Celebrate Asian American and Pacific Island Heritage Month (all year long) with these 14 AAPI authors.
Looking to expand your stack with more Asian American voices? Today’s podcast and book list are for you. We wanted to celebrate reading diversely all year-long and share some new incredible additions to your book stack in this week’s podcast and book list.
When is AAPI Heritage Month?
May is AAPI Heritage Month, and we want to celebrate these voices with a well-curated book stack. The month of May was chosen for AAPI Heritage Month because it commemorates the immigration of the first Japanese people to the United States on May 7, 1843.
However, let’s diversify our stack beyond this celebration month, and today’s show and bonus post offer the best in summer releases and new titles that have just launched for readers along with a few backlist favorites.
In this week’s podcast episode, debut novelist Kristen Mei Chase discusses her book “A Thousand Miles to Graceland” (learn more about this selection below) and her favorite Asian American and Pacific Islander authors in literature. We are discussing the latest publishing news for Asian authors that you won’t want to miss.
As a bi-racial Asian American herself, Kristen writes to share the little stories of bi- and multi-racial Americans in a big way.
Listen to the full episode below and subscribe to the Book Gang podcast for more episodes like this one.
Lunar Love is a must-read if you're looking for a delightful and engaging read that offers a unique perspective on Chinese culture and the experience of being a mixed-race Chinese American.
In this novel, the protagonist Olivia Huang Christenson takes over her grandmother's matchmaking business and is challenged by a new dating app that emphasizes "animal attraction," created by L.A.'s most eligible bachelor Bennett O'Brien.
Author Kristen Mei Chase, who wrote A Thousand Miles to Graceland, praises the book for its clever and funny writing that brings Chinese culture to life in beautiful ways, mainly through the representation of food, which is a relatable entry point for many readers. However, what stands out in this book is the exploration of the experience of a mixed-race Chinese American, with the protagonist grappling with issues like racial imposter syndrome and a sense of not fully belonging in either world.
The audiobook version, narrated by Rachel Wong, is also highly recommended, with a beautiful delivery that further enhances the reading experience. If you're a fan of romance novels that offer a fresh take on familiar themes, "Lunar Love" is a book you won't miss.
When I read this book description, I knew it would make a perfect book flight for The Matchmaker's Gift readers who would love to add a different cultural matchmaking custom to their stack.
Our 2023 MomAdvice Book Club author, Lynda Cohen Loigman blurbed this book and shared this quote, "Is it better to find a soulmate using ancient traditions, or is a modern, high-tech approach the more efficient way? In this charming and original debut, Lauren Kung Jessen tackles the question with a breezy, tender joy. Lunar Love is filled with wide-eyed optimism and singular characters whose search for love will delight even the most cynical of readers."
Kristen discloses in her podcast interview (linked above) that it took her ten years to publish this fictionalized road trip story that celebrates the complexities of mother-daughter bonds and the surprising way Elvis binds their story together. You will want to listen to hear about the unique road trip to publishing that this author took, as well as the new avenues to publishing for other AAPI authors.
Grace is an accountant in Boston who feels trapped in a failing marriage and guilty for distancing herself from her mother and hometown in Texas. So when her mother, Loralynn, an over-the-top Elvis fan, invites her on a road trip to Graceland for her 70th birthday, Grace reluctantly agrees.
As they visit places important to Elvis, from El Paso to Memphis, Grace starts to comprehend her mother's obsession with Elvis and the brokenness of their relationship.
While the concept may feel light, Chase doesn't shy away from discussing big topics like identity and addressing mental health challenges. These are some of the brightest spots in Chase's storytelling and where we get depth and vulnerability in her storytelling.
And, while we know that representation matters in literature, Kristen discussed why seeing characters of mixed race is so crucial for her in her stories and her reading life. As a Chinese American, this emphasis is notable for this story and future books that Kristen writes.
While this is not Kristen & her mother's story, this book also helped facilitate a meaningful conversation with her mother. She described it as a, "really deep therapeutic exchange about our own existence that allowed them to talk about some of the things that we needed to talk about in a safe space."
With that in mind, this could yield a fruitful conversation for a mother-daughter book club of your own.
Are you a fan of historical fiction that takes you on a journey through time and across continents? If so, you will love Janie Chang's latest novel, The Porcelain Moon.
Transport yourself to 1918 France during the final days of the First World War. This story follows the story of Pauline Deng, a young Chinese woman who runs away from an arranged marriage in Shanghai and finds herself seeking refuge with her cousin Theo in the French countryside. Along the way, she befriends Camille Roussel, a woman trying to escape an abusive marriage and end a love affair that can no longer continue. But, as their bond deepens, they become embroiled in a dangerous secret that will test their loyalty and bravery.
