Posts by Sharlene

Reader. Book blogger. Parent. Eater of foods aplenty. Tea drinker. Crocheter

Library Loot January 9 to 15

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Happy Wednesday you guys!

I’m really excited as my library hold for the audiobook of Michelle Obama’s Becoming came in! It’s definitely one of the hottest books around, even at the library’s ebooks catalogue. I’m still on hold for the ebook version via the Singapore library – amazing there are 300 ebook copies there, with over 2400 people still waiting in total! I wonder if it’s the most ebook copies that the Singapore library has ever bought.


Also my hold for Crudo came in. Funnily, I’ve been on the holds list for Crudo a lot longer than for Becoming, but that’s because my library only has one copy of Crudo.

A brilliant, funny, and emphatically raw novel of love on the brink of the apocalypse, from the acclaimed author of The Lonely City.

“She had no idea what to do with love, she experienced it as invasion, as the prelude to loss and pain, she really didn’t have a clue.”

Kathy is a writer. Kathy is getting married. It’s the summer of 2017 and the whole world is falling apart. Fast-paced and frantic, Crudo unfolds in real time from the full-throttle perspective of a commitment-phobic artist who may or may not be Kathy Acker.

From a Tuscan hotel for the superrich to a Brexit-paralyzed United Kingdom, Kathy spends the first summer of her forties adjusting to the idea of a lifelong commitment. But it’s not only Kathy who’s changing. Fascism is on the rise, truth is dead, the planet is heating up, and Trump is tweeting the world ever-closer to nuclear war. How do you make art, let alone a life, when one rogue tweet could end it all?

In Crudo, her first work of fiction, Olivia Laing radically rewires the novel with a fierce, compassionate account of learning to love when the end of the world seems near



I’m working on several challenges this year (more here)

And one of them is the Reading Women Challenge, and one of the categories is Book by Jhumpa Lahiri.




Fruit of the Drunken Tree – Ingrid Rojas Contreras

This is on the Reading Women Award Fiction Shortlist

In the vein of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a mesmerizing debut set against the backdrop of the devastating violence of 1990’s Colombia about a sheltered young girl and a teenage maid who strike an unlikely friendship that threatens to undo them both.

The Santiago family lives in a gated community in Bogotá, safe from the political upheaval terrorizing the country. Seven-year-old Chula and her older sister Cassandra enjoy carefree lives thanks to this protective bubble, but the threat of kidnappings, car bombs, and assassinations hover just outside the neighborhood walls, where the godlike drug lord Pablo Escobar continues to elude authorities and capture the attention of the nation.

When their mother hires Petrona, a live-in-maid from the city’s guerrilla-occupied slum, Chula makes it her mission to understand Petrona’s mysterious ways. But Petrona’s unusual behavior belies more than shyness. She is a young woman crumbling under the burden of providing for her family as the rip tide of first love pulls her in the opposite direction. As both girls’ families scramble to maintain stability amidst the rapidly escalating conflict, Petrona and Chula find themselves entangled in a web of secrecy that will force them both to choose between sacrifice and betrayal.

Inspired by the author’s own life, and told through the alternating perspectives of the willful Chula and the achingly hopeful Petrona, Fruit of the Drunken Tree contrasts two very different, but inextricable coming-of-age stories. In lush prose, Rojas Contreras sheds light on the impossible choices women are often forced to make in the face of violence and the unexpected connections that can blossom out of desperation.


I also picked up more Squirrel Girl comics. Comics and graphic novels are one thing that I borrow more print copies of, mostly because Overdrive and Libby don’t have many comics, and I don’t really want to join one of those Marvel subscription plan things.



Here’s my kids’ library loot this week:


Here’s the link-up!


It’s Monday and the kids are back in school!

It’s been a great holiday season but I’m kind of glad to have our regular routine going again!

We had a nice rainy weekend. I always appreciate those little bits and drips of rain we get here – having grown up in Singapore, rain is one thing I really miss while living here in bone-dry California.

We tried out a new Taiwanese restaurant near our place. We love eating xiaolongbao and in Singapore there are branches of the famous Taiwanese restaurant Din Tai Fung everywhere. I mean it – almost every shopping mall you go to has a branch. It’s always popular and it’s always consistently good (although my mum argues that the branch in Chinatown, which I’ve not been to, is really bad). So when the Din Tai Fung opened here in Santa Clara over a year ago, we were all really excited. But because it’s the only branch in the Bay Area (LA has more!) the queues are still ridiculous, even with Yelp check-in we still waited an hour or so. But the food at DTF is pretty much flawless. The xiaolongbao is always perfect, the fried rice is seriously some of the best fried rice ever, and my kids would each devour a basket of the taro xiaolongbao if I let them.

Anyway, this little place we discovered is just ten minutes’ drive and it was good and cheap. The xiaolongbao weren’t as pretty and perfect but tasted pretty damn good, and they had red bean pancake! So we were all pleased.



