The Ex Talk by Rachel Lynn Solomon


4/5 Stars
Published January 26th, 2021
Published by Berkley 

Synopsis: Shay Goldstein has been a producer at her Seattle public radio station for nearly a decade, and she can't imagine working anywhere else. But lately it's been a constant clash between her and her newest colleague, Dominic Yun, who's fresh off a journalism master's program and convinced he knows everything about public radio.

When the struggling station needs a new concept, Shay proposes a show that her boss green-lights with excitement. On The Ex Talk, two exes will deliver relationship advice live, on air. Their boss decides Shay and Dominic are the perfect co-hosts, given how much they already despise each other. Neither loves the idea of lying to listeners, but it's this or unemployment. Their audience gets invested fast, and it's not long before The Ex Talk becomes a must-listen in Seattle and climbs podcast charts.

As the show gets bigger, so does their deception, especially when Shay and Dominic start to fall for each other. In an industry that values truth, getting caught could mean the end of more than just their careers.

This was exactly the fun, lighthearted rom-com I needed to spend my Sunday afternoon with. The public radio setting added such an interesting dynamic to the story. I enjoyed the behind the scene tidbits that gave us an inside look into how public radio may work in real life and these challenges really added to the characterization of our main cast. Reading about these two enemies turned fake exes turned lovers navigate this fabricated story to keep their jobs and radio station alive was something I grew so invested in. The Ex Talk is able to simultaneously tackle concepts of grief and vulnerability, love and longing, while creating an atmosphere that is so electrifying. Rachel Lynn Soloman's adult romance debut will make you feel seen in the characters she's crafted and has created a space that allows you to lose yourself in the simplest of joys. 

Jade City by Fonda Lee


4/5 Stars 
Published by Orbit
Published June 26th, 2018 

Synopsis: The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It's the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities. The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion--but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.

When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

This is an incredibly impressive story. Jade City is the first book I've ever read by Fonda Lee, so I was really excited to experience her writing. Her ability to craft a world so rich in detail and culture is one of the main reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. From complex family dynamics to political strife, Fonda Lee is able to explore themes of love and power through the Kaul family and their homeland of Kekon. The imaginative descriptions of Kekon's history, as well as a few chapters containing Kekonese myth and legend, made the story so immersive and fun to read about. There are clashes between clans, a land rife with magic, and a social hierarchy that beckons to be changed. After hearing so many positive things, I finally gave in to the recommendation, and I firmly believe that Fonda Lee has the makings of one of the best adult fantasy series around.

i bet you thought you'd seen the last of me

Surprise, everybody.

It's been quite a bit of time since I last put my words to use on this blog, but I've finally gained some shred of inspiration that has pushed me to pursue this thing again. As I watched months roll by without finding enough time to blog, I almost thought I'd never get the chance to make a proper return. Thanks to 2020 finally ending and my future appearing seemingly brighter, I figured now was a better time than ever to deliver a life update and start anew!  

While I've been away, I graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Cell Science. I worked in a research laboratory where I independently studied the effect of bacterial colonization and genetic mutation on protein trafficking in C. elegans — tiny nematodes that are often used as model organisms for research. This allotted me the information needed to write a 39 page senior Honors thesis, which, at this point, still stands as the best and smartest work I've ever produced. My passion for dance pushed me to continue evolving as an artist, so I became a tap choreographer for my dance company, creating several pieces that allowed me to express a side of me I never knew I could. Now, I am back home and taking a year (or two) off before I apply to grad school for my Masters in Genetic Counseling. 

Now, some of you (maybe a couple) may have noticed that I am no longer blogging under the name Little Lillie Reads, but rather Literary Ligase. Correct! I am rebranding and attempting to start something that could serve a dual purpose. I want to continue reviewing books and dishing out content that readers enjoy, but I also really want to start documenting my grad school journey on a more public forum. With genetic counseling being a relatively obscure career, I want to use my platform to raise awareness for the field and reach out to potential patients, applicants, or students who may have questions. By writing about my application process, my future experiences in grad school, and using Literary Ligase a means of advocacy and self-reflection, I hope to provide readers with an informative space and inspire folks along the way! 

To explain why I chose Literary Ligase as my new blog name: I really like alliteration. But also, I thought the two words paired together perfectly. Literary, which refers to content of literature, and ligase, an enzyme that essentially connects two DNA strands together. Here on Literary Ligase I want to ... connect you to future reads ... but I also want to ... connect you to my personal experiences as a GC applicant/student. Catch my drift? To be quite honest, the two terms may not even make sense together on a grammatical standpoint, but I went to school for microbiology and using ligase in the blog title felt really genius to me. 

I am really excited to get back into the swing of things! Little Lillie Reads was always a place of comfort for me and I'm optimistic about the things this blog can now accomplish as Literary Ligase. I missed you all so much! Please look forward to what I have in store! 

Flame in the Mist by Reneé Ahdieh

3/5 Stars
Published by Speak
Published May 16th, 2017

Synopsis: The daughter of a prominent samurai, Mariko has long known her place--she may be an accomplished alchemist, whose cunning rivals that of her brother Kenshin, but because she is not a boy, her future has always been out of her hands. At just seventeen years old, Mariko is promised to Minamoto Raiden, the son of the emperor's favorite consort--a political marriage that will elevate her family's standing. But en route to the imperial city of Inako, Mariko narrowly escapes a bloody ambush by a dangerous gang of bandits known as the Black Clan, who she learns has been hired to kill her before she reaches the palace.

Dressed as a peasant boy, Mariko sets out to infiltrate the Black Clan and track down those responsible for the target on her back. Once she's within their ranks, though, Mariko finds for the first time she's appreciated for her intellect and abilities. She even finds herself falling in love--a love that will force her to question everything she's ever known about her family, her purpose, and her deepest desires.

