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review 2017-05-22 03:37
The Sacred Willow by Duong Van Mai Elliott
The Sacred Willow: Four Generations in the Life of a Vietnamese Family - Duong Van Mai Elliott

This book would make fantastic supplemental reading for a course on Vietnamese history. The author chronicles more than a hundred years of the country’s recent past, using her family’s experiences as a focal point. It begins in the mid 19th century, when several of her male ancestors served as mandarins in a society that revered educational attainments; moves on to French colonialism and Japanese occupation during WWII; then to the Viet Minh struggle for independence, which doesn’t seem to truly divide the family despite their winding up on all sides of the conflict – the author’s father serves as a high-ranking official under the French while her oldest sister and brother-in-law join the rebels in the mountains, and her uncle, a wealthy landowner, puts his resources at the Viet Minh’s disposal. Then it traces the American intervention and the dramatic days of the communists’ takeover of South Vietnam, before ending with Vietnam’s struggles as an independent country.

It’s a lot to pack into 475 pages, and the author balances the story of her family with a broader historical perspective. The history appears well-researched, and based on her bibliography, draws heavily on Vietnamese as well as English-language sources. It also seems balanced; at times, when family members’ paths during the war diverge sharply, we get separate chapters covering the same events from different perspectives, and the author doesn’t seem to be advocating for either one over the other. Though the author’s parents threw in their lot with the French and later South Vietnam, she – like many Vietnamese – seems to respect the communists’ commitment, and while the American intervention was a short-term boon for middle-class families like hers, she ultimately seems to conclude that the communist victory was both inevitable and not as awful as propaganda had led the South Vietnamese to expect.

The book’s biggest weakness is that it is rather dry, much more focused on facts than building a dramatic narrative. Though it is in part a memoir, we learn little about the author herself; she tends to relate the facts of a situation with perhaps a bald statement of her feelings, but without developing any of the emotional detail that might allow readers to experience the story along with her. There are exceptions, though; her account of the dramatic last days before the fall of Saigon (through the eyes of several family members) is downright gripping.

Overall, I’d recommend this book, but more for educational purposes than entertainment. It is a strong answer to the rest of English-language literature about Vietnam, which tends to be from an American perspective and focused exclusively on the war.

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review 2017-05-19 22:04
Review: Half-Resurrection Blue
Half-Resurrection Blues - Daniel José Older
Battle Hill Bolero - Daniel José Older

I wasn't exactly planning to read this one. Last year, I read the sequel, which I loved. And didn't feel like there was back-fill I needed from the first volume. I thought I'd just continue on from the second book.

 

I've learned all the wrong things from Dresden books.

 

Recently, I started Battle Hill Bolero and was completely lost. There's a lot of history the book tried to remind me of that I just did not have. So I picked up book one, and here we are. 

 

This book is great. So much happens, I had to keep rewinding to catch details. As with the other two books in the series, the narration is excellent. So good that I'll just keep rewinding rather than swapping to text. 

 

And now I'm back to book 3!

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review 2017-05-17 17:06
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood - Marjane Satrapi,Mattias Ripa,Blake Ferris

A graphic-novel-style memoir about the author's childhood during the Iranian Revolution, this book seems written largely to educate Westerners about Iran. It is an episodic story focusing on how current events affected the author and her progressive family. This focus seems to have worked well for most of its readers, especially those who knew next to nothing about Iran beforehand. For some reason, though, I found it less gripping than others did, although all the right elements seem to be there: the stakes are high but the author keeps it personal, the characters are as well-defined as can be expected in a childhood memoir, the art is emotive. The plotting is a little off, with both individual chapter arcs and the novel as a whole either tapering off or ending abruptly. You should probably read it anyway though.

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review 2017-05-16 23:09
Arc Review: Jane Grey: A Homage to the Brontë Classics (The Brontë Brothers #1) by Nina Mason
Jane Grey (The Brontë Brothers Book 1) - Nina Mason

 

I’ll start by saying that Jane Eyre happens to be my least favorite classic historical romance. So when offered the chance to read this story I was truly intrigued and couldn’t pass the opportunity to read it.

 

Well, Jane Grey was a great romance story indeed! I don’t want anyone to think it wasn’t based on my rating. I did enjoy it from start to finish, true, however I also did have a few issues with the story itself. At any rate, I still recommend it to any fan of the original and to those looking for a worthwhile happy ending.

 

Matthew and Jane have a lot in common and that’s obviously what drew them together. They were both hopeless romantics to the point they could both recite poems by heart and Matthew was a painter hoping to revive his then-dormant muse.

At the start of the story, Matthew was hurt and vulnerable, thus he gave me the impression of just having fallen in love with the idea of the perfect woman that could possibly be Jane as opposed to the woman herself. As the story progressed and they got to know each other better, his attitude left no doubt in my mind that he had in fact fallen for Jane as a woman so I was happy on that end.

 

Their relationship was endearing and heart-warming. The story was heart-wrenching at times and hopeful at others. The descriptive settings made me feel I was part of the story itself and the writing was as beautiful as ever when it comes to this author.

 

As for Jane, she was sweet and considerate, but to an almost maddening point in my opinion. Most of the time she showed strength of character and common sense but when it came to trusting unworthy people or when it came to continue on the path she had already set her mind to follow she was inconstant and mutable. That whiplash attitude was one of the reasons I couldn’t enjoy the story more.

Also, the story is set in a place where propriety is not as strict as it would have been in England at the time but I still thought Jane didn’t come up to scratch as a governess to some extent. I’m not going to give specific examples because I don’t want to give spoilers but suffice to say her pupil would act incredibly unlady-like and Ms. Gray would just stand there and do nothing. I know, I’ve been told I need to let go of certain things when it comes to historicals but I just can’t!

 

As I said earlier dear reader, it IS a lovely story, full of passion, regrets, ambition, and true love. If this sounds like your cup of tea then I’m sure you are going to love it. 

 

*** I received this book from the author at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.***

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review 2017-05-16 17:01
Arc Review: It's Me Again, Baby (O'Connor Family #3) by Katie Reus
It's Me Again, Baby (O'Connor Family Series Book 3) - Katie Reus

*** 3.5 stars ***

Katie Reus is the queen of the second chances trope. She’s got that down to a science and this book only reinforced that thought for me.

Samantha and Maguire parted ways a while ago because of a misunderstanding but neither got over the other one. Now that they finally got a chance to talk things over they’re giving their relationship another chance.

The narrative of the story was fast-paced and so was the romance however it was still well told. Throw in the dynamics of one of my favorite fictional towns (not to mention some super hot sex scenes) and you have a nice, fun read. I didn’t like the ending much as I thought it was too rushed and expected but other than that it was an enjoyable read.

*** I received this book from the author at no cost to me and I volunteered to read it; this is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.***

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