Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

pachinko

**Spoilers**

This was a credibly well written and crafted novel.  I was really taken in by this family and their struggles and triumphs.  Pachinko follows one Korean family from 1910-1989 from their home in south of Korea to Japan.  When Yangjin’s daughter sixteen year old daughter, Sunja gets pregnant and the father can’t marry her. a boarder at her boarding house agrees to Marry her and take her to Japan with him to spare her and her family any shame.  Being a Korean living in Imperial Japan at the time was not easy.  They were often discriminated against and limited in their movements thanks to racist policies.  As the family tries to find ways to survive through poverty, war time and other personal tragedy it tears them apart and brings them together. If there is one thing that I got out of this novel is that no matter where women live, what their station in life is or what religion they practice.  Their choices are pretty shit.  Sunja finds herself pregnant from a secret affair with a wealthy businessman.  When she finds out that he can’t marry her because he already has a wife and three daughters back in Japan she walks away.  His offer of being his Korean wife and him buying her house and taken care of her is not enough.  She will never be his true wife but also being an unwed mother will bring shame on her and her family.  When a young pastor falls ill in her family’s boardinghouse, she and her mother help him get better.  Isek is convinced he was sent to them on purpose to help them as they helped him so he agrees to marry her and take her with her to Osaka.  This will spare the family of the shame.  At 16, Sunja choices are to be destitute and shunned from society or marry a complete stranger and move to another country.  Isek is a kind man and takes good care of her and their sons.  He raises Noa as his own flesh and blood and does what he can to provide for his family and his brother and sister in law.  They do grow to have mutual understanding and good marriage.  It’s a shame that Isek dies early in the book due to unfairly imprisoned for political reasons but I wanted to know more about him.  Their children Noa and Mozasu are two very different children.  They both struggle to find their identity as Koreans born in Japan and lived their whole lives but still looked at as foreigners.  I’m sure this is something many children of immigrants can relate too.  Noa and Mozasu both represent the “good Korean” and the “bad Korean”. Noa was always the good student who believed that if was good, if he studied hard and was the best in his class who would be able to overcome prejudices and be accepted only to ultimately discover that years of hate is not easily overcome, particularly when the hate comes from within.  Mozasu on the other hand understood early that you can’t change people’s mind.  If people wanted to label him the “bad Korean” he would comply and ultimately was able to succeed.

I’ll admit I know very little about Korean history or their relationship to Japan.  Considering we could be at war with North Korea very soon this seems like a big oversight on our parts.  The Koreans were overtaken by Japan and forced in to be second class citizens in their own country.  When they moved to Japan things were not better.  They were limited on what jobs they could get.  They had to live in a ghetto. Even their chosen professions were looked down upon.  Pachinko, a kind of gambling was seen as criminal activity and often thought of us gangsters.  After World War Two when Japan lost their war their situation became even more precarious.  They were not anymore welcomed in Japan then before but with uncertainty at home they couldn’t go back to Korea.  If they did, do they go back to North or South Korea.  In a way they became homeless, which seems even sadder since for characters like Noa, Mozasu, Yumi and Solomon who were all born and raised in Japan.  This is the only home they ever knew and yet they never treated like they belonged.  There is a pretty powerful scene of Solomon, the son of Mozasu so 2nd generation Korean Japanese, having to go to the home department and register so he can stay in the country he was born in.  I would say that would be crazy but then I remember what’s going on in our country and it doesn’t seem so crazy that a country would do that to it’s people.  There is also discussions on women’s role.  Sunja from the very beginning is a hard worker and finds it hard to stay stagnant.  When Isek is imprisoned and the family is desperate for money, she steps up and starts selling kimchi by the train station despite warnings from his brother in law that women must work.  She is industries and does what she needs to do to keep her family fed and sheltered.  It is her strength that keeps the family going.  At one point, Koh Hansu, who got her pregnant at the beginning of the story, shows up and sends them to a farm out of the city to save them from the end of the war.  I was angry that after what he did and could just show up and play hero.  Like how dare he?  Sunja rejects him over and over again but he always comes back.  So infuriating.

I’m glad that we are doing our Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives challenge because I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have this book otherwise and I would have missed out on a wonderful story.

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Review: Knit One, Kill Two by Maggie Sefton

I listened to this book while commuting to work with my car pool buddy. In it, Kelly Flynn returns to her hometown in Colorado following the murder of her aunt. This is the mystery that is solved in the novel. Who killed Aunt Helen? Why? Along the way, she meets her aunt’s knitting friends, who teach her to knit, and she uncovers secrets from her aunt’s past that may be the key to solving the murder.

