Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Review: My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

Title: My Sister Rosa
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Year Published: 2016

Genre: YA Fiction
Pages: 309
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): USA (NY)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this with my own money

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Seventeen-year-old Aussie Che Taylor loves his younger sister, Rosa. But he's also certain that she's a psychopath--clinically, threateningly, dangerously. Recently rosa has been making trouble, hurting things. Che is the only one who knows; he's the only one his sister trusts. Rosa is smart, talented, pretty, and very good at hiding what she is and the manipulation she's capable of.

Their parents, whose business takes the family from place to place, brush off the warning signs as Rosa's "acting out." Now that they have moved again--from Bangkok to New York City--their new hometown provides far too many opportunities for Rosa to play her increasingly complex and disturbing games. Che's always been Rosa's rock, protecting her from the world. Now, the world might need protection from her.

Review: I loved Larbalestier's book Liar so was really looking forward to this novel. And oh what a disturbing book it is.

I really like the main character and narrater, Che. He is caring, thoughtful, and scared. Scared of his sister Rosa and her psychopathic ways. She infiltrates the psyche of every person she encounters, controls them, manipulates them, and charms them. And Che tries to control her, but he can't. All Che wants is a girl friend, to spar, and to return home to Australia. That doesn't seem like too much to ask for, but somehow getting what you want isn't always the right thing.

The support characters are also good. Che's confused parents who are in denial, his girlfriend, his friends. They are all people you can imagine, can picture, would want to know. All of them except Rosa. And Che's parents. They creep me out.

I'm not really sure what to say about this book except that it is good, and psychologically creepy. And well done. 

Challenges for which this counts:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sunday Salon: February 19, 2017

My life in books:
It's been a slow two weeks of reading! Since my last Sunday Salon that talked about books I've read the following books:

My life outside books:
Rain. We've had rain in southern California. There is new growth on the plants, the ground is actually wet, and the flowers are blooming (they think it's spring already). In fact, on Friday we had a major storm come through the area. It created mud slides, sink holes, creeks running over, etc. At many points during the day we were getting an inch of rain per hour. All that, but our local reservoir is still only at 34%. Yikes!

The past two weeks have really flown by. Work is going well; I feel as if I am getting the hang of the new job, the ideas are flowing, and I am getting into a good rhythm. In fact, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the amount that I have to do now! But, that's exciting.

I've been watching Netflix's "Stranger Things" on recommendation from a couple colleagues. I like the 1980s aspects to it, but am not really a fan of the alien-esque part of it. But, it's only 8 episodes so I will finish the first season, however, I won't watch season 2. Since this is a four-day weekend for me I plan to watch "13th," which is about the 13th amendment.

My daughter has joined the track team at her school. My daughter. Track. Hmmmmm. She is a dancer who, since the age of 7 has not done a team/organized sport. And she isn't a runner so needless to say she's been in pain during this first week of practices. In fact, she's signed on to do pole vaulting. She is just over 5 feet tall. This should be interesting. :-)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Review: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Title: Hillbilly Elegy
Author: J.D. Vance
Year Published: 2016

Genre: Adult non-fiction
Pages: 257
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)USA (OH, KY)

FTC Disclosure: I borrowed this book from my dad

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis--that of poor, white Americans. The disintegration of this group, a process that has been slowly occurring ow for over forty years, has been reported with growing ten about as searingly from the inside. In Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hanging around your neck. 

The Vance family story began with hope in post-war America. J.D.'s grandparents were "dirt poor and in love" and moved north from Kentucky's Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually one of their grandchildren would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of success in achieving generational upward mobility. But as the family saga Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that J.D.'s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, never fully escaping the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. With piercing honesty, Vance shows how he himself still carries around the demons of his chaotic family history.

Review: My brother sent this to my dad for my dad's Birthday and my dad passed it on to me. It is not only interesting, but timely. First, I thought "hillbilly" was a negative and derogatory term, but the author seems to claim it for himself, his family, his friends, and neighbors who all live in Kentucky. So, hillbilly it is.

This book is interesting as a sociological look at a group of people in my country with whom I never have contact: mostly poor, working class, southern, conservative, Christians who have not experienced higher education. Living in southern California, that group seems foreign to me. More foreign than the Latino population in my town, many of whom truly are from another country! I hope that doesn't come off badly. I just think we forget how big this country is and how diverse all the pockets really are. I (we?) tend to think of diversity in terms of race, but really, social class and religion play a huge role as well.

Vance's story of growing up in southwest Ohio, with vacation visits to eastern Kentucky, made me realize how Trump got elected president. Vance talks about the lack of jobs and opportunity in general, the attitude of inertia, and the simple way that hillbillies view the world. I don't mean simple as in bad or stupid, but simple as in life is straightforward. The Democrats didn't have a chance with their intellectual and long explanation of policy.

