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Another entry for the Anuja Chauhan reading club!

Jinni (formally "Sarojini") Pande is mostly happily working as an animator, though she wishes she could animate something other than bacteria and bugs. And then her formidable grandmother Pushpa Pande sweeps in to announce her return to politics, and before she knows it, Jinni is running for MP in her home region. Complicating things is sexy childhood friend Zain, who is also running, but for the opposing party, as well as scandals, empty campaign promises, bribery, turncoats, electioneering, and all those other good things that come with politics.

I was completely unsurprised to read the author's note in the back and discover that her in-laws are a big family in politics, much as I was unsurprised to find that the author used to be in advertising for The Zoya Factor. They aren't fields I know very much about overall, especially how they work in India, but all the details felt so real, especially the ones that are almost too much to believe in and therefore probably are the bits taken right from real life. I am guessing these are the kinds of books that are even funnier if you actually know the topic, as opposed to the ones that make you roll your eyes because all the details are off? Yes? No?

Anyway, it reminded me most of Taiwan election season, albeit with less acrimony, and I love how Chauhan is totally making fun of the ridiculous things going on while also taking Jinni's idealism and desire to change things seriously, as well as the various issues that Jinni will have to tackle if she's elected.

As pretty much everyone else who has read this has said, the key relationship isn't the Jinni-Zain romance, but rather Jinni's relationship with her larger-than-life grandmother, who is bigoted, wily, unscrupulous, completely unmoveable, and absolutely awesome.

I also loved the overall look at growing up in a political family. At first, I didn't quite buy Jinni just taking off from work to help with a political campaign at the beginning of the book, but after reading about her memories of various campaigns, her grandfather's political legacy, all of her grandmother's work, and her own idealism, it made so much more sense. That said, I did want to see more of Jinni shifting from running just for her grandmother to running for her own sake and for the desire to have the power to make the changes she thought should be made. It's definitely there in the book, from her daring midnight rescue to her observation of how so many politicians made people promises and still the schools weren't fixed, the roads sucked, and the wells got co-opted, but I would have liked that more in the forefront. I also wanted more of Bauji, Jinni's freedom fighter politician grandfather, and her memories of him, as well as the complicated relationship he and her grandmother had, and I especially loved the bits we see of her mother.

I feel like there's an entire novel there as well, being the daughter who abandons the family legacy and takes off only to have your own daughter return to the fold. And it was really refreshing to have Jinni's mother be the NRI living happily in Canada and Jinni herself being the one to return to India, at least when compared to the prevalence of "conflicted identity hyphenated USian teens battling their immigrant parents' expectations" books I've read. (Don't get me wrong, I love it too, especially since that is a big part of my own experience, but it's always nice to have different narratives.)

If you can't already tell, I liked this a lot better than Chauhan's first book, which didn't deviate enough from chick lit tropes for me. Unsurprisingly, the Jinni-Zain romance is actually my least favorite part of the book; I like the childhood memories well enough, and the whole "can I trust him? Is he just messing with me?" back and forth makes a LOT more sense when it comes to your election rival, but Zain kind of loses my interest in comparison to the Pande family dynamics.

Spoilers )

Anyway, definitely recommended, and in case I made it sound serious and unfun, it is hilarious and includes a scene with Jinni putting a condom on a large wooden penis. For politics, of course.

(And I want a book about Munni.)
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Zoya Singh Solanki was born the exact moment India won the Cricket World Cup in 1983. Her next fateful encounter with cricket happens when she is assigned to work with India's cricket team for a Zing! ad for her agency, and soon, the team begins to win whenever she eats breakfast with them. Before she knows it, she is annoying the handsome captain of the team, getting a free ride to Australia for the World Cup, and being hailed as a cricket goddess by some people.

I don't usually read chick lit all that often because of the frequent focus on things like brand names and shopping, and because while I can deal with annoying gender roles in historical romances, it's much more difficult to brush them aside in contemporary romances. This book does have some of the things that annoy me—Zoya's initial stint in the ad company is obviously very conscious of brands—but it wasn't too bad. Also, you can tell where my priorities lie: I was incredibly annoyed at Nikhil Koda, the love interest, until he and Zoya went to a street market and had food. As Nikhil was a fan of the food, I decided I liked him a lot more.

I thought I would actually be more bored by the cricket than I was, seeing as how I am not a big sports person, but all the snippets from the articles from India and the overall excitement reminded me a lot of being in Asia during South Korea's run in the 2002 World Cup. By the end, I was enjoying the cricket bits more than the romance bits.

