My September 2017 reading is introduced to you by Russian Bear!
Sandhya Menon “When Dimple Met Rishi” [India, USA]
Agatha Christie “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd” (Hercule Poirot #4) [UK]
Lisa See “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” [USA]
Kameron Hurley “Tumbledown” [USA]
When Dimple Met Rishi
“Dimple Shah has it all figured out. With graduation behind her, she’s more than ready for a break from her family, from Mamma’s inexplicable obsession with her finding the “Ideal Indian Husband.” Ugh. Dimple knows they must respect her principles on some level, though. If they truly believed she needed a husband right now, they wouldn’t have paid for her to attend a summer program for aspiring web developers…right?
Rishi Patel is a hopeless romantic. So when his parents tell him that his future wife will be attending the same summer program as him—wherein he’ll have to woo her—he’s totally on board. Because as silly as it sounds to most people in his life, Rishi wants to be arranged, believes in the power of tradition, stability, and being a part of something much bigger than himself.
The Shahs and Patels didn’t mean to start turning the wheels on this “suggested arrangement” so early in their children’s lives, but when they noticed them both gravitate toward the same summer program, they figured, Why not?
Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works hard to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.”
Spoilers ahead. This book is about two Indian American teens falling in love while participating in a coding contest. It was a light read, and I'm very happy there are so many new young adult books with marginalized characters nowadays! But I cannot say I loved this book… Even though it's set during a summer camp coding contest and Dimple and Rishi are participating in it, there's not much coding, unfortunately, it's just a background, could be any other contest and you wouldn't even notice the difference. That was disappointing. The plot is mostly their romance, and that romance left me cold. I liked Rishi, he was cute and an artist! Also, he's a vegetarian, loves his parents, is religious, a cinnamon roll really. ^^ But Dimple? Let's look at her behaviour.
Dimple goes through Rishi's private things, takes pictures of his drawings that he chose not to show her. She even sends those drawings to an artist that Rishi likes, but earlier he chose to not do that! It was a hard decision for him, but that was his choice. She had no right to decide things like that for him. She pushes him to do things he's not comfortable with (like dancing in public) but when someone else pushes her friend Celia to do the same, she says it's very wrong. So it's okay if she does it but not for others. Also Dimple constantly punches Rishi in the ribs, he says “Ow” clearly showing he doesn't like it, it hurts, but she keeps doing it and eventually it seems he just accepts it.
Here's a quote:
Dimple punched him in the ribs, lighter than she wanted to, but he still winced. “Ow. You know, most girls just slap guys playfully on the arm or something. They don’t actually hurt them.”
“Well, maybe you need to expand your idea of how girls behave,” Dimple replied, grinning.
WHAT. You hurt someone and your reaction to his pain is that he should expand his ideas about what women are capable of? Not feeling sorry for him? Maybe some guilt, no? “Sorry I didn't meant to actually hurt you” or something like that? The problem isn't that you're hurting him but that he doesn't know girls?
At first Dimple seemed playful and passionate to me, but then I found her quite unpleasant in how she treats people. So although their romance was kinda cute in places I couldn't really enjoy it… I'm afraid Dimple will become a domestic abuser if she keeps going like that – no respect for boundaries; hurting someone and not feeling bad about it at all; punching the guy she claims to love in response to his innocent teasing or their minor disagreements (to what level will it escalate from here?); maybe gaslighting – she pushed him to do a dance with her for a talent show, he showed his lack of dancing abilities, she got actually angry he was a bad dancer and insisted he had said he was a good dancer (he didn't say anything like that! she said it! but now she's angry with him for something she imagined he said, and he kinda swallows it, like it's a ll fine). UGH. She even blames Rishi for losing the main prize, even though it's implied the guys who won managed that because of their connections, but she still thinks Rishi and their relationship distracted her (he was her partner, they worked together, he worked hard, too, but when they lose, her first thought is, is it because of Rishi?) She wants to control everything (choosing their app project, their dance, what Rishi can do with his own drawings and so on), to decide things for Rishi, and she shows him no respect. Where is the love in it? This is domination and control. “Do what I want and only what I want or else” doesn't sound very romantic to me.
