The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

A heartbreaking dual-narrative story set in WWII Shanghai and modern-day Australia about survival, family, and love.

DESCRIPTION:

Kirsty Manning makes her US debut with this gripping historical novel that tells the little-known story of Jewish refugees who fled to Shanghai during WWII.


1939:
Two young girls meet in Shanghai, also known as the “Paris of the East”. Beautiful local Li and Jewish refugee Romy form a fierce friendship, but the deepening shadows of World War II fall over the women as they slip between the city’s glamorous French Concession district and the teeming streets of the Shanghai Ghetto. Yet soon the realities of war prove to be too much for these close friends as they are torn apart.


2016:
Fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm. Her grandfather is dying, and over the coming weeks Romy and Wilhelm begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century. As fragments of her mother’s history finally become clear, Alexandra struggles with what she learns while more is also revealed about her grandmother’s own past in Shanghai.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents’ past. Peeling back the layers of their hidden lives, she is forced to question what she knows about her family—and herself. 


The Song of the Jade Lily
is a lush, provocative, and beautiful story of friendship, motherhood, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage that can shape us all.

     – Goodreads


Genre(s):
Historical Fiction

Publisher: William Morrow

Expected Publication Date: May.14.2019

*Thank you William Morrow for providing an ARC through a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the book*

REVIEW:

I absolutely loved this book. Books that teach me something new, stick with me for quite a long time. And this one, taught me a lot. 

So what exactly did this book teach me? History! The focus of this book is on Jewish refugees in Shanghai. Those who escaped Hitler’s regime during WWII. It’s incredibly eye-opening. An aspect of the war I had never considered was revealed to me.

The story itself is told through two timelines. There is the WWII narrative where we see one young girl (Romy) and her family scraping a life together in Shanghai after experiencing such horror in Europe. Then there is the modern-day narrative (set in 2016), where we learn what happened to the young girl and her family. 

It’s a tearjerker, this book. It’s one bad thing after another. But there are instances of love and so much strength and resilience. Which is what made me fall for this book. That through it all, people were still fighting, and resisting. Empowering. 

RATING: 4.5/5 stars

RECOMMEND: YES!! Most definitely! It’s not your typical WWII novel, in that it doesn’t focus on the European theater.

2019: Week 17 Reading Roundup

Sunday.April.21 – Saturday.April.27

AKA: The week I rushed to the doctor and got a booster shot because I work with tiny little humans and I refuse to die from a 19th-century disease like some Dickens peasant…

FINISHED READING: 3

The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

​Three different storylines intertwine, all relating in some way, to the husband’s secret. The secret itself a doozy, and one we find out early on in the book. The main focus is on the consequences of actions taken (or not taken) by the characters. An easy, fast-paced read. I really liked the epilogue! (A lot of… what if…) [3*]

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter (narrated by Mariska Hargitay and Lin-Manuel Miranda)

​Best book ever! Everything you ever wanted to know about the musical Hamilton is in this fabulous book. Costume choices, lighting, picking the performers, etc. I am #obsessed. FYI Lin-Manuel narrates the last part about the libretto lyrics, this is where the physical book would have been a better option [4.5*]

The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

RTC!! Eventually…


CURRENTLY READING:
2

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (narrated by Jim Dale)

My second read, first time audio listen. Loving it!! Should be finishing it up before the month ends 🙂

Save the Date by Morgan Matson

Morgan Matson does it again! I am really enjoying this read!! About 73% through the book. Should be wrapping it up by tonight.


UPCOMING READ:
1

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson
I have this audiobook all set and ready to go as soon as I finish Peter Pan.


Well that wraps up another week in reading! Also, this is me right now:



HAPPY BLOGGING EVERYONE!
😀

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

A magical tale about love and friendship in Inquisition-era Spain. 

DESCRIPTION:

New from the award-winning author of Alif the Unseen and writer of the Ms. Marvel series, G. Willow Wilson

Set in 1491 during the reign of the last sultanate in the Iberian peninsula, The Bird King is the story of Fatima, the only remaining Circassian concubine to the sultan, and her dearest friend Hassan, the palace mapmaker. 

