I don't think I've written a wrap-up in at least four years. Since I haven't really posted anything on here in a long time, I thought that bringing back the wrap-up might be an easy way for me to get more reviews done. It also helps me keep everyone updated on my reading when I've clearly stopped writing the super detailed ones that I used to post.
#AsianReadathon took place all of May, with the goal to read works by Asian authors or with Asian main characters. Really, it was all about introducing readers to more diverse works and push them to read out of their comfort zone as a celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.
I'll admit that before this, I didn't really read many works by Asian authors. Doing this readathon showed me what I was missing, and how much I have enjoyed reading about my culture(s) and other Asian cultures. So, let's get into my wrap-up of what I read during the month.
Title: The Piano Teacher
Genre: Historical Fiction
Opinion: I'd never read something set in Hong Kong before, and it was an interesting time to pick up a historical fiction novel about that county. Having lived in Hong Kong for seven years, it's felt like home to me for a long time. My family is still there and several good friends are there too. While I know a decent amount of Hong Kong's history, there's still a ton that I don't know.
This book definitely brought to light what it was like during WWII when Hong Kong went through so much. Invasion, internment camps, destruction. A lot of bad things happened and a lot of people struggled during that time. Afterword, things got better, but countries never forget things like that and the people who lived through that will never be the same.
I really enjoyed the realistic look at the life of the rich. A lot of it still holds true to this day. Where they live, how they conduct themselves, the way they party and life never seems to affect them. It's stuff I've seen with some of my own friends or friends of friends. That part felt so real to me and I can only imagine what that would have looked and felt like for people who were just starting to recover from the war.
The characters were...hard to like. Not because they were badly written, but because they were written in a way that felt like they were meant to be unlikeable. I struggled a lot with reading from Claire's perspective because of the way she approved moving to Hong Kong and how she viewed the people there before she really settled. Her attitude about work and her marriage made me feel frustrated a lot of the time, and sometimes the way she talked about the Chinese people made me feel offended. It's all a realistic part of who she is as a character though, so I'm not sure I can say that it's entirely bad that I didn't like her. She was what she was meant to be.
I liked Will a lot more when I read about his past. He felt more like a person to me then, rather than who he became after the war. The way he went about life and how he behaved as the book drew closer to an end, it didn't feel like him. Yes, the war changes people in really big and drastic ways, but this felt like someone entirely different whom I never even knew.
Though I don't think there was anything necessarily bad about this, I can't say that it was entirely good either. A lot of me felt like I wanted something more than just people talking about money, parties and power. But that thing I wanted never came to pass. And this book put me in a slump after I finished it because I was so confused and frustrated by the ending. I can't say I recommend this book, but I'm interested in reading more of Janice Y.K. Lee's other works to see how they compare.
Title: Shadow of the Fox
Opinion: This book was given to me at the end of last summer by my sister, who accidentally ordered two copies. I kept it on my shelf for months, not really knowing much about the book or having a desire to read it. Even when I chose it for this readathon, it was more because I knew that Julie Kagawa is Japanese.
I went into this knowing pretty much nothing, and it ended up being my favorite read of the entire month. Considering how much I posted about it on my Bookstagram, it's not even a surprise.
Japanese mythology is pretty foreign to be outside of Teen Wolf Season 4 and the few anime references I've come across over years of watching. From the little bit that I knew, I grew to love learning about it more as I read this book. The demons, the spirits, the culture - I loved learning more about all of it.
Having watched years of anime, I'm glad that I have a very basic understanding of some Japanese words and phrases, as well as the honorifics. While there was a glossary in the back of the book, I enjoyed testing my understanding of the language. For the most part, I think I understood a fair amount. I also liked the fact that having heard so much Japanese, I had a greater ability to pronounce the words and names. It made the overall read more immersive and enjoyable.
I loved the characters and the story. Each character was well fleshed out and they worked well with the plot, which moved with amazing pacing. Never once did I feel like I was dragging myself through the book or flying through it too quickly. Each page felt perfectly crafted for the best overall story. And to top it off, I wanted to keep reading no matter what. It took a lot of self-control not to buy the sequels right after I finished this book.