If you don't find her behaviour uncomfortable to read about, I suggest you imagine she's a boy, and Rishi is a girl. Would the punching etc. still be okay? I love diversity in books, I want more young adult books by authors who aren't white and/or allocishet, and here is a YA romance by an Indian American author with Indian American protagonists, yay! But... I cannot recommend a book that plays into the double standard that when women are abusive or violent with men it's somehow funny, cute, or empowering. Punching someone so hard it hurts is violence, and it doesn't matter if you're a girl punching a boy or not. It's not somehow less bad, because “he can take it” or “women can't hit that hard, stop whining.” Dimple isn't passionate. She is mean.
A few quotes to finish it up:
Dimple gripped the edge of his desk. The corners of the room swam. Her voice came from a million galaxies away. “That's… that's how you dance?”
Rishi looked down at his body, as if to check something. “Yeah?”He looked back at her, confused.
Dimple clutched her head. “But you said-you said you were a good dancer!”
“I did not! I barely agreed that I was 'decent'!”
Dimple glared at him, her temper flaring. She spoke slowly, enunciating the words. “That. Was not. Anywhere near decent.”
Isn't it lovely how she pushed him to dance despite his discomfort and now she also insults him? Sweet romance, I'm melting.
Anger began to simmer in Dimple's veins, even though she knew she'd provoked him. “Are you calling me selfish?”
Rishi stood, his fingertips pressed against the table. “I'm calling you unkind. You're right; we're too different.”
I thought that this was going to be the end of them as a couple, alas I was wrong.
“Maybe we should just back out now.”
He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “No.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Did you just say 'no' to me?”
He looked sheepish. “No?”
That made her smile. For a second.
Run, Rishi, run.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
“In the village of King's Abbot, a widow's sudden suicide sparks rumors that she murdered her first husband, was being blackmailed, and was carrying on a secret affair with the wealthy Roger Ackroyd. The following evening, Ackroyd is murdered in his locked study--but not before receiving a letter identifying the widow's blackmailer. King's Abbot is crawling with suspects, including a nervous butler, Ackroyd's wayward stepson, and his sister-in-law, Mrs. Cecil Ackroyd, who has taken up residence in the victim's home. It's now up to the famous detective Hercule Poirot, who has retired to King's Abbot to garden, to solve the case of who killed Roger Ackroyd--a task in which he is aided by the village doctor and narrator, James Sheppard, and by Sheppard's ingenious sister, Caroline.
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the book that made Agatha Christie a household name and launched her career as a perennial bestseller. Originally published in 1926, it is a landmark in the mystery genre. It was in the vanguard of a new class of popular detective fiction that ushered in the modern era of mystery novels.”
Wow that twist! I'm so glad no one had spoiled it for me. People often assume “everyone” has read the classics and just spoil stuff carelessly, luckily I avoided that. This is one of those mystery novels with a large cast of suspects, so you spend the book feeling suspicious of most characters, hehe. It was fun.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
“In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.
As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.”
This was such a sad and lovely book… I'm definitely going to read more of Lisa See's historical novels. Beautifully written and immersive, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is a gem. It follows the lives of two women bound together as laotongs. This bound is described like this: “A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose–to have sons.”
From their vows to each other: “On this day, we, Miss Snow Flower and Miss Lily, have spoken true words. We swear a bond. For ten thousand li, we will be like two streams flowing into one river. For ten thousand years, we will be like two flowers in the same garden. Never a step apart, never a harsh word between us. We will be old sames until we die. Our hearts are glad.”
What their matchmaker says: “I am happy with this laotong match,” she announced. “Like a marriage between a man and woman, the kind ones go with kind ones, the pretty ones go with pretty ones, and the clever ones go with clever ones. But unlike marriage, this relationship should remain exclusive. No”—and here she allowed herself a small cackle—“concubines allowed. You understand my meaning, girls? This is a joining of two hearts that cannot be torn apart by distance, disagreement, loneliness, better marriage position, or by letting other girls—and later women—come between you.”
