Book thoughts: Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

This review is for the audiobook:

As usual, Alan Cumming is an absolute delight to listen to. I love how he voices all the different characters (especially Bovril)! This second book in the steampunk series again blasts through at breakneck speed, this time mainly in Istanbul. I really liked that we get more character development from Deryn, the girl who poses as a boy so she can fly on the Leviathan. Overall a really enjoyable listen!

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Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

This wasn‚Äôt a definite ūü§ėfor me. We didn‚Äôt exactly start out as best friends, this book and I. I was wanting more for our relationship, expecting book here to leave me salivating and craving Chinese food (yes, even Chinese-American food) so I was a bit disappointed. But our friendship grew as I realized this was a book about the drama of ordinary families, amid the struggles of a second generation running a restaurant.

And like a Chinese eatery, it is loud and chaotic and sometimes the service can be brusque but in the end you leave satiated.

#AsianLitBingo wrap-up

I didn’t do too badly this time! I got three bingos! I always enjoy this challenge and got to read some very beautiful books in May. Some of my favourites were the manga series Orange, Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T Lee, and Lucy and Linh by Australian writer Alice Pung.

Here’s what I read for Asian Lit Bingo:

Asian Muslim MC:Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga (own voices)

Southeast Asian MC: Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (own voices)

South Asian MC: Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy (own voices)

Asian MC with Disability: Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T Lee (own voices)

Graphic Novel with Asian MC: Orange by Ichigo Takano (own voices)

Translated Work by an Asian Author: After Dark by Haruki Murakami (own voices)

Asian Immigrant MC:  The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly (#ownvoices)

SFF with Asian MC:  The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee #ownvoices

LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC: Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan #ownvoices

Poor or Working Class Asian MC: Girls Burn Brighter by Shobhaa Rao #ownvoices 

East Asian MC:Kinder than Solitude by Yiyun Li #ownvoices

Asian Refugee MC:Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung #ownvoices

Contemporary with Asian MC: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

Multiracial/multiethnic Asian MC:  Such a Lovely Little War by Marcelino Truing #ownvoices

Here We Are Now by Jasmine Warga

While reading this I had this desperate urge to pull out my old CDs and listen to them again. Why yes, I did once have a CD collection! Of course everything is available online nowadays and with Spotify I was able to pull up some Neutral Milk Hotel, some Teitur, The National…

This book was a quick, fun but also a little sad bit of a read while nursing a horrendous cough that kept me up all night.

It’s very YA – a rock star turns out to be Taliah’s dad, and he drives to meet her in Ohio after she sends letter after letter to him. I mean, isn’t that every teen’s dream? To meet a famous musician and to learn that you’re related?

Luckily the story is a bit more than that.

Not so fortunately though, Julian’s father, Taliah’s grandfather, is dying and he wants her to meet him. She sets off with him and her best friend – her mother is away in Paris for a work trip. And in the first place, her mother had told Taliah that her father was dead. Very YA

“This may sound weird, but there are certain songs, like really great songs – you don’t just listen to them, you know? They make you feel like they’re listening back. Like the person who wrote the song heard you. Music makes you feel less alone in that way. It’s proof that someone out there has felt the exact same way you do and they’ve managed to capture it in this perfect blend of words and sound.”

But as the setting moves to Julian’s small hometown and Taliah meets his family and gets to know her father better, the story improves quite a bit and I get drawn towards this family-not-quite-family that is facing the last few days of a loved one – although in Taliah’s case, more like a person she might have loved if she had gotten to know him.

The other thing I should mention is that I read this for Asian Lit Bingo and the reason for that is Taliah’s mother is Jordanian. Warga’s father is from Jordan and she said in an interview that she identifies as Middle Eastern American and also as biracial.

I do wish we knew more about Taliah’s mother’s family but overall it was an enjoyable read.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Muslim MC

#AsianLitBingo – Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig

Shan, Mon, Chin, Rohingya, Kachin, Karen (these last pronounced with the accent on the second syllable, it seemed to him – Ro-HIN-gya, Ka-CHIN, Ka-REN) and so on.

This book was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction which is probably where I first heard of it.

I was curious about it as its focus is on the Karen people of Myanmar, people who have been persecuted for their beliefs, and still are today.

It was something about their friendliness, their relaxed natures, their open courteousness, their love of life, their easy acceptance of his right to be among them, elephantine as he must have appeared in their eyes (and hopelessly dumb, miming what he wanted to purchase). He had the sense that wherever they had come from (Mongolia? Tibet?), however many centuries or millennia ago, they had long ago accepted others’ infiltration of their homeland so long as it was peaceable. Yet he also had the distinct impression that they’d never forgotten the dust of homelessness on their feet.

I have to confess that I was also interested by Craig’s own background. She is an actress and is part Karen and based much of the book on the lives of her grandmother and mother, who was actually Miss Burma and a political revolutionary.

