education, class privilege, and female rage. How far is a mother is willing to go to exact revenge when she has nothing left to lose? How dirty is she willing to play? The power of female rage is a glorious thing. Never underestimate a mother’s wrath!  

Character tier list.

My friend and I made several tier lists while watching. This one was from quite early on, when we were only three or four episodes in. As you can see, there weren’t very many characters we loved but quite a few that we despised. As more information and history were revealed, some characters moved up the list and some moved down, and I couldn’t help but pity them because at the end of the day, (almost) everyone was a victim of circumstance, whether it was how they were raised or the mental/physical abuse they faced. Except for the chairman. No pity for him here. He can rot in the depths of hell.

Check out Penthouse if you like murder mysteries, over-the-top drama, revenge stories, crazy plot twists, and the rags-to-riches trope. Keep in mind that nearly all the characters are terrible, and it’s quite stress-inducing! I’m taking a breather before I dive into season 2 because I’m not sure how much more my heart can take, but there’s something undeniably compelling about this series so I’m definitely going to see how things unfold.

The residents of Hera Palace, a luxury penthouse apartment with 100 floors, have many secrets and hidden ambitions. Sim Su Ryeon, who was born into wealth, is the queen of the penthouse apartment. Cheon Seo Jin, the prima donna of the residence, does all she can to give everything to her daughter. Oh Yoon Hee comes from a poor family background, but she strives to enter high society by becoming the queen of the penthouse, the pinnacle of success in her eyes. A battle for wealth, power, and prestige at Seoul’s most coveted penthouse begins.

(From KOCOWA)

Why You Should Read Solo Leveling

There’s a quote from Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that I was reminded of when I read Solo Leveling:

❝I am nothing in my soul if not obsessive.

I’ve read many books, manga, and webcomics that were phenomenal, but only a select few have really left its mark on me. Those stories linger in my mind long after I turn the last page. I mull over it in idle moments, talk to all my friends about it, convince others to read it, buy art, collect different editions, and so on. When I’m in deep; beyond the shores of Acheron, standing before the gates of the abyss, I even look for fanfiction to read. And when there’s nothing to read, I write it myself.

This doesn’t happen very often. In fact, I can count the number of fandoms I’ve been part of on one hand, but that’s where I am with Solo Leveling right now. I stayed up until 2 am rereading all 110 chapters of the first season over the course of two days. When I caught up on the webcomic, I read the web novel, and when I finished that, I went out to buy the english physical copy to start my collection. Solo Leveling is my latest obsession for a very good reason, and it holds the throne as my favorite webcomic!

What is Solo Leveling?

Solo Leveling is originally a Korean web novel written by Chu-gong that was later adapted into a webcomic illustrated by Jang Sung-rak (aka Dubu). In a world where portals, or “gates”, full of hostile abyssal monsters have spawned, threatening the existence of humanity, some humans have developed extraordinary powers to fight against them. This small population is known as “hunters”. Their job is to enter the gate and clear the dungeon by defeating the creatures that await within. The story follows protagonist Sung Jin-Woo, an E-rank hunter known as the world’s weakest, on his rise to power to become the strongest hunter in the world.

What makes Solo Leveling so good?

The characters. Jin-Woo starts off as the weakest hunter in the world, barely stronger than the average human, but he’s full of heart and determination. He struggled through the lowest level dungeons to provide for his family. With a missing father and a hospitalized mother, he had to raise his younger sister himself. His motivation to get stronger is simply to protect those he cares about. He’s not a terribly complicated character—doesn’t have a grand goal or elaborate ambition like many other protagonists(i.e. Naruto’s dream of becoming Hokage)—but that’s what makes him so endearing. He fights against impossible odds and overcomes challenge after challenge to grow into a powerful Shadow Monarch. Underdog stories are just so satisfying.

The side characters are compelling as well, from the various guild masters to the antagonists. Jin-Woo’s shadow soldiers Igris and Beru are my favorites! Igris is his first shadow, the ever-chivalrous knight, and Beru is his (current) strongest shadow in the webcomic.

Jin-Woo and Beru.

Can you believe that this incredibly powerful shadow general likes watching historical dramas and reenacting it with his liege? The unexpected humor is the icing on the cake!

