An unflinching, powerful memoir about growing up Korean American, losing her mother, and forging her own identity.
In this exquisite story of family, food, grief, and endurance, Michelle Zauner proves herself far more than a dazzling singer, songwriter, and guitarist. With humor and heart, she tells of growing up one of the few Asian American kids at her school in Eugene, Oregon; of struggling with her mother’s particular, high expectations of her; of a painful adolescence; of treasured months spent in her grandmother’s tiny apartment in Seoul, where she and her mother would bond, late at night, over heaping plates of food.
As she grew up, moving to the East Coast for college, finding work in the restaurant industry, and performing gigs with her fledgling band–and meeting the man who would become her husband–her Koreanness began to feel ever more distant, even as she found the life she wanted to live. It was her mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, when Michelle was twenty-five, that forced a reckoning with her identity and brought her to reclaim the gifts of taste, language, and history her mother had given her.
Vivacious and plainspoken, lyrical and honest, Zauner’s voice is as radiantly alive on the page as it is onstage. Rich with intimate anecdotes that will resonate widely, and complete with family photos, Crying in H Mart is a book to cherish, share, and reread.
My friends and I decided to do a bookclub on this book because as Asian Canadians, we thought we might relate. Each person had such a different relationship with their parents and I think that is what the core of this story came down to.
Crying in H Mart is about half-Korean half-white Michelle Zauner, as she gives her plain view on her grief and relationship with her mother and her mother’s death. The story revolves a lot around Korean food and the relationship they shared with food and the memories that created. A rough childhood with tough love quickly turns conflicted when her mother’s health takes a turn for the worse, bringing Michelle along an emotional journey where she is forced to confront her feelings for her mother.
The first in a YA political fantasy duology about a fierce princess determined to bring lasting peace to her kingdom regardless of the cost to her heart.
Princess Charis Willowthorn is the dutiful sword of Calera. Raised to be ruthless and cunning, her only goal is to hold her war-torn kingdom together long enough to find a path toward peace with their ancient foe, Montevallo, even if the cost is her own heart.
When violence erupts in the castle itself and an unseen enemy begins sinking Calera’s ships, Charis realizes a threat much greater than Montevallo is coming for her people. So she forms a plan. By day, she is Calera’s formidable princess intent on forging an alliance with Montevallo. By night, she disguises herself as a smuggler and roams the sea with a trusted group of loyalists, hunting for their new enemies. And through it all, there’s the one boy she can’t have—who guards her life but steals her heart.
But her enemies are much closer than Charis realizes, and her heart isn’t the only thing she has left to lose.
**Rise of the Vicious Princess comes out June 14, 2022**
Thank you Edelweiss and the publisher for this copy in exchange for an honest review
A solid book 1 in the latest from C.J. Redwine, Rise of the Vicious Princess truly lives up to its name.
Princess Charis Willowthorn is someone to reckon with. Groomed by her mother to be as ruthless as she is in leading a war torn country that is divided on their opinions about continued war, Charis has no choice but to rule while never trusting a soul and walking the loneliest road.
I personally took a little while to warm up to Charis. I understand her characterization and it was written well. But she’s not the most empathetic character to like because she does make the hard decisions, although I appreciated seeing the inner struggle she had while remaining impassive and poker-faced on the outside.
I grew to like her in the end for her savvy mind and courage in the face of danger. Someone is out to kill her, and with enemies both known and perhaps unknown, it’s hard to know who and if she could trust anyone.
What made this book REALLY stand out was the world created. The different kingdoms on the map are actually described and we really get to learn a little more about each as Charis tries to make allies with the other kingdoms surrounding hers.
While we don’t get to really explore the other places on the map as we mainly stick to Charis’ country of Calera, the other side of world building is incorporating the culture and people from such places. The representatives in the court from the various lands and the ways of the people shone through in this writing. At first it was a little confusing trying to keep names of people and places straight, but once the familiarity settled, I was intrigued by the politics of it all.
