Mini-Reviews: East Asian Crime Fiction #AsianLitBingo #DiverseDetectives

I wish I could be one of those 15 books a month readers, but sadly I read more slowly, watch too much Netflix and stare into space a lot. Still, when a bunch of my fave bloggers create awesome events such as #AsianLitBingo I try to read more and watch less TV and this month I actually got more than the required minimum read, yay! Now, I just need to get those books reviewed, ahhh. Also, I strayed a bit from my tbr, as always, but also noticed this week that instead of completing lots of bingo squares I read several books for a few spaces, facepalm. So, yeah, themed mini-reviews it is and perhaps I’ll even manage to complete a line in the next few days. I’ll update the bingo card once I got that figured out.

Now, book 1 was actually on my tbr! And then uuum I went off on a #DiverseDetectives binge somehow. It’s my favorite genre, so it’s not a complete surprise.

body at the tower

The Agency: The Body at the Tower by Y.S. Lee is the second book in the Agency series around young Mary Quinn, a biracial detective in Victorian London. Now part of the Agency and with more detective training, Mary’s second case requires her to don the disguise of a young boy and solve a murder at a building site.

I really enjoyed the first book, the series is great for all of us who enjoy Victorian age mysteries but without the casual racism even white contemporary authors of the genre love to include for “authenticity” or whatever the fuck. Mary is Irish-Chinese but passes as Black Irish, which I hadn’t ever heard of before reading the series but appears to exist so white people can make sure other people know they have the cool “exotic something” but not that racial Other Brown.  Passing as kinda white, Mary can enter privileged social circles absolutely closed to people of color and with the political situation of the times, she definitely tries hard to appear not-Chinese. However, other Chinese characters she meets do recognize her, but Mary doesn’t feel part of the British-Chinese community. There’s little privilege found in claiming that identity, but it’s also shown that Mary does not feel that she belongs, having been orphaned at a young age and not knowing the language. I do love finding more mixed-race characters in literature and especially ones who cannot claim ethnic belonging since this is the closest I come to identifying with characters in that regard.

Apart from that, the mystery is quite good and the all-female agency is a perhaps fanciful, but welcome institution that cleverly makes use of women being relegated to the private sphere. The cool thing is that according to the author, the cover model actually fits Mary Quinn, so yay for not whitewashing the cover. I think the third book deals more with English-Chinese relations during the 19th century and with Mary trying to find a place for herself, so I look forward to reading that one soon.

choi

Then I was looking for more mysteries with an Asian MC and the second book I found is a more suspenseful/thriller style kind of mystery. Set in the Midwest, A Person of Interest by Susan Choi follows the case of a bombing and an Asian-born math professor who ends up a person of interest in the FBI investigation. Now Choi seems to deliberately leave out the professor’s ethnicity but is very particular about the surveillance that Asian people in the US are subject to (this book is from 2008 by the way).

The story follows Lee, a professor at a third-rate university in the Midwest, not too far away from retirement. While Lee is a difficult character to carry the story, the third person narrative is unsympathetic but brutal in its examination of Lee. The professor takes self-loathing to a whole new level but at the same time is sure to make things about himself. This belief makes him jittery and anxious and the FBI takes a closer look at him, but an Asian immigrant? They’d been itching to do just that.

While this first part of the book is fast-paced, Choi brings in another narrative in flashbacks, of Lee as a younger man, of his first years in the US, of badly-handled relationships. I would’ve preferred these two narratives to be more neatly wrapped in the end, but Choi’s writing style is beautiful and the character study of Lee moves a bit too slowly but is so haunting that I didn’t really mind. The mystery does have a satisfying solution and Lee’s crime really is that he is closed-off and unlikable, he is not the deferential, overly emotive caricature white people prefer.

Choi has written several novels and I need to read my way through her backlist. Why hadn’t I heard of this author before?

out

Book three I chose cause I thought I might as well make a themed thing of it😁 Out by Natsuo Kirino is one most of you are probably familiar with and I thought I’d read it before but I think I confused it with Grotesque. Note to self, remember to update your goodreads regularly!

Out is a long one for me with 400 pages, but it’s utterly readable and I was hooked from the premise of a young woman killing her deadbeat husband and then getting her co-workers to help get rid of the body. Kirino is a star in the Japanese thriller/crime fiction scene and deservedly so. This is definitely not a cozy mystery, but definitely give it a go, if you’re not too squeamish. Set in Tokyo in the late 90s, this is a gritty, sometimes brutal story of women who feel trapped and unhappy in their lives. Kirino highlights their situation while also refusing to set these women up as sympathetic and driven too far. Her characters are flawed and do horrible things, but for me this together with the strong pacing and the moments of dark humor worked extremely well. Definitely recommended!

