Posted in Reviews

Review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng


Recommended: meh
For character studies, for mild mystery, for psychological impacts of grief

Summary

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

Thoughts

If you had asked me if I recommended this book right after I finished reading it, I probably still would have been unenthusiastic, but I would have said yes. Now it’s been about a month since I finished it and I had to sit and think to remember anything of what it was about. If it can’t even last a month before I’m struggling to think of main plot points, that’s not a great sign.

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Posted in Reviews

Review: Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt

Recommended: ehhh
For people who don’t care if the octopus is a small part of this and not the heart of it, for folks who enjoy understated stories with quiet character development, for a gentle mystery. Not for likeable characters, engaging plot, or vivid emotions.

Summary

After Tova Sullivan’s husband died, she began working the night shift at the Sowell Bay Aquarium, mopping floors and tidying up. Keeping busy has always helped her cope, which she’s been doing since her eighteen-year-old son, Erik, mysteriously vanished on a boat in Puget Sound over thirty years ago.

Tova becomes acquainted with curmudgeonly Marcellus, a giant Pacific octopus living at the aquarium. Marcellus knows more than anyone can imagine but wouldn’t dream of lifting one of his eight arms for his human captors–until he forms a remarkable friendship with Tova.

Ever the detective, Marcellus deduces what happened the night Tova’s son disappeared. And now Marcellus must use every trick his old invertebrate body can muster to unearth the truth for her before it’s too late.

Thoughts

Who else came to this book lured in by the promise of narration via octopus? I imagine lots of people, myself among them.

Who else was disappointed by the lack of octopus narration?
🙋‍♀️🙋‍♀️🙋‍♀️

There are a few good chapters of it for sure, but they’re short at two or three pages each and make up overall a small (but impactful) portion of the story. My expectations for this were WAY off, as I thought it’d be closer to 50%, so when I got into this and realized it was mostly narrated from two humans (with the occasional omniscient view of side characters where fitting) I was quickly put off of it. This was not what I signed up for.

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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.

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Posted in Reviews

ARC Review: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan (1/04)

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Release Date: January 4, 2022

Recommended: sure
For a slow character study, for a creepily realistic look at how things can suddenly yet subtly cross the line, for a book that’s like the opposite of The Farm

Summary

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

Thoughts:

This book is somewhat outside my usual preference of magic and action and saving-the-world kinds of issues. Frida is just looking to save her own little world, and maybe that of her daughter’s, Harriet. And yet, despite this being a more literary style, which I usually struggle with, this kept me 100% engaged. When I wasn’t reading it, I was thinking about it. And I finished it in two days.

The pull of this one is almost voyeuristic, because I watched Frida slowly and undeniably lose herself through her time in the school. Her thoughts are mine to know, and I end up having more insight than even the all-seeing monitors who judge her emotions via endless camera footage. Hearing their diagnoses of some mothers in the program as not having enough love in their hugs, based on the biometric feedback, or that they should be able to physically heal illness with just their motherly love, was so genuinely unsettling to read that I kind of shudder again just thinking about it.

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Posted in Book Talk, Chatty

Giving “My Year Abroad” by Chang-rae Lee a shot!

I saw a new release recently, and read a sample of the first few pages. I was strangely drawn to it. Though perhaps it’s not so strange, since it’s by an (apparently, judging by the awards and reviews I’ve read) super well-respected author, Chang-rae Lee. His sentences flow on and on like a river looking for the ocean, not in a particular hurry, because the destination is ultimately known and once there everything will simply begin again anyway. That sentence was my (paltry) attempt at recreating the mood and style he infuses into every word.

It’s a lot of imagery, and metaphorical language that somehow is also clear cut and precise. Even when it seems like the story is meandering, you don’t abandon it, and are rewarded with the moment when it all pieces together gently, knowingly, and you’re brought in on the secret.

Basically it’s a lot of what I don’t usually read. Literary fiction can often tire or bore me even when I love aspects of it in other ways. It’s a rare sampling for me. But Chang-rae Lee went to school at PEA, and I almost went to school there, and I find that interesting enough to pursue finding his book My Year Abroad from the library and giving it a go. I’m about 15% of the way in right now, I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what the plot of the story is or where it’s heading, and I’m planning on just moseying on through and letting his words carry me wherever we end up going.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Verdict: a slow character study kind of read, so if you’re into that style you’ll probably enjoy this

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.

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Posted in Fast-Forward Friday

Fast Forward Friday: When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo

In contrast to Throwback Thursday, I like to use Fridays to look ahead to an upcoming release that I’me xcited about! Today’s (or, well, yesterday’s since I’m a day late this time) is When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo — and the author might be familiar if you follow this blog! So, why am I excited about this one?
Expected Release: December 8, 2020

Why wait on this one?

  • First and foremost, Nghi Vo’s other novella in this style was fascinating and lyrical and beautiful. It told so much story in such a short amount of time. It was a fantastic representation of all that a novella can deliver. I even had that book as a Fast Forward Friday feature as well, and I was right to anticipate it.
  • Now to be honest, I’ve only just read the blurb for the first time, because when I saw Nghi Vo I knew I would be reading it. But the blurb sounds like it will be a perfect delivery of another entrancing world. Chih has to placate yet understand a ferocious band of tigers, and I think the character’s interaction with an animal as the basis for their talents will work perfectly with the mystical writing style.
  • These are delightful bite-size stories that feel like so much more. I’m working on other reading goals right now, but for any of y’all who are hoping to hit a quota before the end of the year: this is a perfect addition. 128 pages makes it short and sweet, and Nghi Vo packs it with emotion of a 600+ page tome.

Summary

The cleric Chih finds themself and their companions at the mercy of a band of fierce tigers who ache with hunger. To stay alive until the mammoths can save them, Chih must unwind the intricate, layered story of the tiger and her scholar lover—a woman of courage, intelligence, and beauty—and discover how truth can survive becoming history.

Nghi Vo returns to the empire of Ahn and The Singing Hills Cycle in this mesmerizing, lush standalone follow-up to The Empress of Salt and Fortune.

Posted in Reviews

Review: The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende – ⭐⭐⭐

Recommended: sure
For a look at Japanese internment, for cross-racial relations, for a story about people

Summary:
In 1939, as Poland falls under the shadow of the Nazis, young Alma Belasco’s parents send her away to live in safety with an aunt and uncle in their opulent mansion in San Francisco. There, as the rest of the world goes to war, she encounters Ichimei Fukuda, the quiet and gentle son of the family’s Japanese gardener. Unnoticed by those around them, a tender love affair begins to blossom. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the two are cruelly pulled apart as Ichimei and his family, like thousands of other Japanese Americans are declared enemies and forcibly relocated to internment camps run by the United States government. Throughout their lifetimes, Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, but theirs is a love that they are forever forced to hide from the world. Decades later, Alma is nearing the end of her long and eventful life. Irina Bazili, a care worker struggling to come to terms with her own troubled past, meets the elderly woman and her grandson, Seth, at San Francisco’s charmingly eccentric Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, eventually learning about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

Thoughts:
While this was not fervently compelling, it had a quiet dignity that held my attention throughout. It’s a story of people. Impressively, despite having a fairly large cast whom we learn about, across multiple generations, each person feels robust and well-known. Even the seemingly smaller characters are given motivation and pain and importance in their way. I loved seeing that, as I think it’s indicative of a world I want to live in: one where every person is known to be a complex person, and so patience is easier to give.

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