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review 2015-12-06 12:10
Review | Of Nightingales That Weep by Katherine Paterson
Of Nightingales That Weep - Katherine Paterson,Haru Wells

The daughter of a samurai never weeps. But Takiko, whose warrior father was killed in battle, finds this a hard rule, especially when her mother remarries a strange and ugly country potter. To get away from her miserable home, Takiko eagerly accepts a position at the imperial Japanese court. There, her beauty and nightingale voice captivate the handsome young warrior, Hideo -- who also turns out to be an enemy spy. As war breaks out, Takiko flees the court and is forced to choose between loyalty to her people and her love for Hideo. She painfully learns that whatever choice she makes, she cannot run away from her samurai honor.






Of Nightingales That Weep takes place in feudal Japan, specifically the era of the Genpei War (1180-1185). In this story, Takiko, age 11, suffers the loss of her samurai father. Takiko's mother, discovering that there is little money left to her to live off of, sees little option but to quickly remarry, which she does. Takiko finds she is forced to accept Goro, a local potter, as her new stepfather. Goro does his best to win over Takiko, but well, when your biological father was a freakin' samurai, talk about pottery is a tough sell. Given time though, she starts to see sides to Goro that she does like. Just as she starts to accept her new life situation (by this time, entering her teens), Takiko is offered a position in the royal court, a lady in waiting to the princess. Takiko joins the court crew as a royal hairdresser and singer. Her singing catches the attention of Hideo (still not entirely sure if it's pronounced Hee-de-o or He-day-o), while his looks catch her attention.


"Take care, little one. Love is like a brushfire in August."

~ Lady Kiyomori to Takiko


Bummer for her, she comes to discover her warrior crush is actually a spy. But just as she's trying to sort out her tangled mess of a heart, war breaks out and the entire royal court is forced to flee the area, unsure of when they'll be able to return home. 


I liked the environment building here but as far as the plot and character interactions went, this one didn't quite reach the level of intensity I was hoping for. Many of the characters seemed to have very little depth / dimension to them, too stiff to feel real or relatable. Though I will say, I did end up really liking the character of Goro! He was written well, the way he developed over the course of the story.


Though this takes place during a time of war, the main characters seemed to largely only experience it from afar, hearing stories of other people in battle. There are a few quick battle scenes here and there but they felt rushed to me -- a few arrows shot here and there, something set on fire and then boom. Done. Next scene. 


I gave an extra half star for a scene near the end of the novel because it was pretty dramatic (and cinematic!) in the way things were described and the ceremonial behavior the characters take on. What they choose to do -- I would have never guessed that scene! I was honestly shocked and I wish the entire novel would have left me as tense and awe-struck as that scene. I am curious to check out Paterson's other books with this same theme / time period (though not necessarily same characters, I don't think). There was something to her environment building that I did really enjoy. 


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review 2015-11-17 23:30
Review | Scandalous Metropolitan by Kim Laughton & Holly Stephens
Scandalous Metropolitan: Tokyo Street Scenes - Kim Laughton

Not smoked or injected, but absorbed sublingually and slowly, Scandalous Metropolitan: Tokyo Street Scenes provides an undemanding fix of the world?s coolest city, Tokyo, in a loose 24-hour time frame. It is unlike any other book about Tokyo, and almost entirely visual. This book is a collection of Tokyo ?stuff?, and is much more than a photography book. It captures the very things that make Tokyo unique. Glowing vending machines, quirky shops, whisky bars and the streets after the night before are in, but cliche such as geisha, temples and Harajuku street fashion are out.




Not much to read in this book, other than a caption here and there, but it is a fascinating look at Tokyo city life, a culture I've always had a bit of a fascination with. This photography collection covers all areas of Tokyo, from the parks to the commercial / skyscraper districts to the homeless & tenement housing areas and everything in between. It's also broken up between day scene and night life, which was cool to see the distinct contrast between the two. In one of the captions, it was interesting to read that in Tokyo alone there are over 200 varieties of whiskies -- I'm a big fan of them myself and we certainly don't have that range of options here in my town! 








