Monday, June 27, 2011
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m having trouble writing reviews that do justice to the books I’ve read recently. Take this book for example…Weedflower. I’ve been reading and re-reading, typing and re-typing to figure out how to explain this book. Somehow, nothing I wrote did this book justice. Or it just read like a rambled mash of nonlinear thoughts. So where to begin?
The prose was nice – it was simple and very straight forward. Not overly descriptive, but sometimes the writing had a subtle vividness that reminded me of the Mohave Desert the characters were located to. The story was through the eyes of a young flower girl, Sumiko. She was innocent and naïve enough to present some of the frustrations and misunderstandings in a straight forward manner. Sumiko and her younger brother Tak-Tak lived with her relatives since the death of their parents. They lived on a small flower farm where Sumiko one day dreamt of owning a flower shop and arranged flowers.
Already facing discrimination at the beginning of the book, Sumiko and her family experienced the fear and prejudice once the United States entered World War II and forced relocation. The author was very good at making sure Sumiko acted like a child her age. Her views of things were more often neutral and acted as a mere observation. Even so, Sumiko acted like a young girl her age, she makes mistakes even when she knows they’re wrong or believed a lot of things in ways of a person her age. Even at the end when we saw Sumiko mature, it was still in a way that stayed true to her age and not a miniature adult.
There were some information dumping, but the author included the amount of information rather well and I did not feel like I was reading a history book, or a moral lecture. The core story was still focused on Sumiko slowly growing into herself and learning the meaning of friendship, whether it be growing a small garden with an older neighbor, or jumping in a fight to protect her American Indian friend. The blunt theme was the problems with racism, xenophobia and war crossed all boundaries. The book was good at touching upon issues that was not as thoroughly discussed when I studied history.
Basic history: after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Government implemented the interment of anyone of Japanese blood onto make-shift camps in various areas in the U.S. supposedly for the people’s protection. FYI, the same happened to many German and Italian families. The conditions in each camp varied depending on the location, but some situations were universal. A lot of people had to sell all their belongings for mere pennies of their worth. People lost their jobs and livelihood, their homes and land and lost heirlooms and irreplaceable pictures. First barred from joining the military before being recruited to serve on the European front as to make sure these American soldiers were spies or defect (whereas German/Italian people that joined were sent to the Asian front). Even afterward, people returned home to find everything stolen, vandalized or even other people living in their homes.
There were some nice people of course. In one real life example, a good friend of a Japanese American family kept his promise to protect their home and their possessions safe until they returned. To keep his promise, this friend had brought out a shotgun (and I believed fired a few “warning shots”) to dissuade his own relatives from breaking into the closed up home and stealing everything. Oh the things I learned. The author also had a nice extra historical information that I always loved in books.
There were aspects of all the above written into the book all very well interwoven. The author was really good as incorporating diversity without being preachy. I could go on about injustice and war, but even though this book showed a lot of those issues, what was more interesting for me was the very vivid picture of life inside the camps. The image of how many people tried to make the best of a terrible situation, while others really degraded. We really don’t hear about how hard life was, how children reacted to the situation or the lack of teachers or jobs.
Another interesting part of the book was the point of views from American Indians that were affected. Through the eyes of Frank, conditions of American Indians were also touched up as well as how . He actually does not show up until halfway through the book, but it was great to see their interactions. They truly become friends despite, or because of their differences. I also loved how Frank was the one that nicknamed her Weedflower even though Sumiko did not like it. I’d like to think they grow up and find each other again. Wooo, that would make an awesome romance novel.
Conclusion: My review sucked, but I really liked the book. Please read. >_<
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
I think this week may be slightly slower. Yesterday's post was a bit more extensive than even I expected. Currently working on several big posts as well.
It's gonna be fun. :D
Well, would have been more fun if I didn't have to earn a living, but alas, I cannot photosynthesize. Oh Dr. Bushroot, you definitely had the right idea.
