Dandelion

My father’s older sister Auntie Choo Neo placed chicken satay sticks on the backyard barbecue.

Dandelion, Jamie Chai Yun Liew, Arsenal Pulp Press 2022

If you’re still looking for children-of-immigrant stories. This time, the mother disappears and stays gone. It makes for an incredibly frustrating story; can’t the suffering be put on pause for a bit? – but it never takes over Lily’s story.

Dandelion shows all the small ways of feeling alien and does it well.

A Marvelous Light

Reginald Gatling’s doom found him beneath an oak tree, on the last Sunday of a fast-fading summer.

A Marvelous Light, Freya Marske, MacMillan 2021

September hasn’t been for reading. The only reason why I finished this was because I had already rejected another novel (Ninefox Gambit – scifi, read like the transcript of a game walk-through video).

A Marvelous Light has potential with unknown magicians in society, some nice ideas about magic (connected to blood, to land, how it’s done) and decided to balance that out with a lot of visual to very visual sex scenes and a vocabulary that reads as a bad translating bot attacked it. It was such a slog. Even 90% in I couldn’t keep the two main characters apart, and only at one third some relationships with secondary characters are being clarified? Editor, where?

Anyway, good thing the month’s over now.

The Way of Kings

Kalak rounded a rocky stone ridge and stumbled to a stop before the body of a dying thunderclast.

The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson, Tor 2010

YESSS, finally some good fucking epic fantasy!

This one has been on my Holds list forever, which might see something about how popular it is or how few copies the library has. That’s always a risk because what if the story/positive review lost their appeal or have been completely forgotten?

With 1200 digital pages The Way of Kings was a risky investment, but it paid off beautifully. World-building, politics, magic and nary a sex scene. It never gets dense and the details keep the regular plots (apocalypse looming, political corruption) fresh.

This is a book you keep the TV off for, and stay up past your bed time.

The Dictionary of Lost Words

Before the lost word, there was another.

The Dictionary of Lost Words, Pip Williams, Affirm Press 2020

Why, why would you write this in first person?

After having finished this book, I know why. To make sure that we not only get a limited view of an interesting time, but also to make sure all the added drama really strikes home. I’d say.

I thought this story about how women were allowed to add less to the creation of the Oxford Dictionary than men would have been interesting on the subject of language, gender, and history. Instead I got a soap opera lead by a Mary Sue.

Frustrating.

We Are Totally Normal

The music in the car was so loud that my teeth vibrated.

We Are Totally Normal, Naomi Kanakia, Harper Collins 2020

God, I hope not. I picked this YA novel because it was on a queer reading list; I did not expect this showcase of casual alcoholism in teens with absent parents and severe cases of word-vomit (and also regular ones).

Main dude Nandan (I assume he’s a teen?) is lost in life and in the societal hierarchy of things, while pondering if he’s confused about his sexual identity or just wants to use it to become popular (yes).

Maybe it’s a clear sign that I’m too old but I really hope that teenagers going from hangover to hangover, performing oral sex at a first meetup and walking home alone at night is a normal thing. Nandan may be confused about what he wants (until he very suddenly isn’t anymore), he manages to showcase that in an entirely unappealing way.

This is what I get for trusting library recommendations?

Lessons in Chemistry

Back in 1961, when women wore shirtwaist dresses and joined garden clubs and drove legions of children around in seatbeltless cars without giving it a second thought; back before anyone knew there’d even be a sixties movement, much less one that its participants would spend the next sixty years chronicling; back when the big war were over and the secret wars had just begin and people were starting to think fresh and believer everything was possible, the thirty-year-old mother of Madeline Zott rose before dawn every morning and felt certain of just one thing: her life was over.

Lessons in Chemistry, Bonnie Garmus, Doubleday Canada 2022

Oh, I had fun with this one! It’s history and a commentary on society’s sexism (in the sixties), there’s a bit of romance but more importantly female friendships and why one should invest in it and oi – there’s chemistry.

Literally.

Elizabeth Zott, our protagonist, is a scientist, a single mother and an opinionated voice on telly. Neither of those are approved of by a lot of people.

Author Bonnie Garmus throws a lot at her, but she manages to do so that it doesn’t turn into a melodrama, but someone’s life story (which happens, there are very tough breaks). Also essential is the speed and style of the story; nothing feels frilly or extra.

I flew through the 300+ pages in a day.

Breasts and Eggs

If you want to know how poor somebody was growing up, ask them how many windows they had.

Breasts and Eggs, Mieko Kawakami, Europa Editions 2019

Why didn’t I read the blurbs: Haruki Murakami loved it, and it used to be a short novella. I think that shows very clearly: the second ‘book’ is more coherent and easy to read, although mostly in comparison with the first book – not others.

Once again this is an “I feel like I should like this more”-story, but there’s something that just left me lukewarm. Yes, interesting views on motherhood and surrogacy in Japan, but did it have to be put down like this? Hard to chew on, tough to invest in.

Ben is Back

103 min.

For a Hollywood film they are surprisingly realistic about addition. Ben is back for the holidays, but not every family member is supportive of this development.

Probably the nicest is that the few Life Lessons aren’t supported by a swelling soundtrack and slow-motion close ups: they just slip past.

That makes this film frustrating, nerve-wrecking and probably more genuine than many other stories about an addicted family member asking for an umpteenth chance and having to deal with being mistrusted.

Infinite Country

It was her idea to tie up the nun.

Infinite Country, Patricia Engel, Simon & Schuster 2021

Less than 160 pages and I still walk around with it a couple days after finishing it. I don’t know if I consciously gravitate towards migrant stories and the generations after, but once again it doesn’t disappoint.

What Infinite Country adds is the clear question of “What’s so great about the USA anyway?”. It’s not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for anyone involved, and the place the family comes from (Colombia) isn’t viewed as a crap shoot essential to escape from.

Combine this with a family literally ripped apart based on their place of birth and there’s something fresh and uncanny about this short story.