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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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review 2016-09-01 16:03
Shuttered Life by Florentine Roth, translated Jennifer Marquart
Shuttered Life - Jennifer Marquart,Florentine Roth

The book drew me in fairly quickly. I mean, right in the prologue. I found the writing style compelling. It was all the little things, like the way the backstory between the rest of the family and the protagonist unraveled, the way she dealt with her suspicions, and way the author delivered snippets of point of view from the antagonist, and the way that the author kept enough ambiguity in the antagonist's disdain for the protagonist that I wasn't entirely sure who it was until the reveal. I'd had suspicions, but the author did a really good job of making everyone suspicious until close to the end. 

While I thoroughly enjoyed the book, it did not blow my mind or provide some new wisdom about life, so that's why it only got 3 stars. It's a good, short book that I'd easily recommended to anyone. 

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review 2016-09-01 01:42
The Girl Who Wrote Lonliness by Kyung-Sook Shin, translated by Ha-Yun Jung
The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness: A Novel - Shin Kyung-sook,Jung Ha-Yun

It's not very often that a work of fiction gets to me as much as this one did. It was beautiful and haunting and familiar and foreign all at the same time.

The book is written as a sort of memoir. The protagonist reminds the reader several times that it is both fiction and memoir. She goes travels between the present and the past and doesn't always let us know and that can be confusing at times. It lends to the feeling that the protagonist is haunted by her past, that she can so easily drift into memories and stop seeing the world as it is around her in that moment. I loved that it gave a bigger picture of the protagonist as a person, that these events of her past still had a hold of her, but that she was working to let them go.

There is something very powerful about taking deliberate time to work through what haunts us, to let go of the shame we feel in our past, to stop letting it hurt us.

I'll be honest, I listened to the audiobook, which was 13 hours long and read by Emily Woo Zeller. Zeller is amazing, giving the book a full performance, complete with the reverie that really let me know when she was drifting between times. Fortunately, having listened instead of read the book, I could hear the pronunciations of the beautiful names that I would have otherwise just butchered.

As far as the feminist side of things go, this is definitely one of those books that I picked it solely because of Women In Translation month and would not have found any other way. It's proof that setting out to find diverse books to read on purpose allows me to find books that would not have otherwise been in my path and to appreciate stories that I would not otherwise have the opportunity to hear/read. It lets me step into places and history that I was never aware of, such as a sweatshop in Korea during the last century. In that same vein, it's great to read the stories of ordinary women. I know we get caught up in the women breaking barriers and starting revolutions, but we need to remember the ordinary women too. We need to remember the ones who join unions and those who don't, the ones who can only go to school because of work programs, the ones who finish and those who don't, the ones who find their dreams and those who don't.

While the content keeps this from being the kind of story that I could recommend to anyone, this is the kind of book I wish they would include in curriculum for world or Eastern literature. To use her own words to explain the importance of this:

History is in charge of putting things in order and society is in charge of defining them. The more order we achieve, the more truth is hidden behind that neat surface... Perhaps literature is about throwing into disarray what has been defined... About making a mess of things, all over again.

If diversity or feminism or women's lives are among the things you like to read about, this is definitely a book for you. Also, check out the rest of Shin's books here.

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review 2016-08-23 18:00
The Whispering City by Sara Moliner, translated by Mara Faye Lethem
The Whispering City - Sara Moliner,Mara Faye Lethem

While many elements of the book follow a familiar pattern, it's still a great read. We have the reporter who thinks the cops are doing a rotten job of investigating the murder she's been sent to report on and gets herself in over her head and so on. There was something nice about the familiarity of the plot structure because that was where my familiarity with it ended. The book is set in Barcelona in 1952, so the culture and the government and the markers of the time were all fairly foreign and made this familiar plot structure far more fun than it has been in a long time. Plus, the way it ended was not what I expected. It's not the way it would have ended if it had been written for US audiences, I'll tell you that much without spoiling it. 

This is part of what's fun about reading women in translation, what may seem familiar is taken to new places. 

The narrator, Roxanne Hernandez, was amazing, doing a great job of pronouncing all the Spanish names while falling back out of the accent that requires in the very next word and just carrying on. I can get by on some Spanish and even do a decent accent sometimes, but I can't transition that quickly and it didn't seem cut together. So it's the narrator or the editor, but I'm going to give credit to the narrator until informed otherwise. 

The only hitch in my translation was the inclusion of the word "monger" when talking about gossips. It wasn't misused, but it struck me as out of place due to that we don't use it much in the US. 

I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction! 

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review 2016-08-22 18:00
Morning Sea by Margaret Mazzantini, translated by Ann Gagliardi
Morning Sea - Ann S. Gagliardi,Margaret Mazzantini

This was one of those books that I should have read the back cover on before picking it up. Don't get me wrong, I hope I still would have read it, particularly for WIT Month, but I would have had a better idea what I was getting myself into. Here's the back cover information from Goodreads: 


When Farid’s beautiful young mother Jamila tries to escape Libya by boat, it is the first time that Farid will see the sea. This is the same sea into which Vito stares from a beach on the opposite side — Farid and Jamila’s destination. But unfortunately, the Mediterranean does not fulfill its promise of a new life for the two young refugees. Instead, it becomes their prison.

A tale of moving intensity, Morning Sea is about human migration. It is about the fate of those exiled from their houses, relatives, and roots; about the violence of nature and war; and about the strength of women compelled by injustice to defend their children’s futures. With terse and astute language, Mazzantini captures perfectly the dark, uncertain quality of our times. She asks: when must we commit ourselves to the right of all humans to live with dignity and respect?


It's a sad and realistic human strife story that still manages to have a beautiful end. It wasn't the end I wanted for the characters, just like it's not what I would wish on real people going through these events, but surprisingly beautiful once I had a chance to sit with it. Sitting with the end was crucial to enjoying it though because it hit me a little hard that things didn't go a certain way, but I don't want to spoil it. 

The writing style is a big part of what I enjoyed about it. It feels like a daydream, and to a certain extent, it is. It took a few pages for me to get used to the way it drifted between memories and backstory and present circumstances, but it flowed eloquently and gave a full picture of the lives of the characters. It had a wistful quality that didn't impede upon the strife the characters are going through or had gone through. 

I enjoyed reading it, and feel like these are the kinds of stories that American literature is severely lacking. We have a tendency to romanticize human strife and stories about migrating so that they are always about getting rich and rarely about basic survival. We tend to lose focus on the fact that there are people out there dying for food and the privilege of not to becoming terrorists. The things that happen to these people are the topics that we don't like to talk about and we try to pretend aren't real, that they somehow brought their plight upon themselves.

This is only one view, but a vital one that we miss in the US. This is one example among many that are the type of stories that we need to be reading more of. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who wants to understand the world a little better. 

And again, the end caught me by surprise, not because it left reality and did the thing that I wanted it to, but because it stayed in reality and was still beautiful. Sad, but beautiful in an ethereal or tenuous sort of way that will haunt me anyway because I had to remember that this was the way of things and at least something beautiful could be made of it in this story, even though it doesn't come near the way I wish it could. 

It's a tragic reminder that there are people out there who we could we help but don't. If you're looking for a way to help, there are some groups and organizations mentioned in my reading that I have links to on the Beyond the Books page. 

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