Life in China

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Street of Eternal Happiness: The Winding Road to the Chinese Dream

by Rob Schmitz

Marketplace’s Rob Schmitz moved to Shanghai in 2010. To gain perspective on China’s new reality, he interviewed the ordinary people who lived and worked beside him. He spoke to shop owners, young professionals, beggars, and countless others about their everyday experiences, their troubled histories, and the hopes that fuel them. Schmitz forged deep relationships with the diverse array of people who make up China’s most vibrant city, their stories connected by a single street that runs through the heart of Shanghai.
I read books like this to get a full understanding of the every day lives of people around the world, because it’s the best way to really understand such countries and to see what they’re really like. And this book does just that. It didn’t hide the ugliness that surrounds the lives of the people that Rob Schmitz met and wrote about.
This book focuses on the lives of the people who happen to live on this road in Shanghai – past, present, and future. All these lives just so happen where shaped by Mao and events of the cultural revolution that follows. To this day, people are shaped by these events, young and old. As someone outside of China, I didn’t realize to what degree it still effects the lives of the people in this country and how these people live today. It talked about the cultural revolution, laws in current day China that are often talked about on the internet (such as the law about China’s youth being required to visit their parents monthly, but the posts never talking about the fact most youth move to the cities from rural China to get decent jobs and not talking about the great distances they have to travel to do just that, in one of the biggest countries in the world), arranged marriages, religion, ‘left behind children’, power of the government, and more.  It was a need to know what happened to people who lost their homes, who continued to fight an uphill battle against China’s current government that kept me reading.
I admit, I did put this book down after the first few chapters due to the fact I couldn’t get into the writing of this book at first. It was only after taking a break and coming back and seeing it more as a news article than an exciting book that was written not to inform, but as entertainment. This book wasn’t a fun read, but it was an interesting one. I often read it at night for this reason until I reached the last few chapters, in which I needed to simply know what happened next for these people who had grown on me and left me rooting for them, even if they’re causes were impossible.
Surprisingly, this book helped me remember why I wanted to become a librarian (despite the hardships that they are now facing more than ever) due to one of these people who immigrated here and had found a home in his local library, which helped him learn English and get his GED. I honestly didn’t see this happening when I picked up this book but I’m happy it had, when I had been shaken by things other librarians have written of late that they deal with daily. Because it showed the good that still comes from it, from the people you least except.
If you’re looking for a nonfiction book about modern day China, then I do recommend this book, but only to warn that it talks about very difficult subjects such as suicide, abuse, injustice, starvation, and a lot of uncomfortable topics. It’s interesting, though the writing is that of someone who writes for newspapers (the author actually writes about the Chinese economy, so it’s understandable that he might not get how to make it more interesting, but he does try and get better). It should be remembered though that this was written by an outsider, though one that had lived there for ten years. He does point this out throughout the book, which is an improvement, but such things are best said by those from there. It helps his case that he doesn’t talk about his own life except for small sections in the story. But this being the case, it might be better to read something from someone that is a native to compare this with.
Rating – 3 stars
EDIT :: Consider watching Ai Weiwei: Never Story on Netflix. It shows life in China for the Artist Ai Weiwei and other artists.

Why Do I Always Win Books About Cults?

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The Girls

by Emma Cline
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.
To be honest, I wish I could give a huge review for this book. But the thing is, when I like books, it’s hard to write pages of notes and details. Most of my notes are that I enjoyed this book, that I enjoyed the lyrical-ness of it. The story almost feels real and that you could look up these names and find them, along with the horrible story that makes them famous. Because the story is horrible, and yet written beautifully. A young girl, a cult, a murder, and how she’s tied into it all. This isn’t a book for the faint hearted, which I learned the first night which I had nightmare after nightmare about until I made myself pick up another book to read at night instead, because even when it didn’t speak of the horribleness to come, it did fill you with an anxious energy at knowing what was to come. Because in those first few pages, that author tells you exactly what happens, you just don’t know it until you read the end and you go back and re-read that section.
That was most likely the ONLY flaw I saw in this book. I didn’t understand the opening at all or what the author was trying to tell me. But I was horribly interested because I did have this unanswered question of what any of it meant. It had been well written, but I had no context at that point to understand it. Which can be a bit off putting to some people. In which I say – stick with it. It’ll make perfect sense and you’ll find the right rhythm of how the author pulls you through the timeline at first so you get an understanding just where this story is going.
A few trigger warnings – Murder, cults, sex with an underage person, drugs, abuse, cutting, abusive relationships, unhealthy relationships, and probably a lot more I’m drawing a blank on at the moment.
My one hope is that this doesn’t get looked at with rose coloured glasses. This is not a love story. In any shape or form. The main character falls for another, but it isn’t love. Not in healthy sense. It’s one part obsessive, one part harmful, all parts bad.
My Rating – 4 stars

Are you sure this isn’t about middle schoolers?

