Blog Tour | Just a Little Bit of Love, Ines Bautista-Yao

just a little bit of loveOne of Ines Bautista-Yao’s greatest strengths as a romance writer is that she is able to tap into the romantic fantasies of our high school selves. You know the type. That moment in life when it does seem conceivable that a pop star can find you in the midst of a crowd of screaming girls and fall madly in love, or that the hot captain of the sports team harbours a secret crush on the nerdy math geek.

Bautista-Yao takes these fantasies, and repackages them into sweet vignettes that actually feel real, and more to the point, realistic. Rather than Nick Carter swooning as he catches your eye at a Backstreet Boys concert (ahem), perhaps it’s a cute, shy man at the coffee shop where you work. Or the (actually cuter) teammate of that athlete you’re crushing on. Or perhaps it’s the random cute guy you encounter once at a work event and fear you may never see again.

These stories make up Bautista-Yao’s newest book Just a Little Bit of Love, a collection of short stories that are tangentially related to the main characters in her most recent novel Only a Kiss. As the blurb says, these are just small doses of romance, but they do serve up a whole lot of feels.


1. These stories revisit the world of Kate and Chris from your novel Only a Kiss. What inspired you to return to that world and flesh out these characters?

I wish I could give you a more creative answer but the truth is, I started writing the story blog posts to promote Only A Kiss. Then my husband asked how many stories I had and suggested putting them all together in a collection. The problem was I wasn’t done with one of my stories and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to finish it. So I stopped writing it and just started a new one which I fell in love with in an instant!

2. Two of the stories may be familiar to avid readers of your blog, where they were originally published. What was the reader response to those stories and what made you decide to include them in this collection?

Whenever I would announce the stories, I’d get readers and friends messaging me asking for more. So this is it! But of course, I’m still getting requests for more haha! But that’s always a good thing.

3. In “On the Sidelines,” the romance begins with tension — Ina finds John annoying. What about this type of beginning interests you as a writer?

I like complications because I want to see how my characters figure them out and come out better, stronger, and happier in the end. Also, it makes my characters and their relationships more intriguing.

4. I love Ina’s friend Robert, who cheers on her romance while being too afraid to pursue his own. His fear is compounded by his being gay, and unsure how his crushes will respond. What inspired Robert’s character, and do you think you’ll ever write a romance between characters of the same sex?

I have no idea. I didn’t plan for Robert to be gay, he just was. When I start writing, I have a very general idea in mind and everything comes together when I start putting the words down. So I don’t know if I will write a same sex romance. Who knows? I just might one day 🙂 As for inspiration, that’s a secret because I think it’s still a secret, if you know what I mean 🙂

5. John tries to woo Ina with cheese rolls and in “Sticky Notes”, Jacob charms Carla with a sticky note. What was the sweetest thing a guy has done for you, and what made it so special?

I believe there’s a fine line between sweet and creepy. The difference lies in your feelings for the boy. If Ina didn’t like John, his persistence would have been creepy. If Carla didn’t like Jacob, she would have been grossed out by the sticky note. So given that, I’ve had boys serenade me, draw me islands, write me poetry, give me bouquets of flowers, but the sweetest thing a boy has ever done for me was something I only found out about after it happened. Before my husband and I got together, he was praying a novena to St. Joseph that I would finally come to my senses and realize I was in love with him too 🙂


Thanks to the author for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour!

Just a Little Bit of Love is available on Amazon.


Review | In the Country: Stories, Mia Alvar

Here’s a confession: I’ve always dreamed of writing a Filipino-American novel. I have no clue what it will be about, or even what genre it would be in, but I knew I wanted the protagonist to be Filipino, and I wanted it to resonate somewhat with readers beyond other Filipinos.