Hassan has a secret–he can draw maps of places he’s never seen and bend the shape of reality. When representatives of the newly formed Spanish monarchy arrive to negotiate the sultan’s surrender, Fatima befriends one of the women, not realizing that she will see Hassan’s gift as sorcery and a threat to Christian Spanish rule. With their freedoms at stake, what will Fatima risk to save Hassan and escape the palace walls?

As Fatima and Hassan traverse Spain with the help of a clever jinn to find safety, The Bird King asks us to consider what love is and the price of freedom at a time when the West and the Muslim world were not yet separate. 
     – Goodreads

Genre(s): Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Grove Press

Expected Publication Date: March.12.2019

*Thank you BookishFirst for providing an ARC in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the book*

REVIEW:
Hassan is a mapmaker highly valued for his special gift. Fatima is a Circassian concubine. The two have been friends since childhood and when one’s life is endangered by the newly established Spanish monarchy, the two decide to flee. They embark on a journey that will have them fighting for their lives and test their devotion to one another. 

The idea of this book is great. Not many novels delve into friendship between two people before making it romantic. That’s not to say there isn’t any romance in the book. There is. Only a tiny little bit. The story is mainly focused on the platonic relationship though. And on their quest to find the fantastical Bird King. 

My historical knowledge of Spain during the Inquisition is slim to none. It was brutal and that’s all I pretty much knew. But reading this book made me aware of things I had been ignorant of before. It’s kind of an educational read wrapped in magical realism. A lovely approach.

Now, I struggled a bit with this book. At times the story was slow. But the writing is beautiful, so I kept reading. I think if the pace would have been faster and I’d been more knowledgeable of the time period, I would have enjoyed it more. 

RATING: 3/5 stars

An Improbable Pairing by Gary Dickson

An interesting premise that unfortunately fell flat. 

DESCRIPTION:


It began as a simple flirtation . . .

In September of 1963, Scott Stoddard, an American graduate student, is traveling to Switzerland, when he meets the Countess de Rovere, a French divorcee; he is smitten, and she is intrigued. What begins as a little coquetry soon becomes a serious love affair, much to the consternation of the Countess’s ex-husband and mother, not to mention the Countess’s friends of European high society. A meeting of equals poses problems enough, but what about one between two people who seem to have so many differences? And when a man of traditional attitudes couples with an independent and self-confident woman, something’s got to give. It won’t be the countess. As their liaison transcends an affair that cannot be dismissed, they all agree that something must be done.
 
An Improbable Pairing
is a historical romance that chronicles the enduring themes of a young man’s coming of age and the rebellious love of the mismatched. This pas de deux, set in the golden years of 1960s Paris, Geneva, Gstaad, and Cannes, provides an insider’s peek into the worlds of haute couture, three-star gourmet restaurants, and lavish hotel suites—the domains of rank and privilege. But society’s privileged resist when an interloper threatens to upset their cozy structure. 
     – Goodreads


Genre(s):
Historical Fiction, Fiction, Romance

Publisher:
Greenleaf Book Group Press

Expected Publication Date:
January.8.2019

*Thank you BookishFirst for providing an ARC in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the book*

REVIEW:

Scott Stoddard goes abroad to get away from his parents. To gain a bit of freedom. While on his trip, he falls for a beautiful, extremely wealthy Countess. And then nothing happens. Nothing.
 
The writing is okay. The cover is gorgeous. But the story lacks a certain, je ne sais quoi. Everything just happens to go Scott’s way. Every perceived “issue” is resolved favorably towards him. I wanted to put this book down so many times because there was nothing happening. Seriously. There’s nothing in the story to hold your attention. I also didn’t care for Scott or the Countess. Their love story didn’t engage me. I actually found Scott to be frustrating sometimes. 

This was just not an enjoyable read. It didn’t captivate me in any way.  


RATING:
2.5/5 stars

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

The story of women living in politically unstable Afghanistan.


This book. It was emotionally draining. There are a lot of horrid things that Laila and Mariam (wives of the despicable Rasheed) have to endure. And whilst we see them surviving in an unhappy family dynamic, we have Afghanistan as the backdrop. An Afghanistan that sees the rise and fall of various political entities. The lives of Mariam and Laila parallel the stability of Afghanistan. That was a true stroke of genius.

