3.5 star, YA

Review: Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

Not Here to Be Liked has left behind an impression on me that is both hard to eloquently write down and make coherent sense. I will try to organize it in some way, but please bear with me.

Firstly, I knew I was in love when I first turned on the audiobook and heard the first few chapters. Eliza Quan is a Vietnamese Chinese girl with parents who immigrated to North America as refugees from the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Her family has kept Chinese roots regardless of living in Vietnam for at least a generation so their household speaks a combination of Vietnamese and Cantonese. I’m just going to say that seeing (or rather, hearing) the Cantonese and every day references mentioned sent a delighted thrill of surprise through me. Like the following quote:

“Make sure you have enough rice to eat.”

Quan family motto

You have no idea how many times I grew up hearing this from my grandparents. It’s why I’m more of a noodle person as an adult because I had way too much rice as a child.

This made me feel like Eliza (and her family) was someone I intimately knew right away. Like she could’ve been a part of my family. Or my boyfriend’s family. It was so surreal to feel represented in fiction because I’m quite used to never seeing that. Even amidst the surge of Asian representation in YA, there was never any protagonist that quite hit the nail like Eliza did for me. (I won’t nitpick that the Cantonese spoken on the audiobook wasn’t quite without an accent, but it was still amazing!).

But aside from my personal connection to Eliza and her family, this book is about feminism. Or rather, the unwitting face of feminism Eliza becomes when someone released her rant – aka manifesto – about losing the school paper’s editor in chief vote. To a boy.

Maybe like most of us, we wouldn’t know what to do when we become the face of feminism among our peers. I sure wouldn’t. So all of a sudden, she’s launched into infamy, targeted by certain classmates with awful comments on social media and scrawled across her locker. Which in and of itself is sexist as the manifesto equally targets Len as the “face of patriarchy”. Why wouldn’t he get equal treatment against him, the target of the paper?

This exploration of “what makes one a feminist” and “how should a feminist act” was one I had to sit with for a while in writing this review. What does one immediately think of when we say “feminism”?

I’m a feminist, not a narcissist.

Eliza Quan

I do applaud Michelle Quach’s thoughts in the form of Eliza’s own internal questions and the different women she wrote about. Eliza definitely sat more in the middle, wanting to do her part, but not knowing if interacting with the enemy Len, made her a hypocrite and a terrible feminist. Her best friend Winona leaned more into the stereotype, for better or worse, that feminism sometimes bring to mind, wherein it’s more synonymous with anti-male. Meanwhile, the popular girl Serena that came into their lives in the aftermath of the manifesto embodied more of social action for something she stood for while not particularly looking or acting a certain way towards men. There was definitely growth in all three girls as they spearheaded the growing feminist movement in their school, but it was interesting noting the different directions each came at this same movement.

Quach also explored a little the impact of Asian cultures in wiring how women think through the experiences and stories Eliza’s mom told her, and the way she wanted her own daughter to behave. I appreciated that too because I can acknowledge it’s definitely there and prevalent in our societies even now. We do need more stories like this among POC communities, although I will also acknowledge it is a clash of Western and Eastern ways of thinking.

The romance, it seemed, fell somewhere behind all of this. It’s probably the only reason why I lowered my rating. I didn’t particularly feel the chemistry between Len and Eliza in their interactions. It could be because she wanted to hold onto her animosity towards him the whole time, but in getting to know Len, I came to realize he’s a pretty good guy and didn’t deserve the “face of the patriarchy” label. Of course, he still got off easy in the eyes of his peers (sexism, am I right?), but he wasn’t the villain the manifesto painted him out to be – or what I thought he’d be coming into this book.

Did I think it was a fun romance still? Sure, it was fine, but if a solid “enemies to lovers” trope is what’s bringing you here, you may need to rethink it a little. It’s definitely not the focus of this story.

All this to say, I reflected a lot as a result of reading this book about feminism and how I see myself, even, as a young woman in my society and among my peers. It’s made me think about how I can fight for equality, not superiority in any one sex, in my own life. And I think that is the point of this book, so it has done the job it’s set out to do.

Because feminism, contrary to popular belief, isn’t about hating on guys…It’s about all of us working toward equality, together.

