Review – Pen and Xander by Laekan Zea Kemp

Pen and Xander

Laekan Zea Kemp



Goodreads / Amazon


Pen Prado has a passion for cooking. Specifically, cooking her father’s food in her father’s restaurant. It’s the heart of their immigrant neighborhood, a place where everyone belongs, and second chances are always on the menu. Except for Pen. Despite the fact that there’s something almost magic about her food, her father can’t imagine anything worse than her following in his footsteps. And when Pen confesses to keeping a secret from her family, he fires her, ensuring she never will.

Xander Amaro is undocumented but that doesn’t stop Ignacio Prado from offering him a job at his restaurant. For Xander, it’s a chance to make amends and to sever his toxic relationship with the druglord, El Cantil–a man whose been like a father to him since his own disappeared. Soon after, his mother abandoned him too, leaving behind a void that not even his abuelo can fill. Until he meets Pen.

Both seeking a place where they feel like they truly belong, they end up finding each other, and in the face of tremendous fear and self-doubt, they end up finding themselves.


The parking lot hasn’t changed; the science building looks the same as that first day of school five months ago. But as I sit in my car, watching girls I met during orientation skip up the steps, hugging their bags, excited to play nurse, I try to convince myself that something inside me has. That today I’ll actually be able to go inside. That today I will stop lying and be the person they want me to be.

Class starts in approximately seven minutes—the class I should have taken and passed last semester, moving me one step closer to a degree in nursing.

Six minutes.

I sit in the parking lot, watching the clock tick down. The car is in park but I can’t bring myself to turn off the engine.

Walk inside.

I turn off the car, reminding myself how much I’ve already wasted on tuition and books.

You can do this. You can.

I reach for my bag.

Get. Out. Of. The. Car.

And then I can’t breathe.

My mother’s shoes.

All I can think about are my mother’s shoes.

How they’ve sat in the same spot by the door for almost twenty years. Scuffed and cracked, the shadow of her foot pressed to the leather even when the laces are loose. I imagine every hallway they’ve ever walked down, every door they’ve propped open, every mess they’ve ever stepped in, every second they’ve held her up when all she wanted was to collapse. Because one of her patients couldn’t remember her face or their daughter’s name or how to speak.

When she lost one I’d wake to the knock of the rolling pin and the smell of dough warming on the hot plate. Sometimes I’d try to take the pin from her but there was something about the force, about the rhythm that reminded her how to breathe. We’d work in silence and three-dozen tortillas later she’d wrap them in foil and drive them to the family. The family that only visited once a month. That would accept my mother’s food without acknowledging that she was more family to the deceased than they were.

And then the next day she would go back to work.

For almost twenty years. She went back.

And if I step out of this car, if I walk up those steps, if I sit at that desk and pretend…how long will I be sitting there before I realize I’m trapped?

I take a deep breath, the scent of a thousand shifts at the restaurant tucked into the fabric of the front seat. Mango and cilantro and epazote, tomatillos and roasted pepitas and tortillas. I can’t sleep without those smells tangled in my hair, without those flavors still on my tongue.

So I have to decide what’s scarier: living a life that doesn’t belong to me or losing the one I love. If the truth breaks my father’s heart, I know he’ll take it from me. But if it doesn’t, if he understands, if I can make him understand, I can be free.

I weigh each option, simmering in the anxiety they provoke, in the hope. Because I have to do what scares me. It’s the only way to ward off the helplessness. To stay in control. I always have to be in control.

Which means that today is not the day I go inside.

My stomach drops, my hand reaching to put the car in drive again.

Today is the day I tell them the truth.


Pen and Xander by Laekan Zea Kemp is incredibly captivating, well-written, and absolutely so full of heart. It’s a wonderful book that inspires, teaches, and comforts you in the best possible way. I am so in love with this book and everything about it!

I started reading this book January 17 and finished February 9. It took me a while to finish not because I wasn’t engrossed in the story (because I totally was…), but I was going through so much work related stress which was making me feel down and unfortunately got in the way of my reading experience. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to give up on the story or set it aside because I was absolutely fascinated with the plot and the characters. Rather than force myself to read, I decided to take it slow. I read whenever I was feeling light and relaxed and stopped when my mind would wander off and worry about work. I read a few chapters every other day or so and let me tell you… those few chapters made me smile and feel a little better. It motivated me to keep pushing through whatever I was dealing with and focus on what’s truly important in life. It’s been days since I finished this beauty and I can honestly say that Pen and Xander is one of the best books I’ve read this year!

