Book Review | The Library of Legends by Janie Chang

Authour:
Janie Chang
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
May 12th 2020
Publisher:
William Morrow
Publisher Social Media: 
Twitter/Facebook/SavvyReader/
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
The Library of Legends begins in China in 1937. During a time of much great chaos and historic change, there are two journeys that are taking place. The first is the main story of the students of Minghua University journeying west to safety. Among the students is nineteen-year-old Hu Lian who is one of the students tasked with protecting an ancient collection of stories known as the “Library of Legends”. The other journey occurring simultaneously and unknown to almost everyone except for a select few is the departure of all the Chinese immortals including various guardian spirits, gods, fairies, and other celestial beings from China.

I found the plot compelling as it takes historical fiction and mixes it with fantasy elements. In fact, my favourite scenes in the book were the descriptions of all the immortals who are leaving earth to go to the Kulun Mountains. I’m usually not a fan of magic realism, but the descriptions of the processions of immortals were breathtaking. It was also exciting to witness the characters from Chinese mythology come to life and interact with each other and the occasional human. The shedding of the “human” disguises of the various immortals and the reveal of their true identities throughout the book was always magical. It was interesting to see how each one had chosen to live their life when they were on earth. One memorable interaction was the one between Sparrow and the Nanking City God. Those who are familiar with the history of the Nanking will understand just how heartbreaking it is, as we the immortal god so torn that he was unable to protect his City that he has decided to leave for good as he could not watch the horror anymore. This just goes to show how terrible and hopeless the war is for China that even Gods are powerless to help.

I liked both the character of Lian and Sparrow as they both had interesting back stories and motives. Additionally, it was refreshing that while both made mistakes and were flawed, neither were not painted as villains and instead they became unlikely friends. Professor Kang was another figure I grew fond of, especially as I could relate to his fascinations with the immortals and celestial beings. I liked that we got to spend time with him as he formed a bond with Sparrow and two became each other’s confidant. As for Shao, I found him to be a bland character, and I did not have much sympathy towards him. Perhaps as he was supposed to be a character without a life purpose, that he seems less complex than Lian. I did however, liked how all the main characters such as Shao were connected to the tale of The Willow Star and the Prince.

For a story that combines Chinese myths, folklore and history, it’s rather fitting that The Library of Legends uses a third-person, omniscient narrator. This gives the book a fairytale feel, though at the cost of making it nice difficult to connect and emphasize with some characters. The writing is simple yet still beautiful and the descriptions truly transport you to the late 1930s in China. The pacing also flows smoothly for the majority of the novel. However, in the second half of the book, several important subplots were unfortunately rushed and major conflicts and issues were tied up too quickly and neatly.

If you love books and magical stories and have an interest in Chinese history and myths, then The Library of Legends may be the book for you. There is a bit of a love triangle and romance however it is mainly in the background. Instead, the focus of the book is on the characters’ physical and emotional journeys. Also, while characters are adults, this book could easily appeal to a YA audience. While I would’ve liked for more of the “Library of Legends” and its stories incorporated in the book, The Library of Legends was still a satisfying and unforgettable read.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Midweek Mini Reviews #29

This Midweek Mini Reviews post features two new YA titles.

Once Upon an Eid: Stories of Hope and Joy by 15 Muslim Voices
Once Upon an Eid is an anthology of short stories that take place around or during Eid, a religious festival celebrated by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As a non-Muslim person, I was intrigued by this book because I am familiar with some of the authors who have stories in this collection including S.K. Ali who is one of the editors. Like any holiday anthology the 15 stories are all heartwarming, fun and joyful in their own way. Two of my favourites were Like Chest Armor and Huda Al-Marashi’s Not Only an Only. The former was an adorable story about a girl’s first time wearing a hijab with touching upon other things like crushes and fandom in middle school, while the latter was a story about female friendship that I anyone who has been a minority in their school could relate to. I also enjoyed Asmaa Hussein’s Kareem Means Generous because it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling and I liked that it is set in Toronto, Canada. As Once Upon an Eid is geared towards middle grade and not YA, I’m far from the target audience for this short story collection. However, even I can tell after reading all the stories that Once Upon an Eid is a special book and I love getting a glimpse at how different cultures celebrate Eid. With the countless number of Christmas books out there, it’s nice that Muslims kids are able to have another collection of stories that they could personally relate to.

My Summer of Love and Misfortune by Lindsay Wong
Pitched as Crazy Rich Asians meets Love & Gelato, I really wanted to like My Summer of Love and Misfortune. But it took way too long to get into it, and while I could appreciate the character development and growth I couldn’t completely buy into Iris’s “transformation”. While it doesn’t necessarily mean this is a bad thing, in the case of My Summer of Love and Misfortune the uneven pacing along with all the drama in the book gave me whiplash. In spite of that, I didn’t hate Iris, in fact I couldn’t help but feel bad for her because she really is clueless and while she is shallow she truly believes she has good intentions. Also despite being an annoying character, I was still rooting for her to finally stand up for herself against those who did not treat her well. The writing in this book was strong, along with all the juicy family drama redeemed this book for me just a bit. My favourite parts were seeing the Wang family reunited and seeing Iris and her cousin Ruby come together and realize they actually make a great team. It’s unfortunate, but My Summer of Love and Misfortune was not the fun and light summer read that I had hoped it would be.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above reviews consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai

Authour:
Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
March 17th 2020
Publisher:
Algonquin Books
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
English language works featuring Vietnam, both fiction and non-fiction has been dominated by mainly (white) male American and soldiers’ voices. While there is nothing wrong with that, it was refreshing to read a story from told from the perspective of Vietnamese women for once. In Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai’s The Mountains Sing the two voices that narrate the book are Diệu Lan the matriarch of the Trần and her granddaughter, Hương who is only twelve at the start of the book. Both stories are of love and loss and heartbreak, and every member of the Trần family at one point or another undergoes considerable hardships. However, it is through Diệu Lan and her children that we get a glimpse at just how indomitable the spirit of the Vietnamese people are and just how resilient they can be.

At first reading, it was difficult for me to tell Diệu Lan and Hương’s chapters apart, as their voices sounded so similar. I often had to look at the dates that marked the chapters to see who’s chapter it was. However, as I became more familiar with both women I was able to recognize who’s turn it was. Diệu Lan’s story starts during the French and Japanese occupations of Vietnam and carries on through the Great Hunger, and the Land Reform and eventually through to the Vietnam War while Hương is born before the Vietnam War but ends up losing her father to the War. In the present day, Hương’s story shows us the aftermath of all the repeated trauma as well as lasting consequences of the country and its effects on the Vietnamese people and their families. Families were often separated and torn apart as a result of differing ideologies or their past actions and forgiveness is definitely easier said than done. Of the two, I was more interested in Hương’s story as she was closer to my age and I was more familiar with her Vietnam than the Vietnam that her grandmother talked about.

Interestingly, The Mountains Sing is one of the rare English language books set in Vietnam that isn’t a war book. However, it still is a difficult read at times due to the time period both Diệu Lan and Hương are living in. That being said the story was very gripping and the prose is lovely and lyrical as expected of a poet. I also loved the style of the book as it was the retelling of the history of Vietnam through the personal memories of both a grandmother and her grand-daughter. The conversational manner of the book made it easier to follow along in spite of nonlinear style of the book and the alternating narration.

Before reading The Mountains Sing, I only knew of the Vietnam War and little else of Vietnamese History. This book was an incredibly valuable read in that it opened my eyes up to all the other traumas and tragedies that my people like my parent and grandparents and the rest of my family lived through. There is a section in the book where a character is described as “a beautiful lotus flower that has risen from a pond of mud” and I couldn’t find a better description for this novel. This novel is but one work of beauty that has come out from the pond of mud that is the repeated horrors, trauma and tragedies Vietnam and its people have been through. And we can only hope that in the future we get more of these stories that may have been previously hidden from us.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.

Book Review | If I Had Your Face by Frances Cha

Authour:
Frances Cha
Format:
ARC
Publication date:
April 21st, 2020
Publisher:
Ballantine Books
Source:
Received from publisher

Review:
Almost every person, has some kind of insecurity. For women more often than not it is tied to their physical appearance. This is what makes If I Had Your Face a compelling story as the characters live in a society that is not only patriarchal, but also unforgiving if you do not meet the almost impossible beauty standards and/or know the right people.

Frances Cha’s If I Had Your Face, follows four different women who are at different stages of their life despite being mostly around the same age. Of the four women, I initially thought the first narrator, Ara would be my favourite as she initially appeared sympathetic due to her being mute, however I quickly realized that she was both childish and selfish, which was not helped by the fact that she was also spoiled by everyone around her. This left her with few redeeming qualities. The other character I couldn’t connect with was Wonna as it just seem like she was never satisfied, although her somewhat tragic back story did move me a little to her side even if her actions remained baffling.

On the other hand Kyuri and Miho were better developed and more fleshed out than the other women. As a result, more of the book is devoted to showing how in spite of their struggles they persist and manage to work with what they had in order for them to make a life of their own. Interestingly enough the two of them appeared to be total opposites on the surface as Kyuri has had multiple plastic surgeries to be “beautiful” while Miho is considered a “natural” beauty in spite of being a bit of an enigma. And yet both Kyuri and Miho were incredibly aware of where they stood in society, and what they needed to do to carry out their goals. In fact, one of my favourite moments was witnessing Miho come to a certain realization about her boyfriend and instead of sinking into depression, she decides to take matters into her own hand and find a way to ensure she benefits from her circumstances.

The writing in If I Had Your Face is simple yet elegant, and all four of the women’s journeys were remarkable enough that I could have easily finished this book in one sitting. Even if you aren’t a woman living in Seoul, If I Had Your Face has several themes that would resonate with all women who are feeling the pressure from both their parents and society to adhere to a certain path.

If I Had Your Face was a captivating read for me despite knowing little about the culture in South Korea beforehand. Moreover, I enjoyed watching the somewhat messy sisterhood and kinship between the four incredibly different women as they struggled both at work and in their other relationships. While there is no guaranteed of a happy outcome for any of these characters, I felt satisfied in the end, knowing that there was hope for all the women especially if they continue to have each other’s backs.

 

 

 

Regardless of how this book came into my possession, the above review consists of my honest opinion of the book and my opinion only.