Posted in Reviews

Review: Pachinko by Lee Min-jin

Pachinko by Lee Min-jin

Recommended: for some people
For folks who like character studies and want to know about every person who pops up in the book, for folks who want a historical slice-of-life from Koreans in Japan in the 1900s. Not for folks looking for a solid plot or driving force through the story,

Summary

Pachinko follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

Thoughts

What. A. Slog. If the question in this review is “is this a well done book” then my answer is yes, absolutely. But if the question is, as I expect it to be, “did I enjoy this book” the answer is noooooooo. Or a generous “not really.” It wasn’t bad, but boy was it a slow journey through five generations. Sometimes I like generational stories, but this was too much for me. If I hadn’t been already 82% in I would have just DNFd it.

Continue reading “Review: Pachinko by Lee Min-jin”
Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

Recommended: sure
For a long journey with characters you’ll fall in love with, for a narrative that places you more as an observer than an active participant

Summary

It is 1938 in China and, as a young wife, Meilin’s future is bright. But with the Japanese army approaching, Meilin and her four year old son, Renshu, are forced to flee their home. Relying on little but their wits and a beautifully illustrated hand scroll, filled with ancient fables that offer solace and wisdom, they must travel through a ravaged country, seeking refuge.

Years later, Renshu has settled in America as Henry Dao. Though his daughter is desperate to understand her heritage, he refuses to talk about his childhood. How can he keep his family safe in this new land when the weight of his history threatens to drag them down? Yet how can Lily learn who she is if she can never know her family’s story?

Spanning continents and generations, Peach Blossom Spring is a bold and moving look at the history of modern China, told through the story of one family. It’s about the power of our past, the hope for a better future, and the haunting question: What would it mean to finally be home?

Thoughts

My note in my book at the end:
“The last words are the title and it’s so perfect and fitting it brought a tear to my eye.”

The title fable was gently included throughout, referenced in various situations. Along with other folktales, this book had so many smaller stories within it that resonated with me a surprising amount. Those were the moments I was most entrance by this story: when they unrolled the scroll, ran their fingers over the silken strands, and fully envisioned each scene before sinking into the tale. I was right there with them in those moments.

Continue reading “ARC Review: Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu”
Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: On a Night of a Thousand Stars, 3/1/22

Hey y’all! In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look forward to an upcoming release that I’m excited about! Today’s is On A Night of a Thousand Stars by Andrea Yaryura Clark!
Expected Release: March 1, 2022

Why wait on this one?

  • The setting of this one is an obvious draw for me. At least partially set in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I’m excited to travel to South America. I don’t often read books set there, so this is a nice chance to break out of that box a bit.
  • Similarly, since I don’t read about South America much, my historical knowledge of the continent is limited mostly to what I learned in high school Spanish classes. Which admittedly, is something at least, but I think there’s a lot more I can dive into with this historical novel.
  • As the main character, college-student Paloma, learns about her father’s history as well as Argentina’s history, I’ll be able to ride along with her. The character’s lens mirrors my own knowledge well, so I think it will gently carry me along. I say gently, but the topic is also pretty painful and grim, as Paloma will dive into the past dangers of the country and put herself in fresh new danger of her own.

Summary

New York, 1998. Santiago Larrea, a wealthy Argentine diplomat, is holding court alongside his wife, Lila, and their daughter, Paloma, a college student and budding jewelry designer, at their annual summer polo match and soiree. All seems perfect in the Larreas’ world—until an unexpected party guest from Santiago’s university days shakes his usually unflappable demeanor. The woman’s cryptic comments spark Paloma’s curiosity about her father’s past, of which she knows little.
 
When the family travels to Buenos Aires for Santiago’s UN ambassadorial appointment, Paloma is determined to learn more about his life in the years leading up to the military dictatorship of 1976. With the help of a local university student, Franco Bonetti, an activist member of H.I.J.O.S.—a group whose members are the children of the desaparecidos, or the “disappeared,” men and women who were forcibly disappeared by the state during Argentina’s “Dirty War”—Paloma unleashes a chain of events that not only leads her to question her family and her identity, but also puts her life in danger.

Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys

I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys
Verdict: come on, y’all, it’s RUTA SEPETYS. You know it’s good.
Expected Release Date: February 1, 2022

Recommended: yes, it’s Ruta
For Ruta’s trademark history that’s ignored by American schools (mine at least…), for a story of true events told in one possible existing story, for revolution and oppression and determination and risk, for a bite-history of Romania’s not-so-distant past of becoming their own country again

Summary

Romania, 1989. Communist regimes are crumbling across Europe. Seventeen-year-old Cristian Florescu dreams of becoming a writer, but Romanians aren’t free to dream; they are bound by rules and force.

Amidst the tyrannical dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu in a country governed by isolation and fear, Cristian is blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer. He’s left with only two choices: betray everyone and everything he loves—or use his position to creatively undermine the most notoriously evil dictator in Eastern Europe.

