Pachinko

33905162Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Allison Hiroto

Source: library

Length: 18:16:00

Publisher: Blackstone Audio

Year: 2017, listened to 7/2/18 – 7/13/18

Pachinko is a multigenerational saga about a family of Koreans who have to move to Japan because…reasons. Initially, Sunja, the beloved daughter of two older parents (older in that they were early 20s when she was born in the early 20th century), gets pregnant. Her lover, she discovers after it’s too late, already has a wife in Japan. One of the boarders at her parents’ boardinghouse, a preacher traveling to his new church, offers to marry her. She accepts and goes with him to make a new life in Japan. Together, they raise their sons in Japan and the story follows four generations of their family, navigating through wars, cultural upheaval, and constantly being viewed as outsiders even when one is born in Japan.

It’s been a really interesting read, though I am finding that I’m just not generally a fan of multigenerational narratives. Not in one book, anyway. This started out strong and then got rushed near the end, like there are too many stories, too many characters, and too much to say to give much attention to any one of them. The same thing happened with Homegoing. I loved the first half of the book and then it just got too rushed and I didn’t get to know the characters as well. I think doing multigenerational sagas over several books is a better way to go.

That said, this was an excellent read, especially the first half, and I learned a ton about Korean culture that I had no idea about before. I didn’t know so many Koreans had moved to Japan, nor that Japan had occupied Korea. Education fail in a big way! The way some of the people felt like they had to “pass” as Japanese just to be allowed to live in peace and make a life for themselves was so sad. Now I want to reread Passing.

Overall, though I had my quibbles with it, I thoroughly enjoyed Pachinko and would recommend it as an excellent and eye-opening read.

Advertisements

French Women Don’t Get Fat

1320781French Women Don’t Get Fat by Mireille Guiliano

I read it as a: paperback

Source: my own collection

Length: 304 pp

Publisher: Vintage

Year: 2007

This book is about the French culture and how they manage to eat the foods they eat – lots of rich sauces and breads and wine and chocolate – without becoming obese the way so many Americans are. It’s the French Paradox, although I think that specific term was only used once in the whole book. I think that some people – a lot of people, actually, based on some of the criticism this book has received – might get defensive about what they view as an attack on American culture, or see it as fat shaming. But let’s face it: she’s right about a lot of things, like it or not. The main premise is simply to eat fresh, seasonal foods in moderation, get up off your lazy ass, eat with purpose and at an actual table off of actual plates with actual silverware, and drink a shitload of water. This isn’t a difficult concept to grasp, but I think American ideas of what is a portion are so overinflated that a correct portion seems like starvation rations. The entire framework requires a shift in mindset. It really struck me when Mireille wrote that French women are always thinking about good things to eat and American women are worrying about bad things to eat. I think that is true for many people, even those who are thin.

Throughout the book, Mireille tried to highlight the idea that food and eating should bring pleasure, not stress, anxiety, or shame. At the same time, she also stressed that there is no reason that pleasure from food implies it shouldn’t also be healthy. The concepts she claims are cultural to the French are very much common sense things that my own mother taught me. If you overindulge one day or one week, cut back a little until you feel back in balance. Don’t starve yourself. Have a good variety of foods that are in season. Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Walk or ride your bike to as many places as you can. I have a hard time with this one simply because it’s too hot to do that all the time where I live, and I also live in the suburbs. But when it isn’t over 90 (more often over 100), I do walk several times a week to the grocery store to buy what I need for a couple days. I make up for the lack of walking, which I love doing when it isn’t so hot it triggers a migraine, by going to my all-women’s studio gym, which I also love. I know Mireille hates the gym but I love beating the shit out of the mannequin Bob. I’m nicer after boxing. I take the stairs when I can, and I don’t park as close as I possibly can. I park where there is shade, no matter how far it is from where I need to go. When it gets cooler, I plan to get a bike and start riding it to the weekly farmer’s market. It should be fun, and buying fresh, local food items is a thing I support anyway. I’m rather looking forward to it!

