Library Loot and some Diversiverse Books

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.


Wee Reader and I wandered around the non-fiction shelves in the children’s section for a change, making a beeline for the transportation shelves and picking up books on submarines, dump trucks and helicopters. Boys!

There were quite a few holds waiting for me… thus I actually had a stack of books to photograph this week!


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

For #Diversiverse


Now nearly a full-fledged member of the Agency, the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls, Mary Quinn is back for another action-packed adventure. Disguised as a poor apprentice builder and a boy, she must brave the grimy underbelly of Victorian London – as well as childhood fear, hunger, and constant want – to unmask the identity of a murderer. Assigned to monitor a building site on the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament, Mary earns the confidence of the work crew, inching ever nearer her suspect. But if an irresistible desire to help the city’s needy doesn’t distract her and jeopardize her cover, unexpectedly meeting up with an old friend – or flame – just might.

A suspenseful and evocative window into a fascinating moment in history, The Body at the Tower is the much-anticipated second outing with a daring young detective.

Ilustrado – Miguel Syjuco

For #Diversiverse



It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River—taken from the world is the controversial lion of Philippine literature. Gone, too, is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families. Miguel, his student and only remaining friend, sets out for Manila to investigate.

To understand the death, Miguel scours the life, piecing together Salvador’s story through his poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga of four generations, tracing 150 years of Philippine history forged under the Spanish, the Americans, and the Filipinos themselves. Finally, we are surprised to learn that this story belongs to young Miguel as much as to his lost mentor, and we are treated to an unhindered view of a society caught between reckless decay and hopeful progress.

Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent.


Ruin and Rising (The Grish #3) – Leigh Bardugo


The Darkling rules Ravka from his shadow throne.

Now the nation’s fate rests with a broken Sun Summoner, a disgraced tracker, and the shattered remnants of a once-great magical army.

Deep in an ancient network of tunnels and caverns, a weakened Alina must submit to the dubious protection of the Apparat and the zealots who worship her as a Saint. Yet her plans lie elsewhere, with the hunt for the elusive firebird and the hope that an outlaw prince still survives.

Alina will have to forge new alliances and put aside old rivalries as she and Mal race to find the last of Morozova’s amplifiers. But as she begins to unravel the Darkling’s secrets, she reveals a past that will forever alter her understanding of the bond they share and the power she wields. The firebird is the one thing that stands between Ravka and destruction—and claiming it could cost Alina the very future she’s fighting for.


Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero

First saw this on Andi’s blog

When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?

Told vividly through a series of journal entries, scrawled notes, recovered security footage, letters to Aunt Liza, audio recordings, complicated ciphers, and even advertisements, Edgar Cantero has written a dazzling and original supernatural adventure featuring classic horror elements with a Neil Gaiman-ish twist.


Best science fiction & fantasy of the year. Volume eight – edited by Jonathan Strahan

I’m more interested in the SF/Fantasy authors whose names I keep hearing about but whose works I’ve yet to read, like Madeline Ashby, Ted Chiang, Joe Abercrombie (although on that last note, see e-book below)


The best, most original and brightest science fiction and fantasy stories from around the globe from the past twelve months are brought together in one collection by multiple award winning editor Jonathan Strahan. This highly popular series now reaches volume eight and will include stories from both the biggest names in the field and the most exciting new talents.

Previous volumes have included stories from Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Cory Doctorow, Stephen Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Joe Abercrombie, Paolo Bacigalupi, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Jeffrey Ford, Margo Lanagan, Bruce Sterling, Adam Robets, Ellen Klages, and many many more.

With this volume the series comes to a new home at Solaris, publishers of Jonathan Strahan’s award-winning original Infinities SF anthologies and the and Fearsome fantasy anthologies

The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book – Carolyn Wyman

I was recently researching cookies for an article I was writing. And found out the story behind the chocolate chip cookie. Which is probably my favourite cookie – to eat and to bake! Thus the book…


Forget apple pie and ice cream–chocolate chip cookies are America’s favorite sweet and also one of its most interesting, as this one-and-only complete chocolate chip cookie history, guidebook, and cookbook proves. The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book’s six highly engaging and entertaining chapters include:

-The long-overdue, never-before-told true story of the cookie’s invention 75 years ago by Ruth Wakefield at her Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts, straight from Wakefield’s former employees and her daughter (despite what you might have read on the Internet, it was no accident)

-A chronicling of the cookie’s 1980s commercial heyday under Mrs. Fields and Famous Amos to the rise of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream in the early ’90s to today’s internet phenomena, cookie dough-stuffed cookies and cookie cake pie.