This novel is more than just a captivating tale of forbidden love and sacrifice; it also brings to light a little-known history of 140,000 Chinese workers brought to Europe during WWI. The Porcelain Moon explores themes of identity, belonging, and the lengths we'll go to for freedom, all set against a tumultuous and transformative period in world history.
If you're a fan of historical fiction with strong female characters, rich cultural exploration, and a gripping plot, then add this one to your stack. You can take advantage of this unforgettable reading experience from Janie Chang, publishing on February 23rd, 2023.
This upcoming debut novel from author Thao Thai is a stunning multigenerational tale of three Vietnamese American women whose lives are forever changed by the death of their matriarch, and one that I can't wait to read.
Published by HarperCollins, Banyan Moon takes readers on a journey spanning decades and continents, exploring themes of inheritance, family bonds, and life-altering choices.
Ann, the protagonist, is a successful woman with a seemingly perfect life, but everything changes when she discovers she is pregnant. Her carefully planned future and relationship with her professor boyfriend come into question. After learning of her grandmother's passing, she must return to Florida to confront her estranged mother.
Huong, Ann's mother, is mourning her death while harboring resentment toward her for having a relationship with Ann that she never had. When both women learn they have inherited the Banyan House, Ann's childhood home, they must confront the simmering questions of their past and their uncertain futures, all while trying to rebuild their relationship without the one person who's always held them together.
As the story unfolds, we see the grandmother's journey from a young lover during the Vietnam War to a determined woman immigrating to America and the secrets she left behind in the attic of the family home that has affected the lives of her daughter and granddaughter. The novel spans from 1960s Vietnam to the wild swamplands of the Florida coast, and the details of the setting bring the story to life in vivid detail.
With its powerful themes and richly drawn characters, Thao Thai's debut is not to be missed and will hit store shelves on June 27th.
The Fortunes of Jaded Women is a captivating multi-narrative novel that tells the story of a Vietnamese family cursed never to experience love or happiness.
The curse began with their ancestor, Oanh, who chose true love over her marriage, prompting a fearsome witch to curse her and her descendants with giving birth to daughters and never finding love.
Mai Nguyen, Oanh's current descendant, is all too familiar with the curse. After a falling out with her younger sisters, Mai is estranged from them and struggling with her own divorce and her daughters' lack of success in love. Seeking guidance, she turns to Auntie Hua, a trusted psychic, who delivers a surprising prophecy that will bring the family back together.
This year, the family will witness a marriage, a funeral, and the birth of a son, forcing estranged relatives to reunite for better or worse.
The story is filled with brilliantly written scenes that make you both laugh and cry. I found the unique one-upmanship of bragging about families and the vulnerabilities that come with it to be among the most imaginative. You'll find yourself rooting for the characters as they struggle with their cursed lives and come together to solve the mystery behind their curse.
Although the volume of characters can sometimes feel overwhelming, it ultimately adds to the complexity and depth of the story.
This novel will not only take you on a journey through the challenges of moving to the United States as a Vietnamese American but also remind you of the importance of family and legacy.
If you're looking for an audiobook fantasy escape, Sue Lynn Tan's Daughter of the Moon Goddess is the book for you. This audiobook was recommended to me by Scribd editors, and I was not disappointed. It is the first book in the Celestial Kingdom series, with the second book, Heart of the Sun Warrior, already available.
The story follows Xingyin, a girl who grew up on the moon, unaware of her mother's theft of the Celestial Emperor's elixir of immortality, which led to her mother's exile. When Xingyin's magic flares, she is forced to flee her home and sets out to save her mother. The story is full of wonder and secrets, as Xingyin disguises her identity and learns alongside the emperor's son.
Daughter of the Moon Goddess is an enchanting duology that weaves ancient Chinese mythology into a sweeping adventure of immortals and magic, of loss and sacrifice, where love vies with honor, dreams are fraught with betrayal, and hope emerges triumphant.
The audiobook narrator is Natalie Naudus, who also narrated One Last Stop and other YA romances. While this is not a young adult read, it reads like one. It's an excellent pick for a family book club or a fun road trip audiobook.
If you are curious about the art of audiobook narration, miss my podcast interview with Julia Whelan for an inside scoop on what it takes to narrate a great book.
If you loved The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue, you'd also fall in love with this magical story. The themes of family, loyalty, and love resonated with me. I highly recommend this book and cannot wait to dive into Heart of the Sun Warrior.