Cristian risks everything to unmask the truth behind the regime, give voice to fellow Romanians, and expose to the world what is happening in his country. He eagerly joins the revolution to fight for change when the time arrives. But what is the cost of freedom?

Thoughts

As are all of Ruta’s young adult historical novels, this is very thoroughly researched in many different ways, from conversations with people who lived during the time to artifacts from it to written works about it and so much more. It really shows in the details of the story how Ruta learned about Romanian’s lives. After finishing reading this, I really appreciated the notes at the back with details about references within the book. I was so curious about the woman who dubbed so many western films, and found a name to start my own research into her some more.

Continue reading “ARC Review: I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys”
Posted in Reviews

Review: We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan

Recommended: sure
For others who forget that immigrants are not always American nor coming to America; for a culture blend of India, Uganda, and England; for a story of characters who are flawed and human, for unclear answers to legitimate problems. It’ll make you think, y’all.

Summary

1960s UGANDA. Hasan struggles to keep his family business afloat following the sudden death of his wife. As he begins to put his shattered life back together piece by piece, a new regime seizes power, and a wave of rising prejudice threatens to sweep away everything he has built.

Present-day LONDON. Sameer, a young high-flying lawyer, senses an emptiness in what he thought was the life of his dreams. Called back to his family home by an unexpected tragedy, Sameer begins to find the missing pieces of himself not in his future plans, but in a heritage he never knew.

Moving between two continents over a troubled century, We Are All Birds of Uganda is an immensely resonant novel that explores racial tensions, generational divides and what it means to belong.

Thoughts

Well I had to wait a month to get a copy of this book from across the country, and I’m glad it felt like it was worth the effort. There was so much in this. It’s roughly two parts, separated by geography or time depending on how you look at it.

What surprised me the most was how about a hundred pages in I realized I didn’t particularly like any of the main characters. They all carried traits that were hard to empathize about: ungrateful; uncompromising; unforgiving. And yet none were uninteresting! This is a story of flawed characters who are extraordinarily human.

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Posted in Release Day!

Just Published: Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim!

Hey y’all! Just a reminder that Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim published today! Check out the full review here or grab a copy of your own!

Recommended: yesssss
For a literary story that’s still easy to read, for characters who draw you in whether you like them or not, for a dramatic and complex history of a tiny country that has seen unbelievable change very quickly

Summary

In 1917, deep in the snowy mountains of occupied Korea, an impoverished local hunter on the brink of starvation saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger. In an instant, their fates are connected—and from this encounter unfolds a saga that spans half a century.

In the aftermath, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver’s courtesan school, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. When she befriends an orphan boy named JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets of Seoul, they form a deep friendship. As they come of age, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence, and Jade becomes a sought-after performer with a new romantic prospect of noble birth. Soon Jade must decide whether she will risk everything for the one who would do the same for her.

Posted in Book Talk

Where can I read We Are All Birds of Uganda?

Hey y’all!

I’ve run into a surprising issue recently. There’s a book I had wanted to read so much I even featured in in a Fast Forward Friday post a while back: We Are All Birds of Uganda by Hafsa Zayyan. Now that I’m finally getting around to it, I figured I’d track down a library copy to borrow or put on hold!

Oddly, neither library I’m a member of has a digital or physical copy. It’s not that they don’t have it available, they just straight up don’t have it! Both are ample state libraries, so I’m really surprised that there are no copies, since I thought this was a fairly popular and well-received title.

I even tried finding a way to request it via inter-library loan, but it weirdly looks like my main library doesn’t have it as an option! I had to email them and am waiting to hear back on if the librarians have any ideas. In the meantime, I checked Barnes & Noble to see what they had it listed for.

oh…. okay…

Apparently B&N doesn’t have it either, which is stunning because they even have Let’s Play volumes. I originally checked Bookshop.org but they ALSO DON’T HAVE IT! Why is this book so hard to find?? I did eventually find a copy on Book Depository but now I’m waiting to hear back from the librarians… I hope this book is fabulous by the time I get it. 🤣

Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim (12/7/21)

Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim
Expected Release Date: December 7, 2021

Recommended: yesssss
For a literary story that’s still easy to read, for characters who draw you in whether you like them or not, for a dramatic and complex history of a tiny country that has seen unbelievable change very quickly

Summary

In 1917, deep in the snowy mountains of occupied Korea, an impoverished local hunter on the brink of starvation saves a young Japanese officer from an attacking tiger. In an instant, their fates are connected—and from this encounter unfolds a saga that spans half a century.

In the aftermath, a young girl named Jade is sold by her family to Miss Silver’s courtesan school, an act of desperation that will cement her place in the lowest social status. When she befriends an orphan boy named JungHo, who scrapes together a living begging on the streets of Seoul, they form a deep friendship. As they come of age, JungHo is swept up in the revolutionary fight for independence, and Jade becomes a sought-after performer with a new romantic prospect of noble birth. Soon Jade must decide whether she will risk everything for the one who would do the same for her.

