I often find it tricky to review memoirs and personal essay collections. It’s embarrassing, almost, to judge what you know is someone else’s personal experience and not feel like you’re either being too cruel or too soft. I didn’t know Michelle Zauner or her music — she records under the name Japanese Breakfast — before I read this memoir. My friend was a fan, and told me about theThe New Yorker essay that inspired the book and served as its first chapter, but I went in woefully ignorant, half assuming this would be a companion piece to an album that I wouldn’t fully grasp. What I came away with was one of my favourite reads of the year, and a vivid example of what a great memoir looks like, how it works, how it feels.Continue reading “Review: ‘Crying in H Mart’ by Michelle Zauner”
In Conversation with R.F. Kuang
This interview first appeared in The Teeming Mass in Spring 2020
My Zoom call with the award-winning fantasy writer R.F. Kuang starts not with discussions of her formidable list of writing credentials but on much more common ground — exams. “At this point, I really just need to pass like, I’m into Yale,” says Kuang wryly, clad in a hoodie, “I’m very much feeling like a second semester senior. But I also feel pathologically unable to turn in bad work.” But despite her academic footing, she laughs when I ask her why she chose fantasy as her genre when her trilogy is so preoccupied with Chinese politics and history.
“I could give a cool academic answer, like, ‘fantasy and fabulism is a refracting prism for reality; and the metaphor of opium, something that was such a symbol of weakness in Chinese history, turned into a device of power for Chinese resistance, to me speaks of the potential of fantasy as a genre’. But that’s not true […] I think all I thought was fantasy is really cool. And I enjoyed reading it a lot. I was also influenced by like Chinese Wuxia novels, TV shows and manga […] So when I sat down to start writing it just seemed like the obvious format for the story wanted to tell.”Continue reading “In Conversation with R.F. Kuang”
Review: ‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry
As soon as I read the synopsis for Emily Henry’s follow up to her wonderful adult romance bestseller Beach Read, I had the certain premonition I would fall in love with it. And call me psychic, because I was absolutely right.
The beauty of Beach Read lay in large part with Henry’s writing voice. There was a real warmth undercut with bittersweetness that made the characters and their central love story come to life in a deeply intimate and immersive way. People We Meet on Vacation takes that narrative voice and applies it to a story that I felt so deeply connected to, it was the bookish equivalent of love at first sight.Continue reading “Review: ‘People We Meet on Vacation’ by Emily Henry”
The 2020 Reading Wrap-Up
Well, well, well. We’ve screamed, we’ve cried, we’ve languished aimlessly around our homes in existential misery. But at long last, we’re here, merely hours away from the end of this decade of a year that has been 2020.
Since it’s been something of a transformative year for my reading, and also because this is my blog and I do what I want, this won’t be a straightforward “Best and Worst Reads.” Instead, I want to reflect not just on what I read, but on how I read. So grab a cup of tea or something stronger, and join me as I look back on a very unusual year in books.Continue reading “The 2020 Reading Wrap-Up”
Tales As Old As Time: Book Recommendations for Fairytale Lovers (That Aren’t Retellings)
As those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram may know, there’s nothing I love so much as fairytales. Folklore, legends, myths, fairy stories — all of these are my bread and butter. I did a special paper and a dissertation on them in my final year of University because I couldn’t get enough of them. I find them so magical and entrancing, and exploring storytelling is one of my favourite ways to learn about and engage with different cultures.
To that end, I love reading books whose inspiration are rooted in fairytales and myths. Bringing the atmosphere and aesthetic of fairytales to life with engaging stories and fleshed out characters are the recipe for books that intoxicate me from the start, and I’m completely enraptured by them. There are countless fairytale retellings out there, many of them wonderful and among my favourite books. But there are so many many of them out there that I could dedicate a hundred other posts to recommending those (and knowing me, I probably will). Also, I talk about retellings a lot, because like I said — I love them! But these recommendations are books that I adore which I don’t talk about as much. They’re gorgeously atmospheric and utterly spellbinding, and must-reads for any fellow fairy tale lovers out there.Continue reading “Tales As Old As Time: Book Recommendations for Fairytale Lovers (That Aren’t Retellings)”
Review: ‘The Bookweaver’s Daughter’ by Malavika Kannan
When I came across the description for Malavika Kannan’s debut, The Bookweaver’s Daughter, requesting an ARC was a no-brainer for me. Described as a YA fantasy inspired by the mythology of India, it called out to my love of the genre and my constant search for Indian representation in literature. Not only that, but the book’s synopsis said the story took place in a land called ‘Kasmira,’ which I was certain was based on Kashmir.