-Artistic and event tributes to the chocolate chip cokie, including its starring role in that famous episode of Friends

-A state-by-state survey of bakeries and restaurants known for their chocolate chip cookies creations, including a Boston cookie store started by now-Secretary of State John Kerry and the Chicago-area bakery whose chocolate chip cookies are so prized that there’s a per-person daily limit

-Recipes for sour cream, pudding, kosher, vegan, and gluten-free chocolate chip cookies; instructions for replicating Mrs. Field’s, Tate’s, Hillary Clinton’s, and Momofuku Milk Bar’s chocolate chip cookies; and fun chocolate chip dessert variations like chocolate chip cheese nut ball and Toll House truffles–more than 75 recipes in all–and tips for taking your favorite recipe to the next level

Half a King – Joe Abercrombie

Patrick Rothfuss (author of my beloved Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear) gave this book five stars on Goodreads so I was curious


“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”
Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.
Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.
Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?
But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy

IMG_2084-0.JPGThe kids couldn’t wait to get their hands on the books!

The kids’ loot:

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? What did you get from your library this week?

TLC Book Tours: Ghost bride by Yangsze Choo

In the seventh month of the lunar calendar, usually around August, Chinese Singaporeans (and Chinese in other parts of the world) observe what we call the Hungry Ghost Festival.

It is believed that the gates of Hell open and the ghosts are allowed to wander the earth. To appease these hungry ghosts, offerings are made to them – food, joss sticks, candles, paper money and other items made out of paper like houses and cars. In Singapore, big dinners are held, and guests bid at auctions for auspicious items (one man even paid S$258,888 (about US$207,000) for a gaudy urn that cost S$100!). And entertainment is provided for both human and ghostly guests, traditionally in the form of wayang (Chinese street opera) but these days, getai (literally ‘song stage’) is the popular mode of entertainment, where Mandarin and dialect songs are sung by colorfully dressed singers. But one thing remains the same, the first row of seats remain empty, for the spectral guests.


(Photo via Singapore Tourism Board)

When I was a kid in Singapore, not far from our house, a wayang/getai stage and dinner tables would be set up in a small parking lot of a row of shophouses. And we would hear the loud music late at night from our house, and smell the offerings being burnt. One had to watch where we were walking, to make sure we didn’t tread on ashes or offerings as it would bring bad luck. My parents weren’t the superstitious/religious sort but my grandparents were, and they had altars and joss sticks at their house. I remember helping to fold joss paper money and burn them, although I cannot remember if this was for Hungry Ghost month or for funeral rites. Perhaps both. (In Singapore columbariums, large troughs are provided for the burning of joss paper).

And it is during Hungry Ghost month that the more superstitious avoid doing certain things like swimming, going out late at night, getting married (see more here).


But nothing has been said about reading books that talk of this ghostly world, like Yangsze Choo’s amazing Ghost Bride.

The story is set in late 19th-century Malacca, a sleepy seaside town in southwest Malaysia. Li Lan is about to receive an unusual proposal, to be the bride of a young man recently deceased, the only son of the wealthy and powerful Lim family. It is a very rare practice, and is meant to appease a restless spirit. Of course there is far more to this as we later learn as we delve into the spirit world with Li Lan.

Li Lan’s own family was once wealthy but now its fortunes are in decline, and her opium addict father’s debts are owed to the head of the Lim family. She soon finds her dreams haunted by Lim Tian Ching, the deceased she is meant to marry. She enters a ghostly world in her dreams, where everything is “intensely and unappetizing lay pigmented”, where food is displayed like funeral offerings. But her thoughts are with his cousin, the scholarly and gentle Tian Bai, now the heir to the Lim fortune.