Also...I am going to avoid the blogs (*scoffs at the three second resistance I will probably have*) since yOu ArE AlL gOiNg to RWA 2011!!!! In New York! GAAHHH~~~~ I miss all of you soooooooooooooooooooooo much its not even a joke. Oh I miss you friends o mine. So wish I could have gone. Especially now with quite a few of you published and one honorary Super Librarian of the Year. ;) Have a wonderful fun filled crazy time. :D I expect pics, dishes, and tons of book reviews.
Just wait for it, I'll be seeing all of you next year. Mwahahahahahaha *chokes on laughter* *coughs* *sputters* *dies*
Monday, June 20, 2011
Why was this not an adult book? Right now, I so want this to be an adult romance so I can un-blackout the good stuff. Stop fast forwarding and phasing out! I want to read it all! This book should also be longer so I can read all the mushy goodness. I tried to write without spoilers, but failed because this book really sucked me in. So if you haven’t read the book, you have been warned there will be spoilers.
This book was on my list for quite some time, but I just kept putting it off. After I read it, I refused to put it down and re-read at least dozen times. How anyone can resist such a wonderful story, Beauty and the Beast retelling with a twist, was beyond me. Seeped in magic and folklore, this story had a pretty strong historical setting (which rather surprised me) with very interesting characters. Of course, when I was gushing to my friend she had to add “oh, like Shrek?” >_< I thought about it and she is sort of right, except this was more grounded in history and folklore than Disney fairytales. The Hollow Kingdom is also grittier and scarier. I even want to say it is more horror based, but that does not fully explain the feeling of the book.
Kate and her little sister Emily recently lost their father. The two moved to the land Kate would one day inherit called the Hallow Hill. Once there, Kate began to encounter very odd people on the land and was told of disturbing stories about the Hallow Hill. Stories of goblins and young women being stolen as goblin brides (a common fairytale/folklore motif *squeal*) made the place even more eerie, but it was not until the night she met Marak did Kate began to fear for her and Emily’s safety. Even scared, Kate was a character to be reckoned with and we were able to see the depth of her strength, especially in her love for Em. She refused to give up without fight and to the end, fought for those she loves. A strong, smart and responsible young woman – very cool character.
Emily, also known as Em and M, was adorable and I loved her for it. She’s that voice we have inside, you know the one: the sweet accepting voice that still believed in fairytales and magic. Smart and observant, but also adventurous, Em was probably my favorite tied with Adele. :D
Marak, the current Goblin King of the true Hallow Hill, decided he wanted Kate for his wife and tries to kidnap her, only to be foiled several times. Why kidnap? Well, to bring new blood into the goblin bloodline, each King must marry a young woman of different breed. Human, elf, gnome, etc. but the best were women with characters the King admires. Since goblins were usually feared by others due to their asymmetrical features (which do not matter to goblins since it’s all about strength and asymmetry was seen as the norm), goblins usually have to kidnap the more “desirable” wives in order to produce a strong heir. Marak also pointed out to Kate, goblins could not go around wooing young women the way other creatures do, thus it was more practical to have a captured bride.
Each King will only have one heir and the heir will always be male. He will become the next King and protect their home and people. Marak fully understands the importance of his responsibilities and makes no apologies for what has to be done. He does not feel bad for Kate, but rather admires her strengths and constant foils – commenting nonstop at how great the next King will be because of how strong Kate was. As such, there were many instances revealed Marak’s caring and understanding towards Kate, Emily and people in general. He was a good King and very funny. I found myself more time than I could count laughing at some of the things (and the way) he observed the word and commented on everything. Maybe it was just goblins, but if they all had this honest sense of humor, I would not mind being around them either.
This was a really good book, imho. Really good, but there were several things that nagged at me after I finished.
