Excerpt: The Monstrous Misses Mai by Van Hoang

Los Angeles brims with opportunity in 1959―though not for aspiring fashion designer Cordelia Mai Yin, the first-generation child of Vietnamese immigrants, who finds the city unkind to outsiders and as dispirited as her own family. When Cordi rents a cheap loft in an old apartment building, she quickly warms to kindred souls Tessa, Audrey, and Silly. They also want better things and have pasts they’d rather forget. That they all share the same middle name makes their friendship seem like destiny.

As supportive as they are of each other, it’s a struggle just to eke out a living, let alone hope to see their wishes for success come true. Until an ever-present and uncannily charming acquaintance of the landlord’s offers a solution to their problems. He promises to fulfill their every dream. All it takes is a little magic. And a small sacrifice.

As one surprisingly effective spell leads to another, their wishes get bigger. But so does the price they must pay. Amid the damaged seams of her life so far, Cordi must realize her own power in order to rip free, without losing everything she’s worked so hard to achieve.

Chapter Eight

“Relax. I’m not here as some spy.” He chuckled. “Don’t forget who convinced Mikhail to rent to you in the first place—and at a cheaper price too! Please, enjoy your night.” He held up his hands.

“Or should I leave?”

“Nonsense.” Tessa reached out, placing her fingers on his forearm. “They’re good girls. They just haven’t learned how to break the rules yet,” she whispered loudly, then winked across the table at Cordi.

Like usual, Cordi had no idea how to navigate the conversational maze. She kept eating, hoping that the food would instill in her some magical talent to help her play along.

“And I suppose you know how to break the rules,” Callum said to Tessa, his voice low.

“Do you two want us to leave the room?” Audrey asked in her flat voice.

Tessa took her hand back and resumed eating. “Nope, I do so love an audience.”

Audrey let out a loud exhale.

“I applied for a job at a fabric store today,” Cordi told Callum, still feeling the need to explain herself. “I have a good feeling about it.”

“Sounds dreadfully boring,” he mused, but he said everything with a casual, cheerful tone, so Cordi wasn’t sure if he really meant it or if it was just the way rich people prattled. Callum struck her as rich—the cut of his suit, the expensive tailoring as well as the silk of his tie, indicating that he could afford to dress well.

“I think I would enjoy it,” she said. “I know I will. I love that kind of stuff. Clothes and . . . you know . . . clothes.”

Tessa smiled at her. “You should be a fashion designer.”

“That’s impossible,” Cordi said, though it was exactly what she wanted, a dream she hardly dared to admit to herself. It was just a fantasy, not something attainable, and she waited for several long seconds for Callum to laugh in her face.

But he didn’t.

“I’ve wondered to myself if you were a designer,” he said. “You’re always wearing the most unique threads whenever I see you.”

“I like . . . pockets,” Cordi said for some reason even she couldn’t fathom. Perhaps it was the wine. She drank some more just to be safe. “Not all the dresses in stores have them, so I sew them myself.”

“Pockets are rather useful.”

“But no one’s ever heard of an Asian designer before,” Cordi said. She regretted it, because the statement was rather sad, and there was really no way to respond to it, so she didn’t blame any of them when the heavy words drooped in the air, abandoned and unclaimed.

Callum grinned at her. He had one dimple on his left cheek, and Cordi found it impossible not to smile back like a lovesick idiot. “I bet we can make that happen,” he said. “Have you given any thought to what I proposed last time?”

Cordi met Tessa’s eyes.

“About magic?” Tessa asked.

“Yes.” He leaned in close. So did the others. “After all, I am a witch.”

Cordi giggled. She was starting to feel a bit light-headed, the room taking on a blurry effect, the lights fuzzy around the edges, and when she met Tessa’s eyes across the table, the other girl mouthed, I knew it. Cordi took another sip from her glass, surprised to find it almost empty.

“Men can’t be witches,” she said, cocking her head to one side. The room spun a bit, and when she blinked, she had the sensation that she’d skipped forward in time by a few seconds, and that everyone was staring at her, wondering where she’d just been.


“How do you know? Have you met many witches?” Callum asked.

“No, but . . .” Cordi reached out, her index finger landing on the tip of his nose. “You don’t have a wart.”

Callum laughed and wrapped his fist around her finger. “Lurasts aren’t typical witches, and besides, warts on witches are just a myth. Most witches can only do small magic, like a little love potion that doesn’t last.”

“Witches are a myth.” Her tongue felt thick and heavy, and it took more effort to enunciate her words. “They’re not real. Neither are lurasts.”

“Oh, but I am real.” His wide grin made those crinkles appear at the corners of his eyes. “How do you think I’m this handsome? You should see when a spell goes wrong.”

He still had hold of her finger, and she pulled it back, her skin sliding along his.

“Lura is real,” Audrey surprised them all by saying. “Lura is a type of witchcraft. My aunt used to tell me stories. But it’s dangerous—we shouldn’t be playing around with that stuff.”

“Nonsense,” Callum said. “I’m a professional.”

“So what, are you going to make our wishes come true?” Audrey asked.

“It depends on what you want.”

“At what cost?” Audrey asked.


Callum laughed. “Why is it always about money with you girls?”

“Maybe because we don’t have any,” Audrey said coldly.

“It’s true, Callum, we’re flat broke,” Tessa said.

Callum grinned at her. “But isn’t your dad that rich politician? I just assumed he paid the bills.”

“Not our bills,” Audrey mumbled.

Tessa crossed her arms. “If you’re going to be granting wishes, you should know it’s gotta be for free.”

“Nothing good comes for free,” Audrey announced in a voice so full of doom, they all turned and stared at her. “What? It’s true.”

“On the contrary,” Callum said, “all the best things in life are free.”

Tessa snorted.

“You don’t believe me?” Callum stood up. “All right, it’s time to show you ladies that I mean business. Come on. We need”—he looked around the apartment—“candles. A bowl. Some of your most sentimental items.”

Cordi finished the last of her sandwich, wishing she had more.

“Come on, chop-chop.” Callum clapped twice, and despite herself, she got up from the table. The others did as well, looking mildly amused. Callum rubbed his hands together. “Let’s make some magic.”

by Van Hoang
Available from 47North on April 1, 2024



Van Hoang’s first name is pronounced like the van in minivan. Her last name is pronounced “hah-wawng.” She is the author of Girl Giant and the Monkey King, Girl Giant and the Jade War, and the forthcoming Hidden Tails for middle grade readers. Her adult debut novel The Monstrous Misses Mai will publish in spring 2024. Van was born in Vietnam, grew up in Orange County, California, and now resides in Los Angeles with her husband, kid, and dog. When she is not writing, she spends her days force-feeding books to small children (and adults!) at the Huntington Beach library in Southern California.

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