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As you might already know, I’m a voracious reader. When I was little, I’d sleep with my current read – or latest favourite book – under my pillow. I’d then sneak out after lights-out, and sneak in more reading time tucked behind the curtain, on the windowsill, reading by moonlight. I’m a lifelong bookworm, and one of my biggest worries in life is that I’ll never get round to reading all of the books that are on my list.

With that in mind, I’m also all of my friends’ literary recommendations go-to gal. I run a free, round-the-clock service amongst our WhatsApp chats, coffee dates and over-dinner-catch-ups! Be it a compelling non-fiction or a brilliant novel to spirit them away to new worlds, I’m pretty damn great at sharing my reading recommendations. So, here are the books that I never hesitate to recommend…

Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Natasha is a fellow OG old-school blogger and I have always admired her work, and especially this series. Set in a dystopian world inspired by Ngan’s British Malaysian-Chinese roots, in Girls of Paper and Fire we follow Lei – a girl with luminous golden eyes who is selected as one of the king’s ‘Paper Girls’, 12 girls hand-selected to entertain the king each year. A foray into sense of self, family loyalty, fantasy and friendship, this is one of my favourite books ever. The world of Ikkhara is gloriously colourful and meticulously detailed. From Lei’s village to the extravagant palace, the characters we encounter to the intense situations Lei finds herself in, it all feels beautifully raw, real and from the heart. And, fellow ESEA readers will really enjoy and appreciate the Asian language inflections and cultural snippets deftly woven throughout.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

I’m a big fan of a family saga and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is a standout example of that. This American classic documents the life of little Francie Nolan in a poignant coming-of-age story. The premise is simple: Francie is born. And thus begins her life in pre-war Brooklyn. This book captures her life with unfaltering vivacity and spirit, providing a lens into the issues and complexities of growing up in the Williamsburg ‘slums’. Be warned that there isn’t really a climax or main plot here, it’s simply a story full of heart-wrenchingly real moments and family life.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko is an historical fiction family saga novel, following a Korean family that migrates to Japan. Set during the 20th century, the story follows an ensemble of characters from one family, each subjected to struggles and torment that are brilliantly told. I’m reluctant to say much more about the plot because, certainly for me, the magic was realised through me not knowing anything. The story is truly beautiful, heart-achingly so, and I fell in love with almost all of Min Jin Lee’s wonderful characters. There’s now also an Apple TV K-drama adaptation, starring everybody’s favourite Lee Min Ho.

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The Green Bone Saga by Fonda Lee

I’m sure you’ve all heard me rave about the Green Bone Saga by now, but I couldn’t write this post without including it! Jade City and Jade War are two of my favourite books so far from 2022, a gripping family saga meets mafia world story rooted in a brilliant fantasy world. In the city of Janloon, jade defines class and has become the prime trade good. A story of family loyalty, trust, hope and war, Lee has created a masterpiece here and you really need to dive in for yourself.

If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Another book that I’ve waxed lyrical about for absolutely ages, If I Had Your Face is Frances Cha’s deeply moving and insightful debut. It follows four South Korean women as they traverse their twenties in Seoul and does a wonderful job of making you, the reader, consider the intertwining ways that lives occur. I love that each perspective feels relatable in different ways, and also serves to educate the reader on how the female experience unravels.

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

The 1Q84 trilogy is one of my earlier Murakami reads and this strange foray into magical realism is what cemented my love for his work. It follows a young woman named Aomame and a writer named Tengo as their lives curiously converge over the course of a year. Murakami tackles parallel existences so well and this one that involves a cult-like group and childhood love is a great example of his work. I’ll add a note that Murakami isn’t always the most progressive feminist so there are a LOT of descriptions of breasts and acutely intimate descriptions of women, but this doesn’t take away from the overall story.

What are some of the books that you always recommend to friends?

Shop all of these books via my Bookshop store and support local independent booksellers. I may also receive a small commission.

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