Review: Soy Sauce For Beginners

I read Kirstin Chen’s novel Soy Sauce for Beginners back in May but reviewed it for you!

May was a travel heavy month with Book Expo America and all. I received a copy through the Amazon Prime Kindle First program, but ending up purchasing the audiobook at a really good price. The audiobook worked out perfectly with my busy travel schedule.

Tip: If you buy ebooks via Amazon, they offer you a deal on the audiobook version of it. You can search for your Kindle books and audiobook matches on the website. Sometimes I find matches for only $1.99.

Alright, back to my review of Soy Sauce for Beginners read by Nancy Wu.

As an Asian American, I’m partial to soy sauce and that’s why the I picked up the book. Running away from her failed marriage, Gretchen Lin flees San Francisco and returns to her childhood home in Singapore. To keep busy, she temps at Lin’s Soy Sauce, a company that her grandfather started.  She learns that her mother is sicker than she let on. The steadfast company has been rocked by a scandal, thanks to her cousin Cal.

Soon she finds herself embroiled in family and business politics. Returning home didn’t provide her with the stability she needed. As she navigates the delicate balance between her life in the United States and family loyalty, Gretchen discovers more about herself than she expected.

The book started off slow for me, but I’m glad I powered on. Nancy Wu’s voice was just soothing enough so Gretchen didn’t come off so whiny. As far as privileges go, Gretchen had great opportunities. Her family had money. She attended an Ivy League college and her friends were part of the Singapore elite (with parties to match).

What I enjoyed most about the book was the way Chen handled the nuances between that oh so common filial piety in Asian families without turning it into a trope. There’s also a non-traditional push and pull between Gretchen and her mother about her career choices.

As a bonus, I learned a lot about how soy sauce is made. I’m feeling inspired to look for a bottle of high end soy sauce to add to my pantry.

I’m glad to see diverse books like Soy Sauce for Beginners where the plotline isn’t driven by race or culture.

You should check it out!

Review: The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

I’m still in a book rut, but I did finish The Master Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg last week. It’s the perfect ending to her The Paper Magician trilogy.

In The Master Magician, Ceony is up for her final exam to become a certified Master Magician. Because of her close relationship with her teacher Emery Thane, she’s sent to another Paper Magician for her test to avoid any possible nepotism. As she prepares for her test, she learns that a murderous dark arts magician she helped capture in The Glass Magician has escaped prison. The last time she spoke with the rogue magician, he threatened her family. Ceony decides to be proactive and hunt him down–instead of waiting for him to attack her.

I devoured the first two books in the series, but had a tough time getting back into Holmberg’s world at first. This was mostly my fault as I’m in a book rut and it’s been a while since I read previous books. Once I warmed up, I loved every second of it.

While each book in the series could be read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading them in order. The third book is fairly light on the world building, but if you’ve read the previous two, you won’t need to fill in the blanks as much.  Ceony is a heroine that’s tough and innovative–never a bad thing in fantasy books.

If you’re looking for a fun series to read, you can’t go wrong with The Paper Magician trilogy.

Summer Reading: 30 Second Book Reviews

Summer is half over and I have neglected you all, my readers. Mostly because I’ve been traveling and working on other projects.

The other reason is that some of the books I’ve read lately have been “Meh.” They weren’t bad, but they weren’t good enough to recommend. My book choices have veered towards women’s fiction and romance this summer because I needed some escapist reading.

For better or worse, here’s my 30-second review of the books I’ve read this summer:

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor: I raved about Okorafor’s The Book of Phoenix last month and Who Fears Death is a page turner I plan on rereading. A sci-fi fantasy where a young woman is destined to save her people and change the world as everyone knows it. Grade: A+, Highly recommended.

Eat, Play, Lust by Tawna Fenske: A fun, fast read that’s full hot sex between a chef and a yoga instructor. The Kindle version is only 99cents so you can’t go wrong with this beach read. Plus if you read the book via your mobile device, no one will know what you’re reading! Grade: B+

Hazzard Blue by Tabitha Lane: The first 50 pages or so were promising: confident, sexy heroine meets equally sexy roguish guy and sparks fly. The set up was great, but then too many crazy things got thrown into the mix in order to tie up loose ends in the plot. Grade: C-

The Coincidence of Coconut Cake by Amy A. Reichert: A romance blossoms between Milwaukee native Chef Lou and Al, the stuffy British food critic whose review has ruined Lou’s restaurant (unbeknownst to her). It has a You’ve Got Mail feel to it, but without the chemistry or witty banter. Grade: C

With July almost halfway gone, let’s hope I have a little more time to read!