A River of Stars is a stunning debut novel that explores the themes of motherhood, immigration, and identity in modern-day America.
The story follows Scarlett Chen, a pregnant Chinese woman who has been sent to a private maternity home in Los Angeles by the married man she fell in love with, Boss Yeung.
Scarlett is far from her home in China and spars with her housemates while waiting for the arrival of her baby. But a new sonogram reveals unexpected news. Scarlett goes on the run, hijacking a van and finding herself accompanied by a pregnant teenager named Daisy, who is also seeking the father of her child.
The two women flee to San Francisco's Chinatown, where Scarlett joins the ranks of countless immigrants struggling to build a new life in America. Little does she know that Boss Yeung is on her trail, desperate to have his son in his life.
Hua's writing is rich and engaging, drawing readers into the world of these characters and keeping them hooked until the very end.
This book has also garnered praise from many sources, including Celeste Ng, who has given it her stamp of approval. Hua's story is a powerful exploration of home, belonging, and the struggles of those who seek to create a new life in a foreign land.
Looking for a sweeping family saga that spans multiple generations and recognizes cultural struggles? This is the best book for your book stack.
Set in 20th-century Japan, this beautifully written and profoundly moving novel tells the story of a Korean immigrant family fighting to control their destiny in a foreign land.
The story begins with Sunja, a young woman who finds herself pregnant by a married man. When a sickly minister offers to marry her and take her to Japan, Sunja sees a chance for a new life. From there, Lee's complex and passionate characters navigate the challenges of discrimination, poverty, and cultural identity across the generations.
At nearly 500 pages, Pachinko is a commitment, but readers won't regret the time spent with these characters. Lee's writing is rich in detail and beauty, and her characters are strong, stubborn, and deeply human.
It's no wonder that so many readers rank this book among their top ten. Plus, fans can now watch the series adaptation on Apple+ to enhance their reading experience.
Everything Here is Beautiful is a poignant and gripping story of two Chinese-American sisters, Miranda and Lucia, and their challenges as Lucia battles with mental illness.
Miranda is always looking out for her impulsive and unpredictable younger sister, but when Lucia starts hearing voices, it's Miranda who must find a way to reach her.
Despite Lucia's illness, she still lives life on a grand scale, marrying an incredible man and having a child with a young Latino immigrant. But no matter where she goes, her mental illness follows her, impacting her ability to care for her child and make decisions about her health.
The novel is an immigrant story and a powerful exploration of the bonds of sisterhood and the sacrifices we make for those we love. Lee's writing is deeply empathetic and insightful, and she captures the complexities of mental illness with grace and sensitivity.
For those who enjoyed Celeste Ng's work, Everything Here is Beautiful this is another must-read. This novel is a remarkable debut that explores important themes and raises questions about how we care for those with mental illness. It ended up being a fantastic book club selection for our group.
In this taut and explosive dystopian debut novel, one lapse in judgment lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.
Frida Liu is a Chinese-American mother struggling to balance her job, marriage, and parenting responsibilities. When she makes a mistake that lands her in a government reform program, she may lose custody of her beloved daughter, Harriet. Frida is forced to attend a boot camp-style program where she must learn how to be a good mother or risk losing her child forever.
The program is brutal, and Frida struggles to meet the demanding requirements. Throughout the program, she is assigned a robotic practice baby that she must keep happy while the school supervisors watch her every move. However, Frida soon realizes that she is not alone in this journey, and she bonds with other mothers who struggle to be the perfect parents society expect them to be.
Although the book may be challenging for those who feel the weight of being a good mom, it offers a critical social commentary on the unrelenting demands of motherhood. Fans of The Handmaid's Tale and Vox will appreciate Chan's forward-thinking feminist pick, which challenges the status quo of modern motherhood.
Chan's dark wit and exploration of the most profound ties that bind us make this novel an excellent book club choice that will generate discussions on what it means to be a good mother and the societal expectations placed on women.
A Good Family delivers a soapy, suspenseful family drama that explores the extremes one will go for money and power that fans of Empire of Pain fans will love.
Beth is a highly successful executive at a pharmaceutical company until a high-profile whistleblower suit lands her in prison. Her husband, Sam, is forced to raise their two daughters alone while struggling to uncover the truth behind the betrayal.
As the story unfolds through alternating perspectives of family members, secrets and lies are uncovered, and the all-American family begins to implode. With its multi-layered and complex characters, vivid descriptions of prison life, and gripping plot, readers will find this to be a fast page-turner.