From the perfumed chambers of a courtesan school in Pyongyang to the glamorous cafes of a modernizing Seoul and the boreal forests of Manchuria, where battles rage, Juhea Kim’s unforgettable characters forge their own destinies as they wager their nation’s. Immersive and elegant, Beasts of a Little Land unveils a world where friends become enemies, enemies become saviors, heroes are persecuted, and beasts take many shapes.

Thoughts

The triumph in this book is the characters, and it’s a masterful example of the joy one can have in seeing people grow and change in a story. There are several characters introduced, and yet it’s never hard to remember who did what or where they left off. They fall widely within the gray areas of good and evil, and yet every one is a fascinating read with whom you can typically empathize if even in the most unexpected ways.

They bring the history of Korea to life. If you’re not familiar with it already, this will provide coherent insights into the whole saga; if you’re already familiar, you will see the visions of lives inside while it all unfolded. For many many years, Korea was ruled by others, and the victory and independence they found was conversely combined with a division that persists to this day between North and South.

Continue reading “ARC Review: Beasts of a Little Land by Juhea Kim (12/7/21)”
Posted in Release Day!

Just Published: Replenishing the Sea of Galilee by Wagih Abu-Rish!

Hey y’all! Just a reminder that Replenishing the Sea of Galilee by Wagih Abu-Rish published today! Check out the full review here or grab a copy of your own!

Recommended: yup!!
For folks interested in historical Palestine, for a novel about embracing female sexuality and equality, for sparse language that says a lot

Summary

Replenishing the Sea of Galilee: A Family Saga across Ethnicity, Place, and Religion: A Novel

Replenishing the Sea of Galilee is a sweeping story of love, loss and the power of loyalty in the face of conflicting ideologies and religious beliefs. The story begins in 1940s Palestine where twins Rasheed and Rasheeda Dinar work in their family inns. Educated by a Jesuit priest about the essence of his own Muslim religion, relative to love and sex, Rasheed follows closely the teachings of his mentor and includes Rasheeda, so that she learns those teachings as well.

When Rasheed falls in love with Natalia, a Jewish woman, he is able to apply what he learned from the priest to his budding relationship. However, it is the 1940s, and relations between Arabs and Jews are tense. Before long, those tensions come to a breaking point. Natalia mysteriously disappears, and Rasheed and Rasheeda are chased out of Palestine to Beirut, Lebanon.

Years pass, and though Rasheed continues to miss his beloved Natalia, he gets word of a surprising visitor—someone he didn’t even know existed. Rasheed’s life is upended, but in the most wonderful way.

As the Dinar family expands and enters the 1970s, their convictions are tested. In a dramatic final scene, the family reunites and proves once again that the thin line separating people because of their differences is powerless against the strength of family, love, and loyalty.

Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: Replenishing the Sea of Galilee by Wagih Abu-Rish

Replenishing the Sea of Galilee: A Family Saga across Ethnicity, Place, and Religion: A Novel by Wagih Abu-Rish
Release Date: August 17, 2021

Recommended: yup!!
For folks interested in historical Palestine, for a novel about embracing female sexuality and equality, for sparse language that says a lot

Summary

Replenishing the Sea of Galilee: A Family Saga across Ethnicity, Place, and Religion: A Novel

Replenishing the Sea of Galilee is a sweeping story of love, loss and the power of loyalty in the face of conflicting ideologies and religious beliefs. The story begins in 1940s Palestine where twins Rasheed and Rasheeda Dinar work in their family inns. Educated by a Jesuit priest about the essence of his own Muslim religion, relative to love and sex, Rasheed follows closely the teachings of his mentor and includes Rasheeda, so that she learns those teachings as well.

When Rasheed falls in love with Natalia, a Jewish woman, he is able to apply what he learned from the priest to his budding relationship. However, it is the 1940s, and relations between Arabs and Jews are tense. Before long, those tensions come to a breaking point. Natalia mysteriously disappears, and Rasheed and Rasheeda are chased out of Palestine to Beirut, Lebanon.

Years pass, and though Rasheed continues to miss his beloved Natalia, he gets word of a surprising visitor—someone he didn’t even know existed. Rasheed’s life is upended, but in the most wonderful way.

As the Dinar family expands and enters the 1970s, their convictions are tested. In a dramatic final scene, the family reunites and proves once again that the thin line separating people because of their differences is powerless against the strength of family, love, and loyalty.

Thoughts:

Attracted by the historical aspect that I don’t know much about, and made all the more relevant by the forever present conflict between Palestine and Israel, I grabbed this book right up. I worried that it might be a little too literary and highbrow for me, but that was not the case. It’s a thoughtful story that spans a long period of time. I got to know the characters so so well, and I cared so much about all of them.

Continue reading “ARC Review: Replenishing the Sea of Galilee by Wagih Abu-Rish”