Tuesday, November 29, 2016

We Need Diverse Books - Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz

When I read about how movie and tv producers erase, replace, minimize Asian characters in their shows because they believe that viewers aren't interested in stories with a lead character who is Asian or played by an Asian, I wish that there was a way to show them that an audience does exist.   And that we're willing to pay to explore stories about the Asian experience.  Perhaps I'm being a bit touchy but I would love to spend my money on books and shows that have Asian characters at the center of the story, not just as a supporting character or love interest.

I remember the excitement and joy I felt when I first read Jean Kwok's Girl in Translation and decades ago when I'd read and watched Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club.  I read mysteries set in Southeast Asia and enjoy Ovidia Yu's sleuthing Aunty Lee.  I've read all of Kylie Chan's fantasy novels with the Celestial Gods in Hong Kong and China.  Occasionally, there will be a Filipino character who plays a supporting role but they're often a hardworking and loyal or good-looking and street smart  domestic helper or a former domestic helper turned mistress or second wife.

Something in Between by Melissa de la Cruz $18.99
ISBN 0373212380
  • Publisher: Harlequin Teen (October 4, 2016), 448 pages.

When Melissa de la Cruz spoke at the Boston Book Festival this October, she shared the story behind her latest book, Something in Between.  It's the first book published by Seventeen Magazine's book imprint and the publisher had contacted de la Cruz to ask if she'd be interested in writing a story that dealt with immigration issues.  It's a subject that impacts millions of undocumented aliens and US citizens. It's a complex, volatile subject and we're living in a time of scarce resources and jobs.  This particular election has gotten many loud voices screaming - both those for and against more immigrants and refugees, for and against giving the undocumented a path to citizenship and the same rights as those who stayed and worked through legal channels.

In Something in Between, Melissa de la Cruz introduces us to a compelling and simpatico Filipino lead character.  The story is told from the perspective of a young Filipino and her experience as the head cheerleader, valedictorian, student council head and scholar.  While Jasmine's  parents are still very Filipino and her two younger brothers seem more American than Filipino, Jasmine thinks of herself as something in between.  I enjoyed how de la Cruz wove in parts of the Philippine experience and culture but also showed that their experience is also the American experience.

The immigration issues are just one part of the plot. The love story of Jasmine and Royce takes up just as much time and weight.  Royce is the son of a wealthy congressman and opponent of immigration reform, but despite their superficial differences, it is clear that Jasmine and Royce share something special.  Jasmine sometimes feels like an outsider and uncertain with her boyfriend's family's wealth (and their Filipino maid), but she grows more comfortable both with them and with herself.  Royce proves comfortable with Jasmine's loud, crazy, close family and friends.  

Being first generation Filipino, I appreciated and welcomed the many references to Filipino culture and food. Jasmine came across as authentic.  Something in Between is a delightful read on its own, but with the added spice of Filipino culture and perspective of an undocumented family, I highly recommend it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

TLC Book Tour: Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

  • ISBN-10: 0062359983 - Hardcover $22.99
  • Publisher: Amistad; 1St Edition edition (August 9, 2016), 192 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and TLC Book Tours.

The blurb:
Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything -- until it wasn't anymore.  For August and her girls, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant -- a part of a future that belonged to them.

But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared.  A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion.

Like Louise Meriweather's Daddy Was a Number Runner and Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, Jacqueline Woodson's Another Brooklyn heartbreakingly illuminates a formative time when childhood gives way to adulthood -- the promise and peril of growing up -- and exquisitely renders a powerful indelible, and fleeting friendship that united four young lives.

I'd read Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming and was interested in her first adult novel in years. In Another Brooklyn, Woodson tells the story of August, an African American anthropologist in her 30s who returns to Brooklyn after her father's death. She'd been distant from her younger brother and had lost touch with her childhood friends but this trip gives her the chance to reunite with them.

As August remembers what it was like to move from Tennessee to Brooklyn with her father and younger brother. She and her brother are constantly thinking of their mother, remembering her moments of disorientation and how frightening it had been for them when their mother continued conversations with their dead uncle.  August tells us about her early days in Brooklyn, when they were confined to their small rental apartment and forbidden to leave the stoop, the sense of freedom as they were gradually given permission to walk to the corner of their street, to visit the local bodega, to become comfortable in their streets.  There are stories of white flight, of the addicts and the drunks, of the dangers on the Brooklyn streets as well as turning on the hydrants and playing in the streets on hot summer days.  Woodson tells us of the loss of inherited lands due to tax liens, of death during the Vietnam War and the pain and uncertainty that mental illness brings to a family. 

