By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Murder Lo Mein
By Vivien Chien
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2019
Lana Lee is back and in this third installment of Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series, it is all about the noodles.
As they do each year, her family’s Chinese restaurant, Ho-Lee Noodle House, has entered Cleveland’s Best Noodle Contest and they are in it to win it. And now that she’s the manager of the restaurant, Lana’s stake in the contest is even higher.
But then one of the contest judges receives a threatening note in a fortune cookie and is later found dead. Once again, Lana finds herself knee-deep in sleuthing. And as this is her third murder mystery, her family and friends know her and do their best to warn her to not get involved.
But it’s no use. Lana (along with her loved ones) has come to accept that solving murders is now her thing and three books in, we see her being a bit more thoughtful in her actions and not acting as recklessly. In other words, she’s growing. This is always great to see in characters in a series, as it grounds the story and gives it a sense of reality, especially when we find them in outrageous situations.
In addition to Lana, we get to see more of the characters from the Asian plaza where Ho-Lee Noodle House is located and how her relationship with these people is developing. My personal favorite is Kimmy Tran, Lana’s childhood friend whose family also owns a business in the plaza. Her fierce loyalty and protectiveness of Lana will make us all wish we had a Kimmy in our lives.
In addition, Lana and her “is he or isn’t he?” boyfriend, detective Adam Trudeau, take the next step in their relationship. While it’s made pretty clear from the beginning that Adam was Lana’s love interest, Chien has developed their relationship slowly and in a realistic way, especially as they have both been hurt in past relationships.
I Love You So Mochi
By Sarah Kuhn
Scholastic Press, 2019
Kimi Nakamura’s future is set. She’s been accepted into a prestigious art school and is set to become the next great Asian American artist.
But it’s been months since she’s painted anything and she can’t find the courage to tell her mother.
Instead, Kimi spends her spare time creating Kimi Originals — bold outfits that make her and her friends feel like their ultimate selves.
As the pressure mounts for Kimi to produce her next great art piece, it all comes to a head when she and her mother get into an explosive fight. So when her estranged grandparents in Japan send her a letter and invite her to visit them in Kyoto, she accepts.
Once she’s there, Kimi is engulfed in a culture she knows, but is still totally foreign to her. In addition to visiting outdoor markets and discovering art installations, she meets Akira, a cute boy with dreams of becoming a doctor while moonlighting as a costumed mochi mascot. She also gets to know her maternal grandparents for the first time and learns more about her mother than she ever thought she would.
“Mochi” is a sweet coming-of-age story about a young woman trying to figure out who she is. Kuhn does a great job of giving readers a glimpse into something many teens experience: the pressure to have their future completely figured out by the time they graduate.
In addition, we see how important Kimi’s relationships are—from how much her fight with her mother affects her, to the guilt she feels in possibly disappointing her friends, to her eagerness to bond and connect with her grandparents. There are some definite tear-jerking moments (but of the good variety).
And to top it all off, “Mochi” will have readers (at least this one) wanting to visit Japan to take in the sites, eat amazing food, and find really good mochi.
By Traci Chee
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2017
Just days after escaping the Guard, Sefia and Archer are back on the run, taking shelter in the forest to tend to their wounds and plan their next move.
For Archer, the experience has triggered his memory and he starts to remember the painful and traumatic things he experienced while he was held captive by the impressors. Archer also struggles to come to terms with the terrible deeds he has done in order to survive. Then he and Sefia come upon a crew of impressors and end up freeing the boys they held captive, and Archer sees this as a way to make up for his violent past. But this may just lead him to an even more violent future.
Meanwhile, Sefia continues trying to unravel the mysterious Book and learn all its secrets. She also has to deal with the fact that her parents were not who she thought they were.
“Speaker” is the second in Chee’s Reader series. The story picks up where the first book left off, and we delve even deeper into a universe in which the written word supposedly does not exist. While there is a lot going on and the plot jumps from various characters’ points of view, the story is easy to follow and Chee does a good job of showing how everything is connected.
Chee has created a world filled with diverse and complex characters, each with their own hopes and dreams, as well as their own histories and baggage. She will have readers staying with these characters through their ups and downs, and of course, since this is a trilogy, wanting more and to see how it all ends.
Samantha can be reached at email@example.com.