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11 May, 2018

Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert
on April 10th 2018
Pages: 361
Genres: Fiction
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Source: Library
Setting: California

Danny Cheng has always known his parents have secrets. But when he discovers a taped-up box in his father's closet filled with old letters and a file on a powerful Silicon Valley family, he realizes there's much more to his family's past than he ever imagined.
Danny has been an artist for as long as he can remember and it seems his path is set, with a scholarship to RISD and his family's blessing to pursue the career he's always dreamed of. Still, contemplating a future without his best friend, Harry Wong, by his side makes Danny feel a panic he can barely put into words. Harry and Danny's lives are deeply intertwined and as they approach the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that shook their friend group to its core, Danny can't stop asking himself if Harry is truly in love with his girlfriend, Regina Chan.
When Danny digs deeper into his parents' past, he uncovers a secret that disturbs the foundations of his family history and the carefully constructed facade his parents have maintained begins to crumble. With everything he loves in danger of being stripped away, Danny must face the ghosts of the past in order to build a future that belongs to him.

Goodreads

I’ve heard a lot of hype for Picture Us in the Light but I didn’t really know what it was about.  That’s the point, I suppose.  This is a book about mysteries.

For me the main mystery in Danny’s family’s past was obvious from the first few pages of discussion of it.  That contributed to my frustration with this book.  It is hard to listen to people go on and on about how strange it all is and how they can’t figure it out when you, the reader, is sitting there thinking, “Dude, it’s obvious.”

There is another story line about a friend of Danny’s who died of suicide a year before.  There is a lot of good writing about how the different characters deal with survivor’s guilt and their feelings about whether their last interactions with her may have added to her decision to kill herself.

I admit that I was not that interested in this book while I was reading it.  But I had been in a bit of a reading slump where I was only interested in romance and nonfiction.  I was determined to finish something that didn’t fit into those categories.  People like this book.  I was going to finish this book even if I wasted away from boredom in the process.

Then I got to the ending.  I love an unexpected ending.  They make me want to stand up and cheer.  It perked me up and made me pay close attention again.  I loved it.  It made me glad I read the book for the last two chapters.

I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially who don’t tend to get bored to tears reading about teenagers and their angst, just for the ending.



		
		Picture Us in the Light and Mambo in Chinatown
			
			
		
	Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok 
on June 24th 2014
Pages: 384
Published by Riverhead Books
Setting: New York

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (America-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire world has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.
But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

Goodreads

I’ve had this book on my TBR for a long time. Once I realized that I was going to do AsianLitBingo, I downloaded the ebook from the library.

I loved the main character of this book.  She’s always been told that she isn’t special enough to do anything.  She struggled in school and works as a dishwasher.  She wears hand me down clothes from the old ladies in her neighborhood.  The only skill she has is tai chi.  Her mother was a ballerina in China and she started Charlie in tai chi as a child.  But she doesn’t think of this as a talent.  She just thinks that she was bound to have picked up some skills since she’s been doing it for twenty years.

Her father and uncle tightly control her life.  So when she gets a job as a receptionist at a dance studio outside Chinatown, she keeps it secret.  She wants the extra money to help put her little sister into a private school.

At the school she is thrust into a world where people pay hundreds of dollars a week for dance lessons.  This isn’t a world that she knows.  Her coworkers take her on as a project to find the real person beneath the hand me down clothes and deferential manner.

This book is about branching out beyond what you’ve always been told your limits are.  How far do you go without losing parts of yourself?

22 Feb, 2018

The Belles

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Belles The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
on February 6th 2018
Pages: 448
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Disney-Hyperion
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Camellia Beauregard is a Belle. In the opulent world of Orléans, Belles are revered, for they control Beauty, and Beauty is a commodity coveted above all else. In Orléans, the people are born gray, they are born damned, and only with the help of a Belle and her talents can they transform and be made beautiful.
But it’s not enough for Camellia to be just a Belle. She wants to be the favorite—the Belle chosen by the Queen of Orléans to live in the royal palace, to tend to the royal family and their court, to be recognized as the most talented Belle in the land. But once Camellia and her Belle sisters arrive at court, it becomes clear that being the favorite is not everything she always dreamed it would be. Behind the gilded palace walls live dark secrets, and Camellia soon learns that the very essence of her existence is a lie—that her powers are far greater, and could be more dangerous, than she ever imagined. And when the queen asks Camellia to risk her own life and help the ailing princess by using Belle powers in unintended ways, Camellia now faces an impossible decision.
With the future of Orléans and its people at stake, Camellia must decide—save herself and her sisters and the way of the Belles—or resuscitate the princess, risk her own life, and change the ways of her world forever.

Goodreads

I wanted to love this book so much more than I did.  I’ve been hearing about it for so long and have heard such glowing praise of it that when I finished it and felt a bit blah towards it, I was disappointed.

The Hype

This book has been super hyped because of the use of a black model in a gown on the cover.  It was celebrated as a great step forward for representation in books and it is.  But because of that I thought that race would play a bigger part in this book than it does.  Skin color in this world is decided on a whim.  There is no change in status/power/importance placed on the skin color that you have.  It is a fashion accessory.  It just seemed like it went from “Yay for Black Girls” on the cover and in the promotions to “But actually, this doesn’t have anything to do with you specifically” in the story.  If I didn’t know anything about how this book was promoted, it probably wouldn’t have felt strange to me.

Worldbuilding

The author does a great job in the opening of setting up the world.  It is imaginative and vivid.  After that though the world building just seems to stop.  This is a long novel at 448 pages.  In most fantasy books that size you’d know about countries around the area, the basis of the economy, how people of different classes live, what is their technology based on, etc.  The main character is very sheltered but that isn’t unusual in fantasy.  Usually they find out more about their surroundings that she does in this book though.  At least they show some interest in what is going on around them.  Camillia really doesn’t.

Wishy Washy Heroine

Events happen to the characters in this book.  They do not direct the action.  I think this is the key to my dissatisfaction with this book. 

Every time she is asked to make a decision, she puts it off for days. Eventually she makes a decision but it is usually irrelevant by then because events have moved on.  When deciding between what is right/hard and what is easy/cruel, she always chooses easy/cruel if forced to make a choice in the moment.  She seems like she is supposed to be a nice person – she remembers servants’ names! – but she is so very weak.  Only after witnessing and participating in abuse after abuse does she start to think that something might be wrong.  I would be much more interested in reading a story about the one of her fellow Belles who threw a fit about what she was being made to do almost from the beginning.  

Series vs Stand alone book

It is fine to have a book designed to be part of a series but I hate it when there is no resolution at the end of a book.  Even just wrapping up some side storylines is more satisfying than a totally open-ended book.  In a way this feels like the story is just starting and the pages run out.  That’s fine if you can move right on to the next book but it is annoying here.  At the end I kept thinking of questions that weren’t answered and thinking, “Maybe that’s in the next book” instead of enjoying what was in this one.  

Overall

I think the idea was good.  There are some very creative details in the world building like teacup elephants and mail being delivered by small balloons.  It may turn out to be the beginning of a good series.  But it doesn’t stand alone well as a single book.  

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