By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
Egg Drop Dead
By Vivien Chien
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2020
Ho-Lee Noodle Shop is taking its business to the next level. This comes in the form of catering. And the restaurant’s first job is the fancy birthday party of one, Donna Feng, the owner of Asia Village, where Ho-Lee is located. As challenging as the job may be, it becomes even more difficult when one of the domestic workers is found dead in the pool.
Enter Lana Lee, restaurant manager and amateur detective extraordinaire. Before the police arrived on the scene, Donna entrusted a terracotta soldier-shaped thumb drive to Lana. Now Lana, who has developed a reputation in the community for solving crimes, is investigating a digital and real world filled with secrets, including Donna’s earlier life in China.
“Egg Drop” is the fifth installation of Chien’s Noodle Shop Mystery series and a continuation of Lana’s adventures in amateur sleuthing. And while she has come a long way from her first mystery, readers will see Lana’s confidence waver when she finds herself discussing the case with her boyfriend, Cleveland Police Det. Adam Trudeau, and working with a private investigator. I can already see the latter relationship developing in future installations of the series and am very much looking forward to seeing it.
Chien also brings Lana’s ex-boyfriend, the one who sent her in a downward spiral that brought her back to the noodle shop in the first place, back into her life. Warren’s reappearance takes Lana back to that dark place and we see her work to not return to it, something many of us can relate to when faced with our past demons.
In addition to Lana, Chien has done a great job with developing the secondary characters in Lana’s life—from her friend Kimmy Tran (my favorite character), who assists in the investigation (in her own way), to Lana’s roommate and best friend Megan, who we see struggling with some career issues of her own. For someone who has been with the series since it began, it has been enjoyable to see how these characters’ lives have moved forward.
The Impossible Girl
By Lydia Kang
Lake Union Publishing, 2018
It’s 1850 in Manhattan and Cora Lee, the bastard daughter of a wealthy socialite and nameless Chinese immigrant, can blend in with the rich just as easily as she can slip into the slums and graveyards of the city, unnoticed.
As the only female resurrectionist in the state, Cora has made a name for herself procuring bodies with the strangest anomalies—which anatomists, museums, and medical schools will pay good money for. But Cora isn’t doing this just for the money. Her job is a way to keep track of anyone who may be looking for her. Because she is the impossible girl, the girl born with two hearts, she is a legend and top prize among grave robbers and anatomists.
When a string of murders unfolds, the victims being individuals with strange anomalies, Cora realizes it is only a matter of time that someone comes after her and she has to figure out who she can really trust.
In “Impossible Girl,” Kang shows readers a world many may not have known. Before modern medicine, it was regular practice for people to dig up the dead in order for aspiring doctors to study the human body. Kang does a great job of showing readers that process and some of the steps people in Cora’s line of work would take to procure a body.
Cora is a strong young woman who does what she has to do in order to survive, even dressing up as her “twin brother” Jacob. Readers will see how differently the two “siblings” are treated merely on the basis of their gender. Through this duality, Kang shows how anyone is capable of anything, but we may not realize this because not everyone is given the same opportunities to prove themselves.
Kang also weaves a great mystery, filled with plot twists and red herrings that will have readers guessing who Cora can and cannot trust.
By Kat Cho
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 2019
Gu Miyoung has a secret. The 18-year-old is a gumiho, a nine-tailed fox who must devour the energy of men every full moon in order to survive. But because so few people believe in the old folk tales anymore and there are so many evil men no one will miss, modern day Seoul, South Korea is the ideal place for her to hunt.
After feeding one full moon, Miyoung ends up saving Jihoon, a human boy who is being attacked by a goblin in the forest. In mid-rescue, Miyoung loses her fox bead, her gumiho soul, in the process.
After seeing her nine tails while saving him, Jihoon knows Miyoung is more than your average girl. Although he recalls the stories of the gumiho and the danger they pose to men, he is still drawn to her and the two slowly become friends (and eventually more).
“Wicked Fox” is a story about what it means to be there for the people in your life. As we follow Miyoung and Jihoon, we see how their relationships with their parents (or lack thereof) has affected their relationships with others and how they live their lives. Miyoung and Jihoon are complex characters who are dealing with more than your average teenagers—even when you take out the supernatural elements. They have both been hurt by those who are supposed to love them and while this may make them slow to truly let people in, they are still open to the possibilities and Cho does a great job of showing what can come out of that.
“Wicked Fox” also delves into Korean folklore, introducing many readers to the legend of the gumiho. Prior to reading this, I had not known much (read: anything) about Korean folklore and thoroughly enjoyed the mythology behind the gumiho.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.