The book also explores the consequences of the unethical practices of pharmaceutical companies and how they impact people's lives.
This memoir is a poignant and heartwarming story that explores family, grief, and identity through the lens of food.
Zauner, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist, shares her story of growing up as one of the few Asian American kids in Eugene, Oregon, and her complicated relationship with her mother.
She writes of her mother's high expectations, her own struggle to meet them, and her painful adolescence and treasured memories of bonding with her mother over food in her grandmother's apartment in Seoul.
As Zauner grows up and pursues her dreams in the restaurant industry and music scene, her Koreanness begins to feel distant. It's not until her mother's terminal cancer diagnosis when she's 25 that she begins to reckon with her identity and reclaim the gifts her mother gave her, including the rich language, food, and history.
I can guarantee this deeply personal memoir will make you laugh, cry, and ultimately feel more connected to your family or cultural identity.
So whether you're a fan of Michelle Zauner's music or just looking for a touching and engaging memoir, this book is an impactful selection and deserves all the commercial success it has received.
This powerful debut novel takes readers into the world of beauty standards and social hierarchies in contemporary Seoul, Korea.
The fast-moving story follows the lives of four young women living in the same apartment building, each with a unique perspective on navigating this challenging landscape.
Kyuri is a beautiful woman working at a "room salon," an upscale bar where she entertains wealthy businessmen. Miho is a talented artist in a precarious relationship with the heir to one of Korea's giant conglomerates. Ara is a hairstylist with an obsession with a boy-band pop star and a best friend who is saving up for unnecessary plastic surgery. And Wonna is a newlywed trying to have a baby in Korea's brutal economy.
Through their interconnected stories, Cha examines the extreme pressures that Korean women face to conform to impossible beauty standards and succeed in a society defined by ruthless social hierarchies. This really delivers on female strength, spirit, resilience, and the solace that these fierce friendships can provide.
Anyone interested in exploring the challenges of modern womanhood and the complexities of Korean society will appreciate this thought-provoking read.
Emergency Contact is a must-read for fans of YA romance and anyone looking for a heartwarming story about two imperfect people finding connection and understanding in each other.
Penny is a college student with a complex relationship with her mother and a love for science fiction and black clothing. Sam is a down-on-his-luck barista who dreams of making it in the film industry. When Penny becomes Sam's "emergency contact" after a panic attack, the two begin to connect through text messages, sharing their fears, hopes, and dreams.
Despite the obstacles that seem to stand in their way, including Penny's protective roommate who happens to be Sam's uncle, the two find solace in each other's company, even if it is just through their phones.
This charming novel will have you rooting for Penny and Sam from the very beginning, and their witty banter and adorable text messages will keep you turning the pages.
Choi's writing is raw and honest, delving deep into the complexities of young love, friendship, and family relationships. She also tackles difficult topics such as mental health, toxic relationships, and the struggles of finding one's place in the world.
This gripping page-turner is a sensitive family portrait of anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in their own family or struggled to reconcile their dreams with the expectations of their loved ones.
Everything I Never Told You is a profoundly moving and insightful debut novel by Celeste Ng. The story is set in the 1970s following the Lee family, a Chinese American living in a small Ohio town. When the family's beloved daughter Lydia goes missing, the secrets and tensions that have been simmering beneath the surface of their seemingly perfect life come to a boiling point.
As the family struggles to come to terms with Lydia's death, the story weaves back and forth through time, revealing the complex relationships and unspoken truths that have led them to this moment.
Ng's writing is beautifully lyrical, and her characters are vividly drawn with all their flaws and complexities. The story tackles themes of identity, race, family expectations, and the unspoken burdens we carry, making it a perfect book club pick for discussions about the pressures of conformity and the cost of keeping secrets.
I knew in 2014 that scoring an interview with Celeste Ng would be a memorable capture for our community. As discussed in our podcast today (listen in the player linked above), this book is a favorite of mine and Kristen Mei Chase's. Chase shared that she was drawn to this book because it centers around a mixed-race family, an essential theme to her work.
Fables Books Recommends:
In honor of AAPI month, Kristin from Fables Books joined the show to talk about the bookstore’s StoryGraph reading challenge and share some of their best picks for a memorable reading month too. Here are some of those selections from my favorite bookseller. Listen to the show or scroll below for some of our favorite recommendations!
She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Park Chan
The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu
Monstress by Marjorie Liu
Sari Not Sari by Sonya Singh
Monstress by Marjorie Liu
Blue Skinned Gods by SJ Sindu
What books would you recommend we add to this growing list?
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