Recommended: sure For a slightly altered YA version of Crazy Rich Asians, for a happy book where kindness takes control, for surprising pepperings of acting, art, history, and more that will keep you interested.
Gemma Huang is a recent transplant to Los Angeles from Illinois, having abandoned plans for college to pursue a career in acting, much to the dismay of her parents. Now she’s living with three roommates in a two-bedroom hovel, auditioning for bit roles that hardly cover rent. Gemma’s big break comes when she’s asked to play a lead role in an update of M. Butterfly filming for the summer in Beijing. When she arrives, she’s stopped by paparazzi at the airport. She quickly realizes she may as well be the twin of one of the most notorious young socialites in Beijing. Thus kicks off a summer of revelations, in which Gemma uncovers a legacy her parents have spent their lives protecting her from—one her mother would conceal from her daughter at any cost.
Admittedly better than I expected! There were conversations about art, Chinese history, belonging, racism, family, and so much more. They went a bit deeper than I expected them to, and cut to the heart of the matter without bogging down the story or losing it’s true thread. That’s a pretty impressive skill, to weave in ideas and commentary without taking over your characters. The central plot itself was also heartwarming in a lot of ways, since kindness takes precedence as the most important thing. So often, this is forgone in books for a more dramatic, cruel kind of pull. I’m not about that. I thought this was a wonderful balance.
Verdict:Probably a better read for everyone else than it was for me. My experience was somewhat dull, but I have no doubt this will be a hit with most other readers if they think they would like it!
Recommended: eh For a glimpse into 1920s Shanghai, for a historical fantasy gangster story (not a common combo I think), for flavors of Romeo & Juliet but ultimately its own standing story
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery. A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal. But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
Look, I know. This book has everything. Shanghai in 1920s, one of my favorite place-time combos. A basis in Shakespeare. A fantasy element of monsters. A touch of brutality and gore to darken the story.
So why didn’t I love it???
I’m a bit baffled, honestly. I’ve tried to pinpoint what kept me from falling in love with this book, as I should have by all rights. I think my issue was partly that I wasn’t expecting it to be intertwined with magic and I wasn’t really in the mood for that — and obviously that’s a personal issue, nothing with the book. But the bigger issue I faced was that I just didn’t really care about either of the main characters.
In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! This one, The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim, is pretty in keeping with my love of learning about other’s experiences and particuarly about Korean experiences. Expected release date: September 1, 2020
Unsurprisingly, I’m excited about this because it’s an Asian female familial generational story.While that feels really specific, I realized I love these as I’ve been reading more in the past few months! (Ex. Unbound, The Joy Luck Club)
This also seems like its going to be two books in one, in a good way.I get the mystery with Margot around her mother’s death, and I get the love story probably gone wrong with Mina back in her youth. Watching the two intertwine and fitting the clues to the facts is so satisfying.
As I get older, I grow to appreciate how parents are still just people. Learning about your parents, the history you never knew, the secrets hidden behind the titles of mom or dad, I find it fascinating now. Learning Mina’s story through the context of Margot’s revelations will require Margot to retrofit her understanding of her mother with the new background. And also, like, who killed her???
The historical context of immigrating to the US and the difficulties that can come with it will reflect easily onto current day, I believe. Empathy when reading is a draw for me, as is learning about history and lives that I have never undergone (and likely never would).
Summary: Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, isn’t returning her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, LA, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.
Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.
Unlike Throwback Thursday, I’m using Fridays to look ahead to books publishing soon that I’m excited for! Today’s is The Empress of Salt and Fortune, by Nghi Vo. And oh my, does it have promise. Expected Release: March 24, 2020
Why wait on this one?
Magic. Throw magic into any book and I’m immediately more likely to want to read it.
Revenge. I’ve read Coriolanus and Foul is Fair, okay; I know the pitfalls of vengeance. And yet, I still delight in those who pursue it, for all their faults and failures.
Political intrigue. Sometimes tedious, but sometimes exquisite, I trust that Vo will weave me a tale of royalty that I will love like my Korean dramas.
Imperial Chinese themes. I love the cultural requirements, the physical setting, and the mindsets that come with it. Plus the usual character traits and growth that accompany it, like the loyalist who turns coat or the man who is but a figurehead for the woman truly controlling it all.
Summary: A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully. Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for. At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.