📖A Pho Love Story: 🍸little saigon

📖: Loan Le’s A Pho Love Story (2021)
🍸: little saigon

Why this book?

Two Vietnamese American teens. Two competing phở restaurants in Little Saigon, California. And lots of chả giò, bánh xèo, and cà phê sữa dá. The novel’s premise alone made my heart warm and stomach hungry.

Aside from all the delicious foods, I loved the inclusion of Vietnamese language in the dialogue. Sometimes a term of endearment was mixed in with English, and other times a full sentence! Through the characters, I could hear the voices of my own family members talk to me through the pages. Not all of the dialogue was fully translated, though. And as an #ownvoices reader, this made me feel like the book was written for me.

This is the young adult novel I wish I had growing up. Like Linh, I also wanted to pursue a creative path. Linh wants to become a painter, but in a family of Vietnamese immigrants, art is seen only as a hobby, not a living. Our parents survived and sacrificed for us so we can be free to choose our futures. So why does this feel so fraught? Can we honor both our parents and passions at the same time? The tenderness, empathy, and care that Loan Le lends to the exploration of this theme struck an emotional chord with me – especially when Linh’s father lovingly confronts her about this over a bowl of canh sườn bí.

Overall, there is so much more to this story than just romance. It is about love for our families, our culture, our community, and ourselves. It is about our inheritance as descendants of Vietnamese refugees and immigrants, discovering our place in our family’s stories. And it is about standing in solidarity with one another to heal and reconcile, in the face of trauma and loss.

Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with a phở-inspired drink, with lime and Thai basil – from soup bowl to cocktail glass!

This recipe is adapted from’s Lychee, Thai Basil and Ginger Limeade.

little saigon

2 oz vodka
4 canned lychees
4 slices of ginger
8 Thai basil leaves
1/2 oz lime juice
1/4 oz ginger-infused simple syrup
1/4 oz lychee syrup (from can)
2 oz club soda

lime, lychee, Thai basil

  1. Muddle the lychees, ginger, and basil leaves.
  2. Combine the muddled ingredients in a shaker with all other ingredients (except for club soda) and ice, and shake well.
  3. Strain over fresh ice.
  4. Top off with club soda.
  5. Garnish with lime, lychee, and Thai basil.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath (2016)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Never Let Me Go: 🍸the carer

📖: Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)
🍸: the carer

Why this book?

Like Atonement, I saw the movie adaptation of Never Let Me Go before reading the book. The movie is really good at capturing the emotional depth of the book. But, if you haven’t read the novel yet, you must! Ishiguro’s craft and storytelling are excellent.

There’s not a lot I can say about this dystopian sci-fi story without spoiling it. It begins at a special school for children. Nothing about this place initially seems too out of the ordinary, but once you uncover the shocking truth that underpins Cathy, Tommy, and Ruth’s lives, you won’t want to let this book go until the last page.

In a way, the world that Ishiguro builds is not so different from ours, which makes it even more unsettling. The story explores themes around our own complicity in systems of social hierarchies. What does it mean to be “human”? Whose lives are most valuable? Are our fates predetermined by the circumstances we’re born into? And can the benefits of scientific advancement justify how we answer these questions?

Why this drink?

I made a Painkiller cocktail for this book because there’s a lot of pain in this novel — both physical and existential. The characters spend some time on a beach, though it’s not a tropical one to match this tropical drink. This story destroys me every time, so at least this beachy drink helps me pretend I’m in a brighter, happier place.

the carer

2 oz black spiced rum
4 oz pineapple juice
1 oz cream of coconut
1 oz orange juice

ground nutmeg
dried or fresh pineapple

  1. Shake all ingredients with ice.
  2. Strain over fresh ice.
  3. Add a dash of ground nutmeg on top.
  4. Garnish with pineapple.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Atonement: 🍸two figures by a fountain

📖: Ian McEwan’s Atonement (2001)
🍸: two figures by a fountain

Why this book?

I savored every word in this novel. The language is just as lush as the verdant grounds that surround the Tallis’ family estate. I thought the movie adaptation remained faithful to the tone and structure of the novel – translating McEwan’s richly textured narrative about love, war, class, and guilt into a film with an equally stunning soundtrack and cinematography. Both the film and novel are gorgeous pieces that can stand on their own, so I don’t think it matters if you see the movie first, then read the book, like I did. I still loved every bit of my reading experience.

The novel opens during the height of summer, in pre-WWII England, where 13-year-old Briony witnesses a surprising interaction between her sister, Cecilia, and Robbie, the son of their family’s cleaning lady – first at the fountain in front of their house, and then again in their library. Based on what she chooses to understand, Briony later makes an accusation that changes all their lives forever.

