It’s Monday – happy Lunar New Year!


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date




This past week I’ve felt so much anger and frustration with all that’s going on here. As a US permanent resident, it makes me sad that someone who has gone through a long vetting process to get a visa or to get a green card, can be turned away at airports, detained for hours, handcuffed, interrogated, just because they happen to have been born in one of the seven countries. It’s already difficult enough to be here as a visa holder – I was here for several years on a H4 visa, which is the spouse visa for H1B holders. Under the H4 status, employment is not allowed, a social security number is not allowed. When our visas had to be renewed, there was a long process via the company’s lawyers, and when we returned to Singapore, we had to visit the fortress-like US embassy and be interviewed there. It always stressed me out going there, all devices had to be surrendered. Metal detectors everywhere. When we flew out of the country, we carried with us all our paperwork just in case we were ever questioned about our status. 

The green card process required all kinds of things like labour certification, medical exams, lots more paperwork and just so much waiting. By not detaining visa holders and green card holders, what is the orange man saying about this country’s own vetting process? Does it mean nothing?

Anyway, let’s talk about happier things.

It is after all Lunar New Year and we had a lovely time celebrating it, even though it’s just the four of us here!

On Friday night, new year eve, we had our reunion dinner hotpot.


And on Saturday, we went to the San Jose Museum of Art’s community day, where there were performances and crafts. The crafts were a little bit too hard for the kids and required help! We made Chinese knots, a rooster noisemaker, paper lanterns. And we wandered around the modern art exhibits, some a bit weird (like what looked like an Eyore made of mud), others quite intriguing.

The prompt I picked for the Litsy book photo challenge for Jan 28 was Asian authors.






Death in the Clouds – Agatha Christie

 The Devourers – Indra Das


Wreck-it Ralph. I watched it with the kids over the weekend but they didn’t like the parts where Ralph was in Hero’s Duty and I had forgotten about that part!


Nothing at the moment!



Nian gao dipped in egg batter and panfried.

Nian gal is a sweet steamed cake made from glutinous rice. I buy the premade version at the Asian supermarket (it’s bought for Lunar New Year for good luck. I think traditionally you’re supposed to offer it to the Kitchen God so that it will make his mouth sticky and he can’t say too much during his annual report to the Jade Emperor). The ones sold here and made in the US are usually firmer and less sticky than those that are found in Singapore.


Yorkshire Gold with milk.





The Misfortune of Knowing on the importance of writing today.


Just discovered the food blog What To Cook Today which is full of Southeast Asian recipes


Last week:

I read:

Bandette vol 3: The House of the Green Mask  – Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover
The Mistress of Spices – Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Shelter – Jung Yun
I posted:

Two diverse YA reads 

Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse royals


Two diverse YA reads 

I would never have come across this book if I hadn’t taken part in the Litsy A to Z challenge.

It’s a novelisation of the life of Malcolm X, from his birth to his childhood in Lansing, Michigan, where his father dies and his mother gets sent to a state hospital after a breakdown, and he and his siblings get split up into foster homes. Later he moves to Boston to stay with his half-sister, he’s an intelligent kid, the kind who breezes through school. But he’s more interested in making a living, although not necessarily with legal methods.

I loved how the book is filled with the sights, sounds and smells of the times. From the dandelion greens soup and the stale bread the family eats to the zoot suits, music and dancing of the city, to the sundaes and sodas of the neighborhood diner where Malcolm works.

And how Malcolm X’s story shows us that he wasn’t perfect. He made some terrible choices, hung out with the wrong crowd, got arrested for stealing but eventually found his way, even if he had to go to prison to figure that out.

The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian – Sherman Alexie

And from the streets of the big cities we head to the Spokane reservation, where Junior is a buddding cartoonist, born with many medical problems and picked on almost everyone. He decides to leave the reservation school and attend the all-white school in the nearby town. And is seen as a traitor for playing for their basketball team.

Indian families stick together like Gorilla Glue, the strongest adhesive in the world.

It’s a sad and difficult story to read, whatever your age – poverty, far too many funerals, alcoholism, hunger. And perhaps the worst of all is that feeling of hopelessness in the reservation, the feeling that this is the way things are and there’s nothing they can do about it. But somehow Junior manages to overcome that and fight for a better life for himself.

“Do you understand how amazing it is to hear that from an adult? Do you know how amazing it is to hear that from anybody? It’s one of the simplest sentences in the world, just four words, but they’re the four hugest words in the world when they’re put together.

You can do it.

I’m not typically a YA reader but I thought these two books were really great reads, and I look forward to introducing them to my kids one day.