The blend of RPG games and reality. If you’re a fan of RPG/MMORPG games, you’re going to enjoy this one. There’s a leveling system in the webcomic that’s similar to that of video games. Jin-Woo gets quests to complete—like daily training or defeating a boss—that levels him up. He is essentially a “player” in the real world. He learns and develops abilities, becomes proficient with weapons, and grows via the leveling system, hence the name Solo Leveling. For the most part, he defeats bosses himself with the assistance of the shadow army, which he commands.

The art. It’s stunning. Every page feels like a feast for the eyes. The art is sleek and modern, with purposeful use of color to reflect power. There’s a minimalist style that the artist uses to illustrate Jin-Woo and the art choice represents his character so well; bold, flat black tones that make you feel like he’s the abyss himself. Endless and vast and ancient in power. There’s a clear difference in how he’s illustrated in the beginning; full of color, softer lines, more detailed, to his current form of the Shadow Monarch; seamless blacks with a singular pop color to convey his power. I think that the absence of details in his current form shows how he lost parts of himself as he got stronger. The minimalism suits his now stoic personality. Everything is drawn purposefully.

Solo Leveling is fast-paced with high-octane action sequences that will leave your heart pounding. It starts off with a bang and pulls you into its shadows, immersing you in a world where humans and monsters battle for the fate of the world. Everything is amazing, from the visuals to the story, and you’ll find yourself reading into the late hours of the night because of how binge-worthy this series is.

Interested in more?

Thanks to its wide-spread popularity, Solo Leveling will be adapted into a drama and a game in the United States! I’m incredibly excited for both, but maybe a little more hesitant on the drama side as the quality will be dependent on which studio will handle it. I think the ultimate end game for many Solo Leveling fans is an anime adaptation. I get chills just imagining how the battles will animated. Especially one of the early ones when Jin-Woo acquires Igris. Without a doubt, it would be mentioned alongside the current giants in anime like Jujustu Kaisen and Demon Slayer. Just take a look at this amazing animation:

I hope this has convinced you to pick up Solo Leveling! Who knows, it might just be your next favorite webcomic.

Review: For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

Do you like fairy tale-esque stories? What about dark fantasy? Slow-burn romance? If any of these pique your interest (or perhaps all of them?), I have a recommendation for you! For the Wolf is a darkly alluring atmospheric fantasy inspired by Red Riding Hood and Beauty and the Beast.

Thank you to Orbit Books for providing an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

“The First Daughter is for the throne. The Second Daughter is for the Wolf. And the Wolves are for the Wilderwood.”

For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

When I saw the author mention ‘monster boyfriend’ in regards to this book, I was ready to strike a bargain with some ancient eldritch entity to get my hands on an ARC. Fortunately, Orbit Books was kind enough to send me a copy so I didn’t have to sell my soul! But would it have been worth it? Yes. What can I say? My achilles heels is a brooding monstery bf.

I can never get enough of Red Riding Hood inspired stories. It’s one of my favorite fairy tales. For the Wolf vividly brings to life a haunting, sentient forest where Red is sent to be sacrificed to the Wolf. She was a second daughter, bound to the forest, bound to the Wolf, bound to an ancient bargain. A life in exchange for protection from the shadowy creatures that lurk in those dark depths. A life to placate the Wolf to free the Five Kings. But once Red enters the Wilderwood, she learns that things aren’t as they seem.

The writing is so poetic and richly descriptive. I have plenty of passages flagged just from my appreciation for Whitten’s craftsmanship of the written word. A cursed forest, a ruined castle, an evil priestess—I loved the gothic atmosphere. I’ve come to enjoy slower paced books more in the last few years and this one definitely was a slow burn. It gave me a chance to fully savor everything, from the world building to the romance (a very sweet romance, might I add).

My favorite aspect of the story was the complexity of familial bonds. Red and Neve are sisters, but while Red was prepared to accept her fate of being sacrificed to the Wolf, Neve, who was destined for the throne, wasn’t going to lose her sister so easily. The dynamic was really compelling—examining the duality of two siblings bound by fate. This book did have one drawback for me and it was the confusing magic system. We get bits and pieces scattered throughout the story, so it didn’t feel very cohesive and at times I was left puzzled. I hope it will be more substantial in the next book. Needless to say, I’m looking forward to the sequel.

