February was a much slower month in terms of reading. I got into a bit of a reading slump and few of the books seemed to work for me! But somehow I managed these 12 books:
The Swimmers – Julie Otsuka
Light From Uncommon Stars – Ryka Aoki
Charming As A Verb – Ben Philippe
Love Is A Revolution – Renee Watson
Anne of Greenville – Marino Tamaki
The Fever – Sonia Shah
Spy x Family (vol 3 & 4) – Tatsuya Endo
Broken Marino – Waka Hiroko
IT WAS OK:
Bullet Train – Kotaro Isaka
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida – Shehan Karunatilaka
Pixels of You – Ananth Hirsh and Yuka Ota
Category / Books
Light From Uncommon Stars
This is the book that broke through my reading drought. I’ve been meandering through several books, not finishing several, this February has been an unusual one when it comes to reading. I finished 24 books in January and so far, in February, I’ve only managed 9.
But hooray for LIGHT FROM UNCOMMON STARS by Ryka Aoki. It has aliens! Doughnuts! More specifically, aliens refugees running a doughnut shop! They also happen to be running from an intergalactic war. There’s also a trans violinist who’s run away from an abusive home. Katrina Nguyen attracts the attention of Shizuka Satomi, a brilliant violin teacher who has made a deal with the devil and needs one last soul.
It’s a delight. I love that this book that revolves around music is joyful and at the same time, heartbreaking. It’s weird and wonderful. All the different characters’ lives intertwine although it doesn’t sound like they even belong in the same book. But it works. It really does.
I’m not familiar with Béla Bartók’s work but I listened to Sonata for Violin Solo after reading about it in the book. And it has this strange otherworldly feel to it and adds to the atmosphere if you listen to it while reading this book.
“Perhaps this is why the violin fits the human soul so perfectly – only such a simple, mortal object can hold its fragility and turn it into a prayer.”
The Fever by Sonia Shah
How is malaria still around and still infecting hundreds of millions of people around the world? THE FEVER by Sonia Shah is an in-depth look into this mosquito-borne disease. It’s chock full of information, not just the science behind the attempts to rid us of malaria, but also the history.
Some rather fascinating things that have a link to malaria include the unsuccessful attempt to establish a Scottish colony in Panama in the late 17th century. Most of the colonists died of malaria. And the colony was abandoned after just eight months. Spoiler: The immense debt from the failed expedition played a large part in Scotland’s reluctant acceptance of unification with England.
I was interested in reading this book as dengue fever, another mosquito-borne illness, continues to plague Singapore today. Of course these are two very different illnesses and transmitted by two different species of mosquito. But no one seems to have written a book about dengue fever for the average reader.
It’s a bit of a depressing read, when you think of how malaria continues to infect and kill people today. But it’s a very interesting and somewhat approachable book about this disease and how it’s affected the world.
Anne of Greenville by Mariko Tamaki
I grew up reading the Anne of Green Gables series and watching the original TV series. (I haven’t finished watching the new version though!).
So it was exciting to see that Mariko Tamaki had written a reimagined modern version of this classic! I’ve loved Tamaki’s previous works like Skim, Emiko Superstar, and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me.
Her version of Anne is delightful. She’s a queer half-Japanese teen with two mums. She loves disco, colorful vintage clothes, and roller skating. Her family just moved to the small town of Greenville, where she just can’t seem to stay out of trouble. And ugh, the bullying she faces. My heart just goes out for her, as she struggles to be herself but also to fit in.
I think Tamaki captures the spirit of Anne really well. She’s unique and quirky, and she has a quick temper, which causes more problems. But in this modern version, the issues that Anne faces are a lot more difficult, such as racism and homophobia.
It must be hard to take on a reimagining of a classic story. Maybe it would be easier to say that this book is inspired by Anne of Green Gables. I loved the updated version of Anne, but the essence of the story feels different. In the original story, part of Anne’s struggles is with Marilla Cuthbert’s reluctance to take her in, as they originally wanted to adopt a boy. But Anne of Greenville was adopted at a young age by her two mums, and so the problems that this Anne faces are less with her family and more with her classmates and the residents of Greenville.
An enjoyable read.
Read in January 2023
It’s mid-February and I’m finally posting this January wrap-up!
Lots of good reads from manga to romance to YA. Also, a lot more non-fiction than I was expecting…!
Also, I decided to bravely give up on a book, despite being at least 1/3 of the way through. It was Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura. I’ve previously enjoyed his work so it was hard to give it up, but the story about cults in Japan was frankly tedious with its lectures by one of the cult leaders.
