Best of the kids’ reads this week

Drawn Together – Minh Le and Dan Santat

Here’s the 5yo’s review:

I like the story of the grandpa and the boy. I also like the dragon fighting part the most. Because these two people think the dragon is a mountain! The scales look like a mountain.


Kikuchi’s Sushi – Myung Sook Jeong,Sul Hee Kook (Illustrations)

5yo’s review: I love sushi! Especially salmon sushi.



Moon Watchers: Shirin’s Ramadan Miracle – Reza Jalali, Anne Sibley O’Brien  (Illustrator)

I love how through picture books my boys can learn that the world is full of diverse people who may look different from them, who may be of a different religion, but are just like them, kids growing up in the world, facing similar problems like, in this book, a young girl wanting to prove that she’s old enough (in this case, to fast during Ramadan).


Catstronauts – Drew Brockington

This was a fun graphic novel series that both boys enjoyed. And it’s so cute to boot. There are four books so far in this series, this is the first book.


Top Ten Tuesday: New-to-Me Authors I Read In 2018

I actually read A LOT of new-to-me authors last year – even more than the number of authors whose books I’d already read!

But here are my top 5

Ling Ma

Her debut Severance was SO GOOD (my thoughts) and it won the Kirkus Prize for fiction last year.

Here’s an interview the Paris Review did with her.

Michelle McNamara

Sadly, her book I’ll Be Gone in the Dark was only published after her death (my thoughts)

Kwame Alexander

Loved his book Swing, a YA story with a lovelorn young man as its main character.

Vivian Chien

A cozy mystery series set around a Chinese restaurant? Yes please (my thoughts). There are three books in this series – can’t wait to read the rest.

Ichigo Tanako


What a story! Orange is a manga series I’d recommend, especially if you’re new to manga (my thoughts).

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018.

It’s Monday

We got up early to play tennis on Saturday! The husband had booked an 8am slot as there are various tournaments in the afternoon and the courts were all full at our usual timeslot.

Then they had swim class and it was a surprisingly warm day and I got to sit outside and read for a bit.

We didn’t really do much this weekend. Played more tennis on Sunday, went out to our usual Japanese restaurant for lunch. But it was a nice weekend all the same. Hope you all had a good weekend too!





I happened to be browsing Netflix on Saturday night and discovered that Solo was available. I hadn’t been interested enough to watch it in the theatres but I didn’t mind watching it on Netflix. I thought the main actor was quite forgettable and didn’t have the charisma of Harrison Ford (Chewie had more charm 😂) but Donald Glover was awesome as Lando (maybe they should’ve just made Lando – a Star Wars movie instead). But it was quite a fun movie to watch – if only it had more Donald Glover


I’ve got 10 days left on my audiobook loan. So I’m working on finishing it!!


A hot dog bun from Kee Wah and a mug of milky Yorkshire Gold



Oven-roasted cauliflower with something else oven-roasted. Maybe drumsticks

Pasta of some sort



Trying a chevron clutch pattern for a friend’s birthday

Last week:

I read:

The seagull – Anton Chekhov
Anne of Green Gables graphic novel – adapted by Mariah Marsden
I posted:

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green

The Lost Garden by Li Ang

Library Loot January 9 to 15

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

The Forsaken Inn by Anna Katherine Green

This is one of those free classics on the Kindle store that I found and I hadn’t heard of the author before so off I went to google her. It turns out that Green was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America, apparently popularizing the genre some years before Sherlock Holmes even.

Her most famous novel is The Leavenworth Case which is the first book in the Mr Gryce series

The Forsaken Inn isn’t a detective story though it is a sort of locked-room mystery set in an New York inn in the 1700s. Told from the perspective of the inn owner, the story begins with a couple spending a night at the inn. The man’s rather creepy and has a huge box with him. The couple spends the night (the innkeeper feels uncomfortable) and they leave the next day.

“I became conscious of a great uneasiness. This was the more strange in that there seemed to be no especial cause for it. They had left my house in apparently better spirits than they had entered it, and there was no longer any reason why I should concern myself about them. And yet I did concern myself, and came into the house and into the room they had just vacated, with feelings so unusual that I was astonished at myself, and not a little provoked. I had a vague feeling that the woman who had just left was somehow different from the one I had seen the night before.”

Some years later, a hidden room is discovered at the inn. And in it, there is the body of the woman and she has an engraved wedding ring. But didn’t she leave with her husband all those years ago?

Some interesting twists, but a somewhat roundabout manner of narration and a wordy way more suited to readers of 1890 meant that my eyes glazed over a bit occasionally but I ended up finishing this less than usual classic.

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge – Classic by a Female Author

The Lost Garden by Li Ang

“Although I spent so much of my life at Lotus Garden, it was only recently that I was deeply moved by the many wondrous scenes, a result of learning to observe the garden in its minute details. The world is filled with boundless mysteries and wonder; everything is possible and nothing is tenable.”

I really need to start writing down how I come across certain books. I can’t remember the exact details for this one, possibly that it came from a list of books in translation written by women. I definitely hadn’t heard of Li Ang before this. She is a Taiwanese writer, her real name is actually Shih Shu-tuan. And her major work is The Butcher’s Wife. Unfortunately my library only had this book of hers so I made do.

The main character in The Lost Garden is Zhu Yinghong, an only child, the last generation of an old family in Lucheng, Taiwan. The family’s home is known as Lotus Garden, a sprawling estate, very much the pride of the family, and which, in the prologue we are told is being opened to the public.

There are two important men in her life. One is her father, Zhu Zuyan, part of the old guard, who speaks to her in Japanese, calls her by her Japanese name Ayako, and was once arrested for dissent, then returned to his family due to his old age. He then devotes his life to photography and to his beloved garden – replacing foreign trees with native Taiwanese plants

The other man is Li Xigeng, a real estate mogul, filthy rich, powerful, materialistic, and fond of the seamy nightlife of Taiwan.

The contrast between the two men is stark, representative of the old vs new, culture and tradition vs development and modernisation. It’s a story full of symbolism.

The narrative moves from past to present and back again but what takes some getting used to is the occasional switch from third-person to first-person (from Yinghong’s POV). It can sometimes be a bit too jarring.

The Lost Garden would please plant lovers as Li Ang is adept at writing about the garden and all its wonders.

“Cape lilacs were overtaken by a blanket of misty white flowers in the spring, like a lost cloud pausing at the green leaves; it was the kind of mysterious illusion that could only be embodied by a string of lithe, tinkling notes plucked by the nimble fingers of a harpist.”

Despite having traveled to Taiwan a couple of times – once as a kid with my family (my father used to travel to Taipei for work quite often) and then once again about 12 years ago for my own work when I used to be a research assistant and was working on a project about creative clusters in Asia – I know pretty much nothing about Taiwan’s history. So to read in the translator’s note that this book, published in 1990 (3 years after martial law was lifted), was the first to re-create in fictional form the “White Terror Era”. I of course had to go google that and learnt to my surprise that martial law in Taiwan lasted for 38 years and some 140,000 Taiwanese were imprisoned during this time with around 4,000 executed.

It seems that the following books also feature the White Terror Era and if you’ve got any Taiwanese author recommendations, please let me know!

The Third Son – Julie Wu

The 228 Legacy – Jennifer J Chow

Green Island – Shawna Yang Ryan

I believe this book works for the Reading Women Challenge – about nature.

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