Showing posts with label Asian. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Asian. Show all posts

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Mindful Artist: Sumi-e Painting by Virginia Lloyd-Davies

Rating: WORTHY!

From an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I love the idea of painting, although I do none of it myself these days. I don't have the time! This book, written by a woman named Virginia who lives in Virginia, but who has studied with the masters in the East and the West, struck me as particularly interesting because it is also about mindfulness and Asian art. I imagine all art is about mindfulness in one way or another, but this book focuses on it particularly, and it has a lot to say about technique too, so I concluded that it will be of immense value to anyone who wants seriously to get into this art form - and likely of interest to other artists too, regardless of which style they favor.

On a technical note, I have to say that the book doesn't work well on an iPad which means that the publisher wasn't very mindful about how it would look in other formats! Unless you have the large-format tablet, the text is far too small to read comfortably, meaning I had to enlarge the page and read, then slide the page around to the reach next section; then shrink it to swipe to the next page. This didn't always work well and was quite annoying - not at all conducive to mindfulness! Then there were problems in moving to the next page, requiring several swipes sometimes before it would slide over, so I wouldn't advise getting the ebook version - and unfortunately that's the only kind of book a reviewer like me gets to read! Maybe it's not available in ebook format? I dunno, but if that's the case it makes me wonder why it's issued for review in such a format! I now claim the record for using the word 'format' more times in a single review than any other reviewer! Yeay!

Amazon's website was predictably hopeless when it came to learning the print book's dimensions. I have no idea why so many publishers and authors sell-out to such an abusive behemoth. Obviously they claim that it's where everyone goes, but it is we who voluntarily give that power to Amazon. They wouldn't have it if we didn't kiss Billionaire Bezos's ass so passionately and routinely. But Waterstone's tells me the book is about 11" (2.96cm) tall. My iPad is only 7"x5" so the height of the book in landscape mode was less than half the actual print height. From this, I imagine the print version is a lot more legible! And now I'm exhaisted. I have to go lie down. Kidding. The book was 65 pages in ebook form, but it's twice that in print because both the Adobe Digital Editions app and the Bluefire reader app were counting each double-page spread as one page. Had the book been published in ebook form as single pages. It would probably have been more legible on my iPad at least.

So enough with the technical. Let's look at content! This was much less frustrating and much more relaxing! The art was beautiful, and delicate, and inspiring, and eye-catching - everything you expect from traditional Asian art. The author took us through selecting brushes and paints, and other materials and the kind of environment you might want to find to paint in. One issue I, as a vegetarian, had with the brushes was that the author recommends animal hair. For me, it would be hard to be mindful when painting with a brush that had animal hair in it because I'd be wondering where that animal was, and how the brush manufacturer got that hair. If it came from a slaughterhouse, I doubt that would make me feel good about using it to paint with! But maybe that's just me!

That aside, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness that had gone into this book, and the useful information with which it was replete. It had all kinds of suggestions from the type of paper to the type of brush, to how the ink was prepared and loaded onto the brush. Following this was page after page of beautiful art, with hints, tips, and step-by-step instructions on how to get there from here.

I was impressed and I commend this book as a useful tool for anyone who is into painting.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an audiobook which started out great, got a little lost in the middle section, but came out entertainingly enough at the end for me to rate it a worthy read for the middle-grade audience it's aimed at. It's in the 'Rick Riordan Presents' series, which apparently meant he offered some advice during her writing of it, but what that would have been, I do not know since shortening the middle section was what was required, and he either never suggested that, or she didn't listen if he did! I guess it's good of him to give a boost to other writers (depending on the motive behind it!), but I am not a fan of his writing at all, so seeing his name on something is more likely to turn me away from a book than onto it! Fortunately in this case I read the blurb before I ever saw the Riordan name on it, and I was interested enough not to put it back on the shelf.

I think the character names might have been better chosen! I'm sure that pandering to a western audience wasn't Lee's first thought in writing this, Indeed, in some ways the novel is bigoted in that it presents a sci-fi scenario where everything is Chinese which is just as bigoted as a writer who presents the future as American or any other nationality.

I'm sure the author felt the names were great, and objectively they probably were, but looked at from the point of view of a person listening, who may not be used to Chinese names, hearing something like 'Yune Me', especially while distracted by driving to one extent or another, made the name sound rather like 'You and Me', and so it went! One character was named Min, but it was pronounced like it read 'mean', so that didn't work too well for western ears. The final amusement was a character named Inspector Suk (not sure about the spellings since this was audiobook).

But maybe that's just me who loves playing with words. The story itself was quite interesting, being a blend of sci-fi and fantasy. The main character is Min, who is described as a 'fox spirit' who is also a shape-shifter, but she never changes into a fox (not that I recall, although I did skip some parts during the boring bits!). Her brother Joon, is in the military as a cadet on a spacecraft, but he has disappeared. When a government official arrives in Min's insignificant little village on an insignificant little half-terra-formed planet, Min's trouble-making ways are highlighted, and she's threatened with being shipped-off to stay with an auntie. She is not pleased by this.

Rather than let that happen she runs away, and eventually winds up - in a bit too much of a coincidence - on the same ship her brother was on. Since she can shape-shift and see ghosts, she makes a deal with the ghost of another cadet who had died during an encounter with pirates, to impersonate him. I somehow missed how it was that his body never gave her away. The idea was that in impersonating him, she could help him move on to the spirit world, and for herself, learn what happened to Joon. The ghost really is of no help to her, so I was at a loss as to why he was even included as a character in the story at all.

The biggest problem was that for me, this is where the story ground to a halt. Min spent far, far too much time dicking around on the ship learning how to be a cadet and learning nothing of what happened to Joon. Recall that this is a girl who can shape-shift and is good at it, so she could have impersonated anyone, gone anywhere and discovered anything, yet it was all cadet all the time, and it was boring.

I began skimming the story at that point until she finally got off the ship and went unsurprisingly to what was called a Lost Colony not because they didn't know where it was, but because they couldn't use the planet due to the prevalence of unfriendly ghosts there. That's where Min found the Dragon Pearl and became a hero.

That part was also much better and was highly amusing in parts, so this is why I gave this book a worthy rating, although it had problems. Those problems did nothing to win me back to thinking that Rick Riordan knows how to write! All he's ever done is steal Greek mythology, inexplicably move it to the USA and put a white savior in charge. That's not my kind of writing, but for this audiobook: a worthy read with the above caveats.

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Rating: WORTHY!