What are some winners you’ve read this summer?

Review: The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon

The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon
The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon

PSA: Crying in public is highly likely when reading this book.

I’ve been doing quite a bit of traveling recently, which meant I had plenty of time for reading! On my flight back home last week, pulled up The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon on my Kindle. It was a fun read that powered me through multiple flight delays. If you’re looking for a summer or beach read, this is it.

On the surface Iris has the perfect life. She’s dedicated her life to her husband and their three children, but still manages to juggle her work as a literary agent. That is, until her husband requests a divorce. Reeling from the shock, she flees back to her parents’ lake home in idyllic New Hampshire. Instead of taking the time to figure out her broken marriage, responsible Iris becomes overshadowed by her flighty, yet charismatic younger sister Leah. Again. In the midst of dress fittings and working on her mother’s organic farm stand, Iris finds a new love, discovers Leah’s secret, and tackles her imperfect life head-on.

The Lake Season by Hannah McKinnon

At first I found Iris really whiny and annoying, but I warmed up to her quickly. She’s been raised with the unrelenting pressure of being the responsible sibling in light of her Leah’s escapades. Even as adults, Iris is still cleaning up after Leah. Sibling rivalry is tough (says me, the older sister). However, as a mother, I totally relate to Iris and the struggle to follow our personal dreams versus taking care of our children. McKinnon creates a very compelling character that I wanted so desperately to find happiness.

I totally cried when I read The Lake Season. While my plane was landing. I probably freaked out my fellow passengers. I’m not normally a crier when I read, so that’s my PSA for you.

Add The Lake Season to your summer reading list. You won’t be disappointed. And grab some tissues.



17 Sci-Fi Fantasy Books by Diverse Authors

17 Sci-Fi Fantasy Books by Diverse Authors via From Left to Write

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17 Sci-Fi Fantasy Books by Diverse Authors via From Left to Write

Last week at BookCon (the book conference for readers immediately following Book Expo America), I discovered a new to me list of sci-fi fantasy books! We Need Diverse Books presented the panel In Our World and Beyond, whose panelists discussed everything from the politics of science fiction to the importance of different points of views in these genres.

A point that resonated with me (and I wholly believe this) is that writing diverse characters in stories NOT about diversity needs to be the next movement.

Sci-fi fantasy books cemented my love of reading back in middle school. While I don’t read this genre as often as I used to, I don’t love it any less. After sitting through this panel discussion, I have lots of new sci-fi fantasy books added to my TBR list.

WNDB Sci-Fi Fantasy Panel at BookCon 2015

L-R: Miranda Paul, Daniel José Older, Kameron Hurley, Marieke Nijkamp, Ken Liu, Joe Monti, Nnedi Okorafor

While this list is just the books written by the panelists, there’s lots more diverse authors of sci-fi fantasy. Definitely not an inclusive list, but it’s a start!

Sci-Fi Fantasy Books by Diverse Authors

Nnedi Okorafor at BookCon 2015

Nnedi Okorafor

I’m going to start with Nnedi Okorafor because I bought her book The Book of the Phoenix immediately after the panel and finished it in two days. I would have finished it sooner but I had to work, sleep, and feed the kids. The novel’s storytelling is reminiscent of Nigerian oral tradition–which makes sense as that is Nnedi’s background. (I met her in person and she signed my copy, so I can call her by her first name, right?)

Described as magical futurism, The Book of the Phoenix tells us the origin of Phoenix, a genetically engineered organism bred to be a weapon. Like her mythological namesake, Phoenix has the ability to die and become reborn. She looks 40 years old but has only existed for 2 years, all of which she has been a prisoner of Tower 7. Soon she discovers the extent of her abilities and must struggle between being the savior for other SpeciMen like her and becoming the villain her creators feared she would become.

Phoenix is the “prequel” (it takes place hundreds of years before) to Nnedi Okorafor’s multiple award winning Who Fears Death. Guess what my next read will be?

