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.

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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.

This Month in Reality: Shonda Rhimes is my hero. 

A Year of Yes
  

Welcome to a March 32nd tradition. I am posting this month’s in reality on the last day of March! 
This book, man. It’s life changing. Life affirming. It’s… I don’t even know where to begin. Except I do. At the beginning, I had to stop listening halfway through the introduction because I was crying my eyes out. I’ve never felt so seen…by an audiobook. I guess this is why Shonda Rhimes owns Thursday nights. 
This book is a memoir about a year in which Rhimes chose to say yes to everything that scared her. And, it would seem, a bunch of things that scare her also scare me and so hearing about how she faced her fears and won was transformative.  The book is read by the author, so, if like me, you listen to books a lot with headphones on, Shonda Rhimes is literally whispering in your ear telling you how she overcame her fears and leading by example. 
I want to say yes to everything now. I even want to say yes to saying no to things that are bad for me. 
This book, man. I loved it. 

Review: Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

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You know when you’re reading a book and you can see where the story is going and who is the villain and who is the hero before the heroine does and you just want to scream at her to wake up and pay attention! That was me with this book.  Despite this, I flew through reading it. It was exactly the distraction I needed after a few tough books.  Mare Barrow has no skills besides pick pocketing and in this world that means when she turns 18, she’ll be conscripted to the war front.  She is a Red, born with red blood and is forced to serve and work for the Silvers, those born with silver blood and who have extra powers.  When her best friend loses his job and will be sent to war, she tries to save him.  This leads to her finding out she’s more than red.  She has powers, too.  Silvers can’t let her walk away after this discovery so they try to cover it up and force her to live with them and marry one of the princes.  That doesn’t sound like such a punishment but she’s basically their prisoner whose life is at their whim.  At the same time, a rebellion is starting to take hold and Mare wants to be a part of it.  The more she becomes involved with the Silvers and the rebellion things get complicated.  She’s playing a game she doesn’t know the rules to and anyone can betray anyone.

Mare is strong but full of vulnerability.  She doesn’t have skills like her sister and jobs are scarce so she does what she can to help out her family, steal.  Her family isn’t exactly happy about it since her sister has a job and is their ticket out of poverty.  It’s hard to compete against.  She is loyal, almost to a fault.  If she has a fault is that she is so focused on her family and friends and what she sees as injustices that she fails to see the bigger picture and it gets her into trouble.  Her suitors are abundant.  First their is Kilorn, her friend that she will do anything to save.  Prince Cal, the perfect prince and Prince Maven, her betrothed.  Mare is one of those YA heroines that doesn’t think she’s pretty but has guys falling all over her.  I find this kind of annoying.  We’ve been there and down that but it does actually make sense here.  At least with her relationship with the Princes it’s not so much she thinks they wouldn’t fall for her because of how she looks but that she is beneath them.  As for Kilorn, her loyalty and feelings of having to take care of him blinds her to his feelings for her which is pretty obvious for the reader.

As I said at the beginning, I knew that Mare was being played by some of the characters but despite that I kept wanting to read to see how it plays out.  It’s paced well, the characters are interesting and I do look forward to the sequel.

Review: Fledgling by Octavia E. Butler

A woman wakes up burned, shot, and with broken bones in a cave. She can’t remember who she is. She can’t remember how she got there. She can only remember the pain and some instinctual things like a need to eat. Slowly, she’s able to find food and put some things together. She finds the remains of a burned village. She hunts some deer. She wanders down a road and meets Wright and slowly starts to put the pieces together of who and what she is when she bites Wright and drinks his blood. She is part of a vampire race but she is special. She has been genetically engineered with a little human DNA so that she can be alert during the day and she has much more tolerance to the sun. She’s also dark-skinned, something that isn’t true about her people. Without knowing who she is or what happened to her (and the others? are the others like her?) she has to figure out what happened to her home. While trying to figure out what happened to her to make her have amnesia she meets her father who tells her that her name is Shori and explains why she is so special. Shori and her father begin the investigation into what happened to her and her family. Clearly there was a fire, but what caused it? Shori is put on the the path to solving the mystery of her destroyed community and bringing the perpetrators to justice.

This was a thrilling vampire novel, certainly the best one I’ve read since Sunshine by Robin McKinley. Since the main character has amnesia, we discover things about her species and her world as she does. You start to wonder pretty early on if what has happened to her is garden variety people hunting vampires, or garden variety people being racists asshats or something worse. When she is shocked and horrified by the behavior of humans and other vampires, we are, too. There is so much to say about this book but I don’t want to spoil anything (and I really want to do it justice if I’m going to analyze the themes of the book) so I won’t go into details. I will however say that this book could be a model for all of paranormal romance (even though it wasn’t a romance). I was so pleased with how it dealt with issues of consent that are so often missing from novels about vampires.

This book was so enjoyable and so wonderful and I can’t gush about it enough. Seriously. You should go read it. Now. You should read it now.

Fledgling

This Month in Reality…..Travel as a metaphor for personal growth!

Let us rejoice in today, March 32nd! 

I am indeed back after a lovely vacation hanging out with my sister and our parents! And, let me tell you: not only do I love traveling, but I also love travel memoirs! Since I discovered the genre of travel memoir in college it has been a genre I’ve always been happy to come back to. So, it might surprise you to know that until this month I hadn’t read Eat, Pray, Love. Yes, I saw all the hype when the book came out and then when the book was optioned and made into a movie. I avoided it because it seemed like a travel memoir that was going to make me angry. I thought it was going to make me angry because here’s this woman who is making a good living and has a good job and a husband who loves her and she just throws it away and travels the world. I thought she’d make me angry or worse, that she wouldn’t be sympathetic at all and I’d be reading an entire memoir where I don’t care about the person at the center of the story. (Yes, that’s right, not being relatable is a bigger problem than making me angry.) On top of that, traveling and exploring other cultures while either talking about how cheap everything is or glossing over the problems and idealizing the not-problems really bothers me. I was concerned that Elizabeth Gilbert was going to go to an ashram in India and talk about how deep and spiritual all Indians are and not put this ashram in the context of a country with large populations of people who have different religions which are antagonistic to each other. Or, worse, I was worried her biggest concern would be about the dogs. (Note: I’m happy when people are worried about animal welfare. I’m not happy when they’re so worried about animal welfare that it affects how they feel about seeing poverty-stricken people. This is especially troubling when you also think those poverty-stricken people have the most beautiful culture. Anyway, that’s probably a hypocritical rant for another day.) So, I didn’t read the book when it came out. Or, when it was made into a movie. Plus, I didn’t see the movie. I picked it up hoping that I would hate it and that would make me feel vindicated for avoiding it up until now.

No such luck. (Spoilers behind the cut).
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