mini-review · stuff I read

Sigh, Gone: A Misfit’s Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In by Phuc Tran

45046838Summary from Goodreads:
For anyone who has ever felt like they don’t belong, Sigh, Gone shares an irreverent, funny, and moving tale of displacement and assimilation woven together with poignant themes from beloved works of classic literature.

In 1975, during the fall of Saigon, Phuc Tran immigrates to America along with his family. By sheer chance they land in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, a small town where the Trans struggle to assimilate into their new life. In this coming-of-age memoir told through the themes of great books such as The Metamorphosis, The Scarlet Letter, The Iliad, and more, Tran navigates the push and pull of finding and accepting himself despite the challenges of immigration, feelings of isolation, and teenage rebellion, all while attempting to meet the rigid expectations set by his immigrant parents.

Appealing to fans of coming-of-age memoirs such as Fresh Off the Boat, Running with Scissors, or tales of assimilation like Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Displaced and The Refugees, Sigh, Gone explores one man’s bewildering experiences of abuse, racism, and tragedy and reveals redemption and connection in books and punk rock. Against the hairspray-and-synthesizer backdrop of the ‘80s, he finds solace and kinship in the wisdom of classic literature, and in the subculture of punk rock, he finds affirmation and echoes of his disaffection. In his journey for self-discovery Tran ultimately finds refuge and inspiration in the art that shapes—and ultimately saves—him.

Sigh, Gone is a solid memoir about how punk music, skate culture, and books helped an immigrant kid from Viet Nam find community in Pennsylvania. It is a little bit hard to read in places since Tran does recount instances of terrifying physical abuse from adults in his family. I also wish he’d gone a bit further in the book and added his college years, since I thought that would have been interesting to see how his reading “curriculum” changed.

Fun fact: I own two editions of The Lifetime Reading Plan, the original and an updated edition edited by Fadiman’s daughter.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #2)

39338454._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Khai Diep has no feelings. Well, he feels irritation when people move his things or contentment when ledgers balance down to the penny, but not big, important emotions—like grief. And love. He thinks he’s defective. His family knows better—that his autism means he just processes emotions differently. When he steadfastly avoids relationships, his mother takes matters into her own hands and returns to Vietnam to find him the perfect bride.

As a mixed-race girl living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City, Esme Tran has always felt out of place. When the opportunity arises to come to America and meet a potential husband, she can’t turn it down, thinking this could be the break her family needs. Seducing Khai, however, doesn’t go as planned. Esme’s lessons in love seem to be working…but only on herself. She’s hopelessly smitten with a man who’s convinced he can never return her affection.

With Esme’s time in the United States dwindling, Khai is forced to understand he’s been wrong all along. And there’s more than one way to love.

It’s taken multiple attempts to get through The Bride Test. It was very hard to get past how Khai, who has autism spectrum disorder, is treated by his family – as someone who needs to be “fixed” (I think his brother Quan and cousin Michael, who was the hero of The Kiss Quotient, might be the only two close family members who don’t treat Khai like that). And the way his mom decides to “fix” him is to get him a bride from Vietnam. It’s really, really awkward and not in a good way. I liked Khai and Esme a lot as characters, particularly how Esme is so determined to get herself and her daughter a better life, but a lot of the stuff around them was hard to read.

Dear FTC: I had a galley but it expired so I had to buy a copy.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #2)

44148565Summary from Goodreads:
In Alisha Rai’s second novel in her Modern Love series, a live-tweet event goes viral for a camera-shy ex-model, shoving her into the spotlight—and into the arms of the bodyguard she’d been pining for.

OMG! Wouldn’t it be adorable if he’s her soulmate???

I don’t see any wedding rings [eyes emoji]

Breaking: #CafeBae and #CuteCafeGirl went to the bathroom AT THE SAME TIME!!!

One minute, Katrina King’s enjoying an innocent conversation with a hot guy at a coffee shop; the next, a stranger has live-tweeted the entire episode with a romantic meet-cute spin and #CafeBae is the new hashtag-du-jour. The problem? Katrina craves a low-profile life, and going viral threatens the peaceful world she’s painstakingly built. Besides, #CafeBae isn’t the man she’s hungry for…

He’s got a [peach emoji] to die for.

With the internet on the hunt for the identity of #CuteCafeGirl, Jas Singh, bodyguard, friend, and possessor of the most beautiful eyebrows Katrina’s ever seen, comes to the rescue and whisks her away to his family’s home. Alone in a remote setting with the object of her affections? It’s a recipe for romance. But after a long dating dry spell, Katrina isn’t sure she can trust her instincts when it comes to love—even if Jas’ every look says he wants to be more than just her bodyguard…

Welcome to The Bodyguard: Extreme Pining Edition.

Seriously, this book needs a Whitney Houston soundtrack.