Unfortunately, the book is at least 100 pages or so too long; in order to stretch the story out, Chauhan basically has a ton of Not-Too-Big Misunderstandings get in the way of Zoya and Nikhil's happy ending. Zoya had decides to ignore Nikhil based on suspicions from gossip rags, her brother's speculations, her own doubts, and various other things that might have made sense the first two or three times, but have gotten incredibly boring the ninth or so time around.

That said, I do actually like Zoya and Nikhil, and I particularly like Zoya's family and friends. And I laughed so hard at Zoya wondering how on earth monolingual white Australians got by with only one language (what do they do when they are in a different mood?), along with the weirdness of being in a place so full of white people. I so sympathize. And there's just something really fun about Chauhan's narrative voice, from the toinnnnngggg commercial to the two sports announcers and the assorted excerpts from gossip magazines.

Anyway, it's definitely uneven, especially when it comes to the romance, but it felt a lot more familiar than almost all chick lit and/or contemporary romances I read, which is usually split between glamorous big city or small-town (very white) America. So, looking forward to reading her next two books, especially since it sounds like they have plot elements and/or settings that differ even more from standard chick lit/contemporary romance.

Links:
- reviews from the Anuja Chauhan reading club (also, thanks to [personal profile] deepad for setting it up in the first place!)
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The Cinderella Deal (1996) - Linc Blaise is trying get a position at a local college, but for reasons that make sense nowhere but in romance-novel land, the people hiring expect him to be engaged. So he makes an offer to his disorganized, down-on-cash neighbor Daisy. Naturally, despite being complete opposites, attraction, lust, etc. I will say upfront that normally I hate the free-spirited, somewhat hippie women so prevalent in contemporary romance novels. I always feel like shaking them and saying, "Sometimes predictability is not a bad thing! As is not having mold on your dishes!"

This is, of course, utterly hypocritical, since I'm pretty sure I am that person to a lot of other people. (Okay, no mold. But no matter how neat I am, there are always piles of things, and I will never be Linc Blaise or anything remotely like him.)

Still, Crusie always manages to make me like her people, and this is no exception. I especially like watching Linc and Daisy compromise, and despite the romantic-comedy-ness of the set up, the two wanting each other and being convinced it's a terrible idea was very convincing.

Maybe not one of Crusie's best, but definitely one I enjoyed a lot.

Maybe This Time (2010) - When Andie Miller goes in to ask her ex-husband North Archer to stop sending alimony checks (she wants closure and they're a reminder), he says yes, but asks her to watch over his two wards, who are living in what may or may not be a haunted house.

This is the first Crusie I've read that I've not classified as a romance (I've never read her collaborations with Bob Mayer). The story is really more a mystery: is the house haunted? Why? What to do? And how to get the kids out of there?

Although I liked Andie with the two kids, who amazingly do not make me want to vomit with their overbearing cuteness, the ghost story wasn't great, particularly as more and more characters start to come in. I felt like, as in, Tell Me Lies, Crusie was sometimes tackling a subject too dark for her trademark humor, especially since everything ends up happily ever after. I was particularly unhappy with the characterization of the female reporter. Overall, I felt it suffered a bit from not being a romance, because I found the end conclusion with North coming in and the two falling back in love to be a bit too rushed.

Still funny, but it felt very unbalanced to me.
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I really liked Headley's first book, Nothing But the Truth (and a Few White Lies), and I love this one.

Syrah Cheng is the daughter of millionaire Ethan Cheng; she wanted to be a pro snowboarder, but an accident tore her ACL and so far, she hasn't been snowboarding since. To make matters worse, her mom keeps telling her she's fat, her best friend Adrian (Age) is withdrawing because of his new girlfriend, and her half-siblings hate her.

This could easily have been a poor little rich girl story, but I genuinely cared about Syrah and her problems. Part of this is because Headley does address class a little -- there's not that much overt deconstruction, but while we see the dark side of wealth, we (and Syrah) also get to see how many doors money opens, particularly when comparing Syrah with her friend Age and when comparing Syrah with her half-siblings, both of whom grew up with their father before he struck metaphorical gold.

Also, some day I will get sick of saying this, but right now, I'm still delighted that she's Chinese! And she does not angst about her Chinese-ness, but it is very clearly there. I really appreciate Headley's research; she even knows that there are twelve symbols of luck on the traditional Qing dragon robes, frex. But it's not research for the sake of research; a lot of the conflict in the story comes from Syrah's family history, and it's a history very closely tied to politics.

