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Book Concierge (tessabookconcierge) | 2237 comments Mod

Read any good books lately? We want to know about them.
How about real stinkers? We want to know about those too!

Enter your reading list and/or reviews here. Did you like it? Hate it? Feel lukewarm?

Share your thoughts with us.

Happy reading!


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My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
My Sister, the Serial Killer – Oyinkan Braithwaite – 4****
What an interesting concept! I was immediately drawn into the sisters’ co-dependent relationship. I understood and sympathized with Korede’s dilemma; she loves her baby sister, but she wants her to stop her behavior. The tension is nonstop. Will she? Won’t she? When will she? How will she? In the end I’m left wondering WHO is the psychopath here?
LINK to my review

message 3: by James (last edited Apr 06, 2019 12:51PM) (new)

James F | 1339 comments Honoré de Balzac, L'envers de l'histoire contemporaine [1848] 378 pages [in French]

The last novel of the Comédie humaine to be published, this is one of the two books I am reading from the division Scènes de la vie parisienne. The novel is divided into two parts, Madame de la Chanterie and L'Initié; it was written at different times and sections were published separately, which may explain why there are more inconsistencies in the chronology and details than in any of the other novels I have read of Balzac.

The first part begins by introducing the protagonist, a young man named Godefroid; the summary of his previous life in the first twenty or thirty pages is like a resumé of the life of Lucien de Rubempré in Les Illusions perdues. He then comes in contact with a group of lodgers on the rue Chanoinesse, and takes a room there. It turns out that this is not any ordinary pension, but the headquarters of a secret organization of Catholics. The novel then turns to a long flashback about the previous history of Madame de la Chanterie in the Royalist struggle against the Napoleonic government.

The second half is the story of Godefroid's "initiation" as a member of the secret society, and focuses on the misfortunes of a family consisting of an aged grandfather, his granddaughter who suffers from an unknown illness, and her adolescent son.

Balzac's novels are transitional between Romanticism and Realism, with the Realist elements usually predominating, but this novel seems like a complete relapse into Romanticism, with an unrealistic plot and situation, and extreme rather than typical characters and events. It is also his most religious and conservative of all the novels I have read by him. The story is usually interesting enough but the sermonizing on politics and religion become obnoxious. All in all, I though this was the worst novel of the collection.

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James F | 1339 comments Yi Mun-Yol, Son of Man [1979; tr. 2015] 242 pages

A critique of religion incorporated in a historical novel embedded in a mystery novel, this became very popular among students in Korea. The murder mystery didn't really appeal to me, although it was sort of destroyed to begin with because the translator revealed who the murderer was in the introduction. The historical novel was based on the legend of Ahasuerus, the "Wandering Jew"; the take of the author was that he rejected the Old Testament religion of Yahweh and searched through Egypt, Mesopotamia, Persia, India and Rome for a new god, then had a revelation in the desert, met Jesus and became his opponent. There are parallels between Ahasuerus and the supposed author, Min Yoseop, who was murdered at the beginning of the novel. The religious arguments against Christianity were interesting but nothing new, not entirely clear and don't go far enough; basically they just portray Yahweh (and by implication, Christianity) as self-righteous and too concerned with prohibitions, and in the end Min Yoseop appears to have returned to Christianity. A worthwhile book but probably of more interest in the context of Korean Christianity than to a worldwide audience.

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Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
Nine Perfect Strangers – Liane Moriarty – 2.5**
It’s not Moriarty’s best work, in my humble opinion. On the one hand I really enjoyed some of these guests’ stories. On the other hand, I didn’t really like any of these characters, and was completely irritated by Masha’s psychobabble new-age philosophy on fixing what was wrong with them. I also didn’t like the ending, with its fast-forward to weeks or years later in order to catch up on what happened.
LINK to my review