Being that this is the first book by Renée Ahdieh, a beloved author by the book community, that I have read, I definitely held it to high standards. After hearing for months that it was a dubbed a Mulan retelling, I held it to even higher standards. Unfortunately, I felt like I got the shorter end of both sticks and ended up jinxing it for myself. Flame in the Mist was far from the Mulan retelling I was expecting and in a way that let me down. It is a good story on its own, so long as you overlook the comparison to Mulan. I think this story definitely has room to grow in the sequel and I look forward to picking it up, especially because I craved so much more out of this one. I am highly impressed by Renée's sense of world building and attention to detail, as well as her incorporation of the Japanese culture (though I am unsure of whether it was represented 100% accurately or appropriately). This was an interesting book from start to finish, with quite a bit of loose ends left out in the open to be answered in the sequel, which is definitely what pushed me to finish this one in time for its release. 

Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco

4/5 Stars
Published by Little, Brown & Company
Published September 19th, 2017

Synopsis: Following the grief and horror of her discovery of Jack the Ripper's true identity, Audrey Rose Wadsworth has no choice but to flee London and its memories. Together with the arrogant yet charming Thomas Cresswell, she journeys to the dark heart of Romania, home to one of Europe's best schools of forensic medicine...and to another notorious killer, Vlad the Impaler, whose thirst for blood became legend.

But her life's dream is soon tainted by blood-soaked discoveries in the halls of the school's forbidding castle, and Audrey Rose is compelled to investigate the strangely familiar murders. What she finds brings all her terrifying fears to life once again.

After what seems like years without reading, I decided to pick this one up for a quick and enthralling read, and boy was it the right choice. Stalking Jack the Ripper was one of my favorite reads of 2017 and I just knew Hunting Prince Dracula would be right up my alley. In middle school I recall reading about Vlad the Impaler for fun in history class, thinking his story was certainly disturbing, yet incredibly fascinating. What I never expected was for his gruesome legacy to be taken to the pages of a YA novel in such an engaging and fun way. Maniscalco takes Prince Dracula's entire being and plays with his characterization like putty, crafting him into this figure that instills fear into the audience with even the slightest mention of his name. Obviously you should be scared of him from just the implication of his name, but Maniscalco was able to rewrite this story in such a way that made it so much more than the historical facts we know about Vlad the Impaler already.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee

5/5 Stars
Published by Amulet Books
Published August 8th, 2017

Synopsis: The struggle to get into a top-tier college consumes sixteen-year-old Genie Lo's every waking thought. But when her sleepy Bay Area town comes under siege from hell-spawn straight out of Chinese folklore, her priorities are suddenly and forcefully rearranged.

Her only guide to the demonic chaos breaking out around her is Quentin Sun, a beguiling, maddening new transfer student from overseas. Quentin assures Genie she is strong enough to fight these monsters, for she unknowingly harbors an inner power that can level the very gates of Heaven.

Genie will have to dig deep within herself to summon the otherworldly strength that Quentin keeps talking about. But as she does, she finds the secret of her true nature is entwined with his, in a way she could never have imagined…

This is one of my favorite books of all time. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is exactly what you would expect it to be - EPIC. Everything about the storytelling is exquisite, creative, and genius. You find yourself immediately attracted to the easy flowing syntax, the meaning behind the mayhem, and the uniqueness of the story. This is one of the first books I have ever seen myself so distinctly represented in. The Chinese legend Journey to the West and the Monkey King is what serves as inspiration to this wonderfully made story. This is a legend I have known since I was a child and one that I have grown up reading, watching, and listening to. It is a legend I could never have imagined would become a YA novel, but F.C. Yee made it happen, and I am incredibly thankful to have it. The Epic Crush of Genie Lo is the spunky, modern twist of the Chinese classic, and brings forward a courageous, rebellious plot that leaves you wanting more. It is refreshing to see Chinese folklore hit the bookshelves in such an impactful way.

Want by Cindy Pon

4/5 Stars
Published by Simon Pulse
Published June 13th, 2017

Synopsis: Jason Zhou survives in a divided society where the elite use their wealth to buy longer lives. The rich wear special suits that protect them from the pollution and viruses that plague the city, while those without suffer illness and early deaths. Frustrated by his city’s corruption and still grieving the loss of his mother, who died as a result of it, Zhou is determined to change things, no matter the cost.

With the help of his friends, Zhou infiltrates the lives of the wealthy in hopes of destroying the international Jin Corporation from within. Jin Corp not only manufactures the special suits the rich rely on, but they may also be manufacturing the pollution that makes them necessary.

Yet the deeper Zhou delves into this new world of excess and wealth, the more muddled his plans become. And against his better judgment, Zhou finds himself falling for Daiyu, the daughter of Jin Corp’s CEO. Can Zhou save his city without compromising who he is or destroying his own heart?

Want is an absolutely stunning novel. Cindy Pon has crafted a world that is completely unique and unlike anything I have ever read before. This future-esque reimagining of Taiwan, in which the air pollution takes a terrible toll on the people of its city, is creative and hard-hitting, and does not stray far from environmental issues that affect us everyday. This is the first novel I have read by Cindy Pon and I have absolutely no idea why I didn't pick up her books sooner. I have followed Cindy Pon on social media for the longest time and I have watched her be an advocate of and influencer for Asian representation in YA novels. She has changed the game in so many ways and I am forever grateful for her contribution to this community. She has impeccable craftsmanship, rolling out a plot that will keep you not only connected to the story, but subliminally relating the context back to relevant issues in real lifeWant is everything I needed in a novel at the time, becoming a book that I will push onto my friends and family for years to come. It is culturally immersive, includes a myriad of diverse characters, and applicable to situations that are happening around the world, which is what makes it such a universal read.