One of my favorite things about this was that there's barely a love story. Yes, there are hints of romance, but there's no kissing, no touchy-feely stuff, none of that. I really appreciated it because it allowed the story to focus more on the characters as individuals and how they grew and interacted with the plot. It wasn't about getting any of the characters together, even though we can easily see who the couples would be. I liked that a lot because it's rare for me to find any fantasy series, especially in YA, that are bold enough to include a slow burn romance that barely has the main characters touching.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who likes learning about different kinds of mythology and languages. While it's useful to have some understanding of how Japanese sounds (to pronounce the names and places), I don't think it's totally necessary. It's a book that I think more people should pick up.
Title: Crazy Rich Asians
Opinion: I've loved this movie ever since I first watched it in theaters. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I've seen this twice in theaters and at least twice more on my own. Though I've owned the books for almost two years now, I had yet to pick them up before this. Part of that was due to the fear of not liking the book as much after how much I loved the movie. I'm also rarely in the mood for contemporaries, so finding a time when I wanted to read this was hard.
It took a little bit to get into the book when I started, mostly due to the writing style. Third person omniscient isn't something I've read much of since middle school, especially when the perspectives can switch in the same paragraph. That's something that usually bothers me, as I find it a sign of amateur writing. However, in this case, I think it worked really well for the story. Being able to switch between so many characters' perspectives within a chapter gave me a greater understanding of the deeper story.
Let me just say that the book and the movie are pretty different. While the overall story is the same, there are several elements that differ a lot. At first, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. My love of the movie and the way it told the story clouded my ability to love the book when I first started reading. But the more I read, the more I grew to enjoy and appreciate the original plot.
Having gotten into the story, I found it so much easier to fly through things. The movie helped me with the large cast of characters and reading the book provided so much more backstory that I didn't know about before. The detail the book went into made the whole thing more realistic. Though I don't know anyone as rich as the people in this book, I have met my share of rich Asians who don't have to worry about money and have all the designer things they want.
One of the things I found myself doing was reading in different accents. This happens sometimes with other books, but I was constantly switching accents and languages in my head. If it was one of the main characters, I read it in the actor's accent and voice. Otherwise, I gave them a culturally generic accent. Though it confused me at first to be switching so much, it improved my reading experience. I liked reading in three languages I knew and code-switching in my head as the characters talked to each other. That made the whole book feel more cinematic to me. It's not something everyone will likely experience - I think that my cultural background and having lived in Singapore, Hong Kong, and China makes a huge difference in being able to do all that while having it feel natural.
The only reason I took off 0.5 stars was because I felt like some of the characters are more likable in the movie than in the book. Michelle Yeoh and Gemma Chan are fantastic actresses who portrayed their characters beautifully, and for that, I preferred their movie counterparts to the book. It was a small thing, but to me, it made all the difference in my reading experience.
I liked that the book and the movie had differences in the plot line. Though small, they were fitting. The shorter time allowance of a movie forced them to rewrite and quicken the story's pacing, while the book stretched out more and allowed for us to check in on different characters in different countries all in the same day. Seeing the characters outside of the main story was something I really enjoyed, especially when it came to the more ridiculous characters. It was fun to see more of them and their lives outside of when they interact with the main characters.
A few of my friends mentioned that the ending of the book and movie are quite different, so I was prepared. In the end, it wasn't super different, but enough that I'm wondering where the next book will go. Not that I have an idea of where the second movie will go either, I'm kind of only guessing who we'll see more of as the trilogy continues.
Whether you've seen the movie or not, I highly recommend this book. It's definitely an accurate portrayal of the richer, insane side of Asian culture. But it also portrays how tightly knit our families are and why it's so culturally important for us to keep that going with each new generation.
Though I only ended up reading three books instead of the five I picked out for #AsianReadathon, I'm really happy with what I read. I was able to check Hong Kong and Singapore off my list for books I've read that are set in countries I've lived in. Now I'm 4/4, having read Ties That Bind, Ties That Break years ago and most of my other reading being set in the US.
I will definitely look into picking up more work from Asian authors in the future, as I don't think I realized until now how much I appreciate reading about other Asian writers' experiences in their cultures and how that translates to their stories. I know that I'll be checking out more of Janice Y.K. Lee's work in the future, and I'm super excited to buy the sequels to Shadow of the Fox. Who knows when I'll get to finish the sequels to Crazy Rich Asians, but I think there's a good chance it'll happen by the end of the year.