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review 2017-06-18 21:57
A Small Revolution
A Small Revolution - Jimin Han A Small Revolution - Jimin Han

This is a pleasant surprise. It's a Kindle First book I got a few months ago, along with the audio upgrade, that had so much more to it than I expected. At it's core the story is about four college girls who are held captive by a guy with a gun for reasons that blur between the personal and the political. But this isn't about some rejected college student who wants to take out his anger by showing power, it's more of a hostages make people listen situation.

Yoona is the protagonist and I loved the way she tells the story to Jaesung. It's not done in a way that makes it sound like she is relaying it to him later and that everything is fine. She talks to him as if he is her conscience. Jaesung is another character who is not in the room with them but he is still a part of it. You know from the beginning that Jaesung has something to do with why Lloyd, the gunman, has these girls in this room at gunpoint.

I appreciated Yoona, Jaesung, and Lloyd as characters, as would-be or possible revolutionaries. I loved the niavete they possess and the way each works through that in their own way and the way the interference, or not, of parents rang true to life for me. Some are very involved, others not so much or not at all. I couldn't help but feel for Yoona, not just in that room but as other events became known. Then there's Lloyd's unraveling, what brought him to the place, what motivates his conversations with the negotiator and I loved the negotiator. Much of the book isn't even about the room they are in but the way they all came to be there and these are the scenes that surprised me most.

I enjoyed the story embodied a part of American life by being about people who were the first or second generation to be born in the US, by being about people who still have ties to the land of their parents. I appreciated it as a story about Korean-Americans, which I feel is a group we don't hear much about, but also about Korea and a dorm room in the US. The story elements fit together beautifully and the only thing I would wish to change about it was a little more denouement.

Also, I really love this cover. Its perfectly captures the feel and tone of the story without giving anything away. Every time I see the cover since finishing the book, I get a little wistful about the story and all the characters and everything they wanted to do and everything they wanted to fix about the world.

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review 2017-06-08 05:04
The Friday Society by Adrienne Kress
The Friday Society - Adrienne Kress

The Friday Society is set in London in the year 1900 and stars three different girls: Cora, Michiko, and Nellie.

Cora used to sell flowers on the streets but now has a comfortable and endlessly interesting life as Lord White’s lab assistant. Unfortunately, it looks like Lord White might be planning on replacing her.

Michiko ran away from home when she was 11 and spent a few years as a retired geisha’s servant before running away yet again and becoming a samurai trainee. Frustrated at her teacher’s unwillingness to give her her own sword, she agreed to go to London with a man named Callum and work as his assistant. Callum was nice enough, at first, but it soon became clear that he was using Michiko’s skills to trick rich Londoners into paying him enormous fees for his self-defense courses.

Nellie used to work at a burlesque house and is now a magician’s assistant. She’s strong, flexible, and never forgets anything. She’s also incredibly beautiful and hates the attention this attracts, even as she is aware that her looks help draw a crowd and add to the Great Raheem’s act.

The three girls’ paths cross when they meet at a ball and discover a severed head. They gradually realize that this murdered man may be connected to other recent deaths, so they decide to team up and find the killer.

I picked this up a while back on the basis of its cover and vague memories of reading a couple positive reviews of it. I was expecting it to be fluffy and action-packed fun. Unfortunately, it turned out to be utterly terrible.

First, the good. Let’s see… It was a really quick read, despite its many problems. The cute young police officer that Nellie fell for was really nice. Michiko had the potential to be one of the most interesting girls in the book. The action scenes near the end were okay. And there was parkour!

Okay, that’s all I’ve got. Now for the bad.

I generally interpret steampunk books to be alternate history. If a book says it’s set in London in 1900, I want it to feel at least vaguely like it’s actually set in that time and place. However, history was one of my worst subjects in school, and I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of historical romances that are really only historical-ish. My standards for historical details aren’t very high, and yet this book had me checking the Oxford English Dictionary by page 18, when Cora used the word “skeevy.” On page 17, Cora had been thinking about how a particular opium den “freaked her out.” Had this book been set in the 1960s or 1970s, this would have been more appropriate, but the language didn’t work at all for something supposedly set in 1900. I had the sneaking suspicion that the author’s “research” for this book was limited to a handful of Wikipedia pages and some Buffy the Vampire Slayer binge-watching for dialogue inspiration.