August tells us about the friendship that develops with other eleven-year-old girls in their public school.  August shares what it felt like to be an outsider and of the sudden warmth and glow of becoming part of their small clique of four, and of the things that filled their days and of the dangers that hid in shared apartments, of carrying razorblades to feel safe, of the burden of carrying their parents' dreams as their own.

Woodson's writing is lyrical.  It reminds me of Sandra Cisternos' The House on Mango Street. In Another Brooklyn, stories of double Dutch and jacks, of ice-cream and games, of danger and loss, mental illness and pain, of growing up and of friendships, of blackouts, rioting, theft, and of the changing demographics of the neighborhood are all told in a straightforward and powerful way.  

About the Author:
Jacqueline Woodson's awards include 3 Newbery Honors, a Coretta Scott King Award and 3 Coretta Scott King Honors, 2 National Book Awards, a Margaret A. Edwards Award and an ALAN Award -- both for Lifetime Achievement in YA Literature. She is the author of more than 2 dozen books for children and young adults and lives with her family in Brooklyn, New York.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Celebrating Shakespeare with a giveaway of Worlds Elsewhere by Andrew Dickson

April 23, 2016 marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.  All over the world, people are celebrating Shakespeare's writing and his short life.   They estimate that he was 52 years old when he died on April 23, 1616.  (See his NY Times obituary.)

If you're reading this post, it's likely that you have your own favorite Shakespeare moment - a play or sonnet that spoke to you and speaks to you still.  When we were young, living and studying in the Philippines, my mother, brothers, and I would compare favorite sonnets and speeches from Shakespeare.  Watching the free Shakespeare in the Park at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park was  one of the experiences that marked New York City and helped me fall in love with the city.

I'm fortunate that Henry Holt and Company is sponsoring a giveaway of Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys around Shakespeare's Globe.  In Worlds Elsewhere, Andrew Dickson writes about how Shakespeare's stories and writing have spread all over the world and have flourished for more than 400 years.  

Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys around Shakespeare's Globe by Andrew Dickson
  • ISBN-10: 0805097341 - Hardcover $35.00
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (April 5, 2016), 512 pages.

The blurb:
Ranging ambitiously across four continents and four hundred years, Worlds Elsewhere is an eye-opening account of how Shakespeare went global.  Seizing inspiration from the playwright's own fascination with travel, foreignness, and distant worlds -- worlds Shakespeare never himself explored -- Andrew Dickson takes us on an extraordinary journey: from Hamlet performed by English actors tramping through the Baltic states in the early 1600s to the skyscrapers of 21st century Beijing and Shanghai, where "Shashibiya" survived Mao's Cultural Revolution to become a revered Chinese author.

En route, Dickson traces Nazi Germany's strange love affair with , and attempted nationalization of, the Bard, and delves into the history of Bollywood, where Shakespearian stories helped give birth to Indian cinema.  In Johannesburg, we discover how Shakespeare was enlisted in the fight to end apartheid.  In 19th century California, we encounter shoestring performances of Richard III and Othello in the dusty mining camps and saloon bars of the Gold Rush.

No other writer's work has been performed, translated, adapted, and altered in such a remarkable variety of cultures and languages.  Both a cultural history and a literary travelogue, Worlds Elsewhere is an attempt to understand how Shakespeare has become an international phenomenon he is -- and why.

About the Author:
Andrew Dickson was raised in Yorkshire and studied at Cambridge.  He is currently an honorary fellow at Birkbeck, University of London, was a visiting fellow at University of Warwick, and has contributed to The New Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare.  Formerly an arts editor at The Guardian in London, he continues to write regularly for the paper and has also written for The New Yorker online and the New Statesman.  He makes regular appearances on BBC radio and TV as a presenter and review and blogs at worldelsewhere.com

To enter the giveaway, just comment below.  I'd love to read about your favorite Shakespeare play or sonnet, or story made modern.  One entry per person. Limited to the US.  Winners will be chosen on Saturday, May 7, 2016.

This year, BAM and the Royal Shakespeare Company are presenting Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II and Henry V until May 1.  Tickets are still available for most showings. We weren't allowed to take photos of the stage, all I have to share is this one from intermission.  Try to catch one of the performances if you can!

BAM's collaboration with the Royal Shakespearean Company, 2016. 
King & Country (Richard II, Henry IV Parts I & II, & Henry V)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Shelter by Jung Yun

Shelter by Jung Yun
  • ISBN-10: 1250075610 - Hardcover $26.00
  • Publisher: Picador (March 15, 2016), 336 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future. 
A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage―private tutors, expensive hobbies―but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child? 
As Shelter veers swiftly toward its startling conclusion, Jung Yun leads us through dark and violent territory, where, unexpectedly, the Chos discover hope. Shelter is a masterfully crafted debut novel that asks what it means to provide for one's family and, in answer, delivers a story as riveting as it is profound.

