April Reads

It’s been a weird month – but reading has definitely provided some much needed stability for me. Also . . . ya’ll . . . I thought it was Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (but that’s NEXT month, which make sense, since that’s when Asian Readathon starts) so I’ve also started reading in tune with the month’s celebration. In any case, with Asian Readathon starting next month, I expect to keep on this path for some time.

All photos courtesy of Goodreads

The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin

After many heartbeats, Han spoke. ‘We must have known each other in a former life. Fate keeps on bringing us together.’

‘We keep on meeting because you keep hunting me down,’ she said with a scowl

He lifted his head and gave her a look that bordered on fondness.

Short Description: Sword dancer Li Feng tiptoes too close to the law in her search for her mother, piquing the interest of the handsome thief-catcher Hao Han.

Critic Quote: “The language is marvellous. It’s lyrical and evocative, and just drew me in. Not a phrase sounds wrong, every image is adding to the richness of the text.” – Allaboutromance.com

My Verdict: Looking for something light-hearted, exciting, and romantic? Lin’s work fits the bill and I’m happy to have read her work.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. Van der Kolk

When people are compulsively and constantly pulled back into the past, to the last time they felt intense involvement and deep emotions, they suffer from a failure of imagination, a loss of the mental flexibility. Without imagination there is no hope, no chance to envision a better future, no place to go, no goal to reach.

Short Description: A well-researched and extensive study of how trauma impacts people’s physiology.

Critic Quote: “Van der Kolk’s book is informed by years of practice, research, speaking engagements, collaboration, and experiment, and is written in an easy-to-follow style . . .Van der Kolk’s 2014 book provides the reader with an excellent account of the effects of trauma.” – Journal of Loss and Trauma

My Verdict: Yes, this book is well-researched and accessible, but more than that, it’s written with evident empathy making it a wholly unique book – highly recommend.

See full review HERE

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

And, as the Migration spread the issue of race relations across the United States, forcing the entire country to face its centuries-old demons, it also helped inspire and pressure other racial regimes such as that of South Africa and, thus, was a gift to other parts of the world.

Short Description: A historical look at the history of the Great Migration, observed through the lives of three different individuals.

Critic Quote: “The Warmth of Other Suns shows how hope can get people through the most intense situations, but action is required to make them something more than a dream.” – The Guardian

My Verdict: WOW! Not only did I gain a deeper understanding of the Great Migration, but Wilkerson’s ability to make history vividly intimate and present is something to admire.

See full review HERE

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

Watching Dao, I thought of my father watching his own father being dragged out of his own home. I thought of Asians throughout history being dragged against their will, driven or chased out of their native homes, out of their adopted homes, out of their native country, out of their adopted country: ejected, evicted, exiled.

Short Description: Hong’s essays analyze the “minor feelings” of erasure, micro-aggressions, and historical trauma that plague Asian Americans, including herself.

Critic Quote: “But ultimately, Minor Feelings is a major reckoning, pulling no punches as the author uses her life’s flashpoints to give voice to a wider Asian American experience, one with cascading consequences.” – NPR

My Verdict: A great introduction to Asian American studies, providing a vast amount of insight in an arguably small number of pages.

Brute by Emily Skaja

from the wingbone of a vulture, I’ve made you a harp.

Short Description: A collection of poetry that takes a guttural, dark look at womanhood through nature-evocative imagery.

Critic Quote: “Skaja’s poems wrestle with conventional notions of female identity and repression of feeling and speech. They ask if a woman can be both object and agent; is it even possible to overcome our internalized baggage and reframe identity? . . . Her poetry takes risks and resonates with a strange beauty.” – Kenyon Review

My Verdict: I had a real blast reading these – there are some powerhouse poems and beautiful phrases sprinkled throughout this collection that make it worth a read.

I Hope We Choose Love: A Tran’s Girls Notes From the End of the World by Kai Cheng Thom

Is it more important to you for your child to have an easy, “normal” life or a fulfilling, liberated one?

Short Description: Kai Cheng Thom analyzes the highs and lows of social justice movements, specifically from an LGBTQ+ angle.