This book was originally published in 2009 in Australia by Images Publishing Group. I really enjoyed this collection and wished there were a series of them featuring other towns around the world, I would certainly buy them up! 

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review 2015-11-01 14:58
Review | Hiding Places by Erin Healy
Hiding Places - Erin Healy

The Harrison lodge is full of hiding places where young Kate can discover all the secrets no one wants her to know.Eleven-year-old Kate keeps her knowledge to herself—one sister’s stash of marijuana, the other’s petty cash pilfering, her grandfather’s contraband candy bars. She protects her mother and Gran, too, screening out critical comments from the hotel suggestions box. But suddenly the stakes are raised; her grandfather’s best friend is murdered the day after Kate heard the two men arguing.

At the same time, far from the quiet mountain resort, a homeless man sees a robbery gone wrong . . . a gang member seeks revenge for the death of his son . . . and a boy chooses the worst time to wield spray paint on a store window. In a strange and spiraling sequence of events, their disparate worlds collide at Harrison Lodge.

Kate offers shelter to one of them, unaware of the terrible consequences to the family she loves. But people can hide in all kinds of ways, sometimes even in plain sight . . . and some secrets are just waiting to be exposed.

~from back cover




While I've heard Erin Healy's books discussed around the book blogosphere a fair amount, this is my first try at experiencing her writing. I was a little hesitant getting into this one after reading the back cover because I couldn't help thinking wow, that sounds like a lot trying to get crammed into one storyline. Sure enough, by novel's end I still felt that way. It wasn't an absolutely terrible novel necessarily, the writing style itself is solid. I think it was more just everything Healy tries to work into the plot ended up not working for me as a reader. There were just so many different directions trying to merge that the whole lot ended up feeling kinda muddled. 


First we have 11 year old Kate, whose family owns and runs Harrison Lodge, a Colorado mountain retreat. She is the sort of kid that tends to just stay in the background of things because that's where her family seems to keep her. Her mother is mostly absentee parenting, her sisters either ignore or torment her, her grandmother is never quite satisfied with her. Kate's most positive interactions are with her grandfather Grandy and great-grandmother Pearl. But even Grandy starts acting odd, clearly hiding some major secret from the rest of the family. This family though. A whole novel could have been made just around this family's dramas!


So Kate becomes that character that, because she's driven to the proverbial shadows, she becomes privy to the secrets of everyone around her, just by being silent and unseen. She's also inspired by her love of Harriet The Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Kate's ability to go unnoticed comes in handy when she discovers an injured man in the woods, deciding to get him to a secret place in the lodge where she can help him heal. This tender-heartedness is also displayed in the way she goes behind her grandmother's back to help a family in need (the stingy grandmother going the route of we're not running a shelter here).  Multiple times we see Kate offering assistance to the hurting and hungry, which I really liked. Kate seems to be the ballast, of sorts, in an otherwise shaky environment. I also really enjoyed her relationship with her great-grandmother Pearl, and Pearl herself is a pretty fun character!




Sidenote regarding Kate's family: One thing that really bothered me about this book's design was how there is nothing on the cover or synopsis that discusses the fact that Kate and her family are Japanese-Americans. In fact, there's clearly a white girl on the cover. Though I am not Japanese myself, I still feel it does a disservice to readers, who want to see people of their particular race / culture featured in a storyline, not to mention this anywhere within the book's synopsis or design, at least when it comes to a main character. That's just my mini-rant there, but back to the story itself.