It's hard to break down the many reasons why I like this book and recommend it to anyone. Although Shelter tells the story of young Korean American professor Kyung Cho and his American wife, it's largely a story of the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his wealthy parents.  Kyung's parents immigrated from Korea to the US as his father went to graduate school in Engineering.  His father Jin wasn't a popular professor but he was hardworking and brilliant in his field - the patents that he created have been successful and give millions to the school each year.  His mother was much younger and had been vulnerable to his father's moods and abuse.  While Jin never physically abused his son, Mae tended to beat Kyung after having been beaten herself.  

Much of Kyung's  current relationship with his parents is tainted by his desire to vent his anger and resentment for the years of childhood abuse.  Kyung keeps his wife and son away from his parents, refusing their gifts and offers of trips to their home and beach house, avoiding contact as much as possible.  Kyung does enough to appear to be a respectful son, but his parents are painfully aware of his dislike and desire to keep away. 

When his family suffers a brutal and devastating attack, Kyung is forced to care for his parents.  He has to get over their family history and his temper in order to move forward, it's uncertain whether he can move beyond his past.

Jung Yun tells the story of the Cho family, including the complicated relationship that Kyung has with his American wife Gillian and his in-laws.  We learn how Kyung and the Chos are in relation to the Korean minister who relies heavily on Jin's donations.  Yun tells a difficult story in a clear, direct way but with sympathy for the characters.  While I would get frustrated and annoyed at Kyung Cho, I could picture the family dynamics and appreciate that Shelter gives us a rare glimpse into a Korean point of view.  Part family drama and part detective mystery, Shelter delivers an engrossing read.   

About the Author:
Jung Yun is the author of the novel, SHELTER (Picador, March 2016). Previously, her work has appeared in Tin House, The Best of Tin House: Stories, and The Massachusetts Review.  You can follow Jung at @JungYun71 on Twitter or Instagram, and see what she's been reading at Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/author/show/14054951.Jung_Yun). For more information on local readings and events, please visit www.jungyun.info.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

After You by Jojo Moyes

After You by Jojo Moyes
  • ISBN-10: 0525426590 - Hardcover $368 pages $26.95
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books; First edition (September 29, 2015), 368 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

The blurb:
“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”
How do you move on after losing the person you loved? How do you build a life worth living?
Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.
Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations, and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong, capable Sam Fielding—the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future. . . .
For Lou Clark, life after Will Traynor means learning to fall in love again, with all the risks that brings. But here Jojo Moyes gives us two families, as real as our own, whose joys and sorrows will touch you deeply, and where both changes and surprises await.

Though I'd read and heard a lot about Jojo Moyes' writing and that she  consistently delivers a satisfying read.  I'd expected to enjoy After You and had kept it for when I was looking for a light, escapist read. So when I'd started it last night, I hadn't expected to stay up all night reading about Louisa Clark and her journey away from her grief.

After You is largely set in London and follows the story of Louisa Clark who in the earlier novel Me Before You had fallen in love with Will Traynor (former Master of the Universe who was quadriplegic).  We find Louisa coping badly with Will's suicide, she has been trying to keep her head above water, but hasn't been able to connect with her family or friends.  A night of drinking leads to an near deadly accident and Louisa Clark's family surrounds her when she wakes up in the hospital.  

As Louisa slowly wades back into her world, a teenage girl shows up on her doorstep, claiming to be the daughter of her deceased Will Traynor.  The young girl is moody, rude, obnoxious, and badly needs a friend.  Against her better judgement, Louisa opens up her life to this young girl.  Their difficult interactions force Louisa out of her old ways.

Louisa also begins to fall in love again.  I haven't read Me Before You, so I can't compare the love stories, but I did enjoy reading about Louisa and her new love.

About the Author:
Jojo Moyes is the New York Times bestselling author of Me Before YouOne Plus OneThe Girl You Left BehindThe Last Letter from Your LoverSilver BayThe Ship of Brides and Honeymoon in Paris.  She lives with her husband and three children on a farm in Essex, England.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
  • ISBN-10: 0553535641 Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (April 5, 2016), 336 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
 Everything about Jessie is wrong. At least, that’s what it feels like during her first week of junior year at her new ultra-intimidating prep school in Los Angeles. Just when she’s thinking about hightailing it back to Chicago, she gets an email from a person calling themselves Somebody/Nobody (SN for short), offering to help her navigate the wilds of Wood Valley High School. Is it an elaborate hoax? Or can she rely on SN for some much-needed help?

