Friday, December 12, 2014

Book Review: China Dolls

China Dolls
Author: Lisa See
Published: Random House, June 2014
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4/5

Lisa See happens to be one of my favorite Asian historical fiction writers. Her works have focused on China and the trials and tribulations Chinese women have faced in different time periods. I was excited to read her latest novel China Dolls and was pleased with the storyline, setting and the initial introduction of her characters. However, this novel didn't deliver strong character development as her other novels have.

In 1938, Grace finds herself in San Francisco's Chinatown after leaving behind her abusive father. Her desire is to find work at a nightclub where she can make a living dancing. She meets Helen and Ruby and three soon become fast friends. Helen has a dark past and lives with her traditional Chinese family and her  desire is to escape the cage and her pain. Ruby is Japanese and passing herself as Chinese in order to find gainful employment in Chinatown. The course of their lives and friendships is altered the day Japan attacks Pearl Harbor. Ruby is sent to a concentration camp while her two friends continue on with their life and wonders which one betrayed her.

What I enjoyed about this novel was the premise of the story: three young oriental American determined to make their own way in the world. Lisa See's ability to bring her readers' to the historical setting is one of her strengths. In my mind, I could envision the 1930-40's streets of Chinatown and San Francisco. Her characters each have a solid, believable background which sets the tone of voice for each girl.

The reason this novel seems to fall short in my eyes is the lack of character development throughout the story. The initial friendship of the girls' seems to be motivated by the face they are all pretty and like being seen together. Even as the novel progresses, they tend to act like preteens jealous of each other's friendships like a love triangle.

What began as a possibly well-written alternating narration quickly becomes a weakness in this book. While the character's each have a developed voice the alternating chapters began to feel a bit choppy. Towards the end of the novel I felt as if I was being pushed from one character's brain to the other without much notice. Even the thought process of the characters' and their voices began to feel the same. Considering each girls' dramatic past, their voices could have been individually stronger with their psychological and physical experiences.

I would recommend this novel to those curious about the life of the Chinese in American history. Overall, this novel can be an enjoyable read, but it will not be making the reread list.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review: Gaudenzia, Pride of the Palio

Gaudenzia, Pride of Palio
Author: Marguerite Henry
Published: 1960, republished 2014 by Aladdin Press
Genre: Middle grade, historical fiction
Rating: 5/5

The first book I received from the Scholastic book club in first grade was Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. This book was a little beyond my reading abilities, but I tackled it anyways. I became a Marguerite Henry fanatic and started requesting all her novels for birthday or Christmas presents.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to my local bookstore and was browsing through the middle-grade readers, horse stories section. Amongst the classics I read as child, I found Gaudenzia, Pride of Palio. I was shocked as I realized I had never seen this novel all the years I spent reading nothing but horse books. Needless to say, I still enjoy reading middle-grade novels, even as an adult, and bought the one copy on the shelf.

Giorgio Terni is an idealistic young Italian boy who loves horses more than anything. His goal is to ride in the Palio horse race, which dates back to the Medieval ages. As he grows older, his reputation as a rider and trainer grows until he is invited to help train potential mounts for the Palio. He never forgets the filly he saw as a boy and hopes one day to find her again. Through fate, he and Gaudenzia find each other and he knows the skittish mare is destined to win the Palio.

This novel is an amazingly balanced story about both horse and human. The historical details are accurate and delivered through fantastic scenes that help shape the story's main character. Marguerite Henry's prose is nearly poetic as she brings horses to life in the pages of her story. I would recommend this novel be read by both children and adults who love to learn about horses in history.



Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review-Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine

Tittle: Captive Queen: A Novel of Eleanor of Aquitaine
Author: Alison Weir
Published: July 2010, Ballantine Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.5

Alison Weir was my favorite biographer to ready for many years as I devoured her books on the Tudors and other royals. When she broke out into the historical fiction genre with Innocent Traitor, I was pleased to discover she had written a thorough, imaginative story about Lady Jane Grey. My expectations for Captive Queen were high, but fell short for many reasons.