Overall Recommendation:

Not Here to Be Liked was a wonderful reflection on feminism, especially in a young Asian girl where the culture largely dictated patriarchal values. I really enjoyed seeing the Asian influences and representation in this story, namely because Eliza spoke my language and has a very similar background with my own family. That being said, the book explores what it means to be a feminist in a way that is not condescending and looks at different angles through its various characters. While a romance is also present between Eliza and the “face of the patriarchy” Len, it is by far not the focus so the enemies to lovers storyline wasn’t fully fleshed out to satisfaction for romance lovers. Regardless of that one minor thing, I do think this is a worthwhile novel to pick up for its niche exploration of feminism in an Asian protagonist that sets it apart from other books currently out there. My thoughts may be a little all over the place, but this I know to be true at least.

3.5 star, YA

Review: Seafire by Natalie C. Parker

Series: Seafire #1

seafire -natalie c parker After her family is killed by corrupt warlord Aric Athair and his bloodthirsty army of Bullets, Caledonia Styx is left to chart her own course on the dangerous and deadly seas. She captains her ship, the Mors Navis, with a crew of girls and women just like her, who have lost their families and homes because of Aric and his men. The crew has one mission: stay alive, and take down Aric’s armed and armored fleet.

But when Caledonia’s best friend and second-in-command barely survives an attack thanks to help from a Bullet looking to defect, Caledonia finds herself questioning whether to let him join their crew. Is this boy the key to taking down Aric Athair once and for all . . . or will he threaten everything the women of the Mors Navis have worked for?

3.5 Drink Me Potions

“Remember, when they call you girl, they’re trying to tell you something. They’re trying to tell you that they’re more than you, that the body you’re in makes you less. But you know, and I know, that you’re exactly what you need to be.”

Seafire is the feminist pirate story type story that I feel is on the rise in YA. With elements reminiscent of Daughter of a Pirate King, this story was more than the trope it may be immediately associated with.

This is also a story about FAMILY. A family that goes beyond blood. A family that lasts.

After a devastating loss of her family from a cruel man who rules the seas in these lands, Caledonia Styx is a captain of her own ship with a crew of 53 girls under her. While we unfortunately don’t get to really know most of the girls in the crew, we do get the chance to love a few of them: Caledonia’s command crew and closest friends/sisters.

The names of people and settings were a bit hard at first. There’s no map (at least, not in the ebook version of it) to preview or a character guide at the beginning of the book, so it took a bit of time to familiarize myself with this world. And with a bit of information dump, it becomes a bit hard to really feel for all the individuals who lived or died. I mean, I barely got to spend time with them, so their loss could hardly be felt, right?

While the worldbuilding is a bit simple compared to some fantasy stories (port cities, open seas, ruling maniac on a boat), the pacing was excellent. With revenge on her heart warring with the safety of her crew, Caledonia made for an entertaining protagonist. On one hand, I absolutely hated how she always doubted herself and in turn, her decisions that affected her crew. But she also made the smartest decisions out of the not-so-good options that she had, led by her heart and her seafaring mind.

The romance wasn’t present much. After all, this isn’t the point of the book. When there’s only 1 male character who is actually present for most of the plot, it’s not hard to guess he’s the potential love interest, if that were to happen. I wouldn’t say it was an unnecessary add-on as I thought it was the perfect little bit, though the romance building was a bit paper-thin. Hopefully it’ll be properly crafted as the series goes on.

But back to the main point as to why I enjoyed Seafire.

In a modern world where females sometimes are still seen as less and the opportunities given are unfairly skewed, it was nice to see strong females who could fight for themselves, heck even save themselves. The crew of women who were like family to Caledonia, who would do anything for each other including hurtle into a battle that may mean their deaths, was an astonishingly warm environment that I didn’t want to leave so quickly from.

“On the back of the sea, who do we trust? Our sisters. When our ship falters, who do we trust? Our sisters. In a storm of Bullets, who do we trust? Our sisters! We fight together! Or not at all!”

I look forward to seeing what develops with this crew led by Caledonia in a world of action, justice and family.

Overall Recommendation:
Seafire brings together fun battles on the sea, brave young women and the heart to do whatever it takes for those we consider family. While this book could’ve easily been just another carbon copy of other YA feminist pirate stories that are already out there, I was captivated by the crew of girls who worked as one unit but also loved one another deeply. Captained by our unique protagonist, Caledonia Styx, a flawed girl who struggled with her own doubts and guilt, this story took it beyond the seas and into the areas of the human heart. Equal parts action and character building, Seafire is a lesser known book that deserves a bit more attention.

4 star, YA

Review: Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton

Series: Heart of Thorns #1

heart of thorns -bree bartonIn the ancient river kingdom, touch is a battlefield, bodies the instruments of war. Seventeen-year-old Mia Rose has pledged her life to hunting Gwyrach: women who can manipulate flesh, bones, breath, and blood.