So here’s what I read, with links to my reviews.
Notes On Your Sudden Disappearance – Alison Espach
The Violin Conspiracy – Brendan Slocumb
The Fox and the Little Tanuki vol 1 – Mi Tagawa
I was Born for This – Alice Oseman (cute story about a band and its fans)
A Man and His Cat #1 – Umi Sakurai
Parade – Hiromi Kawakami
Winter in Sokcho – Elisa Shua Dusapin
Booked on a Feeling – Jayci Lee
The No-Show – Beth O’Leary
Girlfriends and Catfriends – Frederic Brremaud and Paola Antista
Ducks – Kate Beaton
Spy x Family vol 1 – Tatsuya Endo
Unicornado – Dana Simpson
A Man and His Cat vol 2 – Umi Sakurai
Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life – Sutton Foster
Legends and Lattes – Travis Baldree
Vladimir – Julia May Jonas
Farm City – Novella Carpenter
The Goblin Emperor – Katherine Addison
Everything is Ok – Debbie Tung
Why We Swim – Bonnie Tsui
Spy x Family vol 2 – Tatsuya Endo
Everything is Ok by Debbie Tung
I am an introverted and anxious person. I overthink things, even when writing a message back to someone. Let’s not even mention having to talk on the phone with someone.
Reading Debbie Tung’s EVERYTHING IS OK, I recognized myself in some of her story. I was the shy kid. The quiet kid. I always remember the horror of being called upon in class and my mouth feeling like it’s been zipped shut and I would stand there, knowing in my head that I could say something, answer something, and the teacher would move on, but I would feel frozen and my lips wouldn’t move and it would just get worse as everyone in the class stared at me.
While I still would probably freeze up if I had to give a speech in front of a large crowd, I think I got a bit better at participating, and at talking to people, although I’m still usually the one who talks much less when in a group of people. I guess I forced myself into situations where I had to voice my opinions and talk to strangers – graduate school, working at newspapers, and at one point, saying yes to every blind date that came my way.
Tung’s book is full of little nuggets that may seem simple but are reassuring and encouraging. Like learning to accept yourself and embrace your awkwardness. And to be kind to others and to yourself.
It’s important to appreciate the small things. The husband bought a handheld coffee grinder for me last year and it’s strangely pleasing turning the handle and grinding the coffee beans, then adding it to the French press.
I also find delight in reading your posts and stories, whether you’re sharing a travel snapshot, your meal, an old photo. And especially the book posts. I love discovering new-to-me authors, and adding to my ridiculously towering (virtually, that is) the lists.
So, Everything is Ok, it really is.
Booked on a Feeling by Jayci Lee
I’m here for all the Asian romance novels, as well as romance novels that take place in bookstores. So this book brings both of that together – joy!
It starts out strong, with lawyer Lizzy, brilliant and determined, working hard but struggling with anxiety. After passing out at work from a panic attack, she takes some time off and takes a break in a small town where she used to spend summers as a child. Her best friend Jack still lives there, where he works at his family’s brewery. He’s had a secret crush on her since he was 10. But doesn’t want to risk their friendship.
There’s so much of it that I loved – the friends to lovers trope, the bookstore and Lizzy’s love for romance books, Jack’s family, the adorable small town setting. I also appreciate that both Lizzy and Jack had difficult decisions to make about their careers. And that they were afraid of disappointing their families and their expectations, but in very contrasting ways. Is it odd that one of my favorite things about a romance novel was the very sweet and supportive family that Jack has? It was such a contrast to Lizzy’s mum in Korea, who has high expectations and is completely overbearing.
The romance between Lizzy and Jack was, um, ok? They’re cute together but I wasn’t quite invested in their romance. Maybe because the story lacked major conflict, some kind of painful thorn in the side that’s jabbing away until the couple finally works together to yank the damn thing out. Or you know, leave it there to fester and rot.
Anyway, this apparently is the third book in the series, and I’m curious to see what the other two books are like. Don’t worry, it reads fine as a stand-alone as the other books are about different characters.
3 manga series
For #januaryinjapan and #Japaneseliteraturechallenge I started off with 3 different manga series.
THE FOX AND THE LITTLE TANUKI vol 1 by Mi Tagawa
Initially borrowed for the kids, this cute creature-filled manga soon made me want to read it too.
