May 25, 2024

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: Four Novels

For Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (May), I'm posting my book reviews by several Asian American novelists. The first, Real Americans, is new. The other three reviews were originally posted in April 2023. 

The authors are from China, Taiwan, and Korea

Real Americans by Rachel Khong

Published April 30, 2024; Knopf

Genre: immigrant literature, contemporary fiction, speculative fiction

American-born Lily Chen was brought up in New York by her Chinese immigrant parents to be a "real American" culturally and socially. When she meets and falls in love with Matthew, a Caucasian from a ultra wealthy pharmaceutical family, she is hesitant but marries him anyway, and has a child, Nico. From there on, the real American Lily continues to live her contemporary life - divorce, single motherhood, raising a biracial child, family estrangement. Her aging scientist mother in America seems to complete the cycle - widowhood, old age, alienation from family, loneliness.

The third part of the book I think strayed from the "real American" theme, delving into Lily's parents' turbulent past in Mao's China, a past that precipitated their migration to the United States. 

There is an element of fantasy in another part of the "real American" story of Lily's scientist parents, who were chasing the dream of DNA research to eradicate genetic flaws and guarantee longevity.

This is a complex book with complex themes that invite speculation and would make a great book club choice because of the many questions it brings up about what the term "real American" can mean.

Returning home:

I 've been reading books about young women abandoning their job after a breakup with a boyfriend, and returning to their parents' home. This seems to be a popular trope as I've seen it in several  contemporary novels.

However, the stories vary widely once the main character moves back to family, depending on their circumstances and family dynamics. This makes them interesting regardless of the trope.

A Quitter's Paradise: A Novel by Elysha Chang
Publication: June 6, 2023' SJP Lit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel deals with two generations of a family impacting each other - the story of Rita and Jing from Taipei, who emigrate to the U.S. and the stories of their daughters, Narisa and Eleanor, born and raised in New York.

The adult Eleanor, on her own, quits her PhD program in neuroscience; her older sister Narisa disappeared for good while a teen, after one too many fights with her harsh and disapproving parents. And only Eleanor and her mother Rita are left in the family after the father Jing leaves home and forms a new family in Taipei.

After Rita's death, Eleanor has to face the truth of both her parents' lives and her own.

I was left amazed and dismayed at the family dynamics in this novel, especially that created by the parents. I wondered how Eleanor would cope with the history of people leaving/quitting and with the story of her mother Rita, left alone to raise the girls in the U.S. when Jing left the family.

The novel follows two separate story lines, a complex one of the parents and their extended family in NY and that of the girls raised in the U.S. I found both stories fascinating.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
Published: July 11, 2017; Henry Holt and Co.
Genre: literary fiction, contemporary, family drama, adult fiction

Ruth used to go to Charleston with her boyfriend Joel for the holidays, but no more. After they broke up, Ruth is left with the prospect of going home to her parents in LA, parents she hasn't seen in a while.

While there, Ruth decides to stay and help out as her father is developing dementia and losing coping skills. The novel centers around Ruth and their mother and her brother Linus's attempts to ease their father and themselves into a new reality. 

Written with a lot of humor and pathos, Goodbye, Vitamin tells a story of a family support of a loved one whose personality is slowly changing. I gave this novel five stars.

Sea Change
 by Gina Chung

Publication: March 28, 2023, Vintage

Genre: family drama, speculative fiction, animal story, contemporary

The story of Ro's friendship with Dolores, the giant Pacific octopus, is a heartwarming one, especially since it's Ro's only connection with her missing scientist father, who had discovered and captured the octopus which now lives in the local aquarium.

I was a little disappointed when the story veers away from Ro's father never returning and her boyfriend leaving, perhaps forever, on a space exploration trip to Mars.

The novel includes Ro's friends and other young Korean Americans and their lives in the U.S. Their stories don't quite mesh with the story of Dolores, the giant Pacific Northwest octopus and the sadness of Ro's missing father.