Top Ten Tuesday: Diverse royals



It’s a freebie week!

So if you’re a Litten (a regular on Litsy), you may know that I run a monthly book photo challenge (I’m @reallifereading). And one of my prompts this month was “royals”.

While thinking of books that would fit this for my own photo, and while browsing through the hashtag, I realized that most books about royalty that were featured were of the western kind – that is, the many royal families past and present (and fictional) of Europe, especially the United Kingdom.

But what about the rest of the world? There were – and still are – royal families in non-western countries. In Singapore, I remember a visit from a Thai princess to my secondary school. The Sultan of Johor (the closest state in Malaysia just across the Causeway from Singapore) and his family regularly visit Singapore. In fact, Asia has more monarchs than any other continent and that’s the focus of my list.

I’ve read just a few of these books, and many are new-to-me discoveries from researching this topic. Most of them are works of fiction, some classics, and non-fiction, and as far as possible, #ownvoices.

The Red Chamber – Pauline Chen (my review)
A retelling of the Chinese classic, The Dream of the Red Chamber.

My Last Empress – Da Chen 
‘A sweeping story of passion and obsession, set against the upheavals of 19th-century imperial China”

Empress Orchid – Anchee Min
The Last Empress – Anchee Min 

A young girl enters the Imperial Palace as a low-ranking concubine.

Empress – Shan Sa (my review)

A ravishing historical novel of one of China’s most controversial historical figures: its first and only female emperor, Empress Wu, who emerged in the Tang Dynasty and ushered in a golden age.

Empress Dowager Cixi : The Concubine Who Launched Modern China – Jung Chang

Packed with drama, fast paced and gripping, it is both a panoramic depiction of the birth of modern China and an intimate portrait of a woman: as the concubine to a monarch, as the absolute ruler of a third of the world’s population, and as a unique stateswoman

Love and Death in Kathmandu: A Strange Tale of Royal Murder -Amy Willesee, Mark Whittaker

(This is of interest to me as it happened just a few weeks after I left Nepal – I had been there for a two-week hiking trip and it is one of the most unforgettable vacations I’ve ever had).

On June 1, 2001, the heir to the Nepalese throne, Crown Prince Dipendra, donned military fatigues, armed himself with automatic weapons, walked in on a quiet family gathering, and, without a word, mowed his family down before turning a gun on himself. But Dipendra did not die immediately, and while lying in a coma was declared king. He was now a living god.

The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu

Written in the eleventh century, this portrait of courtly life in medieval Japan is widely celebrated as the world’s first novel. The Tale of Genji is a very long romance, running to fifty-four chapters and describing the court life of Heian Japan, from the tenth century into the eleventh.

The Pillow Book – Sei Shonagon

Written by a lady of the court at the height of Heian culture, this book enthralls with its lively gossip, witty observations, and subtle impressions.

The Confessions of Lady Nijo – Lady Nijo

In about 1307 a remarkable woman in Japan sat down to complete the story of her life. The result was an autobiographical narrative, a tale of thirty-six years (1271-1306) in the life of Lady Nijo, starting when she became the concubine of a retired emperor in Kyoto at the age of fourteen and ending, several love affairs later, with an account of her new life as a wandering Buddhist nun.

The Baburnama: Memoirs of Babur, Prince and Emperor – Zahirud-din Muhammad Babur, Wheeler M. Thackston (Translator)

Both an official chronicle and the highly personal memoir of the emperor Babur (1483–1530), The Baburnama presents a vivid and extraordinarily detailed picture of life in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India during the late-fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries

The Twentieth Wife (Taj Mahal Trilogy #1) –  Indu Sundaresan

An enchanting seventeenth-century epic of grand passion and adventure, this debut novel tells the captivating story of one of India’s most legendary and controversial empresses — a woman whose brilliance and determination trumped myriad obstacles, and whose love shaped the course of the Mughal empire.


Raj – Gita Mehta

Jaya Singh is the intelligent, beautiful, and compassionate daughter of the Maharajah and Maharani of Balmer. Raised in the thousand-year-old tradition of purdah, a strict regime of seclusion, silence, and submission, Jaya is ill-prepared to assume the role of Regent Maharani of Sirpur upon the death of her decadent, Westernized husband. But Jaya bravely fulfills her duty and soon finds herself thrust into the center of a roiling political battle in which the future of the kingdom is at stake… and her own future as well.

The Glass Palace – Amitav Ghosh

Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this masterly novel by Amitav Ghosh tells the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy lifted on the tides of political and social chaos, who goes on to create an empire in the Burmese teak forest.

