Read in September 2014

I think I wrote the most reviews (ever!) in September! Thanks to Diversiverse and RIP IX. I’ve already posted some reviews, and there will be more to come soon.

I had a great time armchair-travelling to Iran, Kitamaat (a village in Canada), London, Japan, 1970s Oakland, among other places, as well as fantastic invented worlds…

Some of my favourite reads were Eden Robinson’s Monkey Beach,  NK Jemisin’s The Shadowed Sun, and Mimi Pond’s Over Easy

Together tea – Marjan Kamali
Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson
The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) – YS Lee
The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee
Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero
The Shadowed Sun – NK Jemisin
Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris – R.L. LaFevers
Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
Audition – Ryu Murakami
Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) – Ben H Winters
The one in the middle is the green kangaroo – Judy Blume
Carrie – Stephen King
Greenglass House – Kate Milford
The best science fiction and fantasy of the year Volume 8 – Edited by Jonathan Strahan
Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah

Graphic novels
This One Summer – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
Heartbreak Diet – Thorina Rose
Girl Genius 1: Agatha Heterodyne & the beetleburg clank : a gaslamp fantasy with adventure, romance & mad science – Kaja & Phil Foglio
Over Easy – Mimi Pond
Shoplifter – Michael Cho

What a Diversiverse!

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I’m so very glad to have joined this year’s Diversiverse, organised by the lovely Aarti over at Booklust.

Here’s what she has to say about Diversiverse:

Reading diversely is important because we live in a global world.  Period.  If you read books only by white authors, you are limiting yourself to less than 30% of the world’s experience of race and culture.  If you read books only by Christian authors, you are limiting yourself to only about 33% of the world’s experience of theology.  If you read books only by authors in developed countries, you are limiting yourself to a very privileged view of what the world has to offer you.  If you read books that focus only on Western thought, history, and philosophy, you are missing out on many rich and varied traditions and worldviews that have informed and continue to enrich the way we view the world today.

 

It’s been such great reading and TBR-adding!

Here’s what I read and reviewed for these two wonderful (but too short) weeks.

 

 

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) by YS Lee
The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin
The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) by YS Lee
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Together Tea by Marjan Kamali
Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

And there were plenty more books I had wanted to read but didn’t manage to get to!

For instance, I am currently reading Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild and Other Stories, and Xinran’s China Witness.

And also, just in case you’re looking for more works by POC authors, here are some that I’ve read and loved (links to my reviews):

 

The Good Muslim –  Tahmina Anam
Emiko superstar  – Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston
Sunny 1  – Taiyo Matsumoto
Nylon Road: a graphic memoir of coming of age in Iran – Parsua Bashi
Same difference –  Derek Kirk Kim
A game for swallows: to die, to leave, to return – Zeina Abirached
Bitter in the mouth – Monique Truong
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Ten little Indians: stories – Sherman Alexie
Ghost bride – Yangsze Choo
The Story Hour – Thrity Umrigar
The people in the trees – Hanya Yanagihara
The year she left us – Kathryn Ma
I’ll Be Right There – Shin Kyung-Sook

It’s Monday and I’m intimidated by the size of this book!

itsmonday“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what we’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

Good morning! I’ve been up since 5 when someone decided it was a good time to wake up and have a cry. To be fair, I think I heard an alarm go off around that time, which probably woke him up! I’m going to need more coffee!

 

Stuff that happened last week:

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Yeah. I borrowed Drood. And it’s still sitting where I left it.

 

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Other exciting things happening around here in drought-ridden California – it rained! Not enough but still, it was a welcome sight after many months!

We also visited a new-to-us library in the next county. It’s so big and beautiful and new! The children’s section had so very many shelves of picture books! I was envious! Our library is pretty good and located on the edge of the central park but there are fewer copies of books, and sadly quite a few books in our last library loot were torn by previous (less careful) borrowers. Sigh. One of the pages was even cut out! I’m so sad when that happens!

Anyway it just so happened that the library we visited was having its book sale. We managed to grab several decent children’s books. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to browse the adult section of the sale!

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In case you’re interested, some things that were happening in my kitchen last week!

