#AsianLitBingo: Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

Reading a book like this takes work. 

You’re cast into an unknown world. With strange people. With different lingo. And in space. 

The author isn’t going to be babying you, there’s no handholding here. There are no footnotes explaining strange new words or worlds. There is no glossary. 

In fact it opens with a battle. A huge battle with formations and attacks and well, it’s not easy to grasp what’s going on and at times I have to put down the book and wonder, is this for me? 

But I persist. There must be a reason why this book has been raved about, why it has won awards. Right? 

And it is when we met General Jedao, a disgraced general, long dead yet also undead. He is one of two main characters here. The other is Kel Cheris whom we meet when the book opens. She’s a captain who gets into trouble with some tactics she uses in a battle. And to redeem herself she has to take back an important station that has fallen into enemy hands. Her solution?Taking Jedao out of stasis and…. downloading him into her body? There’s something about how no one can seem him except for his shadow. And only she can hear him and speak for him. 

What is especially intriguing is that Jedao, while being a brilliant tactician and all, kinda went cuckoo and massacred his own people. 

The thing is I spent a lot of time reading this book, mind completely bamboozled. I didn’t know what was going on with regards to the war and the military tactics and all that. But I did know that I really enjoyed this very bizarre relationship between a female soldier and the dead disgraced male general. 

And it made even more sense when I read more about Yoon Ha Lee who at 12 realized he was trans, identifying as male. 

In an article for Book Smugglers, he writes:

“There isn’t a single trans character, but Cheris (body) and Jedao (mind) ended up being a trans system, metaphorically anyway.”

So it’s a space opera! With math! And complicated battles that you won’t understand! And a wonderful combination of female-male character(s), one of whom is probably a psychopath and may try to kill the other (despite inhabiting her body)! 

It’s clever! It’s mad! It’s clever mad! 

(It makes me write in a lot of exclamation points! )

And hey, Raven Stratagem will be available June 9!

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – SFF with Asian MC

Malice by Keigo Higashino #AsianLitBingo


My love affair with Japanese crime fiction continues with this beauty by Keigo Higashino who may be better known for his Detective Galileo series, which begins with The Devotion of Suspect X, a brilliant crime story.

Malice features a different police detective and his name is Detective Kaga. According to Wikipedia, this is the fourth book in the series but the first three don’t seem to have been translated into English as yet. 

The Galileo series has faired better in terms of publication, with three out of four being published. Hopefully more of Higashino’s works will be translated. 

Because he has such an amazing way with plot twists. 

(I will try my very best to avoid spoilers in this post.)

Bestselling novelist Kunihiko Hidaka is found dead in his home. A paperweight has been used to bludgeon him. In case that wasn’t enough, he has also been strangled. 

His body is found by a fellow author, Osama Nonoguchi, who writes children’s books, and Hidaka’s wife Rie. 

Hidaka was in his locked office. He and his wife, whom he had recently married, had been about to make their move to Vancouver, Canada, to start life anew. 

This is quite a puzzle for Detective Kyoichiro Kaga, who happens to have known Nonoguchi when they were both teachers. 

What is especially intriguing in this mystery novel is that the guilty party is arrested early on in the story. But Detective Kaga continues to puzzle over the case and digs far deeper and deeper until he finally figures it out. 

I loved the plot of this story. It’s hard to talk about it without giving much away. It definitely made me sit up in awe of the way Higashino twists and turns his plot around.

Malice was a quick read and it was entertaining with its plot puzzle. But I think Higashino’s other books like Under the Midnight Sun and Devotion of Suspect X are better reads, more elegantly written, than this one which, while decently written, wasn’t quite as stellar. 

Higashino nonetheless is one Japanese crime author I always look out for. I just wish I wasn’t at the mercy of American publishers and the way they pick whichever books to translate! 

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – East Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 

I am not fond of “girl” titles. 

But I am very fond of this book. 

If there’s a map, Captain Slate can sail to any destination, even if it is mythical. He’s taken his ship and crew (which includes his teenaged daughter Nix) to 19th century Hawaii, the land from 1001 Arabian Nights. He sure has a fancy ship to do all this time traveling in:

She was a striking caravel, her black hull copper clad below the waterline to keep out works (and worse, depending on what waters we traveled). She rode on a keel fashioned from what looked like the rib of a leviathan, carved with labyrinthine runes from stem to stern, and at the prow, a red-haired mermaid bared her breasts to calm the sea. 

Nix is 16. Her parents met in an opium den in Honolulu and her mother, a Chinese immigrant, died the day she was born. In 1868. Oh and her father is actually from modern day New York. He uses his special time-traveling Navigation skills to make money, which is why he was in Hawaii at that time – and also away when she gave birth. 

