Book Review: Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

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Title: Pachinko
Author: Min Jin Lee
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 496 pages
Source: BEA 2016
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A new tour de force from the bestselling author of Free Food for Millionaires, for readers of The Kite Runner and Cutting for Stone.

PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them all. Deserted by her lover, Sunja is saved when a young tubercular minister offers to marry and bring her to Japan.

So begins a sweeping saga of an exceptional family in exile from its homeland and caught in the indifferent arc of history. Through desperate struggles and hard-won triumphs, its members are bound together by deep roots as they face enduring questions of faith, family, and identity.

*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher from BEA 2016.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

When Andrew and I went to BEA 2016, this cover really stood out to us. There were only a few copies available and it was a fairly thick book, so we only picked up a copy for ourselves instead of also getting another copy for his classroom. I am SO glad we decided on grabbing it, because it’s been one of my favorite reads this year and I can’t wait to see how it’ll be received by everyone when it comes out.

Pachinko is a story that follows the life of Sunja, the daughter of a Korean couple who own a boardinghouse by the sea. It starts off by detailing her father’s life, then goes through the generations starting with Sunja herself, and then her son’s life, and finally her grandon’s life. It’s told through multiple perspectives, though it tends to focus more on Sunja’s family.

This is a story about what it meant to be Korean living under the shadow of Japan during World War II, what it meant to be Korean in the aftermath of World War II, and the sacrifices people make to ensure the survival and happiness of their future family members.

Pachinko is well developed and complex in its details of how these characters would have lived their lives during this time. I feel like the story of how Korea and its people lived under the rule of Japan around the time of World War II is largely untold and untaught — at least, it is in American public schools. While it is devastating in its bleakness, I enjoyed learning at least a little bit about this country and I feel as though I have a slightly deeper view of the world during World War II because of this book. Lee did an amazing job with her research in being able to trace how Japan acted towards Korea across these decades and showing it within the context of her story.

I was surprised by the pacing in this book. Usually, I find sagas to be just a tad on the slow side, and was a little worried when I saw that this story spanned generations, but while it’s comprehensive, the story moves steadily along, hitting the important parts and then skipping over the years when it needs to progress.

Given the different characters and the length of time this novel spans, I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better as a short story cycle. It almost had that feel to it, and I think there were moments that would have been heightened had it been written in such a format. I don’t think that the story significantly suffers from it being written as a novel, but I do think that the way its constructed is almost an in-between novel and short story cycle, which sometimes took me out of the story a little bit to try to figure out what sort of format this is. Not a huge complaint or anything — just a thought.

For me, the first part of the book was the strongest and most compelling. My favorite part was reading about how much Sunja would sacrifice and how hard she would work to give her family the best chance possible. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in historical fiction. The characters and the writing itself are beautiful, and as I’ve said, it provides an interesting look at a culture that I don’t think we often get to learn about.

Manga Series Review: Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto

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Title: Naruto, Volumes 1-72
Author: Masashi Kishimoto
Publisher: VIZ Media
Source: Chicago Public Library – Overdrive
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

In another world, ninja are the ultimate power—and in the village of Konohagakure live the stealthiest ninja in the world. But twelve years ago Konohagakure was attacked by a fearsome threat—a nine-tailed fox demon which claimed the life of the Hokage, the village champion. Today, peace has returned, and a troublemaking orphan named Uzumaki Naruto is struggling to graduate from the Ninja Academy. His goal: to become the next Hokage. But unknown to Naruto and his classmates, within him is a terrifying force…

Overall Rating: 5 out of 5

I started watching the Naruto anime years and years ago, but it went on for so long that I was never able to finish, let alone get into Shippuden. Then, Andrew started getting into more anime and manga stuff and agreed to watch the series with me. We just barely made it to the Shippuden anime series before the wonderful Chicago Public Library released the entire manga series on Overdrive. My local branch of the library doesn’t have a lot of manga, so I requested a volume or two once in a while, but didn’t get very far into the manga series, so this release was HUGE. I could read it on my computer and not have to deal with waiting a week for it to ship to my branch. At the same time, Andrew and I cancelled our CrunchyRoll subscription, so we didn’t have access to Shippuden anymore. So, he started reading the manga as well.

