Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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**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: 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.

Crowd Sourcing: Need Suggestions to finish my Diverse Narrators Challenge

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As of yesterday, I had finished my Goodreads.com reading challenge by finishing my 50th book this year.   I decided to look at my own challenge to read more Diverse Narrators and see where I am in it and sadly, I’m not any further along then my last update.  I have books picked out for some categories but I still haven’t read them and I still don’t know about the others.  So dear friends of the internet, help me out with some book recommendations.  What should I read to for the following.

A Book with a Trans Narrator I thought about using Alex Fierro from Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: The Ship of the Dead but the story is only from Magnus point of view so that’s out.  I’ve read good reviews for If I was your Girl by Meredith Russo. So I’ll think I’ll try that one but do you know of any other good book with a Trans Narrator?

A Book with an African Narrator I’ve settled on Born a Crime by Trevor Noah because everyone I know who has read it has loved it and I do love him on the Daily Show.  Of course, Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor I’m also interested in too.

A Book with an Asian Narrator I thought about using Warcross by Marie Lu but Emika Chen is Asian American and I already have two books for that one and Hideo Tanaka who is British Japanese is not the narrator of the story, only Emika.  A friend recommended Pachinko by Mi Jin Lee but I’m not sure.

A  Book with a Native American Narrator Sadly, I’m not sure.  Sherman Alexie’s books? Has anyone read Alyson Noel’s Soul Seekers series?

A Book with an Indigenous Mexican Narrator I’m even more loss on this one.  I thought for a second about All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater but by the beginning of the story, the Soria’s have lived in Colorado for over a century and the story is more about the family now then their pasts.  So any suggestions?

I’m open to anything.  Fiction, Non-fiction, fantasy, contemporary, romance. Whatever you got I’m up for it.  Leave your suggestions in the comments below or hit me up on our Twitter @StacksXLiveX and Facebook

Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

hate u give The Hate U Give may be categorized as a fiction novel but make no mistake, there is nothing fictional about it. Yes, Starr, Khalil, Seven, Maya, Devante, Big Mav, Lisa and Kenya don’t actually exist but their story does. Starr is a sixteen year old girl who lives in the hood but goes to school in private school in the suburbs.  Her worlds could not be different.  Over Spring Break, her best friend Khalil gets shot and killed by a police office during a routine traffic stop and Starr is the only witness.  Starr must reconcile her own feelings about what she witnessed and the realities that come with it while also coming to grips how it effects her two different worlds. It gets thrown into sharp relief how her family and neighbors think what happens versus what her friends at school do.  Starr grapples with her own fears and find her own voice to stand up for what rights, stand up to the authorities and her own friends too.  This book is heartbreaking because it’s a story that we have seen played out too many times in the last couple of years.  Khalil was unarmed when he was killed.  Yes, he did sell drugs and had involvement with gangs but none of those facts should be justification for what this officer did.  You could replace Khalil’s name with Michael, Philandro, Tamir, Tayvon or any other young black men unjustly killed by law enforcement and you would go through the same emotions.  Angie Thomas does a brilliant job of outlining all the many view points about this issue.  From Starr’s father, a former gang member and ex-con who is far to aware of how the justice system works to Hailey, Starr’s rich white friend who is willing to protest only because it got her out of class for a day.  As the reader, we see what happened and how it happened at the beginning of the book.  We know it was unjust but since the other characters weren’t there, we get to see how they process it through how they relate to Starr. They accept or deny it depends mostly on their own socioeconomic background and yes race plays apart of it too.  Starr’s family of course understand immediately that Khalil did nothing wrong and that Starr did nothing wrong.  They also know that because of the neighborhood that they live in it could be dangerous for Starr to speak out even if can help bring him justice.  Whatever her decision, they always have her back.  The first thing that really struck me was when Starr and Khalil were pulled over, Starr goes over in her head how she is supposed to act when interacting with cops.  She says when she was 12 her father told her to do as the officer says, don’t talk unless spoken to and keep your hands visible.  She was told this at twelve.  Meaning that her parents thought, even as young as twelve years old she could be in danger.  I tried to think if my parents and I ever had a talk about what to do if I got pulled over and I don’t think we ever did.  Why would we?  We are white, there is no reason for cops to look at me or my sister and assume we were up to no good.  That we were criminals.  That we could be dangerous but Starr’s parents and many black parents have to worry about that for their kids.  That is truly heartbreaking.  Two of the most interesting characters, okay maybe not the most interesting are Chris and Hailey.  Chris and Hailey are both white, privileged and rich.  Chris is Starr’s boyfriend.  They share a love for sneakers, basketball and Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  He at times is completely oblivious to their differences.  He doesn’t notice or bother him that people stare at them when they walk down the hallway.  He wouldn’t say he was racists and most people would agree with him but because of his own privilege, without even realizing it he sometimes falls into the insensitive thinking. He doesn’t understand why Starr is so upset with him or just in general but when she tells him he does try to understand. He wants to be supportive to Starr and that means challenging his own misconceptions and that’s what makes a good ally.  Hailey also wouldn’t call herself a racist either.  She would be one of those people who says, “I’m not a racists have a black and Asian friend.”  Throughout the book she makes insensitive comments and try to pass them off as jokes. When she gets called out on she gets defensive.  “It was a joke” “I didn’t mean anything by it”  “I can’t believe you would think I’m a racist”  Even demands for Starr to apologize to her.  She makes absolutely no effort to see Starr’s point of view or acknowledge that what she said hurt her feelings.  When she does apologize, it isn’t because she sees what she did or said was wrong it’s that she wants things to go back to what they were before.  Since I assume there are going to be a lot of young white readers of this book, Chris and Hailey are important because they may not be able to relate with Starr and her family but they probably can relate to either Chris or Hailey, whether they want to admit it or not.  I hope they take a hard and close look at both of those characters and ask themselves some uncomfortable questions.  Are they more like Chris or like Hailey? This novel really should be required school reading. Not just because it was well written but also because it does outline all the point of views and how much it should be it’s not just black and white but shades of gray.  Only be listening and understanding what people of color and marginalized communities are saying and owning up to our prejudices will we able to end this.  So one day, we won’t have to teach our children how to act in police presence and police won’t make snap judgments about civilians based on skin color.

