Review: Authentic Recipes from the Philippines by Reynaldo Gamboa Alejandro, Luca Invernizzi Tettoni

I wasn’t entirely sure how to interpret Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge when they made one of the categories “a food book about a cuisine you haven’t tried before.” It could have meant a chef memoir or an informational text or a cookbook and I ended up doing a combo of the last two.

Authentic Recipes from the Philippines was a very thorough, engaging read. I learned a lot, like the fact that the Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands and they have been colonized by many, many countries. The book also takes the reader through the ways those colonizations have impacted the country’s culinary traditions and the influences that shaped the land and how that is echoed in the shaping of their national dishes. Some dishes were clearly more inspired by China, others by Spain, etc. There was a breakdown of the different common ingredients or flavors that are used in Filipino cooking and even the tools they traditionally use and the modern appliances that sometimes are used instead. I am planning on making something from the cookbook so keep an eye out for that post. I am the first to admit that I’m not an adventurous eater but I was definitely able to find a few that I’d like to try.

If you have any interest in Filipino cooking or culture, this is a good, quick, fairly comprehensive read.

Review: Texts From Jane Eyre by Daniel M. Lavery

I read Texts From Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters by Daniel M. Lavery (Goodreads needs to update his name on their site) to fulfill the Debut novel by an LGBT author category in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge.

I knew I was going to love this book because I have loved Ortberg’s works for years. For those of you who may not know them, they current write at The Shatner Chatner and co-founded The Toast. They also run the Dear Prudence advice column at Slate.

Reading Lavery’s works always make me so angry because I want what he has. He is a goddamn genius with words. He’s also brilliant and more well read than I shall ever be. He’s also hilarious. He’s the total writing package and it’s a package God could have delivered to me but did not and I will never be over it. Except for the fact that I get to read it so, at the end of the day, I cannot be too mad forever.

Or can I?

In any case, I loved this book. It’s what it says on the tin, a bunch of text conversations between various literary characters ranging as far back as literature itself goes up to more modern works. The pieces are quick and hilarious. Of the books I’ve read so far this year, this is the first I’ve known I need to get a physical copy for my home library. I may actually get it as a present for my boyfriend because I know he’ll love it as much as I did if not more because he actually did most of the assigned reading in college.

If you were an english major or have just read a lot of sparknotes of classic works or just appreciate funny things, please do yourself a favor and read this book and check out Lavery’s other works.

Review: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

Trigger Warning: Death of an animal, racism, hate crimes, death of children

For the “book about a natural disaster” category of the Book Riot Reading Challenge I read Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee.

The book is set in San Francisco in the year 1906. It follows 15-year-old Mercy Wong, a second generation Chinese American who lives with her parents and younger brother Jack. Mercy’s parents own a laundry business and she is determined to find a way to help them be more financially stable and to leave the business that is ruining her family’s health. She gets her break in the form of a businessman who agrees to sponsor her stay at a prestigious girl’s school in exchange for her securing business dealings for him in Chinatown. Despite seemingly insurmountable odds, Mercy is able to broker the deal and begins pursuing what she hopes will be a life changing education for her family. But being the only Chinese American in a school full of privileged, white girls and the unexpected catastrophe of an earthquake will push Mercy farther than she thought possible and force her to uncover hidden strength.

Lee does not shy away from depicting the racism faced by Chinese Americans in the early 20th century. It is a thread that follows Mercy through her experiences in the book. She also shows the sexism within and without her cultural community, allowing the reader to witness the many barriers Mercy faces in her quest to secure a stable future for her family. Mercy is given some allies in the school, but even they have their biases that they have to put aside or confront before they can be her friend. It’s important that readers, specifically YA readers as this book is marketed to, understand these barriers and are able to identify the many ways institutional racism still exists in our society.

I was surprised that I had to get almost halfway through the book before the natural disaster occurred. I’m happy, though, that the author gave us time to get a sense of Mercy’s life and relationships. The reader cares about her family and her friendships and her plans. And then everything is taken from her and the reader and Mercy have to pick through what’s left to determine what life will become when everything you’ve worked for feels irrelevant. The writing was poignant and well paced. Lee shows how horrible, traumatic events can bring people together who would never have associated before, but also how this will never be the case for some people. It’s important to recognize both of these things are true and that it isn’t as simple as The Human Race all being in it for each other when the chips are down. Allies and friends are important, but Mercy has to be cautious in who she trusts and that’s treated with the respect and understanding it deserves.

I almost cried a couple of times in the book. The writing is really good and even though multiple horrific and tragic things occur, Lee still manages to end the book on an upward note. Mercy has hope for her future and even with all of the challenges she will continue to face, both the reader and the protagonist know that she will find a way through. I would highly recommend the book to anyone interested in early 20th century American history, especially as it pertains to the treatment of Chinese immigrants and the barriers of sexism for women of all races with specific attention paid to the unique positions of non-white women facing sexism.

