Book Review | Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans by Jenny Wang

For a list of everything I read in November click here.

Author:
Jenny Wang
Format:
Hardcover
Publication date:
May 3, 2022
Publisher:
Balance
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:

“One of the greatest losses we might experience as members of Asian diasporas is the loss of a parent we wish we could have had, if they had not experienced such trauma or painful experiences.” (p. 217)

With the rise of violence and ongoing hate crimes towards those who are Asian, it goes without saying that the past couple of years have been a time of great distress for many Asian Americans and I would like to add Asian Canadians. This is further exacerbated by the fact that we are all currently living in a global pandemic. Fortunately, people are now more than ever open to talking about their mental health and mental health in general. This unexpectedly makes the timing perfect for a book like Dr. Jenny Wang’s Permission to Come Home to be released.

Divided into ten different chapters, each one focusing on a specific issue that those of us who were Asian but were born/raised outside of Asia may struggle with. The chapters look at things like showing strong emotions, openly, saying no, taking up space, and, of course, failing. Personally, the chapters on giving oneself permission to cry and permission to fail resonated with me the most. The former was something that I had to and continue to work through on my own as I grew up with parents who believed that there was no point in crying over anything. While the latter is something I that I realized after reading this book, is something I still struggle with today, and I liked how she proposes we reframe “failure” as something we need to grow to be tolerant of in order to succeed.

What I appreciated the most about Permission to Come Home, is that it was not only written by someone who is part of the Asian diaspora but also someone who is the eldest daughter in her family. Both these characteristics add to the uniqueness of this book, as there are some nuances when it comes to mental health in Asian people that can only be captured by someone coming from a similar background. Things like setting boundaries when it’s been instilled in you from birth to respect your elders, and that your family should always come first. I liked how it was acknowledged that there are many things that are commonplace in Asian culture that would be viewed as “toxic” if looked at through a solely western lens. When the truth is more complicated than just being all negative, and everyone needs to look at things from their own personal perspective to see if it is something that helps or hinders them. Wang’s cultural background also shines through the personal anecdotes she provides as well as how she breaks down every concept in the book in a way that is so clearly intended for children of immigrants who want to put in the work but don’t know how or where to start.

While I could have benefited the most from a book like Permission to Come Home when I was younger, it still is a useful mental health tool for me as I am now. That being said, this isn’t a book that you can passively read. If you truly want to get the most out of the content, you will definitely need to take advantage of the built-in “rest stops” throughout the book. As the first mental health/self-help book to be geared towards children of Asian diaspora and culture, Permission to Come Home is a book for those who are willing and ready to devote the energy and time to stop, reflect and actively work towards eventually creating a space where they’ll feel not only free but safe to be their true selves.

 

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

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What I Read In November

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What I Read In October

My October reviews post is up a bit later than usual as I was feeling a bit under the weather, and I saw a tweet from a friend of mine about the importance of keeping yourself healthy, especially if you’re creating bookish content for free, so I decided to take her advice. This was another month of just okay reads, but I managed to knock quite a few books off my TBR pile. With two months to go before 2023, I still have several more books to read and review, and so far they’re more promising, so hopefully I’ll be able to end 2022 on a high reading note!

Continue reading “What I Read In October”

Book Review | Permission to Come Home: Reclaiming Mental Health as Asian Americans by Jenny Wang

For a list of everything I read in September click here.

Author:
Phong Nguyen
Format:
Trade Paperback
Publication date:
August 9, 2022
Publisher:
Grand Central Publishing
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:

“I make promises. I promise you, if you take my husband from me, then there will be nowhere in Lạc Việt that you can hide from my vengeance.” (p. 206)

I first came across the Trưng Sisters in Sam Maggs’ Girl Squads: 20 Female Friendships That Changed History. It ignited my interest in ancient Việtnamese history, as I’d never heard about these warrior sisters who led the fight against the Chinese invasion of Việtnam. When Phong Nguyen’s Bronze Drum was announced, I immediately added it to my TBR list as I was curious to see how a Việtnamese writer would tackle this inspirational story of the two powerful women who rode elephants and fended off a Chinese invasion with their raised army of Việtnamese people.

One thing I can say after reading this book is that the authour has actually done his work with regard to the historical and cultural aspects of the Trưng Sisters. The detail in the description of the scenery and the military and battle scenes are immaculate in the book. If you are reading this as a physical or ebook, I highly recommend doing it while listening to the playlist that was curated by the authour on Spotify as it will make the reading experience more immersive. The author’s passion for the history behind his novel truly shines through. I was also surprised to learn that ancient Việtnam was a matriarchy and that for some time under Chinese rule, Việtnamese women had more status and freedom than their Chinese counterparts did.