This was an odd, but interesting and entertaining story. The author sells well in Japan apparently, and has several titles published there. This is her first English translation.

The novella is about a Japanese woman, Keiko Furukura, who is in her mid-thirties and who seems to the rest of the world to be stagnating. She is neither in a successful career, nor is she married with children which seem to be the only two viable options available to Japanese women, reading between the lines here.

in fact, Keiko has some sort of deficit disorder in that she doesn't see life like her peers do. For example, when she was in middle school and two boys were fighting, and other girls were urging them to stop it to no avail, Keiko's solution was to grab a nearby shovel and hit one of them on the head with it, which expediently stopped the fight at once. Problem solved.

She couldn't understand why she got into trouble for this any more than she can grasp why it's not acceptable to stick something sharp into a baby to shock it into stopping its endless wailing. Fortunately, she has learned that her solution would be socially unacceptable, and doesn't attempt it, even though the offending baby is her nephew, the son of her younger sister Mami. Keiko has learned that by watching how her peers deal with situations and then emulating them, even though the emulation itself makes no sense to her, she can get by. Mami, realizing Keiko has a problem, helps her with this.

This emulation even extends to copying their mannerisms, clothing choices, and speech inflections, although she's careful not to emulate her peers too precisely. Instead, she imbibes each of their essences, and regurgitates a meld of that as her own style. Keiko is like a robot who is given an AI learning program. In this way she's able to hold down a long-term job at a convenience store named Smile Mart which always seems to be pushing special offers.

The store is actually the perfect environment for Keiko, because it's highly-structured and the daily routine follows a specific set of simple rules. In such circumstances, she flourishes and becomes the store's most reliable and efficient employee. In this way she reminds me of Jeff Daniels's character Bill Johnson in the excellent movie Pleasantville, although she doesn't become anywhere near as lost as he does when routine changes. She feels completely at home in the Smile Mart, more so than anywhere else, and she volunteers for extra shifts because given a choice, that's where she'd rather be. Over the years she sees eight managers come and go, and many more of the staff. Those managers have all seemed to revere her as a stellar and exemplary employee.

This all starts to unravel with the arrival of a completely disaffected, rude, self-absorbed, and frankly gross employee by the name of Shiraha. He is fired, but when Keiko meets him lurking around the store because of his unrequited interest in another female employee, she starts to bond with him. He has no interest in her and she has never been interested in romance or sex, but he moves into her apartment and in that way she can assure her family that she has a boyfriend even though he is, in her own words, really like a stray pet that she took in, and feeds. This nevertheless brings big changes to her life.

I enjoyed this. It is a fast read: even though it's around 160 pages, the book is a very small format. Had it been a regularly-sized print book, it would have probably been less than ninety pages and looking quite skimpy, so it felt rather dishonest that the publisher had made an attempt to 'bulk it up' like this. Despite that, I commend it as a worthy read and may well come back to this author at some point in the future to sample more of her work (assuming more is translated because my Japanese is non-existent, sad to say!).

Sunday, June 23, 2019

More to the Story by Hena Khan

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a story about a family living in Georgia, which to be fair is aimed at a younger and more feminine demographic than I represent, but I typically enjoy stories about Asian families; not always, but preponderantly, which is why I requested this one. Unfortunately, I couldn't get with it, and I DNF'd it about half way through because it was becoming less and less interesting to me and seemed more and more like it was going nowhere.

I only read as far as I did because I kept on hoping that something would happen, but nothing ever really did. Worse, there seemed to be no promise of anything interesting happening. All we got was day-to-day family routine and while, to me, that's interesting to begin with, in the long run it becomes boring if nothing else is going on. On a point of order: "Bob’s your uncle" isn’t the equivalent of "way to go" - it’s more the equivalent of the French word "voila!" or in English "ta-da!" or "and there you have it!" or "QED."

The story tells of four Muslim sisters: Maryam, Jameela, Bisma, and Aleeza. The story focuses on Jameela, whose ambition it is to go into journalism, but her focus is very small - only on local things and low level activity. She never seems to look for a bigger picture. Even this limited focus became completely skewed when Ali, a first cousin, arrives from London, and starts attending Jameela's school. It seems that all she can focus on then is him, and it was at this point that I started losing interest as I saw that Jameela was no different from any other girl in any other such story, and that this one really had nothing new to show me or bring to the table. Since I DNF'd the novel I do not know where the relationship went, if anywhere, but that problem was that the author had written this story in such a way that I really didn't care.

The problem was that in introducing this guy, the author had ripped the story from Jameela's hands, No longer was it about her, but about her in relation to him, so she became his appendage instead of her own person. This is why I lost interest in her. Even before this, Jameela's ambition was to write a story to make her father proud. This was a problem because she was always chasing after his approval, especially when work took him away from home for an extended period, so even before Ali came into the picture, Jameela was an appendage of her father's.

I truly detest stories which have titles in the form of "The _____'s Daughter" where the blank can be some profession or whatever - such as 'The Undertaker's daughter' because books like that devalue women from the very title on. This book felt like one of those, which was simply missing the demeaning title: "The Asian Dad's Daughter" or "Ali's Love Interest" or something. Or, given that this novel was rooted, for some reason, in Little Women, perhaps its title should have been "Belittled Women"? Maybe Jameela changed later in the book, but the author left it far too late for me, since I'd lost all hope and faith in her by then.

Regardless, I cannot commend a story like this where the main female character isn't so much striking-out determinedly along the road less traveled, but instead is being swept along by traffic on the main road to the nearest mall and she doesn't even care. I wish the author all the best in her career because she has talent, but this story was flat for me. I truly wish there had been more to it.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Songs of Our Ancestors Vol 2 by Patrick Atangan

Rating: WARTY!

Subtitled "The Silk Tapestry and Other Chinese Folktales", this is the volume two I wondered about when I positively reviewed volume one back in October of 2018. This one was less than enthralling for me, so while it did hold the charm of the original to a certain extent, the stories seemed a lot less engaging, and I left the book feeling dissatisfied with it, so I cannot commend it.

The first story was of an old woman and her longsuffering daughter. The woman meets a water spirit one day at the river and is inspired to create a tapestry, based on vivid dreams that she has, of living a life as courtesan, but the story rambles on a bit too much, and then seems to completely fizzle out at the end so I wasn't at all sure what exactly happened. I didn't like it.

