Review: Not Your Villain

Not Your VillainTitle: Not Your Villain
Author:  C.B. Lee
Genres: Fantasy, Science Fiction, Superhero
Pages: 307
Publisher: Duet Books
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government? Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I’ve been looking forward to this book since the secod I finished the first book in the Sidekick Squad series, Not Your Sidekick (review here). As I’m sure you can tell, I loved Not Your Sidekick — Asian rep! Queer rep and romance! Adorable friendship! Wonderful superhero worldbuilding! It had everything. Not Your Villain builds on that and is a wonderful addition to the series.

Not Your Villain centers around another member of Jessica Tran’s friend group — Bells Broussard. The book starts a while before Not Your Sidekick does, with Bells going to superhero training in Aerial City. Training is challenging for a number of reason: He’s afraid of heights, for one thing, and he must keep his identity secret because of who he is and who his family is. But Bells has more potential than anyone, including himself, realizes. The story eventually catches up to the events of Not Your Sidekick, and when he’s framed as one of the most wanted villains around, his relationships and superhero abilities are tested.

The chronology of events in Not Your Villain definitely wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed the chance to learn more about the world and Bells through the flashbacks and flash-forwards. Bells is such a wonderful hero: He’s good-hearted and determined, his hair is ever-changing, and he comes from a family of activist farmers. That’s pretty darn cool.

There’s so much to love in Not Your Villain. If you haven’t read Not Your Sidekick, definitely go read that, and then move on to Not Your Villain. I can’t wait to read Not Your Backup, and I know it’ll be just as amazing as the first two books in this series. If you love superhero YA, this is absolutely a must-read.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Women’s History Month Spotlight: Alice Pung

Lucy and LinhAnyone who’s asked me for a book rec in the last two years gets the same recommendation every time: Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung, also known by the title Laurinda. Lucy and Linh centers around Lucy as she struggles with the disconnect between the harsh politics of her all-girls private school and her home life with her working class, immigrant family.

Lucy and Linh is such a wonderfully written story about, well, so many things — family, identity, and the rigors of high school. Here’s just a glimpse to show you what I mean:

“What part of China are you from?” Aaron asked me, in the way you would ask a four-year-old to hold up a handful of fingers to show their age.

“I was born in Vietnam.”

“Hmm, how does that work?”

“Well, my mum went into labor and I popped out.” There was an awkward silence; my joke was hanging there like a tightrope walker without a net.

“I mean,” he patiently explained, as if talking to someone who had just clambered off a boat and had to fill in an immigration form in a language they couldn’t read, “why was a Chinese girl born in Vietnam?”

Linh, you would have retorted with “What’s a white guy like you doing being born in an Aboriginal country?” but I didn’t.

The moment I finished reading Lucy and Linh, it became one of my favorite YA books of all time. It meant so much to me, as an Asian American, reading about this Asian Australian story.

This is Alice Pung’s only YA book, but she’s written plenty else, including memoirs like Unpolished Gem and  Her Father’s Daughter. She’s also the editor of an anthology called Growing Up Asian in Australia. Here’s a video of Alice Pung talking about her writing journey, prior to writing Lucy and Linh:

To me, Alice Pung’s writing contributes so much to YA, even with just the one book. I’m excited for what she does next.

New Releases

A good number of books are coming out tomorrow (3/6)! Which of these is on your to-read list? I know I’m definitely looking forward to Children of Blood and Bone

The Beauty that Remains by Ashley Woodfolk

Music brought Autumn, Shay, and Logan together. Death wants to tear them apart. Autumn always knew exactly who she was—a talented artist and a loyal friend. Shay was defined by two things: her bond with her twin sister, Sasha, and her love of music. And Logan always turned to writing love songs when his love life was a little less than perfect.

But when tragedy strikes each of them, somehow music is no longer enough. Now Logan can’t stop watching vlogs of his dead ex-boyfriend. Shay is a music blogger struggling to keep it together. And Autumn sends messages that she knows can never be answered. Each of them wonders: How different would my life be if this hadn’t happened? And now that it has . . . what’s next?

The Place Between the Breaths by An Na
Sixteen-year-old Grace is in a race against time—and in a race for her life—even if she doesn’t realize it yet…

She is smart, responsible, and contending with more than what most teens ever have to. Her mother struggled with schizophrenia for years until, one day, she simply disappeared—fleeing in fear that she was going to hurt herself or those she cared about. Ever since, Grace’s father has worked as a recruiter at one of the leading labs dedicated to studying the disease, trying to lure the world’s top scientists to the faculty to find a cure, hoping against hope it can happen in time to help his wife if she is ever found. But this makes him distant. Consumed.