This was a fun book. I particularly enjoyed that knitting was portrayed realistically and there weren’t any unrealistic buy-ins (like a single mother who supports herself and her child in a city where you knows no one by selling custom hand knits.) Kelly was believable. The yarn shop owner was believable. The other customers were believable. Since a lack of believability drives me crazy, these were all positives for me.

There were some moments where I wanted to know less about what people were feeling, but I’m also impatient and I wanted to know if I guessed the villain.

I would recommend this.

Review: The Silver Mask by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare

silver mask So what do you do when you have the soul of the enemy of death even though you have no memory of his past life and now everyone else knows it and blames you for the death of your best friend but your innocent?  For Call it means you get thrown in jail, broken out and then kidnapped by the very people who’ve been trying to avoid the last three years.  Call’s luck is almost none existent.  Call is also full of self doubt and guilt.  He wasn’t the one to kill Aaron, that was Alex but he still feels responsible for it.  If Tamara had chosen to save Aaron instead of Call it would have been Call who died and not Aaron.  Does Tamara regret that choice?  Call had always assume that Tamara liked Aaron more than him and like most people tolerated him because Aaron did.  Now that Tamara, Jasper and Call are kidnapped by Master Joseph and his crew things get a little hazy.  Call is not Constantine despite having his soul but he’s been having trouble convincing others of this.  He may not be him but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t share some of his ambitions.  Without Aaron, Call feels a little lost and maybe all would be forgiven and go back to what they were if Aaron was alive again.  Master Joseph gives him the chance.  Raise Aaron back from the dead and you can decide whether you want to stay or not.  The Enemy of Death was called that because his obsession with defeating death.  I’m not sure I buy that if Call is able to bring Aaron back that all would be forgiven and that all of a sudden there would be so much support for his cause but we need to find the conflict.  Of course Call is able to bring back Aaron by doing the one thing that Constantine was never willing to do, give apart of himself to do so but you can never go back.  Aaron is not as he was because he was dead and should be dead.  Call’s plan to bring Aaron back and things go back the way they were goes sideways immediately and battle ensues.  If I didn’t know that there is one more book left in the series, I would almost think that this was finale because there was a lot of loose ends tied up.  I’m not sure where they go from here but there is still one bad guy still out there.

This is part of my Diverse Narrator challenge.  Call is disabled with a bad leg from when he was an infant.  While his lifelong injury played more of a roll in previous books it is still a big part of who the character is.  His bad leg has always made him think that he was less capable then those with two good legs and he’s felt this way because of most of his life that’s what people have told him.  Throughout the series, Call has persevered despite being slow to run or walk.  He’s been able to use his other skills and wit to get in and out of  trouble and prove he is just as capable.  May that be a lesson for us all.

Quick Review: The Speaker by Traci Chee

speaker I didn’t find The Speaker to be as good as The Reader but it was no less enjoyable.  Sefia and Archer have escaped the Guard and back on the run.  They soon run into more impressors and just like what Sefia did for Archer, they rescue the kidnapped boys.  Soon they embark on a campaign to track down the other impressors and free their kidnapped boys using their fighting skills and Sefia’s book.  Things start out well but it becomes apparent that the violence starts to take over and everyone starts to wonder if Archer is the one the Guard has been looking for.  Also Sefia is dealing with the knowledge of the involvement of her parents with the Guard and the red war.  Just like in the The Reader, we get side story that is related.  In the first book it was the apprentice librarian and assassin that ended up being Sefia’s parents in their youth.  This one is the apprentice politician who is tasked with murdering his king so the next phase of the red war can commence. Unlike the subplot that was evident from the beginning as important, this seemed to be more of a distraction from the narrative.  I’m still not sure why it took so much real estate in this book except it started to mirror Sefia and Archer’s story of trying to change their destiny for the people they love.  I guess only time will tell how it will play out in upcoming books.  I just wished we got to spend more time with Captain Reed and crew then this other story line. I still loved this book.  It wasn’t as good as the original but it was damn entertaining and I’m even more invested in Sefia and Archer’s story.

