Women In Translation: Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo trans by Jamie Chang

My father was stationed in South Korea at the end of the Korean War. To this day he still has a love of Kimchi. Which has been passed on to me. He didn’t really talk about what South Korea was like when he was there. Most of what I know are from books, TV shows and movies. If you didn’t know South Korea has an absolutely amazing horror movie culture. My favorite horror movie is a South Korean horror movie called Train to Busan. But I don’t really know a lot about the culture. I don’t listen to K-Pop or watch K-Drama. So when my hold for this amazing little book came up I immediately went to the library and picked it up. FYI…there are sources for much of the information and statistics in the book. Which is super interesting.

Synopsis: A women starts speaking in voices and phrases from dead and living women.

What I liked: This little book holds so much information about how women are treated in South Korea. There are tons of footnotes in the book with sources regarding the statistics that are being presented. Nam-Joo weaves the non-fiction aspect of the story with non-fiction aspects seamlessly. The book is only 162 pages. But there is A LOT of story in those pages. The story covers the main character early years and follows her through to her marriage and having a child. Nam-Joo is able to pack the story in. There is no lag. I never felt like anything was just filler. It all had a purpose and intention. The pacing is perfect.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 4

My Thoughts: I had thoughts. I was mad. I was pissed that women are still putting up with the same bullshit that our grandmothers have. That a the main character was so lost in who she was that she started doing the things that she was (yes cryptic I know but I don’t want to spoil the book). I am enraged that much of this behavior is still happening all over the world. So I was pissed when I finished this book. But it wasn’t the story that pissed me off. It is that there was no accountability in the story for the bad things that happened. I want to shove this little book into so many people’s hands. Now, I do want to say that it isn’t Horror, however, I found many of the things that happened horrific. I also find that the behavior that Nam-Joo mentioned in this book is being normalized is horrific.

The Ghost Tree By Christina Henry

I was a child growing up in the 80s. I still listen to much of the music and watch the movies. It just takes me back to getting strangled by the super long phone cords, not wearing seatbelt, and drinking out of the outside hose. Yes, the water from the outside hose tasted a bit like a metal; but when you were told to stay off the wet floors that is where you got a drink of water. And it wasn’t always your hose it could have been any number of neighborhood hoses. Today this wouldn’t fly with the pandemic and the creation of the HUGE water industry no longer are thirsty children expected to drink out of hoses. The Ghost Tree made me feel a tinge of nostalgia while I was reading it.

Thank you to Pima County Library for allowing drive through pickups during the pandemic. You all have been awesome!!

Synopsis: Some girls get murdered in a small town. While another girl starts to grow up.

What I liked: I am a big fan of Christina Henry’s writing. Henry’s writing draws the reader in and doesn’t let go. I have had the same experience with all the books she has written that I have read. Her characterizations are three dimensional and believable. There are characters which you won’t like. There are other characters that you will totally love. The pacing of the stories are perfect. It goes faster and slower in the right parts.

What I didn’t like: There wasn’t anything that I didn’t like.

Star Rating: 4.5 Stars

My Thoughts: I truly enjoyed this entire story. I loved the fact that it was set in the 80s. That there was an arcade, small town and a secret. For some reason stories with a secret is something that I have really been enjoying lately. The story just floats along and BAM the secret is something that is known but unknown to most of the people in the story. There is actually a technical literary term for it. I loved many of the ideas in the story and they were cohesive. One of the things I really appreciate about Henry’s writing is how she writes young women. They are never a damsel in distress and that is something I truly love in her stories. They rescue themselves and that is truly refreshing. Something that I thought was really great in The Ghost Tree was the fact that the main character was on the cusp of being a teenager but still had some of the child in many of the things that she did. Female friendship was also a topic in this book. When you are that young your friendships can be weird. Especially when girls start puberty at different times; not just physically but mentally as well.

Women in Translation: The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa trans. by Stephen Snyder

Quirky little books soothe my soul. Sometimes you just don’t want a novel but you want something that is longer than a short story. The novella is perfect to feed that need. (oh lord I just sounded like a slim Jim commercial, sorry about that). But you get my point. The quirkier the better. I had heard about this novella by Yoko Ogawa a couple of years ago but hadn’t been able to find it. However, around Christmas I was wandering around Barnes and Nobel and spotted it on the shelf. One lone copy…..I did what any self respecting book nerd does. I snatched it up and carried it around with me. (Before you say gasp and say omg you were out and about….let me just put that in perspective….I have been stuck in the house with my family since last March. I was masked and have hand sanitizer in my bag at all times.) It called to me as I carried it around the store. So it came home with me and satisfied my hunger.

