Summer Reader Book Tag

Summer is almost over, but there’s still time for me to post this before it becomes irrelevant! 😉 This tag was created by islandOFbooks, I believe, and I was (for once! 😀 ) actually tagged for it – by the lovely Cátia from The Girl Who Read Too Much! Now on to the tag:

Amy Tan//The Kitchen God's Wife1) Lemonade – a book that started off bitter but then got better

Since I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently, I’ll once again take this chance to mention The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. I really didn’t enjoy the first few chapters, but once the story got  going, it was an incredible read! I’ve written a full review of the book here, if you’re interested in checking it out. 🙂

Natasha Allegri//Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake2) Golden Sun – a book that made you smile beyond compare

Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake by Natasha Allegri makes me smile like a lunatic. It’s just so colourful and fun! I don’t know why I love the genderswapped Adventure Time universe so much, but I do, and this comic is Fionna & Cake at their best! 😀

Kim Thúy//Mãn3) Tropical Flowers – a book set in a different country

I have a lot of books that are set in countries other than England (especially America, China & Japan), but for this one I wanted to pick a book where the setting is a very prominent part of the story, so I decided to go with Mãn by Kin Thúy, which is set within a Vietnamese community in Montreal – and which is another book I’ve written a full review for (one of the first reviews I wrote)! You can read it here.

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban4) Tree Shade – a book where a mysterious or shady character was introduced

Sirius Black in Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling! He was such a suspicious character when he was introduced! And, actually, Remus Lupin was pretty shady, too, when we first met him (in the same book). Naturally, these two are some of my favourite characters now. 😛

Tahereh Mafi//Shatter Me5) Beach Sand – a book that was grainy, and the plot barely developed

The Shatter Me series by Tahereh Mafi had its strengths, but the plot was definitely not one of them. This trilogy is nominally a dystopian series, but you can only tell that it’s a dystopian because the characters keep telling you it is – the society and the problems it faces barely come in to the story, while it focuses instead on angsty romantic drama. I’ve written another full review of this series here, if you’d like to take a look.

Jane Austen//Emma6) Green Grass – a character that was full of life, making you smile

Emma Woodhouse from Jane Austen’s novel Emma. She’s an incredible snob, and she always thinks that she knows better than everyone else, but I love her – partly because of those qualities. She just ends up in so many hilariously awkward situations throughout the book, and it never fails to get me smiling. 😀

Cassandra Clare//Clockwork Princess7) Watermelon – a book that had some juicy secrets

Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare! The mystery of Tessa’s entire existence is something that will baffled me for the entire Infernal Devices trilogy – until I got to the end of the last book, where all was revealed. And it was absolutely worth the wait! One of the best conclusions to a series that I’ve read in a very long time.

J.R.R. Tolkien//The Fellowship of the Ring8) Sun Hat – a book with a vast universe/setting

It only makes sense to pick an epic fantasy for this question, and – though it’s an obvious answer – the biggest, most in-depth setting I’ve ever come across is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the setting of both The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (as well as a vast mythology, which is published in various places).

Jennifer L. Armentrout//Obsidian9) BBQ – a book in which a character was portrayed as a hunk

Almost every romance novel I’ve ever read! 😛 It was a difficult choice, but for this one I’ve decided to go with the Lux series by Jennifer L. Armentrout. Damon is the hunk in question, and his relationship with Katy – the main character – is a whole load of fun to read~ ❤

10) Summer Fun – pass the tag on

I pass. 😛 Since it’s very nearly the end of summer, I won’t be tagging anyone else specifically. If you’d like to do this tag despite the incoming cold, rainy weather, then feel free to consider yourself tagged by me! 🙂
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Review: The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan (Spoiler-Free)

THE KITCHEN GOD’S WIFE
5 stars

Amy Tan//The Kitchen God's WifeSUMMARY

Winnie and Helen have been friends for a great many years. They spent much of the Sino-Japanese War together, as young brides travelling with their pilot husbands, and afterwards they both made new lives for themselves in San Francisco. But now Helen, convinced that she’s dying, wants to unburden herself of all the secrets she’s kept, so that she can leave this world with a clean conscience – and Winnie, who has entrusted Helen with many secrets over the years of their friendship, has only a short time in which to confess all to her grown-up daughter Pearl, before Pearl has to hear her mother’s story from somebody else.

