Book Reviews for February 2019

“Groundhog found fog.
New snows and blue toes.
Fine and dandy for Valentine candy.
Snow spittin’; if you’re not mitten-smitten, you’ll be frostbitten!
By jing-y feels spring-y.”

The Old Farmer’s Almanac

It isn’t quite feeling spring-y, yet. But February is mercifully behind us, so perhaps there is hope.

Here are my book reviews for the month, while we’re all waiting for warmer weather and the appearance of sweet new green things.

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My Cousin Rachel, by Daphne DuMaurier

I think I started with the best of DuMaurier when I read Rebecca and The Birds (and I guess Hitchcock thought so, too).

My Cousin Rachel kept me interested, but ultimately left me disappointed.

Ambiguity just ain’t my thing.

Shadows of Uprising by Tamara Shoemaker

An eminently satisfying second installment to Shoemaker’s Guardian of the Vale trilogy. Shadows of Uprising packs all the suspense, drama, and romance one could desire in a work of YA fantasy/sci-fi.

I so want to live in this world and hang around with Alayne Worth. Partially because it would be super sweet to have a friend who can control the elements. And partially because I need to make her understand what a creeper this guy Kyle is. I also need to give him a good solid smack in the face, followed by a lecture about the true nature of love. (Obvs I’m still on team Daymon.)

Get your copy here.

Guardian of the Vale by Tamara Shoemaker

Fantasy and sci-fi are funny animals. We read these genres because we want to escape into fantastic places and scenarios that the real world doesn’t afford. But us readers also require a healthy dose of reality in our fantastic fiction, or we won’t relate to it.

Shoemaker navigates this contradictory tightrope without faltering. She creates a fascinating world and large-scale conflicts, while still infusing her characters with qualities and inner struggles that we can all understand.

In Guardian of the Vale, she gives readers a slam-dunk finish to a highly entertaining trilogy. Be warned, though… The story-telling is addictive. I read almost the whole thing in a single day.

Link. You know you want it!

Spinning Starlight by RC Lewis

An intriguing premise (sci-fi fairy tale retelling) and such a pretty cover, but the story really didn’t deliver.

I could be mistaken, but it also seemed to me that there were anti-religious undertones, which didn’t sit well, either.

So apparently it is not only unsafe to judge a book by its cover, but by the description of its plot, too.

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Sighs.

I’m still on the lookout for worthy adaptations of The Wild Swans.

A River In Darkness: One Man’s Escape From North Korea by Masaji Ishikawa

North Korean defector memoirs are not in short supply these days, but I find that no matter how many I read, each has a unique perspective to offer. Such is certainly the case in Masaji Ishikawa’s tragic account. Ishikawa was born in Japan, to a Japanese mother and a Korean father. His family was forcefully persuaded to rehome to the DPRK when he was a boy in the 1960’s. And so unlike the average citizen, Ishikawa had something else with which to compare life in North Korea. He recognized from day one that he was in hell on earth.

The more I learn about this country, the more compassion I feel for the people who suffer under its stifling dictatorship. There’s a difference between compassion and pity, which is why I wish to clarify that I do not pity North Koreans. They have no need of such. They’re probably the strongest, most resourceful and resilient people on the planet. My heart simply breaks for them because, unlike most of the rest of us, they are not free to use the wonderful gifts that they’ve been given.

Ishikawa’s narrative is not a happy one. He spares no detail of his family’s desperate struggle to survive as they faced with tragedy upon tragedy, discrimination, poverty, homelessness, starvation. Do not read this expecting a happy ending, or an ultimate resolution. Ishikawa escaped, but the rest of North Korea is still enslaved, including the scattered remnants his own family.

As he concludes his story, Ishikawa speaks of his bitterness. Who could blame him? He has survived unimaginable horrors. Now he is alone. He is a man without a country, who cannot even tell whether his children are dead or alive. Few, if any, would be anything but angry and bitter in his shoes.

But Ishikawa’s closing lines made me think. He says:

“People talk about God. Although I can’t see him myself, I still pray for a happy ending.”

No judgment here. And I pray right along with Ishikawa. But what struck me was that the sense of injustice itself points to God. Without a kind and loving Creator, nothing in this man’s story would strike such discordant notes. Without God the suffering of innocents is not wrong. There is no right or wrong, just strong and weak. The young, sick, and elderly who starve to death are nothing more than meaningless victims of an evolutionary hierarchy.

I rebel against such thinking. I believe that the things Ishikawa has endured are wrong. That is why traces of light and hope shine through to me, even in the darkest of stories.

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