It was kind of disconcerting everything was stated in such a flippant matter-of-fact way that there was no room for change. I get that the story was one should not judge based on appearances and that humans are sometimes more horrific than goblins, but at the same time… it was still creepy especially since we’re all aware which activities were involved to make babies. I get the feeling that a captured bride did not equate a forced wedding night and the author had Marak reiterate several times that the sooner the King’s Wife adjusted, the sooner the Heir will be born. I took it as the King would not forcibly try to impregnate the King’s Wife until she agreed. Kate revealed she enjoyed “kissing” with Marak and it was her favorite part of being married. Thus when the surprise came at the end, it was not a surprise. It also reinforced the idea that the women have a choice in marital sex. Then again, this aspect still made me uncomfortable even after I put the book down.
Granted, goblins were noble creatures, just not lookers. Goblins do not lie and do not harm unless to protect or bring upon revenge (which goblins loved to do). The way the goblins were portrayed did help sooth the above issue I had and did allow me to continue my suspension of disbelief. It was just kind of…I don’t know, disturbing that once you’re kidnapped and forced to marry someone, and never allowed to see your family/friends/world again and you only recourse was the accept it or die. Rather bleak…
Another annoying thing was the story jumped forward in time during the last half of the story. It was a pity since I felt that was where the core of the action and bulk of the relationship solidified. The interaction between Marak and Kate was wonderful and I really wanted to see more, not a year later…or a month ago. O_o
I also would have loved to read more about Adele, Marak’s human mother (and some of the other Wives – Charm’s favorites, of course, hehehe). Her story sounded kick-ass.
One thing I felt unnecessary was Marak’s first wife. Not that he wasn’t allowed a previous wife, but the information felt so much of a throwaway. It did not push the story forward at all and it just made me feel she was used. First to show not all King’s Wives were suitable. Then to show how Marak was a kind and caring person. Lastly, to contrast against the Elf King whom apparently died without an heir after his Wife passed away and pretty much doomed the elves. It just made me feel really bad for her. I saw later the author had cut out a few scenes that would have expanded on Annie – the first wife. It made more sense after I read the scenes, but that would not change the fact she was used. I would rather have any references of her left out completely and have more time for Marak/Kate interaction or even the history of goblins.
Also, in line with stolen brides, the fact that the goblins idea of helping/saving the elves species was to kidnap more elf women before the blood was gone…eh…it just felt wrong for me.
Another thing that also bothered me was *spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* the fact Kate and Emily were part elf. Not that I don’t mind them having elf blood and again, the author was good a dropping hints so I was not taken by surprise. What bothered me was that after I read the revelation it did kind of put a frown in on my face going “oh, they’re all magical” and made me feel a little disappointed. Even so, I loved the fact it became a sweet nickname, Marak’s little elf.
It was a definite exciting read and much too short for the amount of information packed in. There was so much room for expansion and it left me wanting more, or at least a lot of re-readings. lol. Heck, I felt the book could have been split into two just to fully tell the full story. Book one could be the meeting, marriage and the two characters slowly learning each other. Book two could’ve then been about the subplot of the sorcerer and end with the true union of Marak and Kate. Then again, the author could have done a prequel about Adele (yes, I really do like Adele).
And yes, I know this book is the first in the trilogy and as much as I love this book (re-read it like twice in one day…working day, hehehe), I doubt I would read the rest, at least not the third book (*spoiler alert* *spoiler alert* since Marak past away and it was about Catspaw, their child). Maybe I should say “I’m going to resist for as long as I can but it all caves into a big pile of booklurving goodness” (at least the second book, I do like “M”).
The prose felt authentic for the most part. I mentioned earlier the book had a nice historical context, which I enjoyed. It almost felt real, like I can go visit Hallow Hill and chance upon a goblin. I know I know the matter-of-fact way the goblins talked about stolen brides and revenge made me uncomfortable, but the flip-side was it made everything more the fun to read. Don’t ask me why, but the bluntness of Marak – it just gave the book a whole layer of humor to the book. The author had a way of making me smile even under the craziest and sometime scariest circumstances.
