2021 Book Challenge Quarter 4: 27 – 52

Asian american books to read

Oh, look! Another year I waited until the very last quarter to read about half the books in my challenge. Oops! Will 2020 and 2021 teach me a lesson? Guess we’ll see.

At some point in October or November, I began to wonder if I could actually finish my challenge this year. However, I decided to just go for it when quite a few books came in through Libby at the same time, and I found myself spending most of December glued to my Kindle!

Anyway, I did finish, and here’s my quick recap and thoughts. I learned how to code in spoiler tags, so if you want spoiler thoughts, highlight the black boxes!

Everything I Read from October to December 2021

Red, White, & Royal Blue | 2021 Book Challenge

27. Red, White, and Royal Blue

When the First Son and the Prince of England have a public kerfuffle, their families decide to force them to be best friends to save diplomatic relations. One problem? They start to fall for each other.

  • Author: Casey McQuiston
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Fiction
  • Location: Washington DC, London
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

I friggin’ loved this book. It exists in a world where a woman is president and 2020 is just a normal election year. Alex, the First Son, is like textbook chaotic good and a whole mood from the first chapter. Prince Henry is too sweet for words and they provide a nice balance to each other. I just want to live in this world and be friends with all the characters involved in this love story.

The Blue Rose | 2021 Book Challenge

28. The Blue Rose

A doomed romance between Viviane, the aristocratic daughter of an a countryside château, and David, the Welshman commissioned to re-do the garden, ends with her believing him dead. Her arranged marriage and move Versailles coincides with the French Revolution while David has escaped and joined a diplomatic mission to China. With so much distance and chaos, can the do ever have a chance to reunite?

  • Author: Kate Forsyth
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: France
  • Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

I thought this was such an interesting take on a few different things – the introduction of Chinese roses to Europe, the French Revolution, and the Chinese Legend of the Blue Rose. I knew nothing about any of them before reading, so I really did not know where this would take me, though I had an idea that the ending would never be too sad as Kate Forsyth doesn’t do tragic endings. The big thing it made me realize was how brutal the French Revolution was. Like I knew it was bad with chopping off the king and queens’ heads, but it was so much more bloodthirsty. The one figure I truly feel the worst for has to be Louis XVII who wound up dying at the age of ten basically from torture :(.

The Headmaster's Wager | 2021 Book Challenge

29. The Headmaster’s Wager

Set in 1960s and 1970s Saigon, Percival Chen is a Hoa Chinese who cares about making money, his only son, Dai Jai, and maintaining both of their Chinese-ness. When this ethnocentrism encourages Dai Jai to stage a walkout over learning Vietnamese, it kicks off an unfortunate chain of events as within a war that will only end with the Fall of Saigon in 1975.

  • Author: Vincent Lam
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction (1960s)
  • Location: Cho Lon & Sai Gon, Vietnam
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

I never thought I’d like a book where I had so much disdain for the main character! Percival is truly the worst kind of main character. He’s selfish, fails upwards, and is an absolute idiot. Like imagine you move to a country wanting to be rich but feel yourself above the people who are actually from that country. And that’s just the start! Not only that, imagine being so blindly ethnocentric that you don’t realize what psychotic “revolution” is going on from abroad!

However, I love the story Vincent Lam told as well as the many descriptions of Cho Lon and Saigon of the 1960s and 70s. I’m obsessed with the way everything unfolded and how it ended. Like the whole reason Percival was extra hard on Dai Jai was because he was seeing a Vietnamese girl who Percival couldn’t even deign to meet or recognize. All that led to the series of events that had Dai Jai starving in China. Then the same half-French/half-Vietnamese woman he falls for while gambling (when he shouldn’t be gambling) is his son’s old lover? And the baby you thought you’d gotten her pregnant with is actually his? And just when this poor son who’s basically suffered from the minute he caused a commotion over learning Vietnamese in a misguided attempt to impress Percival dies while in Saigon because it’s chaos… AHHHH.

The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba | 2021 Book Challenge

30. The Most Beautiful Girl in Cuba

Learn about the rise of Hearst Communications, the Cuban War of Independence, and the Spanish-American War as seen through the eyes of NYC journalist, Grace Harrington, secret courier in Cuba, Marina Perez, the real life, most beautiful girl in Cuba, Evangelina Cisneros.