I made a batch of oatmeal chocolate chip (with a hint of kahlua), and a batch of oatmeal raisin-coconut cookies, adapting Bill Granger’s recipe (you can find one here). My mum made beef rendang, a kind of Southeast Asian spicy beef stew with lemongrass, star anise, cinnamon etc. We used a paste and added some fresh spices, but here’s a recipe in case you’re interested. And I was trying to get rid of the  Italian sausage ravioli in the freezer, so whipped up a meal with it, crisping up some pancetta, then caramelising onions and cabbage, then making a bit of a butter-soy sauce, throwing in some frozen peas for more vegetables, and adding fresh cilantro at the end.

Currently…

 

 

Reading:

 

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China Witness – Xinran

A collection of interviews she did with people in China. They relate their experiences during the Cultural Revolution and after.

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Bloodchild and other stories – Octavia Butler

I started this a little too late for Diversiverse! But I do try to make an effort in reading POC authors although sometimes not enough! Anyhow, I really do like these short stories as well as Butler’s afterwords.

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Aunty Lee’s Deadly Specials – Ovidia Yu

For an upcoming book tour. That cover is so wrong! They should have put the buah keluak (that black nut in the back – at least I think it’s a buah keluak) and not the candlenuts, as it is the buah keluak that is talked about in the book. Then again I suppose a cover full of ugly black seeds wouldn’t be very attractive.

 

Listening:

Metric – Synthetica.

Watching:

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The Edge of Tomorrow. I’m no fan of Tom Cruise so I watched this action/SF flick for Emily Blunt! I loved that she was this hardcore soldier in a war against aliens. It was a bit like Groundhog Day but with aliens and fighting! I’m not that big of an action flick fan but this was kind of different. It’s based on the Japanese “light novel” (apparently similar to a novella) All You Need is Kill.

Eating:
Chestnut bread from Paris Baguette. It’s chestnut season. I so have to find out where I can have a Mont Blanc around here!

Drinking:
PG Tips

 

 

Last week..


I read
:

monogram

Monogram Murders – Sophie Hannah
For an upcoming book tour

shoplifter

Shoplifter – Michael Cho
I really enjoyed this graphic novel about an English lit major who ends up working in an ad agency writing copy. She doesn’t really like her job or her life and shoplifts to spice things up.

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Greenglass House – Kate Milford

Oh I can’t wait to talk about this one in a proper post. Such a fun read!

 

I posted:

 

Weekend Cooking: beef pasties

Library Loot (September 26 2014)

I read and wrote about a few books for Diversiverse and RIP IX. Some books worked for both!
Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee

The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

 

What are you reading this week?

 

Weekend Cooking: beef pasties

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I first came across the beef pasty during my year in England, Brighton to be exact. As a poor Masters student, I survived on my own cooking, lots of sandwiches and salads. And the very tasty beef pasty. There was a pasty shop a few minutes’ walk from the international students’ housing – here I have to add that this was one of the attractions of Sussex University – its international graduate students were housed in a block of apartments across the beach. As in a hop skip and a jump to the pebbly beach and freezing water, and just down the beach was Brighton Pier and all. I woke up every morning to seagulls and the smell of the sea. And walked along the beach almost every day. It even snowed twice when I was there. And the sight of a snow-covered beach is something else altogether!

Ok meandering memories aside, I fell for the pasty. It was cheap(ish), filling and hearty, and very convenient!

(Interestingly the Husband (then The Boyfriend) and I also came across pasties when we drove from Champaign-Urbana where he was studying* to Mackinac Island in Upper Peninsula Michigan. According to this website, Cornish miners brought it to Michigan when they went to work in the copper mines there!)

My Mum and I have made this recipe from Rachel Allen’s Bake before (she bought me the book!), although we’ve had to tweak it a bit as I find her recipes lacking in salt (her pastry dough calls for a “pinch” of salt – I’m not very good with ‘pinches’ and would really prefer things measured in teaspoon or grams!). But this is the first time we’ve made a spicy version! Kind of like a beef curry puff I suppose (although curry puff aficionados in Singapore will snort in derision).

I’m copying and pasting her recipe below, also available online. We followed her hot water crust pastry quite exactly, making a double portion of it, as we had 1 pound of beef to use up. I felt that the dough was too soft though, so I’ll try to find another recipe for hot water crust pastry the next time I make this!

With the filling, instead of coriander seeds and cumin seeds and mint, we used a mixture of spices at hand, such as a bit of all-spice and a Everyday Seasoning mix from Trader Joe’s that I use regularly. Nothing too strong as this non-spicy version was for the kids. I didn’t have mint so we substituted coriander leaves instead. And added corn kernels as well as the peas.

