#AsianLitBingo – Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

“I also began to notice how white everything was. The students, the students’ teeth, and the fences surrounding the outdoor swimming pools we never used. We all seemed to categorize ourselves without ever explicitly saying anything. Where does that leave students who don’t have a clear category?”

It’s not easy being different in school. Leila already stands out because of her Iranian background, but she also holds close to her a secret – she likes girls.

“I’m not ready to announce my lady-loving inclinations as yet. I can hear the whispering, knowing that what they are snickering about could easily be me. I’m already different enough at this school. I don’t need to add anything else to that.”

A new girl joins Armstead Academy and Leila is immediately drawn to her. Saskia stands out – she’s just moved from Switzerland and is Dutch-Brazilian and is the rare person to ask about Leila’s heritage.

“It’s nice to be able to talk to someone about this stuff. Tess and Greg don’t get it, because people see basic white or black when they look at them. It’s the ambiguity that throws people; they want to know which box to put you in.”

Leila is drawn to Saskia – she’s confident, clever, poised, she stands out yet is comfortable with that. She’s not quite so sure why Saskia wants to befriend her though.

Leila constantly worries about coming out to her family. A family they know have shunned their son who was seen kissing another man. How would her own conservative Iranian parents react?

“You know where they’re from, being gay is illegal? They imprison people over there for feeling like I do! Sentence them to death sometimes.”

When I reflect back on Lucy and Linh, the other book I recently read that focuses on teenagers in school, Tell Me Again How A Crush Should Feel is less complex, more simply told. There’s nothing wrong with that though. Sometimes a lighter read is what’s needed. It’s a lighter read yet it discusses some complicated issues that face many teens out there – discovering their own identity, standing up for themselves and what they believe in, relationships with family and friends, and learning that it’s ok to be different.

I read this for Asian Lit Bingo -LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC

See the rest of my TBR list here

Find out more details about the challenge here.

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#AsianLitBingo Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung

I thought I would be reading a light-hearted YA teenaged about school friendships. But it was so much more than that. And I am so glad.

Lucy Lam is from the Australian suburb of Stanley, a place “where many people work in banking and advertising – that is, their mums clean banks and their brothers put Safeway ads into mailboxes. It’s a place where people have four cars in their driveways – but only one that is working.”

Somehow she wins a scholarship to an elite private girls’ school. In fact, she is the “inaugural Equal Access student” and the headmistress constantly makes sure she doesn’t forget that.

Her family is from Vietnam and they are Teochew Chinese. They fled Vietnam for Australia when Lucy was just a few years old.

Her father works in a carpet factory and her mother makes a little bit of extra cash by taking on garment sewing in their garage. She also has a baby brother, who spends most of his time in the garage with their mum.

I was kind of excited to see the mention of a Teochew background as it’s something I’ve not come across in fiction before. Part of my family is Teochew, as in our ancestors originated from this region in Guangdong, China (I’m also part Hokkien and Hainanese).

(Back to the story!)

Lucy, writing about her experience in letters to her friend Linh, is at first enthralled with the glamorous school and wealthy classmates. But she soon discovers that the school is pretty much run by a clique of ultra-rich girls known as the Cabinet, even some of the teachers are at their mercy.

I loved how this book handles elitism and privilege, racial prejudice and the experience of Asian immigrants in Australia. It was thought-provoking and also rather amusing especially when a parent of Lucy’s classmate invites her home to demonstrate how to make rice-paper rolls.

“I could just see her at the market, Linh, marveling at the beauty of it all, extolling the parsimony of ethnic women and their ability to select ripe avocados and mangoes, bitter gourds and rambutans.”

Lucy and Linh was a sharp, funny and just fantastic read. We don’t get many Australian books here in the libraries of suburban America, which is such a pity, so this was an extra pleasure to read.

I read for Asian Lit Bingo – Asian Refugee MC.

Find out more details about the challenge here.

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton

A dreary morning makes for bad lighting but reading this book has cheered me up. It’s a delightful romp about a poisoned quiche entered in a village cooking contest. Agatha Raisin, recent incomer from London, can’t cook to save her life and had in fact bought said quiche from a bakery, sets out to put things right.

