American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures – edited by America Ferrera

I listened to this one and it was such a great audiobook. Quite a lot of the chapters were narrated by the writers themselves. And what a wonderfully diverse group of essay writers! I love that they were from so many different ethnicities and cultures and backgrounds. These are not just people who write for a living (of course there are plenty of writers in the mix) but there are also politicians, people in sports (like Michelle Kwan and Jeremy Lin), people on TV/stage/screen (like Padma Lakshmi, Lin Manuel Miranda, and Wilmer Valderrama), activists like transgender advocate Geena Rocero.

They all have amazing stories to tell about being American – some wanted to blend in, wanting those white-bread sandwiches that would help them feel less different, others determined to stand out and be different.

Listening to this as an audiobook was a great choice. I loved hearing them read out their stories, and it was nice to put a voice to an unfamiliar name.

As America Ferrera writes: “I believe that culture shapes identity and defines possibility; that it teaches us who we are, what to believe, and how to dream. We should all be able to look at the world around us and see a reflection of our true lived experiences. Until then, the American story will never be complete.”

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Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend

I was delighted to be back in Nevermoor with Morrigan Crow and her patron Jupiter as she finally enters the prestigious Wundrous Society, the trials of which she passed in the first book. But things aren’t getting any easier for young Morrigan. She might be in the society but all they want to teach her is how evil Wundersmiths like her are. Also people are going missing and someone is blackmailing her class.

This might sound a bit strange if you haven’t read the first book! And why haven’t you read the first book already?? If you like stories that are a little bit quirky and set in a whimsical world, featuring a plucky young girl who’s got a bit of a dark side and who lives in a hotel with its many unusual guests and staff like a giant Magnificat who’s head of housekeeping and a vampire dwarf/party planner. Also, the good people of Nevermoor traverse their city via Brolly Rail.

I adore this series! I love the world building, I love the whimsy but especially that there’s this delightfully dark side to it all

The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

I’m always excited to see what new ideas Kowal comes up with. I quite enjoyed her magical Regency series The Glamourist Histories. And on my TBR list, I have Ghost Talkers, a book about mediums of WWI who aid in the war by talking to the ghosts of men who have just died.

I love how she takes the ordinary and spins it just so very slightly, in a way that is so believable and enchanting.

But The Calculating Stars may be my favourite of her books so far.

At first I thought it would simply be a book about a woman heading into space. The series is titled Lady Astronaut after all.

But it is so much more than that.

What happens if a meteorite crashes onto Earth and obliterates much of Eastern US? Besides the many deaths and immediate problems (DC is gone for instance), it eventually becomes clear to scientists that this is an extinction event and the climate consequences that are to follow will likely spell doom for humankind. It is 1952 though and space travel is still merely an idea. But this event immediately propels countries like the US to start space programs.

Elma York is a mathematician and a pilot. But those who run the space program do not think women – or as a matter of fact, anyone who’s not white – can make it in space.

The administration says space is too dangerous for women and the women are relegated to computer jobs. But Elma doesn’t give up. She starts a campaign to show that women are as capable as the men going into space, putting publicity to work for her by going on a kids’ TV show, setting up an all-women airshow – all while desperately battling crippling anxiety.

I love how Elma is so determined to fight for her place on the team. And I appreciate how Kowal writes Elma as being ignorant (and eventually realizing her ignorance) about how other ethnicities are being treated. If it’s difficult for her to get on the program, it is many times more so for the women of color aspiring to be astronauts.

“Around us, women circulated in a susurration of crinoline and starched cotton. Not a single one was black. And the longer I stood there, the clearer it became that Maggie was the only person who wasn’t white.”

Eventually she does get chosen (I’m hoping this isn’t a spoiler) and one of the first things the women have to do is work with a stylist to select wardrobe and hair for the announcement event.

And it is incredibly infuriating for her when they have to do advanced pilot training…in little blue bikinis and in front of the press.

“After spinning in the pool, I turned to face the photographers and waved at them. A record? No. Even if I’d been fast, it was because the variables weren’t the same as under normal test conditions.

But that was science and science wasn’t what they wanted from me.”

What an absolute stunner of a book. I read it not long before I learnt of the news that the first-ever all-female spacewalk had to be canceled because the spacesuit didn’t fit and it would take too long to get a different size ready. According to an article I read, a 2003 study already had found that 8 of the 25 women astronauts at the time couldn’t fit into the available space suits (while of course all the men could). It’s taken many steps for humans to get into space and even more leaps for women to get there. And I love that there’s a book like this that imagines an alternate history yet also reflects the current state of the world today.