The next story went to the opposite end of the scale, featuring young, not old, and male, not female, and was about a boy who could paint pictures that took on a life of their own, rather reminiscent of Harold and the Purple Crayon. This story was entertaining, and the artwork was good, but it never really seemed like it wanted to go anywhere. The third one is a creation story bearing a lot of resemblance to the Biblical story (or vice-versa), and featuring a lonely god who separates waters from waters and creates things. It was boring.

So overall, I was not impressed and unlike after reading the first volume, I do not feel inclined to pursue this series any further.

Monday, December 31, 2018

The Last Conception by Eva Darrows

Rating: WARTY!

This is from an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

This was a novel that started out great, but then seems like it jumped the tracks and went off into a completely different territory and got lost. That - around sixty-six percent in, at the end of chapter eighteen - is where I quit reading it because it had become too boring and silly to pursue for me. Was it an LGBTQIA romance? Was it religious fiction? Was it a mystery? Was it supernatural? It couldn't decide.

I had really been invested in it because not only do I love reading about Indian characters I was also engaged in this particular character's lesbian relationship(s), but I lost interest when it lost its way and was no longer engaging. Part of the problem as that the main character, Savarna, was diminished and her role seemed to be taken over by minor characters such as her sister Chitra, who had barely been in the novel at all, and also in part by Savarna's girlfriend (one of two she had!) who had been in it more than Chitra, but was also largely a minor character until about the fifty percent mark.

It was very confusing and didn't make for a satisfactory read to have these people coming out of nowhere with no real past. Just as 'Charley' started becoming more interesting, Savarna rather cruelly abandoned her for a trip to India which was such a tedious whistle-stop tour that it was meaningless instead of being the pivotal event it ought to have been.

Savarna is an embryologist in a bit of a YA love triangle with the trope 'bad girl' as well as with 'sweet girl' Charlemagne, obviously the good softer, gentler partner. The bad girl completely disappeared from the novel without any explanation while Charlemagne, typically referred to as Charley, was also listed as Charlie on occasion. Savarna also appears twice in as Saverna.

She has Indian heritage - that is from India, not American Indian, but she has she no interest in her heritage or her parents' religion. Her parents have been urging her to find a nice boy and settle down, but neither of them know that Savarna is gay - not to begin with. Something suddenly changes (there are a lot of sudden changes in this novel) and her parents start urging her to have a child, because Savarna is supposedly the last of this ancient lineage from some mystical teacher in the past, and since her sister is 'barren'. It's all on Savarna, but no explanation is offered as to why this has so suddenly become an issue.

It's patent nonsense, because by the time Savarna was born her so-called 'blood line' would have been so genetically diluted as to be completely meaningless in terms of carrying on anything, and Savarna would have known this if she was the scientist she was supposed to be, yet her parents put this appalling pressure on their daughter, and nothing is said about that either? Savarna is supposed to be rooted in science, yet she never once questions any of this, and neither does her 'devoted' girlfriend Charley.

Eventually Savarna bows right down to the pressure for no apparent reason, and desperately starts trying to get pregnant using sperm supplied by a completely unquestioning coworker, who himself has a partner who never seems to question his involvement at all - in fact, she's barely mentioned.

None of this made any sense to me, and it seemed so utterly unrealistic that I couldn't take it seriously. No one talked about how stupid this blood line idea was, and no one talked about how inappropriate it was to put that kind of pressure on a woman to have a child. Neither was there any reason supplied as to why it was so critical that they have this child. So what if the line died out? We don't know because it was never discussed. This whole mess is where the novel lost me as a fan.

Note to author: You can't carbon-date something if it doesn't have carbon in it, so gold? No! Maybe the old robe if it was made of natural materials, which I assume it was, but even then, you can't nail it to an actual year, only to a range of years, so you could prove the robe is roughly X years old, but not to whom it belonged. But none of this mattered really because no significance was ever attached to the existence of the robe and the ring - what did it matter? So what if they were old and really had belonged to a guru? What difference did that make to anyone?

No-one was questioning that this sect existed and had been around for many years, so the robe and ring seemed pointless. I assume they were brought in to convince Savarna, but nowhere was that change of opinion really predicated on the evidence. In short, it had no influence on her precipitously diving into this conception binge, so what was the point? She'd already begin trying to get pregnant before she ever went to India so what was the point of that? These things never had any real import or relevance. By this time the novel was a complete mess. It was like utterly random stuff had been tossed in for no good reason, and I gave up on it.

I had thought I would be reading a complex novel about a strong lesbian woman and difficult choice, but none of that was in this novel. Savarna was not remotely strong except in her stubborn determination not to have a baby, which rapidly crumbled for no good reason. She was stringing along two lesbian partners and did not have the intellectual wherewithal to choose the one who was best for her, so she came off like an idiot at best and a cruel player at worst.

She more or less fell into the relationship with Charley/Charlie and then began talking of raising a family with this same woman she was unable to honestly commit to for half the novel? To me, Sarvarna was simply a jerk. If it had been Savarna who was obsessing on continuing her family lineage (for whatever reason) that would have at least been something concrete, but for her not to really care that much and then suddenly obsess on it made her look weak, stupid, and childishly impulsive.

Her girlfriend Charley/Charlie could have been a really strong character, but she was essentially reduced to the job of nursemaid with benefits, having vague sex with Savarna at random times, and titillating her after she's been injected with her coworker's semen. Those scenes felt a bit creepy , but was Charley/Charlie really supporting her? Not so much. Savarna was already resenting her presence. Did Charley/Charlie fight to travel with her to India? Nope. Did Charley/Charlie question this whole thing, including Savarna's psychotic parental pressure? Nope. The only thing Charley/Charlie did was to railroad through the 'carbon-dating' of the artefacts, and she did this in such an underhand fashion, going behind Savarna's back that it actually made her look like a meddling troublemaker.

The book felt like it really wasn't ready for prime time. In general the writing was not bad, but there were some issues such as the variant name spellings I mentioned above, and also minor instances such as where I read, "And what, per se, where you asking?", which clearly should read 'were you asking'. The biggest technical problem though, was the same issue I've encountered repeatedly when Amazon gets its hands on your book and mangles out a kindle version of it. This novel was obviously written as a print book with (what to me are pointless) page headers and so on, but Amazon mangles these things with glee, so there were page headers appearing in the middle of the text.

