Review: The Downstairs Girl by Stacey Lee

Jo is a Chinese American living in Reconstructionist Atlanta in 1890. She wants to make her own way but being Chinese in the 19th Century America, her options are limited. When we meet her, she is fired from her hat making internship even though she is talented because clients feel “uncomfortable”. She is forced to go work as a ladies maid for spoiled rich girl who she worked for as a child and was often cruel to her. She lives in the basement of a house unbeknowst to the family who lives above them. They publish a local newspaper and well subscriptions are dwindling and they might have to fold the paper and move. Jo can’t risk them leaving and losing their home so she comes up with a plan to become their new “Agony Aunt” advice columinst. Her first couple of articles are instant hits thanks to her controversial takes on marriage and riding a bike among other things. It also helps her discover who her parents are and that’s a whole other story. This is such a lush book with so many great characters and details about reconstructionist south and the beginning of Jim Crow. It’s kind of a perfect storm in American history because while we see the South embrace segregation, we also see the beginning of the suffragist movement. In some ways, the fight for women’s vote worked hand in hand with segregationist movement and it’s kind of frightening how quick we regressed after the Civil War. It’s also a different look at race relations in America. We usually only examine it by Black and White but forget about other minorities. When slavery was outlawed, plantation owners brought in Chinese workers to replace them, thinking they would be harder workers but to find they also didn’t like to working for low wages. Then the Chinese inclusion act passed and many Chinese in America found themselves alone in a country that did not want them and no way of bringing their families over from China. Jo knows her realities but also doesn’t stop her from dreaming of a future where she pays her own way and though she’ll never get the recognition she deserves she still found a way to change her world.

Review: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

This book was heartbreaking as it was beautiful. The reality that Indigenous Women face everyday is kind of horrifying when you think about how susceptible they are to violence and little resources they have to help them. Daunis straddles between two worlds. She’s half indigenous and half white. The white half also happens to be one of the richest families in her town. So rich that one of the dorms in the local University was named after her grandfather. She belongs to both worlds but doesn’t. When multiple deaths due to overdose on Meth, Daunis gets recruited by the FBI to help with the investigation on a possible Meth ring coming from the Rez. Around the same time, a new boy moves to town that is mysterious as he’s attractive and adds a new complication to her life. In the investigation, Daunis uncovers some truths about people in her life that she thought she knew and some even more painful harsh reality. Many of which she had been shielded from thanks to her mix heritage and that she is light skin and easily passes as white. A privilege that has kept her safe up until now. The intersection of racism and misogyny comes in full force in this one as it’s pretty clear that both lead to so many of the issues that led to this happening and it’s hard to read. Daunis is picked to help with the investigation because of her knowledge of her tribes customs but also her understanding of chemistry. I love her Daunis pieces things together and works through the problem to find a solution. She is as brave as she is smart and doing so helps solves the mystery but unfortunately at a personal cost. I have to say, this is not an easy read because the reality that Indigenous women face every day are hard and the lack of empathy and resources they receive is heartbreaking. Even with Daunis privilege of being half white and born into a wealthy family is not enough to shield her from them. So please bare that in mind when you pick it up. It is definitely worth the read and I highly recommend it. It’s a novel that is going to stick with me for a long time.

What I’m Reading Now: Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

A murder mystery. Diverse narrator. Hot Hockey player. Sign me up. This book has been getting a lot of buzz so I’m excited to get into it.

Quick Review: Chain of Iron by Cassandra Clare

Fourteen books and countless novellas in to the Shadowhunters Chronicles, you pretty much know what you are going to get. Lot’s of diverse characters. Action, romance, agnst and humor sprinkled throughout. There is at least one character questioning their identity, at least two characters who are madly in love with each other but convinced the other doesn’t feel the same way about them. Another end of the world plot that they have to uncover, usually having to do with something bad that the Shadowhunters have done in the past and now are paying for it. Chain of Iron is no different and I know this and yet I keep reading on. I guess because despite it all, I still want to know what’s going to happen next. Clare has a way of populating her books with well rounded and thought out characters. They feel real. They are complicated and simple. They may be otherworldly but still live in a space that feels like every day. I may not know what if feel like to battle demons but I do know what it feels like to feel lonely or out of place. I guess that’s why they are so popular because no matter who you are there is a character that represents you somewhere in the series. This series takes place in turn of the 20th Century London but still full of diverse characters because it is England after all and the Empire was in full swing. There are LGBTQ+ characters because they have also existed in this time period even if the media of the time didn’t reflect it. So yes, fans of the books are going to love this as much as the others but new readers may feel a little daunted by the all the references and subplots to previous and upcoming books. Basically don’t start here if feel like jumping on the Shadowhunter train.

Quick Review: The Tower of Nero by Rick Riordan

I know that I’m super behind in my reviews. I’ll try to get them all written before the end of the year. On to this one. The Tower of Nero was a satisfying ending to the series and really to whole Olympian Saga. Pretty much every character got some closure with one notable exception but we will get to that. Apollo the former God, turned human because of the events of Heroes of Olympus but also because he was on the only one who could save the world this time. Apollo had grown so much over the series. He wasn’t just turned human but became human. As a God with immortality and unlimited abilities he often didn’t think about how his actions affected others because there would always be more for him. More people to worship him. During his journey he had to come to terms with all the destruction he caused and the hurt he inflicted and it was painful but doing so he grew up. He understood that everything has consequences and that you can’t just walk away or send a demi-god to do your work for you. Meg also grew up. She was finally strong enough to stand up to her father and abuser but also have the strength to help her siblings begin their healing as well. It was truly a powerful moment when she finally stands up to him and help her family. The one character from the original series that is still working through his grief is Nico. I have a feeling we are being set up for another series following his journey as he grapples with years of grief and depression that he is only know coming to terms with. Poor kid. He was born in Mussolini’s Italy, frozen in time in a weird Vegas time warp. Lost his sister. Was forced out of the closet but a cruel Cupid and now loss of another friend. A lot of has happened to this kid. Anyways, Great series. Great ending. I will miss these characters but at least they are all in a safe place. Rick Riordan has said that he is going to take a break for a while and he deserves one. He’s been releasing about two books a year for over a decade. Whatever he does now I’m sure it will be great. In the meantime, he’s imprint is still publishing great stories. Percy Jackson is getting his own Disney+ series and the Kane Chronicles are being made into a movie for Netflix. I think his fans will be well served in the coming years even if a new book from him isn’t on the horizon.

What I’m Reading Now: A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

The final book in the Ember in the Ashes series I’m interested to see how this one ends

Review: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

I write this knowing that I will not able to truly express how I feel about this novel. It is equal parts breathtaking, heartbreaking and infuriating. I was drawn to this book by the title. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that Kate and I have an interest in Korea and I was born in 1982. You add the feminist storyline and it had me. Kim Jiyoung quit her job that she liked to be a full time mother and wife. She starts speaking in other women’s voices which not surprisingly concerned her husband so he enlist the help of a male therapist to treat her. The novel plays out out a narrative her life as she explains it to her therapist during their sessions. Through this we see the hardships she endures throughout her life and everything that has led her to today. Like so many women of our generation, Jiyoung was encouraged to follow her dreams and pursue a career that she wanted but also expected to give it all up once marriage and children come into the picture. As the novel progresses and she gets older I could see of how the toll of constantly being undervalued, dismissed and harassed by a misogynistic society has taken on her. There are the all too familiar stories of having expectations of taking care of ones family over yourself. The expectation that her brother should get cherished because he will be the one to bring the family honor and not the sisters. The expectations that women have to do just deal with being harassed and belittled at the work place. That she will always come in second to the wants and needs to the men in her life. Every woman knows how this all feels. Growing up in the US during a time of mostly prosperity, there were things about her childhood I could not identify with but what I could was being told that the boy teasing you/bulling you means that they secretly like you. The assumption that the boys are just smarter and some how more mature and more immature then you too. I remember a specific incident in college getting a grade two points below my fellow male student even though it was a group project and we both did equal amount of the work. At least twice I was passed over for promotions in favor of a less experience male coworker. As a single woman living in New York City. I am constantly aware of my surroundings and cautious of what I say and do when I’m around men. On the occasion I went out with friends, we always make sure to text each other when we get home to check in that we all got home safely. It’s exhausting to be a woman. Admittingly, Kim Jiyoung had it harder then I did. I do admit that I have a certain amount of privilege that has allowed me to live an easier life than most. I have had some sense that Korea is a very patriarchal society based on the amount of Kdramas and Kpop I’ve consumed but how it’s illustrated here makes it feel so oppressive. It seems to be getting better but you can’t change thousands of years of thinking and traditions overnight. Jiyoung is constantly trying to find the balance of sticking up for herself but also not rocking the boat. She sees that what she is being told and taught is unfair but doesn’t what to to say or do about it. When she does stand up for herself it is often her that gets in trouble and not the man in question. Again all too familiar. It really is a wonder that after a lifetime of this abuse and oppression that all women don’t just snap. The sense of dread I began to feel as the narrative came closer and closer to her getting married was just heavy. I wished I could tell her no. Don’t do it. Don’t quit your job. Insist more that your husband give up more of his time once the baby is born. At the end we get to read the therapist diagnosis and like so many good intention men he gets so close to getting to the truth and understanding what she is really going through but in the end fails to comprehend. Mostly because it would mean he would have to start to actually see women as something other then just their wives, mothers, daughters and human beings and to do that he would have to make them people, equal and that is just too hard for too many men. So nothing changes and we all suffer for it.