Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Girl in Translation Review #AsianLitBingo

I'm so sad, but time has run out on the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge. I really wanted to complete blackout, but starting late and life stuff got in the way. Luckily, I was able to finish one last book on the very last day; Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok, fulfilled the Poor/Working Class Asian MC and completed the second row!

This book was caught somewhere in between being really interesting and being really depressing. I was interested in the dynamics between Kimberly and her mother, her and her school/classmates, and her and the workers at the sweatshop. I was also really invested in Kimberly's struggles with English and her school work and how she used math to rise above these issues.

On the other hand, I had a hard time getting over the negative overtones of the story. I realize that the struggles Kimberly and her mother went through are realistic and do happen to immigrants all of the time. In that way, this book was very informative. However, I feel like the focus was overly on the negative. I also do not think fitting two decades into the number of pages in this book was the best idea, many details felt glossed over.

I ended up giving this book 3 out of 5 stars. I liked some aspects of this book and didn't like others. I also think this book would have been better served being longer or covering a shorter period of time.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Swimming in the Monsoon Sea Review #AsianLitBingo

The end of the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge is coming up in the next couple of days. If you've been following along with what books I've been reading, you'll know that I apparently don't know how to play bingo because I have been jumping around the board all willy-nilly. In an effort to actually complete one row, I decided to go ahead and read Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai for the LGBTQIAP+ Asian MC category.

I wasn't really sure what to expect going in to this book. The cover is really neat and I love the high saturation of the colors, which really evokes the summer feel for me. The synopsis seemed interesting, but the premise of the book is one that could easily be done really well or really terribly.

Overall, I thought the book was just okay. I liked that Amrith's sexuality was integral to the story, but it wasn't rushed or hyper-sexualized (he's 14 for goodness' sake!). However, the fact that he doesn't come to a full realization of his sexuality until the very end of the book, long after the reader does, made me detach from the story.

There were some really interesting characters in the book, but one of the main ones was Sri Lanka itself. Mr. Selvadurai has a gift at writing a vivid portrayal of his home country. I really enjoyed his descriptions of the sights, culture, and atmosphere of Sri Lanka, but his depictions ultimately detracted from the depth of the main story, which could have used more development. The language he used throughout the book, while good for scenery, was too flowery and plodding for the mood of the story as well.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Listen, Slowly Review #AsianLitBingo

Jumping back in to my TBR for the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge, I grabbed Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai. This one is a middle grade book that I thought would be a good change of pace. I also really liked the cover; the colors are absolutely gorgeous!

I don't know what exactly it is (maybe it's my age or the way I was raised) but whiny, ungrateful main characters make it hard for me to read a book. In the first couple of chapters, Mai comes off as very whiny and she doesn't get much better by the end of the book. I realize that this is partially because of her age, she is twelve, but it still made me want to stop reading.

My favortie part of the book was the little bits of information that Ba (Mai's grandmother) tells her about the places they visit. Call me a sucker, but I love when family members build a stronger relationship with each other! I also love how vividly Thanhha Lai writes about Vietnam. I could almost feel the humidity!

All in all, I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars. The writing was really good but the main character was hard to stick with. I think I would have enjoyed this much more if I was actually middle grade aged.

ARC Review: Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson

I decided to take a break from the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge to read Dark Breaks the Dawn by Sara B. Larson. It officially releases on May 30th and the ever wonderful Emma of  Miss Print was kind enough to pass her ARC on to me. Other than the cover, which is very eye catching, the synopsis sounded interesting.

I had trouble getting in to the story for the first 1/3 of the book. I'm used to fantasy authors making up their own names for countries, races, and people's personal names, but the names in this book were hard to get used to and felt obviously fake. This point was driven home by the fact that the main character had a rather normal name, Evelayn. It was also hard to keep the two kingdoms straight because they were the same race but with different skin and used the same name, Draiolon, to refer to themselves. The fact that the story switched POV's with no warning also made it hard to keep the separate factions straight sometimes.

For all of that, my biggest issue was the world building; there wasn't any. This book would have been better served if it was twice as long and had more world building. As it was, I felt little to no connection with the story because all I ever saw were snippets of the world the characters lived in. Ultimately, I did end up liking Evelayn as a character, which improved my liking of the story a little bit. I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars and passed it on to a friend. I probably won't read the sequel because I'm just not that interested in seeing what happens.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

To All the Boys I've Loved Before Review #AsianLitBingo

I have been putting off reading To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han for almost as long as it has been published. This was one of those books that was hyped on booktube even before it had been officially released and has had a lot of positive reviews about it since (it has a 4.11 star rating on goodreads!). Unfortunately for me, I tend not to like the books that booktube touts, so I put off reading it even though the synopsis sounded really good. I've really been wanting to read it though, so I decided that #AsianLitBingo and the Multi-racial/Multi-ethnic Asian MC category was the perfect excuse to pick it up.

