Read in April 2022

My Friend Anna – Rachel DeLoache Williams

Well, after reading this I’m definitely recommending that you NOT watch Inventing Anna on Netflix.

The Hawthorne Legacy – Jennifer Lynn Barnes

The second book in the Inheritance Games series.

Last Night at the Telegraph Club – Malinda Lo

I loved this one about a teenager living in Chinatown in 1954. Its focus is on the coming of age of a Chinese-American lesbian.

Klara and the Sun – Kazuo Ishiguro

A very disappointing read.

Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic – Wauter Manner

A fun comic about a young chef and a strange snack problem.

Falling Short – Ernesto Cisneros

A middle-grade novel about fitting in and basketball.

The Love Con – Seressia Glass

A cosplay reality TV show!

The Maid – Nita Prose

I listened to this one. But I didn’t really like the main character.

The Cartographers – Peng Shepherd

I was quite fascinated by this one. It has to do with maps and places hidden in maps. But the characters… I felt little for them.

Intimacies – Katie Kitamura

An audiobook that worked well for me. Fiction audiobooks are never really my thing as I can get distracted easily. But this story set in The Hague with an interpreter as the main character held onto me.

Hide and Geek – T.P. Jagger

A cute middle-grade novel about a group of geeks helping to save their town by solving puzzles.

Sea of Tranquility – Emily St John Mandel

Read my almost-review here.

Ballgowns & Butterflies – Kelley Armstrong

A novella of the Stitch in Time series. Don’t start with this one, start with A Stitch in Time.

Portrait of a Thief – Grace D Li

A kind of Ocean’s 11 but with art that was stolen from China by western countries. I really wanted to like but the characters were a bit bland.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel

I guess 5-hour airplane rides are good for reading books. I finished Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel and was rather impressed by it, although her previous book The Glass Hotel didn’t quite do it for me. 

But this time travel pandemic novel really just held on to me and wouldn’t let go. Maybe it was me sitting in an airplane wearing a mask and on the other side of the aisle, the man and his teenaged son were maskless, like maybe about half of the other passengers. 

We had traveled to Hawaii when masks were required on airplanes. And flew out of Big Island with most people not wearing masks. We’re still in the midst of this thing, are we not? 

This passage in the book especially made me sit up and reread it: 

“Pandemics don’t approach like wars, with the distant thud of artillery growing louder every day and flashes of bombs on the horizon. They arrive in retrospect, essentially. It’s disorientating. The pandemic is far away and then it’s all around you, with seemingly no intermediate step.”

I don’t want to give you a synopsis of the story. I went into it not really knowing much about it. And I think that’s the best way of reading this book. Pull on your mask and plunge in. 

Big Island April 2022

The husband and I have been talking about visiting Hawaii for quite a few years now. I had been to Maui and Honolulu with my mum 16 years ago when her friend’s son got married. And the husband had been when he was a kid with his family. But we had never gone together. So we finally decided it was time! It was a first trip for all of us to Big Island. And we wanted to make sure we did as much as we could!

Night snorkel – Manta Magic with Hawaii Oceanic

The boat ride is only a few minutes, luckily, as it’s quite scary being out in the ocean at night. We were very lucky to have good weather. The waves were not too choppy, although they seemed to get more choppy as we left the area. According to the crew, the hotel near the harbor has been shining lights into the ocean for years now. This has resulted in manta rays coming to the area to feed on the plankton that’s attracted to the lights. The night snorkel excursion has us snorkelers hanging onto a large surfboard that has lights attached underneath. The manta rays swim directly under the board, doing backflips, even brushing up against us a few times!

We also did a regular snorkel excursion to the Captain Cook cove. This was a good place for the kids to try snorkelling for the first time as it’s a sheltered cove and the current was gentle.

Volcano National Park

What a stunning national park this is. It’s on the east side of the island, near Hilo. So it was a 2 hour drive from where we were staying (near Waikoloa). But it was worth the drive. We decided to go in the afternoon and stay until sunset so that we could see the lava glow. There’s so much to see at the park. Like petroglyphs.

It’s like walking into Jurassic Park
Lava tubes
Ho’lei Sea Arch
And of course spending time at the pool and the beach. The rental house we stayed in was part of the Mauna Lani estate. So there are two pools (the other is a lap pool), gym, and a private beach.

Sunset from the beach park.

Hawaiian plate lunch at Ippy’s in Waimea. This was one of my favourite meals.
Local bakery near Hilo.

A Lot Like Adios (But say hello to Black Forest Cake)

Really we should all be advocating for Black Forest cake as breakfast food. There’s calcium in the whipped cream, vitamins and nutrients in the cherries, protein and carbs in the cake, antioxidants in the chocolate, and more. Make cake your breakfast today (or everyday)!

(Also helps when you eat it while reading a hot book like A Lot Like Adios. All that steaminess you read helps burn calories). 

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. 

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. 

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.