You guys already know I’m hardcore bookworm. (If you didn’t, now you do.) I try to finish at least five books per week, and while progress is a little slow, I am at least just four books shy from completing my Goodreads goal of 120 books for the year. And since I’ve come across a variety of moving tomes this past year, I thought I’d share five of my recent favorites.
1. “Forbidden” by Tabitha Suzuma
young adult; contemporary romance; drama
She is pretty and talented – sweet sixteen and never been kissed. He is seventeen; gorgeous and on the brink of a bright future. And now they have fallen in love. But… they are brother and sister.
Seventeen-year-old Lochan and sixteen-year-old Maya have always felt more like friends than siblings. Together they have stepped in for their alcoholic, wayward mother to take care of their three younger siblings. As defacto parents to the little ones, Lochan and Maya have had to grow up fast. And the stress of their lives—and the way they understand each other so completely—has also also brought them closer than two siblings would ordinarily be. So close, in fact, that they have fallen in love. Their clandestine romance quickly blooms into deep, desperate love. They know their relationship is wrong and cannot possibly continue. And yet, they cannot stop what feels so incredibly right. As the novel careens toward an explosive and shocking finale, only one thing is certain: a love this devastating has no happy ending.
This book has won and has been nominated for a lot of European awards, and rightly so. Just as a warning, though, the book tackles incest. Yes, we are all aware that it is taboo. But this book covers the subject in such a way that coaxes you to really understand why Lochan and Maya did what they did. This book doesn’t push for or praise incest. It just presents their dysfunctional relationship in a fresh light, reminding you that humans truly are complex and bound to break societal rules.
I’m willing to bet you that the ending will bring tears to your eyes.
2. “Maybe in Another Life: A Novel” by Taylor Jenkins Reid
new adult; contemporary romance; chick lit
At the age of twenty-nine, Hannah Martin still has no idea what she wants to do with her life. She has lived in six different cities and held countless meaningless jobs since graduating college. On the heels of leaving yet another city, Hannah moves back to her hometown of Los Angeles and takes up residence in her best friend Gabby’s guestroom. Shortly after getting back to town, Hannah goes out to a bar one night with Gabby and meets up with her high school boyfriend, Ethan.
Just after midnight, Gabby asks Hannah if she’s ready to go. A moment later, Ethan offers to give her a ride later if she wants to stay. Hannah hesitates. What happens if she leaves with Gabby? What happens if she leaves with Ethan?
In concurrent storylines, Hannah lives out the effects of each decision. Quickly, these parallel universes develop into radically different stories with large-scale consequences for Hannah, as well as the people around her. As the two alternate realities run their course, Maybe in Another Life raises questions about fate and true love: Is anything meant to be? How much in our life is determined by chance? And perhaps, most compellingly: Is there such a thing as a soul mate?
Hannah believes there is. And, in both worlds, she believes she’s found him.
I read this gem in three hours. Literally couldn’t put it down. This book gives an interesting perspective regarding the choices we make and how our lives could fork in different paths from there.
3. “Girl in Translation: A Novel” by Jean Kwok
coming of age; Asian literature; contemporary
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she quickly begins a secret double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life like the staggering degree of her poverty, the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy who shares none of her talent or ambition. Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
Through Kimberly’s story, author Jean Kwok, who also emigrated from Hong Kong as a young girl, brings to the page the lives of countless immigrants who are caught between the pressure to succeed in America, their duty to their family, and their own personal desires, exposing a world that we rarely hear about.
Written in an indelible voice that dramatizes the tensions of an immigrant girl growing up between two cultures, surrounded by a language and world only half understood, Girl in Translation is an unforgettable and classic novel of an American immigrant-a moving tale of hardship and triumph, heartbreak and love, and all that gets lost in translation.
If you want a book with definite character development, this is it. The novel takes you from the moment Kim and her mother arrive in Brooklyn to seven years after Kim graduates, and then the epilogue happens twelve years after that. Kim goes from scared, unsure Chinese girl suffering culture shock to … I won’t spoil it!
The ending is also a tearjerker. Depending on how you look at things, it’s either a happy ending or a sad one.
4. “Act of God: A Novel” by Jill Ciment
science fiction; contemporary adult fiction
It’s the summer of 2015; Brooklyn. The city is sweltering from another record-breaking heat wave, this one accompanied by biblical rains. Edith, recently retired legal librarian and her identical twin sister, Kat, a feckless romantic who’s mistaken her own eccentricity for originality, discover something ominous in their hall closet: it seems to be phosphorescent; it’s a mushroom…and it’s sprouting from their wall.
Upstairs, their landlady, Vida Cebu, a Shakespearian actress far more famous for her TV commercials for Ziberax (the first female sexual enhancement pill) than for her stage work, discovers that a petite Russian girl, a runaway au pair, has been secretly living in her guest room closet. When the police arrest the intruder, they find a second mushroom, also glowing, under the intruder’s bedding. Soon the HAZ-MAT squad arrives and the four women are forced to evacuate the contaminated row house with only the clothes on their backs.
As the mold infestation spreads from row house to high-rise, and frightened, bewildered New Yorkers wait out this plague (is it an act of God?) on their city and property, the four women become caught up in a centrifugal nightmare.
This was a truly interesting short read. Every character was well-defined, each with their own back story. The setting, for some reason, gave me chills. This novel is part horror and part screwball comedy. The uncanny history of the mysterious mushroom that invaded the Brooklyn neighborhood, displacing and killing off its residents made me want to check every dark nook and cranny of my apartment.
5. “Alternative Alamat: Stories Inspired by Philippine Mythology” edited by Paolo Chikiamco
anthology; urban fantasy; retelling
Philippine mythology is full of images that ignite the imagination: gods of calamity and baldness, of cosmic time and lost things; the many-layered Skyworld, and weapons that fight their own battles; a ship that is pulled to paradise by a chain, and a giant crab that controls the tides . . . Yet too few of these tales are known and read today. Alternative Alamat gathers stories, by contemporary authors of Philippine fantasy, which make innovative use of elements of Philippine mythology. None of these stories are straight re-tellings of the old tales: they build on those stories, or question underlying assumptions; use ancient names as catalysts, or play within the spaces where the myths are silent. What you will find in common in these eleven stories is a love for the myths, epics, and legends which reflect us, contain us, call to us-and it is our hope that, in reading our stories, you may catch a glimpse of, and develop a hunger for, those venerable tales.
This book sort of reminded me of my childhood, or at least the legends I heard from old folks. The legendary diwata (fairy) Mariang Makiling who “haunts” Mt. Makiling was often rehashed in these pages, probably because she truly is a fascinating character. The story of creation involving Tungkung Langit and Alunsina, proudly of Visayan origin, was also retold. (That said, I kinda want to name my future daughter Alunsina. It’s such a beautiful sounding name.)
If you’re curious about Philippine mythology, I highly recommend this book. Granted it’s not accurate (it is a collection of retellings), but it’s a fantastic gateway nonetheless.