Are you participating in #AsianLitBingo? What have you been reading?

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#AsianLitBingo TBR

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Created by Shenwei at READING (AS)(I)AM (AM)ERICA and co-hosted by Asian bloggers, #AsianLitBingo is a month-long reading challenge. The goal is to spotlight Asian literature and writers, preferably #ownvoices, and it’s sorely needed. Read up on all the specifics and requirements here!

bingo free

Gorgeous art by Aentee at Read at Midnight

I’ve already got a ton of new-to-me works for my tbr thanks to the hosts’ list and twitter, but I did my best to decide on a tbr. Choosing a line for the bingo was so hard! Anyway here’s what I hope I’ll manage to read:

starfang

Starfang: Rise of the Clan by Joyce Chng  gr-pic

Joyce’s newest for SFF with an Asian MC. It’s a space opera with werewolves! Will add specifics re ethnicity if I find out, the author is Singaporean.

body at the tower

The Agency: The Body at the Tower by Y. S. Lee  gr-pic

I’ve read the first Agency novel in my quest to find more diverse mysteries and enjoyed it. Set in Victorian England with a multiracial Asian MC (Chinese father I think) for fans of the era but with more diversity and less celebration of empire. For Historical Fiction with Asian MC. The author is Singaporean-Canadian.

FREE SPACE

I’m not sure yet which one I want to read for this square, but I’m a total mood reader so it’s good to have options. I got these here waiting to be read, and I might go with more queer lit and/or more SFF.

when fox

When Fox is a Thousand by Larissa Lai  gr-pic

For retelling with Asian MC, I’m planning on reading this retelling of the myth of the fox. Think this has a Chinese-Canadian MC and a Chinese MC as well as a lesbian relationship.

inheritance

The Inheritance by Sahar Khalifeh  gr-pic

For Contemporary with Asian MC, I’m planning on reading The Inheritance, about Zeynab and Palestinian women’s stories of return to Palestine after the Oslo Accords. MC is Palestinian, the author is Palestinian-American.

*****

Are you participating in #AsianLitBingo? What’s on your tbr?

[Review]: Hope in Nautical Dusk by Miri Castor

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“The Gift of Twilight flourishes within Opal Charm as winter descends on Dewdrop. Life was already rough before, but Opal’s got new obstacles to face – getting into high school, bringing her brother back home, and training to protect Athre and Earth from Samael, the mysterious overlord who seeks to rule all, and put an end to her and the Charm lineage. The balance between harsh truths and sweet lies is more fragile than ever.

Yet, as winter rolls on, the balance begins to break as a new threat emerges. Memories Opal once trusted are disintegrating her friendships, and lies are clouding her Path of Dawn and Dusk. Opal must seek the truth while protecting those close to her, no matter how painful it may be.

This is a story about what it means to have hope in the face of despair.”

I really enjoyed Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn, which I reviewed here (and also interviewed author Miri Castor) and so I was happy to return to Dewdrop and reconnect with Opal. We find her still very much a reluctant hero, dreading going back to JAEL training and anxious about her ability to save Athre from the khanship of Samael Serkhan. Which, you know, is a lot to put on the shoulders of one eighth-grader.

The world of Athre that we were introduced to in the first book gets a much larger place in Hope in Nautical Dusk. I definitely appreciated the world-building and learning more about how the powers work since that was teased at a lot in Path to Dawn. This, as well as character development, for me is why I invest in fantasy series. Even more than plot, I really like to learn the details of the worlds SFF authors create. And yes you guessed it, I want to learn even more in book 3 (it’s going to be a 4 book series).

What I also liked was the strong focus on friendship, between Opal, Anza and Aaron but also with their Athrenian friends Evron and Adaeze. And it’s fantastic to see more bisexual rep, as Opal figures out she’s crushing on girls and boys and her friends are  very supportive about it.

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I do want to warn you that reading this one was tough emotionally and you’ll want to hold onto the Hope part. But that’s the great thing, Miri gets you so invested in her characters.  I’m glad the journey isn’t over and there will be another book about Opal and her Path of Dawn and Dusk.

Disclaimer: I received a free e-version of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

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Connect with Miri

Other thoughts:

CandidCeillie

(yours?)

[Review] Spook Lights II: Southern Gothic Horror

spook lights II

Aaand I’m back with a review of an another excellent read. Damn body kept me from doing much gushing on here the last couple weeks, but be prepared for more awesomeness (aka ALL the reviews)! And fittingly, these last 2 weeks of April are Spring into Horror, a themed readathon, and Spook Lights II would be a perfect choice for it. You can find the sign-ups and more info here.