My Mum decided to also make a spicy pasty, using the other half of the pound of ground beef. We added to that two small parboiled potatoes, in small cubes, and some chillies, these were really spicy little chillies, so the seeds had to be removed first, then chopped fine. Also added to the mixture was one shallot chopped fine and plenty of coriander leaves and a bit of the stems too. She also added some garam masala.

(No specific proportions unfortunately, as we aren’t very good at measuring things and it’s more of a taste and see how it goes kind of cooking!)

Instead, here are some other recipes, Singapore/Malaysia-style, that you might want to consider, if you’re into spicy pastries. I am especially fond of spicy sardine puffs and miss eating those!

Chicken curry puffs – Rasa Malaysia

Epok epos (beef) – The Malay Kitchen

Spiral sardine puffs – To Food with Love

Curry puffs – The Food Canon

 

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Hot water crust pastry (Makes 250g) – from Rachel Allen’s Bake

INGREDIENTS

75g butter, cubed
100ml water
225g plain flour
Pinch of salt (I used about 1/2 tsp)
1 egg, beaten

Place the butter and water in a medium-sized saucepan and heat gently, stirring occasionally, until the butter melts, then allow the mixture to come to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg.

Pour the hot liquid into the flour and stir with a wooden spoon to mix. Spread the mixture out on a large plate with the wooden spoon and allow to cool (about 15 minutes), then wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge for 30 minutes until firm.

 

Beef and pea pasty filling – from Rachel Allen’s Bake

2 tbsp olive oil
150g (5oz) onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tsp finely grated root ginger
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp black mustard seeds (optional)
200g (7oz) minced beef
1 tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp English mustard
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
100g (3 ½ oz) fresh or frozen peas
1 tbsp chopped mint
1 egg, beaten

METHOD
Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425°F), Gas mark 7. Make the pastry.

While the pastry is chilling, make the filling. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan set over a medium heat, add the onions, garlic and ginger, season with salt and pepper and cook until the onions are soft and slightly golden.

Grind the seeds in a mortar with a pestle, then add to the pan with the beef, tomato purée, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. Cook over a medium heat for 15 minutes or until the beef is cooked. Add the peas for the last 1–2 minutes of cooking. Add the chopped mint, then season to taste and allow to cool.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work surface until it is approximately 2mm (1/16 in) thick. Using a small saucer or something similar, cut the dough into 12cm (4 ½ in) circles.

Lay 1 generous tablespoon of the mixture on one half of the circle and brush the edge of the other half with beaten egg, then fold it over to form a semi-circle. Pinch the edges together to seal, making sure there is no air trapped inside, and mark the edges with a fork. Repeat until all the circles and filling are used up.

Brush the tops with beaten egg and bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes or until golden and a skewer inserted in the middle of each comes out hot. Serve hot or at room temperature.

 

Verdict: We LOVED the spicy version! I’m so going to make it again. I think I might try the non-spicy version with some fresh basil and some chopped up bacon or pancetta next time.

Or maybe try this version from The Guardian. Or maybe these mushroom, cheese and potato pasties from Hungry Hinny!

 

* yes we had a rather long-distance relationship, having met (on a blind date no less!) a few months before we were both going onto graduate studies. Me to England, him to Illinois. Then him to the San Francisco Bay Area, and me back in Singapore. It’s been quite a journey!

 

cookitup

 

Cook It Up!: A Cookbook Challenge 

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Weekend Cooking at Beth Fish Reads is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, beer, wine, photographs

Library Loot (September 26 2014)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library.

A very rare solo trip to the library! Whee!

Wee Reader was still in preschool (he goes half day until 1230). The Wee-er Reader was having lunch with Grandma. I had a quick early lunch and popped out to the library before preschool pickup.

Drood – Dan Simmons

So Trish’s Readalong Gang has picked Drood for the next Readalong. I’ve not joined in on a readalong before so I’m not quite sure what to expect. But I have loved Dan Simmons’ varied works like The Abominable, Hyperion, The Terror. Especially The Terror. His books tend to be lengthy, hefty things and so is this one! I’ve had my eye on Drood for a while now and this is as good a time as any to read it!