Without giving spoilers, I’m going to sum up my feelings of the series as a whole — all 72 volumes. It starts off as a bit of a fun story, with Naruto trying to become a ninja and being loudmouthed about how he’s going to be Hokage someday, but quickly takes a bit of a darker turn. They are, after all, ninja and are very often in real danger when they take on their missions. Kishimoto doesn’t hold back when he crafts the story — the battles and dangers are high-stakes and even at 11 years old, the characters fight for their lives. I enjoyed this, because being a ninja would be dangerous, so I appreciated that this series had that level of honesty and genuineness.

My favorite parts, however, are the characters. You can tell that Kishimoto loves what he does, because there’s a wonderful playfulness to the characters that drew me in and made me fall in love with them. Each character has their own flaws and personalities, but you see that they are generally good people who care about their friends and their families. They work hard to protect them and when there’s danger, they all come together to fight against it. The series shines when the characters are given a chance to go above and beyond for their comrades, and this series is, in the end, a series about what it means to be friends.

Though it’s a long series, I would say it’s worth it. It’s almost bittersweet that we’ve finished it. We spent the better part of the year reading the manga together, talking about new developments and following the characters in their journey. Unlike the anime, which dragged on with filler episodes, the manga is perfect. Some things drag on, but the pacing is overall great for the story. It’s made me laugh out loud and cry, sometimes both at once. And while everything isn’t over-explained in the final volume, all my questions were answered satisfactorily. I loved reading about Naruto’s story and his journey to becoming an adult. There’s a reason why this is such a popular series — it’s really, really good. If anything about it at all interests you even in the slightest, I’d highly recommend getting started on it.

Beauty Review: Sephora Rouge Shine Lipstick – Honeymoon

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I got this on sale at Sephora and thought that I’d give it a shot. I love collecting different color lipsticks so I can have something for every occasion, and I tend to be drawn more towards corals, pinks, and reds, so I thought I’d do something different. Honeymoon is listed as a glossy, semi-sheer toasted taupe.

Here are the comparisons:

Basic makeup – Foundation, Blush & Mascara
Basic makeup + Sephora Rouge Shine: Honeymoon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And for the closeups:

Makeup free lips
Sephora Rouge Shine Lipstick – Honeymoon

 

 

 

 

 

VERDICT

It’s definitely a sheerer lipstick and has a very neutral color. While it is highly moisturizing, it doesn’t really have any staying power. I would never use this for a night out, because the second I drank or ate anything, it’d completely rub off. I use it as a step up from chapstick, basically. Someone decides to take pictures during a day of hanging out, and I don’t want to look completely washed out? This lipstick comes out. It’s good for a quick fix to add a little color and shine to your lips. Be prepared for lots of transferring and rubbing off. I don’t think I’d buy this again, to be honest. I’d use a tinted chapstick instead.

New Year’s Resolutions – 2017

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Making resolutions at the start of each year used to be almost like a religious task for me. We were never very religious in my family, but I took resolutions seriously — working for weeks to make the perfect goals that would help me be a better, happier person. Unfortunately, that activity dropped off once I went into grad school. I was already working so hard on my education and my degree that I couldn’t imagine expending even more effort into making personal goals aside from that. However, even after graduating and earning my degree, I didn’t pick up the habit again.

With all that happened in 2016, and after seeing all the hate and vitriol spewing into the internet from people’s keyboards, I think a lot of us need to make goals to help ourselves be happier, kinder people. True, many of us did not call each other terrible names or dehumanize each other, but with what we’re already dealing with, even voicing one unkind thought is voicing one too many, especially when it’s at the sacrifice of legitimizing someone else’s concerns and humanity. Life is hard and I don’t see why any of us think it’s okay to make it even harder for each other.

