Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Dragon Springs Road, by Janie Chang. William Morrow, 2017




Seven year old Jialing is not worried at first when her mother leaves her alone in their home, telling her she’ll be back in three days. It’s far from the first time her mother has left her alone for a few days, when she goes to spend time with Noble Uncle. Jialing is pretty safe; a resident Fox spirit looks after her when her mother is gone. But this time her mother doesn’t come back. When new people move into the main house, Fox tells her to step out of hiding and speak to the new girl who is out in the yard. She finds herself taken in by Grandmother Yang as a bond servant, a person who can purchase their freedom. By luck, she gets to go to school and learn English. But still not much is hoped for her. She is zazhong- half white. She will be welcomed by neither whites nor Chinese.

The tale starts in 1908 and goes to 1920. In that short time, Jialing goes through many changes, as does China. She tries for jobs, she searches for her long missing mother, she learns the true social cost of being biracial in that time and place, she comes to the attention of gangsters. Her path is not an easy one, and she has to make hard choices. Jialing is a great character; she’s smart and strong, but also flawed.

Told in first person by Jialing, it’s a beautiful book, even though many of the things that happen are far from pretty. The phrasing, the descriptions, and the characters- they are nearly luminous. There is magical realism used throughout the book- not just Fox (my favorite character), but a now and then gate to the immortals. I recommend this book. 


The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they'll give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bitter Winds: Book 3 in the Tales of the Scavenger’s Daughters, by Kay Bratt. Lake Union Publishing, 2014




I wasn’t aware that “Bitter Winds” was the third in a series when I ordered it; it works as a standalone novel but I think would have made more sense if it had been read in order. The cast of characters is large, and I spent a good bit of time thinking “Now, who is this person again?!?” But the story concentrates mainly on four characters: Lily & Ivy, twin teenagers, Lily being a blind violinist and Ivy her guide through life; Li Jin, who runs the shelter they all live in and acts as chef; and Sami, Li Jin’s friend from a previous book, who has led a thoroughly horrible life up to this point.

Lily wants to make some money by playing her violin in public (which is classed as begging by the Chinese government). When the police make a sweep to remove all the beggars from a festival, Lily gets separated from her sister Ivy. By happenstance she is found holding a leaflet for the forbidden Falun Gong sect, which means imprisonment in a mental hospital and possibly a stay in a ‘reeducation camp’, which carry a huge fine, instead of immediate release with a small fine. Meanwhile, Sami gives birth. She’s far from a natural mother, and wants nothing to do with the child. She also does nothing to help around the shelter, which is a communal situation. Li Jin is overworked, spending a lot of time trying to come up with the money to get Lily released. It’s a tense time for them all, with Lily and Ivy in some very scary situations. The ending is a surprise; we are led to think one thing will happen and it’s the opposite. It’s a bit of a deus ex machina, and I wished the details had been spelled out, but it works.

Li Jin is almost too good to be real, although without having read the first two books I could be missing a lot. Sami actually turns out to be the most interesting person in the end. Lily and Ivy are fairly well fleshed out, but no one is really developed all that well. Once again, I could be missing a lot because of this being the first of the books I’ve read. I’m not totally sure if I’ll seek out the others; it was a nice read but not really gripping. 



The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.  

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life, by Yiyun Li. Random House, 2017




Li is an award winning fiction writer, but this is her first non-fiction work. It’s a memoir, written over two years that saw Li hospitalized for suicide attempts. While it jumps around in time a lot, it’s still obviously been smoothed out a lot because things flow well.

The author writes about her childhood in China during a time when free thought was not encouraged, with a mother who had significant mental issues of her own as a narcissist. She speaks of her decision to change from being a scientist with an assured income and green card, to being a writer. She tells us some about her stay in a mental hospital and about her feelings that took her there. Mostly, she writes about reading and writing, and the books and authors that have been important to her.

It’s a sad tale, mostly. But it engaged me and the prose is so well done that it sucked me in for hours. 





 The above is an affiliate link. If you click through and buy something- anything- from Amazon, they will give me a few cents. 

I received this book free from the Amazon Vine program, in return for a fair review. 

Neither of these things influenced my review.