There is also a huge component to eating at home and preparing your own meals. I think people now view cooking and food preparation as a tedious chore that has to be done, or else they don’t bother at all and just go out all the time or buy garbage you can throw in a microwave. And then kids have behavior problems because diet is absolutely linked to behavior. When my own kid eats healthy, she minds a lot better. She also has a healthier appetite when I don’t let her snack. She gets breakfast, lunch, a small afternoon snack, and dinner. She whines about it sometimes, especially if she’s been at my mom’s a lot because my stepdad eats constantly and she sees that bad example. When she gets back on a proper eating schedule, she eats well, and she is a lot more willing to try new foods. She also likes to  help me fix the meals on occasion, though I’m still trying to get her to understand that she has to follow a recipe until she learns what actually goes well together. But I try to make it fun and when she is able to make something well, she feels proud of herself. Cooking with my daughter is a lot of fun and is something I look forward to. It is my job to teach her how to be well and I see no reason why it should be a chore to do. There are a lot of recipes that were included in this book that we can try together that she would like. I also have a large collection of cookbooks that I use all the time, and I like to teach her how I plan a menu. She likes to pick out recipes so when I let her do that, it adds to her enjoyment of food and learning that it is a pleasurable thing to cook.

I liked that Mireille was careful to note that of course not every single French woman is thin. Being overweight or obese is a universal issue and not confined to American culture. It is, however, a lot more rare in France, where it is culturally ingrained to eat smaller portions, eat fresh and seasonal fruits and vegetables, walk everywhere as much as possible, linger over meals rather than cramming them down like you’re starving, drink tons of water, and any number of other things that Americans in general simply don’t do. Like it or not, the observations made in the book about American culture are pretty accurate. Some things may be a little out of touch, but overall, I thought this was a great intro to changing one’s mindset and relationship to food. Regardless of one’s social class or income, I think these basic rules are things most people can follow in their everyday life. It is just a matter of whether you want to or not.

Misfortune of Time (Druid’s Brooch #6)

40176383Misfortune of Time by Christy Nicholas

I read it as an: egalley

Source: Helen Hollick at  Discovering Diamonds. 

Length: my file only gave Kindle locations, not page numbers. Super annoying.

Publisher: Tirgearr Publishing

Year: 2018

*Minor spoilers ahead. You have been warned.*

In this sixth installment of Christy Nicholas’s Druid’s Brooch series, Etain, a 12th century Irish woman, has the ability not to age thanks to the magic she draws from her Druid’s brooch. The brooch is an heirloom inherited from her mother, passed down the family line, first given to her family by a Druid in thanks for saving his life. Etain is able to change her appearance at will, so she can age herself appropriately over the years, but her natural appearance is of a woman around 30 years old. In truth, she is around 150. She has had many husbands, many children, and has had to leave them all behind in her long life to avoid being discovered and killed as a witch or Fae. Her current husband, Airtre, is a mentally and physically abusive putrescence of a man, a Christian priest whose primary goal is to move up in the Church to a bishopric. Etain stays only to protect her young grandson, Maelan, from Airtre. When events explode, Etain is forced to flee, getting help from some unexpected allies, including other priests and monks, as well as a few kindly Fae.

I have read several books by Christy Nicholas, including some in the Druid’s Brooch series, and I must say I think this is my favorite one so far. The characters were all multidimensional and interesting, for the most part, and I enjoyed seeing a variety of people mingling together in the villages Etain traveled to, even if life wasn’t really like that in 12th century Ireland. I think she captured the fear and ambivalence of an abused woman well, though I hope I never truly understand that. Etain had a horrific life and it speaks to the strength of her spirit that she kept going and trying to survive rather than just giving up and letting some mad horde kill her as a witch, for the brooch can’t protect her from death.

