Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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My grandparents were married during the Japanese occupation of Korea. There’s only two remaining photos of my grandparents from that time both taken on their wedding day. The whole family was out in front of their house standing to take the picture while a massive Japanese flag waved in the background.

My family background is Korean and I’ve always been fascinated with this photo and what it means to my grandparents. They never really talk about this time, but you know that they’ve been affected from it when my grandmothers keep telling me to eat more and don’t waste. When you have next to nothing, you waste nothing.

I’ve only heard a few stories from that time period like how my grandmothers sold whatever they can find to make ends meet and my grandfather’s family, being from the North, escaped to China and sold his blood to help out my grandmother. My grandmothers still speak in Japanese and you can even catch them calling back “hai!” when you address them. Thinking of these stories now brings tears to my eyes.

And then Pachinko appeared and I wanted to know more.

Min Jin Lee is an incredible author with her own voice and style of writing. While she is eloquent and simple, I found myself a little disappointed with the story. Don’t take that statement to be the end-all of this review. While this book didn’t work for me, I do still believe it is a beautiful portrayal of Korean people and how they survived during some of the worst times in our history. Bear with me because I’m going to be a little scatterbrained writing up this review.

I approached this book as a Korean reading about Korea wanting to know more about my family and their heritage. I wanted to hear about the persecution and the injustice and most importantly, the racism. I wanted to hear about the soldiers who died during the Korean War and the families who subsisted by selling their blood like my grandfather.

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These themes were definitely in Pachinko, but not in the sense I imagined. Perhaps this standard was too high because what I found was a story about a Korean family met with many challenges in their life, but managing to stay together as a unit for as long as they could through a country completely foreign to them and yet they couldn’t see themselves anywhere else.

I met someone the other day and I described to them the book I was reading. “Oh, I never heard that about Korean people in Japan. How crazy?”

I was surprised by this comment and now looking at the reviews written on Goodreads, I’m surprised by what people are saying (really, Roxanne Gay?! Really?!) because I had already known this and I guess this isn’t a fact they teach in History class when you’re in high school. Instead, you read about how Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and how all the Japanese Americans were placed in internments camps somewhere in the middle of the country. But all the way on the other side of the world, Koreans were struggling to fight off the Japanese and then themselves.

So if you’re a person who hasn’t read about Korean history in the early 20th century, this book may be an education for you. You get to read why my dad, to this day, still hates Japanese people. You get to read how Korea hasn’t seen a day’s rest since WWII and how communism broke us apart and we still haven’t figured out how to piece that together.

You get to read about how Koreans tried to make ends meet in Japan by working with the yakuza or making money through gambling rings. You get to read about how Koreans were without a country. No longer accepted by Koreans and would never be accepted by the Japanese.

But I think this truly resonated with me the most out of the entire book and was perhaps one of the biggest themes of the novel. As an Asian American born in America, my home is not Korea. You can say that my home is America, but I still get asked “where I’m really from” and the few people that know some Korean try to speak it with me like I’ll react and be surprised at how good they are at it. I can barely speak Korean and I can’t read or write it. I went to Korea for the first time in my entire life THIS YEAR.

I’m from America lost in a world where the color of my skin and the way I was raised doesn’t match that of most people with deep American roots. Where I’ve assimilated myself to be a part of this country and blend in as much as possible and yet I still stand out. I may not be in Japan, but I know how it feels and Min Jin Lee hit that nail right on the fucking head.

If you’re thinking about reading this and wanting to know more about Korean history, do it. This book will make you see the kind of racism that lives outside of America; the kind they don’t teach you to march about because the best thing you could do is brush it off and continue to survive. Approach this book with an open mind and an open heart and understand that while my grandparents stood under a Japanese flag on their wedding day, they always stayed true to their country.

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Girl in Snow by Danya Kukafka

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I’ve been hearing a lot of things about this book, so when Simon and Schuster sent over a copy for me to read, I figured why not give it a chance.

Disclaimer: This review is my honest thoughts and not in any way shaped by Simon and Schuster.