That's not all! Most of the first two paragraphs in chapter thirteen were in red - presumably because of Amazon's crappy Kindle conversion process. As if that wasn't enough, random sets of those red words were tied together with no space between them such as: haveGrandma'sthingscheckedout,but. There were many other examples. In chapter eighteen there were nine screens of badly-formatted text. The justification was lost, so the text had ragged right margins, and again, headers were mixed with text, so the Kindle version is definitely not fit to sell, and that fact that this wasn't;t checked is on both publisher and author. It should never have been offered for review in this state.

But the formatting is something that can be fixed relatively easily. A tedious story that makes no sense and demeans its main character cannot be fixed without a rewrite. Consequently I cannot commend this as a worthy read.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Girls & Panzer by Ryohichi Saitaniya

Rating: WORTHY!

Translated by Greg Moore, this was another quirky graphic novel from Japan, which has elements in common with Tank Girl. I couldn't not pick this up from the library shelf with a title like this! Japanese schoolgirls in their sailor outfits driving humongous and obsolete tanks from World War Two?! Competing against other schools in an all-out war? No injuries??

It was weird but oddly compelling. Miho Nishizumi is a new transfer student to Ooarai All-Girls High School. She had departed a previous school where she was involved in "tankery" as this activity is amusingly referred to. She had a falling out with her older sister and left on somewhat bitter terms. She evidently is looking for a quiet academic life, but she's denied it! Her new school is reinstituting its tankery program, and because of her experience, Miho is drafted into putting together a tankery team for an upcoming national contest.

With some oddball teammates, and a limited selection of tanks, Miho has her work cut out for her, but she wins through in the end. The story was amusing, but I'm not sure if I want to pursue it beyond this volume. I think there is only so many tank battles I can stand to watch, especially since it was rather confusing at times. The bulk of this graphic novel was black and white line drawings, and the characters looked very much alike, so there was very little in the way of distinction not only between the two teams but also between the members on the same team, and parts of this were hard to follow, for me at least.

Overall, though, I consider this to be a worthy read. It was fun and feisty, and I will perhaps dip into another volume at some point. What's not to like about girls with tanks?!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Adventures of Juice Box and Shame by Liv Hadden

Rating: WORTHY!

“At least it seemed I’d peaked Cassie’s interest.” should be piqued, not peaked!
“I was just wearing black skinny jeans, white converse” Converse is a registered trade-mark, and while I don't think an author needs to add the little symbol (®) I do think Converse needs to be capitalized!

Note that this is from an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher.

This book is evidently part of a series, and generally speaking, I'm not a fan of series. I know they can be lucrative for both publishers and authors if they take off, but for me series are boring; they're derivative and un-challenging for both author and reader, so I have less respect for them. I’d rather read three different books than three variations on a theme! I didn’t realize this was a series when I took it on, but I am going to treat it as a standalone for the purpose of this review.

Liv Hadden is a fellow Austinite - kind of, since neither of us technically lives in Austin! - but I've never met her. I didn’t know she was a local when I was asked if I’d like to review this, so it's all above-board! I said yes, because it sounded interesting and fun, but I confess that initially I had the impression that this was maybe a graphic novel or a children's story because of the mention of Mo Malone as Illustrator, and it turned out not to be neither! Since there were absolutely no illustrating whatsoever going on in my copy of this book (excluding the cover), I can't speak to what Mo The Illustrator brought to the table! Maybe the print version has the illustrations. We amateur reviewers only get an ebook!

The book also turned out to be a bit of a confusing read for me to begin with, because it felt like I was reading a middle grade story, and then it got all serious, with blood and bullets. I also thought I was reading a story told by a young woman about her friendship with another young woman only to quickly realize that neither was a female!

So, it was quite a mind-trip going from the one perception to the other, times two! It took me a while to really get into the story because I had no idea what was going on. For many pages, I was wondering if it was a play these kids were in and suddenly we’d be back in the schoolroom, but no! Was it a bad dream? No! It took me a while to understand that this was for real and not a trick or some sort of illusion. I don’t know if that's what the author intended.

The lingo was distracting at first, because I was wondering if it was authentic, and if so, how the author knew it so well. I'm not one of these people who thinks authors should "write what they know" If we confined ourselves to that, it would be a very dull reading world, wouldn't it now?! No doubt John Grisham has been inside a courtroom, but I promise you Stephen King never was in a parallel world, and I guarantee you Suzanne Collins never fought for her life in a sudden death tournament. So I have no problem with authors writing what they don’t know as long as they make it believable. This author did.

I warmed to this as I read on, though! It’s a very short sixty-nine pages, but a lot happens. Li Nguyen, the guy who narrates the story, is known as Juice Box. His best friend is known as Shame. Juice narrates the story in first person which is not my favorite voice or anywhere near. It's far too limiting a voice to write in for one thing, and it gives only one perspective, and one which means that he narrator has got to be present no matter in what kind of a contrived manner, in order to tell the story! I think the voice contributed to my being slow to get into this, because I did not warm to Juice for the longest time, but eventually he got my interest.

I felt the story was a bit too short to explain some of the things in it: such as why Juice felt he was so tight with Shame, and why Shame was in so much trouble, and why Juice stood by him so sterlingly! There was a lot of conversation (and Converse Asians! LOL!), but very little world-building, although I did learn it was set in Baltimore!

On the other hand, it was really refreshing in many ways, which is one of the reasons I liked it. it was new and fresh and it was really nice to read about a Vietnamese crew instead of the usual African Americans we get stuck with in stories like these - like African Americans universally do nothing with their lives other than run in gangs!

So overall I recommend this for a different kind of a read and for a fresh voice. It's nice to know there are still writers out there who take the path less trodden! And especially that they're from the Austin area! Yes, now it can be told! We're going to outdo the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and become a major group in the Creative Writer's and Author's Paradise of the South! Or a bunch of CWAP for short....

Links for author an illustrator:
Liv Hadden:
Official Website:
Virtual Tour Page:

Mo Malone:

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Toru: Wayfarer Returns by Stephanie R Sorensen

Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy, for which I thank the publisher. It's been a while since I've fond something I really wanted to read on Net Galley and this was worth the wait in gold to coin a phrase!

It was an awesome novel - steampunk set in Japan (kinda)! But that's not why I liked it. I've read a few steampunk novels and found too many of them less than satisfactory, the author being far more in love with steampunk than ever they were in good story-telling. This is a different tack. This author clearly loves to tell a great and well-put-together story and steampunk is just an accessory.

It's not even really steampunk as such, but the story of an alternate-world Japan entering the steam age perforce to save themselves from falling under the thumb of an expansionist and capitalist USA in the form of Matthew Perry, not the actor from the Friends TV show, but a US Navy Commodore who also happened to be a belligerent bully who, in the real world, forced under threat of arms, a very feudal and unprepared Japan to sign a so-called treaty which treated the US and no-one else.

In this novel, things happen differently. Toru is the name of the mysterious "fisherman" who arrives back in Japan after two years of living in (and closely observing) the USA, and in this world the Japanese, because of Toru's efforts, are fully armed and very dangerous when Perry arrives in the last twenty percent of the novel.

So no, it's not a novel full of battles. Instead, it's a story of perseverance and bravery, and of hardship and ingenuity, where Toru has to overcome one prejudice after another in a very strict, very isolationist nation which rejects him to begin with because he's 'soiled goods' having lived outside of Japan. Rejection here, please note, means no less than ritual beheading. It's a story of codes of honor, of class separation, and of how barriers can be worn away with diligence and dedication. The story is one of change, and skin-of-the-teeth survival, and of a slow awakening (in this case militarily) of a nation which in the real world enjoyed a similar rise, but economically after World War Two.

The author quite evidently knows her stuff (or at the very least, fakes it beautifully, which is fine with me!), and while - now and then - I found the frequent use of Japanese terminology annoying, for the most part it was fine and even educational. Some readers who are seeking only a story of martial might, may find this rather restrained and slow-moving, but for me it was a comfortable, easy read which entertained, educated, and showed how non-violent change can come even to a nation as rigid as Japan was (and still is in many regards).

It's not all about the men, either. We have a strong female character who is admirably understated but very much to the fore. We also have a restrained love story which even I liked, so if you've read my reviews of not a few young adult stories, you must know that this one had to be well done to please me!

I had one or two minor issues, but nothing that put me off the story overall. For example, we're told that Toru meets Helmuth von Moltke at West Point, which is highly unlikely since he was stationed in Magdeburg in charge of the 4th army corps when Toru was supposedly in the US! Moltke is the guy who goes uncredited for saying "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy," when what he actually wrote was rather different: "No plan of operations extends with any certainty beyond the first contact with the main hostile force." I honestly did not see the point of referring to him or to what he supposedly said. This guy was an appalling racist and doesn't deserve to be remembered for anything.

While the author conveys a good feel for Japan, when it comes to preparations for war - in this case a huge build-up of steam power - the idea of powering steam engines is a bit too easily accomplished. Coal was not scarce in Japan in terms of being available for mining, but in order to mine it to power the steam engines, a lot more work would have had to be done than there was time for here! Perhaps this is why it gets so little mention, but I'm not convinced that there were enough trees to do everything they did either - not to do it and sustain it! The same problem exists for mining iron to build those engines and the tracks upon which they would run.

But I wasn't about to let minor quibbles spoil what was otherwise an excellent and very much appreciated read. I fully recommend this one.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

Rating: WARTY!

I had a really hard time getting into this at all, and it wasn't helped by the fact that three of the first four women we met were just plain obnoxious. This was an odd ARC because it was over three hundred pages, but the lines were very widely spaced. When I looked at it on the iPad, it looked like an early children's chapter book, with very large letters and widely spaced lines, and it would not allow me to change the size of the text at all. In an ebook, this really doesn't matter that much, but if this book went to a large print run, I couldn't help but wonder at how many trees would die for this profligacy of white space!

The novel is set in historical China, in 1881. That's the same year that Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell joined forced to create the Oriental Telephone Company, Alexander II of Russia is blown up, Billy the Kid escapes from jail, president James Garfield is assassinated, Pablo Picasso is born, and the Gunfight at the OK Corral takes place. The first woman to appear has lost her husband. Well she didn't actually lose him. She knows where he is, but his body is lacking a head. He was decapitated for some perceived infraction or other. He had a concubine as well as his "First Wife", and it was this concubine who had given him his daughter, Jinhua, whom he loved dearly.

His first wife resented this daughter just as much as she resented the concubine who had died delivering Jinhua into the world. Now that both of the child's parents were dead, this woman feels no obligation whatsoever to the poor girl, and she kept her locked away for a day and a half while she decided whether to kill her or not. Jinhua was saved, if you want to think of it that way, by a woman who came by with a contract offering to buy the girl. She takes Jinhua and sells her on to a brothel keeper.

So far, nothing out of the ordinary for the time period here, especially not for a nation which seems, even today, to bestow no value upon female children. What struck me as really off, though, was the words spoken by the woman with the contract: "Contract," she said. "You look. Tomorrow I come back.". This woman wasn't speaking English, in which case we might have believed she would speak like that if her English was poor. She was speaking Chinese to another Chinese woman. Why would she speak "pidgin Chinese"?! It made no sense to me. I guess you could argue that one was speaking Cantonese and the other Mandarin, but really?

That aside, and tolerating the problem of how slowly this story moved, it got off to an interesting start, forcing me to consider what would happen to this seven-year-old girl, but whereas I was expecting the story to move and we would soon see this girl later in life and follow her story from there, the story of her childhood dragged on and on, and endlessly on, depressingly like a prologue which didn't know when to stop 'prologging'. I don't do prologues. They're antiquated and irritating!

Parts of the story were entertaining and well-written, with some delightful words used to evoke sounds, but for the most part, the story really slunk along interminably for me, and it was a chore to read it. I eventually gave up after getting a little way into part two, which was about a quarter the way through it, being unable to face reading any more.

One thing I found to be particularly annoying was a habit I've encountered with other writers. It's that of using a foreign phrase and then immediately following it with the English translation. I can't speak for all readers obviously, but this just irritates the heck out of me. I wish authors would either avoid the foreign phrase altogether, or at least use it a way which makes it clear what's meant so that this tedious and rather spastic repetitiveness can be avoided.

I understood that this was to be a story about a young girl's unfortunate circumstances after the death of her father. It's one reason I chose to review this one, but it was an unwelcome chore to have to read a quarter of the book unleavened by anything approaching joy, pleasure, or even comfort, or of seeing any sort of indication that the story was going to ever take off.

I did not find myself even warming to, let alone liking Jinhua, the main character. She seriously lacked depth, and it was quite evident to me that none was likely to be on the cards when I left-off reading this. I do think this author has an innate talent for story-telling which has not yet been properly realized. Hopefully it will out in the near future. For me, it's not ready for prime time yet.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Asura Girl by Otaro Maijo

Title: Asura Girl
Author: Otaro Maijo
Publisher: Haikasoru
Rating: WARTY!

