Posted in General Fiction, Legal Fiction, Legal Mystery, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Murder Mystery, Mystery

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim

Publication Info: Published April 16th 2019 by Sarah Crichton Books. I listened to the audio edition. Other editions available.

Summary: For several families, hope lies in a blue hyperbaric chamber. The owner of the device, Pak Yoo, brought his wife and teenage daughter from South Korea in search of a better life. He promotes the hyperbaric chamber as a treatment for a variety of conditions ranging from autism to impotence.

When a deliberately set fire kills two of the children, suspicion initially falls on a group of protestors. But the police arrest Elizabeth, the mother of one of the victims. As the novel progresses, it is clear that the case isn’t quite as simple as the prosecution portrays.

Comments: Miracle Creek is an astonishingly complex and insightful novel. The author employs omnicient narration to peer deeply into the lives and motivations of everyone involved with the hyperbaric chamber. While the story line is centered around Elizabeth’s trial, the author skillfully weaves in the various events that lead to the fire. The reader’s sympathies and emotions are pulled in various directions as evidence unfolds.

Because the author is also a Korean immigrant, she is able to write with deep understanding about the experience the Yoo family had in coming to America. I found this part of the story particularly enlightening.

Highly recommended for readers of general fiction, multicultural fiction, legal fiction and mysteries.

My rating: 5 STARS

Posted in Asian, Best Sellers, Contemporary Fiction, Cultural, Fiction

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Publication Info: Published September 12, 2017 by Penguin Press. I read the Book of the Month Club hardcover edition. Other editions available.

Summary: Elena Richardson’s guiding life principle is that everything will be just fine if you live by the rules. She grew up in Shaker Heights, a well-ordered town, went away to college briefly, and came right back with a new husband in tow. Of Elena’s four children, three of them more or less adhered to her guidelines for life, but the youngest, Izzy, rebelled from birth.

The Richardsons live in a large house in the most prosperous part of town, but they also own a rental duplex. Elena likes to make herself feel like she’s doing a good deed by renting it to people who seem like they need a boost in life. The bottom floor is occupied by a quiet school bus driver. The top floor is rented to an artist/photographer named Mia and her teenage daughter, Pearl. Elena thought they seemed like nice quiet people, but Elena would come to regret her choice of upstairs occupants.

Mia and Pearl lived an itinerant lifestyle until moving to Shaker Heights. Mia wandered the country, looking for artistic inspiration (as well as running from a deep secret in her past), dragging her daughter along with her. In Shaker Hights, Mia feels that her secret is far enough in the past to allow Pearl to make friends and live a semi-normal life.

But when Elena, who is a reporter for the local paper, gets on her high horse about events that are none of her business, it sets off a chain of events that change several families’ lives forever.

Comments: I’m not sure why I didn’t pick this book up when it first came out, but I’m very glad I finally did. Two things prompted me to take a closer look at Little Fires Everywhere. The first is that it is now a TV show on Hulu and I wanted to read the book before seeing the show. The second is that I had a free credit to use on my Book of the Month club subscription and this title was one of the options.

I have to say that the book exceeded my expectations. I was impressed with the depth and insight into the realistic characters. The issues of cultural identity were dealt with deftly, teaching me something about my own thinking in the process.

Highly recommended for readers of General Fiction and Multi-Cultural fiction.

My Rating: 5 STARS

Posted in General Fiction, Literary Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Women's Fiction

The Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

Publication Info: Published May 14, 2019 by Knopf. Hardback edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: On a summer day in northern Russia, two young sisters vanish without a trace. One witness remembers seeing the girls with a white man and a dark car, but no one, including the police, has any solid evidence that the girls were kidnapped. The local investigators are taking the case very seriously but have few leads.

Several years previously another girl vanished, but the police didn’t investigate her disappearance as vigorously. After all, she was older, had a bit of a reputation and she was a native.

After the sisters disappear, the townspeople are on edge. The uneasy truce that exists between the natives and whites flares up as people look at each other with suspicion. Old-timers mourn the changes to Russia that brought strangers to the area. Mothers keep a closer watch on their children and don’t allow them to roam freely. People scurry to be home before dark–even though the girls vanished in broad daylight. It is a natural reaction to hide and become isolated after trauma. But it is only when people start to come back together and ask each other questions that the truth emerges.