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A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua
A River Of Stars – Vanessa Hua – 3***
Hua’s first novel looks at the immigrant experience from a slightly different angle: wealthy Chinese who pay a high fee to ensure their babies will have the always-coveted native-born U.S. citizenship. The story focuses on Scarlett Chen, the mistress or Boss Yeung, and Daisy, the unwed teenager whose parents want to keep her from her American boyfriend. I found this an interesting and engaging story. I really liked Scarlett, but thought Daisy was frustratingly immature. Final verdict: a good, but not great, debut. I’d consider reading another of Hua’s works.
LINK to my review

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Melissa (melissasd) | 773 comments Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices, #1) by Cassandra Clare
Clockwork Angel (The Infernal Devices #1) by Cassandra Clare
4 ★

Tessa Gray travels to London to meet up with her brother after her aunt dies. Little does she know that she is walking into a much bigger situation. She is wanted by the Magister for her magical ability that she doesn't even know she has. Tessa suddenly finds herself in a world full of creatures she didn't know existed and staying with Shadowhunters who have promised to help find her brother.

After reading the first 3 books in the Mortal Instruments series, I found this book to be a nice change. The reader is taken to London in 1878, so there is a definite difference in clothing and attitude. Will Herondale is so much like Jace that it's scary. Jem is quiet and sickly, but a great Shadowhunter. I found the book to be a bit ahead of the others because of the Clockwork creatures. They seemed very advanced. I liked the twist though. The Institute is run by Charlotte and Henry Branwell and I liked Henry a lot. He's an inventor who is slightly ADHD. The reader learns more about the history of the Shadowhunters and more about Magnus Bane who makes quite a presence in the book. He hasn't changed in all these years.

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman – 5*****
What a marvelous character-driven novel! I loved Eleanor as much as I was frustrated by her. Her conversations with Mummy gave us clues to the trauma in her past that resulted in the fragile woman she is when we first meet her. I love the way the friendship between Raymond and Eleanor develops; how he introduces her to possibilities, but also accepts her at face value. Honeyman gives us some wonderful supporting characters as well; even if their scenes are small, they are fully developed and add to the richness of the novel. A fantastic debut novel!
LINK to my review

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James F | 1339 comments Marcia Bartusiak, Einstein's Unfinished Symphony: The Story of a Gamble, Two Black Holes, and a New Age of Astronomy [rev. ed. 2017] 280 pages

Four years ago, the first gravity waves were detected by the LIGO detectors in Washington and Louisiana; by coincidence, the same day the detections were announced I finished reading the 2007 book by Daniel J. Kennefic, Travelling at the Speed of Thought, about gravity waves and the efforts to prove that they existed. This book by Marcia Bartusiak was written even earlier, in 2000, but revised in 2017 to include the developments in the intervening 17 years including the first detections. (I looked up the latest information on the Internet about the LIGO and VIRGO detectors; they have now detected eleven waves before recently being shut down to install new and more sensitive equipment.)

Bartusiak's book, as I expected from reading some of her other books, was more popular and less technical than Kennefic's, without the mathematical treatment of general relativity, but it gives a good qualitative and historical account of the theory and the history of the search; it has more (and more up to date) information about the actual technology of the detectors, which is the main thrust of the book.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys popular books about physics or astronomy.

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Deviant The Shocking and True Story of the Original Psycho by Harold Schector
Deviant – Harold Schechter – 3***
The subtitle is all the synopsis anyone needs: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original “Psycho”. I’ve always like “true crime” books, and this is a pretty good, though not great, example of the genre. Schechter writes a detailed account of Gein’s upbringing (as best as he could re-create it), the events and suspicions of the townspeople, his trial and his life in a mental institution.
LINK to my review

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James F | 1339 comments Lee Smolin, Einstein's Unfinished Revolution: The Search for What Lies Beyond the Quantum [2019] 322 pages

One thing is axiomatic -- Lee Smolin's books are always fascinating. He is a prominent physicist with legitimate credentials, but always somewhat outside the mainstream. One of his main concerns is with trying to reconcile what we know about quantum physics with a realist philosophy that assumes there is a real world independent of human consciousness.