Translated by Stephen Snyder (no website found).

This story started out strongly and had some really fascinating and amusing moments when Aiko would go off at a tangent on some rant or another about something she had encountered. Unfortunately those were few and far between, and the further I read into this novel the less I liked it.

The big disappearance (Sano) that seemed to be driving the plot at the beginning simply fizzled out and went nowhere, and there seemed to be an increasing number of pages devoted to Aiko's dreams, all of which I skipped because I can't stand writers who write pointless and fatuous pages about a character's dreams. If the dream is somehow tightly-tied into the story, then fine. For example, if the character is psychic or is being communicated with in her sleep, then this would work, but that's not here. It was nothing more than self-indulgent, extravagant, and a waste of time. I skipped those pages.

I reached a point about two-thirds the way through or maybe less, where I really didn't want to read any more of this because it had lost all its interest for me, so I gave it up. Life is way too short to keep gamely plodding through a story that's not doing you any good, when there are countless other volumes out there which are just waiting to be read and which promise to thrill you. I can't recommend this novel.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Tulku by Peter Dickinson

Title: Tulku
Author: Peter Dickinson
Publisher: Open Road Media
Rating: WARTY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

Set amidst the so-called "Boxer Rebellion" in China, over a century ago (around the turn of the nineteenth century), this is a story of Theodore, Lung, and Mrs. Jones, which starts out really well, but fades into rambling incoherence in the second half. Theo is a young man whose father is killed by the Boxers. These insurgents are trying to throw out the Imperialist occupiers of China who were milking money from the nation, and telling the Chinese their religions were useless and they really ought to migrate to Christianity!

Many nations formed a coalition against this rebellion and really stuck it to the Chinese, sending in an eight-nation army of some fifty thousand troops, occupying Peking, arranging the whole-sale slaughter of those involved, and fining the Chinese government millions of taels of silver in reparations (which was an astronomical fine even by modern standards).

The coalition was remarkable to modern eyes, rather reminiscent of the one which formed against Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in the nineties. In this case it consisted of: Austria-Hungary, the Empire of Japan, the French Third Republic, the German Empire, the Kingdom of Italy, the Russian Empire, the United Kingdom, and the United States. This story discusses none of that. Instead, it wanders away into the hills and honestly? It gets lost.

I'm not a fan of organized religion, so I had no skin in this pissing contest between the Chinese religions, the Tibetan, and the Christian. I think all of them are silly, and in this case especially this nonsensical business of thinking that the Tulku reincarnates and can be found as a child. In some ways the story is very reminiscent of the 1993 Bertolucci movie Little_Buddha which was eminently forgettable despite its rather stellar cast - but it was better than this story!

The day after his father is killed by the Boxers, and his mission village is destroyed, Theo runs into Mrs Jones, her right-hand man (and lover) who is named Lung, and some pack horses. Jones insists he accompany them to the next mission. In the end, they give up on that plan and head for Tibet, where Jones, who is on voluntary exile from England for ten years - financed by a wealthy family to keep her away from their son - hopes to find flowers which have never been described before by science. In the end, they give up on that and retire to a monastery.

This novel, as I indicated, started out strongly and drew me in, but as soon as the three travelers meet the monks, it dissolves with disturbing rapidity into a vague and rambling tale of ceremony, sitting around, more ceremony, more sitting around and a fizzle of an 'ending. It creates expectations which are never met and became truly tiresome. I can't recommend this.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Kite Fighters by Linda Sue Park

Title: The Kite Fighters
Author: Linda Sue Park
publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: WORTHY!

Competently read by Norm Lee

Linda Sue Park is a Newbery medal winner, which would normally turn me right off reading anything by her, but I needed a novel with a title starting with 'K' for my December A to B review conceit, and this was ideal. In the end I used another novel to represent K, but I still wanted to review this one.

It's a really short book (only 3 CDs in the audio version to which I listened) written for middle-graders, and it's about two brothers, Lee Young-Sup, and Lee Kee-Sup who lived in old Korea, in an era of a boy king.

The brothers have the usual fraternal rivalry, and Young-Sup is a bit jealous. He's the kid brother (as perhaps his name was meant to imply), and Kee-Sup has just been capped - which unlike in soccer and cricket, means he's officially become a man - and his "baby brother" must now show him due respect as he would an elder or an authority figure. Suddenly gone are the days of their care-free childhood.

One thing they do both agree on is the beauty and majesty of kites (and I use that penultimate noun advisedly - read on!). Young-Sip manages to make a deal with the local kite shop owner and gets himself a reel of silk - a strong tie for his kite - to which he adds his own home-made flyer. All he wanted was to have a kite like his brother did, but neither of them realized they were being watched by the king himself. Soon they have a commission to create a kite for the young king, but neither the boys nor the king realize where this will lead or what will happen at the annual kite fighting contest.

Like I said, normally I avoid like the plague any novel which has (or in this case which has a writer who has) anything to do with medals, but this particular novel was entertaining reading. It was charming and innocent, but interesting and inventive.

Normally I would rail against this obsession with respect - which must be given to people regardless of whether they've earned it? In this case it's set in the past, and while it's still not right, it is accurate, so it's not a problem.

The same thing applies to this nonsense (to put it politely!) of royal privilege - that someone, purely through accident of birth, is poor, and someone else is privileged above all others or no better reason? Nonsense! It made me irritated that the king demanded, and as a result these boys were, and at their own expense, giving-up their resources and time, but again this is the way things were - and still are in all-too-many places, so I can't down-grade it for that!

Overall, I rated it highly. It was interesting, especially since I'm not from that culture. It was also well-written, and at one point I almost felt that if for no other reason, I should rate it a worthy read just for this one phrase used to describe someone who looked sad: "Your face is like a month of rain"! I loved it!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Great Race by Stacey Hirata

Title: The Great Race
Author: Stacey Hirata & Charles Huang (no website found)
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is often enough reward aplenty!

This is a pictorial retelling, for young children, of an Asian legend explaining the zodiac. In the west we have a zodiac which is fairy-tale interpretation of certain constellations which lie along the apparent path of the Sun across the sky, and which is comprised of (from the start of the year to the end): Aquarius, Pisces, Ares, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, and Capricorn.

In other parts of the world, other names are ascribed to these apparent patterns of stars. The Chinese zodiac consists of Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat, and Ox, but their system is much more complex than ever it became in the west, assigning birth years to the signs, and also yin and yang, and the antiquated "elements" such as earth fire, metal, water, and wood, so the whole thing forms a sixty-year cycle. This is how you get a zodiacal sign assigned to your birth year.

This story doesn't go into anywhere near that much detail, and instead retells the legend of how the signs came to be in the order to which all Asians are accustomed. It all began with a foot race declared by the Jade Emperor in celebration of his birthday. All of his favorite animals were to compete, and the first twelve to cross the line would be immortalized in the stars.

Each of the animals uses whatever talents it has peculiar to its species to try and get ahead, and slowly, as we turn the pages, we discover some of the little animals faring better than others.

I'm not Asian, and I certainly don't believe in horoscopes or zodiacal powers, but that's not the point here! The point is whether you're interested in fun fairy tales and legends, and in how different peoples of the world think about their surroundings and their place in nature. This story is beautifully and simply told, and it's elegantly illustrated, offering some educational material as to what lies behind the fictional story. I liked it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Kai and The Magic Jacket by Tricia Chinn Campbell

Kai and The Magic Jacket

Author: Tricia Chinn Campbell
Publisher: Blissful Thinking
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by the author. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review. The chance to read a new book is sometimes reward aplenty!

Kai is given an unusual present (by western standards!): a really fabulous-looking Chinese jacket made from red silk. Not your usual present for a kid, you might think, and you'd be right, because this jacket is magic, and Kai loves it. It fits him perfectly. What he doesn't know won't hurt him: this is a magic jacket which connects him to his ancestors. But though he doesn't know it when he gets it, he soon learns just how magical and valuable it is.

That night when he sleeps with the jacket, unwilling to let it out of his sight, he discovers that the ghosts of an uncle, a grandfather, and a grandmother appear from the heating vents. They are here to be advisers to him and try to keep him safe, and make him wise.

They succeed! Kai learns many things from them, including the fact that this jacket is ancient, and has been passed down from parent to first-born for many generations. Kai knows that he too must pass it on when he has a child of his own.

In a western world where the extended family is pretty much a thing of the past for far too many people, and where knowledge of the past is in danger of being lost from family trees, where children are routinely fostered out to daycare so both parents can work, it's easy to forget that for thousands of years, the extended family was the human community unit (indeed, you can see the unit right in the middle of the comm unit y!). Children were educated from multi-generational sources, and were cared for by everyone within that group.

This gorgeously illustrated reminder of times past, and of the benefits of passing on wisdom, which some have not yet lost to progress, is both touching and charming.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Walled City by Ryan Graudin

Title: The Walled City
Author: Ryan Graudin
Publisher: Little Brown
Rating: WORTHY!

DISCLOSURE: Unlike the majority of reviews in this blog, I've neither bought this book nor borrowed it from the library. This is a "galley" copy ebook, supplied by Net Galley. I'm not receiving (nor will I expect to receive or accept) remuneration for this review.

Ryan Graudin is a fellow blogspotter, although I don't personally know her. If I did, I suspect we'd have more than a few debates about religion! But that's neither here nor there. This novel is rooted in the truth of Hong Kong's Kowloon 'walled city' and it tells a fiction-based-in-fact story of how one adventure might have been. The story is sadly sweet and sweetly sad; it has an upbeat ending, but it pulls no punches in getting there. Main character Jin-Ling is yet another addition to my small but growing list of exemplars for all-too-many authors who simply don't get what a strong female character actually and truly is. Graudin does indeed get it. Jin-Ling is a charmer.

This is one of those novels which has chapters named in a rotation as each differing character tells their story in the first person. I'm not a fan of this method of writing because to me it's simply compounding the error of having a single first person narrator. None of it seems natural or organic to me, so I confess that I came into this slightly biased, wondering if the author could win me over, and it seems that she did! The narration wasn't irritating as I'd feared it would be when I began reading it.

The story is set in the Walled City, which used to be a fort, but now is a ghetto at best, and a prison at worst, where might makes right and gangs rule. The first character we meet is Jin-Ling, a girl masquerading as a boy. She's a thief and is, as we meet her, running through the city (which she knows very well), having stolen a pair of fine boots from Kuen, the brutal leader a young street gang.

The next chapter introduces Sun Dai Shing, who is looking to escape the walled city, but he cannot do so until he has achieved his aim. He has a deadline of only eighteen days to do this, but we're not told why, not at first. He coldly decides that Jun-ling is the ideal person to help him further his scheme. The last thing he expects is that in place of the mere tool he thought he was picking up, he was finding, instead, an ally and a friend.

Chapter three introduces yet another character, Mei Yee, who happens to be Jun-Ling's sister. In this city, girls are sex slaves and that's all there is to it (hence Jin-Ling's superficial gender change). This begs the question as to how the city manages to not only continue, but also to be so large if all the young girls are rendered unavailable for marital and procreative activity. Yet there was such a city.

Jin-Ling is not the only one in this city who is there by choice, but she volunteered not because it was a free choice: it became necessary that she do this when her mom died and her piece of trash father sold Mei Yee to the 'reapers' to bring her into the life of prostitution which awaits all girls here. Girls who try to run are simply rendered drug-dependent, and are kept imprisoned that way.

This is another author who uses the nonsensical phrase "it's so black it's almost blue". I've read that kind of phrase in more than one novel (including another one very recently!), and apart from it becoming a cliché, it makes me wonder where our language is going when we get oddball writing like that! Other than that one instance which nipped at me, the writing is very good, the description evocative, the conversations intelligent, the plot smart, and the story really endearing.

Dai's scheme involves him acquiring inside info on Longwai (I am not making these names up - the author is!), and this is why he needs Jin-Ling. Jin is to run drug deliveries for Longwai, while Dai sits as hostage, his life to be forfeited if Jin-Ling fails in any way. He hopes it will garner for him an 'in' into Longwai's operation. I didn't get this bit, I confess. Why would Longwai trust that this pair is going to be loyal to each other? It made little sense to me. Yes, he has a history with Dai, but he knows nothing of Jin and he does not seem to be the kind of person to trust anyone. On the other hand, he obviously has no problem with killing those who irritate him.

While awaiting Jin-Ling's return, Dai discovers that there's a window in the building through which he can contact one of the captive girls. Later, on the outside, he establishes contact and trust with her, asking her to find out things for him in return for giving her information about life away from the brothel - something which she craves, being both a captive and captivated by him. He doesn't know that this is Jin-Ling's sister since she hasn't told him she has one. Jin-Ling, who believes that her sister must be in that building because she's searched everywhere else, doesn't know that Dai is even talking with one of the girls.