As a Chinese Singaporean, I was drawn to Choo’s story and her skilful rendering of 19th century Malaya. Many of our superstitions and beliefs are similar to those of the Chinese Malaysians, and they continue today, such as the Courts of Hell, the various levels and chambers in which souls are taken to atone for their sins. A visit to Haw Par Villa when I was a kid, brought those chambers – torture methods and all – terrifyingly to life through statues and dioramas. It is not for the faint of heart. Or children really! (More photos of this bizarre theme park built by the Aw Brothers in 1937 – warning, although these are just statues, some images are very violent. And bloody. Some are just plain weird.)

Apart from the spooky afterlife, Choo’s novel just meant a lot to me. There aren’t many books that are situated in Southeast Asia, despite its 11 very diverse and interesting nations, including the fourth most populous country in the world, Indonesia. (Here’s my list of books set in Southeast Asia/written by Southeast Asians). Malaysia, which neighbours Singapore, has more than a few similarities,  and so to read of foods, traditions, customs, slang that I could relate to, that just made me feel so very warm inside. And a little homesick.

“They had all my favourite kinds of kuih – the soft steamed nyonya cakes made of glutinous rice flour stuffed with palm sugar or shredded coconut. There were delicate rolled biscuits called love letters and pineapple tarts pressed out of rich pastry. Bowls of toasted watermelon seeds were passed around, along with fanned slices of mango and papaya.”

For instance, Li Lan’s Amah, a very traditional, superstitious woman who has looked after for Li Lan since she was a baby. I was tickled by her solutions of boiled soups and tonics, of her fondness for consulting mediums and so on, which are not out of place even in today’s modern Singapore. My mother-in-law, for instance, still boils up ginseng tonics to boost energy, and when I was pregnant would make sure I drank chicken essence every day (thankfully that was the only thing, as there were plenty of other soups and tonics one ‘ought’ to consume during pregnancy, and even more after, during the ‘confinement period’ of the first three months).





“Malacca was a port, one of the oldest trading settlements in the East. In the past few hundred years, it had passed through Portuguese, Dutch_ and finally British rule. A long, low cluster of red-tiled houses, it straggled along the bay, flanked by grooves of coconut trees and backed inland by the dense jungle that covered Malaya like s rolling green ocean. The town of Malacca was very still, dreaming under the tropical sun of its past glories, when it was the pearl of port cities along the Straits. With the advent of steamships, however, it has fallen into graceful decline.”

I adored Choo’s depictions of Malacca, a sleepy coastal town I’ve been to just once in my life during a school trip when I was 12, despite the fact that it’s only about 2.5 hours from Singapore. I remember the red-bricked Stadthuys, built in 1650 as the office of the Dutch governor, visiting a Peranakan museum and eating Peranakan food. Of course it was a lot more about having fun with our classmates as it was our last year of primary school and we would likely end up in different secondary schools.

“Malaya was full of ghosts and superstitions of the many races that people it. There were stories of spirits, such as the tiny leaf-sized pelesit that was kept by a sorcerer in a bottle and fed on blood through a hole in the foot. Or the pontianak, which were the ghosts o women who died in childbirth. These were particularly gruesome as they flew through the night, trailing placentas behind their disembodied heads.”

Longing and wistful, haunting and melancholy, Ghost Bride has a little something for everyone – a romance, a mystery, a coming-of-age story. An apt read for the Hungry Ghost Festival but also for every other month in which the spirits do not roam the earth.

Yangsze ChooYangsze Choo is a fourth-generation Malaysian of Chinese descent. She lives in California with her husband and their two children, and loves to eat and read (often at the same time).
Connect with her on her website or on Facebook.




tlc logo

I received this book from its publisher and TLC Book Tours

Check out the other stops on the tour:

Tuesday, August 5th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Wednesday, August 6th: Jorie Loves a Story

Thursday, August 7th: Book Dilettante

Friday, August 8th: Bibliosue

Monday, August 11th: Broken Teepee

Tuesday, August 12th: Fuelled by Fiction

Monday, August 18th: Literary Feline

Tuesday, August 19th: Book Without Any Pictures

Wednesday, August 20th: Olduvai Reads

Thursday, August 21st: Snowdrop Dreams of Books

Friday, August 22nd: nightlyreading

Saturday, August 30th: guiltless reading


It’s Monday and I’m reading White Bone

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.



