For those of you who are fans of historical fiction, White Chrysanthemum is a great one to start off with in 2018. Told from the perspective of two sisters living in Korea, half of the story takes place in 1943 and half in 2011.
It starts with sixteen-year-old Hana being kidnapped by Japanese soldiers to be a "comfort woman" in a Japanese military brothel. Hana sacrificed herself to protect her younger sister Emi, who is consumed with guilt, even decades later.
Years later, in 2011 the surviving "comfort women" have banded together to seek justice from the Japanese government. Having spent years not knowing what happened to her sister, Emi goes to the women's protests searching for any clue that will bring her some closure.
White Chrysanthemum is a fascinating and captivating look at a little known piece of WWII history.
Gunslinger Girl is a fascinating mix between a post-apocalyptic novel and a western, set in the United States as the world is rebuilding after being devastated by war. About two decades before the start of the novel, the United States went through a second civil war, and the losing side, the Patriots, are still being punished.
Serendipity "Pity" Jones' mother was one of the Patriots, but talked her way out out of being executed for her actions during the war. Only a small percentage of women are still fertile, and Pity's mother was one. She agreed to marry and have children to help rebuild the new United States in return for her life being spared. But she was stuck in a loveless and abusive marriage, and Pity's father doesn't treat Pity any better. When her father tries to marry her off, Pity runs away from home, and ends up in the lawless city of Cessation, where she is given the chance to make a new life for herself. Pity finds living in Cessation comes with its own challenges, and it isn't long before she is stuck in the middle of a political battle where she has to decide what is worth fighting for.
Gunslinger Girl is a phenomenal story that I didn't want to put down. Part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because it wasn't predictable, and the plot and characters were so well-written. This is definitely one of the best young adult novels I have read in a long time.
Before We Were Yours is based on the true story of Georgia Tann, a woman from Memphis, Tennessee, who ran the Tennessee Children's Home Society orphanage in the 1920s-1940s. Tann's organization kidnapped children or tricked parents into signing their children away. She would then sell them to prominent families who couldn't have children of their own.
The story switches between the past and the present. In 1939, Rill Foss' mother and father head to the hospital because her mother is in labor with twins, leaving their five children alone on their riverboat house. The five siblings are kidnapped, and thrown into one of Tann's homes. There, they face malnourishment, abuse, and the realities of being separated as each is adopted.
In the present, Avery Stafford is the daughter of a U.S. senator, and is being groomed to take her father's seat. During a visit to a nursing home, she has an odd encounter with a resident named May that leads Avery to start asking some questions about her family's past.
I loved this story; it's a very powerful look at a little known piece of American history.
10 Things You Might Not Know About Nearly Everything is a collection of newspaper columns of the same name from the Chicago Tribune. The book's fourteen chapters cover a wide range of subjects, from language to politics to sports - just to name a few. Each chapter consists of lists of ten things about topics related to the overall subject. The book is very informative and a fun read.
Some of my favorite facts from the book are:
1. Ice Cream - When actor Clint Eastwood ran for mayor of Carmel, California, in 1986, a major issue was ice cream. Town leaders had banned the sale of ice cream cones, incensing Eastwood and his supporters. They won and overturned the ordinance.
2. Toys - Play-Doh was invented as a wallpaper cleaner.
3. Football Coaches - At every game, Louisiana State University coach Les Miles performs a ritual "that lets me know that I'm a part of the field and part of the game." What is it? He eats the grass. But Miles downplays his routine: "I chew one blade of grass. It's not a casserole. One blade. Not a meal."
In this fast-paced thriller, successful environmental lawyer Abby Williams is brought back to her small Indiana town for work, where Optimal Plastics, a company that has helped rebuild the town and its economy, is under suspicion for water pollution. While investigating the pollution claims, Abby also becomes obsessed with discovering what happened to a classmate who disappeared 10 years earlier after a scandal that left many unanswered questions - a disappearance that has haunted her for years. In both cases, the search for truth leads Abby down a dark path of corruption and secrets. This is a remarkable debut novel and the must-read thriller of this winter.
The "Choose Your Own Adventure" stories were really popular in the 1980s and 1990s, despite the fact that the conclusion of most of the storylines was that you died in some way. Kristin Cashore started Jane, Unlimited as one of those types of books, but ended up choosing just five plot lines for her readers to enjoy.
During college, Jane was tutored by the rich but flighty Kiran Thrash. The Thrash family is one of the wealthiest and eccentric in the world. Every year they hold a huge spring gala at their home, Tu Reviens. Jane hasn't seen Kiran in several years, but out of the blue they run into each other at the bookstore where Jane works and Kiran invites Jane to her family's gala. Normally Jane won't go, but before she passed away, Jane's aunt, who raised her, made Jane promise that she would go to Tu Reviens if she was ever invited. Though the promise makes no sense to Jane, she accepts Kiran's invitation.
After arriving at Tu Reviens, Jane reaches a point where she has to pick one of five characters to follow. Each choice will lead her on a different path. This is where Cashore separates the story into five different parts, each exploring what would happen to Jane if that was the decision she made.
Some of the parts of Jane, Unlimited were really fun, some were strange, and some were disturbing. However, it certainly is an interesting and unique story.
Gael Brennan is struggling with love. Two weeks after he tells his girlfriend that he loves her, he finds out that she has been cheating on him with his best friend. Gael goes in search of love, but misses what's right in front of him. Luckily, Love is ready to help nudge him in the right direction. That's right, Love, who is the narrator of this clever young adult romantic comedy. Love knows that Gael is hurting and wants to match him with the right girl, but it didn't anticipate facing its arch-nemesis, the Rebound. Gael is determined to find another girl so he forgets about his ex, but Love knows that that is not the way to find love and does everything it can, including some creative plotting, to try and steer Gael in the right direction.
I loved the quirky humor of The Romantics. Throughout the book were funny little comments from Love, including notes on the classification of the people who seek different types of relationships. This book is just a light-hearted, fun read for teenagers and adults alike.
Stanley Parker joined the military in 1966, right after graduating from high school, because he felt it was his duty to fight in the Vietnam War. His older brother had already joined, and his father approved of both of them being part of the military. After training and becoming a certified paratrooper, Parker was assigned to Echo Company.
When the Viet Cong attacked in what became known as the Tet Offensive, Parker and his unit were right in the middle of the action. In that attack and throughout their years in Vietnam, the men endured grueling battles and saw the best and worst of people. When they returned home, many of them struggled to understand their experiences and what it all meant.
Doug Stanton does a great job of exploring and examining Parker's journey. The Odyssey of Echo Company is a fascinating look at this unit's experiences during the Vietnam War.
Mia has an impossible time trying to live up to her perfect older sister, Grace, and keeping up with her talented younger sister, Audrey. Stuck in the middle, the only thing Mia seems to be good at is screwing up: partying too hard, saying the wrong thing, not studying enough, etc. But, when Grace comes home from college six months pregnant, Mia thinks she might have a chance to escape her "screw-up" label. However, when their parents are ecstatic, Mia feels like life is completely unfair. Her anger and hurt at the situation causes her to act out, and that leads to her life spiraling even more out of control.
Mia is a mess, but that's what makes her such an entertaining character. She's the type of character who I think we all can relate to. This is a really fun young adult book from award winning author Lisa Williamson.
Jory John's picture book is about a "bad" seed. He has a bad attitude, he doesn't treat others very nicely, and he never washes his hands or feet! When the seed realizes that being bad doesn't make him happy, he decides to try and change. He still doesn't behave perfectly, but he tries his best everyday, and finds out that is enough to change his image in both his own eyes and in the eyes of others.
The Bad Seed is a very cute and engaging picture book, and the illustrations add to the fun of the story. It's the perfect story to read aloud and to start discussion with children about behavior, choices, and determination.