I've never read about a relationship like that, so this was super interesting. It seems very similar to a queerplatonic relationship. Another historical detail I loved was nu shu (nüshu), women's script. The heroines pass messages to each other written on a special fan. Also, I loved that one of them became a vegetarian out of compassion for animals during the course of the story. ^^
Although this book quite often got sad and dark in portraying the many struggles and losses they go through (including foot binding – there's a chapter focussed on it, so if you don't want the graphic details, you can skip that chapter), I am very glad I read it.
My October reading is introduced to you by Sunflower!
Ovidia Yu “The Frangipani Tree Mystery” [Singapore]
Marjorie Liu “ Monstress. Volume 2: The Blood” [USA]
Jaye Wells “Dirty Magic” [USA]
Xiaolu Guo “A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers” [China, UK]
Hiromi Kawakami “The Nakano Thrift Shop” (translated by Allison Markin Powell) [Japan]
Octavia Cade “The Mussel Eater” [New Zealand]
Aliette de Bodard “The Shipmaker (The Universe of Xuya)” [France]
The Frangipani Tree Mystery
“First in a delightfully charming crime series set in 1930s Singapore, introducing amateur sleuth SuLin, a local girl stepping in as governess for the Acting Governor of Singapore.
1936 in the Crown Colony of Singapore, and the British abdication crisis and rising Japanese threat seem very far away. When the Irish nanny looking after Acting Governor Palin's daughter dies suddenly - and in mysterious circumstances - mission school-educated local girl Su Lin - an aspiring journalist trying to escape an arranged marriage - is invited to take her place.
But then another murder at the residence occurs and it seems very likely that a killer is stalking the corridors of Government House. It now takes all SuLin's traditional skills and intelligence to help British-born Chief Inspector Thomas LeFroy solve the murders - and escape with her own life.”
Loved it! I haven't read that many historical novels in general, and historical mystery novels set in Asia even less so, so this book was really great to come across! Main character Su Lin is a disabled Singaporean woman, and I definitely want to read more crime novels with characters like that! There is another disabled character there too. I knew the author was queer, but still I was surprised when in the end one of the characters came out (they had reasons to hide their orientation, so there were no hints about it earlier). The book was interesting both as a mystery and as a historical novel.
A few quotes from the book:
“'These natives are so slow to grasp anything. I don't know why they can't learn to speak decent English!'
'Perhaps if we are so intelligent we should learn to speak Malayan,' Harry said.”
“Miss Nessa and the other teachers had been so determined not to let me see my limp as a handicap that they had refused to see it at all.”
“My grandmother told me that in the old days, when certain winds were needed to bring ships from certain ports, the different seasons brought different cargos as surely as the rains brought different crops. In those days, a rhythm and an order bound people to the earth and water they depended on, but with modern steam engines we had lost that connection.”
“Even the selfless ladies at the Mission, in teaching young girls to read and write English rather than themselves learning Chinese, Tamil or Malay, were strengthening their hold over us.”
“I had seen enough of Western courtship rituals to know European families did little to identify, research and arrange suitable marriages. Instead, to catch the attention of potential partners, Western males had to resort to shows of strength, aggression and virility, rather like wild boars in the mating season, and Western females had to decorate themselves and their homes, like bower birds.”
Monstress. Volume 2
“Maika Halfwolf is on the run from a coalition of forces determined to control or destroy the powerful Monstrum that lives beneath her skin. But Maika still has a mission of her own: to discover the secrets of her late mother, Moriko.
In this second volume of Monstress, collecting issues 7-12, Maika's quest takes her to the pirate-controlled city of Thyria and across the sea to the mysterious Isle of Bones. It is a journey that will force Maika to reevaluate her past, present, and future, and contemplate whether there's anyone, or anything, she can truly trust – including her own body.”
