Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See: A Review

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Lisa See is one of my favorite all-time authors.  I read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan several years ago and was instantly hooked on See's exquisite storytelling.  Since then, I have read Peony in Love, Shanghai Girls, Dreams of Joy, and China Dolls.  I always eagerly await See's next new tale about China and the everyday people that inhabit the country and read the book as soon as it is released.

See's most recent novel, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, follows Li-Yan, a young girl growing up among the Akha people, one of the minority groups that live in the Yunnan province of China.  Li-Yan and her family harvest tea and are one day visited by a businessman from Hong Kong, Mr. Huang, who wants to purchase tea for Pu'er, a fermented tea cake the is likely to contain a multitude of health benefits.  Thanks to her teacher's tutoring, Li-Yan is the most educated member of her community and the only one who can be counted on to negotiate with Mr. Huang.  Li-Yan is the heiress to a plot of tea trees that are very old and are used by her mother, who acts as the community's healer, as medicine.  Though her mother warns her never to bring a man to the plot, Li-Yan finds that selling a couple of the tea cakes to Mr. Huang will solve her problem of falling in love with a boy that her parents don't wish for her to marry.  Li-Yan believes that her and the boy will be able to run away together and could use the money on their journey.  Instead, selling the tea cakes brings misfortune for the couple in the form of an unwanted pregnancy.  Due to Akha custom, Li-Yan can't keep the baby and abandons the baby at an orphanage.  Soon after, the baby is adopted by an American couple who names her Haley.  Not a day goes by when Li-Yan or Haley do not think about reuniting.

There is so much to love about this book.  Through the story, we learn about a minority tribe that is rarely discussed and how they have influenced tea drinking around the world.  Prior to reading this book, I knew nothing about the Akha people, who have very different customs from the Han people, which are the majority ethnicity in China.  I loved the details about the tea and how it was woven into the story (but that may be because I love tea).  We also learn about adoption and how that can make children feel both grateful, but also angry.  The child may feel loved and wanted by their adoptive parents but can't understand why they were not loved and wanted enough by their birth parents to be kept.  Finally, the bond that Li-Yan and Haley have, despite not knowing anything about one another, is heartbreaking, in some moments, and amazingly touching, in others.  Just like See's previous novels, the story in The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane will not disappoint. 

See also has a special gift in crafting characters that are very unique.  Each character has his or her own voice and is complex.  Li-Yan's husband may drown his sorrows over his lost daughter by using opium but he makes sure that his last breath is one of kindness and sacrifice.  The complicated feelings that the adoptees have towards their adoptive and biological parents, and the effect that has on their lives and the lives of those around them, is interesting and a topic that is not often featured in literature.  The characters in this book are unique but also traditional enough to introduce readers to the culture of the characters.  There is a certain authenticity one can feel in the characters of this novel.

My only complaint about this book, and any books that I have read by See, is that they can sometimes be a bit slow in some parts and then rushed in others.  I don't think this takes away from the story but it is one issue that I found myself struggling with while reading.  I still think this was a wonderful story and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading books featuring characters from different cultures.  This would also be a great book for readers of historical fiction or for anyone who enjoys a wonderfully woven story that spans many years.

Watch a video of Lisa See talking about The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane:


Reviews of books like this one:
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in order to review it but that did not have an effect on my review of the book.  This is my honest opinion of this book.  I am a participant in the Amazon Affiliates program.  By clicking on the Amazon link and purchasing this product, I receive a small fee.  I am not associated with Goodreads or Barnes and Noble in any way and the links provided are available strictly for your convenience and not to imply a relationship of any kind.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

City of Saints & Thieves by Natalie C. Anderson: A Review

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Tina, also known as Tiny, is a Goonda- a street thug.  Her and her mother are refugees from Congo that have moved to Kenya to escape the militias that have overrun the country.  Her mother worked as a maid for a wealthy business man, Mr. Greyhill, who has done shady business in the past, which her mother threatens to uncover.  When Tina's mother is found dead in Mr. Greyhill's office the very next day, Tina immediately believes that Mr. Greyhill is the one who killed her mother and seeks justice by attempting a heist to steal information from his home.  When Mr. Greyhill's son, Michael, catches Tina in the act, he asks for the chance to prove that his father was not the one who killed Tina's mother.  The two search for information about Tina's mother's past that will prove that Mr. Greyhill did kill her or exonerate him in Tina's mind.

Young Adult fiction is usually not for me.  I have read some YA books that I have really enjoyed (The Hunger Games trilogy comes to mind) but it is a genre that I don't usually connect with unless there is something else in the book that is interesting or meaningful to me.  City of Saints & Thieves was one such book.  It was both a mystery and a multicultural read in one, which really intrigued me and drew me in when I read what the book was about.  From the very first page, I knew this book would meet my expectations for a great book.  I loved Tina and the romantic love-hate relationship that she has with Michael.  There were just as many twists and turns as I would expect from any mystery novel.  There were many revelations at the end that I just didn't see coming.  The author does a very good job of painting a picture of both Kenya and Congo and explains how the conflicts in the area effect the everyday people without taking away from the story being developed.

One of the reasons why I don't usually like YA books is the over-simplistic writing style that YA authors like to use but this really wasn't the case with this book.  It was an easy and quick read that I finished in just a handful of sittings but it wasn't overly so.  Also common in a lot of YA fiction are very one dimensional characters.  The characters that Anderson has created are complex and interesting.  Tina may be a thief but she has a soft heart for her younger sister and feels for those around her.  Michael genuinely wants to find out who killed Tina's mom, even if that will lead to him realizing it really was his father who did so.  Tina's mother is not who Tina thought she was but is still, in some ways, the mother who loved her deeply.  I really enjoyed this book and think that readers of all ages will enjoy it, especially readers who enjoy fiction about contemporary Africa and mysteries.  


Reviews of books like this one:
Everything You Want Me To Be by Mindy Mejia
Everything Belongs to Us by Yoojin Grace Wuertz
My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

This is my honest opinion of this book.  I am a participant in the Amazon Affiliates program.  By clicking on the Amazon link and purchasing this product, I receive a small fee.  I am not associated with Goodreads or Barnes and Noble in any way and the links provided are available strictly for your convenience and not to imply a relationship of any kind. 


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Sunday, March 19, 2017

Edgar and Lucy by Victor Lodato: A Review

Eight-year-old albino Edgar, his mother, Lucy, and his grandmother, Florence, live together in the house that Florence's son, Frank, grew up and suffered a mental illness in.  Florence and Lucy are still grieving after the death of Frank and Lucy struggles to connect with Edgar as Florence treats him as her own.  After Florence's death, Lucy has to learn to care for Edgar but struggles to do so effectively.  When a man befriends Edgar, Edgar seeks his comfort about the death of his grandmother and the coldness of his mother, but the man's intentions with Edgar are not solely benevolent and Lucy is wrought with sadness after Edgar's disappearance. 

I honestly chose to read this book because of the title.  Lucy is the name of my cat and with one of the main characters being named Lucy, I was immediately drawn to it.  When I read what it was about, it was a book I knew I had to read.  This book took me a bit longer to read than many other books; because it is 544 pages but also because it is not a fast-paced book.  It is a great literary novel, though.  This book touches on many different topics- bullying, missing and endangered children, loss of family members, and mental illness.  It can seem strange (and uncomfortable), at times, but I don't think that the strange parts overshadow the beautiful writing and the complex characters.  Lucy, especially, is a great character.  Lucy begins by being fairly unlikable.  She can't understand Florence and believes that the old woman only tolerates her for the sake of Frank, and later, Edgar.  When Edgar goes missing, Lucy understands the pain of losing a son and that Florence and Pio loved and supported her more than her own parents ever did.  Edgar is a very unique kid.  It is mentioned in the book that it was thought that Edgar might be autistic but that Lucy didn't wish to continue with testing.  Edgar is, at the very least, eccentric but he is so sensitive and sweet.  As the novel progresses, we really see Edgar grow up and find his voice.  I really enjoyed this novel even though it was a slower moving story than I would have liked.  I still felt myself wanting to go back and see what was happening to Edgar and Lucy.  I think anyone who enjoys literary fiction will like this book. 

My Lucy:


Reviews of books like this one:
The Fall of Lisa Bellow by Susan Perabo
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

This book is currently available and can be purchased from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Read more reviews on this book on Goodreads.

I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in order to review it but that did not have an effect on my review of the book.  This is my honest opinion of this book.  I am a participant in the Amazon Affiliates program.  By clicking on the Amazon link and purchasing this product, I receive a small fee.  I am not associated with Goodreads or Barnes and Noble in any way and the links provided are available strictly for your convenience and not to imply a relationship of any kind.