Then there was the enormous and useless mess that was the investigation. Crime scene preservation was nonexistent. It was not uncommon for the girls to cart bodies away from crime scenes. They took one dead girl home to her family before reporting her murder to the police. Later on, they went to the extra effort of carrying a dead boy to the police rather than going with the much easier option of contacting the police and having them come to the scene of the crime. The only explanation I could come up with for this was that readers were supposed to believe the police would have just ignored the murder and let the body rot in the streets.

The girls did so little actual investigating that, when they finally met up with the villain, the person had to do a stereotypical villain monologue just so they’d know the whole story. They’d have missed out on almost everything important, otherwise. The one crime that I solved ages before them (seriously, the villain practically confessed to one of the girls), they didn’t manage to figure out until the solution had been spelled out for them and then basically underlined.

I wanted the girls to be more awesome than they turned out to be. They were all hugely dependent on their masters, and only one out of those three masters was worth squat (although I was taken aback at how casually he killed a man - okay, so the guy had been poisoned and was dying, but he just snapped that man’s neck like it was nothing). Two out of three of the girls had love interests who turned their brains to mush. All Cora’s love interest had going for him was that he was handsome, and their kissing scene came out of nowhere. Nellie supposedly hated the way guys reacted to her beauty, and yet she instantly fell for the young cop, apparently because he was the first young man to ever notice her looks and yet not grope her.

Kress didn’t make as good use of the girls’ skills as she could have. Cora had one invention of her own that came into play near the end of the book. Nellie’s flexibility and burglary skills turned out to be useful, but her memory was a throwaway detail at the beginning that never came up again. In fact, since Cora remembered something near the end of the book better than Nellie did, I have a feeling the author forgot that Nellie was supposed to have more abilities under her belt than being able to pick locks and break in and out of buildings. Michiko only had one skill, swordsmanship, although she was learning a bit of parkour on the side. She was at least a good fighter, and more focused than the other two girls.

Although I probably liked her the best out of the three, I have to talk about Michiko. The girl was a giant stereotype. From the age of 11 to 14, she lived with a retired geisha who taught her how to play the shamisen and perform a few geisha dances. She said she’d been with Callum for about a year, and all the girls were about 16 or 17 years old, so I’m guessing that her samurai training lasted from about age 14 to 15 or 16. I’m a little surprised that Kress didn’t somehow cram a bit of ninja training in there.

At any rate, the geisha training was brushed aside like it had never happened, even though Michiko had technically spent more years on that than on her samurai training. Despite having started her samurai training pretty late (a little googling seems to indicate that most started their training between the ages of 5 and 7), she supposedly became so good that the only possible reason she wasn’t given her own sword was because she was a girl. I...find that a little difficult to believe, although I’ll grant that she was probably much better than Callum could ever hope to be.

Even though she managed to learn all these things between the age of 11 and maybe 17, she somehow had barely learned any English after a year with Callum. For much of the book her vocabulary consisted of maybe a dozen words, including “apologies” and “death.” This unfortunately meant that she was excluded from most of Cora and Nellie’s conversations. This particularly bugged me during a sudden drunken sleepover that happened right after the first body was discovered (well, sort of the first). The sleepover was stupid to begin with, but I had to grit my teeth every time the text made a point of telling readers that the girls were trying to include Michiko in their activities but, well, they just couldn’t because she couldn’t understand anything. Later on, Cora mentally described Michiko as “all silence and mystery” (162), conveniently forgetting that Michiko didn’t have the language skills necessary to talk about herself.

I mentioned earlier that the author’s research was probably limited to a few Wikipedia pages. Most of those Wikipedia pages probably dealt with Japanese honorifics and samurai, judging by a few very odd little sections in the book. I can’t really judge the accuracy of the samurai stuff, although the repeated mention of samurai masks seemed a bit odd to me. Honorifics came up during one awkwardly long moment, when an elderly samurai in London lectured Michiko on her privately rebellious habit of calling Callum “Callum-kun” rather than “Callum-san.”

I seem to be in the minority - lots of people thought this book was at least decent. Personally, I can’t imagine recommending this to anyone. It wasn’t interesting enough to make up for its many faults.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2017-04-11 01:47
Just Listen
Just Listen - Sarah Dessen

This was a much better book than I expected. The way it handled serious issues was careful and deliberate.

Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault.

Given the description on the book page, I wasn't really prepared for what I found in this book. As mentioned above, the issues were handled with great care. While rape was at the center of the story, it also has mention of and dealings with eating disorders but never blames the victim. Owen is important, but I felt like this description inflates his importance. I expected a bit of a rom-com type story where Annabel's life isn't perfect but her problems aren't quite being the victim of a violent crime, you know what I mean?