I loved the theme of tolerance woven throughout, as well as the Gaelic hospitality. There were many instances of travelers or even old friends being offered food, drink, and washing water the moment they set foot indoors. I loved that because that’s how I was raised and it felt like home to see it reflected on the page. As well, the tolerance was a thread throughout. Etain has lived long enough to know that belief isn’t what is important, it is people who are important. She tells Maelan that “a little kindness can have unexpected rewards,” and often she herself has to remember her own lesson and take the kindness of others. Later, Maelan’s wife, Liadan, tells her, “Before I met [Aes], I didn’t realize pagans were just normal people like you and me.” Learning that people have more similarities than differences is a vital life lesson that many people today still need to learn.

The one thing I wish was different was that some of the narrative felt rushed. When Etain left Faerieland and settled in the ringfort, working in the kitchens, for example, little time was spent there, little real detail. The same happened before she entered Faerieland, when she was in the village and traded all her herbs for a cow. I wanted more detail and time spent in those places. Doing so, I feel, would give more of a sense of loss, of fatigue, because Etain was happy in both of those places and then was forced to go again. But these are minor quibbles in my overall enjoyment of this very engaging historical fantasy.

Also, it totally made me think of Dar Williams’ song The Christians and the Pagans.

The Pawns of Sion

51bvfgsfb0lThe Pawns of Sion by Scott Rezer

I read it as a: galley

Source: Helen HollickDiscovering Diamonds

Length: 445 pp

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Year: 2018

The Pawns of Sion is the sequel to Rezer’s first novel in this trilogy, The Leper King. This novel takes place following the death of Baldwin IV “the Leper,” King of Jerusalem. After Baldwin’s death, his young nephew, Baldwin V, the child of his sister Sibylla, reigned as king for a brief time as co-king with his uncle, and then on his own for just over a year until his own death. Sibylla and her half-sister, Isabella, are pawns in the games their men play to see who will be crowned next, for they are each next in line with legitimate claims to the throne. Throughout the political machinations of the Angevins and Lusignans, a young squire to Balian d’Ibelin learns that he is actually the illegitimate son of another lord, one of the main players in the political scheming taking place in Jerusalem. He also discovers that the woman tending to his dying mother is Mary Magdalene in disguise and that she is trying to find the Cup of Christ in order to prevent the Order of Sion, a shadowy demonic order, from destroying her and the Holy Land.

I had mixed feelings about this book. The writing is exciting, the characters are multidimensional and lifelike, the historical detail is accurate, and there is a lot of exciting action and adventure to keep anyone engaged. There is a  great deal to like. However, I had missed the first book of the series, so I was totally lost about the Order of Sion, which drew away from some of my enjoyment of it, through no real fault of the author. I do feel a little reminder or recap would serve well, though, just a short prologue or something, since otherwise I think this could be a good standalone novel. Also, the magic – yes, it is integral to the story, but it wasn’t really necessary, was it? It would have been a great story without magic and Mary Mag walking around, wouldn’t it? But it was still a fun read and I can cheerfully recommend it to readers who enjoy a bit of fantasy mixed with their history.

Mrs. Zant and the Ghost

28262527Mrs. Zant and the Ghost by Wilkie Collins

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Gillian Anderson

Source: my own collection

Length: 01:37:00

Publisher: Audible Studios

Year: 2015

Mrs. Zant and the Ghost starts off with a chance encounter in Kensington Park between Mrs Zant and Mr Rayburn and his daughter. Mrs Zant appears to be mad to young Lucy Rayburn and she is initially frightened by her. When Mr Rayburn approaches her, he realizes she might perhaps be ill and takes it upon himself to find where she lives so he might make sure she is being cared for. He becomes swept up in Mrs Zant’s drama, trapped in the clutches of her brother in law, who took over her care after his brother died just weeks after marrying Mrs Zant. She is convinced, and rightfully so, that the ghost of her husband is guiding her and protecting her. Ultimately, Mr Rayburn and Mrs Zant uncover the truth about her visions and her BIL’s motives.