Grace, in turn, does her part, interning at the lab in the gene sequencing department in hopes that one day they might make a breakthrough…and one day they do. Grace stumbles upon a string of code that could be the key. But something inside of Grace has started to unravel. Could her discovery just be a cruel side effect of the schizophrenia finally taking hold? Can she even tell the difference between what is real and what isn’t?

Children of Blood & Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Zélie Adebola remembers when the soil of Orïsha hummed with magic. Burners ignited flames, Tiders beckoned waves, and Zelie’s Reaper mother summoned forth souls.

But everything changed the night magic disappeared. Under the orders of a ruthless king, maji were targeted and killed, leaving Zélie without a mother and her people without hope. Now, Zélie has one chance to bring back magic and strike against the monarchy. With the help of a rogue princess, Zélie must outwit and outrun the crown prince, who is hell-bent on eradicating magic for good. Danger lurks in Orïsha, where snow leoponaires prowl and vengeful spirits wait in the waters. Yet the greatest danger may be Zélie herself as she struggles to control her powers—and her growing feelings for the enemy.

Restore Me (Shatter Me #4) by Tahereh Mafi
Juliette Ferrars thought she’d won. She took over Sector 45, was named the new Supreme Commander, and now has Warner by her side. But she’s still the girl with the ability to kill with a single touch—and now she’s got the whole world in the palm of her hand. When tragedy hits, who will she become? Will she be able to control the power she wields and use it for good?



The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
A young girl in Harlem discovers slam poetry as a way to understand her mother’s religion and her own relationship to the world. Debut novel of renowned slam poet Elizabeth Acevedo.

Xiomara Batista feels unheard and unable to hide in her Harlem neighborhood. Ever since her body grew into curves, she has learned to let her fists and her fierceness do the talking. But Xiomara has plenty she wants to say, and she pours all her frustration and passion onto the pages of a leather notebook, reciting the words to herself like prayers—especially after she catches feelings for a boy in her bio class named Aman, who her family can never know about. With Mami’s determination to force her daughter to obey the laws of the church, Xiomara understands that her thoughts are best kept to herself.

So when she is invited to join her school’s slam poetry club, she doesn’t know how she could ever attend without her mami finding out, much less speak her words out loud. But still, she can’t stop thinking about performing her poems. Because in the face of a world that may not want to hear her, Xiomara refuses to be silent.

After the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay
A powerful novel about friendship, basketball, and one teen’s mission to create a better life for his family in the tradition of Jason Reynolds, Matt de la Pena, and Walter Dean Myers.

Bunny and Nasir have been best friends forever, but when Bunny accepts an athletic scholarship across town, Nasir feels betrayed. While Bunny tries to fit in with his new, privileged peers, Nasir spends more time with his cousin, Wallace, who is being evicted. Nasir can’t help but wonder why the neighborhood is falling over itself to help Bunny when Wallace is in trouble. When Wallace makes a bet against Bunny, Nasir is faced with an impossible decision—maybe a dangerous one.

Hero at the Fall (Rebel of the Sands #3) by Alwyn Hamilton
When gunslinging Amani Al’Hiza escaped her dead-end town, she never imagined she’d join a revolution, let alone lead one. But after the bloodthirsty Sultan of Miraji imprisoned the Rebel Prince Ahmed in the mythical city of Eremot, she doesn’t have a choice. Armed with only her revolver, her wits, and her untameable Demdji powers, Amani must rally her skeleton crew of rebels for a rescue mission through the unforgiving desert to a place that, according to maps, doesn’t exist. As she watches those she loves most lay their lives on the line against ghouls and enemy soldiers, Amani questions whether she can be the leader they need or if she is leading them all to their deaths.

Pacifica by Kristen Simmons
Marin is cosario royalty, a pirate like her father and his father before him. Sailing the ocean to chase adventure is in her blood. But these days no one cares that the island town her people call home is named after her grandfather. They have a new leader, one who promises an end to their hunger – and one who thinks that girls are meant for the kitchen or the brothel. Marin knows she’s meant for more than that, and with the sudden influx of weapons on the island, and rumors of a pending deal with the enemy oil nation in her wake, she knows a big score to gain the council’s favor is the only way to save her people, and herself.

Ross lives a life of privilege. As the president’s son he wants for nothing, but he longs for a life of adventure. On a dare, he convinces his best friend Adam to sneak out to the Docks, the site of local race riots between the poor Shorlings and the upper class. But when Adam is arrested along with the other Shorlings, and not even the president is willing to find him, Ross finds himself taking matters into his own hands. He journeys back into the Docks, ready to make deals with anyone, even a beautiful pirate, if it means Adam’s safe return.