Quick Review: The Becoming of Noah Shaw by Michelle Hodkin

becoming noah shaw This is the first book in the Shaw Confessions Trilogy, a companion trilogy to the Mara Dyer Trilogy.  I would recommend going back to read the original trilogy before starting this one and if you haven’t read the Mara Dyer Trilogy then read it first because this book will not make sense if not.  I did not re-read the last series and I found myself hitting up google looking for synopsis to remind myself what happened.  The Retribution of Mara Dyer came out in 2014 and so much has happened in the last three years it’s easy to forget who Stella is and what happened between her and Mara.  What I remember about the original series was how kind of creepy it was.  Is Mara really seeing hallucination or can she really kill people with her mind?  The first book was a mind trip.  This was a little bit more straight forward mystery.  It’s a few months after the ending of the last book and other carriers or gifted teens like Noah, Mara, Jaime and Stella are disappearing and then committing suicide. The problem is that they don’t want to and what do these disappearances and suicides have to do with Noah, Mara and what has done to them?  Well we don’t get a lot of answers but then again we do still have two more books to go.  What we do get is more incite into Noah.  The complicated but loyal boyfriend Noah. He is a kid who has every privilege in the world but doesn’t see the point in living until he meets Mara.  What happens when he doesn’t have that anymore?  Also the question used to be is Mara crazy? Now it’s is Mara a psychotic killer?  I’m really going to have to back and read the first trilogy again.

Review: Renegades by Marissa Meyer

renegades

I was lucky to receive an ARC of this back in September and I’m glad that I did.  This is a fun book to read. It was fast paced and had a lot of action. It’s a mixture of traditional Superheroes lure and the X-Men. Over 20 years ago, a Anarchist named Ace Anarachy started a rebellion and took down the government of Gatlon City in hopes of making Prodigies, those with powers, would be free to live without fear of being found out. In the wake of no real authority, street gangs made up of prodigies and non-prodigies took over and crime rampaged.  To combat it another group of Prodigies, calling themselves the Renegades, took on Ace and his Anarchists and won.  Now the Renegades are the new form of government.  They are trying to rebuild Gatlon into a better society.  Nova has many reasons to hate the Renegades.  For one, they were supposed to protect her family but they didn’t.  She has been working with the remaining Anarchists to bring down the Renegades.  This leaves her to joining the Renegades to spy on their organization and find weaknesses.  The more Nova begins to the learn about the Renegades the more she seems to be confused by them.  Especially after meeting Adrian, another prodigy and the son of the original Renegades.  Adrian is a good person who believes in their mission to make the world a safer place but Adrian has his own secrets too.  It’s a cat and mouse game between the two of them.  They are both looking for each other without even knowing it.  It’s also an interesting question about personal freedoms versus government control and who and what is better for society.  Nova believes that the Anarchist were unfairly blamed for the chaos that happened after Ace’s rebellion.  It wasn’t them that committed all the crimes.  It was a lot of non-prodigies who took advantage of the lawless society.  Ace’s failure was not being able to participate how people would react once their was no authority, no governing body, no police force to keep people in check. The Renegades are that now but this has in Nova’s opinion has made people weak because instead of helping themselves, they are just waiting for the Renegades to do it for them.  Adrian wonders, why would non-prodigies do anything when their are more powerful prodigies there?  Lot’s a questions to ask your book group on this one.  Nova and Adrian and both very likable characters. You can see what motivates them and how earnest they both are in their causes.  I do hope that we get to know more about the other prodigies in the next book.  Marissa Meyer has done a great job with this one and proves she doesn’t need fairy tales to tell a good story.  She can do it with superpowers too.

Review: All The Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

all the crooked saints“By relegating the things we fear and don’t understand to religion, and the things we understand and control to science, we rob science of its artistry and religion of its mutability.”