We had a fun Saturday in Half Moon Bay where we hit the tide pools at JV Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. Low tide was about 930 so we left the house early for the hour-long drive. It was a rather chilly and foggy morning so luckily we had checked the weather before setting off and packed jackets and wore long pants! It was great fun wandering among the tide pools, looking at the anemones and seaweed, and counting the many hermit crabs in their shiny shells. The harbour seals could be seen lazing around in the distance – the rangers had at up a little telescope for viewing. The kids were more interested in playing with the sand. The younger one wandered around with a little rake in hand, digging at stones (he was very fond of having a go at some rather large rocks). Wee Reader preferred to work on his sandcastle.

And we did plenty of eating. From brunch at Half Moon Bay to chirashi at our usual Japanese restaurant for dinner. To pizza at Blaze on Sunday and salad and smoked salmon and cheese at home for Sunday dinner. It was a great weekend for eating!

Hope your weekend was awesome too!







White Bone – Barbara Gowdy

It’s hard getting into this book everytime I get out of it. To remember that this is a story told by elephants. Both fascinating and confusing.


The Vacationers – Emma Straub

This is my more fluffy read.


The Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3) – Lev Grossman

So it has been a little while since I read the second book, so while I remembered Quentin and Julia, I couldn’t quite distinguish among some of the others – Josh? Poppy? I’m having a great time so far but I feel like I need a refresher!


Dried Tart Montmorency Cherries

Green tea


Australian band (now defunct) End of Fashion. One of my all-time favourite albums.



The Mind of a Chef

A documentary series narrated by Anthony Bourdain! The first season seems to star David Chang of Momofuku fame. I’ve only seen the first episode so far (it’s on Instant Netflix), and it’s pretty fun. Chang explored some famous tsukemen ramen (the ramen is served separately from the broth) stores in Japan, then did some cooking – he made instant ramen ‘gnocchi’ and cacio e pepe. Then Harold McGee discussed the alkalinity of noodles.

Last week…

I read:


Where’d you go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple

It was just such great fun a read. Like having a hot fudge sundae.


The Ghost Bride – Yangsze Choo

Review to come


I’ll be right there – Shin Kyung-sook

My thoughts on the book

What are you reading this week?

I’ll Be Right There by Shin Kyung-Sook


I spent many hours in a car recently, driving from the SF Bay Area to San Diego. And when I wasn’t doing my share of driving (boring brown, brown, brown and endlessly straight roads – occasionally interrupted by a dust cloud or two), I read. Ok sometimes I stared out the window and browsed the Internet. I had filled my Kindle and Nexus with e-books and e-magazines from the digital library. In the end I didn’t even open any of the magazines, but I concentrated on reading two books. I’ll Be Right There by Shin Kyung-Sook and Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Two very different books. Set in opposite sides of the world. One translated from the Korean, the other written in English. They provided a good balance though. For I’ll Be Right There is a poignant, affecting read that stole a bit of my heart every time I turned away from it. And Bernadette was a precious, light, fun read in between, unforgettable in its own way.

While I enjoyed the previous book of hers that I read, Please Look After Mother, I fell for I’ll Be Right There. And to emphasize how much I loved this book, I read it and read it and read it on the Overdrive app on my Nexus, screen glare, inability to highlight passages, bumpy ride in cars, kids making noise in the second row and all. It was that absorbing.

I’ll chicken out and give you the book synopsis from Goodreads:

Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.

Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.

Then again, I’m not sure if that’s the best way of introducing this book. Yes, there is political upheaval and student protests (South Korea had a difficult time in the 1980s), there is pain, both physical and emotional, loved ones lost, a repressive regime, that kind of thing. But there is friendship and love and the sweetest of devotion. And there is South Korea, etched out in walks taken by Jung Yoon:

“It was after dark when he guided us to a market street. There, people who slept by day and worked at night were rushing about. The market stalls stood shoulder to shoulder, divided by building and block, and I could not tell one place from another. The market was so dense with stalls that I could never have memorized all of their names. Dongdaemun Market, Gwangjang Market to the north, a wholesale market that sold only shoes, Dongdaemun Jonghap Market… The market stalls, all with ‘Dongdaemun’ in their names, looked like a maze, but Nak Sujang guided us forth easily like an explorer.”

