Readers' Favorite

August 7, 2022

4 Books to Add Diversity to Your Reading List

by MK French

Asian authors and characters are being represented more and more in literature. If you are looking for more diversity in your reading or are wanting characters that you more identify with, then I have 4 books for you to add to your reading list. If you like historical fiction, folklore, fantasy, or romance, you will find an enjoyable read here.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. Free books were provided for an honest review.

The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford

book cover of historical Asian Literary novel The Many Daughters of Afong Moy by Jamie Ford
August 2022; Atria Books; 978-1982158217
audio, ebook, print (384 pages); Asian-American literature

Former poet laureate Dorothy Moy has dissociative episodes and depression that she channeled into her art, but her five-year-old is now beginning to act the same way. Seeking radical help, Dorothy is now reexperiencing genetic memories from the women she is descended from. Contained within those memories is a presence seeking her out, moving through the centuries. She is determined to break the cycle of abandonment, no matter the cost.

The idea of exploring genetic memories isn't new, and using a machine to access such memories is the backbone of the Assassin's Creed movie and games. (stick with the games, those are better) Jamie Ford's ancestor had emigrated to San Francisco in the late 1800s, changing his last name to the westernized Ford to ease the transition. I have no doubt that some of his own family's stories may have inspired pieces of this novel. He has an amazing voice for all of his characters, and I never once questioned the veracity of the women or their stories. If anything, I get so angry on their behalf when they're manipulated ir taken advantage of in some way. They simply feel too real, like they could be anyone I could meet up with and talk to in real life. 

The chapters are labeled with the name and year of each woman we're with, from Afong in 1836 to Dorothy and Annabel in 2045. The various time periods aren't kind to women, and even in the modern eras, they're still pulled in different directions and seen as less than. It's internalized as well as external, and the outside world exerting its demands puts extra strain on each generation. With generational trauma and epigenetic changes at the center of Dorothy's experimental treatment, it's easy to see where her depression may have stemmed from. Women can hurt each other as well as men can, and the lack of support that the Moy women get leaves them vulnerable.

Individually the women feel alone, but it isn't until the end that Dorothy sees how the lineage falls into place and how stepping up and asserting themselves could have made a difference in each life. Each Moy woman had a turning point moment, and pivoting on that moment can change the course of their history. We get a chance to see this and learn from each woman and take those lessons forward. Epigenetics include positives as well as negatives, and those positive choices can move through the generations as well as trauma. It's a powerful message, one that we can try to focus on ourselves. I enjoyed the detail in each generation's age, and the attention to each path in life.

Bronze Drum by Phong Nguyen

book cover of Asian folklore Bronze Drug by Phong Nguyen
August 2022; Grand Central Publishing; 978-1538753705
audio, ebook, print (400 pages); Asian folklore

The Trưng Sisters are heroes of Vietnamese legend, born in Cung Điện Mê Linh among the Lạc Việt. The Hán Chinese held these lands in their control, demanding increasing tax payments and men to fight in their wars. They also insist on forcing the Vietnamese to conform to their ways. The matrilineal Việt refuse to adopt Confucianism, marry and submit to husbands, or bow to Hán soldiers. When the Hán execute the men and humiliate the elder sister, they all put aside their grief to raise an army of women that can defeat the Hán and free all of the Vietnamese people.

We begin with a storyteller, who is telling the story of elder sister Trưng Trắc and younger sister Trưng Nhị. The elder is the studious and respectful one, the younger runs wild. These aspects of their characters aren't usually talked about in legends, only of the command they carried and the determination to free their people and drive the Hán soldiers from their land. The sisters were raised with the expectation of rule, and their formal education included philosophy, literature, songs and myth of their people, military history and strategy, swordplay, hand-to-hand fighting, and management of their village. The people live with a village focus, not a governorship; this decentralized and matrilineal culture is the complete opposite of their oppressors, who will use any excuse to exert their power. As is said later in the novel, "the Hán will kill us for saying the wrong things, they will kill us for believing the wrong things, they take our men, and murder our children if we stand against them. They will do the same to you unless we all stand together."

Possibly because it's framed as a story told by an outside focus, there is emotional distance from our characters. Traumatic events don't carry the same weight and immediacy they otherwise would.  The sisters hold a strong place in Vietnamese culture, both as an example of nationalism and familial love, but also as a symbol of individual strength. The bronze drums of the culture were used in ceremonial ways and also to mark time and communicate between parts of the army. With the Hán soldiers underestimating the might of women, they pushed back to reclaim their history, pride, and country. The battles showcase that determination and drive, where even new motherhood can't stop revolution. 