The synopsis is very true to word describing this book as a political fantasy. I wasn’t sure what that meant at first because I don’t think I’ve read many, but it does remind me of Laura Sebastian’s Ash Princess trilogy with the similarity of a protagonist trying to outmaneuver war tactics from the enemy. In fact, by the end of the book, this was my favourite part of it! I think Redwine wrote this amazingly, I was so swept up with the political games and trying to determine the moves and secrets the other kingdoms held.
Romance of course
Obviously a YA fantasy isn’t complete without a cute romance. I love stories where the protagonist falls for their bodyguard. There’s just something so genuine and sweet about it, appreciating the one who literally chooses to die for you. Of course, some do it because it’s their job, but it’s all the more romantic when it’s by choice from love or care.
I really enjoyed seeing the relationship unfold between Tal and Charis. I wasn’t quite feeling it at first, much like how I was feeling about the book, but after the one-third mark, I was really starting to get into the story after familiarizing myself with everything. He’s the sweetest, and won’t let her surliness get in his way of taking care of her needs, whether she wanted his help or not.
I will say I’m looking forward to whatever may unfold between them in book 2, but I’m not 100% sure where everything is going after that explosive ending.
So why isn’t this a 5 star rating? I’ve so far glowed about everything that I typically look for in a book. And it was good! Don’t get me wrong.
The issue definitely was the pacing. Learning all the politics and the details of the court, who to trust and who represented what kingdom, was taxing. It was necessary to get to the heart of the story but it took a while.
Speaking of a while, the whole synopsis bit about Charis being a smuggler at night also didn’t happen until closer to the halfway mark. There was a lot of set up so we could get to know Charis, her kingdom and her predicament before things went further haywire. Did I want it to happen a little faster? Sure. But I can also see the sense of taking a bit more time so things happened organically.
I think this story will amaze anyone who loves fantasy, the bodyguard romance trope, and secrets that aren’t initially predictable. If you don’t know what a political fantasy is, I would recommend checking it out to see if it’s for you. What I learned from reading this? I guess I really do enjoy political fantasies because it’s what made this book stick out.
Rise of the Vicious Princess defines the YA political fantasy genre, something I’m newer to, as we dive into this world full of conflict and enemies known and unknown. With a protagonist who has to hide her true feelings inside in order to present the ruthless outside she needs to rule a divided kingdom, I’m sure Charis will get your hearts to soften as she did to mine with time. The bodyguard romance trope is also present to sweeten the deal as they try to root out traitors and assassins from among them. The only downfall was the pacing, but once you get past the foundation laying, this story was intriguing to the end. A great introduction to political fantasy for those who are on the fence.
House of Earth and Blood meets The Witch’s Heart in Rebecca Ross’s brilliant first adult fantasy, set on the magical isle of Cadence where two childhood enemies must team up to discover why girls are going missing from their clan.
Jack Tamerlaine hasn’t stepped foot on Cadence in ten long years, content to study music at the mainland university. But when young girls start disappearing from the isle, Jack is summoned home to help find them. Enchantments run deep on Cadence: gossip is carried by the wind, plaid shawls can be as strong as armor, and the smallest cut of a knife can instill fathomless fear. The capricious spirits that rule the isle by fire, water, earth, and wind find mirth in the lives of the humans who call the land home. Adaira, heiress of the east and Jack’s childhood enemy, knows the spirits only answer to a bard’s music, and she hopes Jack can draw them forth by song, enticing them to return the missing girls.
As Jack and Adaira reluctantly work together, they find they make better allies than rivals as their partnership turns into something more. But with each passing song, it becomes apparent the trouble with the spirits is far more sinister than they first expected, and an older, darker secret about Cadence lurks beneath the surface, threatening to undo them all.
With unforgettable characters, a fast-paced plot, and compelling world building, A River Enchanted is a stirring story of duty, love, and the power of true partnership, and marks Rebecca Ross’s brilliant entry on the adult fantasy stage.
If I could use one word to describe A River Enchanted, it would be this: folklore. Cue the Taylor Swift music, please.
Although the synopsis makes it sound like there are only 2 protagonists, in reality, we follow 4 individuals pretty equally. This is Rebecca Ross’ foray into adult literature and I wasn’t sure at first what to expect from that. I love her YA fantasies so I hoped it would still be in the same vein but perhaps with different themes.
