Recommended: sure For a light mystery but mostly a self-reflective journey of discovery, for mouthwatering descriptions of tasty Korean dishes, for some very poignant moments of insight into one woman’s extremely difficult life
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.
Thoughts: The story itself is a slower pace as you learn about Mina and Margot in their past and present. I loved the subtle intertwining of the two. The reflections of Mina’s past experiences in Margot’s present as she investigates her mother’s death linked them together in a beautiful way. The highlight here is the writing itself, as it’s very plain and unassuming yet conveys so much emotion.
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.
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.
The gorgeous and dizzying Starfield Library in Seoul
I’m quite disappointed that the Starfield Library in Seoul was not in place yet when I was living in Korea. I obviously plan to return once it’s possible though, so I’ll see it yet! And be baffled by it yet… how do you get the top books?? 😵
only allowed to read while there
has over 50,000 materials
tablets available to borrow for electronic reading too
Happy publication day to K-Pop Idol Diaries by Go Futa (⭐⭐⭐⭐)! To celebrate this delightful debut of the series, I did an interview with the twin-duo author, Go Futa. Their insights into their writing process and extra details on the story give a perfect taste of what you can expect from their book. Plus, they provided bonus art that’s not included in the story! Keep reading below for the full interview, then check out the full review or grab your own copy from Amazon!
Recommended: sure!! For a cute quick read, for anyone who’s all about the idol fandom, for a likable but realistic MC.
Summary: Gigi (or her rapper name, GG) is a 16-year-old from South Korea, who dreams of becoming an idol for the famed talent agency, One-Shot Entertainment. As fate would have it, Gigi is recruited as their newest trainee, but winds up in a situation far from what she ever dreamed of when she’s placed in an experimental unit group project code-named “SKS.” From there, Gigi’s new life as a K-Pop idol begins to unfold more like a K-Drama after she’s assigned to the newly defined co-ed unit SKS-7, and must adjust to working with 6 male bandmates who aren’t very thrilled by her placement in their group. Will Gigi be able to survive in SKS-7 and the world of Korean idol life, or will her dreams go up in flames as quickly as they were ignited?
Interview with Go Futa, author of K-Pop Idol Diaries
All about the book
Q: Where did it all start from? What first made you want to write this story?
Go Futa: It happened to come during K-Con NY 2017! During the concert, an idea just sparked after watching the many boy and girl groups performing – what if there were a mixture of boys and girls in one group? What would that group’s dynamics be like? During this time, we weren’t aware of the co-ed group KARD, as they hadn’t officially debuted yet, so although the idea seemed interesting while we were discussing it, we weren’t sure if it had already been done before, or if it was just farfetched. However, once KARD debuted a short time later, we resurfaced the idea seeing as it wasn’t too farfetched, and decided to develop it further. Now, we had never written a story together before, but we were both really intrigued at the idea, and we both wanted to work on it, so that’s how K-Pop Idol Diaries was born.
Recommended: sure!! For a cute quick read, for anyone who’s all about the idol fandom, for a likable but realistic MC.
Summary: Gigi is a 16-year-old from South Korea, who dreams of becoming an idol for the famed talent agency, One-Shot Entertainment. As fate would have it, Gigi is recruited as their newest trainee, but winds up in a situation far from what she ever dreamed of when she’s placed in an experimental unit group project code-named “SKS.” From there, Gigi’s new life as a K-Pop idol begins to unfold more like a K-Drama after she’s assigned to the newly defined co-ed unit SKS-7, and must adjust to working with 6 male bandmates who aren’t very thrilled by her placement in their group. Will Gigi be able to survive in SKS-7 and the world of Korean idol life, or will her dreams go up in flames as quickly as they were ignited?
Thoughts: Oh man, this was so fun to read! Gigi is too edgy for her girl group, so gets shifted into a (previously) all-boy group where her rapping style will have a bigger impact. That’s definitely unusual, which is openly acknowledged in the book. Typically idol groups are gender exclusive: all female or all male. KARD is one of the few real-life mixed-gender groups I’m aware of, and even in their interviews they’ve shyly acknowledged that it can feel pretty awkward doing some of the dances and such together. Just a part of the culture.
Well, I usually take the chance each Friday to write a bit about an upcoming release that I’ve been excited for. However… today is Tuesday. Why the change? Uh… I forgot. 😂 That’s really it; no excuses. My days kind of blend together right now what with being home 99% of the time, so I didn’t even realize it was Friday.