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On June 9, 1865, while traveling by train to London with his secret mistress, 53-year-old Charles Dickens–at the height of his powers and popularity, the most famous and successful novelist in the world and perhaps in the history of the world–hurtled into a disaster that changed his life forever.

Did Dickens begin living a dark double life after the accident? Were his nightly forays into the worst slums ofLondon and his deepening obsession with corpses, crypts, murder, opium dens, the use of lime pits to dissolve bodies, and a hidden subterranean London mere research . . . or something more terrifying?

Just as he did in The Terror, Dan Simmons draws impeccably from history to create a gloriously engaging and terrifying narrative. Based on the historical details of Charles Dickens’s life and narrated by Wilkie Collins (Dickens’s friend, frequent collaborator, and Salieri-style secret rival), DROOD explores the still-unsolved mysteries of the famous author’s last years and may provide the key to Dickens’s final, unfinished work: The Mystery of Edwin Drood.

Chilling, haunting, and utterly original, DROOD is Dan Simmons at his powerful best

 

Shoplifter – Michael Cho

shoplifter
I think I first saw this on BookDragon. It might be a bit too late for Diversiverse though.
Corrina Park used to have big plans.

Studying English literature in college, she imagined writing a successful novel and leading the idealized life of an author. But she’s been working at the same advertising agency for the past five years and the only thing she’s written is . . . copy. Corrina knows there must be more to life, but and she faces the same question as does everyone in her generation: how to find it?

Here is the brilliant debut graphic novel about a young woman’s search for happiness and self-fulfillment in the big city.

E-books:

Bloodchild and other stories – Octavia Butler

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It’s been a while since I’ve read Octavia Butler!

A perfect introduction for new readers and a must-have for avid fans, this New York Times Notable Book includes “Bloodchild,” winner of both the Hugo and the Nebula awards, and “Speech Sounds,” winner of the Hugo Award. Appearing in print for the first time, “Amnesty” is a story of a woman named Noah who works to negotiate the tense and co-dependent relationship between humans and a species of invaders. Also new to this collection is “The Book of Martha” which asks: What would you do if God granted you the ability—and responsibility—to save humanity from itself?
Like all of Octavia Butler’s best writing, these works of the imagination are parables of the contemporary world. She proves constant in her vigil, an unblinking pessimist hoping to be proven wrong, and one of contemporary literature’s strongest voices.

Stealing Buddha’s Dinner – Bich Minh Nguyen

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As a Vietnamese girl coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Bich Nguyen is filled with a rapacious hunger for American identity. In the pre-PC era Midwest, where the devoutly Christian blond-haired, blue-eyed Jennifers and Tiffanys reign supreme, Nguyen’s barely conscious desire to belong transmutes into a passion for American food. More exotic seeming than her Buddhist grandmother’s traditional specialties–spring rolls, delicate pancakes stuffed with meats, fried shrimp cakes–the campy, preservative-filled “delicacies” of mainstream America capture her imagination. And in this remarkable book, the glossy branded allure of such American foods as Pringles, Kit Kats, and Toll House cookies become an ingenious metaphor for her struggle to fit in, to become a ?real? American. Beginning with Nguyen’s family’s harrowing migration from Saigon in 1975, “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner” is nostalgic and candid, deeply satisfying and minutely observed, and stands as a unique vision of the immigrant experience and a lyrical ode to how identity is often shaped by the things we long for

Kiddos’ loot:

 

What did you get from your library this week?

Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

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This book is comprised of various sources
– letters to Aunt Lisa
– A’s diary
– A’s dream journal
– Niamh’s notepad
– transcripts of video and audio feeds from various places like the post office and a store they frequent
– various other letters and other information that they dig up while searching the house
– research articles
– codes
(And there’s probably more I forgot)

At first I thought it might be too gimmicky, that there would be too much going on.

But oddly and wonderfully, it works.

A and Niamh travel to Axton House, which A has inherited. He’s a long lost third cousin thrice removed or something completely remote like that. There’s something eerie about Axton House. Two suicides. A maze – I don’t know about you but I think mazes are rather creepy and even more so if someone had it specially designed for their garden. A starts having very bizarre dreams that seem to play on repeat every night. There’s a missing butler, a mute girl, a library full of secrets, neighbours who seem to know more than they should. Plus there are codes! And things that go bump in the night.

