#RIPXII The Bear and the Nightingale

 

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From the very start of the book, I am hooked.

And that is not a usual thing. I am a reader of many books. By that I mean that I tend to read several things at once. So it can sometimes take me several tries to get into a book.

(You might just wonder then, why not just concentrate and read that one book, finish it, and then move on to another? Well, that’s just not the way I work. I just like multiple books going on!)

First of all, I love that it’s a fairytale. And more than that, that it’s a snowy, wintry kind of read. I have lived most of my life near the equator – where the only seasons are hot and dry or hot and rainy. And I now live in Northern California where winters are, at the most, rainy, although we could easily drive a few hours to find snow. So I’ve never really been in that kind of dense and intense winters that  the north of Russia must have.

Vasilisa is the youngest child of a wealthy lord of a northern Russian village. She can see  the spirits of the house, forest, river, the spirits that protect them from evil, like the domovoi, which lives in the oven. Her new stepmother can see these spirits too, but she calls them demons and seeks refuge in the church. She soon forbids the household from honoring these spirits with offerings. But Vasya tries to continue this ritual when she can, fearing that something bad is about to happen.

“The domovoi was small and squat and brown. He had a long beard and brilliant eyes. At night he crept out of the oven to wipe the plates and scour away the soot. He used to do mending, too, when people left it out, but Anna would shriek if she saw a stray shirt, and few of the servants would risk her anger. Before Vasya’s stepmother arrived, they had left offerings for him: a bowl of milk or a bit of bread. But Anna shrieked then, too. Dunya and the serving-maids had begun hiding their offerings in odd corners where Anna rarely came.”

Things get even more interesting when Father Konstantin is sent to their village and the villagers grow more fearful, and so is bold and brave Vasya.

“No, Vasya was frightened of her own people. They did not joke on the way to church anymore; they listened to Father Konstantin in heavy, hungry silence. And even when they were not in church, the people made excuses to visit his room.”

Something is waking, something evil. And without these spirits’ protection, crops start failing, the creatures of the forest roam closer, danger lurks.

The Bear and the Nightingale was an absolute charmer of a book. I loved all the Russian folklore throughout and the rural setting. Perhaps the only part that didn’t sit too well with me was the last act, which seemed a bit rushed.

 

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This is my fourth read for RIP XII

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#ripxii The Unquiet Dead

Goodness, I was not expecting this. Not at all.

What was I expecting? A crime/police procedural/mystery type book.

And yes, this was that. But it was also a lot more.

What is truly amazing is that this is a debut.

Inspector Esa Khattak is the head of Canada’s CPS, Community Policing Section, which handles minority-sensitive cases, but he’s a former homicide detective and counterintelligence agent. The story opens with him at prayer, which is interrupted by a phone call requesting him to investigate a suspicious death.

It seems simple at first – a man has fallen off a cliff.

But it turns out that this man Christopher Drayton may instead be Drazen Krstic, a war criminal behind the Srebrenica massacre of 1995 in which thousands of Muslims were slaughtered. So of course they have to figure out – was he pushed? Was he murdered? And did it have something to do with his war crimes or does it have something to do with his money-grubbing fiancée?

Rachel Getty,  “a strong, square-built, hockey-playing female police officer”, is Khattak’s partner. I like how they are so very different yet are still kindred spirits of sorts, with family problems and other personal issues that plague them.

Khan intersperses all this with testimonies from war crime trials. And she leaves us guessing until the last pages. A truly impressive debut!

Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a Ph.D. in International Human Rights Law with a research specialization in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, so she definitely knows what she’s talking about.

Bibliography:

Rachel Getty and Esa Khattak series

  • The Unquiet Dead (2015)
  • The Language of Secrets (2016)
  • Among the Ruins (2017)
  • A Death in Sarajevo (2017) (novella)
  • A Dangerous Crossing (forthcoming 2018)Khorasan Archives series
  • The Bloodprint (2017)

This is my third read for RIPXII

#AsianLitBingo: Funny Boy by Shyam Selvadurai


I’ve been wondering why I’ve not read Selvadurai’s works before. Why have his books escaped my eye? It’s such a pity because he is such a great writer.

I knew that this book was a gay coming-of-age story but didn’t know that a big part of the story would be about the riots in Sri Lanka.

“But we are a minority, and that’s a fact of life,” my father said placatingly. “As a Tamil you have to learn how to play the game. Play it right and you can do very well for yourself. The trick is not to make yourself conspicuous. Go around quietly, make your money, and don’t step on anyone’s toes.”