What I’m Reading Now: Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova

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I bought this at BookCon in June.  Excited to finally getting to it.

Update: Already in love now that I know they Brujas live in Sunset Park!

Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Narrator Reading Challenge UPDATE

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We are now halfway through June so I can accurately say we are halfway through the year.  It’s time to check in and see how we are doing with our reading challenges.  This year we decided to split up our Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Reading challenge into two different.  One for authors and one for narrators.  I’m doing the Narrators and I have to say, I’m doing pretty well.  Now, I think there may be a few arguments over some of my books but who doesn’t love a good debate?  Going off my list of the books I’ve read, I discovered that there were a few things we should have discussed before setting the challenge out.  For instance, can you use the same book for different categories if they have more then one Narrator?  I’m going to go with yes because you are getting different perspectives from different characters.  So  here we go.

  1.  Book with a Queer Narrator: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan.  Narrator: Apollo.  Ok, so this maybe a stretch because as Kate asked me Can we apply modern categories of sexuality to ancient Gods?  Well I don’t know, but in The Dark Prophecy, Apollo is currently exiled to Earth as a mortal and while being on Earth has shown equal interest in both Men and Women.  So, in the context of the book, I’m counting it.
  2. Book with a African American Narrator: March Vols. 1-3 by Congressman John Lewis. Narrator: John Lewis
  3. Book with characters from various socio-economic backgrounds Silver Stars by Michael Grant.  Narrators: Frangie, Rainey and Rio
  4. Books with Asian American Narrator: Always and Forever, Lara Jean by Jenny Han and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. Narrators: Lara Jean and Daniel.  I decided to count both since they are both Asian Americans but they have very different perspectives on growing up in America.  Lara Jean is definitely your more typical middle class teenage girl who grew up in the suburbs.  She’s also mixed because of her Dad is white so she straddles both sides.  Daniel grew up in New York City and is the son of two immigrant parents. (I thought about using Natasha from The Sun is also a Star as my African American Narrator but technically speaking she’s not American as her family was living in the US illegally)
  5. Book with a Narrator who has survived abuse: A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas. Narrator : Feyre.  I really could have picked any character in this book but since it’s all from Feyre’s point of view she gets the top billing.
  6. A Book with a Mexican Narrator: Lord of Shadows by Cassandra Clare. Narrator: Cristina.  I admit I maybe stretching it a little thin with this one.  Cristina is one of six narrators in Lord of Shadows and not one of the two main characters but she is an important to the story as a whole so for now I’m counting it but it might change before the year is out.
  7. A Book with a Muslim Narrator: Ms. Marvel Vols. 2-4 by G. Willow Wilson. Narrator: Kamala
  8. A Book with a Jewish Narrator: Silver Stars by Michael Grant. Narrator: Rainey I know that I have already used Silver Stars before but Rainey is a fascinating character.  I love reading her.
  9. A Book with an atheist Narrator: Believe Me by Eddie Izzard. Narrator: Eddie Izzard.  He doesn’t go too much into his atheism but he does make it very clear he doesn’t believe in any god.