In the Shadow of the Banyan – Vaddey Ratner (my review)

For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.
The Girl from the Coast

Monarchy in South-east Asia – Roger Kershaw

(Sounds more academic but it is hard to find books about SE Asian royal families)

This title is the first study to relate the history and contemporary role of the South East Asian monarchy to the politics of the region today.

Moon Princess – Sao Sanda

“Narrated by the eldest daughter of Sao Shwe Thaike, the Prince of Yawnghwe, The Moon Princess recounts both the story of her early life and at the same time provides a fascinating memoir of her father who, in 1948, became first President of the Union of Burma after the country gained its independence. She describes growing up in the Shan States and records the changes that occurred during the periods of British colonial rule, war and Japanese occupation, the return of the British administration, the troubled years after Burma’s Independence and, finally the military takeover in 1962.”

It’s Monday and I’m reading books by women



It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is a place to meet up and share what you have been, are and about to be reading over the week. This meme started with J Kaye’s Blog   and then was taken up by Sheila from Book Journey. Sheila then passed it on to Kathryn at the Book Date

I’m so proud of all you guys for taking part in the Women’s Marches! I saw so many awesome photos on social media. The fantastic signs. The crowds. The message. Thank you for marching. Thank you for sending the message out to the world. 

The five-year-old and some of his fellow schoolmates in the Mandarin immersion programme took part in a Chinese New Year celebration held at the library. The kids sang two songs in their traditional Chinese outfits. There were other performances like an orchestra, Chinese music and more. But we didn’t stay long as the 3yo was getting cranky (the auditorium was full and we had to stand at the side).




A Woman in the Crossfire: Diaries of the Syrian Revolution – Samar Yazbek

The Mistress of Spices


Jack Reacher



Lab Girl



I had baguette and scrambled eggs for breakfast!


Yorkshire Gold with milk


Baked pasta with cauliflower and bacon

Oven-roasted brussels sprouts with sweet potatoes and chicken drumsticks

Noodles of some sort.

Buried in Print’s Faves and Stand-out Reads of 2016

2017 Indie Lit Wish List (HTML Giant)

45 Queer and Feminist Books you need to read in 2017 (Autostraddle)

Last week:

I read:

Ajax Penumbra 1969 – Robin Sloan
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d (Flavia de Luce #8) – Alan Bradley
Bandette Vol 3: The House of the Green Mask – Paul Tobin, Colleen Coover
A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry

I posted:

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies

Comics check-in: Gotham Academy, Zodiac Starforce

Top Ten Tuesday: Recent underrated reads


I hate when the WordPress app decides to change a “scheduled” post to a “published” post. Please ignore my last post. 

The Fortunes by Peter Ho Davies


They – all of them – are Chinese American now, not just because America has finally, begrudgingly, allowed them to be, but because China has closed to them.

I have been reading this book for a while. I borrowed it in December, read it a little, put it down and picked it up in between and amongst all those other books I read throughout these seven weeks. It’s a book that spans generations, so perhaps it is fitting that it crossed over from 2016 to 2017 with me.

The Fortunes tells the Chinese-American story. Four stories in particular. I guess you could describe it as a collection of four novellas.


The first is Ah Ling (who is a real life but little known figure, as Davies explains in an interview) a young man who arrives from China in the 1850s to seek his fortune in San Francisco, which till today is still known in Chinese as 旧金山 (jiu jin shan or old gold mountain). He works for rail magnate Charles Crocker and his strength and ability to work hard (Chinese at that time were thought to be physically weak) convinces Crocker to recruit Chinese workers to build his railway.

 “unique among all immigrants, they were the ones who looked to leave, to take their wealth home with them. It offended settlers, this sojourner attitude, exemplified by the very bones Ling helped to send back to China”.


Following that is a section devoted to real life actress Anna May Wong, a laundryman’s daughter who became the first Chinese-American film star, acting in Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Baghdad. Fascinatingly, at the time there was a law preventing her from sharing a kiss with an actor of a different race (even if they were in yellowface). The biggest disappointment of her career was in 1935 when German actress Luise Rainer was chosen to play O-Lan in the film version of The Good Earth. Rainer went on to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for that role.

Reviewers praised her as “naturally Chinese” and “an exquisite crier, without the need for glycerine.” She was possessed of a “porcelain pulchritude.”


Then we learn about Vincent Chin, a young man living in Detroit who in 1982 was beaten to death by two autoworkers who mistook him for Japanese, who were blamed for the layoffs in Detroit’s auto industry. The two men were arrested but because of a plea bargain were sentenced to just 3 years’ probation. A federal civil rights’ case against the men found one guilty and sentenced to 25 years, but a federal appeals court overturned the conviction in 1984. This story is told from the perspective of Vincent’s friend, who was there when the beating happened, who was also chased by the two men, but who didn’t fight back.