Funny Boy is also a story about Sri Lanka and the ethnic violence that erupted in the 1980s – which is what drove the author and his family to flee Sri Lanka for Canada. Selvadurai’s mother is Sinhalese (the majority group) and his father is Tamil. The 1983 “Black July” riots resulted in the deaths of an estimated 400 to 3,000, thousands of shops and homes destroyed, and some 150,000 people were made homeless.

What seemed disturbing, now that I thought about those 1981 riots, was that there had been no warning, no hint that they were going to happen. I looked all around me at the deserted beach, so calm in the hot sun. What was to prevent a riot from happening right now?

Arjie and his cousins spend one Sunday a month at their grandparents’ house, free of their parents. The boys play cricket for hours in the front and the field, the girls play in the back garden and porch. Arjie plays with the girls, mostly “bride-bride”, where he, being the leader of the group, plays the bride.

“I was able to leave the constraints of my self and ascent into another, more brilliant, more beautiful self, a self to whom this day was dedicated, and around whom the world, represented by my cousins putting flowers in my hair, draping the palu, seemed to revolve.”

But his “funny” ways are soon discovered and the adults insist that he stick to the boys’ games.

“I would be caught between the boys’ and the girls’ worlds, not belonging or wanted in either.”

Arjie starts to attend a new school, as his father explains, it will force him to “become a man”. It is at this academy that Arjie meets Shehan, who is rumored to be gay. They become friendly and then, more than friends, but even that is something of a risk, as Arjie is Tamil while Shehan is Sinhalese.

Throughout the book, ethnic identity is brought to the fore. Arjie’s aunt falls for a Sinhalese man. But the community’s prejudice tears them apart. His mother meets an old friend, a reporter investigating police abuses of power, who disappears in Jaffna, where violence erupted.

Funny Boy is a moving, engaging read about a young boy’s journey into adulthood in Sri Lanka.

 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – South Asian MC

#AsianLitBingo wrap-up

Boy did this challenge fly by.

I loved pushing myself to read – and more importantly, review! – these books in a month!

Here’s what I read. All are #ownvoices

A Time to Dance by Padma Venkataraman 

 Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen  (South East Asian MC)

The Goddess Chronicle by Natsuo Kirino (Retelling with Asian MC)

The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura (Translated Work by an Asian Author)

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee  (SFF with Asian MC)

Malice by Keigo Higashino (East Asian MC)

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig (Multiethnic Asian MC)

Does My Head Look Big In This? by Randa Abdel-Fatah (Asian Muslim MC)

Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam  (LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC)

 Goat Days by Benjamin (Poor or working class Asian MC)

Ms Marvel: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa (Artist), Adrian Alphona (Artist) (Asian Superhero MC)

Turning Japanese by MariNaomi (Graphic novel with Asian MC)

A House Without Windows by Nadia Hashimi (Central Asian MC)

The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui (Asian Refugee MC)

#AsianLitBingo: A Time to Dance by Padma Venkataraman

I wasn’t expecting a novel in verse. And really, I didn’t know what to expect except that this book nicely fit into the Asian Lit Bingo category of “Asian MC with Disability”. And of course, dance.

“Both feet on the ground again, I pirouette and leap,

rejoicing in the speed at which

the body obeys my mind’s commands,

celebrating my strong, skilled body — 

the center and source of my joy,

the one thing I can count on,

the one thing that never fails me.”

Growing up in Singapore, I knew a little (just a little) about Indian dance. In Singapore, ‘Indians’ (that is, anyone of South Asian ethnicity) make up about 7% of the population. And at my all-girls secondary school, there was a strong Indian dance group that performed at many occasions. I remember watching them walk on stage, the bells on their legs jingling. And all the many whirling and strenuous vibrant movements they made. It was such a huge contrast to the more gentle movements that the Chinese dance troupe performed. 

Veda is a dancer. A Bharatanatyam dancer. It is her life, it is her passion, it is her world. She lives and breathes dance. 

But her world comes crashing down when she loses her leg in a car accident. She now has to figure out how to walk again with a prosthetic leg. 

“It feels like Shiva destroyed my universes of possibility,

like He’s dancing

on the ashes 

of my snatched-away dreams.”

Somehow she finds the strength in herself to learn to dance again. She finds a new teacher and begins at the beginning with the youngest dancers. 

Veda is such a great character. She’s strong and resilient yet also very vulnerable and innocent. I love that she has a great relationship with her grandmother, who encourages her dancing, while her relationship with her mother is much more constrained. 