This story is so compelling in the way that it explores both the limitless and limiting power that writers have in constructing truth. Who benefits most from the act of revision? Is it the writer, her audience, or the characters in her story? For those of us who seek redemption and liberation, where do we find it – in fact or in fiction?

For all the Little Women (Gerwig adaptation) fans out there – you might like this one, with Saoirse Ronan in the role of Briony!

Why this drink?

For this pairing, I made a gimlet – a British cocktail for a British novel. I added a tiny bit of matcha to make the drink more green, like the Tallis’ English gardens and the emerald gown that Keira Knightley wears in the movie’s dinner scene.

two figures by a fountain

1.5 oz gin
0.5 oz lime
0.5 oz simple syrup
tiny dash of matcha powder

lime wheel or mint leaf

  1. Add all ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well.
  2. Strain into a chilled coupe glass.
  3. Garnish with lime and/or a mint leaf.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Joy Luck Club: 🍸good intentions

📖: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (1989)
🍸: good intentions

Why this book?

Here’s the first of a line-up of pairings for book-to-film adaptations I love.

Amy Tan’s novel about four Chinese mothers and their Chinese American daughters feels so close to home. Although I am not an Own Voices reader, I am an American daughter of an Asian immigrant mother, so the hopes, fears, and challenges of these characters mirror how my mom and I felt growing up. One thing I especially loved about the novel is its exploration of who the mothers were before they became mothers, and the secrets and intentions they carried with them to America. It humanizes and complicates the way that I see my own mom.

I first came across Amy Tan’s book through a high school English class, and it was the first time I could see my own story reflected in literature. Shortly afterwards, I found a copy of the film at my local Blockbuster’s. (omg remember movie rentals?! 😂)

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched this film when I was younger. I think that goes to say how much I craved seeing other Asian American families like mine represented on screen. Twenty-five years passed between the release of this film and the next all-Asian casted movie, Crazy Rich Asians. Recently, I’ve been excited to see new films made for us and by us gain widespread attention and recognition – like The Farewell, Minari, and No Crying at the Dinner Table – and am hopeful that we won’t need to wait years for the next one.

Why this drink?

This recipe calls for Chinese oolong tea, and with grapefruit, the tea and citrus complement each other beautifully, just like the mothers and daughters in this novel.

good intentions

1.5 oz oolong tea infused vodka
1.5 oz grapefruit juice
2 tsp honey syrup
1 tsp lemon juice

grapefruit slice

  1. Infuse vodka with oolong tea for 10 minutes.
  2. To make the honey syrup, heat 2 parts honey with 1 part water over a stovetop to make the syrup.
  3. Once the syrup cools, combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  4. Strain the drink over fresh crushed ice and garnish with grapefruit

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior (1976)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous: 🍸dear ma

📖: Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019)
🍸: dear ma

Why this book?

This book is my favorite read of 2020. It lives up to its title – absolutely GORGEOUS. The language in this novel is poignant and poetic and reflective and masterful. I have so much admiration for ocean_vuong and his writing, and am so excited to see that this novel is being adapted for film by A24!

This is a piece of literature that I want to keep holding close to my heart. I am an only child of a single mother, so the narrator’s portrayal of the complications, expectations, and anxieties in his relationship with his mother struck a chord with me. Like the narrator, I also grew up in New England as a Vietnamese immigrant, in a family where memories of the War are not just historical events, but a part of who you are and who you grow up to be. So when the narrator expresses the melancholy of living in such a community and the desire to get out and create your own story — I totally felt that.

Beyond these themes, the novel is also about coming of age as a queer person, falling in love for the first time, navigating trauma and grief, and ultimately, survival through storytelling. Our time on earth is brief — how do we reconcile and reckon with our memories of the people we love and lose throughout our lives?

Why this drink?

“Dear Ma” are among the first words that open this novel, written as a letter from the narrator to his mother Hồng, whose name means “rose” in Vietnamese. I chose to pair this book with a rose-flavored drink in honor of his mother.

dear ma

1 oz vodka
1 oz lychee liqueur
0.5 oz Cocchi Americano
0.5 oz lemon juice
0.5 tsp ginger syrup
2-3 drops of rose water, to taste

dried rose buds/petals and lemon

  1. To make the ginger syrup, heat freshly grated ginger with 1 part sugar and 1 part water on the stove, just until it begins to boil. Remove immediately from stove and let cool in an airtight container. Strain out the ginger before combining with other cocktail ingredients.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice, and shake well.
  3. Strain into a chilled glass, with or without ice.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Alexander Chee’s Edinburgh (2001)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Check out these amazing podcast episodes to hear more from and about Ocean Vuong!

📖Final Bow for Yellowface: 🍸cozy cocoa

📖: Phil Chan’s (with Michele Chase) Final Bow for Yellowface (2020)
🍸: cozy cocoa

Why this book?