Yes, her life wasn't perfect before the rape either and that's obvious from it's first mention, but that's not the point either. Owen is also not an "Edward" like figure as the description also led me to believe. Maybe it's just my own misguided interpretation but I feel like "intense" is one of the words used in yound adult stories to denote a boy who turns your life upside down and then is borderline abusive in some way. Owen is absolutely wonderful and his version of intensity is more the insistence of honesty and his level of comfort in his own skin than the way he broods or tries to control her life, neither of which are things he does.

I loved absolutely every character, except one, of course. They all worked well to propel Annabel's character growth. It was well paced and I enjoyed both the family drama and the school drama, especially the work they worked together to prompt Annabel to act. I thought it presented a great narrative for how such events come into being and how people respond to them.

I borrowed the audiobook from the library, which is read by Jennifer Ikeda. She's a fantastic narrator, having won a few awards for it already.

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review 2017-03-30 23:55
Girl at War
Girl at War: A Novel - Sara Nović

This is an enlightening story about what it can be like to grow up in a civil war and then to escape to another country that was mostly dissociated with it. Or be forced out, depending on how you look at that part of it but I don't want to spoil anything either.
While parts of the story can be a bit explicit, I wouldn't call it any more graphic or triggering than the Hunger Games. That said, I can't say for sure what would trigger someone who has lived through such events, so I'll gladly change this if someone disagrees.

As stated in the synopsis, the story follows Ana Juric. It's a bit of a coming of age story and I personally liked the time jumps. For me, the most striking thing about the story was the way social protocol in the US silenced Ana about her experience. I've seen this pan out similarly with my mother, who lived in Cuba for a while in her childhood. She doesn't talk about it much but will sometimes with the right opening. She's always felt that people don't really want to hear about any of it, like anyone would only were ask to be polite but really preferred she not mention it, which couldn't be further from the truth for some of the family.

To me, it was fascinating to hear about it. Then again, that puts one in the other bind that we get to see Ana go through as well. She fights off being disaster or tragedy porn and one of the easiest ways to do that is to simply not tell people that you were a part of whatever the disaster is. But the story is really about her realization that she can't ignore what she was a part of just because she doesn't live in that world anymore. It's about reconciling her past and her present and maybe figuring out where that leaves her to go in the future.

Many parts of her story are those that we hear of here when we do talk to refugees and immigrants who come from war-torn places, but I didn't feel like it was wholely stereotyped. The writing is what makes the difference. Much of it reads a little like a young adult book, but I think that's mostly because it's told in the first person perspective of a new adult who is remembering her past. I like that perspective choice because it relates a deeper understanding of the thought process of a person in those situations as they carry out whatever actions they do. The movement in time help in the endeavor to give both her perspective as she's doing things and the way she feels about it later.

Honestly, the only thing I didn't really like about the story was that I felt like the end of the book snuck up on me. I didn't feel like there was a specific climax and it felt unresolved. Though I didn't like that as an ending for a book, I understand it's beauty as an ending. That happens sometimes where the perfect ending isn't a particularly satisfying one.

That didn't ruin the book and I'd still recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or books with female protagonists or diverse reading.

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review 2017-01-04 14:10
The Moonlit Garden
The Moonlit Garden - Alison Layland,Corina Bomann

I listened to this one, narrated by  Justine Eyre. It was about 12 hours long, but it passed by quickly with this fun read. It's not particularly deep or magical and it doesn't call life as we know it into question.

It's a nice read/listen, light and intriguing for anyone in the mood for a little escape from the disappointments that have been abounding.

Funny enough, the only problems with the book are also reasons why I liked it. Lily Kaiser's journey is a little too convenient throughout the book but that can be just perfect sometimes. It can be exactly what I need to read or listen in order to balance out the pressure of the world.

So, yes, the book is a little too neat. The story a little too beautiful and coincidental and works a little too well, but I didn't mind it at all. Mostly because it was also written incredibly well. It moves between times, giving insight into Rose Gallway's life that Lily doesn't readily have and let's the reader piece some of it together on our own. I do enjoy that. And then the author lays it all out and it's just perfect. A little too perfect, like in one of those rom-coms that we watch to feel good but that we all know aren't the way the world works.

I really loved that about it. It's going to be one of my comfort books, to peruse when I'm down, maybe listen to when I wanna revel in new beginnings, like the mood I re-watch Stardust in. If you've read a few too many mysteries lately, or too many books that ripped your heart out (like I have recently), than this is the perfect book to recover with. It's comforting and sweet and romantic and doesn't take itself too seriously. But it's not the book for that serious deep read. Don't expect it to be.

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