Also also, I really appreciate that most of the things I loved about Nothing But the Truth are back here: the focus on female friendship; the focus on inter-generational relationships that go beyond simple misunderstandings; the consistent framing of romance as a factor and a problem, but not the problem; the set-up of what look like stereotypical YA problems, but quickly turn into more complex issues; the optimism; and the main character's interest in things that aren't clothes, social hierarchy and boys (I have no problem with these interests, being a clotheshorse and an avid reader/watcher of all things romantic, but it's also nice to see variety in YA books).

Like Headley's first book, the ending feels a little too optimistic to be real, but honestly, I don't care. It made me happy, and I wanted Syrah to win. Also, even though the ending to this book is a little larger than life, Syrah still doesn't solve all her problems with a magic wand. What I left with was the feeling that Syrah had gotten some tools for dealing in an adult way, and while there would still be problems ahead, she'd be better equipped to handle them.

Headley's also continued with her multi-racial world; there's a strong focus on East Asian-ness and Chinese-ness in particular, but there's also the casual mention of not one, but several, biracial kids; Age is Mexican-American, and there's just the sense that the world is not whitewashed, which I really like. Also, I cheer for interracial relationships, both romantic and not. In terms of gender politics, I do wish there were some GLBT characters. In general, though, I love how important all the female relationships are. Yeah, you get some of the high school clique girls, but you also get many other girls and women, friends and sisters and cousins and mothers and daughters and grandmothers.

And! I am still not over reading about things that are from my own life, like sitting around the kitchen table wrapping dumplings, complete with learning how to from older female relatives. The part about making dumplings that look like the Son of the Blob? OMG so my first hundred dumplings! Same with the generational divide and language, and I love love love that Headley's Chinese people live in China and Hong Kong and Seattle and Vancouver, that they move around, that some are fourth-gen sons of immigrants. I especially loved the look at Mandarin and Cantonese and the notion of mother tongues and what that actually means. As far as I could tell, most of the references are right, with the exception of girls' manga as "shonin." But hey, given how much else the book gets right, I don't really care.

I just ... I love reading something in which I actually get most or all of the cultural references, as opposed to the usual "Hrm, what is this meatloaf of which you speak?" reaction (I know what meatloaf is now! And I like it! But I spent most of childhood wondering what it was and why everyone seemed to hate it).

So: yay book! And I'm really looking forward to whatever Headley writes next.

Links:
- [livejournal.com profile] buymeaclue's review
- [livejournal.com profile] gwyneira's review
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Wow, am I glad that the recent trend is YA POC chicklit (is this a recent trend?), not depressing depressingness.

Patty Ho -- and don't get started on her name, because she's heard it all before -- is hapa, half-white and half-Taiwanese¹. As expected, she's angsty about this, but since this is YA POC chicklit instead of the aforementioned depressing depressingness, she manages to get some self-esteem at math camp, find out more about her family, and just have fun.

I don't think I can be rational about this book, because I spent most of it reading and flailing, thinking, "OMG! People! It is a book about me!" And not me as in "bookwormish shy girl" (which I have encountered more often), but me as in "Taiwan and Bay Area and potlucks and language divides and trying to figure out where you fit in when you're not quite one thing and not quite the other." I mean, it is not about me as well, since I'm not Taiwanese (am Chinese from Taiwan) and I'm not multiracial, but it is also more about me that so many other books that I've read that it is still a joy to find.

I hope someday just finding myself in a book won't be this rare.

But there is a math whiz who reads romances! And a cool Chinese kid from LA and interracial dating (and POC-POC interracial dating)! And! OMG! Headley distinguishes between Taiwanese and Chinese and among Taiwanese and Mandarin and Cantonese and I would love her just for that. But that is not all, because she's got a little in the book about the KMT and Taiwan and the 228 massacre and, and!

I mean, it is not happy material, but Headley doesn't make it the center of the book, but she also doesn't gloss over it. It's just there, part of Patty's background, and I grinned and grinned, because how many times have I done the entire "I'm from Taiwan. No, I don't speak Taiwanese. No, I'm actually Chinese, and you shouldn't call me Taiwanese because it's pretty politically fraught. No, my parents were born in Taiwan, but my grandparents are from China." And usually I do not mind, but it is just so nice to have a place where I don't have to explain.

And not just that, but there is Stanford and the Bay Area, and you can tell Headley has lived here before.

Patty, from a very white suburb Seattle, gets off at SFO for the first time and looks around, astounded at all the Asians, and I wanted to hug her and say, "Hi, welcome home!" (even though I am sure that is rather obnoxious).