This book, just published, reviews the development of quantum physics with an emphasis on the realist alternatives to the Copenhagen interpretation(s) of quantum mechanics, such as the pilot wave theory proposed by deBroglie and later revived by Bohm, spontaneous physical collapse theories, and the multiple worlds theory with its variations.

Smolin then suggests a possible way of going beyond quantum mechanics to something more fundamental -- a theory he calls "energetic causal sets" which sees the world as composed of causal networks of events which create spacetime through their "views". He likens this account to Leibniz's theory of monads.

While I am not a physicist and certainly do not have the background to judge these theories (which are presented here without the mathematics necessary to really understand them anyway), I did find it interesting to learn that there are such approaches to going beyond the current views of quantum mechanics.

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A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
A Single Shard – Linda Sue Park – 4****
This middle-grade novel is a beautiful introduction to the Korean culture, as well as to the art of pottery. Park gives us a wonderful cast of characters. I love the relationship between Tree-Ear and Crane-man, how they care for one another, and give to one another so selflessly. I learned much about celadon pottery, and particularly the uniqueness of the inlay process. The novel was awarded the Newbery Medal for excellence in Children’s Literature.
LINK to my review

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Zamba The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer
Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived – Ralph Helfer– 3***
I’m not a great animal lover, but I was interested and engaged in most of Ralph Helfer’s memoir of raising and working with the lion he rescued as a young cub. I did find Helfer a bit preachy at times. Still, I applaud the way that he changed the minds of many animal “trainers” about the best techniques to use.
LINK to my review

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Melissa (melissasd) | 773 comments Storm and Fury (The Harbinger, #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
Storm and Fury (The Harbinger #1) by Jennifer L. Armentrout
4 ★

Trinity Marrow can see spirits and ghosts, but there is something even more special about her. Something that demons would love to get their hands on. She is protected by Misha, a Warden. The Wardens are gargoyle shape-shifters who protect humans from demons. Trinity's life changes when Zayne, a Warden from another clan, arrives and her compound is attacked by demons.

All of the characters in this book are great. They all compliment each other well, especially Trinity and Zayne. I loved the way he bickered back and forth. Both of them so quick with comebacks. There are many secrets throughout the book and a few surprises. I was not expecting Trinity's dad to be who it was and the turn of events with Misha completely caught me by surprise. I also enjoyed reading the authors take on Nephilim.
The only issue I had with the book were the similarities between it and The Mortal Instruments series. I happened to be reading them at the same time and was getting the 2 books confused. Many of the characters are very similar in attitude and appearance. I even found some situations similar. As I said before, I really enjoyed the authors take on Nephilim and because of this, and the fabulous ending, I look forward to reading the next book in the series.

(Advanced readers copy courtesy of NetGalley)

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James F | 1339 comments Zora Neale Hurston, Selected Stories [1921-1939] 121 pages

Zora Neale Hurston was one of the key figures in the "Harlem Renaissance" of Black writers, as well as one of the first Black anthropologists. I'm in the process of reading her books because I'm leading a book discussion at the library next month on Their Eyes Were Watching God. Her four novels, and this collection of short stories are published in a single volume in the Library of America series, so I'm borrowing that from the library as one of my readings, but I'm going to count the five books separately since the novels were published that way and I have a couple of them myself in separate editions. I'm also reading the Collected Plays (since those are mostly short I'm only counting it as one book) and possibly a couple of her nonfiction books; I'm reading everything in chronological order but since all but one of these stories were written before the first novel I decided to read the last one and review the stories first.