Senzou the black fox spirit is finally set free after 300 years. But he can’t have his powers back until he helps a little tanuki called Manpachi become a servant of the gods. Senzou can’t be trusted to do this, so he’s made to wear magical pearls that will hurt him if he doesn’t do the right thing.
The first volume has some background and explanation to get through but the story quickly picks up. The pair help out a low-level god, and learn more about each other in the process. It’s amusing to see how their personalities play off each other – one is gruff and world weary and the other, innocent and full of sunshine and butterflies.
While initially a bit confusing especially if unfamiliar with Japanese mythology and folklore, this cute manga is enjoyable for readers of different ages.
SPY X FAMILY vol 1 – Tatsuya Endo
Twilight is a brilliant spy but his next mission has him stumped. He has seven days to marry, have a kid, and infiltrate an elite private school. So he sets out adopting a girl (who happens to be a telepath), and meets a young woman (who happens to be an assassin). All three of them are keeping secrets from each other. But they’re now a family.
Absurd? Yes. Incredibly fun to read? Also yes!
A MAN AND HIS CAT vol 1 by Umi Sakurai
A charming story about an unwanted cat at the pet store, who’s finally bought by an older man, a widower. He’s never owned a cat before, and the cat has never had an owner before, so they’re both new to this. Love how Kanda and Fukumaru just adore each other. And we get to hear Fukumaru’s very cute thoughts, “all I wanted was for someone to look meowy way”.
A truly heartwarming story about relationship between a man and his cat.
Favourite quote: “Your name will be Fukumaru. Meeting you has been a joy, or koufuku…So you’re Fukumaru.”
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
An unflinching look at racism in the classical music world. Ray is a young Black violinist who is determined to compete at an international classical music competition. But his violin has been stolen just months before the event. This is no ordinary violin. It’s a family heirloom passed down from his great great grandfather. It also happens to be a Stradivarius, and insured for $10 million.
Racism is at the forefront of this novel. Ray faces so much abuse and mistreatment in the classical music world. Yet he pushes on, continues toward his dream of being a classical violinist, a performer, but with little support. He has the encouragement and friendship of his music professor but his family wants only money from him.
While it’s called a thriller/mystery, a lot of the book is Ray’s coming of age story. The mystery and coming of age parts don’t quite go together and instead feels like I’m reading two different books.
Unfortunately, I found that the “bad” characters were very one-dimensional. Ray has two younger siblings but there’s no interaction among them, and they seem to be used to as a tool to show his mother’s dislike for Ray and little else. His mother treats him horrendously but we’re never told why. And that constantly bugged me, his relationship with his mother who seems to despise him so, but for what reason? Also, while his grandmother Nora seems so loving towards Ray, why does she allow her daughter to treat him that way? Ray could also be better developed. All the reader knows is that he’s passionate about music but other than that, he feels like a snow plow pushing a path towards the end of the story.
An interesting premise and a promising start. This book opened my eyes to racism in the classical music world. But an unbalanced story, a ho-hum mystery, and flat characters resulted in a disappointing read.
The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison
The first book I finished in 2023, although I have to admit that I started reading it in the last days of 2022, was this ambitious and completely delightful fantasy published in 2014.
Maia, half-goblin, aged 18, the youngest son of the Emperor of the Elflands lives in seclusion far from the Imperial Court. When his father and three brothers in line for the throne are killed in an airship accident, he becomes Emperor. Having lived far from the palace all his life, under the care of a cruel cousin, he has no one, no friends, no family he can trust, and no one really to school him in the court politics. But he is the Emperor and rule he must.
Don’t go into this book expecting bountiful action and epic battles. There is some court intrigue but ultimately it is a riveting but gentle book, with an awkward, flawed, and completely likeable young man who so happens to find himself now Emperor. A coming of age epic fantasy.
Maia is a fascinating character. The writer has crafted him so carefully, although he may be rather mild and passive for some readers. He is goodhearted, even toward those who have wronged him. As a half-goblin,the dark skin and hair inherited from his mother give him no advantages at the Elflands court. But he bravely takes up the role, showing his humility and empathy in a hostile world.
The many characters, as well as the Elvish and Goblin names take a bit of getting used to. The world building is complicated. But it was entirely worth it.
‘In our inmost and secret heart, which you ask us to bare to you, we wish to banish them as we were banished, to a cold and lonely house, in the charge of a man who hated us. And we wish them trapped there as we were trapped.’
‘You consider that unjust, Serenity?’
‘We consider it cruel,’ Maia said. ‘And we do not think that cruelty is ever just.’