And by the meals she enjoys with her friends and cousin:

“Rice, seaweed soup, grilled dried corvina, steamed egg, toasted dried laver, seasoned spinach, mung bean sprouts, and radish – all of the things he liked. The three of us ate together sometimes.”

This next bit might be a bit of a spoiler if you are interested in reading this book. It was something that hit me hard but don’t worry, I won’t give much detail.



Towards the end of the book, it comes to light that one of the characters was dealing with anorexia. It’s something that made me sit up and swear silently to myself. Just a few days earlier, on the day we left for our roadtrip, I woke to a message from my friend in Singapore saying that she had found out that someone we both knew had passed away from complications due to anorexia. I hadn’t heard her name in years but it was still a shock to learn of her death. While we weren’t close, she was someone I saw often at school, and it made me sad to think of how I hadn’t kept in touch with her since.

Perhaps those circumstances made this novel more meaningful to me.

Or perhaps it was Shin’s setting of a tumultuous time in South Korea, a time that’s not often written about, at least in the English language, is so very important and unique. It is, as Shin explains in an interview with The Guardian, a story about the missing:

“For my generation it seemed everyday – people picked up at demonstrations, detained, tortured, ‘disappeared’. Young men who led rallies died mysteriously during military service. My novel is a homage to those people.”

Or perhaps it was just good writing – the characters Shin brings to life, their lives and loves, their pain and suffering.


Kyung-sook Shin was born in 1963 and is part of the ‘386 generation’, a cohort of young Koreans who were particularly politically active in the democracy movement of the 1980s. Despite her political involvement, however, her works look inwards at her characters’ psychological wounds and difficulty in reconciling themselves to their present and future. Her novel Please Look After Mother has sold over two million copies in Korea and won the Man Asian Literary Prize, and is available in translation in English. The novel struck a chord in Korea; the story of a rural woman becoming lost in Seoul while attempting to visit her children in the city contains profound echoes of the anxiety in Korea over the recent shift from the traditional to the modern. Her other novels include I’ll be Right There, A Lone Room, The Strawberry Field, and Lee Jin. In 2011, Kyung-sook Shin taught at Columbia University in New York as a visiting scholar.


Works in translation
I’ll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014)
The Place Where the Harmonium Once Was Asia Publishers, 2012
Please Look After Mom (Vintage; Reprint edition, 2012)
A Lone Room
The Strawberry Field
A Lone Room: Published in Germany by Pendragon in 2001; in Japan by Shuei-sha in 2005; in China by China People’s Literature Press in 2006; in France by Philippe Picquier in 2008, recipient of the 2009 Prix de l’Inaperu; an excerpt published in the US in The Literary Review in 2007, recipient of the 2007 PEN Translation Fund Grant from PEN American Center;
The Sound of Bells: Published in China by Hwasung Press in 2004
The Strawberry Field: Published in China by Hwasung Press in 2005
Yi Jin: Published in France by Philippe Picquier in 2010

#Diversiverse: A More Diverse Universe 2014


Aarti at Booklust is hosting Diversiverse once again. I kept meaning to join last year! And then of course I didn’t. So I am going to try my very best to join this year. It’s not too difficult after all:

Read and review one book
Written by a person of color
During the last two weeks of September (September 14th – 27th)

I haven’t decided on my list of books just yet, but in case you’re looking for some reads by POC authors, here are some I’ve read and enjoyed recently:

Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie     
Ruby by Cynthia Bond     
The year she left us – Kathryn Ma
Ghost bride – Yangsze Choo (review to come)
I’ll be right there – Shin Kyung-Sook (review to come)
Everything I never told you – Celeste Ng
The Icarus Girl – Helen Oyeyemi
The pirate’s daughter – Margaret Cezair-Thompson

Also, check out my list of Southeast Asian books (books set in SEA or written by SEAsians) – although please note that not all of these books are by people of colour.
As Aarti emphasizes: You may have to change your book-finding habits to include POC authors in your reading rotation.  You absolutely do not need to change your book-reading habits. 

So why don’t you join in too?


Library Loot (August 14 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.


