Book Review: The Courtesan by Alexandra Curry

76bb0ddee4f2bc28810f6a7067006eeb1Title: The Courtesan

Author: Alexandra Curry

Publisher: Dutton [imprint of Penguin Random House]

Date Published: September 8, 2015

Format: Hardcover

ooooo

Sai Jinhua is only seven-years-old when her father is executed and leaves her all alone. As the daughter of her father’s adored concubine, she may have been his treasure, but his first wife does not see her in the same way. Left in ruins with a girl she despises, she sells young, sheltered Jinhua for seven silver coins. Jinhua is eventually sold to a brothel and her life takes an ugly turn. From having a father who refused to let anyone bind his little girl’s feet, she has her feet broken and destroyed. For their investment in her, she is expected to become a “money tree” at the brothel when she reaches the ripe old age of twelve. Her only joy at this time in her life is her friendship with the crippled maid (crippled by a foot-binding gone wrong) at the brothel, who becomes her sister.

The Courtesan is a beautifully written novel inspired by the real-life courtesan Sai Jinhua. She lived during a tumultuous time in China’s history (end of the Qing dynasty, the Boxer rebellion, and invasion by European powers, for example) and tended to find herself in the middle of it. Eventually she is taken out of the brothel and an old, peculiar scholar makes her into his concubine. With him she travels the world. He is named the ambassador from China to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and while he dreads leaving the homeland, Jinhua flourishes abroad. She tries her hardest to learn about this new world while her husband will not allow her to leave the house or take guests. However, little by little Jinhua starts to find her freedom.

Curry takes many liberties with the life of Jinhua, but there is not much concrete known about her life in the first place. She has become a figure of legend in China where people debate the veracity of almost every aspect of her life. I wasn’t bothered by this, though. Curry embraces this mysteriousness in the novel. She skips time periods in Jinhua’s life and at times (especially towards the end of novel) the novel feels like a series of elongated vignettes and poetic moments. This novel excels in my favorite part of historical fiction novels, which is crafting a character that feels real. Sometimes this genre gets so bogged down by accuracy that it neglects to make these legendary figures feel human and to give context for their world and actions.

This novel is truly about the search for freedom. Jinhua was owned for most of her life. She was either paying off a huge debt to a brothel or being a concubine to a man who saw her as something she wasn’t. She pays some huge prices for this throughout the novel. Her strife is mirrored by her friend, Suyin, who does not have the luxury/curse of being beautiful and desired. While Jinhua is the lead character without question, Suyin does play an important role in the novel and without her I feel that it would’ve been a lesser book.

Cover Critique: It’s so beautiful. I love the painting they chose for the cover. She looks so guarded and shy, while still being beautiful and intriguing. I also really like the title and author’s name on those two strokes of paint. The painting behind them is so realistically done and perfect, and those two slashes show a impulsive and emotional quality to the book.

Quick Version: The Courtesan is a book about a near-mythic, mysterious, controversial figure of Sai Jinhua. She went from young “money tree” at a brothel to a woman who traveled the world and influenced key political figures in early 20th century China. Curry weaves her tale with a focus on poetic language and immersing the reader into Jinhua’s emotions and experiences. I sadly didn’t know anything at all about Jinhua before reading this book and I’m left with a desire to learn more, which is something that all good historical fiction does.

Score: 5 stars 

 

 

Book Review: Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Title: Wolf by Wolf

Author: Ryan Graudin

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers [imprint of Hachette]

Date Published: October 20, 2015

Format: ARC {Received in exchange of a fair review}

ooooo

Yael wants Hitler dead. She is willing to do anything to see this man pay for what he has done to the world and her people. When she was a little girl she was taken to a death camp and after a being subjected to horrible experiments, she managed to escape. It’s now 1956 and Germany and Japan have carved up the world between them. A rebel group sees their chance to execute the Führer by entering Yael into the annual motorcycle race that crosses Asia, from Europe to Japan, which if she wins, we get her close enough to end him. The Nazi experiments left Yael with the ability to change her appearance. She must imitate last year’s female victor (Adele) to try to win again, but she does not anticipate Adele’s twin brother and a jilted boyfriend to also be in the race testing her cover at every moment.

I’m not usually into alternate histories. Alternate WWII stories, especially, tend to be everywhere and after a while they just seem to have more fun playing with ‘what-ifs’ than actually telling a good story and developing intriguing characters. Wolf by Wolf does an excellent job of not falling into that trap. It is original, clever, fast-paced, and the world is very well-developed.

