Weekend Reads

I’m reading two books this weekend. The first I’m taking on is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’ve never watched the successful television show of the same name, yet I’ve heard many great things about it from my friends. I’ve decided to give the book a try. It’s a very long read (over 800 pages), but I’ve read books that long before, so I’m up for the task!

So far I’m about a quarter of the way into the story. I really love the historical information of Scotland in the 1740s. The main character, Claire Randall, has forced to become acclimated into 18th century Scottish living. She doesn’t really have a choice! Claire also lends her 20th century wisdom to people surrounding her, with amusing outcomes. It’s interesting to see how this story progresses.

I’m also reading Again, but Better by Christine Riccio through audiobook. It’s also a good read, an NA (New Adult) contemporary novel. It’s a definite switch from the historical fiction content I’m consuming these past couple weeks (Outlander and The Tea Girl From Hummingbird Lane ), but I don’t mind reading the light-hearted story!

‘The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane’ by Lisa See/a Review

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
by Lisa See
Length: 371 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Scribner Books
Release Date: March 2017
Source: Paperback

     The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane offers a snapshot of life among the Akha minority tribe in China. The story opens in the late 1980s, following the lives of Li-yan and her family in Spring Well Village. The Akha community heavily rely on tea production, and work in laborious tasks year after year in order to provide families with the food and necessities required to survive the long months. Each member of the Akha people also rely on spirit work and dream interpretation in order to foster abundance and keep away bad omens. ‘Every story, every dream, every waking minute of our lives is filled with one coincidence after another’ states Li-yan’s mother, using her storied wisdom to work as a powerful midwife. It is through dreams that a young Li-yan foresees a negative omen among her people: a dog standing on a roof. What follows afterward are a series of events that paints Li-yan’s perspectives on taking her mother’s place  in the future, while struggling to deal with the reality of set traditions against her true interests in life.

     Li-yan’s journey is peppered with the pitfalls and suffering that were largely known among women living in China. She has a relationship with a man that her family doesn’t approve of, and becomes pregnant. While Akha tradition dictates that Li-yan is giving birth to a ‘bad omen’, with the help of her A-ma (mother), she gives birth to a daughter and gives her up for adoption. Li-yan feels crushed upon sending her daughter away, and while her life journey takes some significant turns, she never stops thinking about ‘what could have been’.

     Throughout the book, Lisa See beautifully describes the relationship between mothers and daughters. She reveals the strict yet loving bond between Li-yan and her a-ma, as she advises her to move forward with her life despite the pitfalls she already experienced in her young life. ‘You cannot let memories of what happened in the past turn you into someone you wouldn’t recognize’. Li-yan’s mother becomes the guiding light in her story, as she moves on to become a strong business woman with her mother’s blessing.

     Simultaneously, we learn about the journey of her daughter with her new family, as the story takes into account her yearning to learn about the roots of her heritage. From her tough beginnings before her adoptive parents came into the picture, through the struggles she faced while learning about her roots, to discovering the life-changing abilities of Pu’er while studying in higher education. Li-yan’s daughter takes the initiative in learning about her origins, and her personal journey takes a surprising turn as a result. Reading this parallel journey between mother and daughter was a refreshing take on the quest in both women discovering their love for one another.

     Lisa See always paints a vivid picture of life in different regions in China, taking the reader back in time to experience what the community experienced. In this case, the region is a hidden tribe within Yunnan beginning in the late 80s. Life among the Akha is extremely primitive, even during a time when most people in the modern world live with creature comforts of lights and automobiles. Their cloistered living radically shifts with the arrival of a tea connoisseur, introducing the concept of Pu’er, a raw form of tea extracted from older trees. It is the concept of Pu’er, and learning how to harvest and produce such a sacred nutrient, that shifts the path of Li-yan’s (and her daughter’s) life permanently. Li-yan uses the guidance of her Akha upbringing to foster a deep rooted respect in producing tea, and keeping this same spirit symbolism and dream interpretation to provide a healthy outlook in seeking out her daughter. It is this thread that keeps Li-yan and the other women in her family on a strong path to empowerment and survival.

     I purchased The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane very recently, and I was so excited. I always enjoy reading Lisa See’s work, since her writing style infuses me with wisdom as she travels to different regions in China. With a break finally presenting itself in my professional life, I savored this story and was very thankful. Although I’m very late in reading this book, I’m glad to share that it was worth the wait!

Rating: 5/5 Stars  

Inside and Out Book Tag

I discovered this book tag on Jessica’s page, JessicaCWrites. I enjoy taking part in book tags, and this one was fun to fill out!

1. Inside flap/Back of the book summaries: Too much info? Or not enough?
I appreciate when books have a summary in the inside flap (or on the back of the book if it’s a paperback). I would rather read those than a full back cover of endorsements!

2. New book: What form do you want it in? Be honest: Audiobook, E-Book, Paperback, or Hardcover?
I love owning new Hardcover books! I’ll also take it as an eBook if I want to conserve space.

3. Scribble while you read? Do you like to write in your books, take notes, make comments, or do you keep your books clean clean clean?
I’ve gotten into the habit of leaving notes in my books. It helps me remember important plot lines that I want to return to when I’m writing my posts or on Goodreads.

4. Does it matter to you whether the author is male or female when you’re deciding on a book? What if you’re unsure of the author’s gender?
No. I’ll read books written by anyone!

5. Ever read ahead? or have you ever read the last page way before you got there? 
I used to when I was younger, but I got out that habit a long time ago!

6. Organized bookshelves, or outrageous bookshelves?
Organized. I’ll tolerate a messy bookshelf to a point. Usually when I get sick and tired of looking at chaos lol

7. Have you ever bought a book based on the cover (alone)?
No, it’s always about the story when I pick up a book!

8. Take it outside to read, or stay in?
Both! I’ll read in parks, beaches, or at home. Any setting is good for me!

Sunday Sentence: July 28

I’m participating in David Abrams’s ‘Sunday Sentence‘ project, sharing the best sentence I’ve read during the past week, ‘out of context and without commentary’.

‘You cannot let memories of what happened in the past turn you into someone you wouldn’t recognize’.

Source: The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See

‘Small Country’ by Gael Faye/A Review

Small Country by Gael Faye
Translated by Sarah Ardizzone
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Length: 185 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Release Date: June 2018

I got my hands on Small Country as a Book of the Month selection for the month of May 2018. I was immediately intrigued by the story: a story that details the tragic events of the Rwandan genocide of the mid 90s through the eyes of a child. I immediately wanted to read it, yet one thing led to another (busy work schedule, other reading interests, etc.), and I didn’t picked it up until this week, when The Reading Rush readathon began. Once I did begin the novel, I finished it in a day.

     Small Country follows the life of Gabriel (Gaby), a 10 year old child living in an expatriate neighborhood in Burundi. A child of a French father and an Rwandan mother, Gaby lives in an area that faces intense political climates and ethnic hostilities between the Hutu and Tutsi citizens. These factors rest in the background at the beginning of the story, as Gaby lives with the daily struggles that encompass most children: Daily school life, forming close friendships, and connecting with close family. All of this changes as the community takes part in their first act of democracy in 1993, electing their first president. What follows next details the horrific events of assassination and genocide, leaving Gaby and his family struggling to live their daily life in an undeclared war zone.

     Gael Faye writes Small Country from his experiences growing up in an expatriate neighborhood in Burundi himself during the 90s. He deftly writes this debut novel in such an unflinching voice. He described Gaby as a young man struggling to keep his child-like innocence alive while the childhood of his friend evolves into a brotherhood of struggle. Gaby has the love of his sister and other friends in the community to maintain his spirit, yet it falls constantly at odds with the ever changing political climate, the mindset of his social circle shifting with the times.

     Small Country also speaks of the effects Western countries have on Burundi and Rwanda. Gabe’s parents deal with the differences between life in Burundi and the more relaxed atmosphere of France. Burundi and Rwanda are heavily influenced by French control, yet many of the native citizens are held under servitude. While Gaby and his friends are sheltered from the topic of slavery, his mother (who is of Rwandan decent) frequently reminds her children that their comfortable living is an exception to the norm.  

     Indeed, this book was difficult to read as it handles the topic of death through genocide. As the book progresses, it shifts to a darker view of life as entire neighborhoods and communities are wiped out solely based on their ethnic background. It follows the slow, negative progression of one person in their community as they search for loved ones within a war-torn neighborhood. The mental anguish described as they venture deeper into the unknown is absolutely chilling.

      I found Small Country to be a very fulfilling read. When I was done reading this story, I sat with it for a bit a took a deep breath. It’s truly heartbreaking that people can be singled out and murdered because they are a different ethnicity. The fact that such crimes are still committed this present day are equally saddening. We can only stay aware of these tragedies and be thankful that there are places where their voices can be heard.     

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Reading Rush: Days 2 & 3

I’m currently visiting family in Northern NJ for a couple days, but I had time to get some reading in for The Reading Rush!

Yesterday I began the challenge of reading a book with at least 5 words on the cover. I chose ‘The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane’ by Lisa See. It centers around a family honoring deep rooted traditions within the Akha people, focusing on the deep bonds of a group of women within the community.

Today I fulfilled the challenge ‘Read a book with a non-human character in a lead role. I chose to read ‘The Tea Dragon Society’ by Katie O’ Neill. This is a graphic novel filled with adorable non-human characters, and lovable dragons with special abilities!

My OwlCrate for July 2019: Tournaments and Trials

Since I’m heading to my family’s house in Northern Jersey tomorrow, I’m glad that my OwlCrate package arrived before then! I’ve been anticipating what the surprise book would be, and the mug (since I can never have too many coffee mugs)! Plus, I get to share my treats with all of you!

Here is what I received from OwlCrate this month:

–Canvas coin purse, inspired by The Hunger Games. designed by Kit Cronk Studio
Harry Potter inspired mug (Triwizard Tournament). Designed by Cara Kozik
–300pc jigsaw puzzle, inspired by The Night Circus. Designed by Holly Dunn Designs (accompanying art print is featured in the next photo)
–Deck of playing cards, inspired by characters from A Gathering of Shadows. Designed by Michelle Gray.
Character illustrators: Nicole Deal, Gina Hilton, Marianne Martin, and Diana Dworak
–Lanyard inspired by The Selection. Designed by Four Seasons Fox

–Art print guide to 300 pc puzzle (featured above)
–Gorgeous enamel pin for July, designed by Dust and Pages
–OwlCrate exclusive copy of Spin the Dawn, by Elizabeth Lim. Book is signed by the author!
–Letter from the author
–bookmark featuring cover art from Spin the Dawn
–OwlCrate booklet for July
Kingdom of Souls preview
–card announcing OwlCrate theme for August: Storms and Seas
Everything together in one happy photo!

The Reading Rush Blog #1

For the first day of The Reading Rush, I decided to fulfill the challenge ‘Read a book that you meant to read last year’, and that book was ‘Small Country’ by Gael Faye. It tells the story of war and tragedy through the eyes of Gaby, a 10 year old boy living in an expatriate neighborhood near Rwanda. It’s a short, yet powerful read as it confronts the reality of war and genocide in vivid detail. Thr book also has moments of innocence as Gaby and his younger sister attempt to live normal lives with their family and friends.

I’m glad that I finally picked up reading ‘Small Country’!

‘We Hunt the Flame’ by Hafsah Faizal/A Review

‘We Hunt the Flame’ by Hafsah Faizal
Length: 472 pages
Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Genre: YA Fantasy
Book #1 of the Sands of Arwiya Duology
Release Date: May 14, 2019
Source: Hardcover and Audiobook

When I first heard about ‘We Hunt the Flame’ being released, I was excited to get it! I’m all for diverse authors putting out content, and this story has a diverse range of characters along with a plotline based in an Asian inspired world. I pre-ordered my copy, and received the book on the day of release. I really wanted to read this book for the Asian Readathon, but my work schedule caused me to have a very slow pace in completing any stories! So I read this story during the day, alongside the audiobook version in the evening. I think I may read in this style moving forward!

‘We Hunt the Flame’ tells the story of Zafira Iskander, a woman who masquerades as the Hunter in the world of Arwiya. In this world, women are not highly regarded as respectable figures, so Zafira feels forced to hide her identity in order to bring peace to her kingdom in Demenhur as a male Hunter. Only four people within her family knows Zafira’s true identity, and encourage Zafira to embrace the notion of a strong female provider, yet she carries her fears throughout her daily life due to uncertainty.

Arwiya is left in a state of peril for decades due to an absence of magic. Once a powerful land governed by the Six Sisters, they suddenly disappeared after a harrowing fight in the island of Sharr. Their absence have left the Arwiyan kingdoms in disarray, causing Demenhur to be in a permanent state of winter. Zafira takes the skills learned from her father and ventures into the dangerous Arz forest as the Hunter, hunting to feed the people of Demenhur. One day she is called by the caliph to venture into the Arz and locate the powerful Jarawat in order to restore peace in Arwiya. Along the way she meets Nasir, the crown prince of the cruel Sultan of Arwiya. Nasir is known as the Prince of Death, and he is assigned to accompany the Hunter in locating the Jarawat for his own gain. Although he is asked to take out the Hunter, being an assassin is the last thing he wants to be in his life.

I found the chemistry between Nasir and Zafira so captivating. Both people are caught up in their own webs of deception, yet feel unable to relinquish their crafted identities due to obligation to their people. Each person is also set out for revenge, as both individuals lost someone they dearly cared for. Nasir and Zafira are also joined by a eclectic cast of characters who encompass the different regions of Arwiya’s vast world. Out of all the side characters, I really appreciated Altair. He and Nasir have an awkward (yet humorous) alliance, and his optimistic viewpoints are a breath of fresh air to an otherwise harrowing situation. Altair’s lighthearted tone and intriguing backstory carries the story with great interest to the end.

The world building was also done very beautifully, as I found the governing rules of Arwiya similar in some ways, as women are not held in a high regard in certain regions in our world also. Patriarchy is very common parallel in both Arwiya and our current way of life, with some regions keeping a matriarchal rule. Obviously, in real life we aren’t ruled and governed by magic. I’m sure most of us would love that to happen, though!

I also loved the metaphors Faizal uses throughout this book. She uses the rule of ‘Show but don’t tell’ in her writing expertly. Lines such as ‘That was life, wasn’t it? A collection of moments, a menagerie of people. Everyone stranded everywhere, always’ sung to my soul amazingly. The lines she used when it came to both Nasir and Zafira expressing love was also equally emotional and heartbreaking. Since both people have loved and lost before venturing into their mission into Sharr, their approach in expressing devotion is done very precariously. Lines such as ‘For you, a thousand times I would defy the sun’ melted my heart.  

‘We Hunt the Flame’ by Hafsah Faizal is beautifully written, and her literary voice was clear in character description and world building. I very much look forward to reading the sequel when it’s released next year.

Rating: 5/5 Stars

My Reading Rush TBR

I’ve been hearing so much about The Reading Rush (happening from July 22-28), I figured that I should give it a shot. Even though I don’t have a Booktube channel, I love taking part in readathons in general. I’ll blog about my progress throughout the week.

Here is my TBR list for The Reading Rush:

Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Genre: YA Fantasy
Length: 456 pages
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Release Date: June 4, 2019

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.

Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.

As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See
Publisher: Scribner Books
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 371 pages
Release Date: March 21, 2017

In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.

The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.

As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.

A powerful story about circumstances, culture, and distance, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane paints an unforgettable portrait of a little known region and its people and celebrates the bond of family.

Small Country by Gael Faye
Length: 183 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Hogarth Press
Release Date: June 5, 2018

In 1992, Gabriel, ten years old, lives in Burundi in a comfortable expatriate neighborhood with his French father, his Rwandan mother and his little sister, Ana. In this joyful idyll, Gabriel spends the better part of his time with his mischievous band of friends, in a tiny cul-de-sac they have turned into their kingdom. But their peaceful existence will suddenly shatter when this small African country is brutally battered by history.

In this magnificent coming-of-age story, Gael Faye describes an end of innocence and drives deep into the heart and mind of a young child caught in the maelstrom of history.