Other books by Nnedi OkoraforAkata WitchThe Shadow SpeakerLagoon,

Daniel José Older

photo via website

Daniel José Older

I snagged an ARC (advance reader copy) of Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older, which drops June 30. While I don’t normally read YA, Daniel’s bluntness during the panel appealed to me. Plus he curses like a sailor–which is how I’d be if I didn’t have little kids running around me all day. Isn’t that a gorgeous cover?

In Shadowshaper, Sierra Santiago is young artist who discovers shadowshaping, ” a thrilling magic that infuses ancestral spirits into paintings, music, and stories.” But someone is hunting down all the shadowshapers and the killer is after Sierra for a family secret.

Other sci-fi fantasy books by Daniel José OlderHalf-Resurrection Blues: A Bone Street Rumba NovelGingaSalsa Nocturna

Kameron Hurley

Photo via author website

Kameron Hurley

Hugo Award winner Hurley is a prolific writer (yay!). She’s written lots of short fiction, but I’m interested in her epic fantasies: Worldbreaker Saga and Dame Apocrypha (God’s War Trilogy).

More on Worldbreaker Saga: “On the eve of a recurring catastrophic event known to extinguish nations and reshape continents, a troubled orphan evades death and slavery to uncover her own bloody past… while a world goes to war with itself. ”

Books in Worldbreaker Saga: The Mirror EmpireThe Empire Ascendant (Oct 2015), The Broken Heavens (2017)

About Dame Apocrypha (God’s War Trilogy): “On a ravaged, contaminated world, a centuries-old holy war rages, fought by a bloody mix of mercenaries, magicians, and conscripted soldiers. Though the origins of the war are shady and complex, there’s one thing everybody agrees on–There’s not a chance in hell of ending it.”

Books in Dame Apocrypha trilogy: God’s WarInfidelRapture

Ken Liu

Ken Liu

photo via author Facebook page

I first learned about Ken Liu when he won the Hugo Award for his novella “The Paper Menagerie,” which will published in a short story collection The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories (available November 2015).

During BookCon, Ken signed copies of The Grace of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty), the first book of his new epic fantasy. (Yes, I snagged a copy!)

More about The Grace of Kings: “Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.”

Which of these books do you want to read?

Review: The Gracekeeper by Kirsty Logan

The Gracekeeper by Kristy Logan

The Gracekeeper by Kristy Logan

As a promiscuous reader, I declare my love for a book every new moon. But every now and again, I become so smitten with a novel that I can think of nothing else. That’s how I’ve been with The Gracekeepers  by Kirsty Logan ever since I finished it. Really though, I knew I would fall hard for the book as soon as the folks at Crown Publishing told me about it. The novel has everything I wanted in a book: beautiful writing; an original dystopian world; rich, fully developed female characters; and a bit of magic.

If you’re not into dystopian fiction, don’t let the D-word turn you off.

Set a world where most of the planet is covered in water and land is at a premium, its people are divided between the landlockers and the damplings.  The landlockers are grounded in permanence on their small islands, which makes them feel superior to the folks that float from island to island to find works. The novel alternates between the a dampling North and Callanish, who has her feet in both worlds.

Callanish lives in between the world of damp and dry in her self-imposed role as a gracekeeper, a person who administers shoreside burials. On her lonely island of purgatory, she ushers the dead into the resting place deep into the ocean, where her only companions are the birds representing the dead she buries.  Part of a traveling circus, North has grown up on the sea. Her parents, who died when she was young, were also circus performers. The sea is in her blood, but the Ring Master has chosen her to become his daughter-in-law and purchase his family’s return to landlocker status.

A big storm is brewing, both meteorologically and socially, that will change these women’s lonely lives forever. Can they wade through their sadness to open their souls to the possibilities of a better future where the world isn’t divided into wet and dry?

The Gracekeepers feels like a fairy tale, which is not surprising as Logan was inspired by Scottish myths and fairy tales. Its characters’ desolation seeps through, but Callanish and North carry on because they know hope is on the horizon. There’s no knight in shining armor coming to rescue them. They must find solace in their own way.

Logan builds a watery world that hints at a deep history and tradition. I can easily imagine Callanish’ remote island and North’s floating home. Not many authors can create a well-developed fictional world in just one book, but Logan nailed it.

Make sure you pick up Kirsty Logan’s debut novel The Gracekeepers I think it’ll stick with you for a long time, just like it will with me.