So, here’s to a better, kinder, more thoughtful year, and here are my resolutions:

  1. When compelled to say something unkind, take 10 seconds to breathe and come up with a more positive, productive response that will allow us to both treat each other with respect, as if we were fellow humans.
  2. Be more vocal — about my appreciation and gratitude for others and reach out to friends and family at least every other week; stand up against hate.
  3. Do something for a charity or good cause at least once a month, whether it’s donating, volunteering, or even something as simple as talking about a cause that’s doing good work.
  4. Laugh AT LEAST once a day.
  5. Be active for 20 minutes at least 3 times a week.
  6. Post more regularly on the blog this year.

I think these are very simple, and I’m working on the things I think I have the most trouble with. I’m looking forward to being more mindful about how I treat myself and others, and I can’t wait to make this year a great one.

Happy 2017!

We Made: Steak with Chimichurri

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It was my birthday last week, so my husband went all out on the dinner front and got crazy fancy with his cooking. When he asked me what I wanted for my birthday meal, I really had no clue about what I wanted as the main part of the meal, but I opted in for cream cheese mashed potatoes and brown sugar glazed carrots as sides (two of my absolute favorites). It was his job then to look up what he thought would go well with that, and he decided on steak with chimichurri.

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Chimichurri

Overall, it wasn’t too difficult to make — we made the chimichurri a day in advance, because Andrew thought it’d be best to let all those flavors soak together. Then, we marinated the steak in the chimichurri at the same time, so it’d have 24 hours to soak up some of that flavor too.

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Steak is marinated and ready to cook!

After taking the steak out, we cooked the steak in a cast iron skillet, 5 minutes on each side, and then let it rest.

Letting that cook for just a little bit.
Resting steak

It was pretty easy and our smoke alarm only went off about 4 times during the entire process, which wasn’t too bad at all!

Delicious, delicious food — Happy birthday to me!

It was an AMAZING birthday dinner and I continue to be grateful for being married to a man who knows how to cook. (I did the carrots and helped with the potatoes!)

If you’re interested in trying it yourself, we adapted our steak recipe from Mark Bittman’s grilled steak recipe — so go ahead and click on that and share with us how you liked it!

We’re Moving!

As a new year’s present to myself, I’ve decided to get my own domain for the blog (and in the process do a little rebranding), so this is an announcement to say that we will be moving to Purple People Readers!

We will still be posting here for another month or so, but eventually we’ll fully move to the other blog, so please go over there to follow us. We’re really excited about this new change and hope to see you on our new site!

Book Review: The Princess of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen

princess-of-trelianTitle: The Princess of Trelian
Author: Michelle Knudsen
Series: Trelian, Book 2
Publisher: Candlewick
Hardcover: 448 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The hundred-year war with Kragnir is over, and Meg will soon be named the princess-heir of Trelian. But her connection to her dragon, Jakl, is making her parents’ subjects uneasy. Will they ever accept this dragon princess as their future queen? It doesn’t help that Meg is suffering horrible nightmares and sudden, uncontrollable rages—and with the link joining them, Jakl is feeling the rages, too. Meg is desperate to talk to Calen, to see if he can help her figure out what is happening and how to stop it before she or her dragon does something terrible…

Meanwhile, Calen is having troubles of his own. He’s far away, gone off with Mage Serek to receive his first true mage’s mark. But his marking ceremony is disrupted by a mysterious magical attack, and ominous prophecies predict a terrifying new danger. The Magistratum’s greatest enemy may soon reappear—and the other mages believe that Calen himself may have a hand in his return!

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Princess of Trelian is the sequel to The Dragon of Trelian, which I read a while ago. It continues to follow Princess Meg and Calen, emphasizing Meg’s struggle to balance her new connection with her dragon, Jakl, and her responsibilities as the heir of Trelian. Calen, on the other hand, is struggling with his desire to learn and master more of his magic while being prevented from doing so by his master, because mages with a predilection for foretelling are convinced that he will be a danger to the Magistratum.

