If Bao Nguyen had to describe himself, he’d say he was a rock. Steady and strong, but not particularly interesting. His grades are average, his social status unremarkable. He works at his parents’ pho restaurant, and even there, he is his parents’ fifth favorite employee. Not ideal.
If Linh Mai had to describe herself, she’d say she was a firecracker. Stable when unlit, but full of potential for joy and fire. She loves art and dreams pursuing a career in it. The only problem? Her parents rely on her in ways they’re not willing to admit, including working practically full-time at her family’s pho restaurant.
For years, the Mais and the Nguyens have been at odds, having owned competing, neighboring pho restaurants. Bao and Linh, who’ve avoided each other for most of their lives, both suspect that the feud stems from feelings much deeper than friendly competition.
But then a chance encounter brings Linh and Bao in the same vicinity despite their best efforts and sparks fly, leading them both to wonder what took so long for them to connect. But then, of course, they immediately remember.
Can Linh and Bao find love in the midst of feuding families and complicated histories?
When Dimple Met Rishi meets Ugly Delicious in this funny, smart romantic comedy, in which two Vietnamese-American teens fall in love and must navigate their newfound relationship amid their families’ age-old feud about their competing, neighboring restaurants.
A true ode to Vietnamese culture and cuisine, A Pho Love Story delivers an insightful look into foods shared and eaten and the dynamics of family who have survived the horrors of a civil war. While you may instantly think this is a Romeo and Juliet kind of retelling, I am here to tell you that it is so much more.
Linh and Bao work at their respective family restaurants which are unfortunately situated across the street from each other. Told from childhood that they should never, ever interact with the enemy, they were like two passing ships in the night only seeing one another from afar but never interacting even at school. Looking at this synopsis, of course you would think this is just a simple own-voices kind of romance story. It is, I agree, but there is just so much more about Linh and Bao than a sit-in Juliet and Romeo with feuding restaurant families.
Lina is spending the summer in Tuscany, but she isn’t in the mood for Italy’s famous sunshine and fairy-tale landscape. She’s only there because it was her mother’s dying wish that she get to know her father. But what kind of father isn’t around for sixteen years? All Lina wants to do is go back home.
But then she is given a journal that her mom had kept when she lived in Italy. Suddenly Lina’s uncovering a magical world of secret romances, art, and hidden bakeries. A world that inspires her, along with the ever-so-charming Ren, to follow in her mother’s footsteps and unearth a secret that has been kept for far too long. It’s a secret that will change everything she knew about her mother, her father—and even herself.
People come to Italy for love and gelato, someone tells her, but sometimes they discover much more.
You ever feel transported to the place your books take you, whether that be some fantastical land that exists entirely in a collective imagination or a place that you can literally touch and feel? Well, Love & Gelato has swept me off my feet to land safely on the grounds of an American Cemetery outside of Florence, Italy. I never wanted to travel more than right now (not a great thing to feel in the midst of an ongoing pandemic and travel restrictions).
There are so many things in my head and heart with this novel. It can be summarized in 3 parts.
Setting and Travel
Italy is a gorgeous place, and I wish I had the chance to visit its Tuscany charm or walk the big cities at my own pace. While this book is solidly a cute romantic story (more on this later), it also does an amazing job taking you to a place you may not have ever gone to in your life. I most certainly googled a bunch of locations and famous sights mentioned throughout, almost feeling that tangible sense like I can close my eyes and pretend I’m tasting gelato on my tongue and hear the sights of a crowded piazza. It shines through that the author has spent time in this beautiful country and know it by more than mere research. There is a deep sense of love and respect for this place that shines through every word describing the next sight Lina takes in.
Get ready to delve into the world of teen influencers like you’ve never done before–from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS Sara Shepard and sixteen-year-old actress and social media personality Lilia Buckingham comes a twisty mystery that takes place in the fiercely competitive world of Internet stars.
After a video she makes goes viral, everyone knows Delilah Rollins. And now that she’s in LA, Delilah’s standing on the edge of something incredible. Everything is going to change. She has no idea how much.
Jasmine Walters-Diaz grew up in the spotlight. A child star turned media darling, the posts of her in her classic Lulu C. rainbow skirt practically break the Internet. But if the world knew who Jasmine really was, her perfect life? Canceled.