Wow the library sure was packed with little kids today. And we bumped into Wee Reader’s good friend. Of course 3-year-old boys being 3-year-old boys, they stared at each other and did their own thing.

Siege and Storm – Leigh Bardugo

Book 2 of the Grisha series. I must say that I really quite like the covers of this series.


Hunted across the True Sea, haunted by the lives she took on the Fold, Alina must try to make a life with Mal in an unfamiliar land. She finds starting new is not easy while keeping her identity as the Sun Summoner a secret. She can’t outrun her past or her destiny for long.

The Darkling has emerged from the Shadow Fold with a terrifying new power and a dangerous plan that will test the very boundaries of the natural world. With the help of a notorious privateer, Alina returns to the country she abandoned, determined to fight the forces gathering against Ravka. But as her power grows, Alina slips deeper into the Darkling’s game of forbidden magic, and farther away from Mal. Somehow, she will have to choose between her country, her power, and the love she always thought would guide her–or risk losing everything to the oncoming storm.

An e-book. Just one!

The Vacationers – Emma Straub

Grasping on to those last bits of summer here…



For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole.


The kids’ loot:



What did you get from your library this week?

Oaxaca Journal by Oliver Sacks


This is the fourth book in the National Geographic Directions series that I’ve read. If you haven’t seen any of these yet you’re in for a treat. Jamaica Kincaid writes about Nepal, Jan Morris about Wales, Louise Erdrich about books and islands in Ojibwe County, and here, neurologist Oliver Sacks writes about his journeys in Oaxaca.

And ferns.

Yup. Ferns.

For Sacks is a member of the American Fern Society (AFS), which has been around since the 1890s.

Most of the thirty people on the Oaxaca tour are members of the AFS.

They are quite a different breed of tourist.

“Luis – our tour guide for the next week – points out the innumerable churches and the confines of the old colonial city. No one pays the least attention.”

Instead they are scanning the roadside for ferns or the skies for birds.

Sacks writes a good travel journal. He throws in some facts about ferns and other plant life, but not too much that it would throw off those with black thumbs (i.e. me). For instance, his own fascination with ferns:

“Ferns delighted me with their curlicues, their croziers, their Victorian quality (not unlike the grilled antimacassars and lacy curtains in our house). But at a deeper level, they filled me with wonder because they were of such ancient origin. All of the coal that heated our home, my mother told me, was essentially composed of ferns or other primitive plants, greatly compressed, and one could sometimes find their fossils by splitting coal balls. Ferns had survived, with little change, for a third of a billion years. Other creatures, like dinosaurs, had done and gone, but ferns, seemingly so frail and vulnerable, had survived all the vicissitudes, all the extinctions the earth had known. My sense of a prehistoric world, of immense spans of time, was first simulated by ferns and fossil ferns.”

It intrigues me, this interest in ferns. A passion for a plant that leads them to hike and travel and observe.

I wonder what it would be like to have a love for plants. I so very admire people with green thumbs, who grow fruits and vegetables, whose gardens bloom with every shade of the rainbow. While I like to look at plants, I just don’t care very much for taking care of them. Insects and bugs and mud and all that (I know I know…).

So the idea of devoting a trip (and for many of Sack’s fellow fern-lovers, many other trips past and future) to plants is rather fascinating.

And it made for a fun read too.


PS: Martha Stewart talks ferns (and this book) with Oliver Sacks. Bonus: he brings along a resurrection fern

Weekend Cooking: San Diego!

Ah San Diego, I would move there if I could!

Instead I have to be content with the occasional roadtrip there.

This time, with a very fidgety 15-month-old and not very comfortable third-row seats, we decided to take our time, make our way to the outskirts of Los Angeles, stay one night there before heading down to San Diego. A one-day drive is possible, as it’s about a 7-hour drive (some of you are probably thinking, that’s all??), but that might have been the start of a seriously grumpy and grouchy holiday!

Anyway, we finally hit Carlsbad on Sunday and treated ourselves to a seafood lunch at Fish District.
We chowed down on fish and chips, shrimp po’ boy, portobello mushroom ‘fries’, roasted cauliflower, shrimp ceviche. It doesn’t make for a very pleasant photo as everything is kinda brownish and battered but it was yummy! And we got to have lunch with some friends we hadn’t seen in over a year!