Girl Gone Viral is a very (very) slow-burn romance with much mutual pining between a woman with severe anxiety/panic disorder (with maybe a little agoraphobia/PTSD) and her bodyguard/head of security (who is ex-military and definitely has PTSD). So much pining. All the pining – and that possibly awkward she’s-been-his-boss-for-years thing. Kat and Jas are two of the nicest, sweetest cinnamon-rolliest people (even though Jas could probably break you in half) who totally deserve each other. What I really liked in this book is that Rai gave them each some personal issues that couldn’t be solved by talking about their feelings and tackling the #cafebae issue. Kat has an awful, awful dad while an incident from Jas’s military past comes back to haunt him. That makes their romance very true-to-life. You don’t get to deal with one issue at a time, you have to juggle it all at once, the good and the bad.

Now, if you’ve read a lot of Rai’s previous books, Girl Gone Viral has a much lower “steam” level by comparison. No sexytimes until about 60% through the book and even those are much less in-depth, shall we say. It fits with Kat and Jas, though. They’re sweet and thoughtful and very private characters. They are not Livy and Nicholas from Hate to Want You, secretly hooking up once a year for ten years and having raw, can’t-get-you-out-of-my-system sex, or even Jackson and Sadia from Wrong to Need You who are also “extreme pining edition” but real dirty-talkers. If you like shagging early and often in your romances, be prepared this one’s going to be mild.

Girl Gone Viral is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Park Hong

52845775._SX318_SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A ruthlessly honest, emotionally charged exploration of the psychological condition of being Asian American, by an award-winning poet and essayist

Asian Americans inhabit a purgatorial status: neither white enough nor black enough, unmentioned in most conversations about racial identity. In the popular imagination, Asian Americans are all high-achieving professionals. But in reality, this is the most economically divided group in the country, a tenuous alliance of people with roots from South Asia to East Asia to the Pacific Islands, from tech millionaires to service industry laborers. How do we speak honestly about the Asian American condition—if such a thing exists?

Poet and essayist Cathy Park Hong fearlessly and provocatively confronts this thorny subject, blending memoir, cultural criticism, and history to expose the truth of racialized consciousness in America. Binding these essays together is Hong’s theory of “minor feelings.” As the daughter of Korean immigrants, Cathy Park Hong grew up steeped in shame, suspicion, and melancholy. She would later understand that these “minor feelings” occur when American optimism contradicts your own reality—when you believe the lies you’re told about your own racial identity.

With sly humor and a poet’s searching mind, Hong uses her own story as a portal into a deeper examination of racial consciousness in America today. This intimate and devastating book traces her relationship to the English language, to shame and depression, to poetry and artmaking, and to family and female friendship. A radically honest work of art, Minor Feelings forms a portrait of one Asian American psyche—and of a writer’s search to both uncover and speak the truth.

I had Minor Feelings on my list of 2020 to-reads but when I saw Alexander Chee raving about it I bumped it up my reading queue. He’d never steer anyone wrong.

Hong’s book is a thought-provoking and provocative collection of essays concentrating on the lived experience of being Asian-American in America. Hong is a Korean-American poet, so much of her life experience centers around being a child of successful Korean immigrants in a majority-white neighborhood and education system (Hong attended Oberlin for her undergrad). Those experiences are her jumping off point to examine microaggressions, language, the pressures of being the “good” immigrants, expectations of gratitude, and a beautiful, haunting essay that walks the line of biography and true crime about artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, an author and artist who was murdered in the early 1980s.

A must-read for 2020.

 

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets, and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong

44600621Summary from Goodreads:
Ali Wong’s heartfelt and hilarious letters to her daughters (the two she put to work while they were still in utero), covering everything they need to know in life, like the unpleasant details of dating, how to be a working mom in a male-dominated profession, and how she trapped their dad.

In her hit Netflix comedy special Baby Cobra, an eight-month pregnant Ali Wong resonated so heavily that she became a popular Halloween costume. Wong told the world her remarkably unfiltered thoughts on marriage, sex, Asian culture, working women, and why you never see new mom comics on stage but you sure see plenty of new dads.

The sharp insights and humor are even more personal in this completely original collection. She shares the wisdom she’s learned from a life in comedy and reveals stories from her life off stage, including the brutal singles life in New York (i.e. the inevitable confrontation with erectile dysfunction), reconnecting with her roots (and drinking snake blood) in Vietnam, tales of being a wild child growing up in San Francisco, and parenting war stories. Though addressed to her daughters, Ali Wong’s letters are absurdly funny, surprisingly moving, and enlightening (and disgusting) for all.

I did snort-laugh many times while reading. If you like Ali Wong’s stand-up, Dear Girls continues a lot of jokes and themes from her specials. She does a lot of raunch humor about body fluids and sex but also about the grossness of pregnancy and motherhood that kind of gets swept under the rug. The format of letters to her daughters is a little odd since they’re quite small now but it does make some of the pieces endearing. The letters about visiting Vietnam and learning more about her Chinese (father) and Vietnamese (mother) heritage were lovely.