Yael is a well-crafted character. She is damaged and because of her abilities she has spent most of her teenage life pretending to be the enemy. She can’t even remember what she used to look like before the experiments erased her identity, but Yael still manages to have a strong sense of self. The one thing that she cannot erase when she changes skin are the numbers stamped into her skin. She decides to hide these with elaborate wolf tattoos to represent people she has lost and what she is fighting for. It helps her remember who she is and even though it would be so easy, she doesn’t just run away from it all and blend in with the population. While racing and interacting with other racers we see her world expand and her character grow more and more.

Cover Critique: It looks like a WWII propaganda poster (what a surprise!😛 ). I think it works perfectly for this book. I like it.

Quick Version: Really interesting and entertaining take on the Axis powers had winning WWII. The world is interesting and thought-provoking, the motorcycle race is entertaining, and the protagonist, Yael, made you want to keep reading and rooting for her. I didn’t know until I was at the end of the book that this was part of a series and while that lead to this ending being a bit anti-climatic, I still really enjoyed it and will definitely be reading the sequel.

Score: 4.5/5 stars

You can buy it here: Amazon

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Title: Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

Publisher: Random House

Date Published: August 16th 2011

Format: Paperback {own}

ooooo

I had been reluctant to read this book for so long. My husband and brother have been recommending this to me nonstop for the past year, and even though it sounded perfect for me, I was reluctant to take the plunge. Sometimes when people recommend things to you so much, you are afraid that you won’t like it or that you’ll somehow be disappointed. I’m beyond glad to say that this was not the case with Ready Player One. This book lives up to all it’s much deserved hype and it not only met my expectations, it exceeded them!

Wade Watts is a about to graduate from high school and his life isn’t going too great. It’s 2044 and the world is an ugly place. The only place that he, and most of the world, feel alive is inside the virtual world of OASIS. Everything for him happens inside his headset, including school and meeting friends. He hasn’t known much of a life outside of OASIS and has spent the majority of his childhood obsessed with finding clues to the secret the creator, James Halliday, left inside the game. In his will, Halliday promised that whoever solves the puzzles will inherit the company, which means control over OASIS and becoming a multi-billionaire. Halliday was an 80’s nut and completely obsessed with video games and geeky pop culture. The hunt for clues has stalled and everyone thinks that nothing will ever be found, but one day under-leveled Wade finds a clue. This turns everything on its head and the race ramps up. During the competition Wade finds out that there are big forces going after this prize and more than OASIS is at stake.

I’m a big 80’s nut and complete geek, anyone who knows me in real life can definitely attest to this.😛 I’m the child of two 80’s obsessed parents, so my childhood consisted of a steady diet of John Hughes, action/scifi films, and 80’s songs. And while these references are entertaining and it’s amusing when you know exactly what obscure movie moment they’re referring to, it’s not what’s best about this book. Ready Player One manages to balance heart and brain better than most other scifi/dystopian titles. It’s very clever, but it doesn’t revel in its own intelligence. There are many different references that I didn’t understand at all (like specifics about old arcade games), but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment of those moments. Wade beating a game of Pac-Man is actually amusing to read about, which if you’ve ever watched anyone play it that’s pretty impressive. Even if we’ve never cared about beating Pac-Man that much, we can all relate to trying prove yourself better than the rest, whether it’s in a game or in real life.

The stakes always felt very high in this book. Many times with these types of stories you never really feel anxious for these players. Like, if they don’t make it, they’ll still be fine in the end. Cline does an excellent job of ramping up the consequences for the characters’ actions as the story goes on. It’s not a story about saving the world from Sauron or anyone who’s going to blow the planet to smithereens, but while you’re reading you do feel like if the protagonists don’t come out on top, many bad things would happen to them and to society.

Cover Critique: I really like this cover for the book and the original one. They both share the title in a huge font, spanning basically the entire cover. It makes for a striking and memorable image. The original is a little more graphic, since it is just yellow words on a red background. But that combination of colors has never been my favorite and makes the book look a little more dated, which considering the 80’s fest, is probably intentional. The cover I used on the post is the one I have, and I really like the illustration. It’s really well done and easily shows you just how bad the world outside this game is.

Quick Version: Ready Player One is an extremely entertaining book that you can easily read in a couple of days. It’s quick-paced and funny, and also makes you care so much for its cast of unique characters. While it does help to be a fan of 80’s pop culture and/or video games to get into it, the book does a good job of explaining these topics enough that you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy the novel.

Score: 5/5 stars😎

The Friday 56 & Book Beginnings: Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

Friday Memes

Happy Friday everyone! I bet you are all as happy as I am that Friday is finally here. To start off this day, I’m participating in two different blog memes. They complement each other so well, it just had to happen!

