Posted in Reviews

Review: The Cat I Never Named by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess

The Cat I Never Named : A True Story of Love, War, and Survival (Hardcover)
by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: Absolutely
For people who want to be better people, for people who have never learned about the ethnic cleansing that took place in the 90s in Bosnia & Herzegovina, for a memoir of the extremes of emotion — highest hopes and bleakest depressions
Expected Release: September 8, 2020

Summary:
Amra was a teen in Bihac, Bosnia, when her friend said they couldn’t speak anymore because Amra was Muslim. Then refugees from other cities started arriving, fleeing Serbian persecution. When Serbian tanks rolled into Bihac, the life she knew disappeared—right as a stray cat followed her home. Her family didn’t have the money to keep a pet, but after the cat seemed to save her brother, how could they turn it away? Saving a life one time could be a coincidence, but then it happened again—and Amra and her family wondered just what this cat was. This is the story of a teen who, even in the brutality of war, never wavered in her determination to obtain education, maintain friendships, and even find a first love—and the cat that provided comfort, and maybe even served as a guardian spirit, in the darkest of times.

Thoughts:
The moment I saw this book was forthcoming, I knew I had to read it. I always seek to know more about people and the world and experiences that I cannot understand on my own. This memoir teaches facts through the descriptions of events, but can also teach much-needed empathy. The read is an experience in itself.

The summary and title promise that there will be a cat present throughout the story, and she does indeed weave through the pages. Simply called Maci (‘cat’), the cat who accompanies Amra’s family is a beacon of goodness. I believe every instance that happened with this cat, because they are too incredible to be invented. It gave me that kind of wondrous feeling of something more to this world that I don’t often feel. I’m grateful for so much that this book gave me, from knowledge to emotion.

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Posted in Reviews

Mini Reviews from July

Hey y’all! I realized in July that I had shifted dramatically away from where I was at with this blog a year ago when I first started. Last year, I posted only book reviews, usually a couple each week. And now? I post so much more widely that book reviews have almost taken a back seat!

So last month I read 12 books and fully reviewed and posted for 6 of them, plus one review from a book I finished at the end of June. So… not exactly a terribly strong showing. 😂

While I’m glad I’ve been able to branch out into more diverse content, I do want to keep a record of my thoughts about what I’ve read, as was my original intent years ago when I first started a blog. Here’s to being better in August! Ever striving to improve. 😊

Fully reviewed books

Mini reviewed books below

All book covers link to the Goodreads page for the book with the blurb & additional info!

  1. X by Ilyasah Shabazz
  2. Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez
  3. The Pun Also Rises by John Pollack
  4. The Beauty of the Moment by Tanaz Bhathena
  5. Yes No Maybe So by Aisha Saeed & Becky Abertelli
  6. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fineby Gail Honeyman

2 Sentence Summary
Malcolm X’s life growing up, before the X. How he grew up eating dandelion soup, found himself in a big city, and finally behind bars, all when he was barely even an adult.

This was a read for my alphabet challenge, and a very very good one at that! What luck that I found it. I know very little about Malcolm X, and getting some insight into the life behind the well known figure added some intrigue and humanity. Love that the book is coauthored by his daughter.

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Review: Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook – 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Recommended: YES
For a history not well known in the US, for a prime example of how graphic novels so well suit memoirs, for a funny and dramatic story

Do they ban books because they see danger in their authors, or because they are themselves in their villains?

Summary:
hen Kim Hyun Sook started college in 1983 she was ready for her world to open up. After acing her exams and sort-of convincing her traditional mother that it was a good idea for a woman to go to college, she looked forward to soaking up the ideas of Western Literature far from the drudgery she was promised at her family’s restaurant. But literature class would prove to be just the start of a massive turning point, still focused on reading but with life-or-death stakes she never could have imagined.

This was during South Korea’s Fifth Republic, a military regime that entrenched its power through censorship, torture, and the murder of protestors. In this charged political climate, with Molotov cocktails flying and fellow students disappearing for hours and returning with bruises, Hyun Sook sought refuge in the comfort of books. When the handsome young editor of the school newspaper invited her to his reading group, she expected to pop into the cafeteria to talk about Moby Dick, Hamlet, and The Scarlet Letter. Instead she found herself hiding in a basement as the youngest member of an underground banned book club. And as Hyun Sook soon discovered, in a totalitarian regime, the delights of discovering great works of illicit literature are quickly overshadowed by fear and violence as the walls close in.

You can learn a lot about history by figuring out what people wanted to hide.

Thoughts:
Graphic novels are so well suited to memoirs and nonfiction. This is a prime example. The art and coloring complements the story perfectly. With the selective colors it focuses exactly on what needs to be focused on. And again, things that are hard to say in words are sometimes better conveyed in images.