And then a stop at the Carlsbad outlets to wander around until our hotel room would be ready. They had a Godiva store and I wandered in excitedly, anticipating a Godiva soft serve ice-cream. But their machine wasn’t working!! Argh! So I had to content myself with a box of dark chocolate truffles which included an rather delectable Aztec Spice truffle which had hints of cinnamon and chilli. Yum!





We had a decent dinner at Tommy V’s Urban Kitchen in Bressi Ranch, starting with this lovely charcuterie plate and a pretty good linguine vongole for me.


The next day was spent wandering in…. Legoland! It was hot and so very crowded. And the lines were so very long for some rides. It was hard to compare it with Disneyland, which is always so very immaculate. Legoland was showing some wear and tear – and in the case of the little ‘cruise’, cobwebs. As in real cobwebs, not Halloween-y cobwebs. I think Wee Reader had the most fun in the Duplo play area. It was a long day so dinner was back at the hotel. It was a Residence Inn so there was a salad, chicken tamales, beer and wine laid out for the hotel guests. It was enough for the day!




On Tuesday we went to Balboa Park. On hindsight we should have reversed our plans, going to Balboa Park on the first day and Legoland on the second. We didn’t realise that the first Tuesday of the month was free admission for San Diego County residents! The museums were PACKED! So packed they didn’t allow strollers into the museums and all the parking lots were full.

We did manage to visit the Air and Space Museum, which was fun for the kids and the adults too. There was plenty of aviation history, models, exhibits and even a children’s play area. The 4D shows here were pretty fun too, better than the Legoland ones!

The best part about Balboa Park is just wandering around the lovely buildings anyway.



20140809-085231-31951472.jpgWe ate dinner at King’s Fish House, not realising that it’s actually a large chain of restaurants. Still the food was pretty good, and I was surprised that there was some effort in my side of mixed vegetables (a kind of soy-ginger glaze) although my Mum said her lobster was a bit overcooked. Oops.

But those oysters were fantastic and so very fresh. Heavenly.



I almost forgot! One place I always have to go to when in San Diego is Cuban patisserie Azucar in Ocean Beach. I adore their tiramisu which uses chocolate cake drenched in rum instead of ladyfingers. The Diablo (described as “Dark chocolate cake, chocolate mousse dome, glazed in dark chocolate – finished with a cocoa nib tuile” is perfect for this chocolate lover, with lovely texture from the crunchy tuile on top). We also tried the Little Havana (top right – a soaked rum cake layered with dulce de leche), and the Mango Cheesecake (with a coconut shortbread crust) for the first time. Everything and I mean EVERYTHING was amazing. It made for a perfect ending to our short roadtrip.

I’ll see you soon San Diego, you can bet on it!


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


Ten Little Indians by Sherman Alexie


Sometimes you chance upon books by fate, others by the placement of library shelves.

My most often frequented shelves in the library, other than the children’s section, are the Hold shelves. I do a lot of book holds, which can be tricky as the library only allows TEN HOLDS! And it’s an Argh ARGH situation as I request books for myself and the more popular picture books for the kids.

But because the Holds shelves are located perpendicular to the ‘A’s and ‘B’s of the adult fiction shelves, I tend to scan those as I walk past. And this time, Sherman Alexie’s Ten Little Indians called out to me. I’m not sure why. It’s cover art isn’t exactly eye-catching. But I pulled it off the shelf anyway and opened the cover.

And there I saw this paperclipped note from Hilton Singapore. And I knew I was meant to borrow this book! Haha!


Alexie sure knew how to suck this reader into the first story, with a bookish college student named Corliss. She’s a reader, a lover of books.

“In the Washington State University library, her version of Sherwood Forest, Corliss walked the poetry stacks. She endured a contentious and passionate relationship with this library. The huge number of books confirmed how much magic she’d been denied for most of her life, and now she hungrily wanted to read every book on every shelf. An impossible task, to be sure, Herculean in its exaggeration, but Corliss wanted to read herself to death. She wanted to be buried in a coffin filled with used paperbacks.”