But I felt that this book was a really difficult read. Part of it is the violence and the suppression of the Karen people. Part of it is the way the author crams so much into the book. It was very heavy, very intense, something that probably required a longer reading time than the three weeks my ebook loan allowed me.

It was one hell of a tough read.

It did however open my eyes to Burmese history, which I knew almost nothing about before this.

I realized that after writing all this I never actually talked about the synopsis.

And to be honest it’s just easier to paste the official synopsis for you. Maybe you might appreciate this book more than I did.

A beautiful and poignant story of one family during the most violent and turbulent years of world history, Miss Burma is a powerful novel of love and war, colonialism and ethnicity, and the ties of blood.

Miss Burma tells the story of modern-day Burma through the eyes of Benny and Khin, husband and wife, and their daughter Louisa. After attending school in Calcutta, Benny settles in Rangoon, then part of the British Empire, and falls in love with Khin, a woman who is part of a long-persecuted ethnic minority group, the Karen. World War II comes to Southeast Asia, and Benny and Khin must go into hiding in the eastern part of the country during the Japanese Occupation, beginning a journey that will lead them to change the country‚Äôs history. After the war, the British authorities make a deal with the Burman nationalists, led by Aung San, whose party gains control of the country. When Aung San is assassinated, his successor ignores the pleas for self-government of the Karen people and other ethnic groups, and in doing so sets off what will become the longest-running civil war in recorded history. Benny and Khin’s eldest child, Louisa, has a danger-filled, tempestuous childhood and reaches prominence as Burma‚Äôs first beauty queen soon before the country falls to dictatorship. As Louisa navigates her newfound fame, she is forced to reckon with her family‚Äôs past, the West‚Äôs ongoing covert dealings in her country, and her own loyalty to the cause of the Karen people.

Based on the story of the author’s mother and grandparents, Miss Burma is a captivating portrait of how modern Burma came to be and of the ordinary people swept up in the struggle for self-determination and freedom.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South East Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo – Don’t Let Him Know by Sandip Roy

I wouldn’t have heard of this book if not for the lists of suggested reads for Asian Lit Bingo. I initially read it with the thought of using it for the “Queer Romance with Asian MC” square but ended up using it for a different square so as to get a bingo!

Don’t Let Him Know opens with Romola who is visiting her son Amit in America not long after her husband Avinash dies. Amit finds among her things, part of a letter from someone named Sumit. And Amit assumes Sumit was his mother’s former lover, before she met and married his dad. But she doesn’t know how to tell him – can she even tell him? – that this letter from Sumit wasn’t written to her, but to Amit’s father and Romola’s late husband, Avinash.

The book reads more like a collection of linked stories than a novel. We move from character to character, back and forth in time, through various stages of their lives.

It opens with an adult Amit and Romola as a recent widow. Then move back to the time of Romola and Avinash as newlyweds in Illinois. We also meet with a young Amit and in another chapter, an older Amit trying to find his own way in America.

I was surprised that a lot of the chapters belonged more to Romola and Amit than to Avanish. I guess I was expecting to learn more about Avanish and his coming to understand (or perhaps failure to understand) his true self, one that he kept hidden for so long and just seemed so uncomfortable with. I wanted the book to explore more of that.

Still it was a worthwhile read.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC

Everything Here is Beautiful by Mira T Lee #AsianLitBingo

The first hospital stay, I was a compliant patient, a Sweet Asian Doll, and for this I was branded with a Severe Lifelong Mental Illness. Later, I would be told I had a twenty percent chance of maintaining a full-time job, a twenty-five percent chance of living independently, a forty percent chance of attempting suicide, a ten percent chance of succeeding.

I was twenty-six years old.

This was an exquisite book.

It’s not an easy tale to tell – one of mental illness, of immigrants both legal and illegal, of family and relationships both wonderful and strange.

Miranda, as the older sister, has always been protector, defender and the responsible one. And even more so now that their mother has passed away. Lucia brims with vibrancy and vivacity. She’s unconventional, some may say strange. She’s lived in South America and is marrying an Israeli man she barely seems to know. And worse, she’s started hearing voices.

Just as soon as she married Yonah she decides she wants to have a child and leaves him for a young Ecuadorian man, Manny, who is in the country illegally. Eventually they move back to his small village in Ecuador which soon proves a problem for Lucia’s condition.

Lee said in an interview that she has family members with schizophrenia and in the book it is clear that she’s dealt with various aspects of it, especially the way Miranda tries to handle the various hospital staff who don’t seem to understand how best to treat her sister. Miranda has done all her research and is familiar with all the problems the different drugs give her sister.

In bringing in Manny to the story, we see someone who cares for Lucia and also tries to appease her, not knowing exactly what she needs but still trying his very best to help.

Everything Here is Beautiful is a must-read. I seldom say things like that so I hope you know I mean it. It was a story gently and thoughtfully told, one that explores different perspectives, one that shows us how mental illness affects family and loved ones.

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