Warning: grumpy main character; lots of microwaved meals; might make you think twice about retiring to little English village

#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

Everything We Lost

 

Sometimes I join a book tour having already read an author’s work, or sometimes it’s because I’ve heard of the author and want to read her books. Occasionally, it’s a completely new-to-me author and I’m just intrigued by the premise of the book. Other times, I haven’t the faintest idea why I decided to join the tour.

And this is one of those times.

 

When the package arrived, I was actually out of the country, so when I returned, I had to scramble and read this book with my jet-lagged brain (I was in Singapore, 15 hours ahead of California). So maybe I hadn’t been concentrating hard enough but suddenly I realized that this book wasn’t quite what I had imagined it to be.

There were UFOs. Or rather, the possibility of UFOs. And conspiracies.

This was rather unexpected.

And at first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not.

Everything We Lost is best described as a coming-of-age although it’s touted as a “psychological thriller”.

In 1999, 16-year-old Nolan disappears.

It is ten years later, and his younger sister Lucy returns to Bishop, California, where their mother still lives, in search of answers.

She starts to have some memories of the lead up to his disappearance. And begins to uncover more about the truth of what really happened.

We learn that Nolan and his obsession with all things UFO has made him an outcast among his peers – and an embarrassment to Lucy. But what really happened to him and what was Lucy’s role?

As I wondered what I had gotten myself into with this book, I realized that I was actually kind of hooked. And I had to force myself to put the book down and go to sleep that night. That is, after all, the sign of a good read, isn’t it?

Geary does a fantastic job with the storyline, as we see it from both Lucy and Nolan’s points of view, throwing up more and more questions about a variety of things like extraterrestrials and mental illness.

Perhaps it is the books that defy categorization that are the ones that provide the best fodder for thought.

It definitely was in the case of Everything We Lost. 

 

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

Check out the other tour stops here

 

Pick up a copy of the book: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
 
Connect with the author: WebsiteFacebook, and Instagram

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: The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig 

I am not fond of “girl” titles. 

But I am very fond of this book. 

If there’s a map, Captain Slate can sail to any destination, even if it is mythical. He’s taken his ship and crew (which includes his teenaged daughter Nix) to 19th century Hawaii, the land from 1001 Arabian Nights. He sure has a fancy ship to do all this time traveling in:

She was a striking caravel, her black hull copper clad below the waterline to keep out works (and worse, depending on what waters we traveled). She rode on a keel fashioned from what looked like the rib of a leviathan, carved with labyrinthine runes from stem to stern, and at the prow, a red-haired mermaid bared her breasts to calm the sea. 

Nix is 16. Her parents met in an opium den in Honolulu and her mother, a Chinese immigrant, died the day she was born. In 1868. Oh and her father is actually from modern day New York. He uses his special time-traveling Navigation skills to make money, which is why he was in Hawaii at that time – and also away when she gave birth. 

(Yeah I was kinda confused in the beginning…)

Slate was at sea when Nix was born and when her mother died. And always, he is trying to find a way back to 1868, to find the right map to take them there, to save his love from death. 

So they’ve been traveling the world, traveling across time, to find the map that would bring them back to 1868 Hawaii. And when that perfect map does come along, it brings with it some devastating consequences. 

Reading The Girl from Everywhere is a truly immersive experience. The research that went into this book is astounding. I felt like I was walking into 1868 Honolulu. Heilig does such a beautiful job with her worldbuilding. 

I was especially intrigued to learn about the mercury “rivers” that supposedly surround the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (the action takes them there for a bit). The belief at the time was that mercury would make one immortal. Emperor Qin took mercury pills – which was probably what killed him at age 50. 

(I later went to look up more about the emperor’s tomb – it’s still unexcavated as they fear that current technology may be unable to fully preserve what is inside. The mausoleum itself was only discovered in 1974 and it’s a sprawling necropolis with terra-cotta warriors. And although the tomb is still unopened, the ground above it has been found to have unusually high levels of mercury.)

The one thing I didn’t really enjoy was the possible love interests. It’s probably just me but I don’t think the book really needed it. Is it because it’s marketed as YA that this is seen as a requirement? But I did like both fellas very much though. Also I am so not a “YA” reader, both in terms of being a fan of YA or in the right age group. So it’s probably just me. 

Also hey, I just discovered that part two of this… series? trilogy? was published this year. Definitely looking forward to that! 


I read this for Asian Lit Bingo – Multiethnic Asian MC (Nix is half-Chinese)