Friday, August 28, 2020

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed by Michael Meyer

The shaky blue fence might temporarily ward off the relentless march of urban landscape change but Michael Meyer finds that precious architecture in Beijing can’t stay for long. Set in the time period right before the 2008 Olympics, Meyer, who volunteers as an English teacher at a local elementary school, chronicles how the centuries-old hutong, small communal living spaces were being systematically torn down. They made room for high-rises that seemingly reflected a more advanced society. Heartwarming stories and pictures of hutong residents sprinkled with the history of Beijing deliver an insightful and heart-wrenching narrative of the cost of globalism.

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Bad Muslim Discount by Syed Masood


Anvar and Safwa might be from different parts of the world, their outlooks shaped by different worldviews, but their paths intersect in California when Safwa’s fractured past begins to catch up with her. The smartass lawyer Anvar, who veers dangerously close to being just plain cocky, must figure out how American ideals apply in his client’s most trying circumstances. Sprinkled with plenty of masala, and a voice-y attitude in Anvar, this is a rollicking tale that is both entertaining and wise. Pot-bellied uncles, hysterical moms, jazz-loving Dads, the story has all the ingredients for a heartwarming if formulaic Bollywood-style blockbuster. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Likeness by Tana French

The fingerprints might have been wiped clean but Agent Cassie Maddox doesn’t get easily fazed. Not until she finds that the murder victim in a small Irish town is a spitting image of her own self. The likeness delivers an opportunity that Maddox and her squad exploit. There’s a lot of distracting nature buildup (rustling in the deep woods, house-creaking) and French takes her time to place all the ducks in order. Nevertheless those who love mysteries that are rich in atmosphere and character studies will appreciate French’s sophomore novel. Proof why she’s such a hot ticket in crime fiction.

Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town

 The relentlessly brilliant Barbara Demick delivers another round of knockout reporting. After her illuminating insights into North Korea, she travels to Tibet, specifically the volatile town of Ngaba. Infamous for numerous monks’ self-immolation, Ngaba is the frontline of the resistance against Chinese imperialism. History comes alive through the stories of the people featured. Through Demick’s intrepid work, the reader walks away with a nuanced portrait of a people who have often been portrayed in one-dimensional caricature. A revealing narrative of the slow march of China into Tibet and how Tibetans are balancing the advent of capitalism while preserving their culture. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Summer 2020 Reading

 Sunday, August 9. It’s Book Lovers’ Day today. I thought it’s as good a day as any to take stock of my summer reading. My summer reading usually doesn’t vary much from my rest-of-the-year reading. But of course this year’s different. At the beginning of the summer, I heard of a “20 books over the summer” challenge. Not knowing what my pace would be and not letting that number guide my reading, I decided to jump in. I intentionally sought out many travelogues over these three months as I knew I would only be doing armchair travel this year.

Here’s the list, in no particular order, of books I have read only over June, July and August. I’m guessing I’ll be up to 30 by the time August is done. I have also marked the books I had to read for reviewing in Booklist and Kirkus. A few others have links to my reviews in my book blog, Booksnfreshair.

  1. The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo

  2. The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

  3. The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation by David Kamp

  4. Street Without a Name: Childhood and Other Misadventures in Bulgaria by Kapka Kassabova

  5. Villa Pacifica by Kapka Kassabova

  6. The Glass Kingdom by Lawrence Osborne

  7. Red Pill by Hari Kunzru (reviewed for Booklist)

  8. Chasing the Monsoon by Alexander Frater

  9. Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

  10. Luster by Raven Leilani

  11. Bottle of Lies: The Inside Story of the Generic Drug Boom by Katherine Eban

  12. The Perfect World of Miwako Sumida by Clarissa Goenawan

  13. Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai by Nina Mingya Powles

  14. The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

  15. To the Lake: A Balkan Journey of War and Peace by Kapka Kassabova

  16. The Burning by Megha Majumdar

  17. The Museums of Whales You Will Never See and Other Excursions to Iceland’s Most Unusual Museums by A. Kendra Greene

  18. Nights When Nothing Happened by Simon Han

  19. Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia by Lisa Dickey

  20. Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick

  21. Truthtelling by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (reviewed for Booklist)

  22. To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss (reviewed for Booklist)

  23. A Million Aunties by Alicia McKenzie (reviewed for Kirkus)

  24. Likes by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum

  25. Dirt: Adventures in Lyon as a Chef in Training, Father and Sleuth Looking for the Secret of French Cooking by Bill Buford

  26. The Great Offshore Grounds by Vanessa Veselka (reviewed for Booklist)

  27. Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (reviewed for Booklist)