The information about the octopus, its personality and its importance to Ro are the key parts of the novel although at least half of the book is devoted to Ro's other friendships.

What are you reading this week?  Which Asian authors have you read ?

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso, It's Monday: What Are You Reading, Sunday Salon, and Stacking the Shelves     

May 18, 2024

David Nicholls: Novels on Love and Marriage

I rediscovered author David Nicholls whose new book, You Are Here, will be published May 28. Thanks to an ARC from NetGalley, I was able to read and give another five stars, a rating I also gave to his book, Us, published 2014. 

Us by David Nicholls

Publication Sept. 30, 2014
Genre: family drama, travel

Review: Douglas, a "nerdy" and rigid biochemist tries to save his strained marriage and reconnect with his teenage son during a month-long Grand Tour of Europe. His wife, Connie, a much freer spirit then he, wants to return to her art and the freedom she had as a single woman twenty five years previously. Their son Albie, soon to be a college student, seems estranged and uncommunicative with his father.

The adventure in Europe changes Douglas and exposes him to new experiences and people that open up his previously narrow view of life. It changes the family dynamic as well. The ending is a surprise one.

My rating: 5 stars. Great plot about family dynamics; wonderful characterizations. I may reread this travel and family drama as I  reviewed it nine years ago!


Here is the author's newest book, a love story that begins and develops during a long hike in the hills and dells of Northern England. I gave it five stars.

You Are Here by David Nicholls
Publication: May 28, 2024; Harper, NetGalley
Genre: romance, travel

Review: Michael and Marnie meet on a coast to coast hiking trip in the North of England that was organized by a mutual friend. They are both single, being divorced or separated from their significant others, and their friend Cleo has brought them together with this hike. 

This is basically a romance that develops during a ten-mile hiking trip that brings the two people closer together. I liked how they open up to each other, albeit rather slowly and tentatively at first, on this hike. The book is character centered, the personalities of Michael and Marnie emphasized as they reveal more about themselves to each other.

The last part of the book had the most interest, as Marnie leaves the hike to return to London and the reader is left wondering if she will ever get together with Michael again. That there are still issues with their significant others to clear up adds to the drama.

An enjoyable book, though slow in the middle as conversation between the two doesn't advance the plot as quickly as it could.  The descriptive writing is superb, however, and some of the conversation is witty and original in its humor. 

Some of Nicholls' other books:

One Day, published June 2009. I plan to read these soon. 

Description: Two people meet on graduation day and meet on the same day for the next 20 years, the book description of this romance seems to say.

 The Understudy, published 2005.

Description: A hapless, bumbling bloke in love, an arrogant megastar with a potpourri of addictions, a sexy married woman out of her element in the fast lane–David Nicholls brings them all together in this knockout romantic comedy.

What are you reading/watching this week? 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso, It's Monday: What Are You Reading, Sunday Salon, and Stacking the Shelves     

May 11, 2024

Sunday Salon: What I'm Reading and Watching

 What I'm Reading

Happy Mother's Day! 

There are lots of concerned mothers in this book that I'm now reading

The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia by Juliet Grames ( July 23, 2024), Knopf, NetGalley

Book description:  Set in Calabria, 1960. One unidentified skeleton. Three missing men. A village full of secrets. The best-selling author of The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna brings us a sparkling—by turns funny and moving—novel about a young American woman turned amateur detective in a small village in Southern Italy.

Enjoying: The historical info on the region of Calabria in Southern Italy, fluid writing by the author, an intriguing story of a lost/missing boy from years past,  atmospheric descriptions of a small and isolated Italian village, its inhabitants, and their lives. 

I hope to finish The Lost Boy of Santa Chionia by Juliet Grames before going on to the myriad of saved ebooks on my list. 

What I reviewed

The Night of Baba Yaga by Akira Otani

Publication July 2, 2024; Soho Crime

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tokyo, 1979. An intriguing mobster/yakuza novel about Shindo, a brawny woman kidnapped and forced to be the bodyguard of the mob boss's daughter. Shindo nevertheless grows to become friends with her ward, Shoko, who is tougher than she appears. The world of violence and revenge they endure from then on is portrayed well in spite of all the gore.