However, for all its meticulous historical research and cinematic battle scenes, this book wasn’t what I wanted for the first novel about the Trưng Sisters. There were several choices that I couldn’t get on board with. For instance, too much time was spent on the sisters’ early lives and it wasn’t even used to flesh out their characters. Furthermore, for a book that was supposed to be a celebration of Việtnamese women, it didn’t feel like it. I could have done without the various chapters told from the male characters. The most egregious example of this would be the final section in the book that was dedicated to the general who brought about their downfall. Those who know the history of the sisters, would’ve seen the ending coming. It’s unfortunate that instead of seeing how things fall apart due to mismanagement and taking for granted the faith and trust others would have in them as rulers from their perspective, we get to this story from the eyes of men instead. This is such an antithesis to what was supposed to be a story about how women should not be underestimated.

Perhaps it was because Bronze Drum was written in a manner to make the story of two Việtnamese women warriors more palatable to a Western audience that has little to no knowledge of Việtnamese culture or history it just wasn’t for me. That being said, with more and more new Việtnamese stories being published, I have hope that someday we’ll get a mother novel about the Trưng Sisters by a Việtnamese woman writer that truly does justice to the sisters’ story.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

What I Read In September

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5 Books to Check Out This Fall

While I’m not a fan of unpredictable weather and not knowing what to wear when going out, I am looking forward to the actual start of fall. Not only is it my favourite season, but it also peak book season, what with all the book award announcements, and the need to cozy up inside with a book as it gets a bit chillier outside. There are a lot of great books that have come out or will be coming out this season, so I’d thought I’d share my top picks from the various fall book previews I’ve had the privilege of attending this year. Are any of them on your TBR list?

Three Kisses, One Midnight by Roshani Chokshi, Sandhya Menon & Evelyn Skye
Release Date: August 30, 2022
So I don’t normally read fantasy, but this one has me intrigued. Three Kisses, One Midnight contains three stories written by three different YA authours. I’m familiar with Sandhya Menon and Roshani Chokshi, but not Evelyn Skye. The stories are interconnected as not only are they set in the same small town, but also take place on the same night. Each story follows a different character in a friend group as they try to make true love happen for them. If you like fall, Halloween and pumpkin-spiced lattes, or even if you like cozy romances set in small towns with a dash of magic, then Three Kisses, One Midnight may be up your alley.

A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone
Release Date: September 20, 2022

At the #HarperPresents Fall Fiction Preview, Sierra Simone and Julie Murphy described their first book together, Merry Meet Cute, as having the vibes of sitting in bed with your best friend eating baked goods, watching a cheesy Christmas movie with dirty jokes, and that kind of sold me on it. It’s a dual pov rom-com that features a bisexual, plus size adult film star who gets cast alongside a former bad boy band member in what’s supposed to be a wholesome “Hallmark-esque” Christmas movie. There is also a fun and wacky cast of side characters, including the old adult film producer who’s trying his hand at producing a family-friendly Christmas movie for the very first time. I was lucky enough to snag an advance copy of Merry Meet Cute and am looking forward to reading it closer to the holidays and sharing my thoughts with your guys!

Publisher Social Media:  Instagram/Twitter/Facebook


Seoulmates by Susan Lee
Release Date: 
September 20, 2022

As the child of Asian immigrants, I can definitely relate to trying to figure out who you are when you’re in between two cultures. So, I found the premise of Seoulmates to be interesting, as Hannah, who is Korean American, finds herself losing not only her boyfriend but her friends as well because they suddenly find themselves obsessed with Korean pop culture, something that Hannah never really got into. This estranged childhood friends to lovers K-Drama inspired rom-com sounds adorable and is my top pick from the Frenzy Presents Fall Preview event!

Publisher Social Media:  Instagram/Twitter/Facebook


The Silent Stars Go by Sally Nicholls
Release Date: 
September 20, 2022

For fans of historical fiction and Christmas stories, The Silent Stars Go by award-winning children’s authour, Sally Nicholls may be the fall read for you. Set in an English village during Christmas time after the first World War, this passionate young love story is loosely based on the author’s own family history.


