If life has taught me anything lately, it's that I should never read without a snack. Just ate dinner? Doesn't matter. Feeling full? Ha, that's cute. Don't want to put forth the effort to make or order something? Yes you do.
My latest foray into Books That Will Leave You Starving™ was the absolutely adorable Fake Dates and Mooncakes by Sher Lee. This debut rom com about two boys from totally different worlds who have the destiny to meet across a thousand miles was absolutely lovely in every way, and the very, very food centric story had me drooling from start to finish. Oh, and Clover the Corgi. She's everything.
Dylan Tang is your average teenager, working at his Aunt Jade's struggling restaurant, Wok Warriors, and living with Aunt Jade and his two cousins after his mother's death. One fateful night, Dylan has a run-in with a super wealthy, very entitled customer who is, apparently, "ALLERGIC-TO-DUMBASSES" and goes out of his way to tank Wok Warriors' online reviews. When this douchebag's (very cute) friend Theo shows up at Wok Warriors to apologize with a $100 tip and it turns into an impromptu mini-date, Dylan begins to see that the ultra wealthy may not all be as bad as he'd thought. Through a series of adorable events, Dylan finds himself accompanying Theo to a weekend-long wedding in the Hamptons as Theo's fake date--to keep his family off his back and to keep any well-meaning matchmakers at bay. Are the feelings that Dylan begins to develop real, or is he far too deep in the charade? Even more important, will all of his and Aunt Jade's practice help them secure a win at the Mid Autumn Festival mooncake making competition, hosted by a celebrity chef that will surely bring the attention (and with it, money) that the restaurant desperately needs? Or will their shady landlord evict them before they get a chance to prove that Aunt Jade's place is special?
I loved this book so much that I read it in one sitting--I just couldn't put it down! (Well, that's a lie, the one time I put it down was for the Rihanna concert formerly referred to as Super Bowl LVII.) Sher Lee does an excellent job of describing things as Dylan sees them, especially when he steps into the opulent world of the Somers family. You can really feel the lavishness of every portion of their daily life, and the stark contrast to Dylan's life living with 3 other people in a two bedroom flat above a Singaporean Chinese takeout. This was a fairly low-stakes rom com, but definitely held up in the drama department, because of course when a normal person befriends someone wealthy, they have to have ulterior motives, right? And please don't get me started on the food--my mouth will start to water just thinking about xiao long bao, dim sum, and snow-skin mooncakes. Oh, and I will not rest until I find and make a recipe for Hainanese pork chops--they sound absolutely heavenly.
Coincidentally, Fake Dates and Mooncakes also has a mixed-race Chinese and white character, which we've also seen recently in Lunar Love by Lauren Kung Jessen and have discussed on the podcast with her as well. Fake Dates and Mooncakes' character is Theo, who's mother was Chinese and his father is white. Theo's mother died tragically in a car accident when he was five, and with her, any tie to his Chinese heritage was gone; he wasn't taught any more about Chinese traditions, lore, and history. Where Dylan is fluent in both Mandarin and Cantonese dialects of Chinese, Theo isn't able to speak or understand either, and discusses his internal struggle with feeling like he's lost the Chinese part of himself.
Much to Karin's frustration I'm sure, I haven't gotten around to reading Crazy Rich Asians yet, but there are quite a few Crazy Rich Asians references, as well as endless pop-culture references that had me cackling.
To close it out on a serious note, this book also handles grief well. Dylan has lost his mother recently, and Theo lost his at a young age, but in a tragic and "was-it-my-fault?" way. Both characters deal with their grief in their own ways, but the sense of understanding grief, and the differing family dynamics in this book was lovely to experience.
Fake Dates and Mooncakes is out May 16, 2023, and you can preorder your copy here now!
Love and Kissing on the Beach (IYKYK),
Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher for free and have voluntarily written this review with my honest feedback. If you purchase a copy using my Amazon affiliate link above, I will receive a small commission which I will use to justify my literary addictions and to spoil my dogs (probably).