9 out of 15 is pretty good.  Even if you take out the few iffy ones, I’m still over halfway done with my challenge.  How are you doing?

Rick Riordan Presents

dark prophecy Last year Rick Riordan announced that he was starting a new imprint to highlight diverse authors and diverse stories.  His mythology based stories have made him famous.  So far he has tackled Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Norse mythology but he often gets asked about exploring other culture’s mythologies as well.  Being a while male, he has wisely said that he was not the right person the write about Mayan or Indian mythology however it did spark him to start his own imprint so marginalized authors can write about their own cultures. It was just announced the first three titles under Rick’s new imprint.  Yoon Ha Lee, Roshani Chokshi and Jennifer Cervantes will author the first books.  Yoon Ha Lee’s book Dragon Pearl will take on stories from Korean Mythology.  Roshani Chokshi’s series, Aru Shah and the End of Time, is based off of Indian Mythology and Jennifer Cervantes’s book Storm Runner will have inspiration from Mayan Mythology.  All three sound interesting and will be published in 2018.  Adding all three to my to-read list.

EDIT:  Rick went to his Tumblr page to give more details on his Imprint, his role and involvement with the books and more information on the authors and more indepth synopsis of Dragon Pearl, Aru Shar and the End of Time, and Storm Runner. I highly recommend checking out if nothing else for a tiny glimpse into the publishing world.

Review: The Sun is also a Star by Nicola Yoon

the sun is also a star If you are not immediately charmed, heartbroken and uplifted after reading this then you should check your pulse. This is the perfect blend of romance, coming of age story and social commentary.  It centers around a day in the life of Natasha and Daniel, two teenagers on the cusp of major changes in their lives.  It also touches on the minor interactions that seem meaningless at the time but how that connection could and some times do change someone’s life.  Natasha and her family are illegal immigrants from Jamaica who are being deported at 10 o’clock that night.  She is trying to stop their deportation when she meets Daniel, a Korean-American boy who has the day off so he can prepare and meet for an interview for admission to Yale. From the moment they meet there is an immediate connection.  They both share the immigrant experience of being from two places at the same time.  Even, though Daniel was born in the US, he is often assumed to be from someplace else.  He’s never Korean enough or American enough.  Natasha was born in Jamaica but now has lived most of her life in the US.  Her friends are here, her future is here she doesn’t want to leave.  When they meet though, their futures couldn’t be different.  Daniel’s life has already been planned out for him while Natasha’s is now unsure.  Daniel’s parents are dead set on him and his brother to have a better life then they did, which means, Yale and becoming a doctor and marrying a Korean girl.  Natasha, was planning on going to college and was going to be a data scientist and now all of that is uncertain.  Anyway, they meet and while they don’t know anything about each other they know they have a special bond from the beginning.  Daniel is a poet and romantic.  He’s convinced that their meeting was fate.  That they are meant to be.  Natasha is a scientist and a realist.  She doesn’t believe in love is real or anything that can’t be scientifically proven.  As Natasha tries to kill time before she meets with an immigration lawyer Daniel convinces her to spend time with him to prove that love can be scientifically proven and so they go allover New York, getting to know each other and becoming first friends and then falling in love.  They meet each other’s parents and face each other demons.  While the story focuses on them, we get glimpses into the lives of the people around them.  From their own family but the random people that they briefly come in contact with.  The security guard that scans Natasha’s bag, the secretary of the lawyer.  They all paint a picture of how we all relate to each other and how our decisions big and small can change a complete strangers life.  It’s something to think about.  It was talks about how racism presents itself in other communities.  Daniel’s Korean parents own a black hair care store in Harlem but when his father and his brother meets Natasha they treat her in their shop.  They own a shop that caters to black shopper and yet they can’t even hide their own negative biases.  This was a beautiful novel that not only tells a perfect story of two kids struggling to figure out who they are while dealing with the forces outside of their control but also doesn’t shy from taking on tough issues of racism, immigration, depression and even family.  You need to read this book is all I’m saying.