“White Ivy” Susie Yang

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Simon & Schuster. To be published September 8, 2020.

White IvyIvy was two years old when her parents moved from China to the United States and left her in the care of Meifeng, her grandmother. It took three years for them to save enough money to send for her so, when she arrived, they felt like strangers. Two years later Meifeng joined the family, but Ivy felt caught. In their world she was expected to become a doctor, and to be obedient but she was definitely not obedient and didn’t want to be a doctor. She wanted an exciting life of her own so filled her days reading about beautiful sad heroines.

In 6th grade her father became a technician at a prep school so her tuition was free. By that time she had become a petty thief with her grandmother, and stole the things she needed to fit in at school. Though she worked hard to emulate the lifestyles of the beautiful, rich girls who were now her classmates, and had fallen hard for Gideon Speyer the local heartthrob, she was always on the outskirts of school life.

Through college and beyond Ivy flits from relationship to relationship, refusing any involvements, but is thrilled when she runs into Gideon’s older sister. She makes sure she and Gideon rekindle their acquaintance, and becomes so ruthless and single minded in her pursuit of him that she loses track of the definition of true love.

The author made you really think hard about the characters, and threw in a few twists and turns I didn’t expect. I will highly recommend this book for Adults.

I received a digital advance reading copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“The House of Five Fortunes” Amanda Hughes

Rated 3 stars *** ebook. 2016. Lillis and James. Bold Women of the 20th Century #3. 2016.

The House of Five FortunesXiu’s mother bought an opium den, The House of Five Fortunes, in San Francisco after her husband fell ill and could no longer support the family. When she died Xiu inherited it, but was forced to hide the leadership skills she’d learned due to a possessive and tyrannical husband. Her mother had worked hard to make the business a success, even though there were few women business owners in Chinatown, but Xiu passively allowed her husband to hold the reins of her life and her empire because she loved him.

When he was killed Xiu took control again and, with the help of her friend Nuan and Madison a famous actor, they raised The House of Five Fortunes to greater heights. Though there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment, that didn’t stop Madison from falling in love with Xiu but, due to her being Chinese, they were not allowed to marry. When random murders began to be committed, the police and local Whites blamed the Chinese. Madison knew Xiu wasn’t safe but, when a massive race riot began in Chinatown, their lives were soon endangered along with all of the town’s inhabitants.

Though this book is in the Bold Women of the 20th Century series, I didn’t see Xiu as very bold. Her mother was strong, but I saw Xiu as weak and easy to manipulate. I thought her mother, Nuan, and Dandan the cook were strong female characters, not Xiu. In fact the strongest character in the book was Madison, and he was a man!

Descriptions of the United States in the 1870’s, life during the gold rush, and the building of the transcontinental railroad by Chinese immigrants were interesting to read. I was saddened to read of the many ways the Chinese were mistreated – ways that are mirrored in anti-Immigrant policies today. Our country may have travelled far during the past 150 years, but many unpleasant reminders from the past still rear their ugly heads.

Recommended for Adults.

“Alexander Hamilton” Ron Chernow

Rated 5 stars ***** 2004. Penguin Books. 818 p. (Includes “Acknowledgements”, “Notes,” “Bibliography,” “Selected Books,” “Pamphlets, and Dissertations,” “Selected articles,” and an “Index.” (Also includes period photographs.)

AlexanderHamiltonAfter almost a month and a half of squeezing in reading during 10 minutes of lunch at work, between doctor appointments, and whenever I could find a few minutes, I FINALLY finished this massive biography. I was inspired to read it after listening to the music of Hamilton for a month in preparation for watching the musical. I loved Lin Manuel Miranda’s version so much, I promptly bought tickets to watch it again a week later. As a result I became hooked on all things “Hamiltonian,” which necessitated reading this massive tome.

Ron Chernow left no stone unturned in his quest to reveal the good, the bad and the ugly about Alexander Hamilton as he follows him from his island home of St. Croix to the American Revolution to his years as Treasury Secretary. Hamilton’s political and personal highs and lows, the love he had for family, and his death by duel with Aaron Burr are all painstakingly detailed. Hamilton’s friendships, and the love/hate relationships he had with his enemies are laid bare, buttressed by words from his own pen taken from primary source material Chernow unearthed from numerous sources.

Of all who had a hand in laying the foundation of our nation, only Hamilton would recognize the United States of America’s commercial rise since those early years, as he seemed to be the sole voice predicting that she would financially rise and grow. Chernow outlines the battles Hamilton endured to ensure that our country would prosper, and the many ways he is remembered today – from Wall Street to Banks, to the Coast Guard to the still running New York Post newspaper and more. Reading “Alexander Hamilton” enlightened me, and helped me see parts of American history that I either didn’t know or hadn’t thought of in years. I know it will do the same for you.

Highly recommended for Adults.

“Spirit run: A 6,000-mile marathon through North America’s stolen land” by Noé Álvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. Catapult. To be published March 3, 2020. 213 p.

Spirit runMigrants, and the hard labor of low paying jobs in fruit factories, abound in the lush apple country of Selah Washington, near the author’s childhood home of Yakima. Noé is a smart student, and wants to make life different for his family. He has dreams of going to college and earning enough money to free his mother from her monotonous, back breaking job at the apple factory. He wants to make a difference.

When his dreams get tangled up in the stress of reality, Noé  likes to run. He dreams of the day he can escape Yakima yet, when he gets a full scholarship, dreams turn to nightmares. He believes his insecurities that say he’s not good enough and, soon, can’t keep up with the workload. When he finds out about a run from Alaska to Argentina for Indigenous Indians Noé decides to drop out of college to participate. In the process he discovers the good and bad of human nature. His journey of self discovery, as well as his foray into understanding his parents, is chronicled in this book.

The problems he encountered, as well as the agonies of running an ultra marathon, are interspersed with reflections of his place in the world. The open ending, the seeming lack of a concrete plan for his life, along with continued disappointment that he’s working class made the book a bit of a disappointment. There will always be those of us who will never get to live a life of leisure without having to work, and I hope Noé can come to peace with that reality.

Despite my misgivings I will recommend this book to Adult readers as there are lessons to be learned, and experiences to be hashed through, which would make for good discussions in book groups.

“May the road rise up to meet you” by Peter Troy

Rated 5 stars ***** Doubleday. 2012. 386 p.

May the road rise up to meet youMary Wilkens and Micah are southern slaves in 1853; Ethan McOwen survived the great famine of Ireland in 1847, while Marcella Arroyo (Abolitionist and feminist) is a Spanish immigrant living with her rich family in 1860 New York. Spanning the years from 1847 until 1867 the evils of slavery, along with the horrors of the Civil War, are described for readers. All have roles to play in the stories of these four characters as, with losses to endure and tears to cry, their stories eventually intertwine. Readers learn that there are good people in an evil world, and that good can come from bad – especially when you can’t see the whole picture of what’s happening.

This novel is reminiscent of great, sweeping historical dramas like “Roots” and “Gone with the wind.” The storyline jumps from person to person, so can become confusing. For example I’ll read about Ethan for a while then the storyline goes to Marcella for a few chapters. Afterwards I’ll read about Mary for a bit, then it meanders to Micah’s story. By the time the story returns to Ethan I forgot what he was doing.

However the book is interesting, emotional, and has great plot twists. I love historical fiction, so was willing to overlook the back and forth dilemma to give it 5 stars.

Recommended for Adults.

“This light between us: A novel of World War II” by Andrew Fukuda

Rated 5 stars ***** ARC. ebook. Tor Teen. To be published January 7, 2020.

This light between usAlex was ten years old in 1935 when his teacher forced him to become pen pals with a girl named Charlie who lived in Paris, thousands of miles away from his American home on Bainbridge Island. Despite his initial horror at being paired with a girl their friendship deepened as, letter after letter, year after year, they shared their innermost thoughts.

In 1941 Alex’s life forever changed when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Though he was an American citizen, and his parents had emigrated from Japan, they were treated as enemies by neighbors who’d known them for years. A law was passed saying all Japanese, regardless of their citizenship, had to relocate to holding camps. Alex and his family were sent to Manzanar where they, along with 10,000 others, lived as prisoners surrounded by barbed wire and soldiers.

Meanwhile Charlie was experiencing her own prejudice due to being Jewish, and their letters helped keep them grounded. As the war dragged on Charlie was forced into hiding to avoid roundups, and her letters ceased. Alex enlists in the 442nd Battalion, created solely of Japanese-American soldiers, partly to get his father released from prison and partly to find out what happened to Charlie. While in Europe he experiences the horrors of war, but thoughts of finding Charlie kept him sane. He is determined to find her and live out the dreams from their letters.

I absolutely LOVED this amazingly well researched book, and couldn’t put it down. The author did an excellent job in his descriptions of what it was like for Japanese American citizens to be interned for no crime other than for their ancestry, and in describing the battles endured by the 442nd. He brilliantly fused together the prejudice experienced by both Parisian Jews and Japanese Americans and, I will have to say, I cried at the end.

I don’t want to give out spoilers as to why I cried, so will leave it up to you to read it and find out for yourself. Maybe you’ll shed a tear too. I predict this book will win lots of awards in the 2020 cycle. You read it here first!

Highly recommended for ages 16 and older.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

“Afterlife” by Julia Alvarez

Rated 3 stars *** ARC. ebook. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. To be published April 7, 2020.

AfterlifeAlmost a year after the unexpected death of her husband Antonia wanders through life in her small Vermont town, alternately bewildered and angry. Her fog is lifted as she helps a very pregnant undocumented teenager with no place to stay. Antonia feels herself becoming alive through the good deeds she does in Sam’s name.

Contrasted with the uncertainty she feels for life without Sam is the love she holds for her three sisters. Their bond of sisterhood includes watching out for their older sister Izzy, who has been experiencing manic highs and lows. The sisters combine forces to rein her in, though Izzy wants to be wild. Through upheavals and uncertainties Antonia draws wisdom from authors, poets, her ancestors, her sisters, and Sam. They, along with the quote “If I try to be like you, who will be like me?” give her strength to forge a new path in the midst of tragedy.

I know there is some deep literary analysis waiting to be uncovered, but I will leave that to some other reviewer. I read “Afterlife” as a story of a lost and sad Dominicana trying to find her way in a world that, at times, seemed foreign. I was put off by the many quotations from authors and poets in the narrative, not being as well read as Antonia. I also didn’t like the many shifts from past to present and back again that, combined with the endless quotes, made my mind wander. I did enjoy Antonia’s interactions with the sisterhood, feeling they were the strongest part of the book.

Though there is a lot of hype about this book I was not a big fan, so will leave it up to you Adult readers to decide if you want to read it or not.

I received an advance copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.