Overall, I think this was a solid sequel. The characters are definitely growing in complexity and the pacing was well done — there weren’t any times when I was bored or I thought things were being glossed over. It has the problem of second books in a trilogy, though, where it’s really just setting things up for the sequel, and it does end on a bit of a cliffhanger. However, it still manages to have plenty of action and adventure for all of that, and I enjoyed the fact that those action sequences didn’t seem so conveniently easy to get out of. One of my biggest pet peeves in fiction is when the heroes are unstoppable and there’s tons of buildup to something, and then they solve it in a few pages. That does not happen in this book — the characters are sufficiently challenged with what they have to accomplish, which makes for an entertaining read.

My one complaint is the relationship between Meg and her parents. All three characters are either far too understanding or far too harsh (whichever is more convenient to the plot) at different times, and there isn’t much in the way of consistency. I didn’t mind this so much from Meg’s character, because she is growing up and is just learning how to handle herself and anticipate the end-results from her actions and attitudes, but it wasn’t explained why fully grown adults (who are rulers, no less) were acting rashly,  and it bothered me a bit.

However, I thought this was enjoyable and would have LOVED it as a pre-teen, so I think it hits the right marks for its intended audience. I can’t yet recommend the series without having read the final book, but I will say that the first two books are a solid start to a decent fantasy series.

Audiobook Review: Donny’s Brain by Rona Munro

donnys-brain-by-rona-munroTitle: Donny’s Brain
Author: Rona Munro
Narrator: Full Cast
Publisher: LA Theatre Works
Duration: 1 hour, 27 minutes
Source: Audiobook Sync
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

The acclaimed Scottish playwright Rona Munro has created a remarkable story about a man who wakes up from a car crash with brain damage. Now, he sees the world as the person he was three years ago, when his life and loves were in a very different place.

An L.A. Theatre Works full cast performance featuring:

Jared Harris as Donny
Sophie Winkleman as Emma
Siobhan Hewlett as Trish
Moira Quirk as Flea
Paul Fox as Al

Directed by Martin Jarvis.

Donny’s Brain is part of L.A. Theatre Works’ Relativity Series featuring science-themed plays. Major funding for the Relativity Series is provided by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, to enhance public understanding of science and technology in the modern world.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I downloaded Donny’s Brain during the Audiobook Sync promotion and finally got a chance to listen to it! I feel like the LA Theatre Works audiobooks are very much hit-or-miss for me. Obviously, I would prefer to actually watch the play and think that some are more suited than others for audiobooks, but this one worked fairly nicely as an audiobook!

Basically, Donny has been in a car accident and has brain damage. His memory has been set back some years, so he remembers loving and being married to a woman who is now his ex-wife, and can’t remember his current wife at all. And I thought some past situations I had involving exes were awkward —

This play revolves around relationships and basically how hard it is to communicate and be in a relationship. Sometimes, we guess at what people are intending when it’s not really what they mean to say or do, and sometimes we completely misremember events to make us out to be better than we actually are/were in the situation. This play goes into all of these things and involves some really interesting aspects of people not really remembering what went wrong, what went right, or what even happened. There’s even an ironic aspect of maybe the guy with brain damage remembers the most clearly, after all. It’s short, sweet, and drives the point home that when relationships don’t work out, it’s most likely the fault of both parties in some way or another.

Overall, this listening experience was enjoyable. The actors did a lovely job and having it be full cast really helped me follow the story. If you have an hour and a half to spare, I think this is worth your time.

We Made: Dijon Roasted Chicken

A few months ago, Andrew and I decided to make the plunge and commit to a wine club; we joined ClubW (now Winc), the online wine club loved and frequently recommended by one of our favorite YouTubers, Hannah Hart. When we were going through our latest shipment, we were taking a look at the chardonnay Winc promised that we’d love.

Usually, Andrew and I do NOT like chardonnay, but when seeing that it was recommended to us, we were intrigued. What could possibly be different about this chardonnay? Really, it’s the oak that gets to us. We’ve often said before that if we could find a non-oak aged chardonnay, we’d probably love it. What got us on the description was that it said it had hints of “butterscotch” in it, and while it didn’t say it wasn’t oaky, it didn’t say it was either, so we took a chance.

Winc is great, because they send you flavor profile cards for each wine you order, online with matching recipes. On the back of the tasting profile for Wayward Co. Chardonnay, there was a very simple-seeming, delicious looking recipe for Dijon Roasted Chicken that was supposed to pair well with the wine. We made a plan for making the chicken on Saturday and finally drinking the wine with a paired recipe.

It really was very simple to make — like something I could have done myself and not even needed Andrew for his cooking prowess. Though, I’m glad he was there, because I’m not sure I would have held up well to unwrapping the chicken and rinsing it off. We have food preparation gloves so we don’t have to actually touch meat, but blech. Anyway, we just got the chicken ready, rubbed some mustard on it, rubbed some vegetable oil on it, popped it in the oven for an hour or so, and voila! Delicious, delicious chicken.

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The outside looks dry in this picture, but what the mustard did was create a super flavorful crust on it that was incredible. The inside was perfectly moist and delicious (and we put a little dijon mustard dipping sauce for the dryer bits). Also, the wine totally went with the recipe! It was a great Saturday lunch and I’m so glad we’re taking advantage of this wine club thing the way we’re supposed to.

I love this part of marriage, where we get to plan something together and share what’s actually very simple: enjoying a meal with a glass  of wine. But, with Andrew, it becomes something special. Planning the meal, helping to cook the meal, working together to gather the ingredients and get the recipe right, double-checking with each other to see if the recipe makes sense and will turn out correctly. Or even just talking about how delicious the food is, and how the flavor goes with the wine and why it might work. I never used to want to get married, but now that I am, all I can be is grateful that this man is in my life and we get to share our meals and join wine clubs and plan out weekends like the one we just had.

Book Review: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend by Marie Lu.jpgTitle: Legend
Author: Marie Lu
Series: Legend, Book 1
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Hardcover: 305 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths—until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

I remember when Legend came out and people were raving about how awesome it was. The hype was so much that when Marie Lu went to the LA Festival of Books to sell signed copies, I stopped by her booth just so I could read it and see what the raving was all about. Of course, I’m terrible at reading books right away since my to-read list is ridiculously long, so now, years later, I am finally getting to see what the hype is all about.

Legend is yet another YA dystopia, this time in a world with a militaristic/war focus rather than an we-are-a-perfect-society focus. People who are born into wealthy families are groomed for the military so they can help in the Republic’s fight against the Colonies. June is a military prodigy — she’s smart, athletic, and can think outside the box, and is being groomed for a distinguished military career. She goes on the hunt for Day — who is also smart, athletic, and can think outside the box — the Republic’s most wanted criminal who grew up in a poor district in the Republic.

When Day allegedly commits a crime that hits home for June, she goes on the hunt for him to bring him to justice. What ends up happening is that they both learn a little bit more about what’s really going on behind the closed doors of the Republic.

This book is just straight enjoyable. I love that Lu kept it simple in terms of creating her world: no factions or groups for people to be sorted into, just poor and rich; military and civilian. Because of this, I think this book gives quite an amazing commentary on society in general in terms of how poverty is viewed and taken advantage of, and how people suffer under such strict hierarchical structures.

The conflicts within this world are revealed slowly — no information dumps!!! I enjoyed that I slowly got introduced to the complexities of the government and of what went on behind closed doors. I feel like this is the main reason why I enjoyed Legend. There’s an inherent conflict and pull in trying to figure out what exactly is going on with this dystopia — when the plot needed to stop for character development, I was pulled forward by what I wanted to know about this new world.

However, this book is fairly predictable — I don’t think there was one twist that I didn’t see coming. Also, I have a pet peeve about people being in a life-or-death situation, yet romance seems to be a priority. I get the whole young adult romance angle, but it bothers me, especially from characters who are supposed to be super intelligent, even if they are young.

With that said, I still thoroughly enjoyed the narrative of the book. It’s perfect amounts of tragic and heartwarming and I am very much looking forward to reading the sequels to see what exactly is going on with all the war stuff. I’d recommend this book for any dystopia lover. It’s not the best book I’ve ever read, but it’s certainly better than many other dystopias out there.