Monday, March 28, 2016

REVIEW: The Translation of Love by Lynne Kutsukake

The Translation of Love
by Lynne Kutsukake

Publisher: Doubleday
Page Count: 336
Release Date: April 5, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC copy from NetGalley

First attention getter: synopsis and gorgeous cover


From GoodReads:

Set against the pulsing backdrop of post-war Tokyo, The Translation of Love tells the gripping and heartfelt story of a newly repatriated Japanese-Canadian girl who must help a classmate find her missing sister. A dazzling New Face of Fiction for 2016 that will appeal to readers of All the Light We Cannot See and Anita Shreve.

Thirteen-year-old Aya Shimamura is released from a Canadian internment camp in 1946, still grieving the recent death of her mother, and repatriated to Japan with her embittered father. They arrive in a devastated Tokyo occupied by the Americans under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Aya's English-language abilities are prized by the principal of her new school, but her status as the "repat girl" makes her a social pariah--until her seatmate, a fierce, willful girl named Fumi Tanaka, decides that Aya might be able to help her find her missing older sister. Beautiful Sumiko has disappeared into the seedy back alleys of the Ginza. Fumi has heard that General MacArthur sometimes assists Japanese citizens in need, and she enlists Aya to compose a letter in English asking him for help.

Corporal Matt Matsumoto is a Japanese-American working for the Occupation forces, and it's his overwhelming job to translate thousands of letters for the General. He is entrusted with the safe delivery of Fumi's letter; but Fumi, desperate for answers, takes matters into her own hands, venturing into the Ginza with Aya in tow.

Told through rich, interlocking storylines, The Translation of Lovemines a turbulent period to show how war irrevocably shapes the lives of both the occupied and the occupiers, and how the poignant spark of resilience, friendship and love transcends cultures and borders to stunning effect.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

An amazing examination of life in Occupied Japan, this book keeps readers enthralled with an intimate look at a society in flux and the people who inhabit that world. The author does a fantastic job in making her characters very real; yet, she struggles with one main issue that ultimately make is so this book doesn’t shine as well as it could.

The author chose a fascinating subject and setting to explore. I’ve not read anything before on how life was in post WWII Japan, how a people who prided themselves on victory were in defeat or how it affected daily life in such a war-torn landscape. I’ve seen Germany explored before but not Japan.

Kutsukake also explores so many POVs that our look into Occupied Japan life is even more three-dimensional. Usually, for me, this would be a weakness as multiple POVs can dilute a story and its emotional resonance very easily. Yet, the author balances everything by making her different characters have such unique voices and coming from such different backgrounds that I never got lost at whom I was reading about. They actually proved a strength for this work.

As mentioned, the characterization for this book is something else. Every character/POV has its own unique voice: word usage, phrasing, skills, way of looking at things, ect. From the determined Fumi to the tired Kondo to the determined-to-survive Sumiko, everybody stood out as individuals. I fell in love with each and every person, rooting for each struggle to survive in a brutal new world and to build a life again.

The one area this work lacked in was the ending. It’s momentum throughout the story was going strong and then just seemed to sputter, then fail. Only a few of the story threads and POVs were resolved. I found myself thirsting for resolution on most of the threads. There are clues provided about possible ultimate fates for many of the characters, but the reader is left guessing on how many people’s future life situations worked out.

Still, overall, this is an engaging look at post-WWII Japan, a world full of change, despair, and ultimately hope for the future. The characters sing with life, and the story itself is the novel’s strongest feature. Even though there are a ton of loose threads at the end, I still feel this is a strong example of historical fiction done well. Recommended for sure!

Note: Book received for free from publisher via NetGalley in exchange for honest review.

Friday, March 25, 2016

REVIEW: Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt

by Melissa Lenhardt

Publisher: Redhook
Page Count: 304
Release Date: March 29, 2016
Format: Kindle ARC

How got: ARC copy from NetGalley

First attention getter: description


From GoodReads:

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear.

Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name.

Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine's false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.

My Thoughts:

Star Rating - 4

Sawbones definitely went some places unexpected for me. It’s got a visceral, immediate story with some stunning settings, vivid characters, and harsh lessons. I was expecting maybe a somewhat grittier version of Dr Quinn, Medicine Woman. What I actually got was so much more….

First off, I have to talk about some of the harsh topics the author wasn’t afraid to explore. Prejudice, murder, massacres, attacks…. You name it and it probably happened. The author doesn’t hold back in her descriptions and some truly horrific happenings to her characters. To some, this might turn people off. Yet, I admired her guts for going there and giving us a more realistic vision of the West than most fiction does.

Our main character was both a blessing and a curse. Catherine is one of those characters that you can’t help but love and root for. Her strength of character and will get her through some trying circumstances that would crush another personality. She faces everything with a grace and perseverance that I admired. She grows throughout the book in very visible ways, changing with the circumstances and events that come her way.

Yet, in the beginning and even somewhat throughout the whole book, Catherine also seems to have a blindspot when it comes to situations that call from common sense. For a gal on the run, she doesn’t seem to be trying very hard to hide her origins and from the law. Her hubris when it comes to her training and doctoring also was a negative. Thankfully, her common sense seemed to develop as the story got going so wasn’t as bit a problem as in the beginning. But boy, it took a while to get that far…

I also have to commend on the author’s scene setting skills. Having personally been to part of the area this takes place in, I felt like I was right where the action was happening. The wind, red soil, and wide open spaces all sounded familiar; I could picture everything perfectly. The author does a great job in balancing her scene description with the dialogue and action sequences perfectly to create a vivid world.

Great world-building, a sympathetic main character, and gut-wrenching, emotional story all make this a great way to pass the time. Though at times the actions of Catherine drove me up a wall, I empathized with her enough for my heart to go out to her when the poop hit the fan on her. Thank goodness that the author mentioned a sequel in the questions in the back. Otherwise, I would have been ticked at the where the story leaves off; I got so caught up in the story. Here’s looking forward to the next book in the series! I eagerly await it.

Note: Book received for free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.