Sometimes when writers do this I want to yell, hey that’s cheating! How could you throw in a bookish book lover knowing that a bookish book lover would be reading this too? That just means that I cannot help but fall for this story. How could I not want to befriend, to hug a character who thinks such thoughts:

Corliss wondered what happens to a book that sits unread on a library shelf for thirty years. Can a book rightfully be called a book if it never gets read? If a tree falls in a forest and gets pulped to make paper for a book that never gets read, but there’s nobody there to read it, does it make a sound?

And this:

Corliss had never once considered the fate of library books. She’d never wondered how many books go unread. She loved books. How could she not worry about the unread? She felt like a disorganized scholar, an inconsiderate lover, an abusive mother, and a cowardly soldier.

Corliss is Spokane Indian and she comes across a book of poems written by a Spokane, someone she had never heard of and since “only three thousand other Spokanes of various Spokane-ness existed in the whole world” she didn’t understand how she had never heard of this fellow poetry-loving Spokane.

And she is determined to track him down. It’s a bit tricky because he doesn’t want to be found.

In another story, Do You Know Where I Am?, Alexie writes of a couple who have been together since college.

“We laughed and kissed and made love and read books in bed. We read through years of books, decades of books. There were never enough books for us. Read, partially read, and unread, our books filled the house, stacked on shelves and counters, piled into corners and closets. Our marriage became an eccentric and disorganised library. Whitman in the pantry! The Bronte sisters in the television room! Hardy on the front porch! Dickinson in the laundry room! We kept a battered copy of Native Son in the downstairs bathroom so our guests would have something valuable to read!”

Of course it’s not about their reading habits, not at all. But this passage was too cute. And the story was just so very sweet.

The other stories in Ten Little Indians aren’t really sweet but they were mostly good reads.



Books read in July 2014

I had an absolute blast in July. Probably because I had a birthday going on. And that meant seriously decadent chocolate cake. Because there is nothing better than a chocolate birthday cake. With chocolate ganache. Wee Reader loved it too, especially eating “the words” (he still talks today about “eating the words” on cakes, although I don’t actually put words on cakes I make!).

It was also a great month for reading.

I went behind the scenes at a New York restaurant kitchen, went fern-finding in Oaxaca, armchair-traveled to France, Italy, Laos, Poland, Texas, Ohio, Chicago, London, outer space, plus other made up worlds.

I started a new series (Leigh Bardugo’s The Grisha series), read book two of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles, book four of Colin Cotterill’s Dr Siri series.

And read some gorgeous debut novels: Ruby by Cynthia Bond, Everything I never told you by Celeste Ng. And some other new-to-me authors like Megan Abbott, Sarah Dunant, Anthony Doerr, Michael Gibney.

And a couple of brilliant short story collections. Anthony Doerr’s Memory Wall just blew me away, from the first story to the last. Usually when I read such collections, there might be one or two (or sometimes more) stories that don’t work for me, but Memory Wall was just such a wonderful read. The stories traversed the globe, China, Germany, South Africa, Lithuania, and the theme that tied them all together was memory and how it envelops our lives. Alexie’s Ten Little Indians had such great moments but there were a couple of stories that didn’t work so well for me. Still it was a pretty great read.

I am looking forward to August!

Last August I focused on Southeast Asian literature (see my list of books I’ve read and still hope to read here). And hopefully I will be able to do that again this year. August just sneaked up on me there! I guess I was enjoying July too much….







The Sea Garden – Deborah Lawrenson
Last Night at the Blue Angel – Rebecca Rotert
Ruby – Cynthia Bond
Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo
Birth of Venus – Sarah Dunant
Memory Wall – Anthony Doerr
Scarlet (Lunar Chronicles #2) – Marisa Meyer
Anarchy and Old Dogs (Dr Siri #4) – Colin Cotterill
The Fever – Megan Abbott
Everything I never told you – Celeste Ng
Barbary – Vonda McIntyre
Ten Little Indians – Sherman Alexie

Graphic novel
The facts in the case of the departure of Miss Finch – Neil Gaiman; Michael Zulli
Americus – MK Reed, Jonathan Hill
The Property – Rutu Modan

The Tea Reader: Living life one cup at a time- Katrina Avila Munichiello (ed)
Oaxaca Journal – Oliver Sacks
Sous chef – Michael Gibney (review to come)