Things just get weirder and weirder.

And for a while I think I know where it’s going then I realise that I really have absolutely no idea where Cantero is going with this. And even right at the end he’s still able to surprise the hell out of me.

I will leave things at that and tell you: read this if you’re up for surprises and fun. It’s such an apt book for RIP IX if you’re taking part in that. I mean, just look at that cover! Doesn’t that make you want to take it home?

Happy reading.

 

(A big thank you! to Andi at Estella’s Revenge whose post led me to this book!)

 

 

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I read this book for RIP IX

The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) – YS Lee

 

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This is the third book in The Agency series and perhaps the best book so far.

(Please note that as this is the third book in the series, there are potential spoilers for those of you who have yet to read the first two books! You have been warned!! ;p )

It feels like somehow everything blossomed in this one. The romance, her role in The Agency, the storytelling, the flow of the plot. It seems to have come into its own.

Mary Quinn is finally a full-fledged member of The Agency, a women-only detective agency (this is Victorian England so it is rather rare). But her first case hardly justifies her new role. She’s undercover at Buckingham Palace, working as a maid in Queen Victoria’s household to figure out who’s been stealing from the palace. Little things, not very exciting, at least not for Mary Quinn.

But it just so happens that the young Prince of Wales is witness to a murder in a seedy opium den. The accused is an opium addict, a Lascar, that is, an Asian sailor. More specifically, a Chinese man. And more significantly for Mary, a Chinese man with the same name as her long lost father.

Mary Quinn is forced to confront her half-Chinese background, instead of hiding it in the background as she used to.

“Mary stopped, drew a steadying breath, and resolved to do only what was necessary on this case without letting her emotions overtake her. To solve the mysterious thefts from the palace. To do all she could for Lang, while preserving her distance. And, most important, to keep her mixed-race parentage a secret. It was too complicated. Certain to mark her out as different. Foreign. Tainted. It was a hindrance and a handicap, when all she wanted was to blend in — with the outside world, but especially here.”

She has understandably been reluctant to reveal this side of her. Partly because of the political situation, partly because of how Asians (and those of mixed race) were perceived at the time. And also because her father, presumed lost at sea, hasn’t been in her life for years.

“He was gone — lost at sea when she was a small child — risking all on a mission to uncover truth. His death was the reason she and her mother had suffered so. The bone-deep cold and perpetual hunger. Her mother’s desperate turn to prostitution and, not long after, her death. Mary’s own years on the streets, keeping alive as a pickpocket and housebreaker. The inevitable arrest and trial, and the certainty of death — so very close that she’d all but felt the noose about her neck. And then, miraculously, her rescue. The women of the Agency had given her life anew. Mary Lang, the only child of a Chinese sailor and an Irish seamstress, was gone forever. She’d been reborn as Mary Quinn, orphan. Educated at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. Trained as an undercover agent. An exciting, hopeful, active life had lain before her. Until this morning.”

And what do you know, once again, in her line of work, Mary chances upon James Easton, the man who sets her heart a pounding.

“It was preposterous. A prank. Utterly ludicrous, to think that in a city of a million souls, she should keep crossing paths with this one man. She’d never believe it in fiction.”

Their paths may have crossed all this while but they’ve never quite figured out what they are to each other. Friends? Colleagues? Fellow Londoners? Potential lovers? She’s not sure how far she can trust him. He’s not sure what exactly she is all about. And Lee allows more thoughts and feelings to emerge in this one.

There are also some new discoveries about the very Agency itself, suggesting a different direction for the series in future books to come. I’m looking forward to them! It’s rather exciting to see how this series has grown and matured. Quite satisfactorily so.

 

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

 

diversiverse

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I read this book for both Diversiverse and RIP IX

The Shadowed Sun by N.K. Jemisin

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I don’t have follow-through.

When it comes to books and series, there are far too many that I’ve started and stopped, searching instead for that other read, stretching out for something different.

But when it comes to NK Jemisin, it seems that I have read all of her books!

(And now I have to wait for the next one to come out…. what? next year?!)

I first heard of her books from Eva at A Striped Armchair, when she blogged about The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, the first book in the Inheritance trilogy.

