Tami Recommends: The Island of Sea Women

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

First Line: An old women sits on the beach, a cushion strapped to her bottom, sorting algae that’s washed ashore. 

Summary: 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. They spend all their time together, as best friends do, sharing secrets, dreams, wishes and their shared plans for their futures. Life and circumstances have a way of altering the best of plans. Separated when they are married, they try to maintain their friendship until a tragic event drives them apart. 

Thoughts: Lisa See writes of relationships between women with such insight. Despite their circumstances, she always finds a way to make them triumph over pain, loss and political unrest. The women in her books are strong and resilient.

This book truly is a deep dive and was well-researched. I did not know about the haenyeo, their matricentric society or their culture. I learned a lot about its history through the context of the story. Korea has had a volatile relationship within its borders, with China and with the US yet remains a beautiful country with a rich history. I don’t know what I found more fascinating: the diving culture, the relationship of men and women in the society, the various occupiers/overseers of the country … I couldn’t put it down. The writing lets you feel the hurt and violence and yet allows you to contemplate the true nature of love and forgiveness over the course of a lifetime.

The Island of Sea Women taught me about a way of life I never knew existed and also about human suffering, redemption and forgiveness. 

FYI: (trigger warnings……murder, suicide, graphic war descriptions, abuse). The book covers a large time period through WW2, the Korean War and into the present. So many historical events and tragedies occur over that time period for this small spot in the world. 

What’s Ashley Reading?: The Arctic Fury

The Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister

First line: In the front row sit the survivors.

Summary: Virginia Reeve has spent years as a guide for settlers trying to cross the mountains to California until one day she receives a request for a new adventure. Upon meeting her new benefactor she learns that she is going to be leading a group of women into the arctic to find the ships and crew of the Terror and Erebus. Many men have tried and now it is time to let women try to succeed where the men failed. However, not everything turns out like Virginia and her hopeful crew had planned.

My Thoughts: I went into this book really excited because I loved the author’s debut novel, The Magician’s Lie. And I am not saying I didn’t like the book. I did. I found the story interesting and the setting fascinating but it just didn’t have the same magic as her first book. I liked how the author linked several very tragic events together in one book. Virginia kept referring to the Very Bad Thing. I guessed early on what this was but I liked that twist. I definitely did a lot of reading on the internet to get better informed about the true events behind the story.

One thing that surprised me was that there was very little time in the book dedicated to the actual time on the ice of the arctic. But the descriptions were stunning. I cannot imagine trying to spend time, especially months in the winter, in the arctic. I could tell that the author did research on survival skills, the time period and life on the ice.

FYI: Perfect for fans of historical fiction.

What’s Ashley Reading?: Becoming

Did you know that you can pick up voter registration forms and applications for advance voting ballots here at the library?  The elections are over but the forms are available all year round.  Just ask at the front desk. 

I do not follow politics very closely but I know that it is important to vote.  No matter who you are voting for it is your right and a way to help serve your country.

Michelle Obama, former First Lady of the United States, in her recent best selling book gives us a peek into her life in and out of the White House.  One of my favorite parts was that she focused on herself and her family rather than politics.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

First line: When I was a kid, my aspirations were simple.

Summary: In her memoir, former First Lady Michelle Obama tells her story from her childhood in the south side of Chicago to her years living in the White House. It is filled with stories of her family, career, and her life in the public eye.

Highlights: I absolutely loved this. The cover is beautiful. Her story is inspirational. Other reviewers have stated that it felt like having a conversation with a close friend. I felt the same way. I listened to the audiobook version where Michelle reads it herself. She is very open about her life.

I enjoyed hearing her stories of her family life in Chicago. I learned so much about her inside these pages. I knew very little about her. I do not follow a lot of politics. That was not my motivation behind reading this. I genuinely just wanted to hear her story. I am awed by her life. She grew up in an environment that is completely foreign to me. She is an intelligent and driven woman. It really shows that you can go from very poor beginnings to becoming one of the most recognizable women in the world.

Some of my favorite parts were her years in the White House. Upon one of their first visits to the Presidential home the Bush sisters showed them around and pointed out the fun parts of the mansion. As part of her role as First Lady she takes on several causes to support. She discusses her goals to help children around the country. The initiative to bring healthier meals to schools started with her own child. Michelle ended up starting a vegetable garden on the lawn of the White House. Local school children came in to help plant and take care of it.

No matter which side of the political universe you are on this book is about a woman. A woman who set goals for herself and achieved them.

“And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in.  Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us.  Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same.”

Lowlights: Nothing.

FYI: Listen to the audiobook. It is 19 hours but it is worth it.  We do not have a hard copy at the moment but you can find it on Sunflower eLibrary and RBDigital. But you also need to see the pictures so grab a copy of the book as well.  If you enjoyed this, check out Sisters First by Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager.

Book Review: The Masterpiece

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

First line: Clara Darden’s illustration class at the Grand Central School of Art, tucked under the copper eaves of the terminal, was unaffected by the trains that rumbled through ancient layers of Manhattan schist hundreds of feet below.

Summary: For Clara, a struggling artist and illustration teacher, Grand Central School of Art is a stepping stone in the hopes of greater things to come. She has dreams of working for Vogue as an illustrator. By moving to New York City, she left behind everything but so far, things have not turned out the way she had planned.

After her divorce, Virginia Clay has been trying to figure out how to support herself and her daughter after spending years as the wife of a powerful attorney. When she gets a job at Grand Central Terminal in the information booth, she does not realize how much it will change her life. She discovers a watercolor behind a cabinet in the old art school and it leads her on search for the artist and the history of the terminal.

Highlights: I really enjoyed the character of Levon. He was fiery and temperamental. He portrays the iconic angsty artist. He had a rich back-story and little quirks that made him stand out. I wish that he were a real person so I could see some of the work that Davis describes in her novel.

The descriptions of Grand Central were amazing. Google is my best friend when reading historical fiction. I am always pausing my reading to search for pictures or more information about places and characters. It is sad that the terminal was in such bad shape in the 70s and that at one point it was going to be torn down. I have never traveled to NYC but I have seen the station at Kansas City and if it is half as pretty as that, it would have been a shame to lose it.

I have enjoyed the time jumps in Davis’ work. I think the thing that makes her work so great. She is able to switch between characters and time while keeping the flow of the story. I have not read her second book, The Address, yet but I am on hold for it now.

Lowlights: The beginning was a little slow to start. Davis gave us some background on the characters plus some information about the time. Then the speed of the relationships went very fast. I was a little shocked by Virginia early on but she grew on me as I continued to read. One scene in particular stood out between Virginia and Dennis.

FYI: If you like this try the novels of Susan Meissner.