The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, by Gail Tsukiyama
In this WWII- and post-war-era story that takes place in Japan, two orphaned brothers were growing up with their grandparents. Tall, strong Hiroshi is drawn to the tradition of sumo, while younger, sensitive Kenji wants to be an artisan and create masks for the Noh theater. When the war hits, their plans are put on hold. This sweeping saga covers 30 years. Tsukiyama, who is part Japanese and part Chinese, paints a clear picture of what it was like to live in Japan during the war. Because of my fondness for Japan, I enjoyed learning more about sumo and Noh theater, and perhaps might have a greater appreciation than other readers for the Japanese language and culture woven so artistically through this book. It doesn't move particularly quickly, but it's beautifully told. It's more of an artistic story than a gripping tale. My only grievance with this book was for someone who usually writes such strong female characters (I greatly enjoyed Tsukiyama's Women of the Silk and The Language of Threads), the female characters were lacking substance.
The Chosen One, by Carol Lynch Williams
While recovering from another ear surgery, I decided to try out some young adult books in the hopes that they would retain my attention better. The Chosen One is the story of Kyra, who is the second-oldest daughter of her father, who has three wives. She is a member of The Chosen Ones, a fundamentalist Mormon, polygamist compound, which is tightly run by the dictator, "Prophet" Childs. The prophet has decreed that Kyra, at age 13, will marry her Uncle Hyrum, older brother to her own father (in his 60s, with three wives). Although her father is against it, the family has no choice. The prophet rules the compound with an iron, violent hand, forbidding anyone from reading or disobeying his orders. Kyra must decide if she will leave her own family forever to be free. Either choice has enormously heavy consequences, not just for her but for the people who help her.
Bruised, by Sarah Skilton
This book is about 16-year-old Imogen, a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, who is a witness to an armed robbery and shooting in a diner. She feels completely responsible when the gunman is shot and killed by the police. Imogen becomes self-destructive and nothing really moves her except for Ricky, the boy who was also there in the diner that night. She is just flat out angry at life, and after the diner incident occurs, this feeling intensifies. When Imogen finds herself attracted to Ricky, she enters a huge internal battle about love and strength. Can someone love you and want to protect you? Can she allow herself to feel vulnerable? Can Ricky allow Imogen to be just as strong as he is? This book was worth the effort. It's an excellent first novel by Skilton, also a black belt in Tae Kwon Do.