I didn’t quite get the necessity of the Afterword from her husband; it was nice, but tonally weird. There is also a joke that occurs late in one of the last chapters which perpetuates the stereotype of multiple personality disorder and violence which is very 😬😬😬.

Dear Girls is out October 15.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

41880609Summary from Goodreads:
Poet Ocean Vuong’s debut novel is a shattering portrait of a family, a first love, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born — a history whose epicenter is rooted in Vietnam — and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known, all of it leading to an unforgettable revelation. At once a witness to the fraught yet undeniable love between a single mother and her son, it is also a brutally honest exploration of race, class, and masculinity. Asking questions central to our American moment, immersed as we are in addiction, violence, and trauma, but undergirded by compassion and tenderness, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is as much about the power of telling one’s own story as it is about the obliterating silence of not being heard.

With stunning urgency and grace, Ocean Vuong writes of people caught between disparate worlds, and asks how we heal and rescue one another without forsaking who we are. The question of how to survive, and how to make of it a kind of joy, powers the most important debut novel of many years.

Would you like to be slowly, tenderly, and exquisitely murdered by a novel? If yes, read On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong. If no, read it anyway.

This debut novel is a beautiful extended letter from a son to a mother who may not ever choose or be able to read it. Little Dog’s narrative is damn near plotless but reveals very slowly, like attempting to peel off a Band-Aid, so many traumas and scars left by war, racism, homophobia, poverty, mental illness, and addiction. We get vignettes of Little Dog’s grandmother Lan raising a biracial child, of Little Dog witnessing his mother abused by his father, of Lan lost in a haze of PTSD and schizophrenia, of Little Dog’s mother working herself to the bone as a manicurist, and of Little Dog himself as he deals with racism from other children and homophobia from his first lover, a boy named Trevor who is also a victim of the growing opioid crisis.

If you liked Alexander Chee’s writing, particularly Edinburgh, you will love Vuong’s writing.

Dear FTC: I had to buy a copy of this book because I was savoring it too much to merely just read a digital galley.

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (A Noodle Shop Mystery #1)

37535130Summary from Goodreads:
Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead—after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy—to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out—it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

I was building up a TBR of books to read on vacation and I was interested in a cozy mystery. Vivien Chen’s new series was recommended by a friend, so I picked up book 1 on my Nook.

Death by Dumpling is a sweet and funny cozy mystery set in a Chinese-American shopping center in central Ohio with a nosy protagonist (Lana Lee) who works at her family’s Chinese restaurant and inadvertently ends up delivering the murder weapon: shrimp dumplings (the victim had a known shellfish allergy, which the whole restaurant knew about, gasp!). There’s also a spunky roommate (this gal had grown up Harriet the Spy written all over her), a pushy mom, a lovable dad, way too many plausible suspects (I do love me a good Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders episode), and a cute pug named Kikko. And a cute, gruff detective who really wants Lana to mind her own business and tell him the truth. A little predictable and some of the characterizations were thin but a really fun read. I’ll probably check out book two to at least see where the relationship with the detective goes.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (The Kiss Quotient #1)

36577586._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A heartwarming and refreshing debut novel that proves one thing: there’s not enough data in the world to predict what will make your heart tick.

Stella Lane thinks math is the only thing that unites the universe. She comes up with algorithms to predict customer purchases–a job that has given her more money than she knows what to do with, and way less experience in the dating department than the average thirty-year-old.

It doesn’t help that Stella has Asperger’s and French kissing reminds her of a shark getting its teeth cleaned by pilot fish. Her conclusion: she needs lots of practice–with a professional. Which is why she hires escort Michael Phan. The Vietnamese and Swedish stunner can’t afford to turn down Stella’s offer, and agrees to help her check off all the boxes on her lesson plan–from foreplay to more-than-missionary position…

Before long, Stella not only learns to appreciate his kisses, but crave all of the other things he’s making her feel. Their no-nonsense partnership starts making a strange kind of sense. And the pattern that emerges will convince Stella that love is the best kind of logic…

I started The Kiss Quotient last year right after it came out but managed to misplace the book. (Oh noes.) Well, I found it again and restarted it and finished today. Yay!

This was a fun read. Reverse Pretty Woman plot = yes! I particularly loved Michael’s interactions with his mom and sisters. Stella was an interesting character, I really liked how she decided to attack her “relationship problem” with logic, particularly since she also has to attack the problem of internalized ableism regarding her autism spectrum disorder. Disorder? Tendencies? It isn’t quite labeled in the book but it’s also pretty clear that Stella’s facility with numbers, her particular preference for how clothes feel, etc. that she is on the spectrum. The author has also been diagnosed with ASD as an adult so I think there are many parts of Stella that come from her experience.

(Tiny spoiler: Michael’s rotten dad NEVER shows up so if returning Prodigal parents are not a thing you like then you are spared.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.