The story jumps without warning at the end to decades in the future. It's a surprise but, nevertheless, gratifying to see the women surviving the hyper masculine world they lived in.

What I watched/am watching

For May, which celebrates Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I am continuing watching Asian dramas on TV. These include the ever popular Kdramas, Jdramas, Cdramas, and even a Vietnamese drama I just discovered. The Last Wife. a period piece set in the Nguyen dynasty in Vietnam, is about a reluctant third wife whose life is changed when she meets her childhood lover again by chance

I've also just finished Special Ops: Lioness a TV series starring  Nicole Kidman, about CIA agents who send a tough young woman undercover to befriend the daughter of their Middle Eastern target. I did enjoy this action thriller series though it's shorter than others.

What are you reading/watching this week? 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso, It's Monday: What Are You Reading, Sunday Salon, and Stacking the Shelves       

May 4, 2024

Sunday Salon: Cozy and Less Cozy Mysteries

 Cozy Mystery

I rarely read cozies these days, except for a few like Laura Childs' Tea Shop Mysteries. This latest is the 28th in the popular series. popular because of tea shop owner and amateur sleuth, Theodosia Browning, and the setting in Charleston, South Carolina, as well as the recipes and tea time tips included in the books. 

Peach Tree Smash will be published August 6, 2024 by Berkley. I just got the eARC and I'm looking forward to reading it.

Description: Murder at an Alice in Wonderland–themed event threatens to send Theodosia Browning through the looking glass. During the Mad Hatter Masquerade, a fundraiser hosted by the Friends of the Opera, Harlan Sadler, husband of Cricket Sadler, the chairwoman, is murdered. Theodosia and her gang are resolved to find the culprit.

Another book I'm looking forward to:

My visit to Toronto sped by like a long weekend instead of the seven days I was there. Having family company and good food was a great way to spend the start of spring.

This novel, Long Weekend by S.M. Thomas (April 16, 2024) will be quite different for the people in the weekend thriller. Set on a luxurious island resort with famous guests, journalist Emma's anticipated fun trip turns instead into a nightmare!  

Just finished

The Blue Bar 
by Damyanti Biswas (January 1, 2023) was one of the books available to download for free through World Book Day 2024, a yearly program that promotes reading worldwide. The date is always April 23 in the U.S. 

I've distributed books for them in the past on this day, standing in the mall handing out selected books to surprised but delighted mall goers. 

The Blue Bar is a noir thriller set in Mumbai, India, and is a police procedural that involves corruption on many levels - in the police, among well known businessmen, underground mafia, and the social elite and their families. There is an unnamed deranged man or "boy" as he is called by his assistant, who has been kidnapping and killing bar girls over the years but who is  "protected" from discovery by many of the influential people.

Police inspector Arnav Singh Rajput tries to save a former bar dancer, his lover, from landing in the hands of this serial killer and risks his life to find the man's identity. The suspense of the novel lies in the many likely and unlikely suspects that Arnav must sort through find the "boy."

I gave this intriguing thriller 4 stars. There were a few inconsistencies, though minor ones.  Though it was a good read for adult lovers of mysteries, I was surprised it was included in the World Book Day selection because of the noir quality of the book, the vivid descriptions of violence, physical and psychological.

What I'm Watching

I'm still watching tv more than reading. I finished the 16 episode kdrama series, Queen of Tears, a family drama and romance which was ultra popular in Korea as well, a big plus for Netflix. The same main male actor was also in another drama I liked, It's Okay to Not Be Okay. He's the top wage earner today in Korean drama, and it's easy to see why. 

What are you reading/watching this week? 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso, It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Travel Can Be Fun or Not: Sunday Salon

Books read and to-be-read The Trip by Phoebe Morgan, May 25, 2024; HQ, NetGalley Genre: mystery, adventure, travel fiction, adult fiction B...