Love, it’s complicated

By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_07/book_tiger.jpgTiger’s Destiny
By Colleen Houck
Splinter, 2012

It’s three quests down and one to go for Kelsey Hayes, Ren, and Kishan, as they continue to work to break the curse that forces the two brothers to live part of their days as tigers.

In the last three books in Houck’s Tiger Saga series, we have seen the trio battle deadly sea monkeys, a giant snake, a monstrous shark, and more. The final installment is no different. “Destiny” is filled with mythical creatures, evil beings, and even has a little bit of time travel thrown in as well.

As Kelsey, Ren, and Kishan work to break the curse, they also have to figure out a way to defeat Lokesh, the evil sorcerer who cursed the brothers in the first place three centuries ago. And if that weren’t enough, Kelsey also has to sort out how she feels about Ren and Kishan and finally make a choice between the two once and for all.

Even though Kelsey’s true feelings are obvious to the reader, and we know whom she’ll end up with, she is still torn. This admittedly drove me a bit crazy, but I do understand the reasons behind some of her choices. She’s been burned and hurt before and opts for the “safer” of the two brothers in order to protect herself.

Despite finding herself in the middle of a heart-wrenching love triangle, Kelsey is a (mostly) rational young woman and pulls her own weight in breaking the brothers’ curse. Aside from a few moments here and there, she’s able to compartmentalize her feelings and focus on their mission when needed.

And while Kelsey may be the girl of the group and Lokesh’s target, she is no damsel in distress. She puts up a great fight and is a force to be reckoned and feared.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_07/book_hot.jpgHot in Here
By Susan Lyons
Kensington, 2006

When journalist Jenny Yuen is assigned to cover a firefighter calendar competition for a newspaper in Vancouver, she has no objections. After all, it’s no hardship to sit there and watch good-looking men strut their stuff down the runway and get paid to write about it.

But as each firefighter shows off their moves, Jenny finds herself drawn to Mr. February, Scott Jackman.

Jenny introduces herself after the show. The two immediately hit it off. They strike up a relationship, but the relationship is purely physical since she knows that there is no way her traditional Chinese family will accept a white guy as a potential partner for her. Of course this backfires as the two indulge in their wildest fantasies and begin to fall for each other.

As with any romance novel, we know Jenny and Scott will end up together, but it’s how they get there that is always fun to read.

Their journey is particularly enjoyable because while it initially appears as if Scott has a fetish for Asian women, we soon realize his passions lie with Jenny herself. Although, I did find the scene in which Jenny dresses up as a geisha per his request particularly amusing. She goes all out and acts like a true geisha, rather than the sexualized stereotype most people – including Scott – see perpetuated.

As a young Asian American woman who grew up in the States, I was also able to relate to Jenny’s struggles of being a good daughter and a modern Western woman. The fact that she hides her relationship with Scott from her family and even pretends to date the son of a family friend (who is in the closet and dealing with issues of his own) didn’t even surprise me.

Jenny wasn’t the first Asian American (or Asian Canadian, in her case) to do so and certainly won’t be the last. Fictional or otherwise.

http://nwasianweekly.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/32_07/book_chamber.jpgThe Red Chamber
By Pauline A. Chen
Knopf, 2012

In this reimagining of Cao Xueqin’s “Dream of the Red Chamber,” we meet the Jia family, who live in 18th century Beijing.

The family is quite influential due to their connections to the current emperor and lives a lavish and enviable lifestyle.

The story begins with orphan Daiyu joining the family after her mother, who had been disowned years earlier by the Jias for marrying Daiyu’s father for love, dies. When she arrives, one of the only ways Daiyu can describe her newly found family is strange. Everyone is so formal and every move they make is to advance the family in social and political circles.

From her uncle Zheng, who works for the government, and cold grandmother Lady Jia, to her cousins Lian and Baoyu, the grieving Daiyu has to learn how to live with her relatives, even when some of them have been less than welcoming.

Eventually, the old emperor is killed and the Jias, who have no connection to the new ruler, fall with him. The men are thrown in jail and the women are left with nothing.

Having grown up in the 20th and 21st centuries, I found the way girls and women are treated in this book – as mere pawns in the families’ chess game of advancement – appalling. But since the story is set in another time and place, I understood that was just the way it was.

Although this is true, I really admired the women in the story as they each had their own strengths. They dealt with their circumstances as best they could and fought for those they loved – sometimes successfully, sometimes futilely. And at the end of the day, that’s all any of us can really do, no matter where or when we live. (end)

Samantha Pak can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

 

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