A good old fashioned Gothic ghost story, told with the lovely, overblown language I expect from Victorian literature. I have to say that I do not understand Victorian mannerisms; Mr Rayburn would be a stalker today if he had followed some random woman home, no matter what his motives. To modern sensibilities, he seems pushy and nosy, but of course times change and we can’t judge another time by our own standards. Maybe it was better then since he is obviously concerned for her and acts upon it. Today, people ignore each other or hurt each other.

For sure, the best part was Gillian Anderson narrating this. I cheerfully admit I only got this because she was the narrator, but I enjoyed the story anyway. Her voice adds to the overall otherworldliness of the book’s tone. I don’t know if that’s a lingering effect of her being Scully or if it’s just because she has a nice voice but it worked. It is also fun to hear her natural British accent since she has been classified as bi-dialectical. I used to think first of Scully when I think of her, but more and more I’m thinking of her as DSI Stella Gibson than Dana Scully.

Overall, this was an interesting and fast read. Listen. Whatever. I was in the mood for a Victorian story and this scratched that itch quite nicely.

Coraline

13634292Coraline by Neil Gaiman

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Neil Gaiman

Source: public library, though I own a paperback copy that I flipped through as he read it to me

Length: 3:36:00

Publisher: Harper Audio

Year: 2003

Coraline Jones’s new flat has 13 doors that open and close. The 14th door is locked, and when Coraline’s mother uses the key to it, it opens onto a brick wall. She assumes it would have adjoined the empty flat next door but when Coraline goes exploring, she finds a hallway to another flat mirroring her own. In it are another mother and another father and all the same things Coraline is familiar with, only they are altered in a fundamental way. Everything is darker and more sinister. Her other mother wants to keep Coraline with her forever. To force Coraline to stay, the other mother steals Coraline’s real parents and hides them. Coraline, with the help of a very special cat, engages the other mother in a battle of wits to find the souls of three children she encountered while exploring the other world in exchange for her and her parents’ freedom.

I’ve read this many times before but don’t think I’ve ever actually reviewed it. Huh. Naturally, I loved it. In true Gaiman style, Coraline is a study in darkness and strangeness and creepy-crawly feelings that the things you thought you knew are just a little bit off somehow. It is just scary enough to be horrifying to younger readers but delightful to adults. Button eyes ought to be terrifying to anyone. I love the themes of liminal space, which Gaiman always includes in his writing and which he handles so beautifully. It is also an interesting thought exercise on what happens if you can get different parents, which is surely a thought that every child has had at one point or other. Who hasn’t thought at least once that they wish they could have parents that let them have everything they wanted? Coraline’s other mother tried it, though darkly, and Coraline herself came to the conclusion that nobody actually wants everything they want, they want to want everything they want. There’s a big difference, and it is an important lesson to learn the distinction between the two.

It was funny because I chose to listen to it on audiobook this time and one night around midnight, my phone randomly turned itself on and started playing this book. Normally, it would have scared the bejesus out of me to hear a voice talking in the middle of the night. However, I recognized Neil’s voice and it didn’t scare me at all. I thought it was lovely. Instead, it worked itself into my dreams and I had an anxiety dream because I was in the middle of replacing my floors and my house was a mess and my furniture was all over the house and covered in tile dust and my overriding worry was, “Where am I going to have Neil Gaiman sit?? I don’t have anywhere for him to sit that’s clean!” And then I woke up and realized that he wasn’t actually at my house, though that would have made my entire life, it was just my phone reading to me in the middle of the night in his voice.

