Dreams of Joy ~ Lisa See

Rating: HHHH
ISBN: 9780812980547
Pages: 400
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2012

Book Blurb:
In her most powerful novel yet, acclaimed author Lisa See returns to the story of sisters Pearl and May from Shanghai Girls, and Pearl’s strong-willed nineteen-year-old daughter, Joy. Reeling from newly uncovered family secrets, Joy runs away to Shanghai in early 1957 to find her birth father—the artist Z.G. Li, with whom both May and Pearl were once in love. Dazzled by him, and blinded by idealism and defiance, Joy throws herself into the New Society of Red China, heedless of the dangers in the Communist regime. Devastated by Joy’s flight and terrified for her safety, Pearl is determined to save her daughter, no matter the personal cost. From the crowded city to remote villages, Pearl confronts old demons and almost insurmountable challenges as she follows Joy, hoping for reconciliation. Yet even as Joy’s and Pearl’s separate journeys converge, one of the most tragic episodes in China’s history threatens their very lives.

My Thoughts:
I am a huge fan of Lisa See. I have thoroughly enjoyed her previous novels, "Snow Flower and the Secret Fan", "Peony in Love", and "Shanghai Girls" and I have to say that "Dreams of Joy" definitely did not disappoint. 

Ms. See is able to transport her readers effortlessly. Her history is carefully researched. Her characters are beautifully written and totally believable. I absolutely LOVE her writing! 

Joy comes off as an annoying, know-it-all but I grew to love her throughout the novel. She becomes lovable and sympathetic. She's headstrong and will do whatever it is that she wants, despite her mother's and father's warnings. But it is through these decisions, and the consequences that go along with them, that we see her character grow and develop from a girl into a woman. 

There were parts of the book that were deeply disturbing and heart-wrenching, however I believe that it is a true reflection of what really happened during the Great Leap Forward during Mao's rule of China in the 1950's. At times it was horrifying, but at the same time, brutally honest. 

I would strongly recommend "Dreams of Joy" to anyone who loves historical drama with strong characters and authenticity. ** Read "Shanghai Girls" first! **

Empress of the Night ~ Eva Stackniak

Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Year: 2014
Pages: 400
Rating: H ½
ISBN: 9780385666589

Book Blurb:
Catherine the Great muses on her life, her relentless battle between love and power, the country she brought into the glorious new century, and the bodies left in her wake. By the end of her life, she had accomplished more than virtually any other woman in history. She built and grew the Romanov empire, amassed a vast fortune of art and land, and controlled an unruly and conniving court. Now, in a voice both indelible and intimate, she reflects on the decisions that gained her the world and brought her enemies to their knees. And before her last breath, shadowed by the bloody French Revolution, she sets up the end game for her last political maneuver, ensuring her successor and the greater glory of Russia.

My Thoughs:
Remember that old saying, if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Well, if I were to abide by this, I really wouldn’t have much to say about this book. But to quote another popular admonition, isn’t honesty always the best policy?

I had my reservations about this novel, I wasn’t overly impressed with Stackniak’s first novel about Catherine the Great, The Winter Palace, but I decided to give her another chance. Well, that was a waste of my time. By the time I was about 120 pages in, I was exasperated that there were still another 280 pages to go. Much like The Winter Palace, it was unbelievably long. I thought that the book was never.going.to.end.

The idea of an aged Catherine reflecting on her life, her reign, her legacy as the final moments of her life slip by, is an interesting idea, but Stackniak’s narrative is so fragmented and incoherent. The structure of the book is just strange; unless you know the history surrounding Catherine the Great, you can get very lost as there is no clear indication that the time has changed.

Another problem that I encountered was that there are HUGE gaps of time that are omitted. That being said, a lot of important parts of history and Catherine’s rule, are also omitted. The story just felt so disjointed and at times, totally random.

I found the characters to be very dull, dry and they never really developed. I was extremely disappointed with Catherine herself. In this novel she is portrayed as a love sick woman, not one of the greatest ruler in Russian history. I was bored with her constantly reminiscing about her past lovers. Get over it, you are the Empress of Russia. Where is the story of what made her “great”? Where are the politics? Her reign?

Sadly, I don’t think that I will be continuing to read Ms. Stackniak’s novels in the future. I do not recommend reading Empress of the Night.


The Calligrapher's Daughter ~ Eugenia Kim

Publisher: Henry Holt & Company
Year: 2010
Pages: 386
Rating: «««««
ISBN: 9781408806180

Book Blurb: 
In early-twentieth-century Korea, Najin Han, the privileged daughter of a calligrapher, longs to choose her own destiny, though her country—newly occupied by Japan—is crumbling, and her family, led by her stern father, is facing difficulties that seem insurmountable. Narrowly escaping an arranged marriage, Najin takes up a new role as a companion to a young princess. But the king is soon assassinated, and the centuries-old dynastic culture comes to its end.

Najin pursues a coveted education and is surprised to find love. After one day of marriage a denied passport separates her from her new husband, who continues alone to America. As a decade passes and the world descends into war, Najin loses touch with her husband. Will the love they share be enough to sustain her through the deprivation her country continues to endure? The Calligrapher's Daughter is a richly drawn novel about a nation torn between ancient customs and modern possibilities, and is a "vivid, heartfelt portrait of faith, love and life for one family during a pivotal time in history"

My Thoughts:
WOW! This was my first voyage to Korea ... and after reading this book, I cannot WAIT to go back! I'll be honest, I really did not know a whole lot about Korea's history before reading "The Calligrapher's Daughter" but as I was reading, I found myself constantly wanting to know more. So I would feel the need to tear myself away from the story and hit the history books to discover more about what I was reading about in the story. I absolutely love it when historical-fiction books inspire me to learn more about the actual history (... yes I am a bit of a history nerd). 

I love how Ms. Kim weaves both the ancient and the pre-war modern Korean history into a harsh yet compelling, beautiful narrative. It was full of personal and national suffering, both of which seem unbearable - yet they persevered through faith, family and tradition. 

Najin is a very strong character with her own struggles. She struggles to maintain traditions in an ever changing, and modernising, world. She has dreams of getting an education and working (both modern thinking), yet she wants to be the good Korean daughter and wife (traditional) at the same time. 

I was amazed to find out after reading the novel that it was actually based on her mother's life. 

I would highly recommend this novel - it was absolutely breathtaking and it was extremely hard to put it down. Love, love, love!