I’m not a fan of thriller novels. The last one I read was Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and if you’re into reading books, you’ve probably heard about it (shivers).

I think it’s something about that edge-of-your-seat-who-dunnit that I’m not a fan of because it weirdly gives me anxiety. Look at that, I’m a bookish person who has anxiety about life and death.

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However, this novel is not your typical thriller. In fact, it’s not thriller enough and for some folks, I’m seeing some low-stars on Goodreads because of it.

Luckily for me, I’m big into literary fiction, so I decided to read it in that lens instead of as a thriller and what I found was a remarkably well-written novel about three characters coming to grips with who they are in the midst of a young girl being murdered.

For me, this is my kind of thriller. I love reading character-driven novels and if you’re looking for more of that and less of the blood and gore and anxiety-driven stuff then this might be Thriller Lite™ just for you.

Danya Kukafka is brilliant as a writer. Being a book editor may be helping her in that department, but she’s definitely got her own voice. It’s interesting and provocative without having to push the envelope on the story. You’re following these characters through the novel and you’re seeing how they cope with death.

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There were three intertwining stories throughout. There was the boy who stalked her, the girl who loved her before she hated her, and the police officer set to help on the case amongst the challenges he faced being somewhat involved.

I found myself trying to guess which of the three was the person that killed Lucinda in the beginning of the novel. Obviously, you would think it was the stalker boy because who stalks a freshman in high school? Or it could have been the girl that hates her and was motivated to end her life, but do you think she could do it?

When I read in the end who it really was, I think that was when it snapped into place the truth of the novel; it doesn’t matter. The murder itself was a maguffin to the real story here. It played as the basis for these characters to grow and find themselves, but the murder wasn’t the real plot.

I love it when a novel makes you think more than just on the surface. I love when a novel lulls you in on this great journey only to show you that the journey has been inside yourself the entire time.

It was quite an adventure and a fun one at that. Yeah, there were a few issues with the length of the novel and the dragging, but if you’re a fan of true crime and thriller stories then this might not be the one for you.

You can find out more about this book on Goodreads.com

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

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I remember reading A Wrinkle in Time as a kid and loving every single word. However, I didn’t actually remember the book.

After the recent teaser trailer came out for the movie, I decided I would read A Wrinkle in Time again. It’s always been one of those books I want to read but never stepped up to do it.

So I read the book again as an adult and wildly surprised by how complex this story was.

The plot

18131It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger.

“Wild nights are my glory,” the unearthly stranger told them. “I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract”.

Meg’s father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?
In the book, there’s a scene where the kids are met with a man with red eyes. He has this power to make the citizen of Camazotz all the same. People were robots without the gears. They were puppets without the strings. They were unthinking yet they were still citizens.

My thoughts

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I’m honestly impressed by this novel. I’ve re-read novels I remember loving when I was a kid and for me, it was all about the nostalgia. I loved the little trip back in time.

But what I didn’t imagine was that this novel would mean so much more than a re-read of a classic. I find myself thinking much deeper into the underlying story and analyzing the text as if it were some required reading in a philosophy class.

According to Ann Quinlan’s introduction to the book, Madeleine L’Engle used Camazotz, the planet that the children travel to find their father, as a metaphor of what’s to come if society were to adapt communism. Everyone was equal, but all controlled by some higher power. Back in the seventies when this novel was first published, the threat of communism in America was very real. We were in the midst of the Cold War sitting on the edges of our seat waiting for someone to cast the first stone into a full on war.

There’s nothing scarier to an artist, a writer, a musician, and a dreamer than the threat that they have to stop what they love because the government tells them to.

Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin face this threat in the form of a blackness. It spreads across every world. People have been fighting the black thing for ages. Leonardo Da’Vinci, Jesus, Shakespeare, Bach, Einstein. What do all these people have in common? They questioned the social norm. They follow their passion and not the accepted. What happens when a couple of kids are put into this position?

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When faced against IT and the blackness, you see them sing nursery rhymes and recite the Gettysburg address to fight IT’s mind control. They push themselves to the limit to avoid being controlled by someone else. Perhaps it’s because they’re children and are more free willed than an adult.

