For the countries of Southeast Asia, geographical proximity to China is a blessing and a curse. In the Dragon’s Shadow, Southeast Asia in the Chinese Century, by Sebastian Strangio, manages to sketch the history these nations have with China and detail the current geopolitical situation in an engaging fashion. While the book is prefaced with an imposing list of acronyms for the political parties and economic agreements discussed, this Yale University Press publication is the work of a journalist with an excellent grip on history rather than an academic.

With the exception of Singapore and Malaysia, where English is relatively widely used, and with the further exception of so-called “expat fiction” featuring foreign protagonists, Southeast Asia seemingly generates fewer novels in English—whether in translation or written directly in the language—than other regions of South and East Asia. This situation has ameliorated somewhat in recent years, a period that has coincided with the rise of a regional Southeast Asian culture and media market. Southeast Asian publishers are increasing sourcing and marketing books regionally.

Just around the corner from Rome’s Pantheon, on the Via di Sant’Ignazio, is the famed Biblioteca Casanatense. Among its precious  books and manuscripts is an album of 76 striking watercolours made  in Goa around 1540, the work of an anonymous Indian painter for an unknown Portuguese patron.

Nora Watts is on the run from the very man she’s trying to hunt down. With an ethnic Chinese-Vietnamese villain as protagonist and partially set on the Indonesian island of Lombok, Sheena Kamal’s third book in her Nora Watts thriller series, No Going Back, tells the story of a half-Palestinian/half-indigenous Canadian trying to save her teenage daughter from the man who is after both women.

Back in the day, whenever one was in a waiting room or vestibule, one would likely come across a copy of “Reader’s Digest”, which would include a diverse selection of pieces, often abridged, often extracts from elsewhere: easy reading, something to interest anyone and everyone, thought-provoking but not enough to require too much mental exertion.