CURSED BUNNY made me realize what kind of horror really gives me the heebie-jeebies – toilet horror.
Sure, cemeteries and woods can be creepy places, but I can avoid those places. The toilet though? How can anyone avoid that? So when Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung (translated by Anton Hur) opens with the story called The Head, the day after reading it, I wake after a strange dream about a woman in the toilet.
In The Head, a woman is about to flush the toilet when a head pops out and calls her Mother. It keeps appearing in the toilet but when the woman tells her family, they tell her to leave it alone. It doesn’t affect them, so they can ignore it. But the reader can’t, and the writer doesn’t want us to. She wants to send the message out that this is often what it’s like to be a woman – easily dismissed.
The stories in this collection are disturbing. It’s a relentless march through stories with characters who are full of greed, rage, despair. The characters are often nameless: “the daughter”, “the man”, “the youth”. A family creates cursed objects, a man finds a trapped fox that bleeds gold, a woman finds herself pregnant after taking birth control pills.
It’s hard to describe what genres the stories fall into. One reads like an urban ghost story, another like a fairy tale, this one a science fiction one, that one a fable. It’s impressive. It’s grotesque. It’s dark. It’s also mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop reading it.
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.”
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.
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.
Hooked: How Crafting Saved My Life – Sutton Foster
I’m Glad My Mom Died – Jennette McCurdy
Hello, Molly! – Molly Shannon
Somehow in the past month, I’ve listened to 3 audiobooks by American actresses. In recent years, I’ve taken to audiobooks, usually nonfiction, and preferably read by the author themselves (with exception to certain audiobook narrators, like Richard Armitage, whose voice I love!). I listen to the audiobooks when I take walks and when doing some chores like laundry or cooking. It helps the time pass faster. And on occasion, I’ve even walked an extra round just because I was eager to finish listening to a chapter.
Audiobooks have their drawbacks of course, like when my mind wanders and I somehow miss out on an important part and it’s hard to go back and figure out what I’ve missed. Also, taking notes is hard. So while I usually enjoy writing down quotes from the book that I’ve enjoyed or admired, this is a quote-free post.
Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of Jennette McCurdy until her book seemed to be everywhere. I never watched iCarly or the other shows she’s known for. But the title of her book just made me want to find out what exactly happened. And ok, that really was a very honest, and just really painful, listen. McCurdy started acting at the age of 6, and her mother controlled and obsessed about her physical appearance. It’s a book that made me seethe with anger at what her mother put her through, and admire the compassion Jennette showed her.
Molly Shannon is more familiar to me. I used to watch Will and Grace and she played their upstairs neighbour Val who’s rather unstable and kooky. She really does seem like that in her audiobook too, vivacious and full of incredible energy. Her story is another one of struggle and angst. But in a very different way. Her family was in a horrendous car accident when she was 4, and her mother and sister died. She and her younger sister were raised by their dad, and while he definitely tried his best, his parenting style is best described as very permissive. Like when she and her friend snuck on a plane to New York City (they lived in Cleveland). They were 12!
One thing about Molly Shannon’s story was her persistence and determination to become an actress. A New York Times article used the headline “The Unsinkable Molly Shannon” and that really is perfect for her. She really just kept going and never gave up.
For me, this worked really well as an audiobook. I read a sample of the book and wasn’t quite sure, but when I gave it a listen instead, I started to get more into it.
As for Sutton Foster, I enjoyed watching her in the short-lived TV series, Bunheads, where she played a showgirl turned dance teacher. I like that she’s a crocheter, although she also talks about other crafts in the book, like collaging and cross-stitching. She first started cross-stitching at age 19, as an understudy on the Grease musical. It was a means for her to cope with anxiety and stress and the less than friendly people who were on tour with her. Her crafting journey helps her through difficult times, like her mother’s agoraphobia and declining health. A heartfelt story that made me want to start crocheting a blanket (and did).
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.
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.”
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 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.’
Sunday morning breakfast of French press coffee and a spinach and kale pastry and finished an excellent read, Joan is Okay by Weike Wang.
This novel features Joan, as doctor who feels most at home when she’s at work. Her father in Shanghai died after a stroke, her mother returns to the US after 18 years, and is stranded there due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Joan is a bit of a detached, isolated person. But she’s good with that. She’s okay, she really is. It seems to bother other people, like her brother and boss, more than it bothers her.
Joan’s struggles with being the other in America are very relatable. At one point she wonders, “What was wrong with being too Chinese? Yet it always seemed that something was.”