I found what Madeleine L’Engle was trying to express here interesting. She’s showing us that the weak-minded can easily fall prey to the idea of this mind control. However, people tend to break free and are subject to re-calibration. It’s to show us that while we may be simple-minded, there is always free will and free will always pulls us away from the social norm.

All of this wrapped into 250 pages written for kids! This book was like a mom who expertly hides veggies in mac and cheese. You never know you’re getting the good stuff because it’s wrapped up in what seems like a fun adventure book about a couple of kids looking for their dad.

I know I did a lot of talking about the deeper discussion, but I will admit that the ending was a little anti-climatic and a little predictable. I suppose when you’re a kid you hope that the love of your brother or sister can save you from anything.

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The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

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I will admit something; I met my husband at work. I was on my way to the kitchen in the morning to make myself some breakfast when I saw him there already toasting up some bread and a jam jar in the shape of a bear.

When I saw the jar, I immediately gravitated towards it and all I recall saying is “I love bear-shaped things.” According to my husband, this was the clincher and what made him want to know more about me.

This book evokes that exact same emotion. From that one small exchange, he was completely smitten and it was shortly after that that I followed.

The plot

25883848Lucy Hutton and Joshua Templeman hate each other. Not dislike. Not begrudgingly tolerate. Hate. And they have no problem displaying their feelings through a series of ritualistic passive aggressive maneuvers as they sit across from each other, executive assistants to co-CEOs of a publishing company. Lucy can’t understand Joshua’s joyless, uptight, meticulous approach to his job. Joshua is clearly baffled by Lucy’s overly bright clothes, quirkiness, and Pollyanna attitude.

Now up for the same promotion, their battle of wills has come to a head and Lucy refuses to back down when their latest game could cost her her dream job…But the tension between Lucy and Joshua has also reached its boiling point, and Lucy is discovering that maybe she doesn’t hate Joshua. And maybe, he doesn’t hate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.

My thoughts

This was such a fun little read. Nothing too heavy, not too light. It’s like a palate cleanser between meals.

But I don’t want to cheapen the book and say that it’s “chick lit.” Honestly, I can write a whole blog post about “chick lit,” but I’m not going to get into that right now.

I don’t want to say that anything that’s a little more fun to read is not a real book. These are really great books and their purpose is to make you feel good as well. Some books make you really contemplate your life’s purpose. Other books make you laugh and cry happy tears. This is definitely the latter.

I think the one thing that really bothered me about this novel is that it was too easy for Josh to guess what Lucy is thinking and doing. He’s supposed to be this really observant guy who can recall facts and history from all over time. However, he’s able to tell from one glance her emotions? I don’t know about that and that’s with sitting right across from her for the duration of their working relationship.

Also, I wasn’t a fan of the man-gawking. I can understand if the character is buff and brawny and can tear a phonebook in half, but I really wish Lucy tried a little bit harder to get to know him than to objectify him. Wait, can you objectify men?

But other than that, I thought this book was great! It was a lovely little novel and if Sally Thorne decided to write anything else, I’ll probably read it.

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White Fur by Jardine Libaire

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Love love love is such a crazy emotion. It’ll make you happy, sad, angry, violent, giggly, stupendous, and scared for your life.

Yet we crave it like a sugar rush and we can’t stop until we have it. Our entire existence revolves around love. Without it, we would be the same people we were yesterday. White Fur proves that love can change any perspective (except maybe for old people).

The plot

32025142When Elise Perez meets Jamey Hyde on a desolate winter afternoon, fate implodes, and neither of their lives will ever be the same. Although they are next-door neighbors in New Haven, they come from different worlds. Elise grew up in a housing project without a father and didn’t graduate from high school. Jamey is a junior at Yale, heir to a private investment bank fortune and beholden to high family expectations. The attraction is instant, and what starts out as sexual obsession turns into something greater, stranger, and impossible to ignore.

The unlikely couple moves to Manhattan in hopes of forging an adult life together, but Jamey’s family intervenes in desperation, and the consequences of staying together are suddenly severe. And when a night out with old friends takes a shocking turn, Jamey and Elise find themselves fighting not just for their love but also for their lives.