(Yeah I was kinda confused in the beginning…)

Slate was at sea when Nix was born and when her mother died. And always, he is trying to find a way back to 1868, to find the right map to take them there, to save his love from death. 

So they’ve been traveling the world, traveling across time, to find the map that would bring them back to 1868 Hawaii. And when that perfect map does come along, it brings with it some devastating consequences. 

Reading The Girl from Everywhere is a truly immersive experience. The research that went into this book is astounding. I felt like I was walking into 1868 Honolulu. Heilig does such a beautiful job with her worldbuilding. 

I was especially intrigued to learn about the mercury “rivers” that supposedly surround the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (the action takes them there for a bit). The belief at the time was that mercury would make one immortal. Emperor Qin took mercury pills – which was probably what killed him at age 50. 

(I later went to look up more about the emperor’s tomb – it’s still unexcavated as they fear that current technology may be unable to fully preserve what is inside. The mausoleum itself was only discovered in 1974 and it’s a sprawling necropolis with terra-cotta warriors. And although the tomb is still unopened, the ground above it has been found to have unusually high levels of mercury.)

The one thing I didn’t really enjoy was the possible love interests. It’s probably just me but I don’t think the book really needed it. Is it because it’s marketed as YA that this is seen as a requirement? But I did like both fellas very much though. Also I am so not a “YA” reader, both in terms of being a fan of YA or in the right age group. So it’s probably just me. 

Also hey, I just discovered that part two of this… series? trilogy? was published this year. Definitely looking forward to that! 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Multiethnic Asian MC (Nix is half-Chinese)

#AsianLitBingo Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fattah 

So when you’re a non-pork eating, Eid-celebrating Mossie (as in taunting nickname for Muslim, not mosquito) with an unpronounceable last name and a mother who picks you up from school wearing a hijab and Gucci shades, and drives a car with an “Islam means peace” bumper sticker, a quiet existence is impossible.”

16-year-old Amal is Australian-Muslim-Palestinian: “That means I was born an Aussie and whacked with some seriously confusing identity hyphens.” 

She decides to wear the hijab full-time. It’s her decision, not something her parents or relatives or friends made her do. She’s ready but she’s nervous because she’s recently started at McCleans, a prep school where she’s pretty much the only Muslim student. She wants to prove to herself that she’s strong enough to wear a badge of faith and she believes it will make her feel close to God. 

The hijab was part of her school uniform when she had attended Hidaya Islamic College although Amal would take it off as soon as she left school because “man oh man do you need guts to get on public transportation with it on”. 

Even her parents are worried and wonder if this is the right move at first. Her friends are supportive but it takes her classmates a few days before they confront her. Of course her mortal enemy Tia continues to insinuate things about her. And then there’s Adam, fun, funny and kinda cute. What does he think about her hijab? 

Amal’s got some great friends. Some of them are her McCleans classmates and there’s also Leila and Yasmeen from her old school. 

Abdel-Fattah cleverly introduces us to a diverse group of Muslim families. Leila’s conservative mum wants to find her a good husband, although she’s just a teenager, and doesn’t allow her to go out even if it’s with girlfriends. Amal’s family, while religious, are more open-minded. Amal’s uncle takes a very different track in being Australian. He’s “Uncle Joe”, not Ismail, wants his children to “live as Aussies”, disdains fasting and halal food and even prayer time. 

I love how Randa Abdel-Fattah took what is a tough topic and made it a fun yet insightful read.   I tend not to read YA but I’m so thoroughly thrilled with this book. It was so real and down to earth, and filled with such fantastic characters. I look forward to reading more of her books!

I read this for #AsianLitBingo – Asian Muslim MC

#AsianLitBingo – Bright Lines

It is not an easy thing, describing this book. A family saga? An immigrant story? A bildungsroman?

All of this and more?

However you’d like to group it under, there is no doubt that this was an ambitious book. A book filled with larger than life characters. A book full of energy and colour and spirit.

It is 2003 and Ella, home from college, sneaks into the Brooklyn house of her aunt Hashi and uncle Anwar.

Ella is the adopted daughter, technically the niece. Her parents died in Bangladesh when she was very young. She’s at a crossroads in life. As is her sister Charu (Anwar’s daughter), about to head to NYU. Charu thinks herself an entrepreneur/designer, making hijabs out of unusual cloth for sale. Ella has also had a bit of a crush on Charu for quite a while now.

Anwar owns an apothecary, selling homemade beauty products, and Hashi runs a beauty salon out of their home.