Comments: While a mystery is at the core of The Disappearing Earth, the novel is about much more than that. It is the story of a changing community and vanishing cultures. Isolated from the world until 1990, the people of Kamchatka are still adjusting to intrusions from the outside world. In the novel, the big black car is more than the vehicle that snatches two unwary girls; it is a symbol of change and uncertainty.

It took me longer than I expected to get through this book. I found it emotionally draining, so I had to occasionally step away. Through vivid imagery, the novel focuses primarily on the ordinary lives of the women in the town. Their hopes and dreams are exposed and dashed. Fear and uncertainty drives them to make the safe choices in their lives. I found myself reflecting on the choices I make in my own life—and why I make them.

Recommended for readers of Literary Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Women’s Fiction

My Rating 4.5 STARS

Posted in Asian, Cultural, India, Legal Fiction, Legal Mystery, Mystery

The Satapur Moonstone by Sujata Massey (Perveen Mistry #2)

Publication Info: Published May 14th 2019 by Soho Crime. Hardcover edition courtesy of my local library. Other editions available.

Summary: The Kholhapur Agency, which has jurisdiction over twenty-five states in Western India, hires Perveen to mediate in a situation that requires a woman. As one of the few female lawyers in India, Perveen once again is called upon to visit women in purdah–seclusion from any men–who are stuck in an argument that affects the future of their state of Satapur.The Satapur Moonstone

The women, both widowed, are the grandmother and mother of a future Maharajah, a boy named Prince Jiva Rao. The argument is over the boy’s education. The grandmother, the ruling dowager Majarani, wants the boy educated at home by the long-standing family tutor, an elderly man. His mother, a more worldly and educated woman, wants the boy sent away to be educated in England.

Both women agree on one thing: they fear for the boy’s safety. Jiva Rao’s father was killed by cholera and his brother in a hunting accident. Both deaths were within a short time of each other. The women disagree on how to keep the boy safe–keep him at home or send him to another country.

Perveen must get the women to agree on a course of action. But more forces are in play than are described to her in her mission objectives. As Perveen gets to know the family and the people nearest to them, she realizes that someone is possibly a murderer–and her own life may be in danger.

Comments: I really looked forward to reading The Satapur Moonstone after devouring the first one in the series. While I enjoyed it, the characters didn’t quite grab me this time. I like the main character, Perveen Mistry,  but other than her attraction to a man whom she cannot have (due to her personal circumstances), there were few further insights into her life. Other than the man she was attracted to (no spoilers here) I found most, but not all, of the other characters to be unlikable and without much depth.

I like the setting of the novels in India and learning about the cultural differences within the country. I am looking forward to reading the next installment in the series, but perhaps with a bit less eagerness.

Recommended for mystery readers and those who like multi-cultural fiction. I highly recommend that readers start with book number one in the series, The Widows of Malabar Hill.

Posted in 20th Century, Asian, Cultural, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II

Daughter of Moloka’i by Alan Brennert

Publication Info: Published February 19th 2019 by St. Martin’s Press. E-book edition provided by NetGalley. Other editions available.Daughter of Molokai

Summary: In the Kapi’olani Home for Girls on O’ahu, three-year-old Ruth is a lively handful. Ruth loves animals and wants a pet of her own. But as loving as the nuns in the Catholic orphanage are, they must maintain the strict rules and can’t allow Ruth to be an exception.

But Ruth is already an exception in the Hawaiian orphanage. While all the other girls are also children of lepers, they are of pure Hawaiian heritage.  Ruth is different. She is hapa, someone of mixed heritage. Ruth is half Japanese, born to her parents who met in the leper colony on Moloka’i. When potential adoptive parents meet her, they turn away, not wanting to take on a child who not only carries the stigma of leprosy but is also hapa.

Finally, a Japanese couple adopts Ruth. She becomes Ruth Dai Watanabe and lives with her two brothers and new parents in Chinatown. She learns to speak Japanese and is taught their customs. Ruth thrives in the love of her adoptive family, but she is still hapa.

The novel follows Ruth as her family moves to California. There she grows up and has a family of her own. But after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, Ruth and all the other people of Japanese descent on the west coast are rounded up in concentration camps or sent back to Japan. After the camps are closed, Ruth and her family return to California to try to put their lives back together. It is after going through all this that Ruth gets a surprise and finally learns to accept her heritage.

Comments: I absolutely loved the first Moloka’i book and wasn’t disappointed by this sequel, Daughter of Moloka’i. While the first takes place almost exclusively on the island, this one reflects the changes in the treatment of lepers, both socially and medically, and moves to the greater world. A large portion of the book takes place in the Japanese internment camps and from the resources listed in the back of the book, I know the descriptions and details were well researched. In writing about Ruth’s mixed heritage and the atrocity of rounding up the Japanese Americans (and not rounding up the German Americans, for example), the author makes some profound observations of what it’s like to be non-white in America. What happened to the Japanese is not “in the past”. It happened and continues to happen to Native Americans, Blacks and currently to Hispanics and others. Fear and ignorance are powerful forces that destroy people’s lives.

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction and Literary Fiction.

Posted in 20th Century, Asian, China, Cultural, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

Will of a Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Info: Published January 28, 2019 by Open Books. Paperback or Kindle editions available.

Summary:  Birch Bai, a Chinese Air Force Pilot and Danny Hardy, an American Flying Tiger, are engaged in a fierce air battle with the Japanese when their plane is shot down. Both men are captured and sent to a POW camp.  At the camp, they and their fellow prisoners continue to suffer at the hands of their cruel, tormenting captors. The war is coming to an end; the Americans have just dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. But this just spurs one Japanese officer, a man they call the Jackal, to further atrocities. The men in the camp are just starting to bond with each other when the Jackal culls the group, telling him they must choose which seven of the fourteen will die. Will of a Tiger

Danny and Birch argue over which of them will make the sacrifice. In an act of supreme sacrifice and courage, Danny ensures it is Birch who will survive.

After the war, Birch must not only wrestle with the result of his physical injuries but the emotional pain of losing his best friend. He feels he is to blame for Danny’s death. As he recovers and gains strength, he faces new enemies as his country splits in two over Communism.

Comments: Iris Yang poured her heart into Will of a Tiger and breathed life into the characters. As a result, I got so caught up in their lives that I cried toward the end of the book–something I don’t do often with a novel. I have read other accounts of how China was torn apart during the Communist takeover, but none from this point of view. National heroes turned into enemies overnight because of politics. Reading this outstanding spotlight on one man’s life also gave me new insights into China today. With her second novel, the author has once again raised my awareness and knowledge. As I wrote in my review of  Wings of a Flying Tiger, “It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other….”

Highly recommended for readers of Historical Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Asian Fiction and anyone with a heart.

I wish to thank the Open Books Book Reviewer Program for the opportunity to read this book. They publish some absolutely wonderful novels and non-fiction.

Posted in Best Sellers, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, India, Multi-Cultural Fiction, Women's Fiction

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

Publication Info: Published September 1, 2018 by Brilliance Audio. Other editions available. (I listened to the book from Audible.com).

The Storyteller's Secret

The Storyteller’s Secret is a novel about obligation, family duty,  and love in it’s many forms. Although the story takes place in India, the themes are universal.

Jaya, an American woman of Indian descent, travels to India to discover her past and heal some deep hurts from her childhood as well as recover emotionally from three miscarriages. In India, she meets Ravi, her grandmother Amisha’s servant and dear friend. He tells her a story that helps explain Jaya’s mother’s odd behavior. The story also puts Jaya’s troubles in perspective and helps her to heal.

I was deeply drawn into this novel, spending too much time lying awake listening to it instead of sleeping! The author did a credible job of describing rural India in the waning days of British rule. The characters were sympathetic and came to life on the pages. Although I could see one plot line coming from a long way off, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment. Indeed, I was compelled to keep reading to see how it would play out and affect the outcome for the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it for fans of general fiction, historical fiction and multi-cultural fiction.

Posted in China, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction, World War II, Young Adult

Wings of a Flying Tiger by Iris Yang

Publication Date: May 2018 by Open Books

Summary: Jasmine Bai, a university student, leaves the relative security of her uncle’s house in Chungking to find her parents in Nanking. It is 1937 and the Japanese are reported near the Republic of China’s capital. Having already ravaged Peking and Shanghai, the Japanese army is headed to Nanking. Jasmine fears for the safety of her parents, both esteemed educators. Her father, Professor Bai, with his fluency in Japanese, is confident that he could help communicate with the invaders and protect the university.Wings of a Flying Tiger

When Jasmine arrives at her parents’ home, it is too late. Her parents are dead, and Nanking is in complete chaos. She takes refuge in a safety zone, a church, directed by Father John, a priest from the United States. But safety zones mean little to the Japanese and she is forced to flee again…and again. The Japanese are constantly looking for soldiers in hiding and “prostitutes”—basically any very pretty, young woman. The first they kill; the second they capture and rape.

Father John arranges for a disguise for Jasmine and gets her out of the city. It is believed to be safer in the countryside. But when an American airman, a Flying Tiger, crashes near the remote village where she is staying, the Japanese are determined to find him—and will destroy anyone they believe to be even remotely involved in his survival.

Comments: Wings of a Flying Tiger is much more than Jasmine’s story. Told with a direct, sympathetic style, it is an agonizing depiction of the Japanese atrocities in China during World War II. Personally, I never knew much about this part of the war. My childhood studies focused on the United States’ war with Japan, but barely mentioned China. I am grateful to the author for educating me about this period of China’s history. The horrors tore at my soul, now more than 80 years distanced. It is good to never forget what human beings can do to each other in war.

The author was born and raised in China and drew from her parents’ and grandmother’s experiences in the war. An interview with the author can be found here.

Highly recommended.  This book is suitable for adults and older young adults.

 

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, General Fiction, Multi-Cultural Fiction

Beneath the Same Heaven by Anne Marie Ruff

Publication date, March 20, 2018 by Open Books.

Summary: In a Dubai nightclub, a blond American journalist named Kathryn meets Rashid Siddique, a darkly handsome Pakistani man. Each is looking to step out of the proscribed boundaries of their lives. As their lives and passions rapidly interweave, they try on each other’s customs to see how well they fit.  Beneath the Same Heaven

After Kathryn experiences fasting during Ramadan and expresses an interest in meeting his family in Pakistan, Rashid proposes to her. Soon she is tossed into a whirlwind of people and wedding customs that are exotically foreign and exciting.  Kathryn works hard at feeling what it is like to be Pakistani.

Rashid has ducked his parents’ traditional matchmaking efforts for years. He is fiercely loyal to his Muslim religion, family and clan, but he wants to walk his own path in the world. After a traditional Pakistani wedding, the newlyweds head to America. Rashid gleefully experiences American freedoms, life in California and consumerism.

Rashid’s engineering degree and FBI clearance qualify him for work on an oil rig. Kathryn writes for a local journal. Together they have two sons, Michael and Andrew,  five years apart. They are living the American dream until the day that Rashid’s father is killed by an American drone attack while at a wedding on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border.

Rashid finds himself caught between his centuries-old religious, cultural, family and clan loyalties and his love for his American family. He is also heavily pressured by outside forces, men who want him to use his skills and connections to get revenge on the Americans for their attack on innocent Pakistani civilians. Rashid’s final, heart-wrenching decision has repercussions that affect both his American and Pakistani families for the rest of their lives.

Comments: Beneath the Same Heaven is a deeply compassionate and very plausible contemporary novel. It is a rare book that makes me cry, but I sobbed apologetically at one point in the story. If I could get a magic fairy to give me three wishes right now, one wish would be that this book be required reading for those with closed minds and hardened hearts; that reading this book could be a step toward understanding and peace.  But alas, I stopped believing in magic fairies long ago.

For more background information on this novel, see the interview with the author here on Book Glow.

5 out of 5 books. 5 out of 5 books