Book Review: Spirit’s Princess by Esther Friesner

In Spirit’s Princess, we meet the little-known second century Japanese queen, Himiko, in Esther Friesner’s fictional narrative of Himiko’s girlhood. Himiko is recorded in Chinese history as a peaceful foreign queen. But other than the general consensus that she was also a shaman, very little is known about her.

In Friesner’s yarn, we meet Himiko of the Matsu (or pine tree) clan. She’s the only daughter of the Matsu chieftain, who has three wives and many sons. She especially idolizes her eldest brother, Aki. From the tender age of seven, Himiko is compassionate beyond her years, and hears the voices of spirits. Memorable were the chapters when she gets lost in the mountains and befriends a new tribe. Eventually, Himiko comes into full communion with the spirit world, and learns shaman customs and rituals. The novel ends on a cliffhanger, directing readers to the sequel.

Book Review: Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

geishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden is one of my all-time favorite novels. It is the story of a young, poor Japanese girl who is sold into a geisha district, and grows to become one of the topmost successful geisha. Beginning in the Great Depression, this is a work of historical fiction spanning across the World War II and post-World War II eras.

An exceptionally-written, character-driven, epic love story… a tale of rivalry and betrayal, full of history and culture, this novel has everything. Especially the character interactions and dialogue were exemplary: they were natural and realistic, advancing the plot and developing the characters, which— alongside the detailed cultural descriptions of Japanese history, customs and society in that era— made the experience of reading this novel feel real and remarkably researched. I strongly recommend this book!

Book Review: Dear America: Early Sunday Morning, The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows (Hawaii, 1941) by Barry Denenberg

earlysundayIt is 1941, and just as Amber Billows and her family are beginning to adjust to their new life in Washington, D.C. (after having moved between multiple other cities), Amber’s father, a quirky Harvard-educated reporter, announces that they are moving yet again, this time to the virtually unheard of U.S. territory of Hawaii. Amber is quick to be upset, but is also quick to adjust to her new life in fair-weathered, lovely Hawaii, especially as she makes friends with pretty and popular Kame, a Japanese-American girl from school. Life is quite ordinary, until the fateful morning when Amber is awoken by a deafening, high-pitched droning sound and her panicked mother calling her out of bed. From that moment on, everything changes in Hawaii, from citizens having to build bomb shelters and carry around gas masks, to waiting in hours-long lines for groceries, medical treatment, and gasoline. Worse, however, are the tragic deaths and wounded sufferings of the soldiers who were stationed at Pearl Harbor, as Amber learns while assisting her mother, a nurse, in treating these men at the hospital.

This is a very short book, and like all of Barry Denenberg’s books in this series, seems to end right in the middle of the story, and even the epilogue doesn’t tie up many of the loose ends. However, this is the best book by Denenberg that I have read so far. I enjoyed Amber’s uniquely flawed personality, the original personalities and relationship of her parents, and even the brief interactions between Amber, Kame, and Kame’s aunt. I did find it odd that Amber was so notoriously bad at writing and responding to her friends’ letters and found all sorts of ways to avoid it, yet wrote extremely detailed and long-winded diary entries. (Though perhaps this was Denenberg’s way of demonstrating Amber’s reluctance of closeness with others, as was frequently demonstrated in this narrative.) A surprisingly enjoyable book, and the December 7 entry is powerful and terrifying. The Historical Note is also extremely well-put and I actually learned more about why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor than I previously understood.