And when I finished those three books (sigh! Perhaps a reread is in order!!), I turned to Jemisin’s Dreamblood series, of which there has been The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. (Jemisin talks about  The Killing Moon on John Scalzi’s blog, if you’re interested in finding out more about her inspiration behind this book – two words ‘ninja priests’ – if that doesn’t make you want to read her books, I don’t know what will!). Here’s the first chapter of The Killing Moon on Jemisin’s website if you’d like to read a bit more.

It had unfortunately been a bit of a time lag between my reading of The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun. Goodreads tells me I read The Killing Moon in December 2012. And oops, The Shadowed Sun was first published in January 2012, making my read quite a delayed one.

Why the delay? I wish I had a legitimate reason like saving it for RIP or Diversiverse. But it probably can be chalked up to my lack of follow-through.

But oh what a read it was.

From that striking cover to its nightmarish premise, I drank it all in.

Here’s the synopsis from Goodreads:

Gujaareh, the city of dreams, suffers under the imperial rule of the Kisuati Protectorate. A city where the only law was peace now knows violence and oppression. A mysterious and deadly plague now haunts the citizens of Gujaareh, dooming the infected to die screaming in their sleep. Someone must show them the way.

It’s an unusually short synopsis this one. I suppose there must be a longer one somewhere but this one is adequate. Because what made the book was not just the storyline, this nightmare that is creeping around the city, but those wonderful characters that Jemisin has created, and how she has nurtured them and brought them through life and all its motions, its joys and suffering, its pleasures, its fears.

The two main characters are Hanani, the first female Sharer (she’s a kind of healer) and Wanahomen, the son of the fallen Prince, who is rounding up his allies and establishing his power. And what characters they are! You aren’t expected to like Wana at first, he’s hardened, unfriendly, and long-prejudiced against the Sharers and the Hetawa. Hanani comes across at first as unsure of herself, as a Sharer-Apprentice, as the first female Sharer-Apprentice, the first female member of the Hetawa.

Jemisin has created such genuine characters. While I did not start out liking Wana – and it took a very long time for me to grudgingly accept him – he seemed so very real a person. A large part of his character development is due to his interactions with Hanami but this is far from a romantic or traditional kind of situation. Hanami was my favourite character, her dedication to her work and to her life as Sharer, her willingness to adapt to her new life with the Banbarra, her ability to connect with others. And through her, learning about the gender roles in the different societies, the power structures in the tribe, and life in this new place she finds herself in.

And this world that Jemisin has created! Based on Egyptian mythology, a world where women are deemed goddesses but are hardly given any freedom to do as they wish, where men are veiled and only unveil themselves at home and with those close to them. And where the Sharers access dreamscapes and heal their patients. Of course, it was first introduced in The Killing Moon, but the introduction of the Banbarra and their tribal society brings such greater depth and sense of place to her constructed universe.

If you’ve never read anything by NK Jemisin before, go! Run out to your library or your bookstore or just buy an e-copy of one of her books. And read! And be amazed. And please come back and tell me all about it!

 

N. K. Jemisin is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels who lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo (three times), the Nebula (four times), and the World Fantasy Award (twice); shortlisted for the Crawford, the Gemmell Morningstar, and the Tiptree; and she has won a Locus Award for Best First Novel as well as the Romantic Times Reviewer’s Choice Award (three times).
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I read this book for Diversiverse and RIP IX

It’s Monday and I’m reading Over Easy by Mimi Pond

itsmonday“It’s Monday! What are you reading?” is a weekly event hosted by Sheila at Bookjourney to share with others what we’ve read the past week and planning to read next.

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It was a nice weekend despite the husband having to work (from home)! We hit the farmers’ market on Sunday morning and grabbed lots of lovely vegetables for our barbecue lunch. I tried grilling kabocha squash for the first time and it worked out pretty well – the kids loved it! And I finally made the soft sandwich loaf from The Bread Bible - kept meaning to as it sounds quite delightful and buttery but it required milk powder which I don’t have around the house, until I finally bought some the other day at the supermarket. It’s a keeper this recipe!

 

Currently…

 

Reading:

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Greenglass House – Kate Milford

This was on the National Book Award’s Young People’s Literature longlist. I hadn’t heard of it previously but was curious, partly because the narrator is a young Chinese boy adopted into a Caucasian family.

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Over Easy – Mimi Pond

I’m rather liking this book, set largely in a diner in Oakland in the 70s. I’ve always liked diners, even before I moved to the US. I guess they are very, American? Anyway here’s a just-as-cute graphic review of this graphic novel on LA Review of Books. Fun!