Dai and Jin's arrangement seems to be working out quite well, even as both are sucked into Longwai's organization like it's quicksand. But then Jin has yet another run-in with Kuen, and some serious blood is spilled. This isn’t going to be the last which is spilled before this novel is over.

And that's all the teasing you get! I really recommend this as a great read. I kept feeling that it was set in a bygone age, for some reason, but it's very much a modern story. Aside from the names and an occasional mention of food, there seemed to me to be very little Chinese atmosphere here; indeed, the dialog and narration was very westernized, but that didn't bother me because the story itself was so good and it could have been set anywhere, in any time, and still told the same engrossing tale. It's definitely worth your time.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Title: Born Confused
Author: Tanuja Desai Hidier
Publisher: Scholastic
Rating: WARTY!

I can see why Scholastic wouldn't want a reviewer like me reviewing a novel like this, but guess what? They can't stop me, they can only delay me! Now I've had a chance to look at it, I can tell you it's awful. This novel may be a better fit for you. All I can tell you is that it gave me fits.

Hidier declares in this tale that the only thing any young women, no matter what her cultural heritage, can have on her mind, is the desperate need to find a guy to make her complete. Like a women without a guy is pretty much useless: incomplete at best, and not even worth writing about at worst. How insulting can you get? Read this if you want to find out. Why do so many female authors insult women like this? More frighteningly: why do so many young women support novels like this? Do they honestly swallow the crap that's spewed from these stories, or are they simply so desperate that they'll literally read anything that even pretends to tell a decent tale?

Other than that the main character (Dimple) is stupid and clueless, the first thing you'll notice is that the gray-scale photograph at the beginning, which is, supposedly, Dimple, is not her at all - unless we've been lied to about Dimple's physical condition. Dimple is presented to us in this novel as being either somewhat overweight or as they put it, a 'large boned' girl, and relatively short at five feet or so, by American standards. That's a plus (pun intended), but it's wasted. Instead of running with a promising start like that - a start that's different from the vast bulk of YA novels, the author trips and face-plants repeatedly, starting with a photograph in the front which bears no resemblance to the girl in the story.

Rather than accept her physique and deal, Dimple lies even to herself, trying on (or rather, trying to try on) ridiculously under-sized clothes when she gets to shop with her mother for her seventeenth birthday. These idiots ignore and insult the girl who works at the store, who doesn't exactly own the most winning of personalities, but who does honestly try to advise the pair of them as to a realistic choice of sizes for Dimple.

Here's a quirk that makes you wonder where the editor was: The author doesn't use quotes! She uses neither doubles as is in fashion in the USA where she has lived, nor singles as in the UK where the author now lives. Instead she uses em dashes! Weird. This novel has more em dash per m² than any novel ever published. The em dashes are at the start of the speech, never at the end, and it can be confusing when the speech itself contains an em dash. I never use em myself...but cute tricks like that can't cut a dash in a novel which is, at its very foundation, appallingly demeaning to women.

I read this because I love Indians. I grew up in England feeling that Indians. Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis were almost cousins, but instead of getting an interesting and engrossing story of mixed cultures, I got nothing more than a lousy, trite, predictable YA romance with an em dash of curry powder, which the author has tried to pass off as a four course meal at a fine India restaurant. She failed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Title: The Fire Horse Girl
Author: Kay Honeyman
Publisher: Arthur A Levine
Rating: WORTHY!

Chan Jade Moon is the only daughter in her family of no sons (so she believes), and being born under the sign of the Fire Horse, everyone is wary of her. She is a fireball, prickly, feisty, independent, and almost seventeen and not married, which is fine by her. When Sterling Promise arrives, bringing a worldly, traveled air with him, she is as fascinated by him as she is repelled. He's the adopted son of an uncle she didn’t know she had - an uncle who has died, but who has left behind him the promise of a new life in the Americas. Unfortunately, that promise is for Jade Moon's father, Chan Jan Wai, not for his daughter, and she is so angry that her life will be no more than a marriage to a brick-maker and subsequent oblivion that she can hardly stand it. Just when she despairs the most, her father unexpectedly reveals that she will travel with him to America.

On the appointed day, she sits in the back of the cart while the men sit up front, and she marks the spot where lies the flat rock which itself marks the furthest point she has ever traveled from her village. Next stop, Hong Kong, and beyond that, the ocean. Jade Moon finds every single thing fascinating on the trip because she has never seen anything like it before. She learns that her father's name in America will have to be the name of his dead uncle, Sung Feng Hao, since it is those papers he is using to enter the country. Jade Moon and Sterling Promise must shed their last names and become members of the fictitious Sung family, too. The processing on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay is brutal on their senses, especially upon the women, who feel cheapened, even raped by it. And it goes on forever.

A real shock comes when Jade Moon discovers that Sterling Promise is hardly sterling. He has used Jan Wai purely for the purpose of getting himself into the US. He had no interest in seeing Jade Moon or her father there at all. Jade Moon becomes angry and steals Sterling Promise's papers, shearing off her hair, taking some of his clothes, and getting off the island and into San Franciso disguised as a boy, where she almost immediately runs into trouble only to be rescued by more trouble in the form of a couple of boys from one of the Chinese tongs, an organized crime mob run by Mr Hon. Here she learns to fight and eventually takes the lone Irish guy - a door guard who is teaching her to fight - into her confidence, revealing that she's a girl. He arranges through his Irish contacts to have her "arrested" by a cop who will take her to a safe house where abused women are taken and helped.

Jade moon gives up her chance to escape when she sees a friend from Angel Island getting off the ferry. She knows that this woman is going to be sold into prostitution because that's why she and her two colleagues from the Hon tong are there. Jade Moon gives this girl the code word to pass to the cop, triggering her "arrest" instead of Jade Moon, who resigns herself once more being in the debt and under the thumb of Mr Hon.

Well, the story doesn't end there, but the spoilers do. This novel, set in the 1920s, was stunning, and I can't believe it hasn't had wider publicity and greater success than it has. It would make a stunning movie, but until then, read this novel. Embrace it and enjoy it. It's wonderful! Finally, a YA story with a strong girl who never takes a back seat to anyone. There's even a romance which will come at you unexpectedly, and which - and yes, I know this is a novelty in YA fiction - and which actually makes sense and is realistic! Can you stand it? Yes! Amazing! I thoroughly recommend this novel.