Review: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco

Trigger Warning: Child murder, torture, gruesome descriptions of violence, a mother attempts repeatedly to kill her child, mental institution setting, and repeated descriptions of corpse mutilation

Last week I completed the “retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color” category in the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge by reading The Girl from the Well by Chinese Filipino author Rin Chupeco.

Those who have watched either Ju-On or the American remake The Grudge will be familiar with the protagonist of this story, Okiku. Okiku is the vengeful spirit of a murdered young woman who now goes after murderers of children and kills them in gruesome ways. The iconic horror figure of the dead woman with long hair who makes creepy gurgling sounds is the reader’s POV throughout the novel. I’ve never read a young adult horror novel or a novel where the protagonist and viewpoint of the book is the ghoulish anti-hero. The author presents Okiku’s vicious acts, and her own feelings about her acts, as matter of fact without remorse. I love a remorseless anti-hero, particularly one who is seeking vengeance on behalf of herself and other victims of injustice.

The main plot surrounds Okiku’s interactions with a boy named Tark, his father, and his cousin Cassie. Tark and his father have moved to be closer to his mother who is a patient at a mental institution since she tried to murder the teenager. Okiku is drawn to Tark because she can tell there is another entity attached to him, something dark. As the secret behind Tark’s strange, sigil-like tattoos and what they’ve bound to him is revealed, Okiku and Cassie become Tark’s allies in saving himself and many others.

As I said earlier, this is the first book of its kind that I’ve read so it already has my interest and appreciation. I’ve read criticisms of the book not being scary but I don’t expect horror to be scary necessarily. It is horrifying, the actions described are graphic and haunting, but the figure that is doing most of these actions is one whose head you’re in so you understand the reasoning. I didn’t find the lack of scariness a bad thing by any means. It was a genuinely entertaining read and I was invested in the characters and how the issues would be resolved.

I am not a fan of the use of the mental institution in this story, but I’m torn about this as well. If someone tries to murder their child while screaming that they have to do it to save them and acting in delusional ways, they would probably be hospitalized. But the description of the hospital is very archaic asylum Ken Kesey-esque except even Ken Kesey acknowledged that mental illness doesn’t mean you’re always acting out in outrageous, spooky scary ways. In the brief tours we get of the mental hospital here every mentally ill person is a caricature of insanity. And I don’t say that meaning that the way characters behave aren’t ways that real people can behave with certain conditions, I just felt that Chupeco was relying a little too much on the stigma and stereotype of the mentally ill patient to do the grunt work of setting the scary tone. I also always grow a little wary of plotlines where the “insane” person is actually right and it’s the world that just doesn’t understand. It feels dangerous to me. The history of mental healthcare is, to say the least, fraught with issues and unjust hospitalizations and cruel, inhumane acts. But there are times a person needs to be hospitalized for their own safety. I don’t know you guys, it just didn’ts well with me. I know I have my personal biases and issues with this topic that others may not have. Also, Chupeco doesn’t really present Tark’s mother as someone who should be out of the hospital as she is clearly a danger to herself and others. So I have to give her that.

Overall, I would recommend this book to people who enjoy YA horror and aren’t troubled by descriptions of graphic violence or child murder/endangerment. It’s a compelling story and a new take on a classic figure in horror. I can’t speak to the accuracy or care of the setting or the belief system represented in Japan and would be interested in perspectives on this part of the book. I may pick up the second book in the series, The Suffering, but it won’t be for a bit because I do need a palate cleanser after this one.

Review: Goldie Vance Vol #1 by Hope Larson

Trucking right along with the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge I read Goldie Vance Vol #1 for the “Read a mystery where a woman isn’t the victim” category.

Goldie Vance is a biracial teenager in the 1960s who works and lives at a hotel with her father. Her on paper job is valet but she works as hard as she can freelancing to support the on-site detective, Walter, in solving various crimes. She is helped by her friend, a receptionist and aspiring astronaut, and other acquaintances around the hotel.

Goldie reminded me of a blend of Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown, which is high praise. She takes risks and makes understandable mistakes but also works hard to take responsibility for them and come back out on top. I also appreciated that while she is biracial at a time in history when we are more comfortable depicting the racial tension in our society, her race is never disparaged or treated with disgust. Nor are the many other characters of color in the series which I also appreciated. Too often representation is “handled” by throwing in one non-white person and calling it a victory. In this graphic novel, Goldie is surrounded by people of color and it is incredibly refreshing. I want to be very clear that this is not some gold star moment where the author deserves a cookie for making this choice. This is just an author who is finally giving readers a more accurate look at the racial makeup of society which has always been more colorful than works set in the past, even the near past, tend to depict.