The thing about racism, I always think, the worst thing, okay, is not that someone has made up their mind about you without knowing you, based on the colour of your skin, the way you look, some preconception. The worst thing is that they might be right. Stereotypes cling if they have a little truth; they sting by the same token.

The last section of the book follows a couple, the man half-Chinese, the woman white, who are in China to adopt a baby. John finds his own Chinese heritage called into question, feels ashamed that the other couples, who are not Chinese, know more about Chinese culture than he does, that he doesn’t know how to speak Chinese, although when he went to Caltech for college, he first learnt of the term banana:

meaning yellow on the outside, white on the inside, but he’d secretly welcomed its aptness. As far as he was concerned, his skin had always been something to trip on.

It’s all rather grim. The four stories (novellas?) are filled with this air of anger, disillusionment, bitterness and irony that fills these lives, these stories. There is humour, but of a rather uncomfortable sort,

“Chinese in movies aren’t inscrutable,” she lamented drily. “They’re unscrewable.” But in life the ban on mixed marriage made her the perfect mistress, one who could never expect to wed her lovers.

And I found myself learning a lot of racist jokes too. But let’s not repeat those.

There is no doubt that this is an important book. It opens eyes to these historical figures in Chinese-American history, which perhaps many of us do not know much of, or know of at all. It’s made me want to read more about this country I now live in, about these historical figures that Davies brings to life in this book.

This was the season of the sandlot riots, of The Chinese Must Go! The Chinese might have physically united the country by building a railroad across it, but now they were uniting it in another sense, binding the quarreling tribes of Irish and English, French and Germans, Swedes and Italians together against a common enemy.

We made them white, Ling thought.


A possible reading list

Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype: Listening to Asian American Youth – Stacey J. Lee
Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White – Frank Wu
Asian American Dreams – Helen Zia
Strangers from a Different Shore – Ronald Takaki
The Making of Asian America: A History – Erika Lee

Comics check-in: Gotham Academy, Zodiac Starforce

Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy – Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher, Karl Kerschl (Illustrations)

First the good news – the illustrations were awesome! It’s got a female main character! And her sidekick ‘Maps’ Mizoguchi is great fun too. It’s entertaining enough but the storyline was rather confusing (one of those where they land you in the middle of things and hint at events that happened in the past and I guess you’re supposed to put two and two together). I think I may have been misled (by myself probably) as I half-expected Gotham Academy to be a place where superheroes are made. Well, it’s not, it’s a prestigious school that just happens to be located in Gotham. And Batman makes an appearance here and there.

Of course my library only has volume one so I don’t know if I will read more of this series!

El Deafo – Cece Bell

I’ve been wanting to read this for a while now but never seem to have picked up this comic, which is aimed at middle grade kids. It’s based on the author’s own experience growing up hearing impaired, the result of a brief illness. Cece has to use a Phonic Ear which helps her hear her teacher – not just in the classroom but everywhere, from the teachers’ room to the bathroom. It’s like having a superpower. It’s a fun story for all ages and touches on many universal issues like being different, making friends, fitting in.

Zodiac Starforce: By the Power of Astra – Kevin Panetta, Paulina Ganucheau (Illustrator)
So. Much. Fun.

Teenaged girls who have cool outfits and magical superpowers that seem to have something to do with their zodiac signs. And best of all, great diversity! The artwork is just candy-coloured awesomeness. Is there more? Can there please be more?

Ann Tenna – Marisa Acocella Marchetto

Whereas this one. It was just not for me. I didn’t like the style of the artwork. And the main character is the star and owner of a gossip site, known for her hidden cameras. I guess it has to do with all this fakeness of the world and whatnot but I wouldn’t know as I gave up on it. I have better books to read!


Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Vol. 1: The Crucible – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, Robert Hack (Illustrations)

Ok I was not expecting this bloody and very dark story at all. The Sabrina in this story is Sabrina the Teenage Witch and while I didn’t read the comics, I definitely watched the TV series with Melissa Joan Hart (yeah you did too). Sabrina, as you may know, is a half-witch, her mother is mortal and her father a witch. She lives with her two aunts and a cat named Salem. So that part is pretty much the same. Then throw in lots of gore and blood, the undead and what not, and illustrate it all in that very macabre and heavy sepia-toned artwork by Robert Hack, which somehow amps up the 60s period setting and the ominous mood. It’s horror at its best, so definitely not for those of the faint of heart.