Reading with... Jesse Q Sutanto

photo: Michael Hart

Jesse Q Sutanto grew up shuttling between Indonesia, Singapore and the University of Oxford, and considers all three places her home. She has a master's from Oxford, but she has yet to figure out how to say that without sounding obnoxious. When she's not writing, she's gaming with her husband (mostly FPS), or making a mess in the kitchen with her two daughters. Her adult fiction debut, Dial A for Aunties (Berkley, April 27, 2021), is a story about the unbreakable bonds of family that have the power to overcome anything... even a little murder.

On your nightstand now:

The Hunting Wives by May Cobb and Beach Read by Emily Henry. I like to read two books at once because this is my version of living wildly. The Hunting Wives is a delightfully dark, twisted story about unhappy suburban women who indulge in their darkest fantasies, and Beach Read is the sweetest read about two writers who decide to swap genres to prove to each other that their genre is harder to write. I am really enjoying both!

Favorite book when you were a child:

So many! I would say Matilda by Roald Dahl. Who doesn't love Matilda? She's smart, she loves to read, and there is a perfect balance of humor and horror in all of Dahl's books.

Your top five authors:

Sir Terry Pratchett. I have read every Discworld book, and some of them I've read over five times. His humor is *chef's kiss* and he tackles some really difficult issues in his books so deftly. Socioeconomic inequality, race, religion, politics, I can't think of another fantasy writer who takes on these issues quite as naturally as Pratchett did.

Gillian Flynn. Flynn is such a game changer. She basically made domestic suspense what it is today. I see there's a question about "Book you're an evangelist for," so I'll save my sermon about Gone Girl for that question!

S.L. Huang. Is it any wonder that S.L. Huang won the Hugo this year? Her books, the Cas Russell series, are a high-octane action thriller with a sci-fi bent, but they also tackle the big subjects and are incredibly diverse. Her short stories are haunting and make you question everything, and she's just so prolific. Definitely an idol of mine.

Roshani Chokshi. Another incredibly prolific author. I read her YA fantasy, The Star-Touched Queen, and her MG fantasy, the Aru Shah books, and could not believe they were written by the same person. She's doing everything and breaking all the boundaries, and I'm here for it!

Frances Hardinge. This is the most underrated writer of all time. I'm always shocked that the entire world isn't going mad for Hardinge's books. I love how all of her books have such hidden depth, and can be read either as a straightforward, exciting adventure or a surprisingly complex subversion of tropes, as well as a critical read on misogyny and how it affects everyone.

Book you've faked reading:

I had to read Naked Lunch in college and I just. Could not. It was so strange and trippy, and I couldn't get over how at one point the main character was talking to his... butt hole? I don't know. I couldn't finish it and I ended up reading Spark Notes for it. Aaah! Please don't confiscate my author card!

Book you're an evangelist for:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Everyone who knows me knows that I am obsessed with Gone Girl. But seriously, this is the best book I have read in aaaages! It's a study in everything--character development, marriage, misdirection, planting seeds, psychological suspense, unlikable female characters--speaking of unlikable female characters, both main characters in Gone Girl are so deeply unlikable, but I couldn't stop reading the book. AH! It is brilliant and honestly so deserving all of the success it's gotten.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Wilder Girls by Rory Power. I haven't met a single person who's seen that cover and not fallen in love with it. One day, I hope to have a book cover drawn by the incredible artist behind Wilder Girls' cover.

Book you hid from your parents:

Judith McNaught's books. Haha, I was obsessed with her books as a teen. They were so sensual and so luxurious. I adored them. But my parents were very much against me reading them, so I actually had to cover them up in a fake book jacket to pretend I was reading a different book.

Book that changed your life:

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan. I loved CRA, but the reason it changed my life in particular is because its smashing success opened up the way for so many other Asian authors, including myself. Same with To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han. I owe so much to authors like Kwan and Han. I am very confident that without them paving the way, I wouldn't have the career I have right now.

Favorite line from a book:

" 'When you break rules, break 'em good and hard,' said Nanny, and grinned a set of gums that were more menacing than teeth." --Wyrd Sisters by Sir Terry Pratchett. I mean... need I say more? Haha! I've tried to abide by this rule in all my writings, which I think is apparent from the sheer ridiculousness of my plots.

Five books you'll never part with:

Uprooted by Naomi Novik.

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik. Like Uprooted, Spinning Silver is such a decadent, cozy read. They are both books I would take everywhere with me and read for comfort.

You by Caroline Kepnes. Talk about a book with an intense villain! I found myself rooting for the awful stalker, Joe Goldberg, which is a testament to how masterful Kepnes is.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I think everyone should read this book. It should be required reading, period. It's a book that holds up a mirror to current issues and the entire world needs to read it.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. What is the worst thing your main character can do and still be forgiven for? TKR handles this so well, in such a heartbreaking way.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Well, I mean. Hands down, Gone Girl. I actually feel jealous when someone is about to read it for the first time, because they are in for a roller coaster! The number of times I actually gasped out loud because the twists were like, WHOA.

Most anticipated read of 2021:

The Girls Are All So Nice Here by Laurie Elizabeth Flynn. After I finished reading Gone Girl, I needed the next Gone Girl. I was ravenous for it. And I think so are most people, which is why you'll find so many adult suspense which are touted as "The next Gone Girl." Many were disappointing, but The Girls by Flynn completely smashed all of my expectations. The voice is riveting, and the plot is so devilishly good. You are going to love the vicious women in The Girls. The film rights were bought by AMC and I am just dying to watch this show.

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