  • Author: Chanel Cleeton
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction (1890s)
  • Location: Havana, Cuba & NYC, NY
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

This was another point in time that I wasn’t familiar with before reading. Most of what I’ve read of watched about Cuba is more around the 1950s with Batista and Castro, but this goes back even further to the late 1890s when Cuba was just trying to gain independence from Spain. I really enjoyed the three main protagonists and how Cleeton writes each of them.

Also if you’re wondering Marina Perez would be a great-great aunt (so sister of their great grandfather to Elisa (Next Year in Havana) and Beatriz (When We Left Cuba). In her book club kit for this book there’s a family tree.

Sweet Bean Paste | 2021 Book Challenge

31. Sweet Bean Paste

A sweet, simple tale of an apathetic doryaki seller in Tokyo and an elderly woman with disfigured hands who wants to work for him for 1/3 his hourly rate while showing how to make truly delicious doryaki.

Thoughts

I enjoyed Sweet Bean Paste for the same reasons The Great Passage by Shion Miura is one of my favorite books. Sukegawa has this way of making a complete mundane setting into something charming and special. It’s a pretty short read and just something nice to enjoy. Definitely save to read after a particularly intense book.

The Only Woman in the Room | 2021 Book Challenge

32. The Only Woman in the Room

A fictional take on the true life of Hedy Lamarr, the famous Hollywood screen star who was also an incredibly intelligent scientist.

  • Author: Marie Benedict
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction (1930s-40s)
  • Location: Vienna, Austria & Los Angeles, CA
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

I so wanted to love this book, but it wasn’t my favorite. Hedy Lamarr has one of those stories that feels almost surreal. Like if someone made it up, an editor would tell them they were being too unrealistic. And this book just felt too… dry I guess? I never felt like I got to know Hedy as a main character, and she really never felt human to me. Also once she got to Hollywood, I felt the story seemed even sparser and a bit sped up.

Seven Days in June | 2021 Book Challenge

33. Seven Days in June

Fifteen years ago, it only took seven days for Eva Mercy and Shane Hall to meet, fall intensely, and implode. Now they’re both adults with successful, albeit different literary careers and their paths are unexpectedly crossing once again.

Thoughts

One of my top reads of the year! Once in a blue moon, I accompany my mom and sister to BJ’s (sort of like Costco) and wander over to their massive book selection while they go pick up who know’s what. This happened to catch my eye and I remember having it in my Goodreads from a while back.

It’s weird to say but this book is cute. There’s a lot of trigger-warning, heavy material especially in the younger years but at the same time you’ll be squealing and metaphorically fist pumping in the present day. You’ve gotta read it, and you’ll know what I mean!

The Resistance Women | 2021 Book Challenge

34. The Resistance Women

A novel about the real life figures, Mildred Harnack, Greta Kuckhoff, and the Rote Kapelle, an espionage group that tried to stop the spread of Nazism.

  • Author: Jennifer Chiaverini
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Historical Fiction (WWII)
  • Location: Berlin, Germany
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

For all I read about WWII, there’s always more to learn. I have never heard of the real life figures of Mildred Harnack or Greta Kuckhoff nor did I know anything about Rote Kapelle (Red Orchestra). Part of that is because their espionage against Nazism was tied to the Soviet Union, so, you know, US historians buried it deep within their work on Nazi Germany.

This is another book that just felt like it was trying to cover too much material without truly finding the heart of the characters. I listened to this on Audible and honestly kept getting characters confused. There’s a lot more POV characters than Mildred and Greta and some of them kind of just fade off (like the ambassador’s daughter). I think it would’ve been a lot better if Chiaverini focused on one person to show us what was going on and what Rote Kapelle was trying to do.

The Last Story of Mina Lee | 2021 Book Challenge

35. The Last Story of Mina Lee

Alternate between Mina Lee’s first year in LA as an undocumented immigrant and the present after her daughter, Margot, finds her dead in their apartment.

  • Author: Nancy Jooyoun Kim
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Fiction (1987 & 2014)
  • Location: Los Angeles, CA
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

One thing I liked about this book is how much of a character Koreatown in LA was. It reminded me of how Elissa always described growing up in LA as a melting pot with Korean, Chinese, Mexican, and more cultures all intermingling. Other than that though, this book is frankly really depressing. Good but depressing. Don’t read if you’re not in the right headspace for it.