A personal note — I’m Kashmiri on my Dad’s side of the family, and I had yet to read a YA novel set in or inspired by Kashmir (if I remember correctly, the only book I’ve read at all set in the region is Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children). So I went into this book excited, hoping to love it. Unfortunately, I didn’t.Continue reading “Review: ‘The Bookweaver’s Daughter’ by Malavika Kannan”
Review: ‘All Stirred Up’ by Brianne Moore
The thing with marketing a novel as a retelling is that you’re inviting comparisons to the source material. In the case of successful retellings, this is a great thing — books that can get to the heart of their inspiration and reinvent them are bound to delight readers who are fans of the original work and of the retelling alike. One of the most popular sources for retellings is Jane Austen, whose oeuvre has been mined for everything from zombie movies to Bollywood to Twilight. When done well. Austen retellings become classics in their own right — think Bridget Jones’ Diary or Clueless — but when done poorly, they suffer all the more for having such a beloved source material to pale before.
I was excited going into All Stirred Up because it’s marketed as a retelling of Persuasion, one of my favourite of Austen’s novels. Persuasion, perhaps the original “exes to lovers” angst fest, is fully of enough yearning, pining, and repression to provide excellent fodder to any love story and my friends and I have always searched obsessively for retellings that capitalise on this.Continue reading “Review: ‘All Stirred Up’ by Brianne Moore”
Review: ‘The Burning God’ by R.F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang had a tall order on her hands when it came to the task of writing the hotly anticipated conclusion to The Poppy War trilogy — both its predecessors met with rave reviews and drummed up a passionate fanbase; the consensus was already that Kuang’s second book, The Dragon Republic blew the already beloved first installment, The Poppy War, out of the water. Expectations were sky-high, fans were bouncing off the walls trying to come up with theories about the fates of Rin, Nezha, and Kitay, and the pressure could not have been higher. But because this is R.F. Kuang, and her books only go from strength to strength, she knocks it completely out of the park.Continue reading “Review: ‘The Burning God’ by R.F. Kuang”
Review: ‘These Violent Delights’ by Chloe Gong
So here’s the thing — I love Romeo and Juliet. Like, I really love Romeo and Juliet. Having done a degree in English Literature, I’ve read a fair amount of Shakespeare, and I will stand by Romeo and Juliet as my favourite of his tragedies, if not his plays overall. I know that it’s considered too “mainstream” by a lot of more academic folks, and that the internet is full of hot takes about how it’s actually a stupid story about stupid teenagers doing stupid things, and I’m the type of person who gets irrationally overprotective in response, ready to trot out a whole “in defense of” presentation at a moment’s notice. Zeffirelli and Luhrmann’s film adaptations, West Side Story, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, High School Musical — I’ve seen all the adaptations. My point is, I love this play. And what’s immediately clear, reading These Violent Delights is that Chloe Gong loves it too.Continue reading “Review: ‘These Violent Delights’ by Chloe Gong”
Review: ‘The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue’ by V.E. Schwab
The upcoming novel by V.E. Schwab tells the story of a girl, Adeline ‘Addie’ La Rue, who, during her youth in 18th century France, makes a deal with the Devil — she receives eternal life, but with the caveat that no one she meets will ever remember her. No one, until one day, in modern New York, she meets a boy who does. The story has something of The Age of Adaline, the flavour of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, aesthetic similarities to Erin Morgenstern’s The Starless Sea. But mostly, it is something entirely new, and profoundly special.
Schwab is a prolific fantasy writer, and readers familiar with her œuvre of work will know some of her narrative trademarks — complicated characters, intricate systems of magic and the underlying appeal of the ‘dark side’. But by her own admission, The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue “probably has more ‘me’ in it than anything else I’ve written”. And this sense of intense intimacy and vulnerability is suffused throughout the entire book. Beyond feeling like the author is exposing herself to you, you feel as though it is something you have lived or are living, the complicated, at times agonising sensation that your deepest desires and fears — ones rooted so deeply that you were perhaps unaware you even have them — are unspooling on the pages in front of you.Continue reading “Review: ‘The Invisible Life of Addie La Rue’ by V.E. Schwab”