Overall though, the book was a great full of all the magical trimmings (although I would’ve enjoyed learning more about the magical workings of the world). I loved how Hallow Hill was described. After this book, I’ve come to love goblins more (at least in this world) and made me realize why I used to feel kind of sad for the “evil goblins” in many folklores and fairytales. Each character felt alive even if the description was only a few lines, i.e. love Hulk…poor sweet Hulk. Kate could have turned into an annoying character and Marak could have been totally unlikable. Yet the author was able to paint them in such vivid strength, their awareness and caution, their acceptance and care, all of it helped pull the book into such greatness. Oh, such wonderful wonderful book.
Conclusion: definitely good read. Will re-read often. And this was one of the books that helped pull me out of a reading slump. Love reading a lot.
My favorite line: “When she cried, he held her patiently, which was the best thing that a great magician could do for a crying wife.” - How can you not love this book?
Thursday, June 16, 2011
A few things people posted around that I found interesting.
Lori's has this great letter to the president.
Nothing like Jane at Dear Author to get my mind churning on recent reader/writer/publishing events.
Hopefully, this week will be over and I can rest up.
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
Horray! Movie time. The King's Speech.
This highly beloved tale of the stuttering King George VI won tons of awards. Aside from two of my favorite actors together, Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter, this was an interesting take on a part of history we don’t get to hear too much about. In school, we learn more about Winston Churchill’s influence in politics more than King George’s and I’m sure there were good reasons for it. In truth, most monarchies were not that effective. Still, this was a refreshing view. Since it seemed everyone watched this movie before I did, I’ll skip most of the summary as well as the ignore some, or a lot, of the historical inaccuracies (yes I know - mostly done for dramatic effects, but I bet you didn’t know many historians watch historical films as comedies ^_~).
I think at its core, this was a re-imagined story about an individual’s struggle to overcome both an emotional and physical adversity. A stuttering hero. I believe only a few good romance novels were willing to tackle that issue. :D Granted, this was about the King and I’m sure the royal nature as well as the historical setting made the movie more exciting (I’m sure many went for Colin Firth, but that’s cuz he’s awesome). It’s sad that we can’t normally have great stories about ordinary people. Instead, this was about a supposed extraordinary person being shown in a normal light. People whom stuttered could look up and say “he’s normal and if can do it, why can’t I?”
This movie was a good change of pace from the explosions and prevalent violence flaunted at every turn, or even the hyper sexualized images seen daily. There really was a great cast and was thoroughly enjoyable. There were moments I felt moved, while other times I was watching frowned in confusion. It was not a mind blowing film, nor did it make me want to read more about history all that much. It was an interesting film and I can understand why so many people liked the film though. It gave more writing/focus to the characters and a good story must have great characters, imo. Internal conflicts, external conflicts – characters should be at the core of every story. That’s what makes a story worthy.
Out of all the scenes, I think my favorite was the moment “Bertie” in his jammies decided to listen to the recording of his speech and as it began playing, Elizabeth slowly walked in. I absolutely loved how both Colin and Helena looked at that moment. Their complete shock and surprised disbelief – desperate hope and desire… these two really were the best people to play these roles.
I definitely recommend people to watch this at least once to try something different. Not life changing, but equally fun and fascinating.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
For readers of the phenomenal bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan and Peony in Love--a stunning new novel from Lisa See about two sisters who leave Shanghai to find new lives in 1930s Los Angeles.
May and Pearl, two sisters living in Shanghai in the mid-1930s, are beautiful, sophisticated, and well-educated, but their family is on the verge of bankruptcy. Hoping to improve their social standing, May and Pearl’s parents arrange for their daughters to marry “Gold Mountain men” who have come from Los Angeles to find brides.
But when the sisters leave China and arrive at Angel’s Island (the Ellis Island of the West)--where they are detained, interrogated, and humiliated for months--they feel the harsh reality of leaving home. And when May discovers she’s pregnant the situation becomes even more desperate. The sisters make a pact that no one can ever know.
A novel about two sisters, two cultures, and the struggle to find a new life in America while bound to the old, Shanghai Girls is a fresh, fascinating adventure from beloved and bestselling author Lisa See.
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Per Lisa See's website
In her beloved New York Times bestsellers Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Peony in Love, and, most recently, Shanghai Girls, Lisa See has brilliantly illuminated the potent bonds of mother love, romantic love, and love of country. Now, in DREAMS OF JOY, she returns to these timeless themes, continuing the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy.
Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, and anger at her mother and aunt for keeping them from her, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the communist regime and the Great Leap Forward.
Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.
Acclaimed for her richly drawn characters and vivid storytelling, Lisa See once again renders a family challenged by tragedy and time, yet ultimately united by the resilience of love.
Shanghai Girls was the first half of the story of two sisters, Pearl and May. They were married off at a young age in an arranged marriage even though both were in love with someone else (the same person). As war draws near, the sisters struggle through China to escape to America in hopes of a better future. Instead, they encounter discrimination and hardship, often caught between worlds. This was a book of struggle and conflict of/between the two sisters, the supposed obedient Pearl and the rebellious May. Their love for each other also hid the problems that led to their own unhappiness and poor decisions.
Dreams of Joy continued with the journey of Pearl and May, but has a great focus on their daughter Joy. At the end of Shanghai Girls, Joy discovered that although raised by Pearl and her husband, Sam, Joy was actually the daughter of May and the man both sisters loved. So, in a moment of defiance and naïve idealism of Communism, the Chinese American Joy left to look for her birth father and the supposed idealism of communist China and landed herself into yet another time of great cultural change and historical upheaval. As interesting as the characters were coupled with the intensity of the conflicts and the dynamic historical settings, I couldn’t get into either book.
First, let me say I am a fan of Lisa See’s books, especially after Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. When I read the blurb for Shanghai Girls, I was so excited, this book was so calling me with its history and depths of sisterly love/anguish. Then I read it. Let me also say this - I was probably so disappointed because I had too high of expectations, but I admit that my biggest problem with this book was I could not connect with a single character or their struggles fully. Even Dreams of Joy, a Chinese American girl trying to look for her roots? It should have pulled me in right away, but it was such a struggle to finish. There were moments where I was complete absorbed, but quicker than an alligator, something would happen that snapped me right out of the moment and I always ended up frowning thinking, "Really? Are you kidding me?"
Shanghai Girls literally left off at a very bleak cliffhanger where I really just wanted to slap every character in there. I mean, really? Really? I almost wanted to throw the book at the wall, but instead just started at it in complete annoyed confusion. I had hoped the second novel would be more satisfying. Instead, I read Dreams of Joy and I still wanted to slap them even more. And sadly, I completely did not buy that happy ending. It almost felt as if the author was trying to have Dream of Joy make up for the end at Shanghai Girls.
First book: Basically, we have a suicide for one of the only person I actually liked (Sam) because these two supposedly loving sisters don't know what it means to talk to each other. Then you have an overly privileged Chinese American brat running away to China.
Second book: After all the above, in the second book - after some rather horrific realities and problems...we then have everyone, and I mean just about EVERYONE escape and be rescued. They all get happily ever afters? Really? Are you kidding me? After all that, they'll really be ok? I know what happened historically and very very rarely do families all get to escape. Not to mention to escape, there was a whole lot worse things going on. *sigh*
Don't get me wrong. This book had good parts-great parts in fact. With this author, you can never go wrong with the writings. The historical background was great and as with all Lisa See books. The research and detail was incredible. Filled with gritty details and emotional rollercoaster, it should have been awesome for me to read. Even each character should have been completely my type of stories to read. I really wanted to like both books. In the end, even though I liked the world and the story overall (the idea of love between sisters, miscommunication, and being true to oneself) this was not my book. I hate to write this but it was because of some TSTL. *sigh* It’s almost as if anytime the characters needed to be put into really dangerous situations, it was all due to some TSTL decisions. Like…seriously. In both books. *shakes head*
Conclusion: I’m still glad I read it if only for the fact it was Lisa See, but would not re-read anytime soon.
Monday, June 13, 2011
When this book first came out I was fascinated and surprised. Someone actually wrote about Nu Shu and foot binding with research and sincerity? The author, Lisa See, was even able to interview the last elderly woman that was able to read and write nushu? No freaking way. I went to the bookstore more than once conflicted on whether or not to buy, full of mixed anxious nervousness and excitement. It took quite a few tries, skimming and budgeting before I closed my eyes and paid for the book full of trepidation.
As much as I love the worlds of the written English language, one can hardly deny that the writers of history tended to be bias (whether they meant to or not) of what was acceptable and deviant. I worried for the content to be cautionary tales of how Asian women were oppressed and needed to be saved by a Western mentality or the foreign oriental exoticism of Asia (like how The Geisha ended up imho). Whether one agreed with any particular practices, it was hard not to have them automatically written off as bad/barbaric/stupid without so much as a study of the history, mythology, or even culture/social influences.
Granted, I’m not telling everyone to go out and get their feet bound, but one can make the same discussions of liposuction, augmentations by stuffing plastics and whatnot into the body, or various plastic surgery techniques for…social status? *coughrealitytvhousewivescough* Oh, wow, my throat definitely need some clearing up. XP Anyhoo…Even old-school corsets were intentionally used to alter the ribcage and squished the organs together in order to have that hourglass figure. I can go into a complete rant about societal obsessions with female youth, beauty and sexuality, but that can be saved for another day. Lol.
Onto the review…
A few notes before we start:
- written in person by Lily, an eighty year old woman.
- the book was her way of telling the story of the woman she loved the most, Snow Flower.
- Snow Flower and Lily were laotong which meant “same old,” which was a relationship contract to cement an almost closer than family relationship between these two women that were unrelated by blood.
- Nushu was a phonetic way of writing that only existed among the Yao group of women as a way to communicate
This whole book was rather fascinating to read. Due to the amount of information Lisa See packed in the book, you need a chunk of time to sit and read carefully. A single line made all the difference in the timeline and would alter the impact of the events later. The author had a wonderful way of writing without judgment and I can almost see how much research she had put into it, but it was extensive as the story switched between Chinese English, English, and Chinese.
The prose was good and stayed as true as possible to the language. It might seem disjointed in the beginning, but once you become accustomed to it, the words read beautifully. This was a complex and layered book, but was such a quick read the words painted themselves like the songs the women sang. It painted a world that was almost unreal I was not even sure I could comprehend or believe in, but still felt so real I could almost here their songs. I could not put it down.
Rather than explain everything, the author was able to write in a way where it felt as if the social construct of the world/time Lily lived in really was just that. Lily was not an outside character looking in, nor was she trying to justify the practices and norms. There was quite a lot of, I don’t know how else to call it, but folk beliefs. And example was the idea that because you were born under a certain zodiac sign it would influence people’s views and actions. Both Lily and Snow Flower were Horses and as such, Lily made the mistake and expected Snow Flower to act what Lily believed a Horse should. Although Lily realized her mistakes (abatedly too late), the story did not end with a true resolution. There was no magical redemption, just the regret Lily felt. I do love Snow Flower though and it must be the love Lily felt for her as well.
It was a wonderful book that whispered of the past filled with hardship, but was so realistic I can almost imagine these things having happened. These characters felt like real human beings with their flaws and their strengths, their hopes and disappointments. I wanted a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that’s not real. We can’t all have closure and as people, we make mistakes. There will always be regrets. The important thing was to be true to the people we love and not let our hearts waver for that was how mistakes start.
It was such an intricate tale of love, longing and regret but timeless. It never felt too heavy handed even as some of the situations really pissed me off. There was such subtle ways of bringing up issues of gender, power, and destiny and really just left me there thinking. Heck, I tried writing this review several times over and over again in the span of weeks no joke. O_o
All in all, I really enjoyed this book, but probably won't re-read too often. The language sucks me in, but the story makes me too sad. I know it’s not for everyone (I lent it to a friend and it was a DNF for her), but this was one of those books where I felt transported back to the days of my youth, a young child listening to the stories my grandparents would tell. :) Maybe that was why I enjoyed the book, Lily and Snow Flower reminded me of women I once knew. One day, I'll write on those.