I'm not sure what surprised me more: the fact that I loved this book or the fact that there isn't a single thing about the story that I would change. I flew through this book in about 5 hours (I don't even know how that happened). I want to say more, but I honestly don't think I can without spoiling the whole thing. I gave it 5 out of 5 stars, of course, and I cannot wait to read the last two books in the series. Please, just do yourself a favor and read this book sooner rather than later!

The Girl Who Fell to Earth Review #AsianLitBingo

I have been loving the #AsianLitBingo challenge. The last couple of books that I chose for it have been really great. So, hot on the heels of Good Enough I decided to pick up The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria to fulfill the West Asian MC category.

Sadly, this book broke my streak of enjoyment. The writing was extremely bland and the main character had little interest in the people around her, which made it hard for me to be interested in anything that was happening either. The book actually starts in Qatar following the father of the main character through his journey to and adventures in America. I actually really enjoyed the first couple of chapters that followed the father (and the mother) in America except for the fact that it glossed over most of the relationship building that would have had to have happened. The story devolves from there in to a boring trudge with a seriously negative tone. Nothing about the story was all that spectacular and, as a result, I recalled very little of the actual plot even seconds after I had finished it. I ended up giving this book 1 out of 5 stars because it was simply that unremarkable.

Good Enough Review #AsianLitBingo

After loving the last book I read for #AsianLitBingo, I was super ready to just dive in to the next book. I ended up grabbing Good Enough by Paula Yoo, which fulfills the Religious Asian MC category.

I picked Good Enough mostly because I grew up playing instruments (first piano and then guitar) and was excited to read about a character who loved music. I also picked it because I am a Christian and wanted to see how Christianity in an Asian American household differed from my own experience. Honestly, other than Patti's, the main character, parents being super strict about her school and music practice time (and the difference between public school versus home school), I didn't find much difference between her high school experience and mine. I did read a review by another reader (who was Asian American as well) who said that she found Patti's parents to be completely unrealistic. I do have to say though that I had several friends whose families were exactly like Patti's, so I don't think the representation in this book is too far off the mark for some people's experience.

I will say that I didn't enjoy the direction Patti and Ben's relationship went in. I also didn't really like the last chapter. I would have preferred a slow fade as opposed to the fast forward summary of the future that was written. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this book and absolutely flew through it! I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars and think it's a good read for anyone from junior high and up.

An Artist of the Floating World Review #AsianLitBingo

If you've been around long enough, you know that I absolutely love Japan. It probably comes as no surprise then that one of the books I chose to read for #AsianLitBingo was An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, a book following an aged artist set in Post-WWII Japan. This book fulfills the requirements for the East Asian MC category of the challenge.

This book reads like a conversation between you and the main character. The main character, Masuji Ono, tells us his story through his own recollections and this makes the tone of the novel more intimate and, at times, more frustrating. When Ono talked about himself, he was always humble (he's just an artist) but when he recalls what others say of him, it is always glowing praise. Then I realized that, when I read a story, I hear the voices of the characters in my head, almost like a recording. This has its advantages and disadvantages; particularly in that I was unconsciously adding an american filter and tone to everything that was written. Once I realized that that was what I was doing, I was able to reset the tone of the voices to fit more closely with what I had experienced and heard while I was in Japan and that made all the difference to the story. With my american tint on everything Ono said, I found his humble bragging irritating and false. However, when I thought about him in the context of the Japanese culture I had experienced, I realized that the way he spoke and acted was very much in keeping with what the Japanese would consider respectful and polite.

Beyond tone, this story was very poignant. We follow Ono as an old man trying to navigate a Japan that he had never envisioned. Ono tries to reconcile his sense of pride and duty for his actions with a society that blamed him and others like him for the war and expected a certain amount of repentance (and possibly even seppuku to atone). This contrast is made even more stark by the fact that Ono's actions are only ever mentioned with vague comments and innuendo. There are never any direct accusations placed at Ono's feet. Once again, this type of indirect confrontation is typical of what I experienced in Japan, making this story really come to life.