Merry Christmas everyone! 🎁 🎅🏽 🦌 One of my favorite holiday traditions is going to the ballet to watch The Nutcracker because it brings me fond memories of my performing years! 🩰 Since I can’t see it live in theatres this year, I’ll be watching virtual performances instead (ask in the comments or email me for recommendations).

I also just got myself a copy of Phil Chan’s Final Bow for Yellowface, which documents the author’s work in shifting the conversation on race and representation in classical ballet – particularly in the context of the “Chinese Tea Dance” in Act II of The Nutcracker. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for versions of this dance to include elements like conical hats, fans, dragons, folded hands, and shuffling feet movements as a caricature of Chinese representation. This is one of the several problematic dances in Act II that are based on outdated stereotypes of different nationalities. (Arabian coffee? Spanish chocolate? Russian candy canes? WHY?!)

I’m excited to dive into this book and learn more about the work that Final Bow for Yellowface is doing to make ballet more inclusive. As an Asian dancer, I want to see classical ballet repertory become less reliant on using orientalism as an avenue for awe and entertainment. Ballet has lasted over 500 years, evolving along the way. We don’t need to maintain ballet’s racist legacy to preserve its tradition.

Why this drink?

It’s Christmas so I’m drinking a spiked cocoa with this book, with Nutcracker music in the background. 😉 How do you like your hot chocolate? Minty? Spicy? Or just plain?

This recipe is from Celebrating Sweets blog’s Homemade Hot Chocolate.

cozy cocoa

1 oz dark spiced rum
1 cup milk
1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp chocolate chips
1-2 drops vanilla extract

marshmallows or whipped cream
optional: crushed candy cane bits / stick or ground cayenne pepper

  1. Heat all ingredients, except chocolate chips, over the stove until warm (not boiling).
  2. Add chocolate chips and whisk until melted.
  3. Serve with marshmallows or whipped cream. You can add crushed candy cane for a mint cocoa, or sprinkle some cayenne pepper on top for a spicy kick.

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Good Talk: 🍸holiday talk

📖: Mira Jacob’s Good Talk (2018)
🍸: holiday talk

Why this book?

The holidays are usually a time with family (albeit socially distant this year), and this time can come with difficult and uncomfortable conversations. Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir is a timely and relevant read, especially during everything that’s happened this year — the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, the elections.

The conversations in this book can be serious, funny, and ambivalent, but always full of things to unpack and process. I read this book shortly before the US presidential election, and appreciated the parts that covered the author’s experience of living through the 2016 elections. It’s scary how four years later now, we’re still feeling anxious and fearful about the future of our leadership and democracy, and what kind of place this country will be like for people of color.

I especially enjoyed the candid way Mira Jacob presented her conversations with her son, husband, and in-laws, on the topic of race. Even though I’m not a parent, I am in an interracial relationship, and the nuances of these conversations resonated with me.

The central question the book left me with is: how do we navigate relationships with loved ones whose politics directly clash with our own values and identities as people of color? There is no clear-cut answer, but I finished the book feeling hopeful about how engaging in continuous conversations — especially with young people — can help move us toward a better future world.

Why this drink?

I chose a holiday-themed drink for this pairing – also to match the book’s red cover. (The recipe comes from Williams Sonoma’s Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail.) Wishing you a restful and healthy holiday! 🥂

holiday talk

1 oz pomegranate juice
0.5 oz triple sec
3 oz or more of champagne

pomegranate seeds, orange peel, and mint

  1. Combine pomegranate juice and triple sec in a chilled glass.
  2. Top off with champagne, and add garnishes.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do (2017)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Mountains Sing: 🍸grandma’s guava

📖: Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing (2020)
🍸: grandma’s guava

Why this book?

There’s so much that I have to learn about Vietnamese history, as well as the history of my own family before we left Vietnam in the early 90’s. Sadly, my Vietnamese language skills are limited, and this makes it hard for me to ask for and understand all the stories my grandparents can share with me about the years leading up to the Vietnam war. So, I was thrilled to read this beautiful novel about a family in 20th century Vietnam, giving me a glimpse into a place and time that I want to learn more about.

This multi-generational story highlights major events like the Japanese occupation, land reforms, the war, and its aftermath. I kept thinking about my family the entire time I was reading it. Where were my grandparents or parents during these major events? What were they doing? How did they feel? I need to do a better job of exploring and documenting my own family history.

In writing this deeply moving novel, Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai advocates for cross-cultural understanding and empathy to avoid future wars. One of the most powerful things in this story was the portrayal of characters who offer compassion and forgiveness to those who have inflicted great losses on them – especially when those “enemies” are not from other countries, but are fellow neighbors, friends, or family. While the memory of the Vietnam War lasts beyond its end, I think this story helps us take a step towards understanding and healing.