When Marin and Ross meet in dangerous Shoreling territory he sees a way to get his friend back and she sees her ticket home. The ransom a president’s son would command could feed her people for years and restore her family’s legacy. But somewhere in the middle of the ocean, Marin must decide if her heart can handle handing over the only person who has ever seen her as more than a pirate.

The Final Six by Alexandra Monir
When Leo and Naomi are drafted, along with twenty-two of the world’s brightest teenagers, into the International Space Training Camp, their lives are forever changed. Overnight, they become global celebrities in contention for one of the six slots to travel to Europa—Jupiter’s moon—and establish a new colony, leaving their planet forever. With Earth irreparably damaged, the future of the human race rests on their shoulders.

For Leo, an Italian championship swimmer, this kind of purpose is a reason to go on after losing his family. But Naomi, an Iranian-American science genius, is suspicious of the ISTC and the fact that a similar mission failed under mysterious circumstances, killing the astronauts onboard. She fears something equally sinister awaiting the Final Six beneath Europa’s surface.

In this cutthroat atmosphere, surrounded by strangers from around the world, Naomi finds an unexpected friend in Leo. As the training tests their limits, Naomi and Leo’s relationship deepens with each life-altering experience they encounter. But it’s only when the finalists become fewer and their destinies grow nearer that the two can fathom the full weight of everything at stake: the world, the stars, and their lives.

– Images and summaries via Goodreads


Review: Pashmina

Title: Pashmina
Author: Nidhi Chanani
Genres: Graphic Novel
Pages: 176 pages
Publisher: First Second
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Priyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions–the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Completely by accident, I seem to be on some kind of roll reading stories that feature fraught mother-daughter relationships front-and-center. First there was Shadow Girl by Liana Liu (which I super recommend), then there was another book that I don’t really recommend, and then there was this  — Pashmina. I’ve been meaning to read it for the last few months, and I’m glad I picked it up.

Pashmina centers on one Priyanka, who struggles with fitting in at school and with the changes coming to her extended family. In her search for answers about her mother’s homeland and her absent father, she discovers a magical pashmina that transports her to India — or a version of it, at least.

Young as she is, it takes a whole journey before Priyanka learns why her mother won’t talk about her father. As expected, the reason is heartbreaking, and helps Priyanka grow to understand her mother better. The whole story is told through varying palettes — some monochrome, others bright and colorful. The color and artistic choices are fascinating, and reading through Pashmina was a delight.

My only wish is that Pashmina were longer — there is so much there already, and I would have loved to live in Priyanka’s head a little longer. I can’t wait to read whatever Nidhi Chanani has brewing next.

Pashmina is a short and sweet read. Be ready for a little bit of heartbreak and quite a bit of wonder at the brilliant colors and storytelling. If you haven’t picked it up, definitely go check it out when you get the chance.

Recommendation: Get it soon!

Queer YA for Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day! Or, as I like to call it, Discount Chocolate Day. When you’ve got enough chocolate to start a dragon’s hoard, why not grab a book or two and spend the day reading? Here are a few romantic LGBTQ reads starring people of color to get you started…

When the Moon Was OursWhen the Moon Was Ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseparable. Roses grow out of Miel’s wrist, and rumors say that she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town. But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel’s skin, convinced that their scent can make anyone fall in love. And they’re willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Aristotle and DanteAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.


HuntressHuntress by Malinda Lo

Nature is out of balance in the human world. The sun hasn’t shone in years, and crops are failing. Worse yet, strange and hostile creatures have begun to appear. The people’s survival hangs in the balance.

To solve the crisis, the oracle stones are cast, and Kaede and Taisin, two seventeen-year-old girls, are picked to go on a dangerous and unheard-of journey to Tanlili, the city of the Fairy Queen. Taisin is a sage, thrumming with magic, and Kaede is of the earth, without a speck of the otherworldly. And yet the two girls’ destinies are drawn together during the mission. As members of their party succumb to unearthly attacks and fairy tricks, the two come to rely on each other and even begin to fall in love. But the Kingdom needs only one huntress to save it, and what it takes could tear Kaede and Taisin apart forever.

Not Your SidekickNot Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain. On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether.

New Releases

This week is going to add to your to-read list by a lot! Check out this week’s new releases, all coming out Tuesday (2/6):

The Belles The Belles (The Belles #1) by Dhonielle Clayton
Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.

