BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See

BOOK REVIEW: The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa SeeTitle: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
Published by Scribner
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Pages: 384
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

A new novel from Lisa See, the New York Times bestselling author of The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, about female friendship and family secrets on a small Korean island.

Mi-ja and Young-sook, two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju, are best friends that come from very different backgrounds. When they are old enough, they begin working in the sea with their village’s all-female diving collective, led by Young-sook’s mother. As the girls take up their positions as baby divers, they know they are beginning a life of excitement and responsibility but also danger.

Despite their love for each other, Mi-ja and Young-sook’s differences are impossible to ignore. The Island of Sea Women is an epoch set over many decades, beginning during a period of Japanese colonialism in the 1930s and 1940s, followed by World War II, the Korean War and its aftermath, through the era of cell phones and wet suits for the women divers. Throughout this time, the residents of Jeju find themselves caught between warring empires. Mi-ja is the daughter of a Japanese collaborator, and she will forever be marked by this association. Young-sook was born into a long line of haenyeo and will inherit her mother’s position leading the divers in their village. Little do the two friends know that after surviving hundreds of dives and developing the closest of bonds, forces outside their control will push their friendship to the breaking point.

This beautiful, thoughtful novel illuminates a world turned upside down, one where the women are in charge, engaging in dangerous physical work, and the men take care of the children. A classic Lisa See story—one of women’s friendships and the larger forces that shape them—The Island of Sea Women introduces readers to the fierce and unforgettable female divers of Jeju Island and the dramatic history that shaped their lives.

Lisa See’s new book, out March 5, is a stunning story of two women separated by tragedy. Set mostly on Jeju Island before, during, and after World War II, See explores the strength and tribulations of women in all aspects of their lives — from their work as haenyo (deep sea divers), mothers, daughters, sisters, friends — and brings history to life through the lives of two friends: Young-sook and Mjia.

Told through interweaving timelines, from the more distant past of pre- and post-WWII to the more recent past of 2008, See takes us to Jeju Island through the eyes of Young-sook as she grows up, learns to dive and provide for herself and her family, marries, starts a family of her own, and struggles to survive through WWII and its aftermath. It’s a brutal history, devastating from all angles, that See weaves into the life of Young-Sook, but it’s incredibly empowering and a pleasure to read as the book is a testament to the strength and resilience of women.

I will admit, before reading this, I had very vague knowledge of Korea’s involvement in WWII (as I grow older, I realize how much of my history education stopped around the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century and didn’t seem to focus much on the World Wars or anything after, and this is something I am actively rectifying!), and I no prior knowledge of Jeju Island, the matriarchal culture, and the haenyo. After reading this and being so intrigued by these women’s lives, I definitely want to read more about it. See’s book Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s been several years since I revisited her work, and I’m delighted by the relationship between two women and their families in The Island of Sea Women. I now want to go back and read the books of hers I haven’t read yet because I think See is a master at weaving in the personal, private lives of women with extraordinary circumstances in history.

The Island of Sea Women is already one of my favorite books of 2019, so don’t miss it!

Thank you to Scribner Books for sending me a complimentary advance copy to read and review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie Silver

BOOK REVIEW: One Day in December, by Josie SilverTitle: One Day in December by Josie Silver
Published by Broadway Books
Published: October 16th 2018
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 416
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A Reese Witherspoon x Hello Sunshine Book Club Pick

“Get ready to be swept up in a whirlwind romance. It absolutely charmed me.” —Reese Witherspoon

“Josie Silver writes with a warmth so palpable her characters sneak their way into your heart and stay for a long time.”—Jill Santopolo, New York Times-bestselling author of The Light We Lost

Two people. Ten chances. One unforgettable love story.

Laurie is pretty sure love at first sight doesn't exist anywhere but the movies. But then, through a misted-up bus window one snowy December day, she sees a man who she knows instantly is the one. Their eyes meet, there's a moment of pure magic...and then her bus drives away.

Certain they're fated to find each other again, Laurie spends a year scanning every bus stop and cafe in London for him. But she doesn't find him, not when it matters anyway. Instead they "reunite" at a Christmas party, when her best friend Sarah giddily introduces her new boyfriend to Laurie. It's Jack, the man from the bus. It would be.

What follows for Laurie, Sarah and Jack is ten years of friendship, heartbreak, missed opportunities, roads not taken, and destinies reconsidered. One Day in December is a joyous, heartwarming and immensely moving love story to escape into and a reminder that fate takes inexplicable turns along the route to happiness.

Josie Silver’s One Day in December was the perfect, magical Christmas read I wanted. It reminded me a lot of the movie Love, Actually in its tone, but it was also new and fresh as well. One Day in December follows two friends, Laurie and Sarah, as they navigate life from the day Laurie sees Jack at the bus stop until the end of the book. A year after Laurie sees a man at the bus stop and has an immediate connection with him (and during that year doesn’t stop looking for him), Sarah brings that same exact man to a holiday party, and his name is Jack. Laurie and Jack recognize each other immediately, and over the course of almost a decade try to make the right choices in their own lives even though they are continually drawn to each other.

I loved how the story was told in alternating points of view of Laurie and Jack and that each of them felt well developed, growing and changing as time went on while each of them still had a deeply rooted, sometimes inexplicable, connection with each other. It was love at first sight, and both of them remained connected from that moment at the bus stop.

It’s a modern fairy tale, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I couldn’t put it down, and I can’t wait to read her next one!

BOOK REVIEW: Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

BOOK REVIEW: Daisy Jones & the Six, by Taylor Jenkins ReidTitle: Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published by Ballantine Books
Published: March 5th 2019
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 368
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Book Sparks, Publisher
Goodreads

Everyone knows Daisy Jones & The Six, but nobody knows the reason behind their split at the absolute height of their popularity . . . until now.

Daisy is a girl coming of age in L.A. in the late sixties, sneaking into clubs on the Sunset Strip, sleeping with rock stars, and dreaming of singing at the Whisky a Go Go. The sex and drugs are thrilling, but it’s the rock and roll she loves most. By the time she’s twenty, her voice is getting noticed, and she has the kind of heedless beauty that makes people do crazy things.

Also getting noticed is The Six, a band led by the brooding Billy Dunne. On the eve of their first tour, his girlfriend Camila finds out she’s pregnant, and with the pressure of impending fatherhood and fame, Billy goes a little wild on the road.

Daisy and Billy cross paths when a producer realizes that the key to supercharged success is to put the two together. What happens next will become the stuff of legend.

The making of that legend is chronicled in this riveting and unforgettable novel, written as an oral history of one of the biggest bands of the seventies. Taylor Jenkins Reid is a talented writer who takes her work to a new level with Daisy Jones & The Six, brilliantly capturing a place and time in an utterly distinctive voice.

After reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn HugoEvidence of the Affair, and now Daisy Jones & the Six, I’m convinced that Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing is absolutely magic, and I found myself wishing that there really was a real Evelyn Hugo and a real Daisy Jones & the Six. I think in 2019 I’m going to read the rest of her backlist titles, because I think TJR is deserving of the buzz that’s surrounded her over the last several years!

Daisy Jones & the Six is structured in the form of interview responses, broken up in sections of the band’s history, and at first I thought this was a little slow at the start, but once the story started developing beyond introductions, I loved the different perspectives of everyone in the band happening all at once as the story is pieced together through snippets of interviews given by the band members. It’s a little confusing at first, but then the story really finds its rhythm.

What do you do when you find a creative soulmate that might actually be more? How do you reconcile that creative spark with someone who drives you crazy? Daisy and Billy’s connection throughout this entire story is an electric charge that eventually becomes undeniable and unavoidable, and through these interviews and eras of the band’s existence, we get to see how it affects them and everyone around them until the band’s split at the height of their career.

One thing I’ve loved about Taylor Jenkins Reid’s writing in the two books I’ve read by her is that it makes you feel something, creates a world in which her characters exist that feels absolutely real, and makes you care about the characters she writes. I wished Evelyn Hugo was real while reading The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and I wished Daisy and Billy and the band and their tumultuous relationships with each other were real.

Daisy Jones & the Six comes out March 5, 2019, and you’re definitely going to want to add this to your TBRs! A complimentary copy was sent to me by BookSparks and Ballantine Books for review; all opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf Dobelli

BOOK REVIEW: The Art of the Good Life, by Rolf DobelliTitle: The Art of the Good Life: 52 Surprising Shortcuts to Happiness, Wealth, and Success by Rolf Dobelli
Published by Hachette Books
Published: November 6th 2018
Genres: Non-Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Since antiquity, people have been asking themselves what it means to live a good life. How should I live? What constitutes a good life? What's the role of fate? What's the role of money? Is leading a good life a question of mindset, or is it more about reaching your goals? Is it better to actively seek happiness or to avoid unhappiness?

Each generation poses these questions anew, and somehow the answers are always fundamentally disappointing. Why? Because we're constantly searching for a single principle, a single tenet, a single rule. Yet this holy grail -- a single, simple path to happiness -- doesn't exist. Rolf Dobelli -- successful businessman, founder of the TED-style ideas conference Zurich Minds, bestselling author, and all-around seeker of big ideas -- has made finding a shortcut to happiness his life's mission. He's synthesized the leading thinkers and the latest science in happiness to find the best shortcuts to satisfaction in THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE, his follow up to the international bestseller The Art of Thinking Clearly (which has sold more than 2.5 million copies in 40 languages all around the globe).

THE ART OF THE GOOD LIFE is a toolkit designed for practical living. Here you'll find fifty-two happiness hacks - from guilt-free shunning of technology to gleefully paying your parking tickets - that are certain to optimize your happiness. These tips may not guarantee you a good life, but they'll give you a better chance (and that's all any of us can ask for).

For the most part, I liked this book. I don’t think it’s ultimately got anything life-changing in it. However, I do think it serves as a good reminder in how to think about what you want in your own “good life.” Not every self-help book is going to be the cure, but I think if you read them critically and think of ways to apply someone else’s thought processes to your own life, you might make your own discoveries.

I read it in short bursts over lunch breaks over the course of a week, and I think it’s best read in little bits rather than all at once. In fifty-two essays, Rolf Dobelli tells us how to live a good life. The essays focused a lot on modesty, on not being overly flashy, that the “mediocre” is often okay. Some of it I agreed with, some of it I was ambivalent towards, and some I disagreed with. The bits about saving and not overspending and overextending yourself I agreed with. We all have a limited resource of time, focus, and energy, and we should be mindful of where we spend those resources.

However, when it came to the subject of giving back to the community, Dobelli suggests that it’s better to just throw money at it and not worry about it otherwise. Living the “good life” to me is not about throwing money at something and forgetting it exists. If I can donate some energy and time to making someone else’s life a little bit better, I feel like I’d get much more out of it than just by donating money. Granted, some of the examples he gave were giving money rather than volunteer tourism, but what about in your local community? The examples Dobelli gave sometimes felt like he’d rather hole himself up inside and not communicate with other people because it’s too exhausting. For me, I think one of the key points of a good life is the relationships and connections you build with other people and your community.

The best ideas out of this book that I needed to be reminded of is the circle of competence (doing what you’re good at), the five-second no (because saying yes all the time is not always a good thing), and a circle of dignity (your foundation, essentially). I know I can devote myself to being good at a lot of things, but I would ultimately rather focus my skills and attention on being great at a few things. Saying no and saying yes without a second thought will ultimately give you more work and stress than you’re expecting, so it’s good to take a few moments to consider it and give a response that’s true to you and your foundation. And you can’t have a foundation until you’ve lived a little, lost a little, and experienced the world in real time. I enjoyed the afterword a lot, too, as it made the entire thing a little more personal to Dobelli.

If you’re looking for a bite-sized pick-me-up based on research and using real-life examples, you might enjoy what you find in here!

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy to review!

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza Mundy

BOOK REVIEW: Code Girls, by Liza MundyTitle: Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers of World War II by Liza Mundy
Published by Hachette Books
Published: October 2nd 2018
Genres: History, Non-Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Recruited by the U.S. Army and Navy from small towns and elite colleges, more than ten thousand women served as codebreakers during World War II. While their brothers and boyfriends took up arms, these women moved to Washington and learned the meticulous work of code-breaking. Their efforts shortened the war, saved countless lives, and gave them access to careers previously denied to them. A strict vow of secrecy nearly erased their efforts from history; now, through dazzling research and interviews with surviving code girls, bestselling author Liza Mundy brings to life this riveting and vital story of American courage, service, and scientific accomplishment.

When I think of code breaking in World War II, I think of Alan Turning, British spies, and the Enigma machine. The history I was familiar with growing up didn’t mention much about American code breaking, let alone no mention of women’s involvement in code breaking during World War II.

Liza Mundy explores women who joined both the Army (WAC) and Navy (WAVES) to aid the war effort in code breaking. She focuses mostly on two women named Dot and Crow, but also includes other notable women who contributed. Mundy draws on her own research and interviews she conducted with these women, and I felt like I could read countless pages about the lives of these women and the risks they took.

It is both inspiring and frustrating to realize how much work these women did to aid the war effort and how little credit they have received in our history books. Now knowing that the work these women did to break codes entirely shifted the American’s trajectory during World War II, I want everyone who is interested in women’s history and war history to read this. It further goes to show that the paths taken in wartime are never black and white, never just a boy’s club, and never as straight as some would like to assume. War is complicated, and these women sometimes had to break codes containing information that lead to the direct harm of people they knew without being able to put a stop to the attacks. Mundy showcases the strength and resilience of these women in then-unheard of situations.

This comes highly recommended from me, so if you are interested in women’s history and World War II history, add this to your TBRs immediately.

Thank you to Hachette for sending me a complimentary copy for review. All opinions are my own.