And boy, it was an interesting read indeed. I will quickly break down a couple of my thoughts that overall led to my rating.
Fortunately for me, the writing was just the way I remember it being in Rebecca’s YA novels, so if you fell in love with her writing in her past titles, this one’s still got it and more.
The prose was so descriptive and lush that it really brought forth this magical isle full of different spirits and the people who inhabit it. You can also tell that the author did her research because the language she uses, especially certain vocabulary, is definitely not what we would regularly in modern times. It fit the feel of the world, something separate from what we know here and now, and reminiscent of the Scottish wilds.
In this way, I was really drawn into the story and the characters, which is what I will talk about next.
MCs and their unique characterizations
From the 2 MCs I thought we would follow, it became 4, and I loved it even more that way. Jack and Adaira were childhood rivals and that tension was still somewhat there upon Jack’s return to the isle after a decade away on the mainland. These two are in their early twenties but I can see the influence of the YA tropes in their story. They felt younger and worried more about their relationship and their future in the clan.
On the other hand, Torin and Sidra (in their later twenties or early thirties I believe) really made the story fit into the adult genre more. I actually loved their romance more than Jack and Adaira’s. They wed it seemed out of convenience when Torin’s first wife died, but it didn’t necessarily mean there was love between them. Their worries focused on Torin’s young daughter with his first wife, a particularly important worry as the isle has been losing their young girls recently, a point I’ll get back to later.
While I’m normally a HUGE lover of all the teen tropes and coming of age stories, I rather enjoyed the other themes drawn into the book because we have a range of protagonists. Each voice was unique as each individual struggled with different things. Jack never belonged on the isle, even more so after his absence for so long, and he fought his insecurities all the time. Adaira had the weight of the clan on her shoulders as the heiress, and fought to do what was right by them at even her own personal cost.
Torin struggled to keep his family a priority while also sacrificing so much of himself to keep the entire clan safe from their rival clan across the border. There was a lot of guilt hanging over him and it was an interesting exploration. Lastly, Sidra was probably my favourite character and brought the struggle of faith to the forefront as it seemed the spirits she believed in her whole life, especially for her healing abilities, were letting her down with the loss of each girl.
When I think of adult books, I still want to know the characters instead of just stereotypes. I definitely feel Rebecca carries this in her writing regardless of genre and I’m so grateful for that.
Plot and its downfalls
So why wasn’t this a 5 star read like the last book I read from Rebecca Ross?
Simple. It really ends up at the plot. This is a fantasy book and they’re generally plot-driven. Preferably, the best kinds are balanced with plot and character, and the character component in this book I have already extolled as great.
The plot wasn’t complex, although I did enjoy the mysteries surrounding the missing girls. I loved the world building, don’t get me wrong, and I never felt like a load of information dump was placed on me at any time. Everything felt organic.
It just came about really slow. Essentially, Jack and Adaira attempt maybe 3 things to get a lead on who was stealing the girls, but it’s split apart by a lot of talking. Of course, this lends to the character building but it just didn’t move things along very well.
Likewise, Torin does a lot of searching the entire lands but all it leads to is more questions and some off-shoot tidbits that MAY lead somewhere in the next book. Can a girl just ask for a little more speed?
That’s not to say that the entire plot was bad. It definitely wasn’t, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong about a simple main plot line. I did like the “twists” that came about near the end with secrets starting to unfold. I’m super excited for book 2 to come out to see where it all goes, but as a book within itself, I feel the plot may lose people at times as our 4 MCs meander their way to solving the mystery.
A River Enchanted marks an excellent adult fantasy debut for Rebecca Ross with its lush storytelling and world building that draws you into this magical isle filled with spirits living among the inhabitants. I was definitely not disappointed to see such amazing characterizations of not 2, but in fact 4, protagonists as they navigate the disappearance of several young girls from their clan. It’s part mystery and part folklore awe that drives you to continue reading, although the pacing was rather slow for a good portion of it. If you can stick through the slower bits, which on the other hand allows for excellent character building, this story delivers a fascinating tale of rival clans, magic that harnesses the spirits, and relationships running deeper than blood.