National Geographic’s 100 Dives of a Lifetime – Review

 

 

 

I have to admit that scuba diving scares me. I had many chances to learn – I’m from Singapore and lots of people in Singapore scuba dive and there are so many lovely spots in the region to scuba dive at. But I never did. There’s something about the open water that puts a tremble in my hands. I love to swim – and I’m quite a good swimmer – but I like to swim in a swimming pool, where I can see the bottom and the walls and know where things start and stop. The open sea is not for me.

But I do love the sea and beaches and got to live for a year right across the beach in Brighton, England, and that is still one of the best years of my life.

My kids also have a fascination for things underwater. And my 5-year-old and I sat down and went through the book together, he marveling at all the wrecks sharks and rays, me mesmerized by all the corals and the manta rays. And who knows, maybe one day my kids will learn to scuba dive and go and explore some of these amazing and beautiful places.

So you don’t have to be a diver to appreciate a book like this. The beautiful photos are impressive but the book also opened my eyes to many places I’ve never heard of, like Wakatobi National Park in Indonesia which looks like a gorgeous beach resort (and which I’ve bookmarked as a possible future travel destination!). I was intrigued by the various shipwrecks that I would never have heard of if not for this book, like the S.S. Thistlegorm, a WWII steamship on the bottom of the Red Sea. There’s the remote, relatively untouched Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, where Charles Darwin once stopped at. And even a missile silo in Royal City, Washington, where divers can “indulge your inner James Bond”.

This was a great book to pore over and dream up travel plans with.

 

 

 

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

Check out the rest of the tour stops here

Pick up your copy from: National Geographic | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo is an enchanting read

Dark, magical, and bewitching, The Night Tiger transports the reader to colonial Malaya where weretigers supposedly roam, strange deaths are happening in a sleepy town in Ipoh. A young boy is searching for a missing finger and is mysteriously connected to a woman trying to make some money as a dance hall girl.

Choo permeates her story with all the sounds, smells and tastes of Malaysia. She brings in so many Malaysian foods that I am often left hungry after reading a few chapters (Malaysian and Singaporean foods are quite similar).

She deftly weaves in a variety of folklore and superstitions like the pontianak and weretigers. It’s a great mix of supernatural and historical. And overall, a beautifully written, magical tale blended with some mysteries that left this reader guessing until the end.

The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World by Simon Winchester

The topic – precision engineering – isn’t something that immediately draws me in. But having read Winchester’s books before, I know them to be well-written and thoroughly researched. And when I listened to the sample of the first pages, which he reads, I was drawn in to the story because he began with how his father used to work as an engineer in a factory and one day brought home some machined metal tiles called gauge blocks used for measuring things. And I liked how Winchester talked fondly about visiting his father in the factory and watching the machines and how Winchester started writing this book about precision.

And in the end, this book was full of fascinating insights into the world of precision – from cars to guns to airplane engines. It’s not easy to make notes while listening to an audiobook and part of me wishes I had had a printed copy alongside but I quite liked that Winchester, in his sore-throaty voice, read the book himself.

The Perfectionists is full of facts and insights that I had never thought to think about, all these big and small things that make our world go round, that enables me to type this sentence out on my phone. How our world has changed so much in what is just a few decades. You don’t have to love science or engineering to read or listen to this fascinating book. You just need a little bit of curiosity about how this world is as it is today.

Golden Tresses of the Dead

I tend not to be a series continuer. Duologies, trilogies I do manage to finish. Maybe because I know that there it is, that’s the end, I can read that and be done with it. But when it comes to series with many books, like Laurie R Kong’s Mary Russell series, or the Outlander series, I tend to take my time with them. And to be honest, sometimes I forget about them, distracted by all the shiny pretties that publishers keep churning out and bookstagrammers keep posting beautiful photos of.

But somehow this series by Alan Bradley is something I always remember to pick up. And not terribly far from its publication date either.

In this tenth book, Flavia has two cases to solve. One involves a finger found in her sister’s wedding cake. Yes, Feely is getting married. As a result we don’t see very much of her – or Daffy really. Instead it’s become the Flavia and Dogger show with a side act of Undine, Flavia’s cousin, who apparently knows quite a bit about automobiles.

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The case itself was interesting enough and I loved having more of Dogger and getting to know the snarky Undine but I did miss that banter among the three sisters. But as always, it was a delight to jump into a new mystery with Flavia, severed finger and all.