I’m starting with this quote because I really love it and wanted to share.  Maggie Stiefvater has a relationship with the English language that I can only marvel at.  How she is to spin, twirl her words to create her worlds is truly magical and is why I look forward to reading all of her books.  It’s hard to describe her books because they are unique.  I mean, who would think about rich white boys looking for a dead Welsh King with the help of psychics would be be so good? And yet, The Raven Cycle is a gift of a series.  All the Crooked Saints has many of the Stiefvater hallmarks we have grown to love but this time taking us to a new time a place.  The Soria’s grant miracles to all those who seek them but like everything worth having you have work for it.  Cousins Daniel, Beatriz and Joaquin are as close as you can get.  They are the youngest of the Soria clan.  Joaquin, 16 wants to be a DJ and wants more then just being a Soria.  Beatriz, 18 is logical and pragmatic.  Known to others as “the girl without feelings” she is more interested in figuring out puzzles then her families miracles.  Daniel, 19 is the current “Saint of Bicho Raro”.  When pilgrims come to Bicho Raro, Daniel helps them to their first miracle but he has a secret.  When pilgrims come to Bicho Raro they come looking for miracles and rid themselves of their darkness.  Those coming for an easy solution will be disappointed.  The Saint provides the first miracle that makes their darkness into flesh and it manifest in many forms.  It is then up to the pilgrim to figure out what they need to do rid themselves of their darkness and perform the second miracle.  The Soria’s are not allowed to help the pilgrims after the first miracle because if they do it will bring on their own darkness that is far more dark then anything the pilgrims have.  The story begins with the three cousins sitting in their truck listening to their pirated radio show they started.  Joaquin is the host and Beatriz the engineer and Daniel, just a listener.  They are interrupted by new arriving pilgrims, Tony and Pete.  Well Pete isn’t a pilgrim. He is just there to work for the truck that is currently their radio station.  The next day, it’s discovered that Daniel has gone out into the desert because he helped a pilgrim named Marisita, who’s darkness manifested in her walking in a constant rain storm wearing a wedding dress covered in butterflies.  Beatriz and Joaquin try to figure out a way to help Daniel without bringing the darkness on themselves.  The central question to this novel is what are you willing to do for a miracle because really what is more frightening than facing yourself? There is nothing harder then looking at yourself and seeing what is actually there and then doing something to change it.  We all have this idealized versions of ourselves that makes it herd for us to hear the truth.  I’ve been going through this lately.  I was recently up for a promotion at work that I didn’t get. I felt I was ready for it but when I was told it was going to go to someone outside of the company and the reasons why it hurt but also was truthful.  The reasons why I wasn’t promoted were all things about myself that I needed to work on but to have someone else voice them out loud was kind of painful to hear.  I have been grappling with this knowledge for a couple weeks know and what to do with it because in truth I didn’t really want to the job.  I’m looking to change careers but the promotion would have looked better on my resume if I stayed for another year.  Now that I didn’t get it, how do I go about improving myself so the next time there is no doubt then I’m the one for the job.  As for the novel, the Soria’s are all forced to face their own darkness in a way when Daniel leaves because just because they perform the miracles doesn’t mean they don’t need miracles too.  It’s not easy but then again anything truly worth having shouldn’t be easy and the struggles they go through it proof of that.  So readers, implore you to read this book and ask yourself what do you want and what are you most of afraid. I’ll go first. What do I want.  I want to make a difference.  What I am most afraid of. That I have reached as far as I’ll ever go and this is the best I’ll ever achieve.   What about you?

Quick Review: The Ship of the Dead by Rick Riordan

ship of the dead Gods this is such a great series.  I’m sorry that it’s only a trilogy but Rick being Rick did leave it open that if he wants to he can always return to Vahalla, Magnus Chase and his friends.  I’ve gushed and praised Rick Riordan in so many other reviews and this is another one. His ability to mix mythology, humor and present day is truly a gift.  Yes, his these books a little formulaic.  His heroes must go on epic journeys, where they must face many dangers and trials before facing a near impossible task but never does it feel tired or old.  It maybe because of his cast of characters are all are real and diverse.  How many young reader novels has a Muslim and gender fluid characters in the same novel? and more important how many of them are both are shown to be brave, resourceful, loyal, smart, funny and happy.  The answer not many.  Both Samirah and Alex are all of those and more. Throughout the entirety of the book Sam is practicing Ramadan, which is probably the first time that many of readers have ever read about Ramadan.  As I have stated before about Rick’s, he’s not afraid to tackle tough subjects in his books and he does it by showing positive scenes and connecting them with the stories of our past.  That no matter what a child is going through, they are not the only ones.  Kids of all race, gender identity and faith can see themselves in one of his many books and that’s amazing.  So keep up the good work Rick!