And add to this mix Charu’s friend Maya, the daughter of a strict religious cleric, who has run away from home and is staying with them. It just so happens that Maya’s father is the very man whose storefront Anwar rents.

It’s a summer of love and relationships of the ‘forbidden’ kind, ‘forbidden’ more because of the culture and religion that they grew up in. Ella has her own awakening about her sexual and personal identity that is both brave and beautiful.

A bright, effervescent book about self-discovery and belonging. The lush verdant settings of New York and Bangladesh, and the detailed lives of the characters allow the reader to know them well and definitely made me think about how their lives are like now that the book has ended. Always a sign of a  good read and an excellent writer.

 
I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC. 

It’s Monday and it’s too hot!

 

badge
It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

 

We finally bought fruits at the farmers market! The nearest farmers market is a year-round one (this is California after all) but the offerings during winter/early spring are a bit sad, also it rained a lot this winter so we never really went. But this time, there was so much to buy! We picked up cherries, nectarines, peaches, a whole flat of strawberries, green beans, zucchini. The kids had a blast tasting all the different samples.



We tried a new-to-us Japanese place in San Mateo. Quite tasty! And otherwise didn’t do much – this weekend was just so hot I got a headache….!

 

Currently…

 

Reading:

 

 

 

Watching:

Top Gear – I think that finally these three guys have hit a good momentum with the show.

Eating:

Cherries from the farmers market. So sweet!

Drinking:

Cold barley tea

 

Last week:

I read:

I posted:

#AsianLitBingo: Goat Days by Benyamin 

#AsianLitBingo- Ms Marvel: Civil War II

#AsianLitBingo – Turning Japanese by MariNaomi

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi

 

 

#AsianLitBingo: Goat Days by Benyamin 


Yes there are goats in this story.

But first, we meet Najeeb, and he and a friend are trying their very best to get arrested. Life in prison is far better to what he has suffered through recently.

What could be worse than prison?

It is the 1990s. Najeeb is from Kerala, a state in India. He’s intrigued by all the stories of those working in the Gulf and thinks it a quick easy way to make some fast cash and take care of his pregnant wife and their future child. But things do not go the way he expects.

He is put to work with goats. He tended to goats, milked them, fed them, herded them. The goats were treated better than he was. He didn’t have a cot to sleep on, or shelter. And this is the desert, which means ridiculously hot days and freezing cold nights. The precious water was meant for the goats so he wasn’t allowed any water to wash up with. He is only given khubus (a kind of bread) to eat for lunch and dinner, and some raw goat’s milk in the morning for breakfast. And barely enough water to drink.

We follow him through his days. His hard, painful, extremely dirty days where the only other human he sees is his Arab owner, a mean man who watches him through binoculars to make sure he doesn’t run off while herding goats – and won’t hesitate to shoot. When finally Najeeb meets other people, two Sundanese men who come to shear the sheep, although they don’t have a common language, he is just thrilled to see different faces, to smell a different smell. 

“The sense of dejection that descended one me as they departed! I had been enjoying the scent of two humans till then. Now, there were only the animals and me. Grief came, like rain.”

He didn’t expect to be a goat herder. He just wanted to make easy money – his relative got him a work visa. And when he landed in Saudi Arabia, not speaking a word of Arabic, not knowing any details except a name. Someone comes to claim him and they drive far off into the desert where he begins work. There is no choice for there is nothing but sand around. Where can he go? He doesn’t know where he is. He can’t speak the language. And somehow he survives three years, barely human, treated worse than an animal. He is a slave.

“My thoughts were not of my home country, home, Sainu, Ummah, my unborn son/daughter, my sorrows and anxieties or my fate, as one would imagine. All such thoughts has become alien to me as they were to the dead who had reached the other world. So soon – you might wonder. My answer is yes. No use being bound by such thoughts. They only delay the process of realization that we’ve lost out to circumstances and there is no going back. I realized this within a day. Anxiety and worry were futile. That world had become alien to me. Now only my sad new world existed for me.”

What a painful  read, brutal even. It’s hard to attract people to read such a book, I know. But I am glad I read it. It is a short read, at just 255 pages, and essentially while it is a rather simple story, it is well portrayed, it is moving and a very unique look at life in Saudi Arabia, far from the towering skyscrapers and modern amenities, far from another human face. It is terrifying to think that this is happening out there. 

“Every experience in life has a climax, whether it be happiness, sorrow, sickness or hunger. When we reach the end, there are only two paths left for us: either we learn to live with our lives or protest and struggle in a final attempt to escape. If we choose the second path, we are safe if we win; if not, we end up in a mental asylum or kill ourselves.” 

I am using Goat Days for Asian Lit Bingo – Poor or working class  Asian MC