Critic Quote: “She is not prescriptive or dogmatic, but rather writes as if speaking to an old friend whom she loves and truly wishes the best.” – PRISM International

My Verdict: Short and well-presented, I’m glad to have read Thom’s essays (especially sections where she dissects disposability culture and celebrity praise), even if they didn’t always provide new insights.

A Girl Like Her by Talia Hibbert

Because allowing yourself to be manipulated by a man like Daniel wasn’t a crime, and you never deserved to be punished.

Short Description: Comic enthusiast Ruth Kabbah and military man Evan Miller fall for each other, learning to reopen past wounds through embracing their vulnerability as well as their self-worth.

Critic Quote:  “I found this book to be captivating and sweet and tender.” – Addictedtoromance.org

My Verdict Do you want a story about nice people falling in love? This story feature diverse, empathetic characters and is honestly a breath of fresh air in troubling times.

A Girl Goes Into The Forest by Peg Alford Pursell

Please put off dying until I no longer disappoint you.

Short Description: A collection of short stories that inspect the relationships of husbands and wives, children and parents, all while using lush, nature-inspired imagery to create a magical atmosphere for contemporary settings.

Critic Quote: ” Centering on the relentlessness of being female, these flash pieces vary in length from a single paragraph to a few pages. Pursell’s writing, lyric and compressed, delivers stories best read in stages, so as not to miss a single note. There’s a lot of urgency packed into these small spaces.” – Entropy Magazine

My Verdict: While not every story is memorable, the ones that are hit hard, with the overall mastery of language warranting a read.

See full review HERE

Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings

Discussion about racialized and gendered fat/slender bodies circulated largely in elite white spaces… They served as a mechanism for white men and women to denigrate the racially Othered body. They also worked to police and applaud the “correct” behaviors of other white people, especially White women.

Short Description: A thorough history of the history of western fat phobia and its basis in othering black women.

Critic Quote: “This fascinating and carefully constructed argument persuasively establishes a heretofore unexplored connection between racism and Western standards for body size, making it a worthy contribution to the social sciences.” – Publisher’s Weekly

My Verdict: Comprehensive, well-researched, and educational, this book is a must read for anyone – especially those who are new to casually reading academic texts.

Kim Jiyoung 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

How can you say something so backward in this day and age? Jiyoung, don’t stay out of trouble. Run wild! Run wild, you hear me?

Short Description: The story of a young woman’s life as she navigates work, love and family under a patriarchal set of expectations and limitations.

Critic Quote: ” The linearity of the account feels claustrophobic, with the case-study style objectifying Jiyoung and stripping her of her interiority. Cho’s formal excision of any sense of imaginative possibility is highly effective in creating an airless, unbearably dull world in which Jiyoung’s madness makes complete sense.” – The Guardian

My Verdict: Short but impactful, this book is a great introduction to learning about the modern troubles of South Korean women.

The Charm Buyers by Lillian Howan

A-tai sometimes talked about charms and magical talismans . . . how you had to keep a charm hidden so that its power could protect you . . . These were the stories I knew, tales of magic

Short Description: A young man from a wealthy Hakka family in Tahiti aspires to save his childhood love, facing dire consequences as a result.

Critic Quote: “Howan’s language is breathtaking, building a land and family with detail and power. The novel is full of characters, all related to one another in various ways, yet each person stands out for a different reason. Everyone feels real, and the conversations and other interactions between the characters are lifelike and believable.” – Foreward Review

My Verdict: A slow but satisfying bildungsroman, The Charm Buyers is for those who enjoyed The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, and The Veins of the Ocean by Patricia Engle.

Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

You see I thought love got easier over, the years so it didn’t hurt so bad when it hurt, or feel so good when it felt good. I thought it smoothed out and old people hardly noticed it. I thought it curled up and died, I guess. Now I saw it rear up like a whip and lash. She loved him. She was jealous. She mourned him like the dead. And he just smiled into the air, trapped in the seams of his mind.

Short Description: A sweeping tale covering the complicated and intertwined lives of the Kashpaws and Lamartine Chippewa families.

Critic Quote: “Erdrich’s storytelling strength comes from her sense of place as being of primary significance—how a landscape and its cultural and political history shapes its people.” – Book Riot

My Verdict: Each section (i.e. individual family member’s story) took some time to get into, but each person’s narrative proved to be emotional and well imagined.

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