The other major plot point (though there feels like half a dozen tiny veins of sub-plots running through) involves a gang leader who calls himself The Fox. There's a pothead character that's introduced prior to the reader meeting The Fox (one of those side stories that runs into the main one later) that -- now, I got a little confused keeping it all straight at this point -- I think unwittingly gets himself mixed up in some gang activity involving a family member of The Fox. Doesn't end well for the family member, but pothead guy walks away (but more like on the run now). So now we have The Fox hunting this guy down. Which leads everyone back to the Harrison Lodge. So yeah, everyone's problems and criminal activity intersect at this lodge, things get ugly, lots of yelling, more hiding, some hostage situations, cops get involved... just an unpleasant night all around. And just for good measure, since my head wasn't quite befuddled enough apparently, Healy also works in talk of the Yakuza and what's this about the lodge maybe being haunted as well?! Ugh. Too many thoughts in the room for me. 


Aside from the plot getting confusing and muddled, I didn't find too many of the characters that compelling or complex, except for Pearl & Kate. Also, the dialogue was not fantastic. Again, not horrible, but it wasn't helping drive the story as I'd hoped. So this one was a bit of a dud for me, but if you've read Healy's stuff previously and liked it, by all means check this one out and see what you think. 


FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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review 2015-05-27 03:57
Review | The Naked Tourist (travelogue) by Lawrence Osborne
The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall - Lawrence Osborne

Sick of producing the picturesque bromides of the professional travel writer, Lawrence Osborne decided to explore the psychological underpinnings of tourism itself by taking a six-month journey down the so-called "Asian Highway"--a swath of Southeast Asia that, since the Victorian era, has seduced generations of tourists with its manufactured dreams of the exotic Orient. And like many a lost soul on this same route, he ends up in the harrowing forests of Papua, searching for a people who have never seen a tourist. What, Osborne asks, are millions of affluent itinerants from the West looking for as they wade through endless resorts, hotels, cosmetic-surgery packages, spas, spiritual retreats, sex clubs, and "back to nature" trips? What does tourism, the world's single largest business, have to sell?The Naked Tourist is a travelogue into that heart of darkness known as the Western mind.




Hmm, didn't love this as much as I was hoping. I picked it up as my reading on a recent getaway -- thankfully, Miss Booknerd here also packed a few other reading options! This had its interesting moments but overall I struggled to like Osborne's tone / style of writing. Osborne admits at the very start that his inspiration for this particular trip stemmed from a sort of disillusionment with his craft (travel writing) and the travel industry as a whole. 


I think part of my issue with this book is what Osborne himself deems his "disdain bordering on arrogance". There was just this whole tone of "ugh, why am I even here, I hate traveling" which had me saying Yeah, why are you there if you hate it so much?! It made for an off-putting style that left me thinking, Damn, don't think I want to travel so much now (but of course I still want to ;-) ). Also, can I just say how his descriptions of the arachnids in New Guinea --  "bright pink spiders the size of my hand" / "giant funnel spiders that can kill a parrot" -- left me shuddering at the imagery, fearful those images would work their way into my sleeptime (thankfully they didn't!).


That being said, I did learn some cool tidbits:


1) The word "spa" is actually an acronym for the Latin term Salus Per Aqua or "health through waters", derived from Roman warriors using natural water sources to clean & heal their wounds.


2) The traveler's check was invented in 1875 (had no idea it dated back that far!)


3) Modern day travel guides are the descendents of Thomas Nugent's 18th century travelogue, The Grand Tour.


4) Origins of the word "travel": 


"The word "travel" itself is surprisingly old. It dates back to 1375 and originally derived from the French verb travailler, "to toil or labor," which in turn derived from the Latin word for a three-pronged stake used as an instrument of torture. Travel began, therefore, with the notion of doing something extremely nasty -- to go on a difficult journey. It's a medieval concept derived from pilgrimages. Suffering is implied, for to travel in the year 1375 was to suffer indeed. But it was seen as a transformative suffering, an escape from the boredom of daily life. Later, the notion of travel as an improving exercise emerged in the Grand Tour of the 18th century, as enjoyed by young British gents. The Grand Tour was entertaining, but it was not supposed to be. Nor did it entail venturing into the unknown. It was a cultural pilgrimage into the known world..."