If you like slow paced, darkly atmospheric fantasy with a brooding hero and a strong-willed heroine, then pick up For the Wolf!

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For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

5 Reasons You Should Read The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

I’ve been reading back to back darker, atmospheric fantasy lately—my saving grace amidst a nearly two-month long reading slump. Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, and I tend to gravitate towards the darker variety (of any genre, really). But this summer seems to be the summer of dark fantasy and I’m loving it. My latest read was a haunting debut full myths and magic and monsters, inspired by Hungarian history and Jewish folklore. Without further ado, here are 5 reasons why you should read The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid.

Thank you to Harper Voyager/Del Rey Books for sending me an ARC in exchange for an honest review!

1. The immersive world building. Reid crafted a rich world with fascinating lore and folktales. A pagan village where magic is revered. Woodsmen who come every few years to claim a girl to be sacrificed to the king. A magic system based on body horror. A journey to capture the turul; a mythological bird. It’s an epic, sweeping world of gods and monsters and the folly of kings.

2. Enemies to lovers. The romance was a subplot, but it was without a doubt my favorite aspect of the book—not just because enemies to lovers is my favorite trope, but because of how well it was done. Évike is a hardened, wild girl who is rightfully angry at the world after all the abuse she suffered. She’s fierce and a little mean; rough around the edges—my favorite kind of heroine. Her counterpart is a disgraced prince on his knees. He’s a tortured soul seeking redemption. He also happens to be the Woodsman captain tasked with taking Évike as a blood sacrifice for the king…his father. Their journey is steeped in angst and tension, and it’s so good.

3. Historical parallels. I learned a lot about Hungary’s violent history reading this book. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, and religious conflict. It was horrific and difficult to read at times, but a critical part of the book. Reid wanted to shine light on the oppression and marginalization experienced by ethno-religious minorities, and she pulled no punches.

4. Evocative writing and vivid imagery. It’s atmospheric and dark and haunting, taking us from eerie woodlands where monsters lurked, through frozen tundras and glacial lakes, to a dangerous city where the real monsters resided. I felt like I was transported right into the world, traveling along earthly and icy plains with our protagonists.

5. Jewish #ownvoices. I rarely ever see Jewish representation in fantasy, so reading the Jewish culture and mythology woven into the story (the Yehuli people) was amazing.

Keep in mind that this is an adult dark fantasy with very grim and graphic content. If you like The Bear and the Nightingale, Spinning Silver, or The Witcher, pick up this book! Content warnings: gore, abuse, self harm, torture, genocide, antisemitism.

The Wolf and the Woodsman by Ava Reid

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In her forest-veiled pagan village, Évike is the only woman without power, making her an outcast clearly abandoned by the gods. The villagers blame her corrupted bloodline—her father was a Yehuli man, one of the much-loathed servants of the fanatical king. When soldiers arrive from the Holy Order of Woodsmen to claim a pagan girl for the king’s blood sacrifice, Évike is betrayed by her fellow villagers and surrendered.

But when monsters attack the Woodsmen and their captive en route, slaughtering everyone but Évike and the cold, one-eyed captain, they have no choice but to rely on each other. Except he’s no ordinary Woodsman—he’s the disgraced prince, Gáspár Bárány, whose father needs pagan magic to consolidate his power. Gáspár fears that his cruelly zealous brother plans to seize the throne and instigate a violent reign that would damn the pagans and the Yehuli alike. As the son of a reviled foreign queen, Gáspár understands what it’s like to be an outcast, and he and Évike make a tenuous pact to stop his brother.

Review: The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

ARC provided by Tor.com in exchange for an honest review.

There’s a dreamlike quality to this story that’s difficult to fully depict but impossible to forget. A wistfulness for bygone summer days; a bittersweet nostalgia through rose-tinted lens.

Vo reimagines The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective as a queer Vietnamese immigrant in the most elite circles of 1920s American society, where she existed in a liminal space—a borderline between acceptable and not. Contrasting her is Daisy, her dearest friend caught in the middle of two men’s distorted affections.