Here’s the reason: As a Filipino-Canadian bookworm and aspiring novelist, I’m dismayed by the apparent lack of books with Filipino characters or Filipino content in the mainstream literary world. With the notable exception of Jessica Hagedorn’s Dogeaters (published over a decade ago – in 1991), there aren’t a lot of contemporary examples of fiction written by Filipinos and published or read outside the Philippines. Some of the others I know of are either about the country under Martial Law (relevant history, but still far from contemporary), or written by non-Filipinos (still notable, as in the case of Angie Abdou’s recent novel Between, but not quite the same). I should add here that it’s entirely possible I just don’t know of these examples, and I would love, dearly love, to be proven wrong about this.

IntheCountrySo when fellow blogger Lynne from Words of Mystery offered me her copy of Mia Alvar’s short story collection In the Country, I was thrilled to discover this title. Here was a recently published book (2015!) by a major publisher (Penguin Random House!) written by a Filipino American whose stories, according to the book blurb “vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora.”

Here’s another confession: Alvar’s stories could have been just okay, and I still would have been liked the book, because as I mentioned, I’m starved for contemporary Filipino American literature. So imagine my thrill when I read the first story and realized Alvar’s writing is so much more than just okay — it was brilliant!

Her stories indeed “vividly give voice” to her characters, transporting the reader to locales such as Dubai or New York and describing events such that you can actually feel like you’re there. Her characters range from household helpers and young professionals in the 80s and 90s to activists in 1970s Martial Law. Filipino-ness is intrinsic and integral to her characters, without necessarily determining their stories, and references to Filipino cultural nodes like sari sari stores and telenovelas are sprinkled throughout, again intrinsic and integral to the stories without quite being the driving force. I guess that by that I mean that Alvar’s writing doesn’t quite set out to push Filipinos to the forefront, but rather takes the stories that are there and simply shares them with the world.

Given how many Filipino-American stories seem fixated on Martial Law, I found myself more drawn to her tales of Filipinos working in other countries. OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) form a significant part of the Philippine economy and population, and Alvar’s stories do a great job of presenting the balancing act between being away from home and forming a new home wherever you are.

I particularly love this passage from her story “Shadow Family,” about a community of Filipinas in Bahrain whose lives get upended when a flirtatious young household helper joins their group:

We too had landed vowing to stick to English — to impress others, to practice, to avoid embarrassing our children. Although the teens still found plenty to ridicule in our accents, nuns in convent school had at least taught us to pronounce our f‘s and v‘s correctly, to know our verb tenses and distinguish genders, to translate naman differently depending on the context. But at these parties we spoke Tagalog even to the babies, who barely understood it, for the same reason we served pancit and not shawarma. Between Arab bosses and Indian subordinates, British traffic laws and American television, we craved familiar flavors and the sound of a language we knew well. (p. 97)

I love the simplicity of that notion, that stubborn clinging to a language because it’s the one bit of home that you can keep, no matter what. I love it mostly because I understand it, because I understand the sense of home that can come just from hearing the sharper cadence of your language.

It’s this sense of home that I felt while reading Alvar’s stories, the sense that while the experiences she recounts are not quite my own, there are touchpoints and trademarks that resonate with familiarity. I read this collection on a train out of town one weekend, and for once, I actually wanted the journey to last longer so I could keep reading.

One question I have every time I read a book that resonates with me because of something in my background (e.g. Crazy Rich Asians), I wonder if non-Asians or non-Filipinos would respond in the same way. Is the book great just because I found familiarity within it, or would other readers also find something within it that will resonate with them? And part of me always hopes so, because that would mean that something in Filipino culture, or Asian culture in general, something far beyond the stereotypes that unfortunately are all too prevalent in books and movies, touched a chord in a broader readership. So far, I’ve lent In the Country to one non-Filipino friend, who also loved it and thought the writing was really good. Call me silly, but that response actually made my day.