So far, An Artist of the Floating World has been my favorite book of the Asian Lit Bingo reading challenge. The characters were deep and interesting and the story was unique in its plot and telling. I had to give this book 5 out of 5 stars and would definitely recommend it! I would caution readers to be aware of how their own culture affects their reading of the story though.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Funny in Farsi Review #AsianLitBingo

The second book I decided to read, which fulfills the Non-Fiction by an Asian Author category, was Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas. This book continued with my reading theme of Southeast Asians in America, following the experiences of Firoozeh (who was born and raised in Iran) and her family in America. I was especially interested in reading this book because my cousin married in to a half Iranian-American family (the other half is Austrian) and I have always wondered what it would be like to be Iranian in America (Note: I recognize that every person's experiences are different based on various factors, but I still thought this book would be a good insight).

The first point that struck me as interesting was the fact that Ms. Dumas compares and contrasts the reception her family received in America both before and after the Iranian Civil War (and the hostage situation in Tehran). This look at how citizens' reactions are influenced by major events, not unlike the wave of negative reactions we are seeing towards Middle Eastern Refugees today, was eye opening. I also really liked the scope of the topics that Ms. Dumas covered as she explored her family's experiences. The topics ranged from family dynamics to politics to pop culture, which made this book very engaging!

There were several parts of this book that I wasn't very fond of. First, I didn't like the way each chapter jumped around different times in the authors life. I'm sure there was a reason that she wrote the chapters this way but it felt disjointed and, ultimately, made the book a little confusing to read at times. I also did not like the tone that the author used when talking about her parents. For the most part, it read as mocking and disrespectful, especially towards her father at times.

In the end, I really liked this book. I do think there were some issues with the format and tone of the book though. The issues caused me to give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Monday, May 8, 2017

That Thing We Call a Heart Review #AsianLitBingo

The first book I decided to pick up for this reading challenge was That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim. My choice was partially because I received an ARC from a goodreads giveaway and partially because I had already started reading it (on May 5) before I fully decided to do the #AsianLitBingo reading challenge. This book fulfills the Asian Muslim MC category.

Warning: This review does contain spoilers!

I’m going to be completely honest here; six chapters in and I wanted to DNF this book. The fact that Shabnam lied about what happened to Chotay Dada and was embarrassed of him enough that she hid at the mall bothered me to no end. I really didn’t think I would be able to get over my anger about that. Never mind that I hate liars, I find it difficult to understand why someone would be ashamed of their own culture and family members who look and act differently than them. Shabnam also seemed like a very whiny and negative character, which are traits that I don’t particularly enjoy in a narrator. However, I decided to stick with the story.

Shabnam experienced so much growth over the course of the story and I am glad that the author included personal growth in the story. I liked how Shabnam and her father began to bond over Urdu poetry. There was a reference to the Urdu poetry, however, that is problematic in that it touches on the topic of m/m pedophilia in such a way that western audiences will easily misconstrue as embracing homosexuality when it is, in fact, a serious problem of child abuse. The growth that Shabnam experienced in her friendship with Farrah was very realistic. My favorite part of the story though was how Farrah encouraged her to learn about Chotay Dada. I love how Sheba Karim tied all of the threads of the story together in the end.

End Spoilers

All in all, I gave this book 2 out of 5 stars. I think it was a good read and had fun learning more about Pakistani-American experiences. The book dealt with some adult issues, but the overall tone was very much appropriate for the age of the characters. However, I ultimatley only barely enjoyed the story and I think that it has misleading information about serious cultural issues in Pakistan and the Middle East.

I'm doing the Asian Lit Bingo Reading Challenge!

Hi all, long time no blog! In honor of Asian American Heritage Month, Shenwei has created the #AsianLitBingo Reading Challenge and I have decided to participate! Along with an amazing masterlist of books that you can read to fulfill the challenge, there is also a really cool bingo board graphic you can use to track your progress!

It is my goal to read one book from every category, even though the challenge is only to read one book from each category in a single line. I've already finished one book for the challenge, which I will be posting a blog review of next. For now though, I am going to post my tentative TBR for the challenge.

1. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro
2. The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia Al-Maria
3. The Gods of the Middle World by Galina Dolgaya
4. Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
5. The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
6. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
7. The Stone Goddess by Minfong Ho
8. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
9. Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee
10. A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
11. Swimming in the Monsoon Sea by Shyam Selvadurai
12. That Thing We Call a Heart by Sheba Karim
13. Good Enough by Paula Yoo
14. Bitter Melon by Cara Chow
15. The Library of Fates by Aditi Khorana
16. In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
17. The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
18. Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai
19. Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
20. Flowers of Luna by Jennifer Linsky
21. The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
22. A Thousand Moons on a Thousand Rivers by Hsiao Li-Hung
23. Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
24. Throwaway Daughter by Ting-Xing Ye
25. Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

If you'd like to read along with me, please feel free to comment!