BUT, I have been really excited for Banned Books Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju, & Ryan Estrada to be released, so I absolutely want to call some attention to it! Expected Release: May 19, 2020 (pushed back from April 21, 2020)
Why wait on this one?
Ah, I know you’re tired of hearing it, but I love Korea and will read just about anything related to it.
My favorite format for a memoir is probably a graphic novel memoir. Capturing moments that are hard to put into words can be caught with the visuals, which can add so much depth of emotion to the stories the people have to give.
While it’s a bit more scary knowing it’s real, the political intrigue is certain to pull me in. Trying to fight for what’s right while not knowing who to trust and risking severe consequences? How can you NOT be on the edge of your seat, gripping the book with white knuckles?
While I have a decent awareness of it already, I’m always eager to learn more about the history of Korea. It’s rife with takeovers, rebellions, divisions, unification, inventions, and so much more. I want to know about all of it.
One of the focal points of the story is the reading club about banned books that she unknowingly joins. As a reader, that’s obviously going to attract me.
Recommended: oh yes For men and others who are unaware of how crappily women are treated due to institutionalized efforts against them consciously or not, for those who need a refresher on gender equality, for a short read that packs a punch, for anyone looking for a cruel dose of reality
Summary: In a small, tidy apartment on the outskirts of the frenzied metropolis of Seoul, Kim Jiyoung—a millennial “everywoman”—spends her days caring for her infant daughter. Her husband, however, worries over a strange symptom that has recently appeared: Jiyoung has begun to impersonate the voices of other women—dead and alive, both known and unknown to her. Truly, flawlessly, completely, she became that very person. As she plunges deeper into this psychosis, Jiyoung’s concerned husband sends her to a psychiatrist, who listens to her narrate her own life story—from her birth to a family who expected a son, to elementary school teachers who policed girls’ outfits, to male coworkers who installed hidden cameras in women’s restrooms and posted the photos online. But can her doctor cure her, or even discover what truly ails her?
Thoughts: I’ve lived and worked in Korea before, and it is my favorite place in the world. However that doesn’t mean I’m blind to its flaws, as every place will have. In the case of Korea, much of it centers around gender equality issues largely stemming from traditional roles that the culture has struggled to truly move beyond. Basically, women are treated quite poorly in many ways that are yet deemed not only acceptable, but expected.
Reading this as a woman, none of this was a surprise to me. I’ve experienced or known others who have experienced so many of the same situations, whether in Korea or in the United States. I’d be very curious to see what it was like for a man or someone who doesn’t have painful firsthand experience thinks of this.
Unlike Throwback Thursday, I’m using Fridays to look ahead to books publishing soon that I’m excited for! Today’s is If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha. Expected Release: April 21, 2020
Why wait on this one?
It’s set in Seoul. That alone is pretty much enough for me. After living in Korea and absolutely falling in love with it and now not being able to go back for probably a while with the whole pandemic thing, I NEED MORE OF IT SOMEHOW!!!
For all that I love Korea, I also know it has flaws. Reading about the lives of women trying to navigate a society that can’t quite move past stereotypes and rigid gender expectations is alternatively heartbreaking and empowering.
It sounds like this will weave several stories and perspectives together, which I adore. I’m anticipating women standing alone and realizing they can trust each other to lean on for strength.
Summary: Kyuri is a heartbreakingly beautiful woman with a hard-won job at a “room salon,” an exclusive bar where she entertains businessmen while they drink. Though she prides herself on her cold, clear-eyed approach to life, an impulsive mistake with a client may come to threaten her livelihood. Her roomate, Miho, is a talented artist who grew up in an orphanage but won a scholarship to study art in New York. Returning to Korea after college, she finds herself in a precarious relationship with the super-wealthy heir to one of Korea’s biggest companies. Down the hall in their apartment building lives Ara, a hair stylist for whom two preoccupations sustain her: obsession with a boy-band pop star, and a best friend who is saving up for the extreme plastic surgery that is commonplace. And Wonna, one floor below, is a newlywed trying to get pregnant with a child that she and her husband have no idea how they can afford to raise and educate in the cutthroat economy. Together, their stories tell a gripping tale that’s seemingly unfamiliar, yet unmistakably universal in the way that their tentative friendships may have to be their saving grace.