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Review: ARSENIC AND ADOBO by Mia P. Manansala | Tita Rosie’s Kitchen Mystery #1

“In typical Filipino fashion, my aunt expressed her love not through words of encouragement or affectionate embraces, but through food. Food was how she communicated. Food was how she found her place in the world. When someone rejected her food, they were really rejecting her heart.” 

Have you ever been to a Filipino bakery? If you have, you know that they, not Disneyland, deserve to be named “The Happiest Place(s) on Earth” — the sweet smell of freshly-made pandesal, little towers of hopia, and bright splashes of purple in various ube desserts are almost unmatched in their ability to bring me comfort and joy. 

Despite ARSENIC AND ADOBO being a murder-mystery, with dead bodies and vicious attacks galore, Mia P. Mansala’s food writing was so evocative and immersive that the smell of a Filipino bakery never left my mind as I read. (I may have come to find out who committed the murder, but I left with a recipe for ube crinkle cookies.) I bring up Manansala’s food writing because it was one of my favorite aspects of this book — I had numerous issues with the plot and mystery itself, but the way she writes about dishes like almondigas and mamón was truly stunning, with entire lines dedicated to describing a food’s appearance, scent, texture, and taste.

This care and attention made clear that, to our protagonist, Lila Macapagal, Filipino food is more than just sustenance. Like for Michelle Zauner (Japanese Breakfast), the author of CRYING IN H MART, cultural food is a deep source of comfort to Lila — whether she’s making it herself or eating it, it’s practically its own language, grounding her and re-connecting her with her roots and flooding her with feelings of family, home, and safety.  

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Review: THINGS WE LOST TO THE WATER by Eric Nguyen

The last war was on a different shore, with different people, in a different country, and there’s no going back, back to that life. She realizes this now, but that doesn’t make it ache any less. In fact, the ache grows. It grows into two boys, and the two boys grow into two sons, and those two sons grow to look like their father, uncannily like their father in their moods, their movements, their voices, so that it’s always like she’s losing him again — to the world, to life, to fate.” 

It’s not a secret that the United States suffers from historical amnesia, or the ability to ignore or forget ugly aspects of its past, whether it be out of shame, pride, or fear.  

But of all the events Americans have forgotten (or refuse to remember), the Vietnam War particularly stings. Like in the 1953 Iranian Coup and the 1973 Chilean Coup, the U.S. had a direct hand in exacerbating the Vietnam War for its own political interests and is responsible for countless atrocities that occurred. What sets the Vietnam War apart from other U.S.-backed regime changes is that it also led to one of the worst refugee crises in modern world history, in which more than 3 million people undertook the dangerous journey of leaving their homes by boat, fleeing mass violence and ethnic cleansing. In total, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea during the Indochina Refugee Crisis.

That’s a lot of blood on a country’s hands to forget. 

In THINGS WE LOST TO THE WATER, Eric Nguyen refuses to contribute to this amnesia. He chooses instead to contend with the unpleasant truths about the complicated relationship many Vietnamese Americans have with the U.S., as well as what life in America was like for those who resettled here. By following several generations of an immigrant Vietnamese family who lands in New Orleans in 1979 and the different ways they experience America, Nguyen reminds us that the pain of the war is fresh, the wound still scabbed over, not yet fully healed. Even when the U.S. is able to be honest about the war and the role we played in changing the lives of millions in Southeast Asia, the trauma will still fade into a permanent scar. They are here because we were there.

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How to borrow library books with your Kindle

I own a Kindle Paperwhite. I love my Kindle Paperwhite. It allows me to be more sustainable with my reading habits, makes reading more convenient and transportable, and is overall the best Christmas gift I’ve ever received. Also, it’s very pretty.

However, I don’t love that buying from the Kindle store means that I’m buying from Amazon and thus helping to further line Jeff Bezos’ pockets. Until he pays his workers a living wage, cooperates in redistributing his wealth, and allows his employees to unionize, I want to spend as little money supporting him as possible.

Which is why it’s pretty fantastic that you can use your Kindle to borrow and place holds on e-books from your local library! It’s a very simple and quick process; all you need is a library card and Wi-Fi connection. Here’s how you do it:

Note: Unfortunately, as of April 2021, this is only available for libraries in the U.S.

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Books you should read during Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month + Asian Readathon 2021

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Month is only 5 days away, so I wanted to share my plans to participate in the Asian Readathon and recommend some of my favorite books written by AAPI authors — so if you’ve been planning to participate but have been unsure about what to read, this is the post for you. 

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Review: CRYING IN H MART by Michelle Zauner

“Am I even Korean anymore if there’s no one left to call and ask which brand of seaweed we used to buy?” 

I’m in my early 20s. I haven’t lived with my family full-time since I was 17 and moved to attend college in Northern California; even before then, starting when I was 15, I was traveling internationally for weeks at a time for competitions and spent my entire summers living away from home and working. I’ve been taking care of myself for a while now, and I consider myself to be a very independent person. 