The nine stories chosen here were written between 1921 and 1939; all but the last were written by 1934, the date of the first novel. In probable order of writing, the collection begins with three early stories, "John Redding Goes to Sea" (1921) and "Drenched in Light" (1924), which deal with adventurous children whose families try to hold them back to the traditional impoverished life of their small towns, and "Spunk" (1925), a tale of violence and revenge which she later made into a play of the same title. "Sweat" (1926) is about a dysfunctional marriage. "The Bone of Contention" (1929), a comic story about a trial, was the basis of her plays "De Turkey and de Law" and (in collaboration with Langston Hughes) "The Mule Bone". "The Book of Harlem", one of my favorites, is a very short story about a young man who comes to Harlem from the South, written as if it were a book of the Bible. "The Gilded Sixpence" (1933)is a story about a marriage; "Fire in the Cloud" (1934) is a new take on Moses at the end of the wanderings; and the final story, "A Story in Harlem Slang", is about two "pimps" (the word didn't mean what it does today) written as the title says in Harlem slang.

Reading these stories together with the plays written at the same time, I was struck by the connections between them, and I'm sure that there are also foreshadowings of the novels. The stories are all worth reading.

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James F | 1339 comments Zora Neale Hurston, Jonah's Gourd Vine [1934]

Hurston's first novel, this is a moving narrative of the rise, fall, and ultimate redemption of a basically good but weak man. The husband, John Pearson, is a Baptist preacher like Hurston's own father, the first wife is named Lucy Potts, the name of Hurston's mother, and the second wife is trashy (Hurston left home at fourteen after a fight with her stepmother), so this may in part be based on her own family; I will need to read her biography (on my possible-read list for next month) to be sure. There is some "conjure" material that is obviously based on her ethnographic research.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 773 comments The Shadowhunter's Codex by Cassandra Clare
The Shadowhunter's Codex by Cassandra Clare
5 ★

This is the 27th edition of the official Shadowhunter's training manual. It covers everything from the history of Jonathan Shadowhunter and the first meeting with the Angel Raziel to what kind of demons the Shadowhunters may fight.

I enjoyed this addition to the series quite a bit. I found it very informative and fun. The artwork on the inside of the front and back covers is absolutely gorgeous and the artwork throughout the book is interesting. I decided to read this now (I have read the first 3 books in the Mortal Instruments and the 1st book in the Infernal Devices series) since it was mentioned in Clockwork Angel and I was curious. It answers many questions that one may have after reading the first few books, but it also contains some spoilers, so one may want to wait until they are further into the series.

My favorite part of the book is the "handwritten" remarks by Clary, Simon and Jace that appear throughout the whole thing. Most are humorous and lighthearted. Some are juvenile. I definitely recommend this book to all who enjoy the Shadowhunters universe.

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November Road by Lou Berney
November Road – Lou Berney – 4****
Frank Guidry is on the run from the mob because he’s figured out his boss’s role in the JFK assassination. Charlotte Roy is running from an unhappy marriage, taking her two girls to a new life. When they meet in New Mexico, Guidry sees the perfect disguise and turns on the charm to convince Charlotte that he can help her. It’s a fast-paced thriller with an unlikely romance thrown in, and it kept me enthralled from beginning to end.
LINK to my review

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A Broth of Betrayal (Soup Lover's Mystery, #2) by Connie Archer
A Broth Of Betrayal – Connie Archer – 2.5**
Book two in the Soup Lover’s Mystery series. There’s a lot going on this summer in Snowflake, Vermont. Residents are protesting a developer’s plans for a car wash in historic downtown; a skeleton is found at the construction site; the mayor goes missing; and there are a couple of murders. Yet, with all that going on, the book felt slow to me.
LINK to my review

message 18: by James (last edited Apr 28, 2019 08:27PM) (new)

James F | 1339 comments Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God [1937] 286 pages

A classic of Black literature, this novel follows the life of Janie Mae Crawford (supposedly narrated to her friend Phoeby in a frame story that makes up the first and last chapters) from her first marriage at the age of 16 to a well-off farmer, Logan Killicks (about 1898), through her marriage to Joe Starks, the founder and mayor of Eatonville (the Joe Clark of her stories), to the death of her third husband, Tea Cake, when she was about 40 (about 1922-23). The novel is set in Florida, mainly in Hurston's native town of Eatonville and in the Everglades.