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The Secret of a Heart Note

by Stacey Lee
“Most people don’t know that heartache smells like blueberries.”

As one of only two aromateurs left on the planet, sixteen-year-old Mimosa knows what her future holds: a lifetime of using her extraordinary sense of smell to mix base notes, top notes, and heart notes into elixirs that help others fall in love—all while remaining incurably alone.

The rules are clear: Falling in love would render her nose useless, taking away her one great talent. Still, Mim doesn’t want to spend her life elbow-deep in soil and begonias. She dreams of having a normal high school existence, including a boyfriend. But when she accidentally gives an elixir to the wrong woman, Mim has to rely on the lovesick woman’s son, the school soccer star, to help fix the situation. As she races to set the lovers straight, Mim quickly realizes that when it comes to falling in love, the choice isn’t always hers to make.

I didn’t finish this book, however, I was able to gather enough notes on it that I felt that I had a good sense of the book.

This book needs a LOT of TLC. The idea of love potions is a new popular theme in books coming out right now. So I was interested to read Stacey Lee’s interpretation of this idea. After all, she’s written a lot of good historical fiction books. However, this book in every way felt rushed. The characters, the ideas, all fell flat. This book started out good and interesting. I liked the quotes at the top, to get an idea of the history of them. It also followed how spells are done by some witches today. However, it started to fall during that first and second chapter.

The interactions of characters were horribly awkward and forced. Even what they were talking about weren’t needed. It wasn’t in the awkward ‘oh we’re teenagers’ way, but in the writing itself. It didn’t make sense how Court would become Mim’s love interest after seeing him once and him basically being the only teenage boy until about 30% into the book. They talked a few times, she fringes lack of interest and he creepily shows up where ever she is. It simply feels completely forced.

This book often fell under a lot of tropes that are becoming unpopular with readers. Sometimes you can get away with it when written well, however, this wasn’t. Right away there’s girl on girl hate that again, feels forced. It has the ‘Tom boys are good’ but turn ‘evil’ when the girl starts caring about her looks. Mim herself falls under the ‘not like other girls’ trope, though thankfully she didn’t say it, Court did in so many words.

Speaking of Mim, her character is rather under developed (as is Court and many others) despite being the main character. She’s naive despite having traveled the world at 15 years old. Traveling tends to help teenagers understand the world around them more, instead, she’s more oblivious to it. Everything about her screams someone far younger, someone who is in middle school. She’s ‘smart’ but confuses the meanings of simple words like ‘vegetarian’ for having a strict diet instead of only eating nonmeat products. And sadly she does things like this more than once. She wears bucket hats and cowboy hats and then judges people for trying to wear whats in fashion or wearing perfume. The first boy she see’s, she falls for, despite having nothing in common with him and the fact he doesn’t listen to her (he knew what she does but freaks out when she accidentally does it to his mother and says that she liked gardening, not making potions (despite having cornered her about it in their first conversation)).

Her abilities were interesting and cool at first. I enjoyed reading the different emotions and scents. But it quickly became the whole book. There is more time describing these than there’s real interaction within the book or real plot. What had been interesting and different quickly became boring and you simply wanted more of the story, not constant descriptions of emotions and flowers. The author also started at points to describe the biology of flowers that most people don’t know, nor do they want a biology lesson in their YA books. It read textbook-esq. It didn’t make sense that high schools (though smelly as they are) were described as worse than being in a crowded street in the most populated country in the world. You would think that wouldn’t be the case. Instead, you would think her power for smell and emotion would have been overwhelmed while in India, seeing as it seems to be the case when she’s in small groups as it is. Another thing that didn’t make sense was the part about swimming. Pools, yes. But fresh water and sea water, no. There are far more overwhelming things that mess with the ability to smell than swimming. That part simply didn’t make sense. It was small things, but with them, the ability to have a super smeller just seemed to fall apart for me.

I DO believe this book could have been good if the author had taken a bit longer on this book. If she had proof read a few more times, thought of her audience, and developed her characters more. Because the idea is good, even if the plot is lacking. I think this book could work better as a middle grader book than a YA book. The writing is horribly cheesy, the characters one dimensional. But if she maybe rounded the characters more, it would work out well as this. The writing truly feels like it should be directed this way instead. Its something I can see younger readers enjoying more than older readers and I found myself thinking this throughout this book. Even the swearing (though used very little) felt almost wrong and I had to keep telling myself they were 15 years old and older, and yet my brain couldn’t grasp that because teenagers don’t really act this way. Younger kids do.