The first is The Friday 56 from Freda’s Voice! The rules are:

1. Grab a book, any book.
2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader.
3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
4. Post it.
5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

The second is Book Beginnings from Rose City Reader! The rules are:

Share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires. Please remember to include the title of the book and the author’s name.
The book I selected for this Friday is Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas. I’ve been wanting to read this book for ages (I feel like I’m the only one who hasn’t😛 ). So, I’m starting it today!
Book Beginning:

After a year of slavery in the Salt Mines of Endovier, Celaena Sardothien was accustomed to being escorted everywhere in shackles and at sword-point.

56:

Instead of reading, she could perhaps use the pianoforte, but… well, it had been a while, and she wasn’t sure she could endure the sounds of her own clumsy playing. She traced a finger over a splotch of fuchsia silk on her dress. All those books, with no one to read them.

These sentences definitely want to make me read the book right away—mission accomplished!😀 What do you guys think? Do you have a 56 or book beginning?

Top Ten Tuesday: Wishes for the Book Genie

Top Ten Tuesday is a blog meme hosted over at the Broke and the Bookish every week! This week the topic is what wishes you would want the all-powerful book genie to grant you. It’s weird to do a genie post without being limited to 3, but who am I to complain about more wishes? 😛

  1. More time to read in the day! It’s hard to find time to read sometimes, life gets in the way. Maybe a place where time will pause and I can just read there for a while.
  2. To be able to do other things while I read! Kinda goes with the first wish. Audiobooks let me drive/cook/fold clothes while “reading,” but sometimes I wish I could read physical/digital books instead.
  3. All the pretty covers! I wish all books had beautiful covers. I don’t want them all to be lovely in the same way, that would be so boring, but I do really hate it when books I love have awful covers.
  4. Better memory! This goes for more than just books 😅Sometimes I know I read a book and I have no recollection of it at all. It does usually speaks to the books quality, but it still bugs me. Conversely, there are so many books I remember adoring as a kid and then I don’t remember the title of author! So, I have no way of finding them again 😱
  5. Ability to underline and markup my books while keeping them nice! I love a pristine hardcover, but I also love a book that looks loved and is full of my thoughts and underlined passages. I’m on both sides of the spectrum and it’s tough sometimes.
  6. Beauty and the Beast style library! No more explanation necessary. 💁
  7. Anime version of Western books! This is a really nerdy request, no shame! I am usually very disappointed with movie adaptations of books, especially scifi and fantasy. I think than an anime or any type of animation would be so much better! Don’t have to worry about the magic and stuff looking dumb with bad CG and the characters and different races won’t just be made into humans. Mistborn is one I REALLY think would make a great animated series.
  8. Able to buy all the books! I wish I could get all the books I want and actually have space to put them all.
  9. Books I’ve been waiting for to FINALLY come out! This goes out to GRRM and Tamora Pierce, especially. I don’t need to explain Martin, I don’t know if we’re ever getting the ASOIAF books. Pierce has been promising more Tortall books forever and they still haven’t come out. I just want that Numair book, is that too much to ask!?
  10. Taking the stories from my imagination to the page! This wish isn’t too fantastical, but it’s something I would really love to happen. I have always been nervous/afraid about writing and putting myself out there. I need to gather up my courage and give it a real shot! Hopefully all of the things on this list happen 😉, but this is the one I really want to come true (with a TON of effort from me, of course).

Do you have any wishes for the book genie? 😊

Book Traveling Thursdays: Crazy Plot Twist

This is Book Traveling Thursdays! A weekly meme created by Cátia [The Girl Who Read Too Much] and Danielle [Danielle’s Book Blog]. The goal is to share the covers from around the world of a book related to that week’s theme. You share the original cover, cover from your country, your favorite, and least favorite covers. You can find out more on the Goodreads group.

ooooo

This week’s theme is for a book that had a major plot twist. I do tend to fawn over books with crazy plot twists, so at first I had a tough time thinking of one book in particular. Until, I was looking at my shelf and saw Pierce Brown’s Golden Son peeking out at me. This book had an insane number of twists and turns, every time I thought I had figured out where it was going, Brown changed it up on me again. How could I pick anything else?

Original, My Country [USA], & Fave Cover:

So simple and graphic. The laurel wreath lighting on fire is the perfect representation of Golden Son. I also love the way that the title is written vertically across the cover and the wreath is tilted towards it, drawing your towards the words. It’s just very cleverly designed.