Black literature prior to Hurston (and for a quarter century after) was nearly all concerned principally with racism and race relations, and often depicts an upper class "elite"; Hurston was strongly criticized by the major Black writers of her time, such as Langston Hughes and Richard Wright, because she declined to write that kind of books. Of course the racism is there in the background; the novel would hardly be true to the Black American experience if it weren't. Hurston, however, chooses to foreground the internal relations within the Black community, the culture of Blacks in its own terms, and without leaving out the supposedly "negative" aspects of working class and small farmer culture that the other Black novelists of the time omitted in their zeal to show that Blacks were just as educated and "civilized" as whites.

Her concerns in this novel were very much about relationships between men and women, and it has become a classic as much of feminist as of Black literature. The novel was largely ignored until it was "rediscovered" by Alice Walker. Hurston had a major influence on Walker (The Color Purple has very little about race relations and focuses, like Their Eyes Were Watching God, on the relationships between Black men and women) and also influenced other Black women authors, including Toni Morrison (The Bluest Eyes and Sula have very little to say explicitly about race relations, and focus on the internal conflicts of Black women; Tar Baby and Beloved foreground race relations to a greater extent, but I can't imagine any of Morrison's novels without Hurston.)

As an anthropologist, Hurston describes Black culture in a way that emphasizes the African elements; her use of folklore and proverbs throughout the book reminds me more of African authors I have read (for example the new novel of Chigozie Obioma, An Orchestra of Minorities) than it does of other Afro-American writers. I also was interested in the "oral" style of the book, having read about it in some of the critical articles I read earlier this year on Morrison's Beloved.

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas – 4****
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter is the narrator of this contemporary novel that deals with some major social issues facing America. I love the way that Thomas writes these characters. The realities of living in an urban neighborhood that is stressed by unemployment, gangs, poverty, drug use and broken families are all present. Thomas gives Starr a relatively stable home environment: a family-owned house, neighbors who look out for one another, and, most importantly, two parents who love one another, work hard, and set a good example for their children. The novel raises more questions than it gives solutions. But these are issues than need examining, and this is a great way to start the conversation.
LINK to my review

message 20: by James (new)

James F | 1339 comments Cheryl A. Wall, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God : A Casebook [2000] 191 pages

This "casebook" consists of an introduction, a brief autobiographical article by Hurston, and seven critical articles. The most important and best selection is Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s "Zora Neale Hurston and the Speakerly Text", a chapter from his book The Signifying Monkey, which takes up about a third of this collection and deals with the "voice" of the novel and its relation to oral culture; it also contains a very useful close reading and commentary. The last article in the book, Daphne Lamotte's "Vodou Imagery, African-American Tradition, and Cultural Transformation in Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God" was also quite interesting. The other five were less worthwhile, full of empty "literary theory" jargon and mainly criticizing Hurston for not having written another sort of novel altogether, one more explicitly ideological (either in respect of race or of feminism.)

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee – 4****
This is an epic work of historical fiction that follows four generations of one Korean family living in Japan, beginning in 1910 and ending in 1989. I was quickly drawn into the story and eagerly followed Sunja’s story, but I did get a little bored with the repetition towards the end. Still, I was engaged and invested in these characters’ stories, and the setting and timeframe gave me some insight into a culture about which I know little.
LINK to my review

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Koren  (koren56) | 615 comments Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
4 stars

Maid Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive by Stephanie Land
If you've never been in the author's shoes, this book may tell you something you didnt already know. For me, this book brought back a lot of memories of days where no matter how hard you worked it seemed like you never got ahead. It's a fact of life that a lot of the hardest jobs are the lowest paid. I applaud the author for forging ahead and trying to make a better life for herself. It's too bad that a lot of these jobs force people that are working full time to accept public assistance. There is no political commentary here. If I could tell the author one thing, I would tell her that what doesnt kill you makes you stronger. I wish everyone could go through hard times working at a dead end job so they could learn to appreciate what they have.