Catch-Up Round: Megge of Bury Down; The Death Beat

megge-of-bury-down-rebecca-kightlinger-130x200Megge of Bury Down by Rebecca Kightlinger

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS

Length: 252 pp

Publisher: Zumaya Arcane

Year: 2018

In Kightlinger’s debut novel, Megge is a woman of Bury Down, a small village in the medieval Cornish countryside. To an outside observer, her life may seem ordinary enough. She lives with her mother, aunt, cousin, and great aunts, working as healers and tending their sheep. However, she is actually the latest in a long line of hedgewitches. When it is Megge’s turn to learn the secrets of her mother’s magical book on her sixth birthday, it calls her a murderer. Terrified, Megge refuses to have anything to do with her family’s traditions. Instead, she learns the trades of weaver and herder. However, when a horrific event takes place, Megge is forced to follow tradition and fight to keep the book out of the hands of wicked people.

There are many things to enjoy in this novel. The main characters all have depth and complexity, though a bit more character development is warranted since the novel covered many years. The descriptions of medieval life were adequate, but better-fleshed-out detail would have added to the atmosphere. The recurring theme “What people can’t see, they fear; what they fear, they hurt” was woven skillfully throughout the narrative. The plot, unfortunately, was quite slow-moving. While this is not a problem in itself, it is when nothing really advances the storyline. A lot of back story doled out piecemeal made for a somewhat choppy read.

Another quibble I had was the age range of the book. Megge is six when we meet her, and 13 by the end. Based on the characters’ ages, I’d say this is suitable for middle grade readers but given the violent content and slow pacing, the book is for adults (and is marketed as such). However, many adult readers may struggle to identify with such a young protagonist. The novel was enjoyable enough, but ultimately, I wanted to like it more than I actually did.

the-death-beat-fiona-veitch-smith-131x200The Death Beat by Fiona Veitch Smith

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS

Length: 336 pp

Publisher: Lion Fiction

Year: 2018

In this third installment of the Poppy Denby Investigates series, our titular heroine, burgeoning reporter Poppy Denby begins the novel enraged with her editor, Rollo Rolandson. He made a bet – and lost – that an editor from the NYT could increase the ad revenues of Rollo’s London-based The Daily Globe newspaper within three months. If he does, the new editor can buy 60% of the shares of the paper, effectively forcing Rollo out of the position of managing editor. During the three months the interim editor is trying to improve The Globe (and surely none of Rollo’s staff would sabotage his efforts…), Rollo leaves London as part of the terms of his lost bet; he takes Poppy along with him because since she’s been at the paper, ad revenues have gone way up and he doesn’t want her making money for the temporary editor. While they are in New York, they stumble upon a puzzle they have to solve involving human trafficking, forced prostitution, and immigration. Somehow linked is the murder of a New York socialite in his penthouse. Poppy and Rollo can’t let it go until they figure it out and get the inside scoop ahead of their competition in the cutthroat game of investigative reporting.

As with the previous two novels in the series, this was taut and entertaining. I liked Poppy’s development from the earlier books as well. She’s always been somewhat torn between the way she was raised as the daughter of a Methodist minister and her own desires as a career-minded young woman in the 1920s. Her inner conflict felt more pronounced to me in this book. Poppy had enlightened standards for how women should be treated that deviated quite a bit from her very traditional, conservative upbringing, which at times causes her stress. It fit in well with the blossoming awareness people were gaining about the conditions of immigrants or people forced to work in sweatshops or forced into prostitution. While it was fun to see 1920s New York, I confess I missed London. In any case, it was an exciting, well written story and a good addition to the series. Recommended.

Ellie’s Story

22238177Ellie’s Story by W. Bruce Cameron

I read it as a: hardback

Source: my daughter’s collection

Length: 208 pp

Publisher: Starscape

Year: 2015

My daughter and I read books together at bedtime, and we take turns picking which book to read. Last time, I chose The Hobbit; this was the one she chose to read. It is a cute story for little kids about a search and rescue dog named, surprisingly, Ellie. The narrative takes us from the time she’s a pup with her littermates to her first trainer, Jakob, learning how to do her job, and on to her second and presumably final trainer, Maya. Jakob teaches Ellie how to be a search and rescue dog, what it means to Work, and Find, and Show in relation to lost people. When Jakob is shot in the line of duty and retires, Maya takes Ellie and becomes her new partner. They work together for many years until an injury forces the police department to retire Ellie herself. Rather than not having any job for her dog to do, Maya convinces the PD to let her use Ellie as an outreach program dog, teaching the community about the important work search and rescue dogs do every day.