My thoughts

I had my doubts about this book. This opinion developed mostly from the writing style Jardine Libaire decided to use for this book. Choppy, one or two worded sentences to explain the euphoria of love isn’t really my style of writing. I like things simple and straightforward. This book read like I was watching Requiem for a Dream

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HOWEVER, that isn’t to say that this book was bad. No, in fact, the choppy descriptions with little-to-no context really made the story feel like you were high on love.

Elise and Jamey were two people who weren’t meant to be together. Elise is a young high school drop out living in an apartment with another guy and basically trying to get by every single day. Jamey is this uber-rich Yale undergrad who has his entire life planned out for him the moment he graduates. They weren’t meant to be.

Yet Jamey found something intriguing about the white fur of Elise’s coat and the both of them started going out. At first, it was easy to avoid the emotions. You just have sex, anywhere and any time and then you disperse. No conversation. No getting to know each other over dinner. Just sex.

But then sex turns into other feelings. It’s like they say how you can never have a friend with benefits. It’s never just friends with benefits. Each moment together was creating this whirlwind of emotions that neither anticipated to feel.

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And just like a drug, love changed them. Elise was a wild child lacking a sense of direction and future, but you can see her gruff exterior slowly smooth away to a nurturing person. She adopts a dog, she plays with kids, she finds responsibility and caring that you don’t see when you first meet her.

Jamey is this uptight rich kid who only saw Elise as sex and fun while he was away at college. Slowly, you find that he lets go a little bit and lets his inhibitions free. He’s smoking cigarettes and quitting Yale and taking on a simpler life.

The two characters evolve so much throughout the novel that by the time you realize how much they’ve changed, it’s already over.

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I honestly thought this book was going to be another Gossip Girl story or something out of Gilmore Girls, but it wasn’t. It was better than that because it felt more real. Two human beings who were strangers at first find themselves and each other through love. If anything, it’s the most romantic story I’ve ever read.

 

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I’ve been a huge fan of Taylor Jenkins Reid since I read her other novel One True Loves. Just as similarly as I felt about that novel, I feel the same way here.

The story is fantastic covering the imaginary screen legend Evelyn Hugo and her tumultuous love life only to reveal one big truth; not everything you see is real.

The plot

32620332Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?

Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.

Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds through the decades—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

Filled with emotional insight and written with Reid’s signature talent, this is a fascinating journey through the splendor of Old Hollywood into the harsh realities of the present day as two women struggle with what it means—and what it takes—to face the truth.

My thoughts

Ok, let’s talk about this. A beautiful bombshell from the 50s and 60s of Hollywood fame finds this one female reporter that she wants to tell her entire life story to. It’s 2017 and Evelyn Hugo is squaring away her affairs to prepare for the inevitable; her death.

Right off the bat, you’re asking yourself a ton of questions. Who is Evelyn Hugo? Why is she asking Monique to write her article about her? What is it about her past that is so illicit that a tell-all book is the only way to say it?

I don’t know if I should spoil it or not, but to give you an idea of what the secret is, let’s just say that it’s something that was completely unaccepted during the 1960s and sort of on its way to full understanding in 2017. People still chastise these humans for being who they are, but they are stronger and more supported than in the past.

And I loved this story. Not only was it exposed and raw, but it felt like this could have easily been the memoir of some other Hollywood starlet. But I think the one thing that truly made this book a joy to read was the constant parade of love spread throughout the whole story.

Even when Evelyn and her friends were faced with some strange circumstances or even when she was the center of the gossip rags, there was always someone there to love her and to be loved and share love. From her fictional life, you can see the years that were wrought with pain and suffering, but no one person suffers the entirety of their life and luckily neither did Evelyn Hugo.

The writing style was also pretty pleasant to read. When Evelyn talked about her life, it was written in the first person. I always find that when you’re reading in the first person it’s like jumping into their brain or a pensieve and seeing for yourself what’s happening.