Not women. Demons. The same demons who killed her mother without a single scratch.

But when Mia’s father suddenly announces her marriage to the prince, she is forced to trade in her knives and trousers for a sumptuous silk gown. Only after the wedding goes disastrously wrong does she discover she has dark, forbidden magic—the very magic she has sworn to destroy.

4 Drink Me Potions

**Heart of Thorns comes out July 31, 2018**

Thank you Edelweiss and HarperCollins for this copy in exchange for an honest review

Hatred will only lead you astray. Sometimes love is the stronger choice.

Heart of Thorns took me by surprise. While it was predictable in some sense of where the plot was going, the overall story just worked for me.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Mia, our lovely protagonist, thinks of herself as a rational, logical scientist. She experiments and studies anatomy, a collector of knowledge, priding herself on not just knowing the subjects she chooses to understand but also mastering them. Have you read of protagonists such as these before? I mean, I sure have. Some worked (see Long May She Reign) whereas others feel like talking boxes of facts with no emotional depth.

I was very conflicted as to which side Mia landed for me initially. Especially when there are passages such as the following littered throughout the book.

Eight carpal bones in the wrist: the hamate, capitate, scaphoid, pisiform, lunate, triquetral, trapezoid, and trapezium.


He brushed a curl from her cheek and her zygomatic bones thrummed in their sockets.

Like, what?? I’m the kinda girl who appreciates anatomical terms better than the average person, but even I couldn’t help but laugh a little reading these sentences. Especially the latter.

Then how could I possibly connect with a protagonist like Mia? And that was something I struggled with in the first say 30% of the book. But there was something that kept drawing me in and kept me entertained.

The plot wasn’t the fastest you’ve ever seen, but an adventure following a map to some unknown destination has always been a formula that I can’t help but continue down. After a disastrous wedding ceremony, Mia and her betrothed/fiance/technically husband Quin escape the kingdom with a map that unravels towards their destination as they move along.

The world building in this sense was better formed than other fantasies I’ve read recently. It felt more organic than just a load of information dumping upon our shoulders at the beginning of the book. As they travelled and the 4 kingdoms of this world came closer to Mia, things were explained in a relevant manner.

One thing that some people may not love is the little “screen time” (page time?) that most secondary characters have in this book. For the most part, this story centres around Mia and Quin as they run away from whatever danger they were exposed to. Other people do appear but I never felt like I really knew them very well just because they weren’t present all that often.

HOWEVER, this still in a way worked for me. With so much time given to these 2 characters, we really get to see how Quin and Mia struggled, changed and grew from their circumstances. Especially Mia. I mean, in a matter of a day, her whole life changed. Her whole perspective on who she was changed permanently.

This is why I found her an amenable protagonist. From this logically-driven girl who thought with her brain, she had to learn – and very much struggled through it at times – to think with her heart as well. Let the emotions and feelings guide her. Even when I didn’t connect with her initially, I understood her in the end. That human nature to subdue the overwhelming emotions we feel at times and just distance ourselves with our brains. But life is rarely ever lived fully without the heart.

So yes, there were things that I thought would totally ruin this book for me. But somehow, all together, it worked for this story. The plot wasn’t all that extensive or had too many developed characters, yet that wasn’t the point. These things were enough to drive home the themes of love, family, heart and mind.

And boy, Bree Barton could sometimes write in such a profound way. Like what was love.


What was love if not a rippling bunch of nerves and valves misfiring? An equation with no known variables? An incalculable contraction of the heart?


Love was a feeling. Love was an action. Love was a partnership, a fiery union of body, mind, and soul.

And love wasn’t just purely romantic love with Quin. It covered familial love and other really strong emotions. Hate. Fear. Rage/anger.

So what if the other things weren’t amazing on its own? Knit together, Heart of Thorns was a beautiful story of learning to listen to the heart, and to choose love no matter how hard that choice may be at times. I believe that’s something everyone can connect with.

Overall Recommendation:
Heart of Thorns started off on a bit of a rocky note, but it landed in a dear spot in my heart. Following a scientific and logically-driven main character, Mia goes on an unintended adventure with Prince Quin as they escape danger and dive into the unknown world, with uncontrolled magic thrown in the mix. Dealing with themes of what it means to love, the ties of family, and listening to the heart, this novel may SEEM predictable but it packed a more lasting impact after the last pages were turned.

Note: all quotes are subject to change