I made some raisin scones and chocolate chip cookies









Poppy War – RF Kuang




A while ago I watched the first ep of The Magicians but couldn’t get into it, but somehow this time I did. I just binge-watched the first three episodes yesterday. Does that happen to you too?


Happy sigh.


A slice of buttered toast and a red bean pancake. Sadly not the pancake from the restaurant, which we finished, but this was something we had bought from the supermarket, it’s decent, but as my 7yo complained, not enough red bean.


I had Yorkshire Gold with milk – always my first drink of the day.


My kids have been bugging me to make Japanese curry and the other day while on Yelp I noticed this restaurant had curry udon on their menu. And maybe that’s what I’ll try this time – curry udon!

Possibly a linguini carbonara.

Last week:

I read:

I posted:


Mary B by Katherine J Chen

Patina by Jason Reynolds – first read of 2019

Severance by Ling Ma

Library Loot (January 2 to 8)

Best books I read in 2018 #amonthoffaves



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


Mary B by Katherine J Chen

When I found this on the library’s “new books” shelves, I was intrigued. Why would anyone write a novel with Mary Bennet as the main character? In Pride and Prejudice, she’s the middle daughter, very preachy, very serious, very down in the mouth. She seems to be surrounded by a perpetual cloud of glum – that is, if her presence can even recalled at all, except for that moment at the party when she’s told to shut up and let someone else have a turn. Mary is to be laughed at, in Austen’s book, but in Chen’s book, she holds her own.

Mary B begins in childhood, with Mary realising that she’s not treated the same as her other sisters. She is hurt in the face but the adults’ concern is for Jane.

“Though still a child, I already saw, unfolding before me, a life lived ingratiatingly in the shadwos, of sitting like an old gargoyle at dinner tables while, some few feet away, the living laughed and exchanged stories. I would have no stories to tell. No estates to run. No children to speak of. I would not be blessed with the holy rites of matrimony and would thus be compelled to live my years beholden to the loveliness of one or two older sisters, who would, by their charity, ensure that I always had food to eat and a roof over my head.”

The action then moves into the very same period with the original characters and storyline, except seen from Mary’s perspective. And this I enjoyed very much. It was interesting to see things from the sidelines, as a young woman with no suitors, assigned the “role of living scenery”, like Charlotte and Maria Lucas are too.

“These women will normally appear extraordinarily pleased with themselves and their company, for it is in their best interest that they look as happy in talking with members of their own sex as the women who are engaged in dancing, or, worse, the women who are not engaged in dancing but are surrounded by more men than should justly be allotted to them, which, of course, is any number more than one.”

I found it interesting that Chen developed Mr Collins’ character quite a bit, for he is quite a character and I’d always thought that he and Mary would have gotten along – or at least had more similarities than the other characters.

So I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the book, written in the same setting and period as the original book. But where Chen gets more daring is in the second half of the book, where she ventures to imagine a future for the Bennets.

And this is perhaps where things take a turn for the not so good. In this imagined future, things are not so rosy for all her sisters. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers so I won’t go any further but I must say that I do not like Chen’s vision of Elizabeth’s future. She writes Lizzy as a very whiny character, as if Chen herself has been affronted by Lizzy in some way.

Perhaps if Chen had stayed with the Pride and Prejudice story and not ventured too far, she might have been more successful. It’s never easy retelling a beloved story and this is an especially beloved story with its many movie and TV adaptations. I could feel her sentiments about Mary, I could tell she was so wanting Mary to have her chance to shine, to have her happy ending, but it seemed too much like it was at the expense of the other characters.

This is my second read of 2019 and I’m using this book for the Popsugar challenge – Retelling of a Classic

Patina by Jason Reynolds – first read of 2019

I loved Ghost, Reynolds’ first book in the Track series, and this book was even better than that. I loved that Reynolds wrote a female main character, one who is full of heart and also very complicated and real. On one hand she’s trying to fit in at her new school where everyone seems to be wealthy, then she’s also trying to be a good big sister and daughter, though they only see their mum on weekends and live with their aunt and uncle. On top of all that she runs track. She’s part of an elite track team and has been picked to be a member of the 4×800 relay which requires team work and being in sync with each other. And goodness was that race an exciting one!

What a read! What a writer!

Severance by Ling Ma

What exactly was I expecting from this book? Yet another dystopian tale. And yes there was that (this thing called Shen Fever has affected the world) but there was also so much more. There was a story about immigrants – a couple from Fujian province who leave their young daughter to be raised by grandparents while they try to find a better life in the US, bringing her over only a few years later. I was excited – Fujian province, that’s where some of my family is from!

But also I was intrigued by how this woman continues to work at her job in New York City as the world crumbles around her.

And the unusual epidemic, in which the “fevered” go through the motions of their daily lives over and over. For instance, a woman sets the table and her family raises their utensils to “eat” then she clears the table and it all begins again. And yet there are subtle differences with each repetition.

There is a kind of coldness to the book and yet it is irresistible and I am drawn to this woman and the cult of sorts she finds herself in.