Rating – 1 star.

Books with ALL THE BEST COVERS (part 3)

It’s been awhile since I posted the next part for this. And instead of posting another book I didn’t finish but have tons of feedback for (I’m just going to send it to the publisher), I decided to do something more positive. AKA pretty things. Always go for pretty things.

This time it’s ‘Between Shades of Grey’ by Ruta Sepetys. I’m a HUGE fan of her books AND the covers for her books. I’ve honestly never run into one that I didn’t love for her books. And shockingly, there’s a LOT of choices, so there was plenty of choices to fail. It just didn’t.

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English (original cover)

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English (paperback new cover. The one I have.)

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English (Paperback. UK version I think)

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Italian (Not my fave, but is true to the story)

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German

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Dutch

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Croatian

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Indonesian
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Polish
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Estonian
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Norwegian
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Swedish
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Danish
Which is your favourite? And what other books do you guys think I should consider doing next?

Spoilers, This isn’t about Spinsters

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Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own by Kate Bolick

You know a book is bad when so close to the end you simply cannot bring yourself to finish it. It becomes too tedious and you find yourself thinking ‘why am I wasting my life reading something that just leaves you more annoyed than anything else?’ Well. That was exactly what happened to me when it comes to “Spinster”. I managed to get to page 250 and I simply couldn’t go on. As much as I wanted to say I finished it, I feel like I’d read enough to give a full review of it despite not finishing it. After all, I took three pages of notes on just those 250 pages. None 0f which was good notes. And as I promised to give a honest review, I’m not going to pretend this is anything but honest.

The title of this book is a lie. The author goes on and on that Spinster is a horrible word that makes picture old crones of women. Well, maybe it does, but lets be honest in saying it at least means single women. Which two of the five women weren’t. They talked about wanting to be single but married and died married. All were at least shortly married. Some divorced and continued on with their lives. I believe at the very least these women should have been single for at least half of their lives to be considered in this category. Instead of the author just wanted strong women that talked the talk about being single while not actually being single themselves. That being the case, she probably should have named this book something else and gave it a different theme instead of Spinster. Maybe just ‘strong women that believed being single isn’t a bad thing’.

Title aside, that first chapter was a complete mess. It changed it’s thought process again and again and again and left you complete confused what the author was even doing. You go from her going to one of homes of one of the women she tells us about in the book to 40th birthday party back to this journey and then to these women. The imagery about the party was pretty but the writing was simply sloppy for someone claiming to have written for so many magazines and papers and having been an editor. It simply wasn’t enjoyable to read at all. It did improve, but just barely. It still continues to be messy and when it’s not, it reads very much like a textbook you’d read for school. I felt like I had to re-read things again and again in hopes to actually grasp the reading. But some times the sentences were just a complete mess, not me.

She liked to give statistics of single women at the times, but instead of taking in consideration that some of those women might have been gay and not just women that didn’t want to marry. This irked me to no end. She did finally admit that there were some gay women, but only to say that it was hard to tell which were gay and which weren’t due to the free love movement. All the same, it was almost like she didn’t want to admit such a possibility because it didn’t add to her story.

The author simply isn’t likeable. Maybe she actually is in life, but in her book, she truly isn’t. She liked to talk about herself as if she wasn’t part of the white and rich when she’s exactly that. She’s clearly from the higher middle class if not the lower upper class (her house is described as three floors). Her family vacationed in Maine by the ocean. Being from Maine I can tell you that only outer-staters that have money do this. We talk about these people and call them yuppies. And in her book she spoke in a very yuppie manner. She lived in good places in New York City, got jobs that only the rich can get. She talked about mental illness in a very ignorant manner of those who think when they’re blue is depression and want sympathy. I came to utterly dread reading the sections about her as a person. Because it became so cheesy there was no way that it was real, only re-imagined in way to sound more intelligent. No one quotes ‘Emma’ from memory word for word. Or qu0tes a ridiculously long poem from memory just because. It simply made the author seem like she was truly trying way too hard at that point and all it was resulting in was making me dislike her more. She pretended not to care about something such as home decorating only to spew about it for three (boring) pages and got a job in the field. The only person she was kidding was herself.

The women mentioned in this book are interesting women who produced interesting works in their own rights. If the book had focused solely on them, maybe I would have liked it. But it didn’t and there was too much in-between that made me give up on this book. I honestly got too tired to keep reading it, too frustrated. Maybe I’ll come back to them and read their histories somewhere else. But it’s not worth it in this book itself.

Rating – 1.5 stars (for the history sections)

More Info | Author Bio