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Review: The Fox & the Little Tanuki, Volume 2 by Mi Tagawa

The Fox & the Little Tanuki, Volume 2 by Mi Tagawa – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Expected Publication: August 18, 2020

Recommended: yes!!
For more heartwarming moments, for a volume looking at some of the other characters in depth, for an interesting addition in the world we see them all in

Summary:
After 300 years, the gods that imprisoned Senzou the Fox Spirit for his arrogance finally set him free. There is only one condition — he can’t have any of his supernatural abilities back until he successfully helps a tanuki cub named Manpachi become one of their magical assistants. Unfortunately for Senzou, there’s no cheating when it comes to completing his task! The magic beads around his neck make sure he can’t wander too far from his charge or shirk his duties, and so… Senzou the once-great Fox Spirit must now figure out how to be an actually-great babysitter to a mischievous little tanuki or risk being stuck without his powers forever!

Thoughts:
Well, the cliffhanger from Volume 1 is no longer hanging over my head, thank goodness! I was so excited to come back to this story in Volume 2. As ever, the art perfectly complements the story style, in how it’s able to carry so many different kinds of meaning effortlessly. Everything from the funny moments, to the painful moments, to the crying-because-it’s-beautiful moments: the art style is adaptable to all of them.

And yes, no worries: this volume is just as hilarious and cute as the previous, despite it’s darker tones as well. What I loved most about this one was being able to learn more about the characters besides the Senzou and Manpachi. Though we do still have stories with them, we also get to see more about some of the wolves and even about our frenemy the badger. Personally I loved this, in part because the relationship between the wolves are so delightful in their contrasting personality that it was enlightening to see how they each got that way.

We also get to see them in their human forms a bit more, which was a shocker but also a fantastic addition. Their interactions in the human world were still perfectly in character and added a twist element to the plot moving forward. I expect we’ll see a bit more of this weaving between worlds in future volumes as well.

One extra bonus at the end that I loved was the inclusion of some short one-off comics with the characters that were translated into English. Some of these comics have been posted on the author’s social media pages in Japanese, so here I finally got the English versions! And let me tell you, they did not disappoint. It’s always hard to end one of these volumes because I adore the characters so much and want to see more, so it made it a little easier to accept. 😁 Can’t wait for the next volume!

Thanks to NetGalley and Diamond Book Distributors for a free advanced copy in exchange for an honest review!

Posted in Reviews

Review: Unbound: A Tale of Love and Betrayal in Shanghai by Dina Gu Brumfield

Unbound: A Tale of Love and Betrayal in Shanghai by Dina Gu Brumfield – ⭐⭐⭐
Expected publication: August 4, 2020

Recommended: yes
For a generational story of understanding, for a look at recent historical Chinese eras, for a story that pierces your heart and makes you want only the best for the characters, for a blend of romance and survival and coming-of-age.

love love love the cover. love.

Summary
​Mini Pao lives with her sister and parents in a pre-war Shanghai divided among foreign occupiers and Chinese citizens, a city known as the “Paris of the East” with its contrast of  vibrant night life and repressive social mores. Already considered an old maid at twenty-three, Mini boldly rejects the path set out for her as she struggles to provide for her family and reckons with her desire for romance and autonomy. Mini’s story of love, betrayal, and determination unfolds in the Western-style cafes, open-air markets, and jazz-soaked nightclubs of Shanghai—the same city where, decades later, her granddaughter Ting embarks on her own journey toward independence. 

Ting Lee has grown up behind an iron curtain in a time of scarcity, humility, and forced-sameness in accordance with the strictures of Chairman Mao’s cultural revolution. As a result, Ting’s imagination burns with curiosity about fashion, America, and most of all, her long-lost grandmother Mini’s glamorous past and mysterious present. As her thirst for knowledge about the world beyond 1970s Shanghai grows, Ting is driven to uncover her family’s tragic past and face the difficult truth of what the future holds for her if she remains in China.

Thoughts:
This was an elaborate and impressive saga of romance, and survival, and coming-of-age. Ting ages from a child to an adult women in the course of the story, and we see Mini from late teens to her elder years. That span alone is a lot to cover, and so the story relfects that in how long it can take to read. While it was engaging the whole way through, the concepts and stories are complex enough that it simply takes some time.

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Short Story Review: Killian’s Dead by Josie Jaffrey

Killian’s Dead by Josie Jaffrey -⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: sure, if you enjoyed the full novel May Day and want a little more explanation

Summary:
Jack doesn’t care about anything except music. All she wants to do is find a decent gig, stand by the speakers and let the bass roll through her. It’s the only reason she gets out of bed. Until she meets Winta. In the space of a second, everything is different. Winta knows what she wants and for one night, what she wants is Jack. It feels like the start of forever.
Then Winta disappears and Jack faces a choice: should she go back to her life, or track down the only girl who can change it beyond recognition?
One things’ certain: Jack has no idea what she’s getting herself into.

Thoughts:
This is a short story, only about 50 pages. Enough gets worked into this small amount to fill in some of the details hinted at in the main story, May Day. This is more about fact-based elements than building much up since it doesn’t have much room to work with, but if you’re curious about all the vague references to Winta in the main book, then this will satisfy your curiosity. Jack’s personality was still there for sure, though there were a few things I found slightly inconsistent. For example, does Jack have notably bad hearing in the main story, as was called out here? Or was that just no longer a problem given her becoming a Silver? I’m not sure. Either way, it’s nothing terribly distracting, just a little thing that stuck in my head when reading it.