I’ve always loved creepy tales that make for good reading to cozy up with under the blankets. But I only discovered Southern gothic horror a couple of years back when I found Tananarive Due’s works. Those made me fall pretty hard for the stuff, so I jumped at the chance to read Spook Lights II, and I’m glad I did.

Eden Royce’s second collection of Southern gothic horror tells the stories of powerful Black women of the South. For those of you who don’t do well with the brutal stuff, mostly these stories aren’t very gory, but instead the horror comes quietly creeping up on you while you’re reading. And then Royce is excellent at creating tightly packed narratives with endings that pack a punch.

As with any collection, some stories are better than others, but Spook Lights II is a remarkably strong collection overall. Let me try to awkwardly gush about some of my favorite stories without giving anything away.

Spook Lights II opens with “Carolina Blue,” bringing with it a strong sense of place with the crops and wet marshlands and oppressive heat. And it’s not just the rice that’s blue. The uncanny here is quite unexpected but I also loved this story for the atmosphere and tone it set for the rest of the collection.

“To-do list” was pretty epic, I mean I love lists, so that’s a sure way to get me excited. But that story is genius, from the seemingly mundane lists about grocery shopping to couples arguing, read it and tell me what you think!

Meanwhile in “Grandmother’s Bed,” a young woman contemplates her dying grandmother’s powerful role of head of family and her own position of possible successor. The solution to her problem is both ingenious and horribly creepy.

I very much enjoyed how many of these stories focused on women and their relationships with family, especially mothers and grandmothers. There’s a give and take of love but also obligation as well as roles and powers that are passed onto the next generation.

By the way, both Spook Lights and Spook Lights II are <3€ on Amazon Kindle at the moment! Naturally, I had to get the first Spook Lights collection, too. Those warm nights spent bundled up alone on the terrace late at night are coming up, and I want to be ready heh. (that’s how I do horror in summer 😀 )

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Disclaimer: I received a free e-version of this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

[Review] God Smites and Other Muslim Girl Problems by Ishara Deen

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(How gorgeous is that cover!?)

Please note that my review is not written from an #ownvoices perspective, so I urge you to check out Saadia’s review,  MuslimahMediaWatch and Ruzaika’s thoughts!

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Mysteries are my comfort reads, but the genre tends to be super white at first and often at second glance, too, so I’m always on the lookout for diverse mysteries. I was thrilled that I was given the opportunity to read God Smites, starring a Muslim teen girl detective and let me tell you, I know I’ll reread it often. Also, so happy to hear that there will be a sequel called Mutaweenies and Other Muslim Girl Problems!

In her debut novel, Ishara Deen introduces us to Asiya Haque, a Bengali-Canadian teen who tries juggling high-school, interning, crushes and family. Oh, and a murder mystery. God Smites opens with Asiya’s mother warning her daughter about boys, and Asiya’s internal monologue where she considers her religion and what she owes her mother is hilarious and sweet. Probably most people with Muslim, or even other religious, family will find these situations familiar ones. I also loved her loyal father and I have a cheeky but supportive younger brother myself. And Asiya’s best friend is such a great character who we’ll hopefully meet again, and I’m sure the gossiping aunties will return as well. It was so wonderful to read of close family ties and see complex, positive Muslim representation. Asiya is a fantastic and extremely likable protagonist, and I really appreciated the way she strove to be independent but in a way that spoke of respect and love for her family.

While out walking with her crush Michael, they stumble over a dead body and Asiya finds herself in the middle of the investigation. And just how is Michael involved in all of this? I’ve read a lot of mysteries and this one is so much more, but I really enjoyed guessing whodunnit and kinda-but-not figured it out. That cliffhanger though! I may be a mystery fan, but I feel confident in recommending God Smites to people who not usually go for mysteries. Still, this book gets a prime spot on my growing #DiverseDetectives shelf!

What I love is how Deen manages to make this a cozy crime, a coming-of-age story with a hilarious protagonist and also a book of social commentary on Islamophobia. That’s not an easy feat. I can only hope book like this will reach a wider audience, there’s so much unpacking of stereotypes and fears to do. But most of all, I hope Muslim teens will find Asiya. So make sure to review, buy and request God Smites at your library!

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twitter-button                                               Make sure to follow Ishara on twitter!

Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.

Other thoughts:

Reading and Gaming for Justice

Paper Wanderer

In Tori Lex

Building Diverse Bookshelves

[Cover Reveal] Opal Charm: Hope in Nautical Dusk

opal-charm-2-cover-post-pic

Today’s the cover reveal for Miri Castor’s Hope in Nautical Dusk, hosted by Rich in Variety a tour hosting site dedicated to diversity. Hope in Nautical Dusk is the second book in the Opal Charm fantasy series and will be released March 19th, I can’t wait! So without further ado, here’s the complete cover, isn’t it gorgeous!

hope-in-nautical-dusk-cover-main

About the book:

Author: Miri Castor • Publication Date: March 19th, 2017 • Genre(s): Young Adult, Fantasy • Inclusion of Diversity: Bisexual African American protagonist.