It’s been barely two years since her mother’s death, and because her father eloped with a woman he met online, Jessie has been forced to move across the country to live with her stepmonster and her pretentious teenage son.

In a leap of faith—or an act of complete desperation—Jessie begins to rely on SN, and SN quickly becomes her lifeline and closest ally. Jessie can’t help wanting to meet SN in person. But are some mysteries better left unsolved?

Jessie's mother died of cancer recently, which changed everything.  But Jessie's life is uprooted when her father returns to Chicago with the announcement that he's eloped and that they're moving to Los Angeles.  Jessie is a junior in an expensive, competitive private school. The only other person she knows is her stepbrother who doesn't talk to her.  

Jesse somehow attracts the attention of two of the popular, bitchy girls in her class.  So, it seems as though the only people that do talk to her give her attitude and negativity.  Until she gets a message from Someone Nobody ("SN") that gives her advice on how to navigate the murky waters of Wood Valley High School and becomes the first real friend she has in Los Angeles.  But SN refuses to meet her and though she opens up to him/her, it could be a massive prank.

Jesse bounces back from the move, and using SN's advice does find friends to spend time with.  As Jesse makes her home in Wood Valley High School, things start to come together. She finds a job, stands up for herself, draws the attention of several guys that she could like.  Are any of these boys SN? How and when will she know?  And will meeting SN in person change things for the better?

Julie Buxbaum's writing takes a fun idea and turns Tell Me Three Things into a book that you'll want to read straight through and share with friends. It's honest, funny, and draws you in.  It reminds you of the good and bad bits of high school and the best parts of friendship.

About the Author:
1. Julie Buxbaum is the author of the critically acclaimed The Opposite of Love and After You, and the soon to be released YA novel Tell Me Three Things and her work has been translated into twenty-five languages.  
2. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two young children, and an immortal goldfish, and once received an anonymous email which inspired her YA debut.
3. You can visit Julie online at www.juliebuxbaum.com and follow @juliebux on Twitter where she doesn't list everything in groups of three.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Not if I See You First by Eric Lindstrom

Not if I See You First by Eric Windstorm
  • ISBN-10: 0316259853 - Hardcover
  • Publisher: Poppy (December 1, 2015), 320 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Netgalley.

The blurb:
The Rules:

Don't deceive me. Ever. Especially using my blindness. Especially in public.

Don't help me unless I ask. Otherwise you're just getting in my way or bothering me.

Don't be weird. Seriously, other than having my eyes closed all the time, I'm just like you only smarter. 

Parker Grant doesn't need 20/20 vision to see right through you. That's why she created the Rules: Don't treat her any differently just because she's blind, and never take advantage. There will be no second chances. Just ask Scott Kilpatrick, the boy who broke her heart.

When Scott suddenly reappears in her life after being gone for years, Parker knows there's only one way to react-shun him so hard it hurts. She has enough on her mind already, like trying out for the track team (that's right, her eyes don't work but her legs still do), doling out tough-love advice to her painfully naive classmates, and giving herself gold stars for every day she hasn't cried since her dad's death three months ago. But avoiding her past quickly proves impossible, and the more Parker learns about what really happened--both with Scott, and her dad--the more she starts to question if things are always as they seem. Maybe, just maybe, some Rules are meant to be broken.

I enjoyed Not if I See You First much more than I'd expected.  Parker Grant can be obnoxious, harsh, difficult and self-centered but she's a fighter.  When she was 7 she lost her mother and her sight.  At sixteen, her father died and her life was turned upside down.  Her aunt, uncle and two cousins have moved into her house and she's borne up well considering. 

She still gets herself to a nearby field to run every morning before school.  Being blind doesn't dictate her life, even if she does have some very strict rules about how other people can and should behave around her and respond to her blindness.  Parker holds onto these Rules tightly and deviations or violations are treated with utmost harshness.  Her best friend Scott was crossed out of her life when they were thirteen and though it seems that she hasn't looked back, she starts to rethink their friendship when Scott moves to her high school their junior year.

Not if I See You First is a story about friendship, loyalty, and learning to make sense of the most awful situations.  It's told by a cheeky, funny, bitchy, likable sixteen-year-old and will likely keep you up all night reading. 

About the Author:
Eric Lindstrom is a BAFTA and WGA-nominated veteran of the interactive entertainment industry. Not if I See You First is his debut novel. Eric invites you to find him online at ericlindstrombooks.com and on Twitter @Eric_Lindstrom.