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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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Book Review: The Third Son

Posted by gck Wednesday, April 24, 2013 0 comments

thirdsonThe Third Son by Julie Wu

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: fans of Lisa See
Received ARC copy through NetGalley.

Book 13 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
It’s 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. The least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise. Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival. Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history—as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.

My review:
It seems common in Chinese historical fiction for a female main character to go through a great amount of suffering. I suppose it was a “nice” change in this piece of Taiwanese historical fiction for a man to have the suffering instead. And he certainly had to face a lot of difficult challenges in this novel!

I really enjoyed the setting of this novel, much of it taking place in a Taiwan that many people in American don’t know about. I showed a friend the description of the book, and she remarked, “Saburo doesn’t sound like a very Chinese name to me.” The Japanese occupation of Taiwan isn’t often studied in schools here, but it’s important because the influences remain very strong in the country to this day. I enjoyed reading about the Taiwan of the Japanese, followed by what happened when the Chinese Nationalists took over.

Another bright spot in The Third Son is the main character of Saburo. He is an untraditional scholar, a hands-on self-learner instead of a proper student. He is rebellious and speaks his mind, and he is forced to aim for success in unconventional ways. It brought a smile to my face each time his true intelligence managed to win over politics or trickery. His character is one that is very different from the Asian male stereotype.

Though I was constantly rooting for Saburo to succeed, I didn’t feel a strong emotional connection, especially in relation to the love story between him and Yoshiko. This was the main thing that kept the book from being one that I absolutely loved. However, I still enjoyed it a lot, and I look forward to reading more from this author.

Book Review: The Shoemaker’s Wife

Posted by gck Monday, April 22, 2013 0 comments

shoemakerswifeThe Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Recommended for: Epic historical fiction fans

Book 12 of 52 in the “Around the World” Challenge

Back-cover summary:
The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza's family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.

Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.

From the stately mansions of Carnegie Hill, to the cobblestone streets of Little Italy, over the perilous cliffs of northern Italy, to the white-capped lakes of northern Minnesota, these star-crossed lovers meet and separate, until, finally, the power of their love changes both of their lives forever.

My review:
I was craving an epic story when I picked up The Shoemaker’s Wife for book club, and I didn’t even realize it until the end. I loved the stories of Ciro, Enza, and their families and friends, weaving in and out of each other’s lives. I loved how the saga moved from location to location, sweeping me into a different world each time.

My favorite parts of the book were the parts set in the Italian Alps (what a beautiful setting!) and New York City. When the setting switched to Minnesota, the story was less enchanting, and the pace seemed to speed up at that point.

At book club, I found myself saying, “I don’t know why they called it The Shoemaker’s Daughter. That wasn’t even a big part of the book.” Fortunately, the rest of my book club was paying attention and corrected my misreading of the title. Still, I feel like the title didn’t properly sum up the book. While I’m glad the title gave Enza the credit as the main focus, she was so much more than a shoemaker’s wife, and her story was bigger than that, too.

Book Review: Gone Girl

Posted by gck Wednesday, April 3, 2013 0 comments

8442457Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Genre: Thriller, Mystery, Suspense
Rating: ****1/5 (out of 5)
Recommended for: people who enjoy psychological thrillers, anyone looking for a page-turner

Back-cover summary:
Marriage can be a real killer.

On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears from their rented McMansion on the Mississippi River. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy's diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer?

As the cops close in, every couple in town is soon wondering how well they know the one that they love. With his twin sister, Margo, at his side, Nick stands by his innocence. Trouble is, if Nick didn’t do it, where is that beautiful wife? And what was in that silvery gift box hidden in the back of her bedroom closet?

My review:
I’m not generally a thriller reader. It’s not that I dislike the genre as a whole, but I’m the type of reader who won’t be satisfied with a good plot if I have no interest in the characters. Too many of the thrillers I read end up with flat characters. Not this one. This is a psychological thriller – a lot of the mystery is who to trust, what the motives and personalities of the characters really are. Perfect type of book for me.

It seems like half of the world has read this book by now, but I managed to go into it with no preconceptions or spoilers. I read no reviews, only looked at overall ratings. This definitely made the reading experience better. So this review will be vague and short because I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone else by being specific about what I liked. It’s masterful how everything unfolds.

This book totally deserves to be as popular as it is. C’mon, book industry… more psychological thrillers, fewer vampire teen romances, okay?