The most fascinating part of the book for me was the end when the author discusses his time at Yale Law School. It seems that is the time and place where his culture clashed most with his surroundings. He encounters people who have lived a completely different life from his own and he realizes that his fellow students have had vastly different experiences from his own that allow them to make assumptions about things he didn't even know existed (and easy example is the multitude of silverware at a dinner party or trusting people you don't know).

Challenges this counts for:

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: Rani Patel in Full Effect by Sonia Patel

Title: Rani Patel in Full Effect
Author: Sonia Patel
Year Published: 2015

Genre: YA fiction
Pages: 301
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map): USA (HI)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book for myself

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): Almost seventeen, Rani Patel appears to be a kick-ass Indian girl breaking cultural norms as a hip-hop performer in full effect. But in truth, she's a nerdy flat-chested nobody who lives with her Gujarati immigrant parents on the remote Hawaiian island of Moloka'i, isolated from her high school peers by the unsettling norms of Indian culture where "husband is God." Her parents' traditionally arranged marriage is a sham. Her dad turns to her for all his needs—even the intimate ones. When Rani catches him two-timing with a woman barely older than herself, she feels like a widow and, like widows in India are often made to do, she shaves off her hair. Her sexy bald head and hard-driving rhyming skills attract the attention of Mark, the hot older customer who frequents her parents' store and is closer in age to her dad than to her. Mark makes the moves on her and Rani goes with it. He leads Rani into 4eva Flowin', an underground hip hop crew—and into other things she's never done. Rani ignores the red flags. Her naive choices look like they will undo her but ultimately give her the chance to discover her strengths and restore the things she thought she'd lost, including her mother.

Review: I have heard a lot of good things about this book so was really looking forward to reading it. And, I felt the need for a quick YA read. But, it turns out this wasn't really a quick read for me! I had trouble getting into it, but then tonight I read the second half of the book in one sitting. Go figure.

Knowing that the author lives on Moloka'i, loves hip hop and rap, and is a psychiatrist really makes this story a powerful one. First, it's set in a place that the author knows well and that shows: she includes details that a local knows in both the scenery and the way the people talk and interact with one another. It definitely reminded me of the people I know from Hawai'i and from when I've visited.

Second, the infusion of rap is really interesting. I felt like I got to know a different, inner, side of Rani when she rapped and I can understand the power she gets from performing having had a daughter who was a dancer. They seem transformed when they are on stage and the confidence that comes from those performances is priceless.

Rani has suffered incest from years and I cannot even begin to imagine the damage that does to someone. However, Sonia Patel has had many patients suffer the same injustice so she has material from which to draw. I really felt Rani's emotional attachment to inappropriate men was spot on and very well done. She knew she was making mistakes, her friends told her she was living dangerously, but she couldn't stop herself. And her mother pretending it wasn't true is also realistic.

I won't ruin the end, but I like the direction it went. It wasn't all "happy ever after" because that isn't realistic, but it also felt right.

Challenges for which this book qualifies:

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Night of Many Dreams by Gail Tsukiyama

Title: Night of Many Dreams
Author: Gail Tsukiyama
Year Published: 2015

Genre: Adult fiction
Pages: 275
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location (my 2017 Google Reading map)Hong Kong and USA (CA)

FTC Disclosure: I bought this book for myself

Summary (from the inside flap of the book): As World War II threatens their comfortable life in Hong Kong, young Joan and Emma Lew escape with their family to spend the war years in Macao. When they return home, Emma develops a deep interest in travel and sets her sights on an artistic life in San Francisco, while Joan turns to movies and thoughts of romance to escape the pressures of her real life. As the girls become women, each follows a path different from what her family expects. But through periods of great happiness and sorrow, the sisters learn that their complicated ties to each other--and to the other members of their close-knit family--are a source of strength as they pursue their separate dreams.

Review: Gail Tsukiyama. What can I say? I LOVE her books. On this blog I have reviewed The Language of A Thousand Threads, Women of the Silk, and one of my all-time favorite books is her Samurai's Garden.

I think I say this every time I review one of Tsukiyama's books, but I love the gentle writing. Even when there is conflict, I feel as if I am in a quiet place. The descriptions of the clothing, the city scenes, the characters' feelings; all are so vivid that I can picture them. And I was in Hong Kong many years ago, but can visualize the places that Emma and Joan visited.

This book really is about relationships: those of mother-daughter as well as sister-sister. And Auntie Go's relationship with her nieces who are like daughters to her. It's about women finding their way in the world, going against what is expected, while still trying to make their family and themselves happy. I do wish we saw more of Foon, the servant/cook. I think there is a book in her version of the story and her life since she is the care taker of the family, the one who sees it all and makes sure everyone is okay.

I was definitely caught up in the story of these two sisters and I enjoyed that chapters were told from both of their perspectives, as well as occasionally by Auntie Go. It gives the reader insight into various characters' feelings, actions, and reflections on events. If you want to read a book that is relationship-driven then I highly recommend this one.

Challenges for which this book qualifies: