Pachinko – Min Lin Lee

#book-review #book-reviewer #bookish

Synopsis

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant–and that her lover is married–she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son’s powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Richly told and profoundly moving, Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan’s finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee’s complex and passionate characters–strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis–survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

My review

From start to finish, I was captivated by the author’s sense of place. Min Jin Lee took me to a Japan that I have never considered. As a 16 year old High School exchange student living in Tokyo, I expected to fill out paperwork, however, was surprised when I had to fill out forms in which I was referred to as an Alien, upon my arrival. I considered it humorous and enjoyed my year as the foreign commodity in a Japanese High School. I loved everything about my life in Japan; friends, school and the language.

Pachinko, however, shares the horrific history of Koreans living in Japan. For people of racial difference who have lived in Japan their entire lives there is difficulty in becoming a Japanese citizen and people are still treated differently in this respect.

The Japanese people have managed to maintain their culture and traditions like no other I have experienced. This is why I love Japan so very much. The Japanese people have a beautiful and rich culture that I enjoy learning about and experiencing. In some respects, this comes at a cost, as we read in the novel.

I particularly enjoyed reading about this family through the generations. A young girl from Korea moves to Osaka, Japan with her newlywed. They soon realise the living conditions and treatment of Korean people is almost inhumane. The discrimination and further interracial issues raised made me feel very emotional and saddened for Koreans living in Japan at this time.

This multi generational novel explores Korean and Japanese culture, whilst detailing events and issues of historical significance. The numerous issues touched upon include societal views on unwed pregnant women, immigration, racial discrimination, homosexuality, abortion, adoption, parental expectations, impact of the atomic bomb, separation of a nation, mental health, cultural and family bonds. This is a family who places their love for their children first.

I also enjoyed learning more about certain aspects of Korean culture, in particular, the cooking and cultural ideas. I would highly recommend this novel for anyone interested in Japanese or Korean culture.

I was amazed by this author’s ability to write a novel that is a tapestry of a family in which historical issues are beautifully woven throughout their lives.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Cinema at Starlight Creek – Alli Sinclair

Synopsis

A heart-stirring novel of loss, love and new hope set against the glamorous backdrop of 1950s Hollywood and a small Australian country town. How far would you go to follow your dream?

Queensland, 1994 When location manager Claire Montgomery arrives in rural Queensland to work on a TV mini-series, she’s captivated by the beauty of Starlight Creek and the surrounding sugarcane fields. Working in a male-dominated industry is challenging, but Claire has never let that stop her pursuing her dreams-until now. She must gain permission to film at Australia’s most historically significant art deco cinema, located at Starlight Creek. But there is trouble ahead. The community is fractured and the cinema’s reclusive owner, Hattie Fitzpatrick, and her enigmatic great nephew, Luke Jackson, stand in her way, putting Claire’s career-launching project-and her heart-at risk.

Hollywood, 1950 Lena Lee has struggled to find the break that will catapult her into a star with influence. She longs for roles about strong, independent women but with Hollywood engulfed in politics and a censorship battle, Lena’s timing is wrong. Forced to keep her love affair with actor Reeves Garrity a secret, Lena puts her career on the line to fight for equality for women in an industry ruled by men. Her generous and caring nature steers her onto a treacherous path, leaving Lena questioning what she is willing to endure to get what she desires.

Can two women-decades apart-uncover lies and secrets to live the life they’ve dared to dream?

My review

Chapter by chapter, this novel drew me in further and further. The dual timeline structure was a harmonious blend of characters and settings.

I was immediately drawn into Lena’s world, an actress struggling to make it big in Hollywood in the 1950s. Her big heart, empathy and down to earth manner sets her apart from the actresses who will sell their soul for their careers. Aren’t these the characteristics we hope actresses and actors have?! As role models for the teenagers of today in many respects, it was wonderful to read about a compassionate and kind actress hoping to make a difference. I also love reading about this era, as I love the fashion and a variety of other aspects of the time period.

The parallel setting is a small, layered, mysterious and intriguing town. Starlight Creek is referred to as ‘two parralel worlds.’ This concept is dealt with as the reader begins to understand the town and the characters who live in the town. It is 1994 and Claire Montgomery arrives in Starlight Creek with the career changing idea to shoot a documentary in the run down old cinema. Its beauty and stories felt within the structure appeal to Claire immediately. Although, she runs into many obstacles, the main being the owner, Hattie and her handsome nephew, Luke.

I fell in love with the main characters and their budding romances. Lena and Claire both struggle to balance their careers and relationships. This juggling act between following one’s dream, falling in love and having it all is a constant balancing act, especially for women as their roles change, including motherhood. This is something I find to be a struggle. Although the time periods are vastly different, these concerns remain. The focus on women’s rights and lack of equality in 1950s was well researched, along with the expectations of women in the film industry. I also did not realise the extent of the restrictions caused by the Motion Picture Production Code, known as the Hays Act.

The novel is beautifully written and was Lena’s ‘story to write, no one else’s…’ On a cold winter’s night, I enjoyed snuggling up under a blanket whilst reading a historical romance novel that had me from start to finish. I read of love, following one’s heart, dreams and realising the importance of professing our love. We shouldn’t hesitate when it comes to true love. I am grateful to have read such a novel that allows the reader to be reminded of this and I would therefore, highly recommend The Cinema at Starlight Creek.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Postmistress – Alison Stuart

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

A stunning historical tale of loss, desire and courage that is full of the terror and the beauty of the Australian bush, for readers of The Thorn Birds, The Naturalist’s Daughter and The Widow of Ballarat.

To forge a new life she must first deal with her past…

1871. Adelaide Greaves and her young son have found sanctuary in the Australian town of Maiden’s Creek, where she works as a postmistress. The rough Victorian goldmining settlement is a hard place for a woman – especially as the other women in town don’t know what to make of her – but through force of will and sheer necessity, Adelaide carves out a role.

But her past is coming to find her, and the embittered and scarred Confederate soldier Caleb Hunt, in town in search of gold and not without a dark past of his own, might be the only one who can help. Can Adelaide trust him? Can she trust anyone?

When death and danger threaten – some from her past, some borne of the Australian bush – she must swallow her pride and turn to Caleb to join her in the fight, a fight she is determined to win…

My review

A mother’s love changes the path of a woman’s life forever. The Postmistress follows the heartwarming story of Adelaide Greaves, a strong female protagonist who leaves behind everything she knows, to be the best mother she can be. The relationship between mother and son, along with the love shared can be felt within the pages.

Alison Stuart sets the scene perfectly. It is 1871 and Adelaide is an independent widow, working as a postmistress in the Australian mining town of Maiden’s Creek. This is a beautifully written and well researched historical romance novel that takes the reader back in time, in my case, to a world unknown to me. Through the eyes of an unwed, pregnant woman we see the horrors that could be, yet fortunately the reader is taken on a trip with Adelaide to Australia, where she becomes an independent and successful woman, providing for her son.

The historical facts of the time, along with the Australian gold mining and medical practices in the late 1800s were fascinating, including the treatment of snake bites and society’s attitudes and advice towards smallpox. Alison Stuart weaves historical facts subtley throughout the story, which is testament to her talent in writing historical fiction. This allowed me to further delve into the world of the characters.

Prior to reading this novel, I was in the mood to sit down and feel true romance. The romance within The Postmistress delivered. Adelaide’s lost love caused her to grieve longer than her heart deserved. Upon meeting American born Caleb Hunt, Adelaide’s only love interest was Danny’s father. Caleb and Adelaide’s friendship grows, as does Danny and Caleb’s. Without a father growing up, Danny looks to Caleb for advice. The bond between them is strong. As Adelaide is forced to face the past there are many twists and turns within the novel.

I would highly recommend this novel and look forward to reading future novels written by Alison Stuart. The Postmistress is a novel that I could see inspiring an Australian TV series.

⭐⭐⭐⭐.5

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

Synopsis

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes. . .

The only way to survive is to open your heart.

My review

This book is truly brilliant, just as Eleanor Oliphant is. I absolutely felt like I became friends with Eleanor by the end of the book. Eleanor is a woman who speaks her mind, avoids interactions with others, doesn’t fit the everyday social mould and is one of the most courageous characters I have encountered. Eleanor grew up in the foster system as a result of the emotional and physical abuse of her biological family. Her story is revealed throughout the book as she uncovers more about her self and her circumstance.

Gail Honeyman manages to delve into the important issues surrounding foster children and the continued struggles, including feelings of loss, grief and abandonment that surface as time goes on.

Raymond, a colleague of Eleanor, sees her for who she is and soon shows her a side of life she hasn’t experienced – true friendship, kindness and care.

There is great humour within Eleanor’s logical and inquisitive thoughts. Some examples include her realisation that her nail technician should have become a dog groomer, since she was unsure whether to become a nail technician or vet. Why not incorporate two skills in one profession? Eleanor also wonders ‘if cobblers and chiropractors had established some kind of fiendish cartel’, as the woman in the store was quite insistant on Eleanor purchasing a pair of heels. There are many other thoughts that had me giggling as I read her logical, yet true thoughts that make Eleanor the individul she is.

Eleanor’s character is built in a way that the reader understands her world and hy her thoughts and actions are as they are in present day. I was cheering on Eleanor as she started to make positive improvements in her life for herself. What a strong character, what a strong woman.

Gail Honeman is truly talented to be able to present a character such as Eleanor. Thank you for bringing Eleanor to life. There are many Eleanors in life who are misunderstood and simply need friendship, care and love. This book will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Concubine’s Child – Carol Jones

Thank you to Carol Jones for this beautiful, signed copy. I am very grateful to have won a copy of this novel.

Synopsis

In 1930s Malaysia, sixteen-year-old Yu Lan is in love with her best friend, Ming, whose father owns one of the busiest kopi shops in Petaling Street. But Ming’s family don’t see the apothecary’s daughter as a suitable wife – for Yu Lan’s father, Lim, spends more time playing mahjong than selling herbal remedies. It’s not long before Lim makes a terrible decision that will change Yu Lan’s life forever, selling her as a concubine to the wealthy, ageing Towkay Chan who is desperate for a male heir.

The consequences of Lim’s betrayal resonate through four generations and into the present day, where Yu Lan’s great-grandson, Nick, is searching for his lost family history. His wife, Sarah, begins to be very afraid of what he will find as past and present meld into one.

My review

My heart is aching after having read about the unimaginable pain, experienced by a concubine, who was once a happy and free young girl. This novel gave great insight into a time and place I had no knowledge of – 1930s Malaya. The novel was hauntingly powerful. I had to give myself time to process the sadness and experiences of this family prior to writing my review.

This novel follows Yu Lan, a young sixteen year old girl whose world is turned upside down as she is taken from her home, her love and her family, to become a part of a stranger’s family. The decision is made by her father, removing her from everything she has every known and depriving her of freedom, love and a wedding day. She becomes a concubine. Yu Lan was brought into the Chan family to produce a male heir for Towkay Chan. The sorrow and loss Yu Lan experiences are raw and heartbreaking. There were moments when I felt little relief from the melancholy feelings of the characters.

As a historical fiction novel, it was extremely well researched and allowed me to understand the horrors of this place and time. The dual time line allowed me to understand the modern day and historical culture of Malyasia. The story realistically paints scenes of the places, appealing to the senses. ‘Already the scent of home reached her nose, a mixture of barks, berries, roots, fungi …. ’ When travelling I have noticed the different scents of different places, just as home has it’s comforting scents. Carol Jones describes the feeling of coming back home in a way I will never forget. Home is truly where the heart remains.

‘You couldn’t fight life’s storms. You couldn’t fight fate. You could only wait.’ The life lessons discovered in the novel are significant not only in the characters’ world, also on a greater scale in relation to historical significance. This is emphasised in the modern day story of Ya Lan’s great grandson and his wife. It is possible to see the damaging effects that continued for years. Revenge plays a huge part in this novel along with the spiritual world. The characters will all learn from the ghosts of their past.

I would highly recommend this book due its historical significance, beautiful cultural descriptions and heartbreaking experiences felt by Yu Lan. What a wonderful story that will stay with me for a long time.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Shadow of the Fox – Julie Kagawa

#book-review #book-reviewer

Synopsis

One thousand years ago, the great Kami Dragon was summoned to grant a single terrible wish—and the land of Iwagoto was plunged into an age of darkness and chaos.

Now, for whoever holds the Scroll of a Thousand Prayers, a new wish will be granted. A new age is about to dawn.

Raised by monks in the isolated Silent Winds temple, Yumeko has trained all her life to hide her yokai nature. Half kitsune, half human, her skill with illusion is matched only by her penchant for mischief. Until the day her home is burned to the ground, her adoptive family is brutally slain and she is forced to flee for her life with the temple’s greatest treasure—one part of the ancient scroll.

There are many who would claim the dragon’s wish for their own. Kage Tatsumi, a mysterious samurai of the Shadow Clan, is one such hunter, under orders to retrieve the scroll…at any cost. Fate brings Kage and Yumeko together. With a promise to lead him to the scroll, an uneasy alliance is formed, offering Yumeko her best hope for survival. But he seeks what she has hidden away, and her deception could ultimately tear them both apart.

With an army of demons at her heels and the unlikeliest of allies at her side, Yumeko’s secrets are more than a matter of life or death. They are the key to the fate of the world itself.

My review

Shadow of the Fox is imaginative, humorous, creativite and well researched.

Yumeko, raised in a temple by monks, is faced with a mission once the temple is burnt to the ground and her family is brutally murdered. As she sets out on her journey she meets Kage, a Shadow Clan Samurai who has been raised to feel no emotion and do whatever it takes to complete his missions. He has killed for his clan and will again if he has to. Tatsumi and Yumeko attempt to help one another as they travel to the capitol. Their adventures are filled with interesting places, people and life threatening decisions. Upon meeting the bad mannered ronin, Okame, I found myself chuckling at his attitude, sarcasm and actions of his character in general. The three together are entertaining and this drew me in.

Prior to Okame being introduced I felt that the Japanese folk tales and legends were being recited rather than worked into the plot, however this soon changed. I loved the introduction of yokai, dragons and kitsune. All of these are familiar to me and I found myself reaching for my book of yokai, which has images of them. The author’s knowledge and research into Japanese legends and folk tales is evident in her writing. This became better and better as the novel progressed.

I’ve heard of stories of wild dogs who would defend a stranger on the road to their last breath, simply because that person threw a crumb instead of a rock.’ Yumeko has a beautiful view of life, even after all that has happened to her she has a positive spin on everything. She attempts to maintain her connection with the monks who raised her, by ensuring that she does not forget their teachings, which keep her grounded. The Buddhist teachings and references in the novel are lovely, including that of attachment. Yumeko understands the essence of positive relationships with those around her, whereas Tatsumi has been brought up to fear attachments, without an understanding of love for others. His character growth in the novel, due to Yumeko is beautiful.

This is a fantasy novel that had me feeling the magic within. Kagawa not only provided an interesting read, with entertaining characters, but also grately added to my prior knowledge of Japanese legends, along with creating an imaginary world that feels real. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this trilogy.

⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant – Kayte Nunn

Synopsis

A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story by top ten bestselling author, Kayte Nunn

1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon becomes her refuge.

2017. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient.

Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.

Thank you to @hachetteaus for hosting this giveaway and sending me this novel.

My review

This was the perfect winter read, as I snuggled up under a blanket and read this delightful novel on the first day of the cold season. The Scilly Isles was the perfect setting, as I imagined the island with it’s beautiful beach, wild flowers and gardens surrounding the residence. As I curled up with this novel it was raining outside, yet Kayte Nunn managed to transport me to the sunshine and wild mountain terrain in an instant.

The novel follows three strong women. Eve helps her grandmother after she has a fall, moving in with her and assisting her to write her autobiography. Her grandmother was a famous mountaineer in her day and hopes to share her adventures with future readers.

Rachel’s work as a marine scientist takes her to the Scilly Isles where she finds love letters that are the essence of what true love is. Rachel’s character matures as the novel progresses and she enjoys the company of those on the island, from Leah the island hermit to Jonah who welcomes her. Leah has her own secrets and must discover herself, just as Rachel. They help each other in the process.

My absolute favourite character is the protagonist, Esther Durrant. Her story is one of great historical significance. Esther’s husband sends her to an isolated island where she is to be treated for depression. It is heartbreaking as she is away from her young son, Teddy.

It is 1951 where people are treated for mental health via shock treatment and locked away. Dr Richard Creswell’s methods are beyond that of his time. His treatment is wholistic. It includes counselling sessions, treatment of mind and body, whilst taking time to concentrate on self care. The location allows patients to enjoy the outdoors and nature. Esther is fortunate to have been sent to such a place in comparison to the alternative, although she doesn’t feel it at the time. The people she meets on the island will change her life forever. They help each other in many ways, especially as they share their thoughts and feelings. Wilkie shares some important life lessons; ‘Find a way to dream again, to believe, believe in the beauty of life, however fleeting.’

Esther’s loss of her second child is devastating and her grief is raw. Kayte Nunn’s portrayal of a character with post-natal depression is subtle, delicate and is to be commended. This novel emphasises the feelings of inadequacy as a mother struggles to bond with her child in the early stages of their life. This novel brings about awareness to such a sad and truly unimagineable time in some women’s lives. The importance of talking to a trusted professional is also emphasised. Women should not have to face these challenges alone. Within my community, I felt that there is an endless amount of support for women post natally. I hope that all women around the world will oneday have the help they deserve.

The romance in this novel is honest, sweet and realistic based on the time period.

This book is a romance, historical fiction novel that I would highly recommend. It is breathtakingly beautiful. I look forward to reading more of Kayte Nunn’s novels.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