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.

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Book Review: Naamah’s Blessing by Jacqueline Carey

Naamahs Blessing.jpgTitle: Naamah’s Blessing
Author: Jacqueline Carey
Series: Moirin Trilogy, Book 3; Kushiel’s Universe, Book 9
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Hardcover: 610 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Returning to Terre d’Ange, Moirin finds the royal family broken. Wracked by unrelenting grief at the loss of his wife, Queen Jehanne, King Daniel is unable to rule. Prince Thierry, leading an expedition to explore the deadly jungles of Terra Nova, is halfway across the world. And three year old DesirĂ©e is a vision of her mother: tempestuous, intelligent, and fiery, but desperately lonely, and a vulnerable pawn in a game of shifting political allegiances.

As tensions mount, King Daniel asks that Moirin become DesirĂ©e’s oath-sworn protector. Navigating the intricate political landscape of the Court proves a difficult challenge, and when dire news arrives from overseas, the spirit of Queen Jehanne visits Moirin in a dream and bids her undertake an impossible quest.

Another specter from the past also haunts Moirin. Travelling with Thierry in the New World is Raphael de Mereliot, her manipulative former lover. Years ago, Raphael forced her to help him summon fallen angels in the hopes of acquiring mystical gifts and knowledge. It was a disastrous effort that nearly killed them, and Moirin must finally bear the costs of those bitter mistakes.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

I can’t begin to express how much I adore these books. I started with Kushiel’s Dart in about 2007 and have read about one a year until I’ve now finally finished the overall series. These books are so immersive that I like taking my time through them and just enjoying the experience of reading about Phedre, or Imriel, or Moirin. It’s been a long journey with this series and I’m sad to see it end, but this series has been wonderful.

This book is the third of Moirin’s trilogy and the 9th of the Kushiel’s universe. Overall, Moirin’s series is a much different flavor from that of Phedre’s or Imriel’s, but this book is the closest to having the fully developed political scheming and intrigues as the first two trilogies. I greatly enjoyed the first two trilogies for including such in-depth political scheming and reading about how religion and relationships all played into how a country is run and how decisions are made.

It’s hard to go into depth without revealing spoilers, but this book is generally about tying up loose ends, since it is, after all, the last Terre d’Ange book. Basically, Moirin goes on a jungle adventure to save Jehanne’s daughter from being taken advantage of by people trying to raise their status in the realm, and to save the Courcel family in general. She has to finally face up to her past mistakes and make them right, which allows her to show how much she has grown and learned from her past adventures.

One thing that has always impressed me about these books, and continued to impress me in Naamah’s Blessing is just how difficult Carey makes it for her characters — they are not given easy choices to make and are put in just awful situations. The one that hurt me the most, at least, was when Moirin has to choose between remaining faithful to her husband or staying a night with a powerful man in order to move her expedition forward and basically save her country. With the previous books and with the Kushiel series in general, it’s obvious what choice she ends up making, but it’s a rough one and being married to someone I love wholeheartedly, I can’t imagine being in the same situation. (Luckily, we don’t live in a fantasy novel, so I doubt we’ll ever have to worry about that.)

I think that this was a fitting end to a wonderful series — loose ends are tied up and everyone seems to be fairly happy for the most part. I like that we’re able to return to Alba with Moirin so we can see her mother again. It really felt like everything came full circle, and while this wasn’t my favorite of the Kushiel trilogies, it was so, so nice to be back in Terre d’Ange one last time. If you like fully developed fantasies, you should try starting with Kushiel’s Dart. These books are long and the first 6 books of the series have a lot more to do with sex and romance, but they are intelligently written and have such wonderful characters to fall in love with.

Book Review: Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie Vaughn

Kitty and the Midnight Hour by Carrie VaughnTitle: Kitty and the Midnight Hour
Author: Carrie Vaughn
Series: Kitty Norville, Book 1
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Paperback: 259 pages
Source: Chicago Public Library
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

Kitty Norville is a midnight-shift DJ for a Denver radio station – and a werewolf in the closet. Her new late-night advice show for the supernaturally disadvantaged is a raging success, but it’s Kitty who can use some help. With one sexy werewolf-hunter and a few homicidal undead on her tail, Kitty may have bitten off more than she can chew?

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

This has been on my to-read list for a WHILE, but there’s only so much paranormal romance I can read at once, so between Jeaniene Frost, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, and Kelley Armstrong, I’ve been pretty booked — so to speak. But, I’ve finally found the time to read this, and I am glad I did.

My favorite part is that the supernatural world is actually portrayed by Kitty as being weird. She doesn’t blindly accept werewolf rules and completely buy into the alpha/pack thing — it freaks her out and she’s constantly trying to reconcile what she knows as a human and how she feels as a wolf, which was interesting and unique, at least in terms of comparing to other paranormal books I’ve read. I also like that she starts off as the bottom of the pack and has that conflict between her human life and wolf life. Basically, Vaughn does a great job in contrasting Kitty’s wolf and human life and putting them in constant conflict. It makes for an engaging read.

I do think the “romance” between Kitty and the hunter was handled a little clumsily. I get that they need to have somewhat of an attraction for each other in order to move the story forward, but I think it was rather awkwardly fast, even with all of the drama going on. As a rule, I don’t particularly like how a lot of romance is done in books anyway, so I’m getting used to getting disappointed by strangely unrealistic portrayals of relationships.

Overall, this book surprised me quite a bit and I enjoyed the picture it painted of the supernatural world and how it interacts with the human world. In the future books, I’m hoping to see more consequences from Kitty openly admitting to being supernatural, and hopefully I get to see more of this world at work and how other packs/supernaturals interact with each other. We’ll see how quickly it’ll take me to get to book 2. :p