My daughter ate this book up. It took a while to get through it since we only read it together at night before bed, but it was sufficient to keep her engaged. It is definitely written for much younger or less skilled readers; I mostly found the stories of the rescues to be repetitive and a little boring after a while, but the basic story was good, and since it is for children, that’s just fine.

One thing I particularly liked was that there was room for discussion with my daughter about some of the bad things that can happen. When Ellie and Maya went to the site of an earthquake to search for people, there were a lot of casualties. It was not a gory or very upsetting scene, likely because the narrator is Ellie herself and she didn’t quite understand that the people she found were dead. She only thought they smelled odd and they weren’t happy to be found like normal, so that was upsetting to her. But I thought it was important to include a scenario in which not everyone was found, or wasn’t found alive. That’s real life and I think it’s important not to shelter children from that. We talked about that a little bit so that she could understand that sometimes bad things happen, but I also took that opportunity to remind her about Mr Rogers and the helpers.

Something I think was not at all well done was the way body image was addressed with regard to Maya. It is written in a way that makes her sound inadequate compared to her male counterparts who are also out of shape. She is described as being unable to keep up with Ellie or with other officers out in the field, huffing and puffing and often in pain, whereas the men are rarely described as such. It was particularly gross when her mother told her now that she got certified to be Ellie’s handler, she needs to eat, making it sound as though she was starving herself to lose weight. Not a good message to send to young children. The only good thing about it at all was showing how hard Maya worked to get in shape, but even that has some drawbacks in that it highlights how her body was somehow imperfect or not up to par the way it was. It was obviously good enough to be a patrol officer, so she can’t have been too terribly out of shape to begin with given that there are physical fitness requirements for that position, but it made her sound like she belonged on My 600-Pound Life or something. This could have been handled better.

Overall, Ellie’s Story was a cute book to read together with my kid, and it offered some decent material for discussion with her. She had read it before on her own, which is fine, though I am glad I could read it with her so we could talk about some of the things I felt were important to address.

The Princess and the Goblin

12804703The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

I read it as an: audiobook

Narrator: Frederick Davidson

Source: library

Length: 05:00:00

Publisher: Blackstone Audio

Year: 1872 (originally pubbed, obviously not the audiobook version)

Irene is a princess, and a very sheltered one at that. She lives in a castle in a mountain, unaware much of the world outside, or of what the night sky looks like, or that there are goblins living underneath the castle. She isn’t allowed outside after dark because the goblins come out then, and the castle staff are under orders by her father to keep her safe by keeping her ignorant of the existence of the goblins. When she is trapped inside one day because of rain, she discovers a door in her room which leads up to a garret room. In the room is an old woman who doesn’t always look old. She is Irene’s many-times-great grandmother, who may or may not be some kind of faerie. The grandmother teaches Irene about her name and how to believe without seeing (which made me twitch but whatever) and that not everyone in the castle would see her if Irene showed them the garret room. Eventually, Irene meets a miner’s son, Curdie, when she and her nurse get caught outside at night and become lost. Curdie saves them from the goblins and he and Irene become friends. When the goblins later capture Curdie, Irene goes to her grandmother for help and goes on a quest to rescue him.

