The Turning Pointe by Vanessa L. Torres

I really needed a book like The Turning Pointe at this moment. Dance! 1980s! Prince! 

Rosa is a student at a ballet academy, where her father is ballet master. She’s also obsessed with Prince, who happens to be training upstairs for a performance. And the ballet students get a chance to audition for this very concert that the Purple One will be headlining.

I loved Rosa and following along with her struggles as she tries to figure out her own path. Her family is all ballet. And while she’s a star ballet student, there’s a part of her that wants to try something different. 

This was an incredible debut. Loved all the 80s vibes and all the wonderful diverse characters. 

Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau

Ah the things that one does for the book photos. Like going to the doughnut shop. Picking out doughnut flavours. Eating those doughnuts.

All for a book that features a baker and a meet-cute with an actor. He bumps into her and knocks over a batch of matcha tiramisu doughnuts. Alas, this was just your regular Krispy Kreme and their most exciting flavour that day was probably the maple doughnut. 

So a (minor) movie star and a baker. Ryan Kwok joins a TV baking competition and hires Lindsay McLeod to teach him so that he won’t flop completely on the show. Of course he thinks she’s cute. And for him, well, let’s just say that he’s trending on Twitter for his abs. 

Romance aside, there’s quite a bit going on in this book. 

First, grief and death. Ryan’s mom died unexpectedly a few months ago. She’s the glue that held the family together. And now it feels like his family is coming apart. Ryan’s sister just gave birth. His father is  just absent and unavailable, except for snarky tweets on his own account (@RyanKwoksFather). 

And while this is a romance, and romances are all about the main characters, can I just say that I adored the growth of the father-son relationship? Asian fathers of a certain age tend to be stoic and stubborn, and it was encouraging to see how hard Ryan tried to get his father involved and being part of the family again. 

Also, I liked how this book discussed their Asian heritage. Lindsay’s mom is Chinese and was born in Canada. Her father wanted them to be Canadian, to assimilate, “but at school, nobody could see me as being just like the other kids”. She felt different from the other Chinese who arrived later in life, or those who lived in Chinatown. She didn’t go to weekend Chinese school, she couldn’t read or write Chinese, and could barely speak it. 

For Ryan, it’s about the movies he’s in. His latest movie didn’t bomb but the reviews and ticket sales weren’t great. He’s worried that he’s now potentially made a mess for other Asian actors: “Movies about guys like him weren’t allowed to flop. People would point at this single movie as proof that no more like it should be made.”

Donut Fall in Love was a sweet read. It’ll make you crave baked goods – cupcakes, donuts, cakes, cookies. Not just matcha tiramisu doughnuts, but orange cardamom, chocolate raspberry, creme brûlée doughnuts, salted caramel cupcakes, lemon meringue cupcakes, and Nanaimo bars (which I’ve never had and am curious about! But also it sounds super sweet). 

I have to admit that I went into this book with zero expectations – aside from being surrounded by lots of doughnuts. And emerged satisfied and delighted by the family dynamics, a different setting (Toronto bakery), cute banter, abs, the doughnut-beer pairing event, and a Nailed It!-like baking show. 

Ghost Forest by Pik-Shuen Fung

Good things come in small packages. Like dim sum. Siu Mai and Har Gow are perfect one or two bite dumplings, any bigger and they just seem a bit too much. 

And in Ghost Forest, the scenes and vignettes, are sometimes just one or two pages. Sometimes not even reaching one page. But they convey so much. 

This is the story of a family that moves from Hong Kong to Canada before the 1997 Handover. The dad remains in Hong Kong to work. He’s known as an “astronaut father”, visiting his family for Lunar New Year. 

A Chinese painting by my grandfather

The story opens with 21 days after the father’s death, and the daughter watches a bird perched on her balcony. She says, “Hi Dad”. That made me think of that huge moth that stayed in our house for a few days after my grandfather’s funeral. Some Chinese people believe that moths are the spirits of your dead loved ones visiting you. And maybe that’s just superstition or us clinging to any little symbol that brings us meaning, but somehow that brought some comfort. 

At 272 pages, this is a short and simply written book, but it’s best if you take your time with it. I tend to be a fast reader, so when reading a book like this, I’m forced to slow down, to take a pause between these segments and reflect on them. 

