August Minireviews – Part 1

I’m SO determined to actually catch up on reviews!!!

Sometimes I don’t feel like writing a full review for whatever reason, either because life is busy and I don’t have time, or because a book didn’t stir me enough.  Sometimes, it’s because a book was so good that I just don’t have anything to say beyond that I loved it!  Frequently, I’m just wayyy behind on reviews and am trying to catch up.  For whatever reason, these are books that only have a few paragraphs of thoughts from me.

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley – 3.5*

This is a really fun, although honestly pretty straightforward, variation of the Robin Hood story that I overall really enjoyed.  However, I wasn’t a huge fan of the way McKinley decided to end her story, so it left me with mixed feelings on the whole.  This was one of her books that I read a really long time ago and couldn’t really remember, but I don’t particularly see myself revisiting it again any time soon.  It just didn’t have any zing.

Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson – 4*

I read this one for the traveling book club and loved it!  It definitely had some eye-rolling moments, and got a little melodramatic at the end, but on the whole it was just delightfully fun fluff with main characters that I totally shipped.  And this one was super swoony without being sexy, which I really appreciated.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens – 3*

This one sounded fun but just didn’t pan out, mainly because multiple murders plus a lot of discussion about illegitimate children felt inappropriate for the middle-grade age range for which this book is written.  The main character, Daisy, is a bit of a bully (in my opinion) and I didn’t feel like she treated Hazel, the narrator, very well, often making rather snide comments or pressuring Hazel to do things that made her uncomfortable.  Daisy is one of the popular girls at the boarding school, so a lot of Hazel’s hero-worship felt awkward to me, like she was willing to let a lot of Daisy’s actions slide so that Daisy would keep liking her.

On the other hand, this is the first book in a series, so maybe it’s just as well that I didn’t enjoy this one – nine books off the TBR with minimal effort!!

Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling – 4.5*

This is actually one of my favorites (maybe even THE favorite) of the series. I absolutely love world-building and backstory, which is a huge part of what this book is all about. I love learning about the horcruxes and Voldemort’s background.  It’s a sort of calm-before-the-storm book that I really enjoy reading every time.

Sail Away by Lisa Jackson – 2.5*

This one and the next book, Million Dollar Baby, were in one volume that I got in a big box of mystery and romance books that someone on Litsy sent to me a while back.  Sail Away was pretty terrible.  Marnie’s dad really wants her to marry this dude named Kent, and Kent and Marnie were even engaged for a while.  Marnie broke it off when she found out that (surprise surprise) Kent was cheating on her.  The problem is, she never told her dad so he keeps going on and on about how Kent is perfect for Marnie and blah blah blah and like Marnie’s dad really loves her a lot and made zero sense for her not to just tell her dad that Kent is actually a secret sleezeball and she’s never going to marry him, because her dad would have totally been on her side if she had just told him the truth!  So that just super annoyed me the entire time that she wouldn’t just have this one basic conversation with him.  Meantime, the “good” love interest, Adam, was just really pushy and annoying as well.  In romance novels I can usually give a little leeway to the “he grabbed her and kissed her” routine, but I felt like Adam was just too far.  He was constantly forcing her to “submit” to his kisses, like she would be mad and he would just start kissing her until she gave up – it felt really uncomfortable to me.  In the end, a combination of annoying characters and not really being able to ship Marnie and Adam meant that I didn’t really enjoy this one all that much.

Million Dollar Baby by Lisa Jackson – 3.5*

But did not enjoying Sail Away keep me from reading the other book in that volume, Million Dollar Baby?  No, no it did not, because I have a problem haha  This one was more regular cheesy romance, with a woman with a mysterious past finding an abandoned baby in her barn, which forces her to connect with the local (ruggedly handsome) ER doctor.  This one was a bit melodramatic for my personal taste, but not a bad one-off read.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan – 3.5*

Quite a while ago I read The Joy Luck Club by this author, which was one of those books I wasn’t exactly expecting to enjoy but then did, so I’ve had a few of Tan’s other books on my TBR since then.  Like The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter explores themes of motherhood/daughterhood in a way that feels poignant and realistic.  I found myself drawn into this story and genuinely concerned about LuLing, and felt that the dual timeline aspect of the story was handled really well.  While I did find this one to be really well-written, it was soooo sad that I can’t exactly say that I enjoyed it.  It was a worthwhile read, but left me feeling a bit depressed.

Persuasion by Jane Austen – 5*

I really love this novel so much, and rereading it was a delight.  I’m not always a huge fan of the “second chance” romance just because it seems so sad that so many years have been wasted on misunderstanding each other, but Austen’s story just brings me a lot of happiness.

The Joy Luck Club // by Amy Tan

 

thejoyluckclub

//published 1989//

When I picked up The Joy Luck Club, I was hoping to read a book that would emphasize the mystery of the culture within a culture – the difficulty of balancing the culture from the past with the culture of a new place and time.  In this story, Tan blends old and new culture beautifully, telling the story of four women and their daughters in a way that wonderfully expresses the yearning every parent has to see life be better for their children than it was for themselves, and the inability for any child to truly appreciate the sacrifices that have been made for them.  And she does this while emphasizing the impact that the Chinese culture has had on each of the characters.  Throughout the story, Tan’s ability to express various aspects of this culture and its influence on Tan’s characters gave layers of depth and interest to the tale.

It is an odd story in many ways, being more of a collection of vignettes surrounding a group of individuals than a linear story.  There are four sections in the book, and within each section is a chapter told by either one of the mothers or one of the daughters.  For me, this was the only part of the book that was a tad confusing – because there were long gaps between characters’ chapters, and because the next chapter about a character would not directly pick up where the last chapter had ended, I found myself having to flip back through the book at the beginning of each chapter to remind myself what had happened in this family before.  I think this mild confusion was emphasized because every chapter is told in first person, so rather than reading a chapter wherein an individual’s name is repeated throughout, thus helping me to remember that Lindo Jong was the person who was pledged to marry a neighbor’s son, the personal pronouns in every chapter meant that I had to flip back to that chapter to remind myself whether Lindo Jong was the person pledged to marry the neighbor’s son, or the one who told the Moon Lady her secret wish.

However, the first person narratives did, in this instance, make the stories feel much more personal and real, and also gave the narrators opportunities to emphasize not just the action of what occurred, but how they felt about the event and how they believed it influenced them in the future.

The nature of these stories means that we jump back and forth in time.  The mothers were all born, in China, around 1915, so when they tell a tale from their childhood, it usually takes place sometime in the 1920’s.  Most of the immigrated to America in the 1940’s, and their daughters were born in the early 1950’s, so many of the stories take place in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Finally, the present-day story, where the book begins and ends, takes place in the late 1980’s, when the daughters are approaching middle age, and the mothers are elderly.  Despite this, I never felt lost or confused as to what was happening when.  Tan easily inserts dates when necessary, and they flow naturally into the story, giving context and place to each chapter.  This is a book where date and location are important, as the story ranges through the good part of a century wherein the world goes through many advances in technology and changes in societal mores.

While Tan doesn’t claim this book to be autobiographical, she was born in 1952 of parents who had immigrated from China just a few years before.  This is definitely a story that is rooted in what the author knows.

This wasn’t exactly a happy book, yet despite the many tragedies and misunderstandings throughout, Tan somehow manages to leave us with a sense of hope, that each of these mothers will be able to reach her daughter and share what it is that has shaped her.

I’m not sure that The Joy Luck Club is a book that I will return to again and again, but it was a thoughtful read, beautifully written and brilliantly executed.  I look forward to seeing what else Tan has written since this 1989 debut.

This book was initially brought to my attention by a lovely review by The Literary Sisters, who do a much better job than me at outlining the story!