Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean

This beautiful blue cover features the portrait of a young woman, done in paper art She has long dark wavy hair, a tiara and is surrounded by flower. The book has a sticker that says "Reese's YA Book Club" and a mentions "The New York Times Bestseller".

by Piyali C.

High schooler Izumi’s life is relatively uneventful with her single mom, her bad tempered terrier mix Tamagotchi, and her Asian Girl Gang (AGG), comprised of three other girls from diverse ethnicity in their primarily white Mount Shasta High School. Sure, it is not always easy being Japanese American in a mostly white Mount Shasta, California but Izumi has made it work so far. She even changed her to name to Izzy from Izumi for a while to make it easy for others until her friend Noora convinced her otherwise. Izumi’s mother, a Harvard educated botanist, has tried her best to raise Izumi alone with love and support and, for the most part, Izumi is content. She would, however, like to know who her father is. Izumi’s mom refuses to divulge any information about her father. All Izumi knows is that her parents met at Harvard when both were students there, and Izumi is the product of their brief liaison. Izumi’s father does not even know she exists.

One day, while snooping around in her mom’s room ransacking her expensive make-up stash, Izumi’s friend Noora comes across a book Rare Orchids of North America. Noora flips open the book to find a poem in ‘slanted handwriting’ dedicated to Izumi’s mom, Hanako, by someone named Mak. A little research by Noora reveals that the aforesaid Mak is none other than Makotonomiya Toshihito, the Crown Prince of Japan and also Izumi’s father. In other words, Izumi is a princess.

Within days, Izumi’s life is turned upside down when a simple email sent by her to her parents’ common friend inquiring about the Crown Prince results in her father finding out that she exists. She travels to Japan at her father’s invitation, a country she always dreamed of visiting, as a princess, complete with Royal Imperial Guard and cavalcade. But being a princess comes at a cost. Izumi has to navigate palace protocols, conniving cousins, royal etiquette, learning a new language, paparazzi, and her own romantic feelings for the head of her Royal Imperial Guard. On top of all this, she has to build a relationship with her father, the Crown Prince. Both the father and daughter grow and evolve in their relationship as they learn to be a parent and child. But life is not a fairy tale even in this modern day fairy tale. A betrayal of trust almost destroys Izumi’s budding relationship with her extended imperial family, her love as well as her newly found father.

While writing a heart warming, happy story of love and discovery, Emiko Jean very effectively interweaves the universal dilemma of Asian Americans (or any minority for that matter) about whether they belong or where they belong. Izumi is never ‘fully’ American in Mount Shasta, California and she is never ‘fully’ Japanese when she travels to Japan. That uncertainty is true in the lives of most immigrants and the author makes a very convincing case in her delightful novel Tokyo Ever After.

Pick up this book when your brain craves some respite from all that it is dealing with. Let this book take you to a world where you know the end will be happy even if the means to the end is full of twists and turns, ups and downs. Let the story convince you of ‘happily ever afters.’

David Yoon, author of Frankly in Love, sums the book up perfectly – “Emiko’s flair for sumptuous detail —- Food! Castles! Swoony confessions! Court Drama! Cherry blossoms by the million! —locked me up helplessly into a world of splendor I never wanted to leave.” This young adult story elicited a satisfied yet wistful sigh from me as I turned the last page and it also ignited a burning desire to visit the city of Kyoto. One day…..

Tokyo Ever After is available in print and eBook format through Overdrive/Libby.

Piyali is an instructor and research specialist at the Miller Branch of HCLS, where she co-facilitates both Global Reads and Strictly Historical Fiction.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

A colorful cover full of jade green, deep purple, and gold features the profile of a young Mexican woman gazing at the starys. The panels are decorated with Mayan symbols, including a double headed snake, a caiman, and a skull.
Cover image of Gods of Jade and Shadow

by Kristen B.

Casiopeia Tun, the main character in Gods of Jade and Shadow, may be my favorite heroine so far this year! This Mexican young woman is grounded in real life and is as stubborn as the day as long. Casiopeia believes in fairness, mostly because life hasn’t shown much of it to her. She and her mother subsist as the poor relations within her mother’s family, who are the big fish in the small pond of their Yucatan peninsula town. Casiopeia lives at the mercy of her crotchety grandfather and her privileged cousin Martin, who combine to make her life mostly miserable with chores and petty insults. She suffers with no particular grace. I do love a girl who can glare!

When the rest of the family leaves for an afternoon of fun and relaxation, Casiopeia is left behind for perceived dereliction of duties. In a fit of curiosity and rebellion, she opens an old chest that resides at the foot of her grandfather’s bed. And so the adventure begins!

She has inadvertently awakened a Lord of Death, Hun-Kame. He invites her on a mission to recover his lost power and to defeat his twin brother. She accepts with much trepidation, figuring it to be her one chance to escape dusty Uukumil. The two embark on a quest that takes them across the country, from the Yucatan to Baja. The entire story is grounded in Mayan mythology filtered through 1920s Mexico. Grand hotels, Prohibition-fueled tourism, and early automobiles provide a lively backdrop. Casiopeia and Hun-Kame equally cross great personal distances, from lord and servant to friends who share dreams of the future.

Meanwhile, the insufferable Martin has been co-opted by the god’s twin brother, Vucub-Kame, who has long-laid plans to return to the days of worshiping the old gods with blood sacrifices. Martin tries on multiple occasions to lure Casiopeia away from Hun-Kame. I cheered for her and her stubborn sense of justice the entire way. Her interactions with Martin eventually influence how she understands the dynamics between the divine brothers. In the end, she must make a terrible choice … but I don’t want to give too much away.

This is a lovely, lush book. I am not overly familiar with Mayan myth, but the author so perfectly describes the Black Road through Xibalba (land of the dead) that I could picture it. When Casiopeia and Hun-Kame ride the trains, the evocative sense of motion and rhythm is conveyed beautifully. I enjoyed the book as much for its language and imagery as the fast-paced story itself.

Moreno-Garcia is best known, at the moment, for the best-selling Mexican Gothic. She joyfully mines her grandmother’s stories and her native Mexican mythology for her books. Gods of Jade and Shadow is available as a physical book, and as an eBook and an eAudiobook on Overdrive/Libby.

Kristen B. is a devoted bookworm lucky enough to work as the graphic designer for HCLS. She likes to read, stitch, and take walks in the park.