Ghost Forest is a quiet and soft read but it managed to wring out all these emotions from me via its spare prose and blank space. 

Almond by Sohn Won-pyung

I woke up super early Thursday morning to catch the BTS Seoul concert livestream at 2am PST and it was so worth it. I couldn’t really sleep after it ended at 445am. Yes, I really am a big fan of the group! Because it’s the second book I read that is linked to BTS’ series In The Soop and it’s the second one that I’ve been disappointed by (the first was Midnight Library by Matt Haig. I really did not like that book.). But BTS, especially Namjoon aka RM, have previously mentioned several other books that are good reads, like Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982, and Kitchen

“This story is, in short, about a monster meeting another monster. One of the monsters is me.”

Ah, I probably had too high expectations of this one as it sounded a bit quirky, since it’s about a boy who doesn’t feel emotions. He has a disorder called alexithymia because of underdeveloped amygdalae, two almond-shaped neurons in the brain. 

Also, his mother runs a secondhand bookstore and uh yeah, that’s definitely a draw for many readers. I love a book that’s set in bookstores or libraries! 

But while I enjoyed the first part of the book, the ending seemed too…easy. Also, the main character just never quite drew me into his story. 

Overall, it was an interesting read but I just wanted more. More depth into the friendship between the boy who can’t feel and the boy who feels too much.

The Shimmering State – Meredith Westgate

I constantly thought of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind as I read this book. But instead of a procedure to remove your specific memories, there is a drug that stores these memories. This drug, Memoroxin or Mem, is one that holds not just the memories but all your feelings and emotions that you had about those moments. 

It’s initially used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, to allow patients to relive some of their memories. But it soon becomes a party drug, a different way to get high, an escape perhaps into the life of someone else for a few hours, drifting through their emotions. 

The story opens at a rehab center for those who hooked on Mem. There’s Lucien, a photographer who stole his grandmother’s pills to try and find his deceased mother in her memories. Sophie is a ballerina and waitress who is also hooked on Mem. The narrative flits between their time at the center and their past. 

This book makes me wonder what it would be like to dive into someone else’s memories. Would it feel like a dream? What memories would I want to see? And what would your life be without your memories? 

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

Pictured: a tea set from Singapore which has lovely details of flowers, peaches, and phoenixes, next to Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan

This book brought me back to my childhood in Singapore and Sundays at my grandparents’ house where we would watch Chinese-language shows on TV. There were Singapore-made dramas and also those from China and (maybe?) Taiwan. I remember watched 西游记 (Journey to the West) and a show about 呢咋 (Nezha, a child deity). The gods lived in the sky, and they traveled around on clouds. 

So when Daughter of the Moon Goddess opened with a chase through the skies on clouds, I was absolutely delighted. 

Xingyin is the daughter of Chang’e, the Moon Goddess. She’s been hidden from the Celestial Kingdom her whole life. But she now has to leave her home on the moon and ends up in the Celestial Kingdom. She’s determined to free her mother and along the way becomes the companion to the Crown Prince. 

This book was just magical to read. It was packed full, and made me wonder, how can it be a duology? Luckily there’s no cliffhanger at the end so I was a happy reader (and not an anxious why won’t they give me an ending? reader). 

The world building was fabulous and I always appreciate when writers include food and drink into a story, as it helps to complete a reader’s journey into a fantasy story. It was lush and immersive. 

There is a romance in this story but I didn’t feel very invested in it. I was surprised by a plot twist and do hope that the second book explores more about one of the characters involved! 

I really enjoyed Daughter of the Moon Goddess. It was an exciting journey through a fantasy world yet one that was familiar. And with one of the most beautiful covers ever. 

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

I borrowed this audiobook because of Richard Armitage but was instead wowed more by the other narrators Georgia Maguire, who narrated the daughter’s chapters, and Emily Watson, who narrated the wife’s chapters. 

The story opens with a court room scene and we learn that 18-year-old Stella is on trial for murder. 

The first third of the story is told from the father’s POV. Adam is a pastor and is determined to prove his daughter’s innocence, overstepping some boundaries while doing so. He’s rather overbearing. And I guess that’s why Armitage reads in a bit of an overbearing way (if that’s possible). 

But we move onto Stella, who is in prison. She’s quite an unreliable narrator. A rebellious teen who’s also got a vulnerable side; and the narrator conveys that well. 