Watching:

snowpiercer

Snowpiercer
Based on a French graphic novel, Snowpiercer is one of those post-apocalyptic movies, this time the world has frozen over and the survivors live in a train powered by a perpetual-motion engine. There’s Tilda Swinton, Jamie Bell and Ed Harris! There’s also Chris Evans but I forgive them for that choice. It’s directed by a Korean and also stars several Korean actors who speak both Korean and English. A bit silly at times but quite a fun ride, especially Tilda Swinton (see picture above) who is delightfully kooky in this one.

Listening:
Lily Allen – Sheezus

There’s always something bratty about Allen’s music, so that makes it a bit fun to listen to sometimes!

Eating:

I made some bread yesterday (a soft sandwich loaf from The Bread Bible) and it’s nice toasted with butter.

Looking forward to:
Seeing what everyone’s been reading for Diversiverse!

Drinking:
Calcutta Auction, an Assam tea from Lupicia

Last week…

I read:
Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) – Ben H Winters
Review to come
The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency #3) –  YS Lee
Review to come

Carrie – Stephen King

Girl Genius 1: Agatha Heterodyne & the beetleburg clank : a gaslamp fantasy with adventure, romance & mad science – Kaja & Phil Foglio
I posted:

The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) by YS Lee

Picture books and graphic novels this Library Loot

Zone One by Colson Whitehead

Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

 

What are you reading this week?

 

 

 

 

The Body at the Tower (The Agency #2) by YS Lee

bodytower

 

(Please note that this is the second book in The Agency series, if you’ve not read the first book before, you might want to do that before reading further!)

Mary Quinn is back. This time as Mark Quinn, a young apprentice builder working on the site of the Houses of Parliament. She’s there at the behest of The Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, investigating the suspicious death at the clock tower at the soon-to-be-completed Houses of Parliament.

Mary chops off her hair, binds her chest and pulls on the trousers in order to play a young lad working at a construction site. Sounds easy enough but this is Victorian London. And unfortunately for Mary, it brings back bad memories from her childhood, mired in poverty, having to pretend to be a boy in order to survive living on the streets on her own.

The murder-mystery, to be honest, isn’t very intriguing, and in the end, I wasn’t all that interested in who did what and why. Instead, the circumstances Mary finds herself in, and the new characters she meets as a result of the investigation are what make the story work.

Young Peter Jenkins, her fellow apprentice, who is at first suspicious of Mark/Mary but warms up to him/her. Intrepid (or just plain busybody) newspaper reporter Octavius Jones is an interesting addition to the cast as he snoops around and annoys Mary, and hopefully will appear in future books. And then there is James Easton, who was in the first book, and stirred up her Mary’s love interest. He’s a little different now, after a stay in India impaired his health, but he’s still quite charming and his interest in Mary continues, although he’s not quite sure what she’s doing playing a boy at a construction site. And the two of them, while attracted to each other, aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

What he, and almost everyone else, doesn’t realize is that Mary Quinn is hiding her true background. That she is half-Chinese. It’s something that was revealed in the first book, so hopefully that’s not really a spoiler for you!

“It was true that she didn’t look properly mixed race. Her skin was pale and her eyes round, so that much of the time she passed quite easily as black Irish. Even persistent questioners generally wanted to know whether she was Italian or Spanish. And that was just fine with Mary. The last thing she wanted was to acknowledge her Chinese heritage and deal with the questions and hostility it would inevitably invoke. Certainly not yet.”

It is something she muses on now and then, especially since one of the servants at the el cheapo boarding house she’s staying at while undercover is Chinese. Perhaps Lee will bring it up again in other books in the series - The Traitor in the Tunnel or Rivals in the City?

I think it’s great to have a mixed-race character (although she’s unwilling to reveal her Chinese side to anyone at this point of time) in a book set in the Victorian era. There is such potential for this and while I’m perhaps a little disappointed that Lee chose not to dig into it in this second book, I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with this in future books.

The Body at the Tower was a solid second book of the Mary Quinn series. Some historical fiction, some detective/spy work going on, and a brewing love affair with hints of more to come.

 

 

Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

 

diversiverse

lavinia-portraitRIP1

I read this book for both Diversiverse and RIP IX