A Daughter of the Samurai

In My Book Club Books on October 11, 2016 at 5:18 pm

The Literary Epicurean Book Club Selection

October 9, 2016


by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto

Book Description (Courtesy of Goodreads):

A Daughter of the Samurai tells the true story of a samurai’s daughter, brought up in the strict traditions of feudal Japan, who was sent to America to meet her future husband. An engrossing, haunting tale that gives us insight into an almost forgotten age.
Madam Sugimoto was born in Japan, not in the sunny southern part of the country which has given it the name of “The Land of Flowers,” but in the northern province of Echigo which is bleak and cold and so cut off from the rest of the country by mountains that in times past it had been considered fit only for political prisoners or exiles.

Her father was a Samurai, with high ideals of what was expected of a Samurai’s family. His hopes were concentrated in his son until the son refused to marry the girl for whom he was destined and ran off to America. After that all that was meant for him fell to the lot of the little wavy-haired Etsu who writes here so delightfully of the things that happened in their childhood days in far-away Japan.

My Thoughts:

I found this book absolutely fascinating and highly informative. Through the well chosen words of the author who was born into it, I got a glimpse of aristocratic life and traditions of nineteenth century Japan. While many of the customs mentioned are now outdated, they clearly show the foundation that influenced the Japanese people of today. The author’s later move to America and how she viewed our culture was equally interesting. Two parts that were especially memorable to me were her first experience with meat and first experience with gum, both told in great detail and both highly entertaining.

Book Club Discussion:

Considering most of us thought that this book might be on the dry side (which it wasn’t at all!), we had a very rich discussion and high praise for it.

It is a simple retelling of moments in the author’s life, both in Japan and then in the United States. She experienced not only the shifting of life in Japan in the early 20th Century, but also the transition of culture from Japan to the United States when she moved there with her husband. Her life in Japan with its many rituals and emphasis on holding emotions in check was quite a contrast to her life in America. We were quite taken by those chapters that detailed how she adapted. Though she started life with strict adherence to tradition and living somewhat in a well ordered, predictable bubble, she underwent tremendous change, which, most remarkably, did not seem accompanied by any inner turmoil.

We had detailed discussion about and appreciation for how different Japanese ways are in terms of how they act and think compared to Americans. None of us thought we would appreciate what we saw as the Japanese way of telling you how to live your life, but we have complete admiration for the Japanese qualities of attention to detail, their level of civility and graciousness, and their manners.

She had an interesting writing style in that she told her stories somewhat like a person looking in. Some parts confused us because she seemed to have skimmed over some important details (like when her husband died) and the reader had to do some inferring in order to catch it. All of us being teachers, we especially appreciated her chapters that revolved around her education and how her personality came out more, as well as the chapter that told about how important the education of her daughters was to her and how she had to subtly push that point with her family when she returned to Japan. We especially appreciated the last chapter and her last line: “The red barbarians and the children of the gods have not yet learned each other’s hearts; to them the secret is still unknown, but the ships are sailing-sailing—–” However, at least one member was very disappointed that there was no answer to her burning question about how the author became a professor.

All in all, we enjoyed this memoir that gave us a glimpse into the samurai era in Japan when warriors, wives, and children were required to follow a rigid code of ethics and behaviors, and we came away with a better understanding of the traditions and ways of Japan that permeate the culture today.

Book Club Rating:

Book Club Menu

Japanese Rice Crackers and Mochi

Miso Soup

Green Salad with Miso Dressing

California Sushi Rolls, Grilled Chicken, Beef, and Salmon, and Rice

Green Tea Ice Cream and Japanese Cookies

Ghost (Track 1)

In YA Book Reviews on September 8, 2016 at 10:30 pm


by Jason Reynolds

Realistic Fiction/©2016/180 pages/First in a series (Track)/Recommended for ages 10+

Publisher’s Info (Courtesy of Goodreads):

Ghost wants to be the fastest sprinter on his elite middle school track team, but his past is slowing him down in this first electrifying novel of a brand-new series from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award–winning author Jason Reynolds.

Ghost. Lu. Patina. Sunny. Four kids from wildly different backgrounds with personalities that are explosive when they clash. But they are also four kids chosen for an elite middle school track team—a team that could qualify them for the Junior Olympics if they can get their acts together. They all have a lot to lose, but they also have a lot to prove, not only to each other, but to themselves.

Ghost has a crazy natural talent, but no formal training. If he can stay on track, literally and figuratively, he could be the best sprinter in the city. But Ghost has been running for the wrong reasons—it all starting with running away from his father, who, when Ghost was a very little boy, chased him and his mother through their apartment, then down the street, with a loaded gun, aiming to kill. Since then, Ghost has been the one causing problems—and running away from them—until he meets Coach, an ex-Olympic Medalist who blew his own shot at success by using drugs, and who is determined to keep other kids from blowing their shots at life.

My Thoughts:

What a great book! I loved everything about it – including the clever chapter titles (all of which start with “World Record for the…”). The writing is just amazing, the plot is thoughtful and engaging, and the characters are truly unique and so incredibly well developed that you feel you know them personally. Ghost (the main character) narrates the story in a way that will have you laughing and crying at frequent intervals throughout the book. That boy will work his way into your heart, and you will be rooting for him all the way. It is a quick, enjoyable read, and a great addition to the middle school library. Good to know that there are three more books in the series, each focusing on one of the other track team newbies.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars



In YA Book Reviews on September 6, 2016 at 12:59 am


By Tahereh Mafi

Middle Grade Fantasy/©2016/401 Pages/Stand Alone/Recommended for Middle Grades

Publisher’s Information (Courtesy of Goodreads):

The bestselling author of the Shatter Me series takes readers beyond the limits of their imagination in this captivating new middle grade adventure where color is currency, adventure is inevitable, and friendship is found in the most unexpected places.

There are only three things that matter to twelve-year-old Alice Alexis Queensmeadow: Mother, who wouldn’t miss her; magic and color, which seem to elude her; and Father, who always loved her. The day Father disappears from Ferenwood he takes nothing but a ruler with him. But it’s been almost three years since then, and Alice is determined to find him. She loves her father even more than she loves adventure, and she’s about to embark on one to find the other.

But bringing Father home is no small matter. In order to find him she’ll have to travel through the mythical, dangerous land of Furthermore, where down can be up, paper is alive, and left can be both right and very, very wrong. Her only companion is a boy named Oliver whose own magical ability is based in lies and deceit–and with a liar by her side in a land where nothing is as it seems, it will take all of Alice’s wits (and every limb she’s got) to find Father and return home to Ferenwood in one piece. On her quest to find Father, Alice must first find herself–and hold fast to the magic of love in the face of loss.

My Thoughts:

I have been a fan of Tahereh Mafi since her Shatter Me trilogy, and this book did not disappoint.  It is highly entertaining and masterfully written.  The characters are truly unique, and the plot is quite engaging. The ending of each chapter just begs the reader to continue on to the next. Fast paced, hilarious, and almost impossible to put down. In addition to being a story well told, it is also about friendship, being yourself and believing in yourself. It is a great addition to the middle school library.

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Favorite Quote:

“Alice knew that being different would always be difficult; she knew that there was no magic that would erase narrow-mindedness or iron out the inequities in life. But Alice was also beginning to learn that life was never lived in absolutes. People would both love her and rebuff her; they would show both kindness and prejudice. The simple truth was that Alice would always be different—but to be different was to be extraordinary, and to be extraordinary was an adventure. It no longer mattered how the world saw her; what mattered was how Alice saw herself. ”