Feb 25, 2023

Book Reviews: Multigenerational Families in one Household: Comedy and Pathos

Two very funny books, despite the seriousness of many topics and themes, had me re-reading one in total and the other in parts. Here's what I think about the books.


 

Everything I Learned, I Learned in a Chinese Restaurant: A Memoir by Curtis Chin  October 23, 2023, Little, Brown and Company

Genre: memoir, family drama, multicultural interest, LGBTQ


This is a memoir about growing up in Detroit in the 1960-1980s. The publisher sums the book up best:

Nineteen eighties Detroit was a volatile place to live, but above the fray stood a safe haven: Chung’s Cantonese Cuisine, where anyone—from the city’s first Black mayor to the local drag queens, from a big-time Hollywood star to elderly Jewish couples—could sit down for a warm, home-cooked meal.
Here was where,... surrounded by his multigenerational family, filmmaker and activist Curtis Chin came of age; where he learned to embrace his identity as a gay ABC, or American-born Chinese; where he navigated the divided city’s spiraling misfortunes; and where ... he realized just how much he had to offer to the world, to his beloved family, and to himself.

As an Asian American living in the Midwest, I saw Detroit as both fascinating and dangerous, even as it declined economically and socially when it lost the auto industry and economic power, and became a literal war zone, with riots and fires, a city soon abandoned by many long time residents.

I was delighted to read of this Chinese family that stayed and thrived even in dangerous conditions, because of their well-known restaurant with customers from all classes, races and religions, the common ground being love of Chinese cuisine.

The memoir describes a volatile Detroit during those changing times and the lives of the Chinese family, the Chins, as seen by third son, Curtice, a second generation son. Curtice's book covers his life there until he left after graduating from the University of Michigan to find his own way, as a film maker in NYC.  

The heady topics of his sexuality, his position in the family as the middle child of five, plus racism and discrimination, and the dangers of Detroit are offset by the humor with which Curtice Chin tackles his own personal life there.  The memoir is entertaining as well as informative and very considerate regarding many of the people he came in contact with in school, at work, in daily life. This, in spite of the fact that the Chinese community there could not forget the murder of a family friend, Vincent Chin, considered an act of discrimination that was never fully punished. 

I can see that it took this long for the author to write this book, perhaps because of the sensitive subjects and also because gay rights and legal immigrant rights are now fully established. (At least, we hope so.) 

Kudos to the author for writing with so much insight and honesty, and presenting himself with delightful humor in between the very serious topics.



The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel, January 31, 2023, Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Genre: family drama, contemporary fiction, romance, comedy 

The theme of the book is in its epigraph, a quote supposedly from Thomas Mann. 

 " The sweet spot is where duty and delight converge."

I read the book twice and laughed out loud both times. I consider Amy Poeppel a comic genius for her humor in writing as well as for her intricate plotting, colorful characters, and their coincidental and often hilarious interactions with each other. 

Take the young couple, Lauren the ceramist and Leo the teacher, who were just given a huge brownstone in Greenwich Village, NYC to live in, thanks to a peripatetic father, Phillip.  With their three young children, the couple live happily in the rundown building over a loud basement bar named The Sweet Spot, owned by Dan. 

Phillip, Leo's father, and Evelyn, Lauren's mother visit the house, Phillip to stay and Evelyn to decide on a daily basis whether to go or stay. They all cohabit rather messily but lovingly, while dealing with the problem of other characters - Melissa and Felicity and Russell and their new baby. Plus, there is Bumper, a large messy stray dog that they took in.

Melissa is out for revenge on everyone, targeting Lauren and her boss Felicity. Her antics are mind bogglingly nasty but nevertheless very funny, even when they cause a lot of grief for the others.

A whirlwind of characters, interacting in very comedic ways. I loved laughing while reading.  I recommend this book for anyone looking for a read and a good laugh.

 What are you reading this week? 

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Feb 18, 2023

These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant: Sunday Salon

 



These Silent Woods by Kimi Cunningham Grant

First published November 16, 2021; Kindle edition
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Character driven, this thriller also has strong plotlines. I followed the complex individuals with interest as their personal dilemmas and choices were the backbone of the plot.

A father-daughter relationship and single parenthood under strenuous and difficult circumstances led Cooper and young Flicker to live alone in the woods for eight years, hidden from family and law enforcement who would want to find them and drive them apart.

I loved the surprising twists at the end of the book, which was quite emotional as well as suspenseful. 

ARC thanks to NetGalley

Re-reading these two books because I enjoyed them and laughed so much while reading these humorous authors:

The Sweet Spot  by Amy Poeppel



Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Feb 14, 2023

The Boy and the Dog by Seishu Hase: Japanese Literature Challenge 16

 

 

I like this novel that follows the stray dog Tamon into the homes and lives of several different people along his five-year journey to find his original owner. 

The dog stays with successive new owners, a few of whom are connected to the yakuza (mob), until they can no longer keep the dog or are not in a position to look after him. This was a good way to move the story forward.

I also liked the ending when Tamon's true and newfound owner connects with the family of the first person who took the dog in.  There is pathos and true sentiment in the relationships with his owners as Tamon was seen as a gift from the gods and a symbol of good luck.

Older children and adults would enjoy the book without, hopefully, being too affected by some of the sadder and more serious events in the stories. 

Seishū Hase 

Hase Seishu ((馳 星周) is the pseudonym of the Japanese yakuza-crime novelist Toshihito Bando (坂東 齢人). 
Bando graduated with a BA from Yokohama City University in 1987.

A few of his novels were adapted into Asian films, such as The City of Lost Souls and Sleepless Town, in 2000 and 1998, respectively.

 

This review has been added to the Japanese Literature Challenge 16  hosted by DolceBellezza

Feb 11, 2023

The Piano Tuner by Chiang-Sheng Kuo: Sunday Salon

 


The Piano Tuner: A Novel by

Published January 3, 2023, Arcade
My rating: 5 stars

All through the book, I struggled to find out the real reason a musical prodigy would fail to realize his potential as a pianist and instead devote his life to tuning pianos used by famous concert pianists.

The mystery is still up in the air, but there are hints throughout the book of boyhood poverty, lack of family support and interest, his uncomely appearance, and above all, the failure of others to carry out their vague promises or hints of help for his personal future.

Disappointment is the theme of this complex character, who seems to put himself at a lower lever in all aspects of his life, romantic and otherwise.

Also an unreliable narrator, he shows us his world through his ideas of concert pianists, musicians, fame, and tuning versus playing the piano. We must make up our own minds about this fascinating yet unnerving character and what his interactions with well known musicians, teachers, and would be patrons really show.


What are you reading this week?

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

 

Feb 6, 2023

Book Review: Fractured Soul by Akira Mizubayashi

 

An historical novel set in Japan and France. 

Awarded the Prix des libraires by France’s booksellers, a universal story about music and restoring one’s faith in others amid the aftermath of tremendous loss.


Fractured Soul

Expected publication: April 4th, 2023 by HarperVia

My review:

The novel is an anti-war/anti-imperialism novel set in Japan before and during WWII and in France post war. I was overwhelmed by the sorrow of the 11-year-old Rei as he witnessed/heard his father Yu being arrested at a private concert recital and his father's treasured violin smashed by the boots of a Japanese corporal.

The story is moving and yet sentimental; it links classical music, its performance on stringed instruments, and the loss Rei feels when his father disappeared after the arrest. I thought it fitting that Rei becomes a maker/restorer of quality violins in his own shop in France, where he was raised by a French couple who were friends with his missing father Yu.

Rei spends his life trying to overcome the fractured soul he had become from memories of the violence to his father and his father's beloved violin. Rei heals as he connects with others from his past, piecing together what had happened, in an effort to heal all those who shared in his distress.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this amazing historical novel of music, love, loss and restoration.

This review is part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 16  hosted by DolceBellezza

Feb 4, 2023

Sunday Salon: Two Japanese Novels with a Message


 

 

 

About: High school student Rintaro Natsuki is about to close the secondhand bookstore he inherited from his beloved grandfather. Then, a talking cat named Tiger appears with an unusual request. (publisher)

 This is a book for bibliophiles, readers, reviewers, and those who collect books. It's also for those who don't read and are sceptical about the value of books.

 Reclusive and shy student Rintaro is led by a mysterious talking tabby cat into labyrinths behind his father's old bookstore to confront and correct these five misusers of books.

 1) The Imprisoner: a hoarder who collects and neglects his books, finding value only in reading as many new books as possible.

2) The Mutilator: who values extreme editing of books to summarize and cut them down to one sentence. 

3) The Seller of Books: who sells and discards without caring about individual books.

4) The Final Labyrinth, in which Rintaro confronts a sceptic and gives the real reason books are valuable, new or old.

Rintaro:

"Books are filled with human thoughts and feelings. People suffering, people who are sad or happy, laughing with joy....(W)e learn about the hearts and minds of other people besides ourselves."

" I think that the power of books is that - that they teach us to care about others. It's a power that gives people courage and also supports them in turn.... Empathy - that's the power of books."

Becoming more confident after his experiences in the labyrinth, Rintaro happily returns to school after being a shy truant.

The book, in translation, would be good for students and new readers. It also reinforces what long time readers already know. 

 

 There's No Such Thing as an Easy Job by Kikuko Tsumura

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved reading about all the problems that can go wrong in various job situations. A young woman moves into five different jobs before coming to terms with what she can and will accept. 

The different jobs she takes within a year read like separate short stories - surveillance; writing bus advertising; writing random facts to be printed on the backs of cracker packets; putting up posters on storefronts, and working alone in an isolated hut in the middle of a forested park.  

The five jobs were interesting and entertaining to read about -  the dilemma of work with various employees and environments, and  different demands of bosses.

"..what I'd discovered by doing five jobs in such a short span of time was this: the same was true of everything. You never knew what was going to happen, whatever you did..."
You just try to do the best you can, is her final word of advice. 
 

 
 
These reviews are part of the Japanese Literature Challenge 16  hosted by DolceBellezza
 
What are you reading this week?

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

 

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