Eleanor of Aquitaine is nearly 30 and unsatisfied with her monk like husband, Louis VII of France. She wishes to be free of her marriage and of France. When she sees the young Henry, Duke of Normandy, she becomes inflamed with desire and ambition.They can build an empire between their countries and his future claim on England. Throughout their marriage, she gives him eight children, but her life is marred by tragedy. Henry takes mistresses and heeds the advice of his chancellor, Thomas Becket, over her counsel. The most unforgivable thing he does is he stops loving her and seeks to keep the power away from his heirs. She adores her son, Richard, and she will not allow him to be shafted of his inheritance.

This novel is a decent read,  well researched and full of emotion. However, the execution of a few craft elements left me feeling unsatisfied as a reader.

This first few chapters read more like a Harlequin romance novel. Eleanor is portrayed as a woman driven mad for sex and love instead of a strong, independent individual. Sex scenes litter the pages at every meeting, she and Henry have throughout the first quarter of the novel. Several times the narrator's POV changes in scenes which breaks up the flow of writing and the characters' thoughts. This novel should have been written in 3rd person omniscient narration. Also, the use of modern phrases and expressions is unauthentic and shows a lack of imagination during the creation of dialogue.

I would recommend this novel to people who are interested in historical fiction about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Personally, I will not be picking it up for a second read.



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Getting Back with Your Muse

Two years ago, my muse and I decided to break up. I'm still not sure whose fault it was. We still got together sometimes and reminisced over a poem or an article in the Starbucks by the JRA Shinjuku station. Maybe, he felt deserted as I wrote letters to my fiance in India and produced numerous cover letters for job applications. I felt like part of me was missing. So, I asked him if we could try to write together again.
There was something I found daunting about starting to write creatively again. My muse and I were out of sync. I had to reflect and realize that I had not been giving my muse the time it needed. I no longer went to the movies alone or read poetry. Writing had become a chore associated with cover letters and resumes. I had stopped nourishing my writer's soul.
I started taking time for myself and my muse. I read books that made me want to write. I watched foreign films on Netflix that made me ponder humanity and cultural norms of other societies. I took my horse out for long rides in the forest alone. I started to claim back the part of myself that had been lost somehow along the way between family deaths, traveling and job hunting.
There are not many regrets in my life, but I do regret not writing the past two years at the volume I used to. There is nothing I can do to get that time back. However, I can share what I did with other writers to find my writing voice again.
1. Read anything that inspires you to write: books, poetry, comics, articles, reviews, music lyrics or even Facebook statuses.
2. Pull out that unfinished novel or poem and start editing it on any page. You might reconnect with the emotion that sparked the words you wrote down sometime in the past.
3. Watch movies that have depth and meaning that makes you think about the human condition and human truths.
4. Commit to a writing project with a friend as you are held accountable for your part. One of my best friends and I started a round-robin novel and use Google Docs to share and update our story file.
5. Travel to places that make your heart soar. The mountains of Vermont always make me want to sit down with pen and paper and write a poem.
6. Spend more time doing activities that move your soul and make you feel blessed to be alive.
7. Talk to other writers about what they are working on. Their enthusiasm can be a reminder of why you used to write.
8. Make a writing goal no matter how small to start off. Have one for everyday so you can get back into the habit of writing everyday.
9. Use your writer's block as a source of inspiration.
10. Take the time every day to write something everyday, no matter how short it might be.
What is something that you did to get back your writing muse when it disappeared? Did you do something to claim back your writing life that took you on a journey?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Book Review: Kings of Colorado

Kings of Colorado
Author: David E. Hilton
Published: Simon & Schuster, 2011
Genre: (Realistic) Fiction
Rating: 5/5

For a couple of years, I kept having an interest in this novel as I walked by it on display at Barnes & Noble. I finally ordered the novel after seeing it for sale on bookoutlet.com to complete my New Year's book order. Kings of Colorado is a of a more tough version of The Outsiders where friends band together to survive against their social enemies.

William Shepard is 13 the night he stabs his father for beating his mother. His punishment? William is sent to the Swope Boys' Reformatory in the Colorado mountains for two years. He will learn who his friends are and who are his enemies. He and his friends will break the horses as the guards break their spirits. In a prison filled with corruption and abuse his friendship with three boys are his only comfort. What is considered  horror will seem like child's play after they learn what Hell is. William will never come out the same boy who entered the ranch. Others who entered will never leave. 