I was really impressed with the writing style in this book. It’s gorgeous, evocative and so easy to read. There was a nice flow and grace that made reading so enjoyable. I’ve never read any other books by Laekan Zea Kemp, but I’m definitely going to be checking out her other works. There was just something so lovely and mesmerizing with her storytelling that I really loved.

The characters were fantastic! The may be outcasts, a bit damaged, flawed, and vulnerable in so many ways, but they each had something about them that was so real and relatable. Pen and Xander were very inspiring. They’re intelligent, determined, and hard-working. They made some mistakes, but they did their best to right their wrongs. I really admired them for that and just how they persevered through some of the most difficult and tragic life situations. I don’t want to give too many details, but these amazing characters will take a piece of your heart. They’re definitely the kind of characters you’ll root for all the way through and love like they were part of your family.

The romance, as Kathryn from Nosestuckinabookblog have said, wascrafted really beautifully. It wasn’t instant love, but it was an instant connection and it felt very realistic because it was two people with similar feelings and could see past the exteriors of one another.” I don’t think I could have explained it any better than that. I loved how the relationship between Pen and Xander developed. There were plenty of swoony romantic scenes and gestures that totally made my heart melt and moments that felt so raw and heartwarming. I really enjoyed all their interactions and shipped them the entire time.

There are so many great things about Pen and Xander. This book is beautifully written, incredibly realistic and wonderfully affecting. It’s a story full of so much love – love for family, friends, food, culture and everything else worth loving. Be prepared to smile, to hurt, to laugh, to dream, to cry, to hope, and feel so many emotions. If you’re looking for a great book to add on your TBR, then I highly and with all my heart recommend you choose this book. I promise you’ll find something to love about Pen and Xander.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book from Xpresso Book Tours in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts and opinions are my own



Laekan is a writer and explorer extraordinaire who grew up in the flatlands of West Texas. She graduated from Texas Tech with a BA in Creative Writing and is the author of the multi-cultural New Adult novels The Things They Didn’t Bury, Orphans of Paradise, Breathing Ghosts, and the Young Adult Paranormal series The Girl In Between. Her upcoming contemporary romance is slated for release during the summer of 2017!

Website / Goodreads / Twitter





Thanks for reading my review. I hope you get to meet Pen and Xander and the rest of the family. It truly is a wonderful book.

Have a lovely night!


Coming Soon to Entangled Teen




Kensey Deaton comes from an elite werewolf lineage, but just because her family is royalty, doesn’t mean she’ll fall in line like some perfect little princess. She has plans and they don’t include an arranged marriage!

Slade McAlister has his own family drama. His Alpha father happens to be the most reviled wolf on the eastern seaboard, and it’s a stigma he can’t escape. So when his neighbor Kensey–the girl of his dreams and his nightmares–proposes a solution to solve *both* of their problems, he sees an opportunity he can’t ignore.

Kensey and Slade aren’t only from opposite sides of the tracks, they’re from opposite sides of the war. But if they can sell their ‘relationship’, they might just make it out of this with their freedom.

You know, as long as all that fake PDA doesn’t turn into more…




After spending her life in foster care, Ava has finally found home. But all it takes is a chance encounter with hot nerd Wyatt Wilcox for it to unravel.

Now, things are starting to change. First, the flashes of memories slowly creeping in. Memories of other lives, lives that Wyatt is somehow in. Then, the healing. Any cut? Gone.

But when Cade and Nick show up, claiming to be her brothers, things get even weirder. They tell her she’s a Phoenix, sent to protect the world from monsters—monsters she never knew existed. It’s a little hard to accept. Especially when they tell her she has to end the life of a Phoenix turned rogue, or Cade will die.

With Wyatt’s increasingly suspicious behavior, Ava’s determined to figure out what he’s hiding. Unless she can discover Wyatt’s secret in time and complete her Phoenix training, she’ll lose the life, love, and family she never thought she could have.

Which of these two books sound the most appealing to you? Let me know in the comments below.