It was good, but I liked Volume 1 more. I'm not sure why, I think maybe this volume was slower-paced? But I'm not too disappointed, I will definitely read next volumes. ^^
“The last thing patrol cop Kate Prospero expected to find on her nightly rounds was a werewolf covered in the blood of his latest victim. But then, she also didn't expect that shooting him would land her in the crosshairs of a Magic Enforcement Agency task force, who wants to know why she killed their lead snitch.
The more Prospero learns about the dangerous new potion the MEA is investigating, the more she's convinced that earning a spot on their task force is the career break she's been wanting. But getting the assignment proves much easier than solving the case. Especially once the investigation reveals their lead suspect is the man she walked away from ten years earlier—on the same day she swore she'd never use dirty magic again.
Kate Prospero's about to learn the hard way that crossing a wizard will always get you burned, and that when it comes to magic, you should be never say never.”
Enjoyed this one a lot! It felt like I was watching a cool urban fantasy TV show. I loved the heroine, flawed but cool, tough and resourceful, and the rest of the cast was interesting too. There was action, magical spells, complicated family relationships. Will definitely continue reading this series because I want to spend more time with these characters and learn more about their world!
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers
“Language and love collide in this inventive novel of a young Chinese woman's journey to the West and her attempts to understand the language, and the man, she adores.
Zhuang – or “Z,” to tongue-tied foreigners – has come to London to study English, but finds herself adrift, trapped in a cycle of cultural gaffes and grammatical mishaps. Then she meets an Englishman who changes everything, leading her into a world of self-discovery. She soon realizes that, in the West, “love” does not always mean the same as in China, and that you can learn all the words in the English language and still not understand your lover. And as the novel progresses with steadily improving grammar and vocabulary, Z's evolving voice makes her quest for comprehension all the more poignant.
With sparkling wit, Xiaolu Guo has created an utterly original novel about identity and the cultural divide.”
I didn't expect to like it so much but I did! I usually prefer books with more action and speculative elements or crime, and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is none of the above, but it definitely charmed me. The love interest in this book is a bisexual man who is also a vegetarian, which was a pleasant surprise. ^^ The heroine's thoughts and observations about the differences between Chinese and English languages and cultures were very interesting!
Here are some quotes:
“English words made only from twenty-six characters? Are English a bit lazy or what? We have fifty thousand characters in Chinese.”
“Chinese, we not having grammar. We saying things simple way. No verb-change usage, no tense differences, no gender changes. We bosses of our language. But, English language is boss of English user.”
“I not understanding at all. What this ''tis', 'execut'st' and 'sett'st'? Shakespear can writing that, my spelling not too bad then.”
“But you never really ask me. You never really pay attention to my culture. You English once took over Hong Kong, so you probably heard of that we Chinese have 5,000 years of the greatest human civilisation ever existed in the world…Our Chinese invented paper so your Shakespeare can write two thousand years later. Our Chinese invented gunpowder for you English and Americans to bomb Iraq. And our Chinese invented compass for you English to sail and colonise the Asian and Africa.”
The Nakano Thrift Shop
“Objects for sale at the Nakano Thrift Shop appear as commonplace as the staff and customers that handle them. But like those same customers and staff, they hold many secrets. If examined carefully, they show the signs of innumerable extravagancies, of immeasurable pleasure and pain, and of the deep mysteries of the human heart.
Hitomi, the inexperienced young woman who works the register at Mr. Nakano's thrift shop, has fallen for her coworker, the oddly reserved Takeo. Unsure of how to attract his attention, she seeks advice from her employer's sister, Masayo, whose sentimental entanglements make her a somewhat unconventional guide. But thanks in part to Masayo, Hitomi will come to realize that love, desire, and intimacy require acceptance not only of idiosyncrasies but also of the delicate waltz between open and hidden secrets.
Animating each delicately rendered chapter in Kawakami's playful novel is Mr. Nakano himself, an original, entertaining, and enigmatic creation whose compulsive mannerisms, secretive love life, and impulsive behavior defy all expectations.”
Plotless and not interesting... There is a character who might be on the asexual spectrum, and the heroine keeps pushing herself on him, ugh. No means no, leave him alone.