Spoilers under the Cut. Continue reading

Review: Before the Devil Breaks You by Libba Bray

before the devil breaks you Those who do not know their own history are doomed to repeat it. It may sound cliche but it is true.  Libba Bray has set The Diviner’s series in the twenties but in our current political climate it could easily be a contemporary novel.  All she would have to do is change some of the slang and add some emoji’s.  Themes of race, sexual orientation, patriotism, health, sexism and worker’s rights are very prevalent through out Before the Devil Breaks You and The Diviner’s series just as they are today.  The Eugenic’s movement that was full swing in the 1920’s where white supremacist used pseudoscience to prove that the white race was superior to all others.  It influenced government policy, immigration and mental health and would later inspire those in Nazi Party.  The racist policy was dressed up as a way to make America better and stronger.  If we can weed out all the undesirable elements of our a population we would be stronger.  Their “Make America Great Again” so to say.  Our Diviner’s, Evie, Sam, Memphis, Henry, Ling, Isiah, Theta, Jericho and Mabel have now faced two ghosts and are starting to understand the threat they are facing.  They powers are growing but are strongest together.  They start working with Will and Sister Walker to improve their powers but they all have secrets.  Will and Sister Walker both are part of opening the gap between the living in the dead and creating the Diviners.   Making them a little less trust worthy.  Evie is clinging on to her fame as a radio host but also can’t decide between Sam and Jericho.  Theta is afraid the other will find out about her powers and gets an even bigger surprised when her past comes back to haunt her.  Mabel, the one without any kind of powers feels out of place because she can’t read objects or disappear or walk in dreams.  She want’s to change the world but more then anything she was be noticed.   They individual stories are heartbreaking and true and make a for a rich story and speaks to the diverse nature of our country.  The King of Crows is throwing everything at them this time because it’s not just one ghost but many and it’s not just ghost they must fight against it’s prejudice and ignorance.  It’s the balance between wanted to be safe vs. wanting to feel safe.  Those are two different things.  When people are scared they will agree to almost anything to feel safe again even if it doesn’t actually make them safer.  I would point to the entire last election cycles of examples of that.  The Diviner’s came together at the beginning of the book only be torn apart which I can only assume is the perfect set up for the last book.  I’ll give Miss Bray credit, she knows how to tell a story and is not at all sentimental.  The last 20-30 pages. Bray channels her inner George R.R. Martin and racks up a body count that only he could appreciate.  We are living in scary times and anyone who picks this book up hoping to escape will be disappointed because America hasn’t learned from our own history and we are now repeating it.

Review: One Dark Throne by Kendare Blake

one dark throne

***The Review has spoilers from One Dark Throne and the first book Three Dark Crowns.  Read both books first and then come back.  Thank you***

The Ascension year has started and Katharine, Arsinoe and Mirabella are not messing around.  From the very beginning we are deep into plans, schemes and our right combat from the sisters.  They are all are pissed and have good reason too.  They have all been betrayed in one way or another and that’s after they were raised to kill or be killed.  I do wonder, in all of their lessons on how to control their powers and how to kill their sisters, how many lessons did they get about actually governing should they win the crown?  I sort of get the feeling that’s sort of an afterthought but I digress.  Arsinoe has discovered that she isn’t actually a Naturalist but a poisoner, which should have been obvious considering her name.  Right?  It looks and and sounds like arsenic.  Katharine has survived the Breccia Domain and wants revenge on everyone, especially Pieytr and Mirabella is hurt that Arsinoe sent her bear to kill her at Beltane after she saved her life.  This was a very intense read from the beginning which was good.  The first book was kinda slow in places as it tried to flesh out it’s world.  Now with all of that out the way, it really has found it’s footing.  The Sisters are interesting and complex characters.  I found myself wanted all of them to win, well maybe not Katharine, she really has flipped her lid.  Which is  shame since she spells her name right.  The fourth girl in the story, Jules, Arsinoe’s best friend and protector is the strongest Naturalist of her generation and maybe she is that because there wasn’t a Naturalist Queen born since both Arsinoe and Katharine are poisoners. She is also legion cursed, which seems to mean she was born with two gifts and that often makes the person go mad and is often killed at birth.  Her second gift is War, which has been mostly dorment for many years that people don’t really know what she is capable of.  I want to like Jules but I just can’t seem to care that much about her.  She seems to be the classic YA character that doesn’t have much of a personality outside of her love interest or in this case, her best friend, Arsinoe.  And when she is fretting over Arsinoe she’s moping about Joseph. She still is trying to forgive him for sleeping with Mirabella and honestly, I kinda like Joseph and Mirabella together better.  Their relationship may have been only physical and facilitated by Arsinoe’s low magic but to me they had more chemistry and passion in their few scenes together then Joseph and Jules did in their many.  I did get their feel that they loved each other but they loved who they were before Joseph was banished and now feel like they have to hold on to that then discover on who they are now.  Maybe now that Jules will be on her own without Arsinoe or Joseph we will get to know more about her. I hope so since she obviously has a big part to play in how this story turns out.  I like that fact that Kendare Blake is going to drag out their Ascension year beyond this book and that we have a crowned Queen but also the beginning a possible rebellion.  What happens when more then one Queen survives?  And what is really down in the Breccia Domain?  Is Jules really going to be the end of Fennbirn?  So many questions that can’t wait to find out the answers to.