Hilton's writing is an exemplary piece of literary fiction. He imbues every page of this novel with a strong narrative that allows the reader into William's maturing mind. His reactions and those of the other characters drives the story forward with mounting tension towards this novel's climax. Reader's of this novel will feel the characters' emotion evolve in this coming of age novel.

This novel is jarring and will leave you wondering about the emotional scars you have suffered. Perhaps, yours are small compared to what these characters will suffer through as you read.





Thursday, July 3, 2014

Letters from Skye

Today I finished reading "Letters from Skye" by Jessica Brockmole for the second time. When I read a book a second time, it means I will read that book several more times throughout my life. This novel holds a special place in my heart because I am living my own modern day life version of the characters' struggle.

David Graham is an American who receives a book of poetry written by an Elspeth Dunn while recuperating the hospital. He sends a letter of admiration that sparks a love story that spans into two World Wars and two generations. Through an epistolary novel Brockmole brings the beauty and pain of falling in love through writing alive.

Nearly two years ago, I received a message on Facebook from a young Indian man asking me how I was going about looking for a job in Japan. He had gotten my email off of JobsinJapan.com and searched for me on Facebook. I replied a few days letter and told him he could send me his resume and cover letter if he wanted me to look at them. We kept emailing letters to each other but never talked on Facebook after that. I knew he had fallen in love with me even though he tried his best to hide it with the words he chose.

Part of me loved him, but I refused to acknowledge it to myself as I left to start a new life in Japan in September of 2012. One of my friends knew I was starting to have feelings for him when I mentioned him several times. After all, I talk about horses not men!

We continued our emails for several months until I forgot to reply to one with my crazy Japan life schedule. Three weeks passed and when I did not hear from him I sent him an email asking why I had written to me.

We started talking on Facebook a bit everyday after that. He told me he loved me and wanted to be with me. I thought, perhaps, he was simply infatuated with me for some reason. Okay, honestly, I thought he was nuts since we hadn't even exchanged photos.

One night I called him and we talked for three hours. The second night I called him and we talked six hours. I've called him everyday since then. We began a relationship and even decided to marry before meeting in person. We started researching how we could be together and I soon realized we were in for a long, hard and convoluted path. To apply for a fiance visa, I would need to meet an income requirement in the USA to apply to sponsor him. So, I decided to leave to Japan to look for work in USA.

It has been one year now and I am still looking for work despite my best efforts. Pankaj has been patient through this whole process. We met in March of this year in India and we got along as if we were kindred spirits meeting after a long separation. He even took me home to meet his family, and he got his mother's approval for the "American girlfriend". The American girlfriend they believed would never come.

But I did. I traveled the 7,649 from Boston to Nagpur to meet him. He kept asking me write again like I used to. Just like how David Graham kept asking his "Sue" to start writing poetry again. This is what I ended up writing.

I never will write letters from Skye Island, but I will send him letters about my horse Skye.








Friday, February 14, 2014

Book Review: Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Published: Penguin, 2011
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
Rating: 5/5

As a writer, I often wonder what was it like to live in a different time period. What ideals, customs, standards and threats helped to weave together the life of an individual? While I am at home writing fantasy pieces my reading passion lies with historical fiction. My curiosity to know about the past and the people that existed led me to consume various historical fiction, biographies and nonfiction books over my lifetime. When an author successfully brings tears to my eyes I know they have harnessed the deepest emotions from the well of humanity.

Lina is fifteen and preparing to attend art school over the summer. She lives in Lithuania and the year is 1941. Her father is a successful college professor who does not return home one evening. A knock on her family's door changes her life forever. The Soviet secret police rip her apart her home, her family and her life. Lina sees horrors she cannot even comprehend as her family is sentenced to forced labor on a farm in Siberia. Unable to discover what has happened to her father, Linda embeds clues through her art hoping her father will see her drawings someday. She hopes her love for her family will keep her alive as she fights for her survival and those around her. Lina will come to know heartbreak so deep that the scars will remain open wounds for the rest of history.

Sepetys is a talented, fresh historical fiction writer. Her chapters are short and powerful infused with raw emotions some humans will never experience. The atrocities of the Stalin occupation in Lithuania tore open the hearts of those affected and bled their lives into history. Sepetys emotionally-driven writing will leave her readers contemplating how Lina found the strength to survive. She will make her readers wonder how much strength do they have hidden inside themselves.

(Book #2, 2014)