Why this drink?

I am pairing this book with a simplified adaptation of the Liquid Culture blog’s Mama Guava cocktail, in honor of the protagonist. Guava and coconut are also commonly found in Vietnam, while the spices infuse the drink with some wintery holiday vibes.

grandma’s guava

1.75 oz coconut rum
0.75 oz guava juice
0.3 oz lemon
0.25 oz winter spice syrup
1 oz water
2 dashes angostura bitters

ground nutmeg, Vietnamese cinnamon stick, and Thai basil

  1. To make the winter syrup, bring 1 part water and 1 part sugar to boil with a dash of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and vanilla extract.
  2. Combine the syrup with all other ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice.
  3. Strain into a glass with fresh ice and garnish.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Marisel Vera’s The Taste of Sugar (2020)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Vanishing Half: 🍸twin sister

📖: Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half (2020)
🍸: twin sister

Why this book?

This novel begins as a story of two biracial twin sisters, Stella and Desiree, who leave their small black community in Louisiana for New Orleans. One day, Stella suddenly vanishes to live a secret life passing as a white woman. While Stella and Desiree’s lives increasingly diverge over time, they are inextricably bound together by unanswered questions, grief, longing, and ultimately, their daughters.

“Why wouldn’t you be white if you could be?” Stella thinks as she reflects back on her life. “Remaining what you were or becoming something new, it was all a choice, any way you looked at it. [Stella] had just made the rational decision.”

Beyond the sisters’ plot line, this is a broader, multigenerational story of transformation. Other characters also dramatically change — some by choice, and others not. There are individuals who undergo gender transitions, strive for socioeconomic mobility, become single parents, lose their memory due to illness, or turn into abusive partners. The premise captivated me from the beginning, and when I got to the end, I still wanted to know more about the characters, who were each so textured and full of humanity. Especially Jude and Reese and Early.

The book left me with many questions on identity. How do we see and define ourselves in a world that values only whiteness? How much of our choice to transform is rooted in self-love, self-acceptance, or self-hate? Whatever we choose to be, how much of that choice should be judged as right or wrong (or even judged at all)?

Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with a gin & tonic because Stella enjoys lounging in her pool with a gin soda-like drink in hand. I also chose this drink for its transparency, which, like Stella, seems to vanish in to its surroundings.

twin sister

2 oz gin
4 oz tonic water

two lime wheels

  1. pour gin and tonic over ice
  2. stir and add more tonic water, if desired
  3. add two lime wheels (one for each twin!)

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (2006)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And check out The Vanishing Half Book Club Kit, which includes its own custom cocktail pairing! 😍

📖How Much of These Hills is Gold: 🍸gold grass

📖: C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold (2020)
🍸: gold grass

Why this book?

“This land is not your land.” This is the epigraph that opens this luminous novel about two orphaned Chinese American siblings that venture through the American West, in search of a new home.

But no matter where they go, they are still outsiders, and even though they were born on this land, they are excluded from owning any of it. On top of it all, the land was stolen from Indigenous Peoples, so it was never theirs to claim in the first place.

In a word, this novel was poignant. In thinking about my experiences as an immigrant in America, I related to Lucy and Sam’s feelings of being “othered” in the only place that feels like home. Like the children, I want that unquestionable sense of belonging, but it can remain elusive.

Another part of the novel that I kept thinking about was Lucy’s rejection of Ba’s fantastical tales about the land before the gold miners’ arrival. She favors the neatly packaged history she learns in school. Maybe because this sanitized version of history gives her hope that she can still find her place in this country. Or maybe it allows her to feel that her family isn’t also implicated in exploiting the land, despite their prospecting activities.

This aspect of the novel made me reflect on Baldwin, Coates, and Laymon’s idea of how much our country wants to avoid the truth behind our history, and in doing so, defines who can and can’t belong here. The versions of history we choose to believe indeed matter.

I love that this novel centers the experience of a Chinese American family in the West. And I appreciated that their narrative is complicated by the knowledge of how Indigenous Peoples are impacted as the family searches for prosperity. What does it mean to belong to a land that doesn’t belong to you? I can’t wait to see what C Pam Zhang will write next.

Why this drink?

I’m pairing this novel with the Gold Rush cocktail since this period sets the stage for the story.

gold grass

2 oz bourbon
0.75 oz lemon juice
0.75 oz honey syrup

lemon peel and rosemary

  1. to make the honey syrup, heat 3 parts honey with 1 part water over the stove until the mixture dissolves into a syrup
  2. combine all ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice
  3. strain into a chilled glass with fresh ice and garnish with lemon and rosemary

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Wendy Law-Yone’s The Coffin Tree (1983)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

And check out this interview with C Pam Zhang to learn more about How Much of These Hills is Gold: