Book Review: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Book: Mambo In Chinatown by Jean Kwok

Published July 2015 by Riverhead Books|448 pages

Where I Got It: I own the paperback

Series: None

Genre: Adult Fiction

From the bestselling author of Girl in Translation, an inspiring novel about a young woman torn between her family duties in Chinatown and her escape into a more Western world.

Twenty-two-year-old Charlie Wong grew up in New York’s Chinatown, the older daughter of a Beijing ballerina and a noodle maker. Though an ABC (American-born Chinese), Charlie’s entire life has been limited to this small area. Now grown, she lives in the same tiny apartment with her widower father and her eleven-year-old sister, and works—miserably—as a dishwasher.

But when she lands a job as a receptionist at a ballroom dance studio, Charlie gains access to a world she hardly knew existed, and everything she once took to be certain turns upside down. Gradually, at the dance studio, awkward Charlie’s natural talents begin to emerge. With them, her perspective, expectations, and sense of self are transformed—something she must take great pains to hide from her father and his suspicion of all things Western. As Charlie blossoms, though, her sister becomes chronically ill. As Pa insists on treating his ailing child exclusively with Eastern practices to no avail, Charlie is forced to try to reconcile her two selves and her two worlds—Eastern and Western, old world and new—to rescue her little sister without sacrificing her newfound confidence and identity.

After reading Girl In Translation, I knew I had to read Mambo In Chinatown.  While I didn’t love Mambo In Chinatown, I still really liked it, and I liked it a lot more than Girl In Translation.

One thing I noticed while reading this book is that something about it rings true.  It seems like Kwok draws on her own experiences as an immigrant when she writing, and it shows, because something about Mambo In Chinatown felt really personal.  Also, I think Kimberly from Girl In Translation makes an appearance in this book…at least, it seems like her, and it would be really cool if it were.

I did like Charlie.  She’s doing everything she can to help out her father and her sister, and you see how she struggles with reconciling two different worlds.  I was surprised with what happens with her sister, and I hope she gets the help she needs.  I respect that their dad is doing what he thinks is best for them, but it ended up doing more harm then good, it would seem.

And Charlie did have a lot on her plate- for some reason, I initially thought she was younger than she was, but it’s clear she cares about her sister and that she’s doing her best to help out.  I love that she ends up learning how to dance, and considering her mom was a ballerina, I thought there would be more connections to that.  Still, I’m glad it worked out for her, and while her dad wasn’t happy about it, it seems like he comes around, which is good.

Speaking of her dad, he does do his best in raising Charlie and her sister, but a lot of work still falls to Charlie.  I’m glad she finally said something about it to him, because we do see some changes in him after that.  I did hate that he didn’t want to give Western Medicine a try.  I’m not sure if it’s because of the medical issues his wife had, or if he just didn’t believe in it, but it was frustrating, even if I could understand it.  He went through quite the change, and it happened pretty fast, so that was a little odd, but at least he’s trying.

Charlie was easy to relate to- she’s imperfect and clumsy and she just wants a better life.  I really liked her, and I thought she became a lot more confident by the end of the book.  I’m glad things worked out for her, and that she has great friends and family.

4 stars.  I really liked Mambo In Chinatown, and seeing how much Charlie changed by the end of the book.

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Book Review: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, Illustrated by Michael Rogalski

Book: Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix, Illustrated by Michael Rogalski

Published September 2014 by Quirk|248 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: None

Genre: Adult Horror/Humor

Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.

To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

A traditional haunted house story in a thoroughly contemporary setting, Horrorstör comes packaged in the form of a glossy mail order catalog, complete with product illustrations, a home delivery order form, and a map of Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

This was a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while, and I finally got around to reading it!  I didn’t love it, but it is an interesting take on the haunted house story.

It is set in an Ikea-type store, and throughout the book, we see references to the store itself and the products that the store has.  Each chapter has an interesting header- different products that Orsk has, and they get more interesting as the book goes on.

I did like the format of the book- we get a map of the showroom floor, there’s an order form, coupons for Planet Baby, and other cool catalog type stuff.  I did think the format would be more catalog-like, but at the same time, it did have a story to tell, so it makes sense that we’d see more story, and less…interesting formatting.

I was a little disappointed by that, because while there was some interesting stuff throughout the book, it wasn’t like that for the whole book.  Maybe I just made a lot of assumptions about the formatting itself.

Sometimes, things like letters and emails and any other variation on the typical paragraphs don’t work- not that I read a lot of books where we see that sort of thing- but I think Horrorstor could have used a little bit more of that.

It’s definitely a cool take on the haunted house story- obviously, it’s a haunted store, and I liked the story behind it. There is a point where the police can’t find the exit for the store, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they were ghosts or if there were other forces at work.  I did like the setting, and a fictional Ikea-type store is a really good setting for a haunted house story.

The characters where what I expected for the story.  While I’ve forgotten names already (and the book has since been returned to the library, so I unfortunately can’t reference it), the characters are pretty typical.  There’s the management type who drinks the company Kool-Aid because the store saved him, there’s the long-time retail worker who is beloved by employees and customers alike, and there’s the disgruntled retail worker struggling to survive, and hating every minute of her job.  We see a few other characters as well, but the three mentioned above are the ones we see the most.

I think, of the three, disgruntled retail worker is the one the book follows.  It is more her story than anyone else we see in the book, and she is the one I could relate to the most.  Not completely, but I definitely see where she is coming from.

I will say that the book is an interesting mix of horror and humor.  I thought it worked, but I don’t know that the humor is necessarily for everyone.  It’s not laugh out loud funny, and it seemed more horror and parody than horror and funny.  But overall, it’s an interesting combination.

3 stars.  I liked it, and it’s a cool concept.  I didn’t love it, and the characters were pretty typical, but worked for this story.

Book Review: It Devours! by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor, Narrated by Cecil Baldwin

Book: It Devours! by Joseph Fink And Jeffrey Cranor, Narrated by Cecil Baldwin

Published October 2017 by Harper Audio|9 hours and 38 minutes

Where I Got It: I own the audio book

Series: Welcome To Night Vale #2

Genre: Adult Fiction

From the authors of the New York Times bestselling novel Welcome to Night Vale and the creators of the #1 international podcast of the same name, comes a mystery exploring the intersections of faith and science, the growing relationship between two young people who want desperately to trust each other, and the terrifying, toothy power of the Smiling God.

Nilanjana Sikdar is an outsider to the town of Night Vale. Working for Carlos, the town’s top scientist, she relies on fact and logic as her guiding principles. But all of that is put into question when Carlos gives her a special assignment investigating a mysterious rumbling in the desert wasteland outside of town. This investigation leads her to the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God, and to Darryl, one of its most committed members. Caught between her beliefs in the ultimate power of science and her growing attraction to Darryl, she begins to suspect the Congregation is planning a ritual that could threaten the lives of everyone in town. Nilanjana and Darryl must search for common ground between their very different world views as they are faced with the Congregation’s darkest and most terrible secret.

Night Vale is such a delightful place.  Weird, but delightful.  And I am glad that I got to revisit Night Vale in It Devours!

The nice thing about It Devours (and the Welcome To Night Vale novel) is that you don’t need to listen to the podcast in order to read this book.  It’s completely separate (but does reference the podcast), and while I loved the first book, I think I loved this book even more.  It’s very different than what I expected, but I really liked the story.  Carlos and his time in the Otherworld is very different in this book, and it’s a big change from the podcast.  He was more excited about the possibilities in the podcast, and more tortured in the book.

Cranor and Fink don’t like to keep things neat and tidy, that’s for sure.  But maybe it affected Carlos more than we thought.  It’s a very different Carlos that we see in this book, but maybe…I mean, it’s not like we see a lot of Carlos in the podcast.  I mean, we do, but not like this, and it’s a very different side of him.

As for the main story, I liked Nilanjana and Darryl’s story.  It’s more focused than the first book, and while it meanders, it’s not meandering the way the first book is.  We see the Joyous Congregation, which has been mentioned on the podcast, but this is a much closer look at the Joyous Congregation and the Smiling God.  And science!  And how they can be good or bad, depending on how you use it.  Darryl and Nilanjana work together to save Night Vale, and they each have their own unique perspective.

It definitely adds to the world, and it really shows how big Night Vale is.  There are a lot of stories to tell, and while I love Cecil, it’s also nice to see some of the other characters and people of Night Vale.  I also feel like they’ve gotten the hang of the novel format, and I’m sure any future Night Vale books will continue to get better.

With the first Night Vale book, I both listened to the audio book and read the book in print format.  Having been an avid listener of the podcast for years, I knew I would love it as an audio book.  It turned out that I didn’t love it in print, which is why I only listened to It Devours.  I love Cecil, and I can’t imagine experiencing Night Vale in any other format.  I’ve listened to Night Vale for years, and Night Vale in print is a very strange concept for me.

I would definitely recommend It Devours as an audio book, though it could be interesting in print as well.  It didn’t translate well the first time around, but maybe this time it well.

It Devours is a lot more philosophical as well.  It really examines science and religion, but they do it well.  There’s a very Night Vale take on both science and religion in this book, and it’s not science vs religion.  Which is nice.  It’s very kind towards both.  Weird, but kind.  We are talking about Night Vale here.

By the way…It Devours!  Yeah, I’ve totally read that book.  In case you didn’t pick up on that.

5 stars.  I loved It Devours! and it was a great book to listen to while I cleaned the heck out of my room.  I found myself paying more attention to the book than the cleaning, and it’s a big improvement on the first book (which I also loved).

Book Review: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Book: The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman

Published December 2015 by Tor|340 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: The Invisible Library #2

Genre: Adult Fantasy/Steampunk

Librarian-spy Irene is working undercover in an alternative London when her assistant Kai goes missing. She discovers he’s been kidnapped by the fae faction and the repercussions could be fatal. Not just for Kai, but for whole worlds.

Kai’s dragon heritage means he has powerful allies, but also powerful enemies in the form of the fae. With this act of aggression, the fae are determined to trigger a war between their people – and the forces of order and chaos themselves.

Irene’s mission to save Kai and avert Armageddon will take her to a dark, alternate Venice where it’s always Carnival. Here Irene will be forced to blackmail, fast talk, and fight. Or face death.

I liked The Masked City, but not as much as I thought I would.  I think I liked the first one more, but I found myself a little more bored reading it.  I had a harder time getting into this book, and that made me a little sad, since I really like the premise of a librarian-spy.

It is an alternate Venice, and I liked the Venice we see in the book.  Instead of a Victorian-steampunk setting, we get an alternate carnival setting, and one of the interesting things about this series is the potential to see the different realities and dimensions the librarians have to go to for their missions.

I think maybe I wanted more time in the library, and less time in the world said library is in.  I just really wanted more about the library, but since there are more books, there’s a chance we’ll be spending more time in the library itself.  I think I just wanted more balance between the library and the different dimensions.  And as much as I want to keep going, I don’t know that I want to immediately read the next book in the series.  I’m sure I’ll get back to it eventually…or maybe I should try the audio book?  I suddenly had the thought that maybe it’s a series I need to listen to, and not read.

It is entertaining and fun and light, and it would be great to read over the summer.  They’re really good summer reads.  Or just good vacation reads in general.

3 stars.  I liked it, but it didn’t have the same appeal that The Invisible Library had.

Book Review: Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare

Romancing The Duke CoverBook: Romancing The Duke by Tessa Dare

Published May 2014 by Avon|370 pages

Where I Got It: I borrowed the paperback from the library

Series: Castles Ever After #1

Genre: Adult Romance/Historical Romance

Blog Graphic-What It's About

In the first in Tessa Dare’s captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love…

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and…Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

Blog Graphic- What I Thought

I was randomly in the mood for romance, so I picked this one up from the library.  I liked it, but not as much as I thought I would, especially since the couple of romance blogs I read really seem to like Tessa Dare.

It did make me smile, though, and I was left wanting to believe that true love and fairy tales exist in real life. Which they do, for some people, and I liked the hopeful feeling that fairy tales are real.

I loved the historical fanboys/fangirls in the book.  That was fun and unexpected, but it’s a good fun and unexpected, and it made me laugh.  But I also liked that Izzy had to act a certain way because of it, and I liked that Ransom hated that she thought she had to live up to their expectations.  I felt for her, because life has not been easy for her, and yet, people want her to remain the sweet, innocent girl that they think she is.  She has fears but she deals with them, and she might not seem like she’s strong, but she is.

And I believed in her and Ransom, even though they are complete opposites, because Izzy is hopeful and romantic, where Ransom is more cynical and distrusting.  They really complement each other, and I loved watching them fall in love.  It’s sweet and adorable, and it builds over the course of the book.

And things haven’t been easy for Ransom either, with being engaged but the engagement being broken off, and with his vision not completely working…he’s nicer than he initially seems.  Izzy really brings out the best in him, even when he tries to fight it and pretend like he doesn’t have feelings for her.

Blog Graphic- My Rating

3 stars.  I liked it!  It’s cute and sweet, but I didn’t love it.