Review: Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan

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There was a time in my life when I almost exclusively read literary fiction. This is obviously not that time and so I’m both a little surprised and thrilled that the Asian Lit Bingo challenge got me to read two works of literary fiction in (a little more than) a month. Rainbirds was the second of these novels. It is set in Japan and follows Ren Ishida as he goes to the small city of Akakawa to take care of his sister’s affairs following her unexpected and untimely death. Keiko, you see, was murdered.

The novel is a slow burn. Ren decides to stay in Akakawa after he’s asked to take over his sister’s position at a cram school. He is finishing up his time at university, having submitted his thesis for his Masters degree in English literature at a university in Tokyo. He even moves into her unconventional living situation. His sister had been living rent-free in the home of a wealthy politician in exchange for bringing his catatonic wife lunch and reading to her every day. The story moves back and forth between Ren’s memories of growing up with his sister, who was almost a decade older than him, and the present-time narrative of Ren putting his sister to rest while trying to figure out how she died.

As Ren gets to know people in Akakawa, so do we. They are an interesting cast of characters. These side narratives help to build a picture of the city and also of Keiko’s life prior to her death. Ren discovers that he didn’t know his sister as well as he thought he had.

This novel was not what I expected it to be. After reading a few reviews before selecting it, I expected something more fast-paced and centered on the murder. But, this novel was slower and took was through many little mysteries to eventually weave a heartbreaking picture of this young man coming to terms with a tremendous loss. I am so glad that I picked this up, even if it broke my heart.

The audio book was read by David Shih and he did a wonderful job.

Review: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

children of blood and bone This novel had a lot of hype around it and I’m glad to say it was justified.  From the very beginning I was hooked.  With the exception of one section, it was fast paced and gripping.  I immediately liked Zelie and was rooting for her to succeed.  I was drawn to Amari and struggle to right the wrongs of her family and battling her own fears. Both of these women are strong and brave.  They have their own flaws but when it came to helping those in need they didn’t hesitate to step in.  It’s beautifully written and full of lush imagery that I felt I was taken to an Orisha just as I was taken to Wakanda in Black Panther.  There is so much potential in how this series will unfold that I really can not wait to read the next book.  Like I want it right now!

That being said, there were a few things that I didn’t particularly like and leave that under the cut.  Continue reading

Quick Review: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

truly devious Stevie Bell is starting at a new school.  The mysterious and illustrious Ellingham Academy.  Started by the infamous and rich Albert Ellingham the for the brightest students.  Ellingham opened his school because he believed education was a game, a game that should be open to everyone so he made it tuition free.  However, the history of Ellingham is tragic.  Albert’s wife and Daughter are kidnapped and another student goes missing. While there was a confession and trial many things about the case have been left unsolved.  Stevie is determined to solve the case. What Stevie didn’t count on was another student dying and a new mystery develops.  Maureen does an excellent job setting up the past mystery with flashbacks and FBI transcripts and interweaving it with the present.  At first it seemed that they cases were related and then they didn’t and then it did again.  She always able to keep you on your toes.  Stevie is ambitious.  She knows that her interest are a bit unusual and it makes it hard for her to make friends.  An issue that makes her anxious. As she tries to solve the mysterious before her she also must contend with school work, friendships and other relationships and forging your own path and not necessarily the path expected of you.  I don’t think I have read a book depict anxiety in such a realistic way before.  It really gets to the heart of how anxiety can paralyze a person but also shows how one can overcome those thoughts.  Stevie is a great role model in that respect.  The cast of characters around Stevie are interesting and I’m sure we will get more of them as the series progresses but I have to give a shout out to my boy Nate.  He is the friend that everyone needs because he was willing to put himself in uncomfortable position because he saw Stevie was in a bad place and it was the push that Stevie needed.  That’s a true friendship.

Quick Review: A Cruel Prince by Holly Black

cruel prince I feel like singing “Hello Dolly” except it is “Hello Holly” because she is back to where she belongs.  No one writes about Fairies the way that Holly does. From the Spiderwick Chronicles to  Modern Faerie Tales to Darkest Part of the Forest, her stories are a mixture of faerie lore with modern twists and not one is the same.  The Cruel Prince is a new spin on the changeling story.  Instead of a fairy leaving one of their off spring with humans to replace their own babies, we have twins Jude and Taryn who are stolen from their home after Madoc kills their parents.  You see, Madoc is the general to the High King in Faerie and has an odd sense of honor.  He married their mother and well she escaped, taking their baby, Vivi, with her to the Human world. Ten years later he finds her married to another and in a fit of rage kills both of them and then out of duty he takes all the kids back to Faerie and raises them as his own.  Jude and Taryn were seven when they come to live and Faerie and have come to think about it as home despite living with their parents murderer.  There are only two ways humans can join the court.  They can either marry their way in or earn their way by becoming a knight.  Taryn wants to the former and Jude the latter.  In Jude’s quest to become a Knight she battles against the cruel and spoiled Prince Cardan and his viscous friends.  Like any kid who has ever been bullied, you come to a point where you can no longer just sit by and let things happen and start fighting back.  Jude is given the opportunity to prove herself to Cardan’s brother, Dain, who is expected to be named King by becoming one of his spies but this is Faerie and things don’t go the way you expect.  The coronation didn’t go as planned, people revealed themselves to be not to who she thought them to be.  Despite all the betrayals and double crosses, Jude takes the opportunity to make her own power play.  I love Jude.  She is smart and brave.  Being a human growing up in Faerie is fraught with challenges but she has found ways to turn those disadvantages to her advantage and outsmarts them all.  That being said, the real conflict as the series is going to be if she able to deliver on all the the promises she’s made.  Will her allies continue to support her? And will Cardan and her ever hook up? Fans of Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy will love the surprise cameos from Roiben and Kaye.  This is a great start to another classic Holly black faerie tale.