The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang | 2021 Book Challenge

36. The Heart Principle

A follow up to The Kiss Quotient and The Bride Test, this one follows Quan and Anna. Anna is suffering from imposter syndrome after a video of her playing violin goes viral when her boyfriend decides he wants an open relationship. Her initial plan of having one night stand after another stops when Quan, who seems completely unacceptable on paper, turns out to be a bit of a Prince Charming.

Thoughts

I’ve been waiting for this book! What I love about Hoang’s books is that they take a bit of a romantic comedy format but makes it steamier and more heartfelt without feeling sappy. You can also see with each novel how much more comfortable she is writing about autism and just how personal Anna is to her.

I mean everyone falls in love with Quan between the first two books, so we were all waiting to see who would be the female lead, and I find him and Anna to be so perfectly suited. This is very much Anna’s book, and it’s *chefs kiss* to see her growth!

Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu | 2021 Book Challenge

37. Interior Chinatown

Told in screenplay form, this is a look into Chinatown and the lack of roles for Asian actors.

Thoughts

Took me a second to get into with how it’s set-up, but wound up really enjoying it. It’s a really creative way to look at just how bad it’s been for Asian actors in Hollywood.

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker | 2021 Book Challenge

38. The Silence of the Girls

The Trojan War as told from Briseis.

Thoughts

I don’t want to say I hated this but upon reflection, I really didn’t like it. Another one where I wanted to so badly because Briseis is one of the most interesting and untapped characters from the whole Trojan War! However, I feel like even Brad Pitt’s Troy did a better job giving her character. Like if you’re going to base your whole book about the silence of women in war and how Briseis is the best example of that – why would you switch POVs midway through the book to Achilles and Patroclus?

Also the modern dialogue is atrocious. Whoever decided on that made a bad call.

The Bookshop of Second Chances by Jackie Fraser | 2021 Book Challenge

39. The Bookshop of Second Chances

A charming love story between recently separated Thea and curmudgeonly secondhand bookshop owner Edward in a small Scottish village.

Thoughts

This is such a charming little book. Nothing really crazy happens, but it’s a lovely read from start to finish. There’s even a cute cat! Wondering how I can make this my own life.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey | 2021 Book Challenge

40. The Snow Child

Set in 1920s Alaska, this is a retelling of the Russian folktale “Snegurochka.”

Thoughts

A really interesting tale! Ivey does a really good job bringing Alaska alive, and I thought the tale was intriguing. I do think there was a bit of a pacing issue as the book picks up too much and kind of skips a few years in a paragraph which felt jarring. Almost feel like the book should’ve been split in two!

The Power by Naomi Alderman | 2021 Book Challenge

41. The Power

What would happen if women could suddenly overpower men with a zap of their hands?

  • Author: Naomi Alderman
  • How I Read: Audible
  • Category: Speculative Fiction
  • Location: Around the World
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

I bought this book on Audible years ago because my friend loved it, but put off reading it for a long time after she died because it reminded me of her. I finally managed to listen to it, and boy is it an absolutely wild ride. Some of the scenes feel particularly graphic, and then you remember similar things have definitely happened in history with the genders reversed, and it makes you justtt a bit more nauseous.

The Wicked Widow by Beatriz Williams | 2021 Book Challenge

42. The Wicked Widow

The third installment of Beatriz William’s Wicked series. In 1925, Gin Kelly has settled down and married Oliver Anson Marshall, a former Prohibition agent, while in 1998 Ella Dommerich is dealing with her sudden pregnancy with her cheating ex-husband while trying to trust in her new, perfect boyfriend, Hector even as he has to leave her to fly across the country.

Thoughts

I actually think I want to re-read all three books in a row this year so I get the story at once, but I might also just wait until the next installment comes so it’s fresher in my memory. It took me a bit to get into the first book, but I have to say I’m totally sucked into the world of Gin and Anson and even Ella and Hector now!

She Memes Well by Quinta Brunson | 2021 Book Challenge

43. She Memes Well

A book of essays from a child of both the Internet and Philadelphia.

Thoughts

Always loved Quinta in the Buzzfeed skits, and it’s awesome seeing all she’s gone on to accomplish! Love “Abott Elementary,” and when I was looking up her interviews for it, I saw she also wrote a book of essays! This book is fun and the perfect read for fellow children of the Internet as well as anyone who grew up in or near Philly.