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Melissa (melissasd) | 773 comments Bone Music (Burning Girl, #1) by Christopher Rice
Bone Music (Burning Girl #1) by Christopher Rice
4 ★

Charlotte Rowe lives her life by her own rules now that she is free from her father who exploited her past for his own profit. A past that included her mother's death at the hand of serial killers when she was an infant and them kidnapping and raising her as their own. She still has fear from the ordeal and the constant reminders that she has a stalker. She meets a nice, handsome psychiatrist named Dylan that she opens up to, but who is only there to get her to try a new drug. One that makes her strong and fearless. She refuses to be controlled by the company who made the drug, but decides to make good use of by going after a local serial killer.

This book took me over a month and a half to read. I had to stop at one point and read something else. The whole concept is pretty interesting and intriguing, but the first half (maybe more) seemed to drag. The characters are well developed and all add something to the story. The story really picks up the closer you get to the end. When Charlotte decides to go after the serial killer. My initial rating was going to be a 3 up until this part. The pace of the book picked up and held my interest better.

message 24: by James (last edited May 01, 2019 04:25PM) (new)

James F | 1339 comments Hwang Sok-Yong, Shim Chong, fille vendue [2007; Fr. tr. 2010] 562 pages [in French, Kindle]

Shim Chong is a Korean folktale heroine, possibly of supernatural origin, who is born as the daughter of a poor blind man. Her mother dies in childbirth and Chong grows up begging with her father. When she reaches adolescence, a Buddhist monk tells her father that his blindness will be cured if he donates a certain amount of rice to the monk’s monastery. The amount is well beyond what they can earn begging, so Chong sells herself to some sailors to be a sacrifice to the Sea God. The gods are impressed by her filial devotion and so when she is thrown into the sea, she is kept alive in the Palace of the Sea God. Eventually, she is returned to the world in a lotus blossom and becomes the wife of the king. She convinces her husband to hold a banquet for all the blind men of the kingdom; her father, still poor and blind (the monk is a fraud), attends the banquet. Chong exclaims to him, “See your daughter” and he is suddenly cured of his blindness.

Hwang Sok-yong in this novel turns this folktale into a realistic historical novel set in the nineteenth century. Shim Chong in the novel is also the daughter of a blind beggar; she is sold at fifteen to a Chinese merchant. She is thrown into the sea as a mock sacrifice to the Sea God, but is recovered and renamed Lenhwa (Lotus) and taken to China to become the concubine of an aged rich tea farmer. After his death, she undergoes a variety of adventures, working in various “pleasure houses” and brothels in China and Formosa, becoming the concubine of a rich British official in Singapore, and the owner of her own place in the Ryukyu Islands, where she eventually marries the local prince. In the end, she returns to Korea.

Despite the references to the folktale, which would be more apparent to a Korean audience, this is essentially a realistic description of the sex “industry” and trafficking in the nineteenth century, set against the background of colonialism, the Opium War, the Taiping Rebellion, the “opening” of Japan by Commodore Parry, and the Japanese domination of the Ryukyu Islands.

I read this in a French translation; as far as I can see, the novel is not yet translated into English.

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Mango Elephants in the Sun by Susana Herrera
Mango Elephants In the Sun – Susana Herrera – 3.5***
Subtitle: How Life in an African Village Let Me Be in My Skin. This is a memoir of the time the author spent as a Peace Corps volunteer teacher in Cameroon. I was interested and engaged in the experiences Herrera related, but somewhat appalled by how she lacked even basic understanding of the differences in culture before she arrived at her assignment. She relays some very interesting insights she gained from the women she befriended in the village.
LINK to my review

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The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss – 3***
Originally published in 1812, this is a classic adventure tale of a mother, father and four sons who are shipwrecked on an unnamed (and apparently uncharted) tropical island in the South Seas. I had never read the book, though I had seen the Disney movie back in the ‘60s. My adult self recognizes the glaringly implausible (and, frankly, impossible) scenarios but the adventure still captures the imagination.
LINK to my review

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