Quick Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows Final I’ll admit that I had a little trouble getting into this one.  I get the feeling that V.E. didn’t plan on this being a trilogy originally because while there were a few loose ends it was wrapped up pretty nicely and could have ended where it did.  That meant that she sort of had to start all over again setting up the world and the characters.  Lila had left Red London to seek adventures and find herself on a privateer’s boat.  Kell and Rhy are left dealing with the new bond between them and the knowledge that their lives are tied to each other.  If one dies so does the other.  All three are restless in their new realities so of course it’s a good time to put on an international tournament of magic.  The Essen Tasch, a competition with neighboring nations Faron and Vesk.  A good way to expand the universe but it also meant it took a lot of pages building up the games that by the time we finally do and we get all of characters in one place again, the book is more then two thirds over and you blink and the games are over.  I just felt it needed a little less setup and more action.  Especially since the real story was going on in White London and we only get a glimpse of.   The one saving grace is it has one hell of cliffhanger, with not just one or two but at least three characters lives in peril at the final page.  It’s a good thing, I went ahead and bought the last book because I have to know what happens next.

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.

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: 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: Tower of Dawn by Sarah J. Maas

tower of dawn **Spoiler Alert**

The Throne of Glass series has expanded way beyond the original books and has so many characters that Sarah J Maas basically had to pull a George R.R. Martin and split the characters up in to two books.  Tower of Dawn takes place at the same time that Empire of Storms but this time in the Southern Continent. Chaol and Nesryn journey to meet the Khagan and his family in hopes of swaying them to join their cause but to also heal Chaol paralysis with their famed healers.  Chaol meets the young healer Yrene, who readers first met in one of the prequel novella’s. Yrene and Chaol have the typical antagonizing relationship that turns into a romance but they have more chemistry in their first scene then Chaol and Nesryn ever did.  Chaol is one of my favorite characters and I was total Celaenia/Chaol shipper and was sad when they broke off but it was inevitable since as we know Celaenia turned out to be Aelin the Queen of Terrasan.  Chaol was in love with Celaenia not with Aelin and it’s not that I don’t like Nesryn but they just seemed off.  I’m happy that Chaol found someone who is more his equal.  Now back to the story.  The Khagan and the southern Continent have powerful armies and Aelin and Dorian need all the help they need if they are going to defeat Erawen and the Valg but the Khagan are not easily persuaded.  They have had peace in their lands for years and are not eager to rush into a war on another continent.  They are also in mourning of their youngest daughter who supposedly killed herself but some in the family don’t believe it.  After Chaol tells Yrene how he was really injured, strange things start to happen.  Another healer is mysteriously murdered that not even the healers can figure out how.  Are the Valg already here? Chaol, Nesryn and Yrene piece together who the Valg are and who they are really fighting.  Let’s just say some holes are filled in.  The nice thing about this book was that it only had 3 POV’s.  As the series has grown and the world expanded and more and more characters were introduced, there were more and more storylines and subplots and POV that it was getting a little out of control.  Again, think Game of Thrones.  It was nice to have a much simpler storyline to follow.  It was filled with the same intrigued and action as the previous books and it was nice breather before the finale comes out next year.

Review: Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth

carve the mark 2 So let’s talk the controversy.  I was excited about reading this book because I thought it sounded interesting and was curious how Veronica Roth would follow up her Divergent series.  That was until reviews started to come in and people began talking about the racism surrounding the plot.  Now, I don’t necessarily think it is intentionally racist but it is definitely problematic.  So the plot revolves around two different races of people who share the same planet.  The fair-skinned, peaceful Thuve people and the dark-skinned warrior race Shotet.  Right there raised flags for me.  That the more violent people are described as being dark in skin, eyes and curly hair versus the more light skinned, blue eyed, straight hair peaceful neighbors.  Everything about the Shotet’s is described violently from their language to their tradition of marking their arms with every kill.  It brings up images in our society about we are programmed to think that those with darker skinned are more dangerous then those of us who have lighter skin tones.  That the lighter skinned people are somehow inherently just better people.  And that is why at first I felt a little uncomfortable reading it.  However, it didn’t turn me off either.  As the story continued, I became more invested in the characters Akos and Cyra.  I don’t think ever really got past the uncomfortableness of it but I did want Cyra to best her abusive brother and Akos to rescue his.  They compliment each other really well.  Cyra has a gift for pain. Pain that she inflicts on others but also lives in her while Akos gift is that he nullifies the current.  In this world, everyone has a gift granted by the current.  Each gift is different depending on the person.  Cyra brother is the ruler of the Shotet people and has been using her as his own personal torturer.  She has gained the reputation of being cruel when she is only doing what she is told to do but deep down she knows that she deserves the pain she feels thanks to her painful history.  Akos is kidnapped by the Shotet with his brother when their fates clash with the Shotet ruler.  Both Cyra and Akos really grow throughout the novel. They both see in each other that they don’t have to be what they raised to be.  That they can choose their own paths.  The ending was a little meh but it did pose one interesting question that makes me at least interested in the sequel.  It might be too late for Veronica to fix the unfortunate world building choices in the sequel but I do hope that in the future she takes more time to ask herself, why she is making these choices in her writing.  Is it because this is who the character really is or something that has been internalized in herself coming out on the page.