A strange and intriguing read.

Library Loot (January 2 to 8)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Happy 2019!

I hope you had a great time celebrating the new year!

Claire has the link-up this week

I’m excited to have caught sight of these books at my library!

The Poppy War (The Poppy War #1) – R.F. Kuang

I’ve heard lots of good reviews of this one!

When Rin aced the Keju, the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies, it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard, the most elite military school in Nikan, was even more surprising.

But surprises aren’t always good.

Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power—an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive—and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school.

For while the Nikara Empire is at peace, the Federation of Mugen still lurks across a narrow sea. The militarily advanced Federation occupied Nikan for decades after the First Poppy War, and only barely lost the continent in the Second. And while most of the people are complacent to go about their lives, a few are aware that a Third Poppy War is just a spark away . . .

Rin’s shamanic powers may be the only way to save her people. But as she finds out more about the god that has chosen her, the vengeful Phoenix, she fears that winning the war may cost her humanity . . . and that it may already be too late.


Mary B – Katherine J Chen

To be honest, I’m a bit hesitant, P&P was the first Austen I ever read (and I studied it for my A level Literature paper no less) and it’s still my favourite, so what if this is a massacre? One waits with trepidation…

The overlooked middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice casts off her prim exterior and takes center stage in this fresh retelling of the classic novel.

I will tell you the story of how I knew myself to be plain and therefore devoid of the one virtue which it behooves every woman to have.

What is to be done with Mary Bennet? She possesses neither the beauty of her eldest sister, Jane, nor the high-spirited charm of Lizzy. Even compared to her frivolous younger siblings, Kitty and Lydia, Mary knows she is lacking in the ways that matter for single, not-so-well-to-do women in nineteenth-century England who must secure their futures through the finding of a husband. As her sisters wed, one by one, Mary pictures herself growing old, a spinster with no estate to run or children to mind, dependent on the charity of others. At least she has the silent rebellion and secret pleasures of reading and writing to keep her company.

But even her fictional creations are no match for the scandal, tragedy, and romance that eventually visit Mary’s own life. In Mary B, readers are transported beyond the center of the ballroom to discover that wallflowers are sometimes the most intriguing guests at the party. Beneath Mary’s plain appearance and bookish demeanor simmers an inner life brimming with passion, humor, and imagination–and a voice that demands to be heard.

Set before, during, and after the events of Pride and Prejudice, Katherine J. Chen’s vividly original debut novel pays homage to a beloved classic while envisioning a life that is difficult to achieve in any era: that of a truly independent woman


The Lost Garden by Li Ang

An ebook I picked up while browsing for books in translation written by women. Li Ang is a Taiwanese writer.

In this eloquent and atmospheric novel, Li Ang further cements her reputation as one of our most sophisticated contemporary Chinese-language writers. “The Lost Garden” moves along two parallel lines. In one, we relive the family saga of Zhu Yinghong, whose father, Zhu Zuyan, was a gentry intellectual imprisoned for dissent in the early days of Chiang Kai-shek’s rule. After his release, Zhu Zuyan literally walled himself in his Lotus Garden, which he rebuilt according to his own desires.

Forever under suspicion, Zhu Zuyan indulged as much as he could in circumscribed pleasures, though they drained the family fortune. Eventually everything belonging to the household had to be sold, including the Lotus Garden. The second storyline picks up in modern-day Taipei as Zhu Yinghong meets Lin Xigeng, a real estate tycoon and playboy. Their cat-and-mouse courtship builds against the extravagant banquets and decadent entertainments of Taipei’s wealthy businessmen. Though the two ultimately marry, their high-styled romance dulls over time, forcing them on a quest to rediscover enchantment in the Lotus Garden. An expansive narrative rich with intimate detail, “The Lost Garden” is a moving portrait of the losses incurred as we struggle to hold on to our passions.


The kids’ loot this week:




What did you get from your library this week?

Best books I read in 2018 #amonthoffaves

A Month of Faves is hosted by GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella’s Revenge

Here are, in no particular order, some of the best things I’ve read this year.

  • Best book with widows

    Best dystopian

    Best Cinderella story

    Best war story – and I ended reading more war stories than I expected to

    Best way to scare myself silly – and also a well-written, brilliantly researched piece of investigative reporting, sadly posthumously published.

    Best book by an author with the same last name as mine – but also a great story about class differences in China.

    Best book in which trees are the star (and really just one of the best written books published this year)

    Best book about the tiniest things in the world – and how fascinating they are

    Best umbrellas. Also best children’s book.

    Best book about mental illness. Also I loved the relationship between the sisters.

    Book that brought me back to my childhood which was when I was watching that Journey to the West show in Chinese – in this book Sun WuKong (the Monkey King) is one of the characters.

    Best book that’s on so many Best Of lists.

    Book that made me realize that I really ought to read more classics because sometimes they’re such beauties (and not crusty and stodgy and cod-liver oil like I always assume them to be).

    What are your best reads of 2018?