I still call my mom every time I successfully recreate a dish she’s made for me hundreds of times, or whenever I don’t remember which brand of rice I should buy, or if I’m nostalgic for a certain food but can’t remember its name or English translation to save my life. She’s more than my anchor and best friend; she’s also the strongest link to my Korean heritage I have. She is visible in every one of my memories of celebrating Korean New Year; she delivered me to the jaws of Korean School every Sunday for 14 years; I think of her every time I eat seaweed soup away from home on my birthday. The emotional devastation I would face in the wake of losing her would include the pain of becoming a little more unmoored from my culture, an untethering I already experience as a second-generation Korean American living in a big city, no longer constantly surrounded by Korean people. 

All that to say: I cannot imagine losing my umma. I especially cannot imagine losing her at 25, the age when Michelle Zauner, popularly known as the musical artist Japanese Breakfast, lost hers. In CRYING IN H MART, Zauner confirms that the pain is as visceral and overwhelming as I imagined it would be, but she does so with warmth, tenderness, and vulnerability. Her love for her mother and mother country pours from the pages, and with this book, she builds on a goal she’s visibly had since the release of her 2016 album “Psychopomp” — to continuously pay homage to the person and culture who shaped her. 

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Review: SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS by Kawai Strong Washburn

“When our language,‘Ōlelo Hawai’i, was outlawed, so our gods went, so our prayers went, so ideas went, so the island went.”

My Goodreads review for SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS begins, “this is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read holy ****. CRIMINALLY underrated,” and I stand by this statement. This book is one of the best I’ve ever read, and it is criminally underrated. Its premise, one that draws from Hawaiian mythology and folklore, is irresistible, Washburn’s writing is dazzling, and the story follows some of the most complex and richly developed characters I’ve ever read. I felt much less obligated to write a review for this book than I felt compelled to; I’m just bursting to share all my favorite things about it and all the ways in which it’s remarkable. 

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Upcoming releases by Asian American authors that should be on your radar | May – December 2021

As Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month approaches, I really can’t wait to start celebrating the craft and work of Asian American authors. In light of the recent violence and racism targeting, harming, and even killing Asian Americans across the U.S., I think it’s vital that we take the month of May to support Asian writers’ art, creativity, and stories.

So, over the next few weeks, I’m going to be publishing content in preparation for AAPI Heritage Month, and I decided to start off by compiling a list of upcoming releases by Asian American authors for the rest of 2021. This is such a diverse selection of titles that I’m sure everyone will be able to find at least one book they’re interested in trying; personally, I was so excited by so many different books that my TBR list has grown into an absolutely monstrous pile. I hope you’re able to find something that excites you and that this post is helpful — happy browsing!

***You can access a book’s Goodreads page by clicking its cover image.

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Review: THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Imagine that your family has always had a generations-long feud with another family. Now, imagine that you have been raised to particularly hate a member of that family who is your age — the two of you have always competed academically and athletically, but have never actually spoken. But then one day, you do, and everything changes. You’re instantly attracted to each other, but are unable to speak on the phone or meet up in-person — the relationship is forbidden and must be kept secret. The two of you are left getting to know one another exclusively via snail mail.

Now, imagine these angsty letter-writing fantasies playing out during an intergalactic, transdimensional time war between two lethal women fighting for different, warring factions. 

This is the best way I can think to describe Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone’s strange, striking epistolary novel THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR. 

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Review: THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI by Akwaeke Emezi

According to Oxford Languages, a ghost story (n.) is “a story involving ghosts or ghostly circumstances, intended to be suspenseful or scary.”

We know from THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI’s title and opening sentence — “They burned down the market on the day that Vivek Oji died” — that Vivek Oji is dead, but we’re not told how or why. We spend much of the book trying to solve the mystery of his death, as well as the mystery of who he really was, alongside Kavita, his mother, and come to understand before she does. Her journey toward the truth, or as close as she’ll get to it, is charged with suspense. 

According to Oxford Languages, a ghost (n.) is “the soul or spirit of a dead person […] that can appear to, observe, or contact the living.” According to Collins English Dictionary, a ghost (n.) is “a returning or haunting memory or image.” 

Vivek speaks to us from the grave. He speaks of his life, his stories, those he loves. Those who loved him — his lover, his friends, his family — are haunted by their memories of him. 

And Vivek never met his beloved, well-respected grandmother, whose memory his parents never stopped being haunted by. They missed her terribly. She died on the day Vivek was born; when he entered the world as she exited it, his foot was marked by a starfish-shaped scar identical to the one she had on hers. Emezi tells us, “In Igbo spirituality, wherein the dead are reborn back into the family, this is a potential sign of reincarnation.” 

Whenever I think about THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI, I think of it as a ghost story. 

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