The final third is told from the mother’s perspective. Ulrika is tough, a lawyer. Much of her section is told in the courtroom, as the story comes to a close. She also reflects on motherhood and her family and their relationships with each other. 

This worked well for me as an audiobook. It might have been a bit repetitive as a print read since it’s told from three perspectives, but as I can be a bit distracted when it comes to fictional audiobooks, it didn’t come off that way to me. I loved the very distinct voices by the three narrators. The audiobook was very compelling and kept me hanging on. I tend not to do well with fiction audiobooks but I enjoyed this one greatly. 

The Red Threads of Fortune by Neon Yang

(Pictured: The Red Threads of Fortune with two Singapore/Malaysian-style dishes. The bottom is a plate of char kway teow or fried rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, and squid. The top is also rice noodles, but this one has a gravy poured over it, this is known as horfun or, since we picked it up from a Malaysian restaurant, wat tan hor.)

I had completely forgotten that Neon Yang is from Singapore until I saw the curse word on the page. It’s a rather vulgar word and it stunned me for a second to see it. I’m not used to seeing Singlish (Singaporean English) in fantasy stories!

The Red Threads of Fortune is set after the events in The Black Tides of Heaven, and it’s told from Mokoya’s point of view. We find her chasing a giant Naga in the desert, where she meets Rider, who’s chosen to remain genderless. That’s unusual for this society, where children aren’t assigned a gender when they’re born, but get to choose it for themselves when they know. I’m hoping this is explored more in the rest of the series?

This novella is quite different from The Black Tides of Heaven, reflecting the differences in personality between the twins Mokoya and Akeha. I found that I enjoyed this one more, perhaps because I was already familiar with the world building and the characters, whom we first meet as children in Black Tides. It took me a few tries to get into Black Tides when I read it last year, but it eventually won me over.

It’s been said in a few reviews that these two novellas can be read in any order, but I think reading Black Tides first then Red Threads was better for me as it’s more chronological this way.

And oh, just behold those magnificent covers. I can’t wait to read the rest of the books in the series,

Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous by Suzanne Park

Pictured: SUNNY SONG WILL NEVER BE FAMOUS by SUZANNE PARK, alongside various Asian snacks like White Rabbit candy, haw flakes, rice crackers, and Choco Pie. 

It feels weird posting on Instagram about this book that’s about a teen YouTuber sent to digital detox camp. Sun-Hee “Sunny” Song is sent to Sunshine Heritage Farms in Iowa. Campers aren’t allowed phones or devices and the cellular service /Wi-Fi is horrendous anyway. She meets other campers like a mukbang live-streamer, online gamblers, and influencers. Sunny manages to sneak a phone into camp and connects with her friend Maya, who’s helping her with an influencer contest. But as weeks go by, Sunny’s relationship with Theo, whose family runs the farm, makes her reconsider her social media life.

A quick fun read. I don’t think the rivalry between Sunny and the other influencer was really fleshed out well, and maybe some more background about the other girl would have made her less one-sided. I liked how the author brought in Sunny’s Korean-American identity and how she doesn’t feel Korean enough. 

“Any time a situation required me to speak it, I prickled with embarrassment and anger as toddler-level Korean words stumbled out of my mouth.”

Also, snacks are an important part of the campers’ lives, although Sunny says she’s not a huge fan of Choco Pie. I’m not really a fan either but my kids love all of these Asian snacks. And I’m glad they can easily be found here in the Bay Area. 

Love in the Big City by Park Sang Young

A great book to finish reading on Valentine’s Day while sitting in the car and waiting for the kids’ tennis class to be done on this cold and cloudy day. What a contrast to yesterday’s heat!

LOVE IN THE BIG CITY is a funny and thoughtful story about Young, a gay Korean student who lives in Seoul. We follow him through his relationships with his best friend Jaehee, a girl he meets in college, as well as a series of men, his first love. 

I admittedly had a bit of trouble getting through this book. The narrative flits back and forth between present and past. If you’re looking for a plot-driven book, this isn’t exactly it. It’s maybe more like an exploration of a queer man’s life in Seoul. Nightlife. College. His mother’s illness. His relationships. All its vibrant highs and heartbreaking lows. 

Quite an unforgettable read.