Now, I couldn’t help comparing this book to The Kite Runner. Did this book affect me in the same way? Thankfully, no. Kite Runner destroyed me. For a long time I cried every time I thought of that book. Every time. A Thousand Splendid Suns didn’t hurt me the same way. But that’s not to say it didn’t pull at my heartstrings. Because it most certainly did. Reading about women having their rights and liberties stripped away angered me. To see Laila and Mariam sacrifice and be brutalized over and over again. God, that hurt. That hurt so fucking much. 

At its heart, this book focuses on women. Their friendships. Mother-daughter relationships. Their relation to the world around them. A heartwrenching, beautifully written book. 



2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.

Prompt: a bestseller from the year you graduated high school

[The book was published May 2007 but was a NYT Bestseller in January 2008]

Challenge Update: 49/50

The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan

I read this on Silver Screenings‘ recommendation and wow! This book was so good. Thanks so much Ruth! ❤

The story focuses primarily on Winnie and her daughter, Pearl. They both have secrets from each other. Auntie Helen, a family friend, pushes both women to unburden themselves to each other. To tell the truth. 

Winnie’s history in China is heartbreaking. She begins her story when she was a little girl, living with her mother, father, and his other wives. Then one day, her mom disappears. Winnie never finds out what happened to her. She then tells Pearl about her evil first husband. All of the abuse she suffered at his hands and why she kept her past hidden for so long. 

Amy Tan has a remarkable knack for writing mother-daughter stories. One reason I liked this book better than The Joy Luck Club was because it focused on Winnie rather than on 4 different families. But both books touch upon first-generation family dynamics and motherly love. Definitely an engaging and powerful read! 

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Eleanor Trigg is in charge of putting together a group of female spies to infiltrate Nazi-occupied France. 

DESCRIPTION:

From the author of the runaway bestseller The Orphan’s Tale comes a remarkable story of friendship and courage centered around three women and a ring of female spies during World War II.

1946, Manhattan

Grace Healey is rebuilding her life after losing her husband during the war. One morning while passing through Grand Central Terminal on her way to work, she finds an abandoned suitcase tucked beneath a bench. Unable to resist her own curiosity, Grace opens the suitcase, where she discovers a dozen photographs—each of a different woman. In a moment of impulse, Grace takes the photographs and quickly leaves the station.

Grace soon learns that the suitcase belonged to a woman named Eleanor Trigg, leader of a ring of female secret agents who were deployed out of London during the war. Twelve of these women were sent to Occupied Europe as couriers and radio operators to aid the resistance, but they never returned home, their fates a mystery. Setting out to learn the truth behind the women in the photographs, Grace finds herself drawn to a young mother turned agent named Marie, whose daring mission overseas reveals a remarkable story of friendship, valor and betrayal.

Vividly rendered and inspired by true events, New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff shines a light on the incredible heroics of the brave women of the war, and weaves a mesmerizing tale of courage, sisterhood and the great strength of women to survive in the hardest of circumstances

     – Goodreads

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fiction

Publisher: Park Row

Expected Publication Date: February.5.2019

* Thank you BookishFirst for providing an ARC in exchange for a review. All opinions expressed are my own and based solely on the book *

REVIEW:
This book fictionalizes true events that occured during WWII. Primarily dealing with the existence of a group of women who actively fought during the war. It is very interesting and rather enlightening.
 
The stories of 3 different women intertwine to bring forward a story of love and betrayal. Eleanor who fought hard for the women and was unwilling to let any of their disappearances and deaths go unanswered. Marie, a single mother recruited by Eleanor to become an agent. Who finds love in the unlikeliest of places and whose story is marked by betrayal. And Grace. Grace, who comes across an abandoned suitcase with photographs of 12 women inside. Who becomes obsessed with finding out who the women are and returning the photos to their rightful owner. 

I really enjoyed this book. The story continually flashes back between wartime and postwar. Each woman’s story unfolds at a steady pace. I liked seeing the dynamic between each of the characters. Especially since Eleanor came off as a tough, stern person. Seeing how much she deeply felt for each of her agents made her character more likeable. And watching Grace grow into her own was delightful. 

The reason this is not a 5-star book is because at some points the story became repetitive. Something that had already been related before was once again brought up chapters later. And it wasn’t just a one-time thing. No, it happened a few times. It kept confusing me and taking me out of the story. 

The instalove also left a little to be desired. It seemed a bit superfluous. Well, to me at least. Because the book is so fast-paced, it felt like Marie was only one day in France before falling in love. It was a bit out of place. 