So yeah, got a few fun facts out of it but largely it was just meh for me. 

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review 2015-04-24 21:05
A Dream Of Lights by Kerry Drewery
A Dream of Lights - Kerry Drewery

A teenage girl struggles against the odds for survival in a North Korean prison camp...From the author of A Brighter Fear. Yoora is a teenage girl living in North Korea, dreaming of the lights of foreign cities while eking out a miserable existence in a rural northern village. But then she makes a mistake: she falls in love. With someone far removed from her social class. Someone dangerous to know. When tongues start to wag, her father is executed and she is taken to a prison camp in the mountains. There, escape seems even further from her grasp. But Yoora is about to learn an important lesson: love can surprise you, and it can come in many forms...





Yoora is a teenage girl growing up in a small village in North Korea. Under the rule of Kim Jong-Il, her and her family are not permitted to leave their community. Yet Yoora keeps having dreams of a beautiful city of lights, amazing food smells, the air full of music. When she wakes, she remembers reality -- there's never enough food, every day is about endless chores and school days where the only thing taught is how amazing Kim Jong Il is and how lucky they are to have him as a leader. When she tells her father of her dream, he reluctantly reveals that what she describes is a real place, that what she sees is closer to a memory than a dream. But she's only known her village, so what can he mean?


I peered through my sore, swollen eyes to the blue sky above us, watching the clouds form and re-form, a tree branch wave, a bird flap its wings in freedom. Freedom, I thought, to be able to cross a border, to be able to choose.  Choose where to live or what job to do. Choose what books to read, TV stations to watch, radio to listen to. Or even choose words to question, or argue, or debate, or just to think with.


Yoora befriends and later falls for Sook, a slightly older boy who moves into the village. Yoora & Sook have middle of the night rendezvous when the rest of the village is asleep, one spot of happiness & excitement in her dreary existence. One night she reveals her dream to him. How she hopes to see the place one day. Only too late she discovers he is actually the son of a woman sent in to spy on the villagers and report back to the government anyone not singing the praises of Kim Jong Il. The very next day guards show up to the home of Yoora's family, rounding everyone up -- all except Yoora. On the insistence of her mother, she has just enough time to sneak out of a window and evade capture, temporarily anyway. Only hours later, Yoora is caught by a guard after having to witness her father's execution. Yoora's mother is sent away while Yoora and her grandparents are sent to a concentration camp. 


All that is just in the first few chapters! The rest of the story is one of survival for Yoora and her grandparents, not unlike the stories of the Jewish concentration camps. The horrors that girl has to endure and witness! There is a guard at the camp who almost instantly has it out for Yoora, really making her life hell, promising one day he will kill her, how she will never see it coming...so she has to live every day in terror and paranoia.



"My face," he said, leering at me, "will be the last you ever see as you die."

No, I thought, the last face I will see as I die will be of someone I love. Because you cannot take my imagination from me. 


There is one particular girl in the camp near Yoora's age -- it's not exactly a friendship that builds between them, but more of an unspoken understanding, almost like a camaraderie in misery. Just this mere acknowledgement seems to give Yoora enough incentive to fight to live past this hell. Also, strangely, she finds herself still thinking fondly of Sook though she's sure he's the one who betrayed her.


While I didn't find this one quite as gripping as A Brighter Fear, I was still really impressed with this story and moved by the grim yet hopeful plot. It was even more powerful after reading the afterword by Drewery, in which she talks about how these concentration camps still exist to this day! The one featured in A Dream Of Lights, she says, is largely based off of Camp 22, roughly the size of Los Angeles, California and housing approximately 50,000 people of all ages! 


This is such an important, must read for anyone who likes to be informed about the world we live in, and by that I mean the whole world, not just our little individual corners of it. It made me so thankful for the freedoms I was born with and, I admit, do take for granted on a daily basis. I am just in awe of Drewery's writing ability and as long as she's writing and publishing, her books will be an automatic buy for me :-)

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