The Gift of Twilight flourishes within Opal Charm as winter descends on Dewdrop. Life was already rough before, but Opal’s got new obstacles to face – getting into high school, bringing her brother back home, and training to protect Athre and Earth from Samael, the mysterious overlord who seeks to rule all, and put an end to her and the Charm lineage. The balance between harsh truths and sweet lies is more fragile than ever. Yet, as winter rolls on, the balance begins to break as a new threat emerges. Memories Opal once trusted are disintegrating her friendships, and lies are clouding her Path of Dawn and Dusk. Opal must seek the truth while protecting those close to her, no matter how painful it may be.

Add to goodreads!

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About the author:

Miri Castor is the author of Opal Charm: The Path to Dawn. She spent many recesses in middle school writing fantasy stories, with Opal Charm being one of many. She has written for Black Girl Magic Literary Magazine and was featured as a Spotlight New Author in 2016. Now attending a university on the East Coast, she studies biochemistry and will receive her B.S. in 2016. A New York native, Miri is working on her second novel while in her last year as an undergraduate. She enjoys playing video games, attending music concerts, and strolling through the City.

10 Poetry Collections by Black Women #BlackHistoryMonth

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It’s Black History Month! And while I try to read and highlight Black writers throughout the year, I thought I’d contribute a few extra posts for folks celebrating and folks looking for more resources. While spoken word is my first love, I have been getting better at reading poetry and so I thought I’d share some of my favorite Black women poets and collections that I’m reading or that are on my list. Let me know in the comments what you’re reading this month!

1.Narratives: Poems in the Tradition of Black Women by Cheryl Clarke gr-pic

narratives

Black lesbian poet Cheryl Clarke’s 1992 collection, first published by Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, is about love and women creating representation.

 

2.The Black Unicorn by Audre Lorde gr-pic

black-unicorn

Fed up with the whiteness of the poetry and nearly all literature taught in my school, Audre Lorde was one of the first poets I really connected with. The poems in this collection are beautiful and powerful, and explore how we inhabit multiple positions. Find “A Litany for Survival,” and other poems here.

 

3.Black Wings & Blind Angels by Sapphire gr-pic

black-wings

This work collects over 40 poems by the author of Push, as unflinching and harrowing and powerful as her novel, but also trigger warnings for abuse and incest.

 

4.Blood Dazzler by Patricia Smith gr-pic

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When it comes to poetry, spoken word is my first love. Here’s Blood Dazzler by amazing Patricia Smith, check our her spoken word performances (some videos are available online)! This collection follows Hurricane Katrina and the destruction unleashed through the voices of survivors, politicians and even the hurricane itself.

5.They Are All Me by Dominique Christina gr-pic

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Another slam poet, Dominique Christina is also an educator and activist and this work is her second poetry collection.  She takes on topics such as genocide, police violence, Katrina and menstruation.

6.Gospel by Samiya Bashir gr-pic

gospel

In this collection, poet Samiya Bashir takes on fear and power through gospel, but not necessarily (just) the religious meaning of the word. By the way, Bashir’s newest work comes out in April!

 

7.Beastgirl and Other Origin Myths by Elizabeth Acevedo gr-pic

beastgirl

In the 2016 collection Beastgirl, Afro-Latina poet Acevedo interweaves personal stories, mythology and Dominican culture.

8. BlackGirl Mansion by Angel Nafis gr-pic

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Also a spoken word artist, Angel Nafis’ poetry leaps off the page: “I am here now,/speaking and giving/in bursts/of chest, and effort,/and temperature.”

9.Trigger by Venus Selenite gr-pic

trigger

This is poet, writer, performance artist, social critic, editor, educator, and technologist Venus Selenite’s debut collection “is a bold, intimate, and comfortable/uncomfortable quest, through (Selenite’s) own eyes, in being Black, being queer, being trans, being a woman, and being non-binary in 21st century America, in what continues to be systemic and oppressive, but also adventurous and ecstatic” (venusselenite.com). Venus Selenite is also the co-editor of Nameless Woman: An Anthology of Fiction by Trans Women of Color (forthcoming).

10.Name Poems by Jewelle L. Gómez gr-pic

name-poem

The Gilda Stories author Jewelle Gómez writes poetry as well. In this 2015 collection, she examines experiences at multiple intersections, exploring her Native American (Ioway, Wampanoag) heritage and Black lesbian identity.

Further reading:

10 Works of Black Lesbian Short Fiction

What are you reading this Black History Month?