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The story between Monique and Evelyn was written in the third person. Quite honestly, I wasn’t sure where the heck that storyline was supposed to go. What was the point of Monique being there? But as Evelyn Hugo says everything comes in due time. You’ll find out why Monique was asked to interview her and while it was shocking to hear the truth, it wasn’t that bad.

I just think about how people have changed so much these days. There’s so much more self-expression and self-identification. You really learn who you are and if that means that you’re 50 years old and you find out that you’re gay, then yeah that’s real.

People nowadays dig through the roots of their existence and find these hard truths that thirty years ago would have been frowned upon. NO ONE wants to be lynched for being something different. And even though as a society we still have a long way to go towards pure, unadulterated acceptance, you have to admit that we’ve all come a long way from a life that some of us still remember.

And this is what Evelyn Hugo does for us. She makes us realize and understand that there’s a generation born in the wrong generation. There are people still deeply hidden in the closet. People afraid to walk down the wrong street at the wrong time. And one day we’ll all be free to tell our story the way Evelyn Hugo did without frustration or malice or regret.

When those people are ready to tell those stories, I’ll definitely be one of the ones listening.

 

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan

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What if you found out that your long lost father was just as rich as your friends were? What if you went from nothing to something in a blink of an eye? What if all this news brought some more troubling issues into your life?

China Rich Girlfriend is the sequel to the popular Crazy Rich Asians (currently in production, which I might add is super exciting) and carries with it the overwrought drama you would see in a Korean drama. Extremely enjoyable!

The plot

28503789On the eve of her wedding to Nicholas Young, heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Asia, Rachel should be over the moon. She has a flawless Asscher-cut diamond from JAR, a wedding dress she loves more than anything found in the salons of Paris, and a fiancé willing to sacrifice his entire inheritance in order to marry her. But Rachel still mourns the fact that her birthfather, a man she never knew, won’t be able to walk her down the aisle. Until: a shocking revelation draws Rachel into a world of Shanghai splendor beyond anything she has ever imagined. Here we meet Carlton, a Ferrari-crashing bad boy known for Prince Harry-like antics; Colette, a celebrity girlfriend chased by fevered paparazzi; and the man Rachel has spent her entire life waiting to meet: her father. Meanwhile, Singapore’s It Girl, Astrid Leong, is shocked to discover that there is a downside to having a newly minted tech billionaire husband. A romp through Asia’s most exclusive clubs, auction houses, and estates, China Rich Girlfriend brings us into the elite circles of Mainland China, introducing a captivating cast of characters, and offering an inside glimpse at what it’s like to be gloriously, crazily, China-rich.

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My thoughts

Without being too biased here, I thought China Rich Girlfriend was an absolute blast to read. It almost felt like I was reading a movie or like watching an episode of Gossip Girl where money needs to stick with money and those with new money can never be a part of the inner circle.

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There were several different stories going on at the same time. We first have our Rachel and Nick getting married and starting their life together when lo and behold (SPOILERS) Rachel is reunited with her birth father who just so happens to be this rich politician living in Shanghai.

So off Nick and Rachel go to China to meet her dad and hang out with her new family. Obviously long lost kids don’t just show up and everything is fine, so the story begins to twist and turn as a family tries to figure out how to manage their feelings (and their money) with a new face.

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Then we have Astrid and her sadness. If you read Crazy Rich Asians, then you already know that Astrid is not in the best state of affairs and the story here gets more intense as her husband tries to get a hold of himself with his new money. Remember, old money and new money just don’t mix so obviously drama ensues.

Finally, there’s Kitty Pong. That’s right. Kitty. Pong. The actress that marries the rich guy gets a small story threaded throughout the novel. However, I will admit I was disappointed when I learned about what happened to her husband.

The writing was great. It was eloquent and verbose (I’m working on my vocabulary), but while describing some crazy drama. And of course, there was no limit on the ridiculously rich lifestyles of these characters. Honestly, I felt like I was one of them while I stood on public transportation on my way to my minimum wage day job.

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All in all, I actually thought this novel was better than the first. I’m really happy that the new one is finally out. You know I’ll be compulsively picking that one up.