Well, That Was Unexpected by Jesse Q. Sutanto
Release Date: 
September 27, 2022

Every year at the annual Penguin Teen Social, they always share with us their top ten fall releases to look forward to. This year, Jesse Q. Sutanto’s Well, That Was Unexpected was the title that caught my eye. You may know Jesse from her adult romance mystery series that includes Dial A for Aunties and Four Aunties and a Wedding; however Well, That Was Unexpected marks her foray into YA. I haven’t read any YA novels set in Indonesia but I’m looking forward to Sharlot and George’s story, as the premise is that they were “set up” by their parents who were pretending to be their kids online, which should make for a rather interesting and hilarious story!

Mystery Monday | Finale (Uncle Chow Tung #4) by Ian Hamilton

Mystery Mondays is an occasional review feature here on Words of Mystery that showcases books in the mystery (occasionally  thriller) genre that I am currently reading and my thoughts on them. Feel free to comment and leave suggestions as to what I should read and review next.

Who is it by? Ian Hamilton, a Canadian authour of the now 11 novels in the Ava Lee series. His Ava Lee series has recently been green lit to be adapted into a TV series by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Finale is the last book in his Uncle Chow Tung tetralogy and it stars a younger version of Ava Lee’s mentor and former business partner.

What is it about? It’s 2015, and Uncle Chow Tung is no longer the young, up-and-coming newcomer he once was. Now, at an age where a diagnosis of cancer is pretty much terminal, he sets about putting his affairs all in order while reflecting on his life, including his life-changing partnership with the one and only, Ava Lee.  Finale also mirrors Book 5 and 6 of the Ava Lee series as we get to see the events of those books from Uncle’s point of view.

Where does it take place? Uncle is now an old man, and on his deathbed, so he has pretty much resigned himself to staying close to home in Kowloon, Hong Kong, while watching over his proteges from a distance.

Why did I like it? As the last book in the Uncle Chow Tung series, Finale does a satisfying job of connecting this series with the Ava Lee series. We get to see how Uncle has set up things before his death so that all the characters are taken care of after he is gone. This book also introduces us to Xu who readers of the Ava Lee series will know as a major figure in the later Ava Lee books. While not as action-packed as the previous Uncle books, I did appreciate getting to see the events of some of the Ava Lee books from Uncle’s perspective as we are so used to just getting Ava’s side of the story when it comes to their missions. Those who have been invested in Uncle’s story from the start will want to pickup Finale because in spite of it’s abrupt ending, this book does bring everything full circle.

When did it come out? July 5, 2022

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club by Roselle Lim

For a list of everything I read this Summer click here.

Author:
Roselle Lim
Format:
eGalley/Trade paperback
Publication date:
August 16th 2022
Publisher:
Berkley
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:

“The threads wrapped around each other, twisting, twirling, growing thicker in size, and when they joined, the union ignited showers of fiery gold until the couple was enveloped by the blazing light. When the brightness ebbed, their joined thread danced between them, swinging in joyful rhythm. This. This was why I became a matchmaker.” (p. 82-83)

Described by the author herself as a “love letter to both Toronto and her grandparents,” Roselle Lim managed to exceed my expectations, with Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club being her best work so far! As a fellow Torontonian, I loved that I was able to recognize many of the locations in the book.

Of all the Roselle Lim heroines, Sophie is my favourite! I loved how sweet and earnest she was, and I could definitely relate to both in her desire to be loved and accepted for her true self as well as her sweet tooth. It broke my heart every time I saw her give in to her parents’ manipulations, as she has been struggling with this toxicity on her own for most of her life. If there’s a prize for the most toxic mother, Sophie’s mom may have already won that. Fortunately, Sophie is able to slowly break away from the generational trauma and her unsupportive biological family and gain a healthier environment with the help of her new “found family,” a group of senior men known as the “Old Ducks” as well as the connections she makes through her persistent efforts to continue with matchmaking. The “Old Ducks” were, without a doubt, the beating heart, and soul of Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club. As someone who barely got to know any of her grandparents, these old men won me over quickly. I loved how each had their own story and unique personality that was emphasized through the nickname Sophie assigned to them. It was also heartwarming how each of the men was able to provide Sophie with something different that aided her on her journey. While I loved all the “Old Ducks”, “Mr. Regret” and his culinary delights have a special place in my heart.

I liked that Roselle chose to go with a first-person narrator for Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club. Hearing her story in her own voice not only helped you to understand Sophie’s choices and actions, but it made me feel closer to the character, as she’s someone who’s so used to holding back her voice because of her mother. Also, having read Vanessa Yu’s Magical Paris Tea Shop, I was already familiar with how Roselle writes her matchmakers but I will never get over how she beautifully she describes the matchmakers’ ability. It kind of makes me wish I had this kind of ability in real life. I can definitely see how a Sophie and anyone who was able to see these threads of fate and physical manifestations of romantic connections would want to play a role in bringing couples together.