The book itself is fairly standard YA POC chicklit, though it's got a strong focus on female relationships (friendships and family), and you can tell Headley's very dedicated to overthrowing stereotypes about Asians even as Patty hates things like her mom's lectures. I definitely snorfled in recognition when Patty's friend Jasmine rolls her eyes at the white girl in camp who feels out of place at an all-Asian sushi restaurant and pulls the "you eat what?" thing.

I can also see [livejournal.com profile] littlebutfierce's point about how the emphasis on the beauty of multiracial people can get a little overwhelming at times, but as she says, given that Headley's own daughter is multiracial, I don't blame her. The focus is definitely on empowering Patty, and while some parts are too slick (I wanted a deeper look at Jasmine and Anne and Auntie Lu), it's a fun and fast read.

I'm very glad I have her next book on hold at the library.

also, taiwan! bay area! a chinese experience that reads like mine as opposed to joy luck club!


¹ [livejournal.com profile] kate_nepveu has a good post on the Hapa Project and the terminology of "hapa" that I agree with, though this book uses "hapa" as a neutral term (the author does explain its history as derogative, but not its history as a word to describe Hawai'ians in particular and not Asian multiracial people as a whole). So I will use it this once and then use "multiracial" in the rest of the write up. Whew, that was a long footnote.


Links:

- [livejournal.com profile] furyofvissarion's review
- [livejournal.com profile] yhlee's review
- [livejournal.com profile] buymeaclue's review
- [livejournal.com profile] gwyneira's review
- [livejournal.com profile] magicnoire's review
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Does anyone have recommendations for happy YA chicklit starring POC and/or by POC?

Qualifications:

I have read half of Dana Davidson's Jason & Kyra and got bored by the prose and descriptions of what everyone was wearing, I know about Melissa de la Cruz, I've read Does My Head Look Big in This? and liked it, may check out First Daughter soon, read half of Born Confused and got bored by the prose, just read Whale Talk and will probably blaze through Crutcher's backlist, and read a few pages of The Fly on the Wall and got bored. I've also read Justine Larbalestier, Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu, Susan Vaught, Nancy Farmer, Tamora Pierce, and am planning on going through suggestions here. (How is Virginia Hamilton on the depressing scale?)

I also want books, not manga or comics.

I know about the imprint Kimani TRU but haven't read anything of theirs, so thumbs up or down are appreciated.

1. I want happy. As in, I am tired of scanning summaries of books about POC and going "gang, unwanted pregnancy, gang, violence, gang, OPPRESSION, gang, racism, gang, abusive boyfriend, gang, historical oppression, gang." (if you can't tell, please no more gangs!)

2. I am thinking of something sort of like Fresh off the Boat or Does My Head Look Big in This?, or like Maureen Johnson. Sarah Dessen works too (I would prefer interior angst over GANG). I tend to like girls who are not ashamed of their culture and/or race, interesting prose, and romance, but romance isn't required.

3. The book has to star a girl, or at least have her section of the story comprise of at least half.

ETA: 4. The book has to have a POC protagonist (not a secondary role, no matter how cool) or a POC author.

5. Fluff is good! Just to give you an idea... the last three books I have read were about hazing, Japanese internment camps, and physical and emotional abuse. I think I need to read something light and happy and fluffy before going there again.
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I suspect this would have been a much better book if it had been half as long as it was.

Katie Simmonds is currently a waitress, though every week, she decides she wants to be something else (educational psychologist, author, director, you name it). Her best friend Sukie, also a waitress at the same cafe, is an aspiring actress, and her roommate Jon is a socially phobic writer.

I got the name of Melissa Nathan off a rec for romances via [livejournal.com profile] desayunoencama, so it was interesting to find that the book feels more like chick lit than genre romance (less time devoted to the romance and more time devoted to the heroine's group of friends and social life).

Nathan can be funny, but often, I just wanted to slap Katie for being stupid. I think we're meant to sympathize with Katie's foibles, since everyone's life is a bit of a mess, but I just can't, because Katie willfully does not deal with her mess, and that drives me insane. Also, because of this, the plot relies on a few too many Big Misunderstandings. I.e. there is more than one Big Misunderstanding, and for me, one is already one too many. I had a very difficult time believing that characters who had the brains to start their own business would be that stupid emotionally.

I am not speaking of those people you know who have no emotional intelligence. I am speaking of everyone in the book acting like high schoolers when they are in fact in their late twenties or early thirties, as far as I can tell.

Hrm. I think this write up sounds much angrier than I meant; I wasn't mad at the book per se, but it just made me roll my eyes a lot. I've read this book in about a dozen incarnations, and I'm really just not that interested in reading yet another.

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