This is a story that needs dozens of retellings, from different perspectives to further show the legacy that these amazing women left behind.

Buy Bronze Drum at Amazon

The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu

book cover of Asian mythology novel The Art of Prophecy by Wesley Chu
August 2022; Del Rey; 978-0593237632
audio, ebook, print (544 pages); Asian fantasy

Most prophecies have a chosen one that will save the day. Jian was raised as the hero to kill the Eternal Khan and free the people, but the prophecy was wrong. Others must rise to the occasion: Taishi, an older woman who is the greatest grandmaster of magical martial arts; Sali, a warrior without a leader to follow; and Qisami, a chaotic assassin taking pleasure in the kill. Jian accompanies them, hoping to discover how to be a hero after all.

I'm not sure that the prophecy was wrong about Jian per se, but Taishi was sent to inspect his training and found that it was done by eight competing war masters with practice rounds against former soldiers not allowed to wound him. The boy was taught nothing else, and can't think on his feet. That's terrible for someone going up against a master terrible enough to instill fear for generations and left Taishi maimed the last time they fought. Unfortunately, the Eternal Khan died before Taishi could get far in his training, and nobles found it more expedient to get rid of the evidence than explain what went wrong. With Jian and Taishi on the run, we meet Sali, who holds part of the Eternal Khan's soul. She wants to find the child that the Khan will reincarnate into, and honor her city that was destroyed. Qisami joins the action as an assassin trying to find and kill Jian for the challenge, notoriety, and payout.

The world-building here is lots of fun. I liked the idea of the sun and moons considered a celestial court, three seasons, different geographic locations and the cultural differences that arose as a result, and even how the cities were built. The martial arts use is very much like wuxia novels, though they manipulate jing in this universe. Different schools of training exist, with special techniques and reality-defying moves existing alongside the corrupt duchies, gangs, and spies. Every move and countermeasure taken (except by Jian because he's still essentially a child) are fun to read about. Jian starts over from scratch, learning about humility, friendship, and brotherhood, which he didn't have while alone. Our four main characters' stories all eventually weave together, and it's an exhilarating conclusion that still holds room for more books in this universe if the author so chooses. I hope so, I'd love to return and see what everyone is up to, even Qisami. 

Buy The Art of Prophecy at Amazon

Her Unexpected Roommate by Jackie Lau

book cover of romance novel Her Unexpected Roommate by Jackie Lau

Rose Peng had a memorable one-night stand with Cal, who never called as promised. Months later, her new roommate Caleb Dempsey turns out to be that one-night stand, and he claimed his phone was run over. As much as he promises to find a new place to live, he's not a bad roommate. He does chores, is a calming presence, and she enjoys his company. But Rose has depression, and is it worth risking her mental health to have more?

As the fifth book in the series, we've had glimpses of Rose before. (The Cider Bar Sisters series includes #1 Her Big City Neighbor, #2 His Grumpy Childhood Friend [read my review], #3 The Professor Next Door [read my review], and #4 Her Favorite Rebound [read my review]) We know Rose is an electrical engineer, as all the ladies of the series are professionals living in Baldwin Village. She also has depression and doesn't respond well to medication. All people who have failed multiple trials of medication will understand her frustration with it, and the determination to continue going on despite their depression making it more difficult. Rose also has the specter of her mother's suicide ten years ago hanging over her head. This is a situation intimately familiar for the author, and she explains it for readers prior to the book's opening. Her Unexpected Roommate is still a romance novel, but it's more serious than the prior books in this series.

The relationship is a kind and caring one. Rose has her "bad brain" moments where she second-guesses herself and everything around her. Cal is weak with numbers and math. His easygoing nature is like an antidote to her anxiety, and neither of them diminishes the bad moments that happen. The "breakup" moment of the book that's required of a romance novel isn't an external force; the other guy that Rose dates never really captures her attention that way he hoped he would. Depression is a real concern, and always something that hangs over Rose. But her life has purpose, she and her friends remain close, and she has the best possible happily ever after.

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

Enjoyed this post? Never miss out on future posts by following us. Get even more book news in your inbox, sign up for our newsletter today! Girl Who Reads is an Amazon advertising affiliate; a small commission is earned when purchases are made at Amazon using any Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Girl Who Reads.


Post a Comment