Having read every book that Roselle Lim has written so far, I can unquestionably say that Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club is my favourite book of hers. The story was just so well executed, and I loved how both the “Old Ducks” and Sophie’s stories played out. Finally, I loved how one of the main takeaways from this book was that there is no age limit when it comes to finding love, just as there shouldn’t be any pressure to do so. Even though I was warned ahead of time, Sophie Go’s Lonely Hearts Club had me finishing an entire box of Kleenex! But it was so worth it for this heartfelt and magical story about quietly making a life of your own and just how powerful and meaningful intergenerational friendships can be.

Trigger warnings: Death, toxic parents

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Fortunes of Jaded Women by Carolyn Huynh

For a list of everything I read this Summer click here.

Author:
Carolyn Huynh
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
September 6th 2022
Publisher:
Atria Books
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
As someone of Vietnamese descent, I’ve always said that while the war is a huge part of Vietnam, it shouldn’t be the only thing that defines Vietnamese people. There is a plethora of stories about Vietnamese people that go beyond the war that need to be told.

Carolyn Huynh’s The Fortunes of Jaded Women resonated with me because I grew up surrounded by strong, busybody Vietnamese women, just like the younger generation in the book. I definitely saw parts of my mom, cousins, and aunts reflected in these women. Of all the characters, I think I related the most to Lily personality-wise however, I could also relate to Priscilla as there are some very specific things that only the eldest daughter in a Vietnamese family would understand especially when it comes to the complicated mother-daughter relationship. Speaking of relationships, I love how the focus was on the Vietnamese women in the family and their relationship with each other and the men were all just side characters. It was also refreshing to read a book where Vietnamese women were allowed to be extremely messy and have dysfunctional and imperfect relationships with each other. Furthermore, I appreciated seeing Vietnamese women who weren’t portrayed as demure “good girls” or as martyrs. Instead, these women are all imperfectly perfect people who mess up and struggle but eventually overcome all odds to earn their happy ending. Special mention goes out to Mai, who was put through hell. Her ending was only heartwarming, as she was able to find true love without changing who she was. The sole exception to this would have to be Joyce, as she definitely deserved better, especially when compared to her cousins in the end.

I’ve seen this book being compared to Crazy Rich Asians, and I suppose that is somewhat true if you took away the “rich,” upped the “crazy” and made the story all about the women. Personally, if I had to list a comparison, I’d say this book feels more like The Joy Luck Club but with Vietnamese women? But honestly, I’d actually prefer to see The Fortunes of Jaded Women as its own book that can’t be compared to anything I’ve read before. The Vietnamese representation throughout the book warmed my heart, as not only were there some nuances and small details that only someone who was Vietnamese would get but this book is clearly a labour of love from many Vietnamese women, from the authour herself to the editor (Loan Le) and even the audiobook narrator (VyVy Nguyen)!

Even if you’re not Vietnamese or Asian, but you enjoy reading multi-generational family sagas told from multiple perspectives, you should pick up The Fortunes of Jaded Women. This was not only a well-written debut novel, but overall a satisfying book about a dysfunctional family trying to figure out life and break the family “curse” all while trying to heal from generational trauma.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

What I Read This Summer

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Book Review | A Trip of One’s Own by Kate Wills

For a list of everything I read in June click here.

Author:
Kate Wills
Format:
Trade Paperback
Publication date:
May 3rd 2022
Publisher:
Sourcebooks
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
When I was younger, my dream was to be a travel journalist, so I love reading travel memoirs, especially ones written by female journalists that give a glimpse at what the job is actually like. Kate Wills’ A Trip of One’s Own resonated with me because not only does she admit to not feeling brave despite having travelled solo more times than she can count; she is also honest and not ashamed to write about the myriad of mistakes she’s made along the way. These make for some cringe-worthy moments when her privilege as an able bodied cis white woman really shows through. However, I liked that she was an imperfect traveller who was able to acknowledge this.

In addition to a prologue and an epilogue, A Trip of One’s Own has twelve chapters, each focusing on a specific trip that Kate embarks on. I really liked how the book was structured, with each chapter not only about one of Kate’s trips but also focusing on a women explorer/traveler. It was interesting reading about all these trailblazers, many of whom I had never heard of before. I also liked how Kate ties back her personal journey to each of the women, whether it was their similar reasons for travelling or shared personal experiences.