This children’s novel actually has quite a lot going on in it. It’s been described by Tolkien himself as a source book for The Hobbit. The argument can be made that it is in part a discussion of post colonialism, since Irene and her people moved in on the goblins’ territory and made them have to leave their homes because of it. It is also very much a hero’s quest, since Irene goes on her quest to save Curdie, growing as an individual in the process. She becomes a young woman rather than a child by the end of the book because of her experiences. I wrote a paper for a class about the quest, actually, which I posted here.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, which I got from the library. If I hadn’t, I am not sure I could have made it all the way through the book. The story itself was fun enough and I obviously found enough worth talking about to write a short paper about it. But OMG I absolutely HATED the narrator. The narrator was sooooooooooo intrusive and condescending and obnoxious. I initially tried to eyeball read this and found myself rolling my eyes too much to pay attention because the narrator was so annoying. So I tried the audio version, because I HAD to read it somehow, and that was a little more tolerable, more like an old, out of touch person who just doesn’t know any better talking and so I could ignore it easier. It was impossible to ignore while reading because I couldn’t not see it.

Overall, I could see how this might be a source book for Tolkien, though I am glad he didn’t take the narration style too much to heart. I never could have got through LOTR if he was as annoying as MacDonald’s narrator. I think my daughter will enjoy this story, for Irene is a strong female character, despite the strong traditional gender roles.

Update Round: Dodging and Burning; Finding the Way

35004938Dodging and Burning by John Copenhaver

I read it as an: ARC

Source: HNS

Length: 365 pp

Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Year: 2018

Copenhaver’s debut novel gives readers a gorgeous, critical look at the LGBTQ community in post-WWII society, revolving around a murder. In Royal Oak, VA, three friends – Jay Greenwood, Bunny Prescott, and Ceola Bliss – spend the summer of 1945 trying to solve the apparent murder of a young woman who Jay photographed. As they investigate, it becomes clear that there is layer upon layer of deceit involving Jay, the woman in the photo, and Ceola’s brother, who had gone missing in action in the Pacific theater two years earlier. As events unfold, Jay’s wartime traumas surface, Ceola struggles to understand the beloved brother she thought she knew, and Bunny sets into motion a chain of reactions that will have ramifications for them all for decades.

Dodging and Burning has some absolutely lovely writing, filled with deep imagery and complex, living characters. The society is richly depicted, from the salt of the earth working poor to the upper middle class people of the town to the gay and lesbian people in the DC underground. The way the LGBTQ community was portrayed in the novel mirrors social mores of the time, which makes for some really intense and upsetting scenes. There is a lot of excellent, much-needed social commentary woven throughout. One character speaks for the LGBTQ community when he says, “If you’re afraid for long enough, you grow numb to it” (289). Another character later on summed up much of mainstream society when he said, “You’ve been blind from the beginning. When you look at Cee or me or anyone, all you see is what you want” (312). The final few pages were an absolute gutpunch, one which was vital. This is a book that must be read and discussed with as many people as possible. 

38993264

Finding the Way by Wayne Ng

I read it as an: egalley

Source: HNS/Netgalley

Length: 324 pp

Publisher: Earnshaw Books

Year: 2018

Written mostly in flashback, Ng’s lyrical debut is the story of Lao Tzu’s vibrant and turbulent life. Readers initially meet Lao Tzu as an old man riding into a military camp on the back of a water buffalo. The captain of the camp is at first understandably untrusting, for spies take all manner of guises in his world. But he soon realizes that the old man is who he claims to be – the renowned scholar Lao Tzu – and he quickly commands for a scribe to come and record his tale of escape from the royal Zhou palace and remarkable life story. Lao Tzu and the captain’s tales are closely linked, to the captain’s astonishment, proving to him that The Way has many wandering paths that diverge and intersect but all have a larger purpose in life.

Ng’s novel is a superbly written tale, full of intrigue and drama and rich with cultural narrative. All of the main characters are vivid and multidimensional, and even the secondary characters are distinct and memorable. I think some of the tertiary characters get a little lost, but even they are not just faceless beings in a crowd.

The writing itself is lovely. There are so many turns of phrase throughout this novel that are simply pretty that I took quite a long time to read this, just because I spent a lot of time highlighting things as I read. The philosophical discussions embedded within are welcome food for thought, and I learned a lot about Taoism through reading this. It piqued my interest to learn more, which I think is the highest praise I can give to any book, that it inspired me to go learn something new because of it.