But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.

With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

AmericanizedAmericanized: Rebel Without a Green Card by Sara Saedi
The hilarious, poignant, and true story of one teens’s experience growing up in America as an undocumented immigrant from the Middle East, perfect for fans of Mindy Kaling and Lena Dunham’s books.

At thirteen, bright-eyed, straight-A student Sara Saedi uncovered a terrible family secret: she was breaking the law simply by living in the United States. Only two years old when her parents fled Iran, she didn’t learn of her undocumented status until her older sister wanted to apply for an after-school job, but couldn’t because she didn’t have a Social Security number.

Fear of deportation kept Sara up at night, but it didn’t keep her from being a teenager. She desperately wanted a green card, along with clear skin, her own car, and a boyfriend.

Americanized follows Sara’s progress toward getting her green card, but that’s only a portion of her experiences as an Iranian-“American” teenager. From discovering that her parents secretly divorced to facilitate her mother’s green card application to learning how to tame her unibrow, Sara pivots gracefully from the terrifying prospect that she might be kicked out of the country at any time to the almost-as-terrifying possibility that she might be the only one of her friends without a date to the prom. This moving, often hilarious story is for anyone who has ever shared either fear. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

American PandaAmerican Panda by Gloria Chao

At seventeen, Mei should be in high school, but skipping fourth grade was part of her parents’ master plan. Now a freshman at MIT, she is on track to fulfill the rest of this predetermined future: become a doctor, marry a preapproved Taiwanese Ivy Leaguer, produce a litter of babies.

With everything her parents have sacrificed to make her cushy life a reality, Mei can’t bring herself to tell them the truth–that she (1) hates germs, (2) falls asleep in biology lectures, and (3) has a crush on her classmate Darren Takahashi, who is decidedly not Taiwanese.

But when Mei reconnects with her brother, Xing, who is estranged from the family for dating the wrong woman, Mei starts to wonder if all the secrets are truly worth it. Can she find a way to be herself, whoever that is, before her web of lies unravels? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

ShadowsongShadowsong (Wintersong #2) by S. Jae-Jones
Wednesday Books

Six months after the end of Wintersong, Liesl is working toward furthering both her brother’s and her own musical careers. Although she is determined to look forward and not behind, life in the world above is not as easy as Liesl had hoped. Her younger brother Josef is cold, distant, and withdrawn, while Liesl can’t forget the austere young man she left beneath the earth, and the music he inspired in her.

When troubling signs arise that the barrier between worlds is crumbling, Liesl must return to the Underground to unravel the mystery of life, death, and the Goblin King—who he was, who he is, and who he will be. What will it take to break the old laws once and for all? What is the true meaning of sacrifice when the fate of the world—or the ones Liesl loves—is in her hands? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Down and Across by Arvin Ahmadi
Scott Ferdowsi has a track record of quitting. Writing the Great American Novel? Three chapters. His summer internship? One week. His best friends know exactly what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but Scott can hardly commit to a breakfast cereal, let alone a passion.

With college applications looming, Scott’s parents pressure him to get serious and settle on a career path like engineering or medicine. Desperate for help, he sneaks off to Washington, DC, to seek guidance from a famous professor who specializes in grit, the psychology of success.

He never expects an adventure to unfold out of what was supposed to be a one-day visit. But that’s what Scott gets when he meets Fiora Buchanan, a ballsy college student whose life ambition is to write crossword puzzles. When the bicycle she lends him gets Scott into a high-speed chase, he knows he’s in for the ride of his life. Soon, Scott finds himself sneaking into bars, attempting to pick up girls at the National Zoo, and even giving the crossword thing a try–all while opening his eyes to fundamental truths about who he is and who he wants to be. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

The Apocalypse of Elena MendozaThe Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson
Sixteen-year-old Elena Mendoza is the product of a virgin birth. This can be scientifically explained (it’s called parthenogenesis), but what can’t be explained is how Elena is able to heal Freddie, the girl she’s had a crush on for years, from a gunshot wound in a Starbucks parking lot. Or why the boy who shot Freddie, David Combs, disappeared from the same parking lot minutes later after getting sucked up into the clouds. What also can’t be explained are the talking girl on the front of a tampon box, or the reasons that David Combs shot Freddie in the first place.

As more unbelievable things occur, and Elena continues to perform miracles, the only remaining explanation is the least logical of all—that the world is actually coming to an end, and Elena is possibly the only one who can do something about it. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

So what’s on your to-read list? Actually, let’s kick it up a notch. Any of these books on your must-read list? Share with us!