Then there’s our former narrator Nick, naive and bright-eyed. And of course, Jay Gatsby, who sold his soul to the devil for power and prestige. Beneath the glitter and glamour, the opulence and dazzling lights, the disarming smiles and lavish parties, was an empty and perhaps monstrous man, relentless in his pursuit of Daisy. Therein lies the tragedy of it all. Multifaceted characters in all their bright and flawed glory, tangled together in hallowed golden halls.

Vo captured Fitzgerald’s melancholic tone so well while weaving in nuanced themes of sexuality and race. I would’ve loved to see more of the magical aspect—Jordan’s ability to bring paper cuttings to life and the infernal pacts with demons. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this story immensely and it’s one of my favorite reads so far this year.

The Chosen and the Beautiful is out today!

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“The sky went still, and far above, I could see foreign stars, stars the moved, stars that winked at me, stars that shot across the sky like comets. Under the wrack and wreck of what had come before, the sky was new, and I reached for it with a yearning, eager hand.”

The Chosen and the Beautiful

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society—she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

K-Drama Review: Vincenzo (spoiler free)

If I had to pick a favorite Korean Drama so far this year, it would undoubtably be Vincenzo. If you’re a fan of K-drama, you might’ve already heard of Vincenzo as it has taken the community by storm. And for a good reason! But if you haven’t, the drama follows a Korean-Italian lawyer and Mafia consigliere, who flees to Seoul in the midst of a Mafia war, and ends up waging war against a corrupt conglomerate where he delivers his own brand of justice. He doesn’t do it alone, and this is where one of my favorite underrated tropes comes in: found family! He forms his own little Mafia with an eccentric, endearing group of misfits.

At times like this, we must find out who their enemies are. Because the enemy of my enemy is a friend.

Vincenzo

Admittedly, the beginning caught me off guard with how quickly the tone shifted from serious to humorous to tragic and back. But once I got a better feeling of the show, it was no longer jarring and instead blended together seamlessly. Vincenzo holds an underlying comedic tone throughout the entire series, interspersed with suspenseful scenes, action-packed sequences, tender moments, and gut-wrenching parts. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly lighthearted tone of this K-drama. It deals with darker, heavy topics and doesn’t shy away from tragedy. It even gets gruesome! What Vincenzo excels at is the element of surprise—you’re never quite sure what to expect. I went from laughing until my sides hurt to gasping in horror, quite a few times. There’s a bit of everything, from tongue in cheek, borderline absurd comedy to a slow-burn heartfelt romance.

I’ve never seen a K-drama use its large cast of side characters so well. I was invested in every single resident and was delighted to see that there was far more to them than meets the eye. My initial impression of Vincenzo was that he was a ruthless, self-serving, pragmatic man who always seemed to be a step ahead of his enemies. While he refers to himself as a villain, I think he falls more into the anti-hero category. Sure, his moral compass is somewhat skewed (he worked for the Mafia after all), but his actions are propelled by a sense of justice. He becomes more of a compassionate character as the drama progresses, and makes plenty of friends along the way. A far cry from the lonesome lawyer who got robbed upon entering South Korea.

One of the most impressive parts of the K-drama was how terrifying yet compelling the antagonists were. They’re so evil, so chilling, so crazy that I just couldn’t look away whenever they were on the screen. The entire cast was incredible, but my highest praises go to Ok Taecyeon and Kim Yeo-jin because their performances blew me away. I watched the whole drama with my friend and he couldn’t stop talking about how scary Kim Yeo-jin’s character was because she played the role so well.

Overall verdict: Vincenzo starts with a bang (or should I say roaring blaze) and ends on an equally exciting and satisfying note. I’ll never look at lighters the same way again!

Rating: 9/10 – Highly recommend.

Bonus rating from my friend who doesn’t watch K-drama but was willing to watch this with me: 8/10

gifs from @jahe

“Villains never break up because they’re tenacious. Even when they’re in love.”

Vincenzo

Blurb: At the age of eight, Park Joo Hyeong went to Italy after being adopted. Now an adult, he is known as Vincenzo Cassano to the Mafia, who employ him as a consigliere. Because mafia factions are at war with each other, he flees to South Korea, where he gets involved with Lawyer Hong Cha Young. She is the type of attorney who will do anything to win a case.