My favourite part of this book would have to be the solo travel tips that followed each chapter, some of them I already knew but there were also a lot of things that I would have never thought of and I am glad that I was able to learn for any future solo trips I plan to take. I appreciated how well organized and specific these sections were. A fairly, easy, breezy, escapist read, A Trip of One’s Own is perfect for armchair travel. If you’re more about actual travelling, this book would also be the perfect airplane read and companion to take along with you.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Wedding Party by Liu Xinwu

For a list of everything I read in June click here.

Author:
Liu Xinwu
Format:
Trade Paperback
Publication date:
November 16th 2021
Publisher:
Amazon Crossing
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
They say that weddings can bring out the worst in people, and the wedding of Xue Jiyue and Pan Xiuya is no exception. Told using a third-person omniscient narration, Liu Xinwu’s The Wedding Party is set in the winter of 1982, after the end of the Cultural Revolution movement, and it follows a huge cast of colourful and eccentric characters who in one way or another are connected to either the titular groom and/or bride.

At almost 400 pages, The Wedding Party feels like a long read, even if it looks like it would take you some time to finish it. The writing and translation done by Jeremy T. Tiang was captivating enough to keep me reading. Furthermore, the characters, while almost all remarkably disagreeable, have compelling personal histories and motivations. Even though I disliked and even outright despised the majority of the characters, I still felt invested in their stories. Of course, there are some dense sections in this book. The poetic and philosophical nature of the writing can also be a bit much, especially when the book goes into immense detail about the Bell and Drum Towers. I get that the towers have a symbolic significance and that they are important to Beijing’s history and thus the setting of this book, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care.

As a book belonging to the “Scar” literature or “literature of the wounded” genre, The Wedding Party isn’t meant to be a light and glossy read. There is misfortune and tragedy, and yet it’s all stated in a matter-of fact way. Real life isn’t fair, and in a country like China, where you come from and who you know determines your future and standing in society. While it would be nice to see the good characters be rewarded for their patience, kindness and work ethic, and the dishonourable ones to be punished for their misdeeds, the reader will have to be satisfied with the fact that they will be haunted by their conscience and guilt.

If you’re a bit of a “busybody” reader,who likes learning about new cultures and getting glimpses into the daily lives of regular people, then The Wedding Party may be for you. Personally, while it was a gripping read, I was left feeling unsatisfied as the book ends rather abruptly. This stays true to the book’s nature of being a realistic look at the common people doing their best to get by in life during a difficult time. I spent so much time getting invested in some of the character’s storylines that I wished I could see how some of them were resolved.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

What I Read In June

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Book Review | All the Lovers in the Night by Mieko Kawakami

For a list of everything I read in May click here.

Author:
Mieko Kawakami
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
May 3rd 2022
Publisher:
Europa Editions
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
All the Lovers in the Nightis Mieko Kawakami’s third book to be translated into English. And while I didn’t read Heaven, I did enjoy Breasts and Eggs, so I was looking forward to another one of Kawakami’s books that centered on the experiences of the modern Japanese woman.

While a great deal shorter than Breasts and Eggs, for some reason All the Lovers in the Nightfelt like a much longer read. To be honest, if you’re looking for a plot-driven story, then this isn’t the book for you, as most of the story is told through inner monologues and the protagonist’s limited interactions and conversations with others. That said, the conversations, especially those between the women, are particularly interesting and give readers greater insight into the restrictions and societal expectations that are still imposed upon Japanese women today.

What I like about Kawakami’s books is how they’re quiet and honest meditations on Japanese people. However, instead of studying the average everyday person who conforms to societal norms, she prefers to study those who are labelled as “weird” or even “invisible” by society by and large. With Breasts and Eggsand All the Lovers in the Night Kawakami looks at unmarried and single professional women in their 30s in the City, and while they may have friends or acquaintance who went the stereotypical route of marriage and kids, neither option is seen as all that better off.

Of the two Kawakami books I’ve had the pleasure of reading, I think I prefer Breasts and Eggsover All the Lovers in the Night. However, the two share a few similarities. The Japanese publishing industry features in both books as it is connected to the main characters’ work, and the tone and themes in All the Lovers in the Nightbear a striking resemblance to those found in Breasts and Eggs. In spite of its title, All the Lovers in the Nightisn’t a romantic story with a happy ending. In fact, it’s not even a love story. Instead, it’s an authentic reflection on the realities and loneliness women can feel, especially when they are often overlooked by others.

Content warnings: Sexual assault, minor substance abuse

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

What I Read In May

Continue reading “What I Read In May”