Fiona Jacobs is so funny–the kind of girl for whom a crowd parts–no wonder she’s always smiling! But on the inside? The girl’s a hot mess. And when someone comes out of the shadows with a secret from her past, it’s one that won’t just embarrass Fiona: it will ruin her.
Who wouldn’t want to be Scarlet Leigh? Just look at her Instagram. Scarlet isn’t just styled to perfection: she is perfection. Scarlet has a gorgeous, famous boyfriend named Jack and there’s a whole fanbase about their ship. To everyone watching online, their lives seem perfect . . . but are they really? The sun is hot in California . . . and someone’s going to get burned.
Feeling my inner part Gen-Z mentality coming out here, but this was the surprise of the year so far for me. Influence follows the life of three young girls either just starting out in a career on social media or growing up as a childhood star. While I particularly loved one girl over the others, I was delighted to learn so much about what being an influencer is like through their eyes. This was only possible due to the personal knowledge and experience by one of the authors, Lilia Buckingham, an actual influential teenager who stands for justice and pride.
The story flows amazingly, with short chapters alternating between our three girls. Delilah, otherwise known as Lila D, was new to the game, having a video of her rescuing an animal from a burning building shooting her to viral fandom. I loved her because I could understand her the most. The confusion in moving to L.A, and figuring out the kind of lifestyle and rhythm influencers partake to constantly create and stay relevant for their fans. I liked that she stayed true to herself throughout, not pandering a certain persona to people to gain fame.
Jasmine was also a delight to follow. Having been a popular child star in a program for children, she was forced to maintain that persona through a literal contract for her sponsors which included a clause for morals. As in she couldn’t do anything that was deemed inappropriate by parents. The question became, how do you find yourself if you could never actually be yourself and explore? Her whole character reminded me of Miley Cyrus, and now I have even more sympathy for her who had to really go through such an ordeal in real life. And perhaps even larger spectacle to shed such image.
Lastly, there was Fiona and I’m glad the authors included her. She suffers from OCD and carries a deep secret from the past that may have triggered more of symptoms. Trying to keep everything under control while remaining calm for her fans and upcoming acting jobs is hard. It doesn’t get any better when someone started blackmailing her about this secret!
We follow these three friends as they navigate the spotlight, influencer events and gigs. I love that the authors take the time to get us settled in with their lives, the secrets they harbour, and the internal storm they each face that never surfaces on the faces they share with their audiences.
Then, this becomes a true crime mystery! Someone dies.
If you know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE mysteries, particularly whodunnits. It was like the icing on the cake. From the whole slew of cast and characters we meet through each girl, there are so many potential suspects who may want this person gone. And because we understand the intricacies of relationships behind the scenes, it’s easier to put on our detective hats and guess along as we go.
There’s also some angsty romance like the cherry on top. Delilah finds herself in a snare when a guy she had a meet-cute moment with turns out to be some famous Youtuber who is in a relationship! Oh, what will happen from that? I’m just grinning at this whole setup because it’s cheesy but so perfectly executed amidst everything else in this book. It’s not the focus for sure, but it’s a big part of Delilah’s POV and totally adds to the story.
The overall message of Influence is that it’s hard to show our real selves online, even more so when you have crafted a persona for yourself that has exploded among your fan base to the point that its taken a life of its own. While most of us may never experience such fame and the intricate balance of staying true to ourselves online, the lesson is still real and relevant regardless of how many eyes are on us. Vulnerability is hard, whether thousands of people are watching or even just one, but it’s a choice we ultimately need to make if we want to figure out who we are. What is seen on the outside may not always represent who are are inside but that doesn’t have to remain the case forever.
It is always a choice we can make for ourselves. And I love that behind the fun premise of the life of influencers, Influence is ultimately about this. Find your voice and be true to yourself.
Influence gives interesting insight into the lives of social media influencers, and a whopping story of the facades we show the world. I loved the realness of the three protagonists and their individual struggles as they seek out recognition, fame and ultimately, themselves. The overall pacing was great, flipping between the different POVs, with the suspense ramping up when a mystery presented itself halfway. While it may seem like strictly a teen book, I feel this story has complex layers to it that will appeal to a wider audience. Ultimately, Influence makes us question what our true selves are and how willing we are to reach for it.