Synopsis: A story of friendship with a interesting twist.

What I liked: The premise of the story is fantastic and I loved it. The writing and the characterizations are something Ogawa really shines. As you are reading you can picture them in your minds eye. The interesting twist is something that I haven’t personally read yet. I really appreciated how Ogawa wove that throughout the story.

What I didn’t like: Nothing!!

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: This isn’t a super dark story. It was melancholy in places but in other places it was pure hope and light. The friendship was lovely. It was just pure. The main characters relationship just was lovely. Honestly, this novella is a pick me up. Especially, the end. The end was lovely and I had the sniffles because of it.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

I am absolutely late on this book. I have listened to the audiobook multiple times and watched the documentary a couple of times. However, I hadn’t read the book until my brain became unblocked toward the end of December. There seems to be a correlation between people who enjoy horror and people who enjoy true crime. I just happen to be one of those people. However, I’ll be Gone in the Dark isn’t just about the killer. It is also about the author and her obsession.

Synopsis: The true crime book outline the hunt for the Golden State Killer.

What I liked: I truly enjoyed the writing in this book. It was accessible and easy to read (for the subject matter). I also appreciated the editors notes through out the book. Even though many parts of the book were pieced together from her notes the voice never changed. It read like it was written in one continuous story. (This really says a lot to McNamara’s writing style). The book reads like you are having a conversation with a friend. Not like you are reading someone’s words posthumously. Her writing style is very much like a chat. In the documentary this is something that is mentioned. That people liked to talk to her. She seemed to get people to open up to her. That is very evident in her writing style. I normally have a hard time with time shifts, even in non-fiction. But McNamara’s time shift where perfect. Each time there was a chapter about the past it linked with the chapter immediately before it. It was a perfect way to tie the two together. The pacing was perfect. I really appreciated the last chapters about the use of DNA in the hunt as well as geo profiling. It is something that always fascinates me.

What I didn’t like: Nothing

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: This book was so much more than the hunt for a prolific killer. It was also about the author. Her thought process, her hunt and her life. That was the part of the book that made me sad. Her death. She didn’t live long enough to see the monster put into a cage of his own making. I always wonder if he was on the long list of suspects that she had. If somewhere in her notes there is a scribble about this man specifically. I feel badly for Patton Oswalt and her daughter as well. But there is a deeper sadness there. A sadness that I wonder if seeing this man caught would have ever gone away. There was a part in the documentary that discussed Michelle herself. She sounds like so many of us in the book community. We just want to get in our comfy clothes and read a good book. I might have been late to the party with this book, but what I experienced was one helluva a party.

The Cipher by Kathe Koja

There is something that I have always wondered. Does anyone else have stress dreams? Like a dream that you have when you are super stressed out and it doesn’t change no matter when you have it. It is exactly the same every time you have it? I do. No it isn’t the naked in school dream or anything like that. It has to do with Zombies, hiding and running. There is probably something wrong in my wiring but that is okay. The Cipher reminded me of one of my stress dreams. It was really intense. It wasn’t a book that I could just put down, I felt draw to sit and had to sit and finish it.

Thank you to Meerkat Press for sending me a review copy!!!

Synopsis: Someone plays with a hole and it doesn’t end well.

What I liked: Koja’s writing…..all of it is wonderful. The words are like oil. They weave around your brain mass and burrow into it. The pacing of the story is spot on. Not too fast and not too slow. The secret and mystery just unravels as you are reading. The characters are written in such a way that the reader either loves them or hates them. There is a cultish aspect to the story that thrilled me to no end.

What I didn’t like: There was nothing I didn’t like

Star Rating: 5 stars

My thoughts: This is a darkly fun and deeply disturbing read. I found myself wondering what I would do if this void opened up in a room or closet in my house. I have no idea what I would do. Honestly, it reminds me of the vortex in Poltergeist and that freaked me out as a kid. The lesson here is not to mess with some black void that you become obsessed with. But isn’t that the point of the story obsession? Cultism? (no spoilers) It is a book that I think about when there is nothing else going on. I just sit there and think about WHY?! Once you read it you will totally understand what I am talking about. This is one of those books that long time horror readers talk about.

The Forgotten Girl by India Hill Brown

“The Officer in charge shall not bury, or allow to be buried any colored person upon ground set apart or used for the burial of white persons”

Jim Crow Law regarding burial

I looked up the Jim Crow law……I wrote the words, then I cried. When I finished reading The Forgotten Girl I fell down the rabbit hole of the internet. I wanted to read everything that I could find about abandoned segragated graveyards. I needed to know that something was being done to help find all the people that had been lost and forgotten in time. The African-American Burial Grounds Act was introduced to the house on 02/13/2019 as of 12/22/2020 it is being held at the desk. I have no idea what that means. While I was researching the lost segregated graveyards, I thought about my uncle. I am know where he buried, it is a beautiful military cemetery, with lush green grass and large trees. There are soldiers of every race around him. I don’t know what I would do if he was lost. But if he had passed during the time of Jim Crow there is a good chance he would have been. You see my uncle is black. The idea that he couldn’t be buried near my aunt by law is something that I can’t even fathom.

Thank you to my LOVELY Pima County library for always making sure that there are diverse books for the children in our community.

Synopsis: A young girl and her best friend discover a forgotten graveyard.

What I liked: Holy hell there were a lot of things that I loved about this book. I think it is a wonderful own voices book for middle grade readers. The characters are relatable and 3 dimensional. The story it self is paced beautifully. Something I also truly enjoyed about this book is the boy and girl friendship. There was no pre-teenage romance angst. It was just a beautiful friendship. The friendship between the families is something that I really appreciated as well. We see a lot of dysfunctional families in literature and not enough good family dynamics.

What I didn’t like: There isn’t anything that I didn’t like about the story.

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My Thoughts: There is a lot to unpack about this story. I really enjoyed the way that Brown brought social issues into this story. Whether it is girls of color are more harshly disciplined in a classroom setting to Jim Crow Laws and the desegregation of schools. As I am not a person of color I can’t speak to many of these things as I do have a privilege. However, I think this story really hits many of this issue in a way the is understandable to any reader. Many of the themes of friendship, being bullied and familial love are universal and are worked in the story with love. Another theme that Brown really works into the story so wonderful is that of a girl and self esteem. The age group that this book is aimed at is when a girls self esteem really begins to take a nose dive. I also loved the idea of community that was discussed through the story as well.

What I am a little disappointed about is that I haven’t seen this book ANYWHERE. That is disappointing. This is a beautiful story that can will send people into a rabbit hole on the internet. The African American Burial Grounds Act is something that needs to be discussed and highlighted.

The Hollow Places by T. Kingfisher

I love stories with strong and quirky characters. I also love when the main character has a buddy that partakes in their adventure. I also love a book where an animal is actually a character in the story. Not just fodder that barks at the monsters. This is something that I really enjoy about Kingfisher’s stories. Her characters are so human. I also read her other book The Twisted Ones, which I loved.

Synopsis: Following her divorce a woman moves into a room in the back of her uncle’s oddity shop. And weird things happen.

Things I liked: There are so many things to love about Kingfisher’s writing. The first is the use of place as a character. I have said this multiple times but that is something that I really enjoy. The oddity shop isn’t just words or the backdrop. It is part of the story. It is a character, it comes alive and I love that. The pacing was perfect for me. Kingfisher is really great at the build up and the reveal. It is like something that is niggling at the back of your brain as you are reading. Her writing makes me so happy.

Things I didn’t like: Nothing

Star Rating: 5

My Thoughts: My what I loved was basically becoming my thoughts. So, I moved things around. I lover her characters. They are quirky and honestly you want to be friends with them. They are likable and flawed. But they are so well written. There is such curiosity and a sense of adventure in her characters. I really appreciate that they have friends. These friendships aren’t fake but are really believable and relatable. I also appreciate her treatment of animals in her stories. They aren’t fodder but rather their own character which you are rooting for the entire time. They are pretty badass in their own right. I really hope that she keeps writing these wonderful stories.

***FYI I am aware that T. Kingfisher is a pen name for Ursula Vernon****

Women in Translation: The Memory Police by Yoko Ozawa trans. Stephen Snyder

A couple years ago, I read a book that was based on a Russian fairytale. After I read that I went looking for another book that wasn’t necessarily set in Russia but had the same type of vibe. I ended up reading the epic which is Kristen Lavransdetter by Sigrid Undset. Since then Women in translation has had me hooked. This is the third book by Yoko Ozawa that I have read. I have always enjoyed her work but this was a little uh for me.

Synopsis: A writer lives on a island where things disappear and are “erased” from memory.

What I liked: I really enjoyed the idea of the story. I also like the parallels that the reader can draw with other times in history. Also there were passages that were lush and full. I do like Ogawa’s characters. They usually have quirks or something that makes them unique. I enjoyed the pacing of the main story.

What I didn’t like: I didn’t really enjoy the story that the writer in the book was working on.

Star Rating: 3.5

My Thoughts: I normally like Yoko Ogawa’s stories, but this one was a bit different. I enjoyed the idea of the book but I wasn’t a fan of the story about the typist being inserted. For me it didn’t work. I am sure that there is a thread there that I may have missed. But it just fell flat for me. The rest of the story was flowed well and was enjoyable but the typist story really pulled me out of the main story. The ending also felt a little forced. The story meandered along and then BAM the end. The ending though…..I really liked the doing. I think my heart broke a little.

There is a lot to like in this story, but I don’t think that this is the best of Ogawa’s books. I personally, enjoyed Revenge immensely!!

Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

Very rarely do I sit down to write a review of a book as soon as I am done with it. But here I am, eyes puffy and reddened from crying and nose running. Every few years a book comes a long that will just tear your heart out and rip it into a million pieces. Betty is one of those books. My heart is torn into a million pieces but there is a small girl there that is sewing the million pieces back together, wit a lining of silver so I can put my heart back into my chest and have some hope. This is one of those books. The story is that of a family. The beauty and the darkness that comes with family is laid bare for the reader. Also if you don’t think that this book is horror then I will fight you.

Synopsis: The life of Betty and her family; with the beauty and the ugly of growing up.

What I liked: Tiffany McDaniel is a helluva writer. She can take the words and weaves a spell with them. Here is the spell….you can’t put the book down. You want to sit and read. NO food, No sleep and lock the family out of the house read. The characters, the landscape everything….It is beautiful.

What I didn’t like:

Star Rating: ALL THE STARS!!! EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM IN THE SKY!!

My Thoughts: Oh dear lord. That is my thought. There are so many things about this book that I want to scream about but I don’t do spoilers. However, this book has made me think about families and people. It also makes me think about history and the choices that people make. I do want to talk about one character…..Betty’s dad. His entire arc is filled with magic, pain and hope. Yes, I said hope. There is hope in him. (okay I am starting to tear up). This book is horror. It is familial/social horror. Look at me coining new sub-genres this year. Blood and gore doesn’t make a horror book. It is the feeling that you feel as you read that makes the book horror. MANY times during this story I felt revulsion, disgust and pain. Lots and lots of pain. So yes, it is horror…..and for those horror purists horror adjacent.

Now here is where I am going to beg. If you only read one book this year PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!!! But I will warn you…..make sure you have lots and lots of tissues.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

I had two whole weeks of vacation at the end of 2020. I had absolutely no idea what to do with all this time that I wasn’t going to be working and we weren’t doing virtual learning. I stood in the middle of my office and surveyed the books that are on my bookshelf and looked for something that would feed my very tired mind and soul. I picked this up a few years ago because I love a good fairytale retelling. This lovely book is based on a Russian fairytale “Snegurochka or Snegurka” the rough translation is Snow Maiden. I hadn’t actually heard of this fairytale so I wanted to share it. This is a rough

In the woods lives a childless couple. They are getting on in their years and have no children to help care for them. One evening the couple make a child out of snow. This snow child comes alive and lives as their own child. There are two different endings to the story….the first is that the snow child grows into a beautiful woman who falls in love with a young man from a neighboring family. As she falls more deeply in love with the young man her heart begins to warm her and she melts. The second ending is that she is playing with some other children in the woods. The other children build a fire and take turns jumping over it. The poor snow child does the same. Soon the warmth of the fire melts her. In both cases she melts. Sad story right.

Synopsis: A childless couple create a child out of snow….she lives with them. (If I say anymore I will totally tell the entire story)

What I liked: There is so much to like about this story and so much to enjoy about Ivey’s writing. It is lyrical and so very magical. Even as a retelling Ivey was able to keep the fairytale quality of the story. I loved her characterizations and how she used the bones of the fairytale to mold her story. Also there is some interesting history there about the Alaskan hinterland. I have never been to Alaska so that was really fascinating. I enjoyed the story so much I started trawling through my Russian fairytale book and the internet to find the story of The Snow Maiden.

What I didn’t like: Nothing……

Star Rating: 4.5 stars

My thoughts: While I was reading The Snow Child I was thinking about retellings. I had seen a tweet a few months ago about retellings, it said something to the effect of someone not having an imagination blah blah blah. Yes, a hot take which is so so wrong. Retellings take so much imagination. You have to take a story and change it or add to it, to make it yours. Obviously, this person had not read The Snow Child. The bones of the original story are there with so much added to it. This is a book that I read to get me out of the un-year slump. It had sat on my bookshelf for a few years and I would love to kick myself. BUT, I think that it came to me when I really needed it.