A Time to Dance is a sweet and beautiful story with dance at its heart and a courageous inspiring young woman at its soul. 

 

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

TLC Book Tours: The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

 

 

I would like to know – is there anything that Neil Gaiman cannot write?

From fantasy to fairytale retellings to children’s to bestselling novels and comics. He seems to have done it all. Even Dr Who episodes. And he’s got the awards to prove it!

He has written one of my all-time favourite comic series, Sandman, but I believe the very first book of his that I read was Stardust.

And here he is with a collection of non-fiction writing, from introductions to speeches to tributes. Some are insightful, such as his  “All Books Have Genders,” others are just simply inspiring, like “Telling Lies for a Living… And Why We Do It: The Newberry Medal Speech 2009”. Others are very specific, such as his thoughts on Doctor Who or G.K. Chesterton’s Father Brown – and may require some previous knowledge on said topics.

The best of his pieces are the more personal ones, like when he talks about how libraries were his second home when he was a kid. Or when he writes about his dear friend Terry Pratchett, whom he interviewed in 1985 – Pratchett’s first ever interview. Or those words he wrote for Tori Amos’ tour book:

“Tori is wise and witchy and wickedly innocent. What you see is what you get: a little delirium, a lot of delight. There’s fairy blood inside her, and a sense of humor that shimmers and illuminates and turns the world upside down.”

And that rather awesome piece for Time Out (‘Six to Six’) where he just wanders the streets of London late at night, writing about whatever happened (hint: not very much – but because it is Neil Gaiman I will still read it). This is the guy after all, whom people will pay money (specifically, donate to a good cause) to hear read the Cheesecake Factory menu out loud. His piece on attending the Oscars is another fun one.

I love reading all those bits and pieces about his life, and especially the way libraries and librarians were such a big part of his world.

The thing with a smorgasbord like this is it’s not meant to be read in one gulp. It is a book that takes time – and with 502 pages (not counting the index), a good amount of time. It’s a good palate cleanser – for those days when you’ve finished an intense (or agonizing or just plain unforgettable) book that you cannot let go of, and you are in a book hangover and feel unable to pick up anything new. Read one of Gaiman’s essays, especially one of those that talks about writing or a writer or reading or libraries, and I think it would inspire you to read again. 

Neil Gaiman – curing book hangovers one essay at a time. 

 


 

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours in exchange for a review.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour here. 

You can purchase this book via HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

Find out more about Neil at his website, find all his books at his online bookstore, and follow him on FacebooktumblrTwitterInstagram, and his blog.

#AsianLitBingo: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen

 

I probably should have first read Little House on the Prairie before reading this book. While I know of the story – and think I remember watching some episodes of the TV show – I cannot confirm if I’ve actually read the book.

This book luckily has plenty of layers and even a non-Little House reader like me can find plenty to love.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother is hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This  brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter.

So in one hand, a literary mystery that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco.

The story goes as such. Lee Lien is jobless. She has a PhD but she’s finding it hard to find a job. So she goes home to a Chicago suburb where her mother and grandfather still live – and where they run a Vietnamese restaurant. She has a younger brother who’s convinced that their mother has been hiding money from them. He leaves, taking all the cash in the register and all their mother’s jewelry, except for a single brooch. This brooch was left behind by an American journalist their grandfather had met in Vietnam in 1965. Lee Lien wants to find out if there’s any truth to the idea that the American was Laura Ingall Wilder’s daughter Rose.

So on one hand, a literary mystery of sorts that takes Lee from Chicago to Iowa to San Francisco in search of Rose Wilder. (I say ‘of sorts’ because if you’re coming to this book looking for an actual mystery, then you may be disappointed. Also, if you’ve already read all the Little House books and all kinds of non-fiction about the Wilders then you will also be disappointed. I’m adding these caveats as I’ve read some reviews on Goodreads and I reckon these readers were coming into the story expecting new revelations about the Wilders. It was however an interesting experience for myself, not knowing anything about the story behind the books, to learn  about Rose Wilder Lane, who, despite her own work, her journalism, her books (she was the first biographer of Herbert Hoover and her collaboration on the Little House series), she is today best known as being the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder.

And on the other hand, this is a story about family. Her mother wants her to take over the business. Lee Lien feels a tug towards her family, wanting to help her mother and her grandfather. But she also knows that it is time to figure out things for herself, to learn where her research can take her, to carve her own path.

I really enjoyed this one.

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