In case you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved Mia Alvar’s In the Country. Here, finally, is the book I’ve long wanted to read and, to be honest, also wanted to write. I still dream of someday joining Alvar and Hagedorn and a hopefully growing list of Filipino fictionists who have carved a space of our own in the Western literary world. In the meantime, I’m beyond glad that Alvar has written this book, and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.


A note that at the beginning of this year, I made a pledge to read more Asian American Women Writers. I will likely do a brief recap list nearer the end of the year rather than individual reviews for all of them, but it’s thanks to this pledge that Lynne from Words of Mystery passed this book on to me.

If you’re interested in reading more works by Asian American women, here’s the shelf I created on Goodreads, based off of Celeste Ng’s original article.

And if you have any recommendations to add to this list, in particular of Filipino writers, let me know! I’m always on the lookout for more.

Review | One More Thing, B.J. Novak

18007533B.J. Novak’s short story collection One More Thing is uneven in quality. The stories are comedic, not necessarily all laugh out loud funny, but more the kind of comedy where you end up with a knowing, somewhat bemused, smile at the end. The punchlines in these stories are shared knowledge, insight from an experience that seems fantastical at first, yet  is revealed to be familiar by the punchline. I like B.J. Novak in The Office, and from his bio, I know that he is a writer as well as an actor, so this isn’t just one of those ghost-written Hollywood celebrity titles. I love the cover of the book, the casual, confidential tone of the title echoed in the scribbled intimacy on the jacket. I also like the conceit of the first story — a rematch between the tortoise and the hare, this time with the hare determined to win. Despite the adage at the end, it is the hollowness of victory that resonates long after reading the tale. So when I began this book, I was very much predisposed to loving it.

At his best, Novak is very, very good. Particularly in some of his longer stories, he turns a lens towards an aspect of life that is right on point, though his approach is so sly that it takes a while to get the point, if indeed we ever do. In one of my favourite stories, a man seeks out his grandmother in heaven because of a childhood promise to meet up after death, except the grandmother keeps putting him off, and it turns out, she’s too busy partying with Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and the like to hang out with him. The punchline is in the big reveal, and there’s the comedic moment of surprise and reversal. But like any good comedy, the power is in the emotion beneath the surprise. There’s something bittersweet about the ending — when the grandmother explains to the man that they’ve both changed since that childhood promise was made, it reminds us of how much we do change and lose our childhood selves. But there’s also something satisfying about it — both grandmother and grandson end up happy, living separate lives in heaven. I’m not quite sure what the story means, but there’s that sense at the end of it, as in all good stories, that there is something indefinable beyond the page.

In yet another favourite, a man purchases a made-to-order girlfriend, who is perfect in every way, until she starts becoming emotionally needy and he is ill-equipped to cope. A somewhat less restrained version of the movie Herexcept unlike Scarlett Johansson’s character, the one in this story is stuck in a particular body and unable to explore the world beyond being the protagonist’s girlfriend. The story is thoughtful and smart, and while I wish Novak had added more complexity to his characterizations, the story still packed a punch.

Despite some strong works, many of the stories are simply okay. There’s the slightest touch of insight at the end, yet the impact fails to linger barely a page after. It’s possible to make a really short story (less than a page long) powerful, yet many of Novak’s shorter works are more likely to elicit a shrug and turn of the page than anything else. You’d think, “Uh huh, so what?” then realize Novak’s left you nothing to work with and you just need to move on to the next story. Worse are some stories that seem too self-consciously funny or clever. You can just hear the suspense building up and the comic letting loose with a punchline and waiting for the audience to laugh. It doesn’t work on the page — the buildup is too brief and the punchline not enough of a surprise to elicit the desired response. And the obviousness of what that desired response should be just makes it annoying.

One More Thing is worth checking out at a library for a few gems. It’s best read by dipping into a story at a time, in between other tasks in the day, rather than read cover to cover, particularly in one sitting. I’ve heard good things about the audio book, which was narrated by Novak himself and some other well known actors, and perhaps that’s a much better medium for this.


Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.