Normal People by Sally Rooney | 2021 Book Challenge

44. Normal People

An Irish love story between two people who, in their own ways, are trying to be normal.

Thoughts

I don’t know how but this story took SUCH a hold on me! I immediately watch the TV show after I finished, and I feel like I was caught in the grip of Marianne and Connell’s lives for a while. Felt like a hangover when I finally moved on. I’m clearly not the only one, so if you know, you know.

Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok | 2021 Book Challenge

45. Mambo in Chinatown

Charlie Wong has traded in dishwashing for dancing as she struggles to balance a life in Chinatown and this shiny new world of ballroom dancing.

Thoughts

I love Jean Kwok and am only sad she doesn’t have more novels for me to tear through. The major theme in her novels is balancing life an identity between two cultures (usually NYC and Chinese), and this rings true for Charlie. It’s a very sweet Cinderella-like story and has a very cute update on our main character from Girl in Translation.

The Other Black Girl Zakiya Dalila Harris | 2021 Book Challenge

46. The Other Black Girl

Nella Rogers is initially excited that another black girl is joining the stuffy Wagner Books. But then things start getting weird and a note appears telling her to LEAVE WAGNER NOW, and she starts to wonder who exactly this Hazel is.

Thoughts

This one will have you reading quickly to figure out what the heck is going on!

The Mermaid from Jeju by Sumi Hahn | 2021 Book Challenge

47. The Mermaid from Jeju

The story of a young haenyeo in Jeju as her life changes during April 3 Incident of 1948.

Thoughts

If you liked The Island of Sea Women, you’ll like this tale. It’s definitely a heartbreaking one.

Our Woman in Moscow by Beatriz Williams | 2021 Book Challenge

48. Our Woman in Moscow

Ruth hasn’t spoken to her twin sister, Iris, since 1940 when she left her in Italy with Sasha Digby and long before the couple disappeared from London in 1948. Now it’s 1952 and Ruth has received a postcard from her long lost sister asking her to come to Moscow to help with her fourth pregnancy.

  • Author: Beatriz Williams
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Historical Fiction
  • Location: Rome, NYC, Moscow
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

It’s funny because this feels like both a Beatriz Williams novel but also something quite new for her. Maybe it’s because she’s never really set anything in Russia or Russia-adjacent before. I loved it! Right mix of intrigue and love story.

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb | 2021 Book Challenge

49. The Beauty of Humanity Movement

A story about Old Many Hung, his famous pho, and the cast of characters that surround him.

Thoughts

I’m also hesitant to read books by authors who have limited experience in the country they’re writing about, but I really loved Gibb’s take on Vietnam! At least to me, it feels like she did her research, and I lovvvveeddd her describes of pho.

Ask Again Yes by Mary Beth Keane | 2021 Book Challenge

50. Ask Again, Yes

What happens when two cops who move next door to each other and have two kids who fall for each other even as one cop’s wife has undiagnosed mental health issues.

Thoughts

I feel like this book is sold as a love story and spends its time on all the other characters. Can’t say I’d recommend it, and it’s just kind of depressing to read. The love story bits are really, really glossed over, so you don’t even buy it after they stop being kids!

Gente Normal by Sally Rooney | 2021 Book Challenge

51. Gente Normal

Spanish translation of Normal People.

  • Author: Sally Rooney (Translated by Inga Pellisa Díaz)
  • How I Read: Libby / Kindle
  • Category: Fiction
  • Location: Dublin & Sligo, Ireland
  • Support Local // Buy on Amazon

Thoughts

Normal People, but Spanish! I did want to challenge myself to reading a Spanish book this year, and this wound up being them one last minute!

A Certain Age by Beatriz Williams | 2021 Book Challenge

52. A Certain Age

Theresa Marshall is a respectable upper-crust woman of NYC society in the 1920s with a much older, largely absent husband and a much younger lover, Captain Octavian Rofrano. What happens when her brother’s new fiancee, the young Sophie Forestcue, comes into the picture and her Boy meets someone his own age?

Thoughts

My last book of the year! I do have to say, I hope Williams writes more about older characters in future novels. I feel so old reading about the 17-24 year olds most of the books are about, and I’m only 29 lol. I know Theresa isn’t the most likeable, but I liked her! Don’t read The Wicked Widow or Cocoa Beach if you don’t want this book spoiled!

And that’s everything I read at the end of 2022! Still can’t believe I managed to finish in time.

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