Least Favorite Cover:

23590032

This cover is just so bad. I’m sad for Germany that they have to look at this. It takes a modern, scifi novel and makes it look like some outdated book published in the 80’s about the history of space or something.

And that’s all for today, folks! What do you think of the covers?🙂

Shelf Control: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Bookshelf Fantasies is hosting a new weekly feature called Shelf Control! It’s all about books we already own, whether it be physical or digital, and finding things to read without rushing out to buy new books all the time. So many TBR posts are about upcoming or new titles—I thought it was interesting to focus on appreciating the things we already own (I really don’t need to spend more money and/or have the space for more books😛 ).

My pick for this week is:

Title: Rebecca

Author: Daphne du Maurier

Date Published: 1938

Format: Paperback {own}

What it’s about? {synopsis via Goodreads}

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .”
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

How I got it?

I purchased it.

When I got it?

At least 4 years ago.

Why I want to read it?

There is no justifiable reason for me not to have read this book already. It’s been adapted to film by Hitchcock and is one of my favorite movies of all time. They always say that the book is better, which would be tough in this case, but even if it’s not, I’ll still probably adore it! Halloween is coming up and it’s a gothic mystery novel, so it’s a good time to rectify this mistake. 🎃

Do you have any books already on your shelf that you want to read?

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon 

 

18692431Title: Everything, Everything

Author: Nicola Yoon

Publisher: Delacorte Press [imprint of Penguin Random House]

Date Published: September 1, 2015

Format: ARC {Received in exchange of a fair review}

ooooo

When I started this book I really thought I would enjoy it. It is sweet, charming, and has a unique story to tell. But about halfway through the book, a series of twists and plot developments left me sorely disappointed. I’m not going to spoil what happens, but the story just becomes increasingly cliché and unrealistic—especially after the so-perfect, yet oh so forbidden, love interest is introduced.

Madeline is not allowed to leave her home—severe allergies that were discovered when she was an infant have kept her cooped up for most of her 17 years. She’s basically a “bubble boy” and fills her days reading books, taking online classes, and hanging out with her mom and nurse, who are the only two people she has regular contact with. One day she glances out the window and sees a family moving in next door. Last time the neighbors left, it really devastated her, so she promises herself she won’t get too attached. Then she sees Olly. He only wears black, because of course that’s what brooding boys do. They begin talking over email and IM, but eventually that is not enough for them. They want to meet in real life, but Madeline knows that’s a slippery slope.

Their romance is too syrupy sweet for me. Writing limericks and haikus to each other somewhat ironically and stuff like that. It was only as the novel progressed that it got to be too much for me. I really dislike where the plot went and I went from enjoying the book, to being completely disappointed in the span of a few pages. I feel like Madeline went from being a character with potential charm and personality, to one that was making all these outrageous decisions without much founding. Later in the novel, Yoon gives a reason for these, but I felt that this twist cheapened the plot and relationships in the novel. It seemed to be a plot device thrown in so she could get the ending she wanted, rather than what would make the most interesting story.

Cover Critique: The cover for Everything, Everything is gorgeous. I love the white with the colorful pencil drawings outlining the text. It looks like a special book and I can imagine it’ll inspire many readers to pick it up.

Quick Version: After a promising start, I was left disappointed by Everything, Everything. What was initially charming about the novel began to grate on me, especially after some plot choices I found pretty questionable. I do admit that I am not the audience for this book, stories about sick teens have never been my favorites, but I had high hopes for this one. Yoon is an excellent writer and even though I was not a fan of this one, I look forward to what she does in the future.

Score: 2/5 stars

#15in31: October Reading Challenge!

I’ve really been missing taking time out of my day and sitting down with a good book. I’ve been so swamped this year and when I’m stressed/anxious the last thing I want to do is sit down and read, even though that would actually help me de-stress😛

I was just thinking of how to jump start my reading when I ran across Andi’s challenge on Estella’s Revenge. I figured this was a sign from the reading gods and decided to give it a try! 15 books in 31 is a lot, maybe too much. I may not be able to complete all 15 titles, but I’ll give it my all. Worst case, I’ll have read more than I would’ve otherwise!

I’m horrible at keeping TBRs or planning what books I want to read next, so I’m not going to give you an exact list of the books I’ll be in October. This is more of a general list of books that I’m interested in:

Okay, I kinda lied, I know I’ll be digging into these three new releases next month. I’ve been waiting for them for ages!

What these all have in common is that they are all books that my husband has been begging me to read. His birthday is coming up this month and he reads a lot that I recommend, so I’ll give them a shot (I’m pretty positive I’ll like them anyways)!

18679391

I’ve acquired these titles recently and I’m pretty excited about them. They’re a varied bunch, for sure, and I don’t think I’ll wait more than a month to read them.

I know that’s only nine, but I know I’ll get some random Kindle books in there as well as audio. I don’t like to overplan my reading when I’m having fun with it, and that’s the goal of this whole challenge for me– to read a ton and have fun doing it!

What about you? If you want to join in, please sign up on the link up top!

Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy

Title: Dumplin’

Author: Julie Murphy

Publisher: Balzer + Bray [imprint of HarperCollins]

Date Published: September 15, 2015

Format: ARC– Received in exchange of a fair review

ooooo

I’m so glad to be back to this blog! It’s been way too long and I am looking forward to getting Curiously Bookish back in action. I’ve had a crazy year that involved getting married and finishing grad school, so I’ve been understandably busy!😛 I’m in the middle of restructuring this blog and getting some more exciting plans underway (I’ll have some exciting news to share with you guys soon!), but for now we’ll start with a book review:

Willowdean is a self-proclaimed fat girl who lives in Texas and is obsessed with Dolly Parton. If you don’t like her, too bad. She’s happy with her high school life (as much as anyone could be). But the summer before Junior year, things start to change. Her best friend, Ellen, and her are growing apart. Ellen is the typical all-American beauty and is becoming friends with the popular girls in her class, who keep acting like Willowdean and Ellen’s friendship is more of a charity case than a legitimate relationship.  On top of this, Willowdean’s new job at the fast food place comes with a super cute coworker, Bo. To her surprise Bo likes her, and instead of feeling elated, the normally confident Willowdean feels insecure. She begins to doubt herself around him and think of her body in negative ways when she’s with him. She’s desperate to get her old confidence back and she does the last thing she thought she would ever do, enter the local beauty pageant. To make things tougher it happens to be run by her former-beauty-queen mother.

This was a very entertaining read! Willowdean is definitely not the typical YA protagonist. She is very opinionated, confident, and clever. The story deals with body image in many different ways and with all kinds of characters. It’s about not being perfect, or what you see as perfect, and finding out that everyone can be just as insecure as you are. Murphy did a good job of balancing the message of being happy with who you are, with also being able to admit your faults and doubts.

I really enjoyed the way friendship was handled in this book. Willowdean and Ellen were everything to each other when they were younger, but now that they’ve gotten older, it’s not working out well. Willowdean feels like Ellen is leaving her behind and she doesn’t even feel comfortable talking to her about her maybe relationship with Bo. They drift further and further apart as Ellen makes friends with the popular girls that don’t like Willowdean, and the feeling is mutual. This forces Willowdean to make friends with some of the other girls in her class, the other girls who don’t fit in. This group is a bunch of girls who get bullied and teased, but unlike Willowdean, they don’t have the confidence to stand up for themselves. At first, she treats them with disdain and frustration, especially when they all decide to join the pageant along with her. Eventually, she begins to like them and sees the value of having different kinds of friends. That was probably my favorite part of the novel; you don’t need to have just one friend who is everything to you. Especially as you get older, your best friend and you may grow up to have different interests and like different things. You may drift apart, but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t still friends. You can make different friends and so can she, but you are still always there for each other.

Friendship is where Dumplin’ is at its strongest, but I wasn’t as big of a fan of the romance. I really just didn’t like Bo as a character. He was the brooding, mysterious boy and he really didn’t have much of a personality. He started the story as a transfer student who had some secrets, but it never progressed from there. He was also quite cruel to Willowdean in the early parts of the novel, he wants to keep their relationship a secret and only hangs out with her at work and by the dumpster or in his car afterwards. It just has so many red flags that even when he apologizes later, it still doesn’t sit right with me. There is another boy introduced later in the novel, Mitch, who I thought was a more interesting character. He really likes Willowdean and is very open about it, but she simply doesn’t like him like that. I guess that is very high school, though. Making the wrong decisions about boys is pretty realistic sometimes!

Cover Critique: I’m a big fan of the cover. It’s so graphic and simple. Willowdean in that pose in the red dress really does represent the novel well. Everything is clean and simple, which makes that red stand out even more. I also really like the crown at the top, it’s cute and combined with the image, really lets you know that this is a pageant book.

Quick Version: Dumplin’ is a charming, easy read. Willowdean is a girl you don’t see a lot in fiction, especially as the main character. Friendship and the issues that come with growing up and maintaining friendships are really a bright point in the novel. While I didn’t like Bo and the romance, the true heart of the novel lies with Willowdean and Ellen and learning how to be confident and love yourself, faults and all.

Score: 4/5 stars