The Kitchen God’s Wife was first published in 1991, and is loosely based on the story of Amy Tan’s own mother, and the first marriage that she kept a secret for much of her daughter’s childhood.

STORY [4/5]

The story is divided into three distinct sections, of which the second takes up the greatest portion of the book. The whole section (of around 300 pages) is presented as a  monologue – Winnie’s tale of her life in China, how she came to marry Wen Fu, and how she tried to escape from her marriage.

The very beginning of the book is where it falls a little flat – which is a shame, because it makes the book quite difficult to get into. The first section of the book is set in San Francisco, and is told from the perspective of Winnie’s daughter Pearl, who is heading to her mother’s house with her husband and children for a family reunion that none of them are particularly looking forward to. This part is definitely necessary, in order to set the scene for Winnie’s confession, but it is very slow-moving, and also somewhat dry.

The tale of the Kitchen God from Chinese mythology (and also, of course, his wife, who gave the book its title) is only mentioned a few times in the story, but I really appreciated the way it tied in to the main storyline, and brought everything together at the end.

CHARACTERS [5/5]

Winnie (called for most of the story by her Chinese name, Weili) is the story’s main protagonist, and she is an incredibly strong character. Seen through Pearl’s eyes at the beginning of the story, she initially comes off as superstitious and reactionary, and really rather silly – but as the story goes on, and we begin to know her better, we are also better able to understand her. And though she has her irrationalities (as we all do, I’m sure 😉 ), there is a good reason why she sees life the way she does, and for the way she interacts with her daughter.

Helen (whose Chinese name is Hulan), is Winnie’s well-meaning but somewhat insensitive friend, and – given that Winnie is telling this story so that Pearl won’t hear it from Helen instead – much of the narrative is concerned with how Helen came to know things, and how they came to be friends, despite their contrasting personalities and backgrounds.

Wen Fu is the book’s main villain, and he is a truly odious figure, who was very quickly added to the (very short) list of characters that I truly hate – joining the likes of Joffrey from A Song of Ice & Fire by George R.R. Martin and Dimitri from The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. Blatantly both physically and emotionally abusive towards his wife, it’s certainly easy to see why Winnie and Helen describe him right off the bat as “that bad man”. It truly takes a brilliantly-written villain to make the reader hate them this much.

Other important characters included Peanut and Auntie Du, who were both brilliant, and of course Pearl, the first character we meet in the book – who is keeping her own secrets, and dreading the day when she’ll inevitably have to tell her mother. She was an interesting character, to be sure, but since the story only follows her for a short time, it’s difficult to form the same connection with her that we do with Winnie.

Lastly, there’s Jimmy Louie, the man Winnie married when she came to America. He’s already died by the time Pearl begins to tell her story, but he shows up several times during Winnie’s tale, working as an interpreter for the U.S. army in China, and he’s an incredibly sweet man.

RELATIONSHIPS [5/5]

This book is all about relationships – some romantic, but most platonic. Winnie and Pearl, Winnie and Peanut, Winnie and Helen, Winnie and Wen Fu, and Winnie and Jimmy… I could go on. The main thing to say about these relationships, however, is that every one of them rings incredibly true. Winnie and Jimmy’s love for one another, despite all their struggles, is incredibly touching. And I’m sure everyone has at some point had a friend like Helen (or at least known someone who has), who could irritate Winnie to no end, but who saw and understood a lot more than she let on, and knew her inside out.

WRITING [5/5]

The writing is excellent. It’s not flowery or particularly poetic, but it’s incredibly absorbing, and it really brings out Winnie’s voice. As I have already stated, the story is told in first person, and is mainly comprised of an incredibly long monologue. In a lot of books, I would probably find this annoying (long monologues – and particularly soliloquies – are one of my biggest bookish pet-peeves) but Amy Tan does a wonderful job of writing it as if it’s not a monologue – and then suddenly reminding you that the whole story is being told orally, when Winnie addresses Pearl directly.  And because Pearl and the reader are hearing the story together, she is also able to use this technique to address us, to excellent effect. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this:

This is the kind of China you Americans always see in the movies – the poor countryside, people wearing big hats to protect themselves from the sun. No, I never wore a hat like that! I was from Shanghai. That’s like thinking someone from San Francisco wears a cowboy hat and rides a horse. Ridiculous!

OVERALL IMPRESSION [5/5]

A touching and superbly-written account of an incredibly strong woman dealing as best she can with an abusive marriage. Anyone even remotely interested in the premise of this book should definitely give it a try.

RECOMMENDED FOR…

Anyone interested in Chinese culture, particularly during the Sino-Japanese War. In regards to other books, fans of Paullina Simon’s The Bronze Horseman trilogy may like The Kitchen God’s Wife for Winnie’s struggle to escape from Wen Fu, and Kim Thúy’s Mãn had a similar sense of cultural immersion, though it wasn’t quite so in-depth as in this book.

The edition I’m reading (Harper Perennial, 2004) also includes a brief section at the back, where it recommends several books to readers who enjoyed The Kitchen God’s Wife. I obviously can’t vouch for them personally (as most of them I’ve never even heard of), but for those who are interested, the list is as follows: Sour Sweet by Timothy Mo; The Foreign Student by Susan Choi; Pavilion of Women by Pearl S. Buck; A Many-Splendoured Thing by Han Suyin; Native Speaker by Chang-Rae Lee; The Book of Salt by Monique Truong; and When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka.

June Wrap Up

I’ve been super-busy this month, with work and my trip to Iceland, as well as various other social commitments, but I’m pretty pleased with the amount of reading I managed to get done in spite of it all. 🙂 In total, I read nine novels in June, as well as four comic books. I also seem to be approaching the completion of my new year reading resolution challenges, which is exciting! The two that I haven’t quite finished yet are to re-read five books (so far I’ve on;y read two), and to read five books that showcase foreign cultures (only one left to go for this challenge!)… Anyway, this month I read:

Jodi Lynn Anderson//Tiger LilyTiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. A dark and eerie re-imagining of Peter Pan, focusing on the character of Tiger Lily, and, interestingly, told from Tinker Bell’s perspective. This was an incredible book, and I’ve written a full review of it, which you can read here, if you so desire.5 stars

Bill Willingham//Fables book 2Fables: The Deluxe Edition, Book 2 by Bill Willingham. This comprises the main series’ Storybook Love storyline – wherein Snow White and Bigby Wolf are sent on holiday together, where an assassin plots against them – as well as a few side stories, including some Jack and Boy Blue backstory, the tale of the Lilliputians, and a 2-issue comic where a reporter mistakes the Fabletown residents for vampires. This series is just getting better as it goes along, & I’m really looking forward to reading more. I’ve switched to the deluxe editions now, since they include more of the spin-off issues…5 starsCassandra Clare//City of AshesCity of Ashes by Cassandra Clare. The second book in the Mortal Instruments series, where Clary, Jace & co. try to figure out who’s killing Downworlder children, and why. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as City of Bones, but it was definitely worth reading. The tension between Clary and Jace is really well done, and Simon is growing on me a lot, although his relationship with Clary felt rather forced… At this point, I’m also really beginning to see what everyone means by Clary having really, really poor decision-making skills, but so far it hasn’t bothered me too much.4 starsTerry Pratchett//Interesting TimesInteresting Times by Terry Pratchett.Discworld novel, in which Rincewind is sent to the Counterweight Continent in order to help with a rebellion. This book was hilarious, as Terry Pratchett’s books always are, and I read it alongside my friend Clare while we were on holiday together, which made it even more fun. I wouldn’t, however, recommend reading it unless you’ve also read some of the previous Rincewind-centric stories, as they’re directly linked… There’s a really great Discworld reading guide here, if you need help figuring it all out (as I often do!).4 starsCassandra Clare//City of GlassCity of Glass by Cassandra Clare. The third Mortal Instruments book, and the conclusion to the series’ initial storyline. Also the first book I decided to read for the #Rainbowthon, and I decided to count it as my orange book, even though I read it on my kindle, and I was already halfway through it when the readathon started… 😳 Anyway, I really enjoyed the book, and it was a great conclusion to the storyline, even though I felt that some of the elements (particularly the romantic ones) were a bit predictable. It’s got nothing on The Infernal Devices, of course, but it was still a lot of fun. I’ll probably take a break before continuing the series, though. 🙂4 stars

Stella Gibbons//Cold Comfort FarmCold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. A parody of late 18th & early 19th century agricultural novels (e.g. the works of Thomas Hardy or D.H. Lawrence), wherein Flora Poste, after the death of her parents, decides to embark on a career as a parasite, and descends on her unusual relatives, determined to sort out their lives. Thematically, the book reminded me a lot of Emma by Jane Austen, though as a parody, Cold Comfort Farm was understandably much more ridiculous… It took me a little while to really get into it, but once I did, I found it hilarious. In regards to the #Rainbowthon, this book counted for both red and blue.4 starsE. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-BanksThe Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart. This was my green book for the #Rainbowthon, and it was fantastic! It completely sucked me in, and I managed to read it almost in one sitting (it would’ve been one sitting, if not for the fact that I didn’t start it until about 1am, and also work…). It follows Frankie, who is a sophomore at an elite boarding school, which has a secret boys’ club called the Bassets. Feeling excluded, Frankie decides to infiltrate the club, and everything just escalates from there. I initially picked this up on faith (because I liked We Were Liars so much), since I was under the impression that it was a revenge book, which isn’t usually my thing… but I’m so glad I was wrong! The book is heavy on the social commentary, à la George Orwell’s novels – super-interesting, and very well-written – but unlike those, the characters were really likeable, and the story was buckets of fun~! 😀5+ starsJesse Andrews//Me & Earl & the Dying GirlMe & Earl & the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews. The story of a boy called Greg, who is forced by his mother (by means of incessant nagging) to befriend a girl who’s just been diagnosed with leukemia, and consequently has his life ruined (kind of). This was a great, and surprisingly funny take on a cancer story, with really interesting characters and relationships, and an incredibly deadpan narrator. The narration/writing style was probably my favourite thing about the book: It’s fast-paced, and a lot of it is written in script-format, so it’s very easy to get drawn into the story… (This was not one of the books I picked out for the #Rainbowthon, but I did finish it while that was still going on (but only just), and it technically qualifies to be my yellow book – which means I managed to get all the colours of the rainbow except purple! 🙂 )4 starsTed Naifeh//Princess Ugg vol. 1Princess Ugg, Volume 1 by Ted Naifeh. The first volume in a series about a viking-style princess who goes off to princess school in hopes of finding a nonviolent way of ender her people’s war against the frost giants. I was beginning to get a bit slumpy at this point in the month, so I thought I’d pick up a comic to stave the feeling off – and this book was really fun! 🙂 The story, characters and concept were great, and I really liked the art, too. I’m looking forward to seeing where this story goes.4 starsAntony Johnston//Umbral vol. 1Umbral, Book 1: Out of the Shadows by Antony Johnston. Another comic, this time about a thief who’s running from evil shadow monsters that seem to be killing everyone around her and taking their places… This was a strange, confusing story, and it didn’t really help that we were just dropped in in the middle of the action, which never really slowed down enough to explain anything. Apart from Rascal, the aforementioned thief, the story doesn’t stay with any characters long enough for us to really get attached to them, either, and unfortunately the character design meant that it was difficult to tell some of the characters apart…2 starsAntony Johnston//Umbral vol. 2Umbral, Book 2: The Dark Path by Antony Johnston. The sequel, in which the storytelling improved drastically, the pace slowed down, and the main characters were finally identifiable. I really enjoyed this, which surprised me – but it was certainly a happy surprise!4 starsSkye Jordan//RicochetRicochet by Skye Jordan. The third book in the Renegades series, which follows Rachel, the Renegades’ secretary/gopher/person-who-does-everything, and Ryker, a soldier on leave from Afghanistan, who’s called in as an explosives expert on a stunt they’re filming. This was a surprising hit, as I wasn’t too thrilled by the last book in the series! But Rachel and Ryker were both really great, sympathetic characters, and their relationship was both interesting and believable… Consider yourself warned, though: This series is definitely not for younger readers~ 😛4 starsAmy Tan//The Kitchen God's WifeThe Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan. The life story of a woman called Winnie – growing up in China, her disastrous first marriage, and how she eventually escaped from it. I read this mainly because my dad thought I’d like it – and he was right! The narrative was a bit slow to start with, as it took a while to really set the scene, but once I got to the part where Winnie began to tell her daughter about her life in China, I got very invested, very quickly. This book also features one of the most despicable antagonists I’ve ever come across: Winnie’s first husband Wen Fu is right up there with Joffrey from A Song of Ice and Fire and Dimitri from The Bronze Horseman in vileness…5 stars

The Nintendo Tag!

This tag was created by Novels and Nonsense, and as usual, nobody tagged me for it, but I knew I had to give it a try as soon as I saw that it was a thing that existed! 😛 The first post of this tag that I saw was on Kacie’s Bookshelf, which you should definitely check out. 🙂

Charlotte Brontë//Jane Eyre1) NES: A classic that you want to read

I say this every time classics come up, but I really want to read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I’ve been meaning to read it for years already, but it keeps getting pushed aside in favour of something shinier… One of these days, I will definitely get to it, though.

Garth Nix//Lirael2) SNES: A sequel you liked better than the first book

There are a lot of them, really, but the one that first comes to mind is Lirael by Garth Nix. I really loved Sabriel, the first book in the Old Kingdom series, but Lirael just blew me away, & is one of my all-time favourites.

J.K. Rowling//Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone3) N64: A book that revolutionized the way you look at the world

This is probably an obvious answer, but I’ll have to go with the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, which is the series that made me love reading – and since reading has become such a huge part of my life, I think this counts as revolutionary…

Tahereh Mafi//Shatter Me4) GameCube: A popular book that did not go over so well with you

The Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi. I’ve written a review of this whole series, explaining why I wasn’t as thrilled with it as most of the other people I’ve come across seemed to be. I didn’t hate it by any means, but it really didn’t click with me… :/

E. Lockhart//The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks5) Wii: A new favorite book

I haven’t actually added any new books to my favourites list in quite a while, but I recently read and loved The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart – a boarding school story full of pranks and a surprising amount of social commentary.

Bryan Q. Miller//Batgirl vol. 16) Nintendo Power: Favorite graphic novel/A graphic novel series you want to start

I’ve read quite a lot of really great comics (particularly in the last year or so), but the one I’ve probably talked the least about is the Batgirl series by Bryan Q. Miller. The series didn’t run for all that long, so there are only three volumes, but they’re all fantastic, and Stephanie Brown makes a really fun lead character. 😀

Bill Willingham//Fairest vol. 1As for a series I’d like to start, I’m pretty interested in Fairest by Bill Willingham, though I probably shouldn’t pick it up ’til I’ve read a bit more of Fables

Amy Tan//The Kitchen God's Wife7) Super Mario: A character you want to squish like a Goomba

I’m currently reading The Kitchen God’s Wife by Amy Tan, and Wen Fu – the main character’s first husband – is simply vile. 😡

Brandon Sanderson//The Final Empire8) Zelda: A newer fantasy that you consider to be a modern classic

The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. These books were just so well put together, with amazing characters, really wonderful world-building, and an unforgettable storyline! 😀

Patrick Ness//The Knife of Never Letting Go9) Samus Aran: Favorite Sci-Fi novel or one you want to read

I don’t read all that much sci-fi, but I really loved The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness… though I still haven’t read the sequels. 😳

Terry Pratchett//The Colour of Magic10) Pokémon: Book editions you want to collect

The old small-size editions of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett, with Josh Kirby’s illustrations on the covers. There are so many of these books that I don’t know if I’ll ever get through them all, but I at least want to read all the Rincewind and City Watch books.

Den Patrick//The Boy with the Porcelain Blade11) Donkey Kong: A book with original characters

The Boy with the Porcelain Blade by Den Patrick, which I only just started reading. I’m still not entirely sure where this story’s going, but the characters are really interesting, and not at all like any I’ve come across before.

Fire Emblem Awakening12) Nintendo Fandom: Favorite Nintendo games

There are so many that it’s difficult to say, but a few of my favourites are: The Legend of Zelda series (especially The Ocarina of Time); the Pokémon series (particularly Pokémon Soul Silver and Pokémon Platinum); and more recently, I’ve been really obsessed with Fire Emblem: Awakening, though I haven’t played anything of the other Fire Emblem games (I’m super-excited for Fates, though 😀 ).