(From mydramalist)

Vincenzo cast:

Song Joong-Ki as Vincenzo Cassano

Jeon Yeo-bin as Hong Cha Young

Ok Taecyeon as Jang Jun Woo

Kwak Dong-Yeon as Jang Han Seo

Kim Yeo-jin as Choi Myung Hee

10 Books to Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

May is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month. To celebrate AAPI identities, cultures, and narratives, I compiled 10 of my favorite books by AAPI authors for you to add to your reading lists! Some of these books moved me to tears, some made me laugh out loud, and some made my heart race, but they all have one thing in common: they lingered in the back of my mind long after I turned the last page. They’re the kind of books that stay with you. I hope you find a story that resonates with you among these books, and I hope that you continue to read diversely even after the month comes to an end.

This post contains Amazon affiliate links!

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

I had to start the list off with this book because none other has stayed with me—haunted me—quite like this one. On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is poignant letter that reads like poetry from a Vietnamese immigrant to his mother who can’t read. He pieces together fragments of his life, reflecting on race, identity, sexuality, and grief with a raw intensity that moved me to tears, especially as a Vietnamese-American myself. The language and writing are exquisite, and the book as a whole is a truly visceral experience.

Jade City by Fonda Lee

Think The Godfather in an urban fantasy metropolis where magic comes in the form of jade and two rival crime syndicates go to war, vying for control and power. There are territory disputes, assassination attempts, knife duels to the death, blood feuds to settle—truly a seamless blend of modernity and casual brutality in the gritty, bustling streets of Kekon. Jade City is intense, heart-pounding epic of family, loyalty, and honor. The world-building is ambitious and immersive, the fight scenes are explosive, and the characters come in all shades of morally grey. Read my full review on the blog here.

The Poppy War by R.F Kuang

This is without a doubt one of my favorite fantasy series. The sheer scope and depth of this trilogy is incredible, from the world building to the mythology to the history. It’s a story of gods and monsters, war and vengeance. I really appreciated how thought-provoking the story was—Kuang illustrated the cycles of violence and horrors of war (inspired by historic events in the second Sino-Japanese war) masterfully. Definitely one of the greatest works of fantasy, and one of the most devastating, I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

The Magnolia Sword: A Ballad of Mulan by Sherry Thomas

The Magnolia Sword has echoes of the Mulan we’re familiar with—a girl disguises herself as a man and goes to war in her father’s stead—but the story itself is very different. This wuxia-inspired reimagined tale of Mulan in 5th century AD China is rich in history and customs of the past, which makes the world so much more immersive. While there are many Mulan retellings out there, none has elicited the same feelings this book has. I devoured it in a single day.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang

One of my favorite contemporary romances, The Bride Test follows Khai, an autistic Vietnamese-American who finds himself in a peculiar situation thanks to his mother. Enter Esme, a single mom living in Hồ Chí Minh city who is desperate to give her family a better life. She has one summer to try to get Khai to fall in love and marry her. I loved this book for many reasons. My mom is a Vietnamese immigrant who raised me by herself, so I could really understand the challenges Esme faced. Hoang weaves Vietnamese culture into the story seamlessly, and the romance was a pure delight.

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

There’s a dreamlike quality to this story that’s difficult to fully depict but impossible to forget. A wistfulness for bygone summer days; a bittersweet nostalgia through rose-tinted lens. Vo reimagines The Great Gatsby from Jordan Baker’s perspective as a queer Vietnamese immigrant in the most elite circles of 1920s American society, where she existed in a liminal space—a borderline between acceptable and not. Beneath the glitter and glamour, the opulence and dazzling lights, was an empty and perhaps monstrous man who you might be familiar with.

Descendant of the Crane by Joan He

A princess thrown into power, a kingdom in turmoil, and a riveting murder mystery. This Chinese-inspired YA fantasy has all the political intrigue and power dynamics along with lush writing and cohesive world building. There are several twists and revelations that will catch you completely blindsided. You know that feeling when you think you’ve got it figured out only to learn that you were wrong all along? The plot twists are just that great.

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

Time travel, adventure, pirates, and mythology. Nix has been on board The Temptation all her life; her father the captain of the ship. They travel through time with magic and different maps, and their destination? 1868 Honolulu, when Nix’s mother died giving birth to her. I adored the blend of fantasy and history, and the descriptive writing made me feel like I was right alongside the cast of characters, navigating through time myself.

Anna K. by Jenny Lee

This modern day reimagining of Anna Karenina definitely lives up to the Crazy Rich Asians meets Gossip Girl pitch, immersing us in the lives of the elite, upper echelon of Manhattan. Featuring a diverse cast of characters, Lee touches on important themes like class privilege, sexism, racial disparity, and internalized racism. I really enjoyed the insight on Korean culture—traditional values vs modern, which I found relatable to my Vietnamese upbringing. An entertaining and fresh take on a timeless classic.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

This was everything my Princess Diaries-loving heart could ever want. A Japanese American girl finds out that her father is none other than the Crown Prince of Japan, making her a princess. Caught between two worlds, she has to deal with the hungry press, crazy cousins, and a scowling bodyguard. I loved Izumi’s girl gang, the exploration of identity and culture, and the family dynamics. Of course, the sweet bodyguard romance was a plus! An overall fun and lighthearted story.

Review: Jade City by Fonda Lee

Last month I read Jade City by Fonda Lee with the Subtle Asian Book Club, and I was blown away by the thrilling, high-stakes wuxia-inspired gangster saga. Think The Godfather in an urban fantasy metropolis where magic comes in the form of jade and two rival crime syndicates go to war, vying for control and power. There are territory disputes, assassination attempts, knife duels to the death, blood feuds to settle—truly a seamless blend of modernity and casual brutality in the gritty, bustling streets of Kekon.

At the center of it all is the Kaul family: Lan, Hilo, Shae. Three siblings with vastly different personalities and motives. I was a bit confused by the hierarchy terminologies at first, but here’s a simple break down: The Pillar is the leader of the clan, the Horn serves under the Pillar as the military leader, responsible for defending clan territory. The Horn has several Fists, who are senior warriors, and under them are Fingers—entry level warriors. Also directly under the Pillar is the Weather Man, who is the business leader of the clan, managing tributes, money, and investments.

Lan is eldest of the Kaul siblings, and the logical, pragmatic Pillar of the No Peak Clan. His ability to deal with clan politics and his farsighted nature makes him a great leader in times a peace, but with the ever growing tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals, war was inevitable. On the other hand, polar opposite in personality, is his younger brother and Horn of the clan, Hilo.

“Hilo fixed the chancellor with a penetrating stare. It was not unfriendly, but there was a predatory quality to Hilo’s stare that made many people flinch or lower their eyes when subjected to it, and the chancellor was no exception.”

The Horn of No Peak is a complicated character. He’s a hot-tempered, brutal warrior who loves intensely and is fiercely loyal. He has a bit of a dramatic flair, but I like that about him. His men revere him and the enemy sees him as a greater threat than the Pillar. He’s the kind of guy you want on your side if you ever happened to be in the middle of a vicious clan war. Hilo showed up with 20 gang members at his enemy’s nephew’s apartment after his younger cousin got kidnapped—this man only knows how to negotiate in blood. He loves his clan and family above all else, and when things go south, he goes feral.

“The Horn placed his hands on her shoulders, pulled her close, and laid his cheek against hers. “Heaven help me, Shae,” he whispered into her ear. “I’m going to kill them all.”

Shae is a character I sympathize with, but I was unsure how to feel about her for the first half of the book. She didn’t want to get involved in the clan’s business and struggled with finding her place back in Kekon. Part of me wanted her to forge a new life and identity for herself that didn’t involve blood and jade, but I also wanted to see her embrace her powers and fight alongside her brother. She really grew on me in the second half of the book and I’m excited to see more of her in the sequel.

Anden, the adopted cousin into the Kauls is a sweet cinnamon roll who must be protected at all cost. Power ran in his family’s bloodline, but so did madness. His grandpa was a war legend and his mom was known as the mad witch. He teeters on a precarious edge. The character that surprised me the most was Wen. She’s subtle and easy to overlook at first, but there’s far more to her than meets the eye. There’s so much to look forward to in the sequel, Jade War, but I’m nervous! No one is getting out unscathed, that much I know.

Jade City is intense, heart-pounding epic of family, loyalty, and honor. The world-building is ambitious and immersive, the fight scenes are explosive, and the characters come in all shades of morally grey. The trilogy concludes at the end of the year with Jade Legacy, releasing December 7th, 2021. Mark your calendars!

Pinterest mood board for The Green Bone Saga from @chantelle.

Did you know that there’s a TV show adaption in the works? The pilot seems to be done and I’m brimming with excitement at the thought of seeing these characters on screen! Subtle Asian Book Club hosted an amazing live show discussion with Fonda Lee herself (insider information!) so check it out here.

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10 Books by Asian Authors to Read in 2021

Here are 10 highly anticipated books by Asian authors to add to your TBR this year. There’s a little bit of everything on this list, from fantasy to thriller, sci-fi to rom-com. I can’t wait to read these myself, and I hope you find a book here that might become your next favorite!

Release date: April 20th, 2021

The Forest of Stolen Girls by June Hur

Hwani’s family has never been the same since she and her younger sister went missing and were later found unconscious in the forest, near a gruesome crime scene. The only thing they remember: Their captor wore a painted-white mask.

To escape the haunting memories of this incident, the family flees their hometown. Years later, Detective Min—Hwani’s father—learns that thirteen girls have recently disappeared under similar circumstances, and so he returns to their hometown to investigate… only to vanish as well.

The Ones We’re Meant to Find by Joan He

One of the most twisty, surprising, engaging page-turner YAs you’ll read this year—We Were Liars meets Black Mirror, with a dash of Studio Ghibli.

Cee has been trapped on an abandoned island for three years without any recollection of how she arrived, or memories from her life prior. All she knows is that somewhere out there, beyond the horizon, she has a sister named Kay. Determined to find her, Cee devotes her days to building a boat from junk parts scavenged inland, doing everything in her power to survive until the day she gets off the island and reunites with her sister.

Release date: May 4th, 2021

Release date: May 11th, 2021

Black Water Sister by Zen Cho

A reluctant medium discovers the ties that bind can unleash a dangerous power in this compelling Malaysian-set contemporary fantasy.

Jessamyn Teoh is closeted, broke and moving back to Malaysia, a country she left when she was a toddler. So when Jess starts hearing voices, she chalks it up to stress. But there’s only one voice in her head, and it claims to be the ghost of her estranged grandmother, Ah Ma. In life Ah Ma was a spirit medium, the avatar of a mysterious deity called the Black Water Sister. Now she’s determined to settle a score against a gang boss who has offended the god–and she’s decided Jess is going to help her do it.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

The Princess Diaries meets Crazy Rich Asians in Emiko Jean’s Tokyo Ever After, a “refreshing, spot-on” (Booklist, starred review) story of an ordinary Japanese-American girl who discovers that her father is the Crown Prince of Japan.

Izumi Tanaka has never really felt like she fit in—it isn’t easy being Japanese American in her small, mostly white, northern California town. Raised by a single mother, it’s always been Izumi—or Izzy, because “It’s easier this way”—and her mom against the world. But then Izzy discovers a clue to her previously unknown father’s identity…and he’s none other than the Crown Prince of Japan. Which means outspoken, irreverent Izzy is literally a princess.

Release date: May 18th, 2021

Release date: June 1st, 2021

The Chosen and the Beautiful by Nghi Vo

Immigrant. Socialite. Magician.

Jordan Baker grows up in the most rarefied circles of 1920s American society―she has money, education, a killer golf handicap, and invitations to some of the most exclusive parties of the Jazz Age. She’s also queer, Asian, adopted, and treated as an exotic attraction by her peers, while the most important doors remain closed to her.

But the world is full of wonders: infernal pacts and dazzling illusions, lost ghosts and elemental mysteries. In all paper is fire, and Jordan can burn the cut paper heart out of a man. She just has to learn how.

Check out my review over on Bookstagram!

Sisters of the Snake by Sarena & Sasha Nanua

A lost princess. A dark puppet master. And a race against time—before all is lost.

Princess Rani longs for a chance to escape her gilded cage and prove herself. Ria is a street urchin, stealing just to keep herself alive. When these two lives collide, everything turns on its head: because Ria and Rani, orphan and royal, are unmistakably identical.

A deal is struck to switch places—but danger lurks in both worlds, and to save their home, thief and princess must work together. Or watch it all fall into ruin.

Release date: June 15th, 2021

Release date: July 6th, 2021

Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim

A princess in exile, a shapeshifting dragon, six enchanted cranes, and an unspeakable curse…

Shiori, the only princess of Kiata, has a secret. Forbidden magic runs through her veins. Normally she conceals it well, but on the morning of her betrothal ceremony, Shiori loses control. At first, her mistake seems like a stroke of luck, forestalling the wedding she never wanted, but it also catches the attention of Raikama, her stepmother.

Penniless, voiceless, and alone, Shiori searches for her brothers, and, on her journey, uncovers a conspiracy to overtake the throne.


She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

Mulan meets The Song of Achilles in Shelley Parker-Chan’s She Who Became the Sun, a bold, queer, and lyrical reimagining of the rise of the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty from an amazing new voice in literary fantasy.

In a famine-stricken village on a dusty yellow plain, two children are given two fates. A boy, greatness. A girl, nothingness…

In 1345, China lies under harsh Mongol rule. For the starving peasants of the Central Plains, greatness is something found only in stories. When the Zhu family’s eighth-born son, Zhu Chongba, is given a fate of greatness, everyone is mystified as to how it will come to pass. The fate of nothingness received by the family’s clever and capable second daughter, on the other hand, is only as expected.



Release date: July 20th, 2021
Release date: August 31st, 2021

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang

To most people, Quan Diep is nothing but a surly-looking, underachieving playboy. The problem is he’s not any of those things. And now that he’s the CEO of an up-and-coming retail business, he’s suddenly a “catch,” and the rich girls who never used to pay any attention to him are looking at him in a new way—especially Camilla, the girl who brushed him off many years ago.

Jade Fire Gold by June C.L. Tan

Girls of Paper and Fire meets The Tiger at Midnight in June CL Tan’s stunning debut, inspired by Chinese mythology, with rich magic and an epic slow-burn romance.

In an empire on the brink of war . . .

Ahn is no one, with no past and no family.

Altan is a lost heir, his future stolen away as a child.

When they meet, Altan sees in Ahn a path to reclaiming the throne. Ahn sees a way to finally unlock her past and understand her arcane magical abilities. But they may have to pay a far deadlier price than either could have imagined.

Release date: October 12th, 2021

Are any of these books on your TBR? Are there other books releasing this year by Asian authors on your list that I didn’t mention above? Share them!

A New Endeavor

Hello! I’m Nina.

My love for reading started, like many other bookworms, when I was young. I spent the summers of my youth at the local library, where I lived many lives between the pages of middle-grade books and manga. I was raised among stories and dreams, and in that little nook of the now-torn-down library that I still remember so vividly, I became a voracious reader.

In the ever vast depths of the internet, I’ve always wanted to have my own virtual journal of musings and reveries and ramblings. I have a Bookstagram (@tender.curiosity) full of features and reviews, but I felt somewhat limited by what I could post, partially due to it being a book-oriented account, but also because the scrolling nature of the platform itself called for shorter, succinct captions.

While pithy is certainly an art in itself, sometimes when a book moves me so greatly, I want to be lengthy and verbose in waxing poetic love for the written word. I wanted a place where I could be as in-depth as I wanted without limitations. I also wanted to expand my content to other interests I’m enthusiastic about, like creative writing, manga discussions, K-drama recommendations, lifestyle musings, art and fashion, and so much more. Thus, my sights were set on creating a blog—and here we are!

This is a passion project that has been simmering in the back of my mind for a long time, and I’m elated to finally bring it to life. I can’t wait to share all the things I love with you all! It’s quite barren right now, but I’ll be gradually filling up the blog every week and moving in the pieces—my tender curiosities—until it feels cozy and lived in. So welcome! Let’s settle in for conversations over coffee (or tea).