I really enjoyed reading Goldie Vance and am excited to read more of the volumes which are already out. If you enjoy intrepid girl sleuths and unusual settings, like hotels in Florida in the 60s, please give this a read! Volume 1 is currently available to read with Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have Kindle Unlimited you can buy this graphic novel wherever graphic novels are sold.

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2020

Hey y’all,

If you have been with me since the start of this blog, you may remember that I took on the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge of 2019. You may have also noticed that I read about two books on that list and then it fell by the wayside. This has been my pattern with this challenge but I’m going to try yet again next year because even if I just read one book from these lists I am expanding my reading experience more than if I didn’t try.

You may have also noticed that I created a full syllabus for the Reading Embrace and ended up reading maybe a handful on there. But I am still going to do it again! Because I love making lists and that list still came in handy!

With all of that being said, here are the categories and my (tentative and open to editing) selections for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2020

  1. Read a YA nonfiction book: Witches! The Absolutely True Tale of Disaster in Salem by Rosalyn Schanzer
  2. Read a retelling of a classic of the canon, fairytale, or myth by an author of color: The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco
  3. Read a mystery where the victim(s) is not a woman: Goldie Vance by Hope Larson
  4. Read a graphic memoir: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
  5. Read a book about a natural disaster: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
  6. Read a play by an author of color and/or queer author: How I Learned To Drive by Paula Vogel
  7. Read a historical fiction novel not set in WWII: Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin
  8. Read an audiobook of poetry: Ronit & Jamil by Pamela L. Laskin
  9. Read the LAST book in a series: That Kind of Guy by Talia Hibbert
  10. Read a book that takes place in a rural setting: The Lost Man by Jane Harper
  11. Read a debut novel by a queer author: Texts From Jane Eyre by Daniel Mallory Ortberg
  12. Read a memoir by someone from a religious tradition (or lack of religious tradition) that is not your own: Casting Lots by Susan Silverman
  13. Read a food book about a cuisine you’ve never tried before: Israeli Soul by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook
  14. Read a romance starring a single parent: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
  15. Read a book about climate change: As the World Burns by Derrick Jensen & Stephanie McMillan
  16. Read a doorstopper (over 500 pages) published after 1950, written by a woman: The Lake House by Kate Morton
  17. Read a sci-fi/fantasy novella (under 120 pages): Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
  18. Read a picture book with a human main character from a marginalized community: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson
  19. Read a book by or about a refugee: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nyugen
  20. Read a middle grade book that doesn’t take place in the U.S. or the UK: Adventures with Waffles by Maria Parr, Trans. Guy Puzey
  21. Read a book with a main character or protagonist with a disability (fiction or non): The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley
  22. Read a horror book published by an indie press: Tomorrow’s Journal by Dominick Cancella (Cemetary Dance Publications)
  23. Read an edition of a literary magazine (digital or physical): Ploughshares
  24. Read a book in any genre by a Native, First Nations, or Indigenous author: New Poets of Native Nations edited by Heid E. Erdrich

Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2019

BRRHC 2019 Syllabus

An epistolary novel or collection of letters – Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher

An alternate history novel – The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead

A book by a woman and/or AOC (Author of Color) that won a literary award in 2018 – Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America, James Forman Jr.

A humor book – Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, Annie Spence

A book by a journalist or about journalism – A False Report: A True Story of Rape in America, T. Christian Miller

A book by an AOC set in or about space – Nigerians in Space, Deji Bryce Olukotun

An #ownvoices book set in Mexico or Central America – The Book of Unknown Americans, Cristina Henriquez

An #ownvoices book set in Oceania – A Long Way Home: A Memoir, Saroo Brierley

A book published prior to January 1, 2019, with fewer than 100 reviews on Goodreads – No Job For A Lady, Carol McCleary

A translated book written by and/or translated by a woman – Antigone by Sophokles, translated by Anne Carson

A book of manga – Vampire Hunter D, Hideyuki Kikuchi

A book in which an animal or inanimate object is a POV character – The Final Solution, Michael Chabon

A book by or about someone that identifies as neurodiverse – The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism, Naoki Higashida

A cozy mystery – Wicked Appetite, Janet Evanovich

A book of mythology or folklore – The Door in the Hedge, Robin McKinley

An historical romance by an AOC – Let Us Dream, Alyssa Cole

A business book – Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell

A novel by a trans or nonbinary author – Peter Darling, Austin Chant

A book of nonviolent true crime – Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger, Lee Israel

A book written in prison – De Profundis, Oscar Wilde

A comic by an LGBTQIA creator – Nimona, Noelle Stevenson

A children’s or middle grade book (not YA) that has won a diversity award since 2009 – Malala’s Magic Pencil, Malala Yousafzai

A self-published book – Frostfire, Amanda Hocking

A collection of poetry published since 2014 – Monument, Natasha Trethewey