But besides all that, this is one book that actually reminded me of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. It didn’t pack the same emotional punch. Yet, there was something about it that felt familiar. In a good way. 

Recommend? Yes! 

RATING: 4/5stars

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The Price family have embarked upon a Christian mission in the Congo region of Africa in 1959. The events that occur will shape the course of each family member’s life. 

Phew! What a book. It starts off slow. Really slow. But once it picked up about two-thirds of the way through, it really picked up. 

Nathan Price moves his family to Africa. He hopes to save as many people as he can. But he underestimates the people and the political situation which will lead to his downfall and tragedy. The book is narrated by Nathan’s wife, Orleanna, and their 4 daughters: 16 year old Rachel, 14 year old twins Adah and Leah, and 5 year old Ruth May.

The women were so against staying in Africa, especially when the political situation became unstable and it became dangerous for them to remain there. But Father Price was trying to prove something to himself and refused to leave. It’s one of those “hindsight is 20/20” situations. 

So, from the beginning it’s hinted at that something tragic happens. And once that tragedy occurs, the book picks up pace. The thing is, it took so long to get there. For at least two-thirds of the book you slog through the brewing tensions within the Price family. The family begins to splinter and fall apart. And on top of that, they begin to run out of food. It’s a terrible situation all around. A situation they put up with for about a year or so.

After the tragedy, there are frequent time jumps. We’re rushed through the decades. Before you know it, Rachel is 50 years old. Yeah. It really picked up pace. We see how each of our narrators are doing. What they’ve experienced since then. It’s fascinating to see how their lives have been shaped by their original mission in Africa. They’re living lives that neither one of them would have expected to have. 

Did I like the book? Sure. It didn’t blow me away but it was good. It got me thinking about intentions. And it made me aware of the socio-political issues in Africa at the time. That was pretty educational. Not surprising, but educational. Hm. I’m still trying to work my feelings out. At least I can finally check this off my TBR. 

2018 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge.

Prompt: a book you meant to read in 2017 but didn’t get to

[This is the 3rd time I check this book out. The first was sometime last year. I was intimidated by it so I quickly returned it. Then, earlier this year I checked it out again. But all my library holds came through at the same time so I prioritized those over this one. And I ended up returning it without reading. Now, finally, I’ve read it! Third time was the charm haha]

Challenge Update: 47/50

The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel: A Story of Sleepy Hollow by Alyssa Palombo


This book pays homage to The Legend of Sleepy Hollow while still managing to flesh out a somewhat new story. It adds touches of magic, of love, of friendship. It goes beyond a mere ghost story. Ah, I loved this book.

* Thank you to Alyssa Palombo and St. Martin’s Press for providing an ARC of this book through a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own *



Published By: St. Martin’s Press

Publication Date: October.2.2018

Genre(s): Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Retellings

The mysterious and haunted world of Sleepy Hollow is palpable in this book. You can feel the hazy fog surrounding you, as you read Katrina’s version of events. 

In Wasington Irving’s original story, Katrina Van Tassel is described as a somewhat shallow coquette. But as this book is told by Katrina herself, we get another side to the infamous legend. And if you’re familiar with the original tale, then you’ll recognize many of the characters and elements that appear. 

At its core, the story is about love. Katrina and Ichabod are passionately in love with one another (providing the reader with a slew of steamy scenes). But he is a schoolteacher, dependent on the generosity of his pupil’s families. Katrina, is sole heiress to the successful Van Tassel farm. On All Hallows Eve, Ichabod asks for Katrina’s hand in marriage but is denied by her father. That night, Ichabod disappears and is presumed by the townspeople to have been taken by the headless horseman.

The story is also about magic and female friendship. Katrina’s best friend is Charlotte, a healer and witch. Because of Brom Van Brunts accusations of witchcraft, Charlotte is looked upon with fear. But Katrina defends her, and sticks by her. And through her, discovers her own gift of Sight. 

This is also a story of loss. When Ichabod disappears, Katrina is heartbroken. She spends a couple of years trying to figure out whether he abandoned her or if something more sinister befell him. If you assume it’s the latter, you’d be right. This is Sleepy Hollow, after all.  

This is an incredibly entertaining story. Katrina is a young, modern woman, stuck in post-Revolutionary War America. She is an avid reader, has her own political ideas, and a truly independent spirit. A part of me feels a lot of sympathy for this girl though. My heart broke when she finally discovered Ichabod Crane’s fate.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I hadn’t read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow in so long that after I finished this read, I went and listened to the audiobook version. And wow. The original is good. But I was surprised by how faithful The Spellbook was to it. From Ichabod’s physical description, to Gunpowder veering off the main road by the church. I am truly awed by what Alyssa Palombo accomplished. 

Como Agua Para Chocolate (Like Water for Chocolate) – Laura Esquivel

Before I jump into the review, a little backstory. It won’t be long. Promise. *crosses fingers behind back* 😉

Today is the start of Hispanic Heritage Month here in the U.S. It is also Guatemalan Independence Day!!! WHOO!!!

In honor of the motherland ❤ , I had planned to read a book by a Guatemalan author in my native tongue. Unfortunately, finding said book has proven to be more difficult than expected. Therefore, I went a different route. Today Mexico is celebrating its own holiday. Finding a book by a Mexican author and written in spanish proved easier. So, here we are 🙂

THE REVIEW

Tita is the youngest of 3 daughters living in Mexico during the revolution. At 16, Pedro (her sweetheart), proposes to her. But when he asks her mom, Mamá Elena, for Tita’s hand in marriage, he is refused. Because Tita is the youngest daughter, tradition states she cannot be married as her life is to be devoted to taking care of her mother for as long as she lives. Mamá Elena instead offers Rosaura, Tita’s middle sister, and Pedro accepts. This is not simply a story of Tita being caught in a love triangle with her sister. But a story of how she fights against tradition and gains a semblance of independence. 

I’ve read this book multiple times. In English. It was actually required reading in high school. This is my first time reading it in spanish though. And I actually understood the narrative better. It’s not that it’s badly translated into English. It’s just the nuances of some words and idioms get lost in the translation. Reading it in its original language, I realized that there was a subtle difference in the way I experienced the book. For one, Mamá Elena is a lot more frightening than I previously thought. I felt way more sympathy for Tita’s actions with this reading. 

The story itself is narrated by Tita’s Grandniece. The book is broken into 12 monthly chapters. But it actually covers an expanse of time. When the story begins (January), Tita is not quite 16. By the 12th chapter (December), she is 39. 

There are elements of magical realism in the book. Something that is usually hit or miss with me because I tend to read books too literally. This is a hit! It adds a little something extra to Tita’s characterization. Which leads me to the food.

Oh my goodness! Each chapter begins with a different recipe that has some bearing on the story. Tita was raised in the kitchen, so these are her recipes. She cooks her feelings into her food. Which is where some of the magical realism appears. Pedro and Rosaura marry and Tita is the one tasked with making their wedding dinner. She is full of longing and disillusionment as she cooks. Which results in the wedding guests being filled with nostalgia and sadness. (She didn’t do it on purpose btw)! It’s all actually pretty interesting how this happens. It makes real the “it was cooked with love” sentiment. 

A LITTLE HISTORY LESSON
As I mentioned, today Mexico is also celebrating. What is it celebrating? El Grito!

It commemorates the day that a Catholic priest, Hidalgo, rang the church bells (a battle cry) in Dolores (small town near Guanajuato), which marked the beginning of the Mexican War for Independence. Every year, the President (and other high-ranking officials) ring church bells and give a roaring cry to mark the occassion. 

If you can, I suggest you watch it.

It begins tonight, September 15th and lasts through the night. This is how Mexican Independence Day (September 16th) is rung in. (I’m not Mexican so please correct me if I’m wrong)!

EDUCATE ME!
Now, I know how my homeland celebrates its independence and I have an idea of how the motherland celebrates. 

How the U.S. celebrates 4th of July: Red, white and blue/flag clothing; Grilling; Beer; Fireworks. 

How Guatemala celebrates Independence Day (according to my Chapina momma!):

Traditional clothing (optional); Parade; Fair; Fireworks (which are low-key dangerous!)

But I am extremely interested in how other countries/cultures celebrate. I have a degree in Anthropology for a reason 😉 So, I toss it to you! 

How do YOU celebrate your country’s independence? Please let me know in the comments below!! 😀

HAPPY BLOGGING EVERYONE!