Posted in Reviews

Review: Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras

Island Affair by Priscilla Oliveras -⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: sure
For a quick fun read, for a fairly predictable plot that carries comfort, for characters resolving their personal issues.

Summary:
Sought-after social media influencer Sara Vance, in recovery from an eating disorder, is coming into her own, with a potential career expansion on the horizon. Despite the good news, her successful siblings (and their perfect spouses) have a way of making her feel like the odd one out. So, when her unreliable boyfriend is a no-show for a Florida family vacation, Sara recruits Luis Navarro—a firefighter paramedic and dive captain willing to play the part of her smitten fiancé . . . Luis’s big Cuban familia has been in Key West for generations, and his quiet strength feeds off the island’s laidback style. Though guarded after a deep betrayal, he’ll always help someone in need—especially a spunky beauty with a surprising knowledge of Spanish curse words. Soon, he and Sara have memorized their “how we met” story and are immersed in family dinners, bike tours, private snorkeling trips . . . sharing secrets, and slow, melting kisses. But when it’s time for Sara to return home, will their island romance last or fade with the stunning sunset?

Thoughts:
If you love the “fake dating” trope, then you probably won’t be disappointed. There is a bit of insta-love, but just take it with a bit of salt from the rim of a cocktail and enjoy the overall story. 😁

When a book is based on a fairly popular plot line or trope, like this one is, then there has to be something else to set it apart from the countless others like it. For Island Affair, I was happy to see that set itself apart with characters who had deep-rooted personal issues that got in the way of their love, but also of their own lives. The honesty with which the characters face their problems was refreshing, and prevented the book from falling back onto the usual conflict where everything would be prevented if they had just talked to each other.

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Posted in Reviews

Mini reviews from June

Hey y’all! For maybe the first time ever, I actually DID fully review most of the books I read last month! And in the same month that I read them! That’s a habit I’ve been working to better, so I’m proud to show that it’s finally coming together. 😁 Then again, I’m posting my mini-reviews when it’s almost halfway through July already, so a bit of a give and take there. 😂

Last month’s completed reviews are linked below! As for the remaining four books I read last month, they’re this month’s batch of mini reviews.

Fully reviewed books

Mini reviewed books below

All book covers link to the Goodreads page for the book with the blurb & additional info!

  1. Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
  2. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling
  3. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
  4. City of Saints and Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson

2 Sentence Summary
Mira tries to answer her son’s questions about being black when his dad is white. It’s not easy with cops killing black people on the daily and a racist president.

Frankly, this one didn’t get a review because it was just so hard for me to capture all that I would want to say about it. It was enlightening and painful and offers no resolution for the pain, because no one really has one yet. This was an original style of graphic novel done in a collage and conversation format. I absolutely loved both elements and would be thrilled to see more like this.

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Review: May Day by Josie Jaffrey

May Day by Josie Jaffrey – ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Vampires, murder investigation, competing love interests, dark humour…. Yup. That was a good risk. 😍

Recommended: yes!
For a captivating mystery blended with delicious sensuality, for humor both dark and light, for intense personal introspection from the main character

Summary:
If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective. Just maybe not this one. It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake. When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does. To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die. Body bags on standby.

Thoughts:
Although I don’t usually read mysteries, the blend of vampires and the offbeat main character made me take a chance on this one. I am so glad I did!

It’s a mystery at heart, and I absolutely did not guess the resolution. That, for me, is a large part of what makes reading a mystery fun: the ah-ha! moment when it all pieces together at the end. However there’s enough puzzle remaining that I’m ready to read the next book already! I want to know how the others fall into these shady dealings.

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Review: Winter of the Wolf by Martha Hunt Handler

Winter of the Wolf by Martha Hunt Handler – ⭐⭐⭐
Expected Release: July 7, 2020

Recommended: sure
For a look at spiritual beliefs and the way a life looks lived by them, a story of grief and how a family works through it, a light mystery thrown in

Stunning cover. And even more intriguing because I can juuust make out that the shading lines ARE ALL WORDS. I see some numbers — what does it say?!

Summary:
An exploration in grief, suicide, spiritualism, and Inuit culture, Winter of the Wolf follows Bean, an empathic and spiritually evolved fifteen-year-old, who is determined to unravel the mystery of her brother Sam’s death. Though all evidence points to a suicide, her heart and intuition compel her to dig deeper. With help from her friend Julie, they retrace Sam’s steps, delve into his Inuit beliefs, and reconnect with their spiritual beliefs to uncover clues beyond material understanding. Both tragic and heartwarming, this twisting novel draws you into Bean’s world as she struggles with grief, navigates high school dramas, and learns to open her heart in order to see the true nature of the people around her. Winter of the Wolf is about seeking the truth—no matter how painful—in order to see the full picture.

Thoughts:
I’m surprised by how much I enjoyed the spiritual aspects of this book, like the many discussions of beliefs and life after death. I’m not particularly spiritual myself, but this was an accessible and interesting look into Inuit beliefs. Bean seems a bit wise beyond her years, but she does struggle. She feels lost too and is just doing her best.

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