Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Mark of the Golden Dragon by L.A. Meyer (2011)

One more Jackie Faber adventure that starts in the orient where she gets swept off her boat in a major storm, everyone presumes her dead, but of course she survives with Ravi, her Indian boy. They end up in Burma, save a village from some nasty men, head off to Rangoon, where she lands in the house of Chopstick Charlie - Chan-Le. He is very wealthy and Jackie convinces him to let her bring some of his riches to the British Museum, where she hopes to gain a pardon. Her Jamie loses it when he thinks her dead and goes on a rampage.

I would say I learned less of history from this book, but still enjoyed her adventures. Jackie always picks up new skills in each adventure, but the only new skill I think she adopted here was belly dancing - which came in handy. Maybe she learned some of the oriental instruments. I did not quite understand why she kept up the hair style from her Chinese adventure of a shorn head and just a pigtail. It was great for shock value, but once in England it made no sense to me. I have to admit I think I like Lord Richard Allen the best of all her beaus. As she prances around the world, her crowd of friends (and a few enemies) grows.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Ten Suns. A Chinese Legend retold by Eric A. Kimmel. (1998)

Just a quick pick-me-up during a hard day. Once I saw the illustration and the title I immediately thought about ten sons and ten suns, and for a brief moment was wondering if I had forgotten which way to spell which. (That constant fear of Alzheimer's)

One of the many tales I have not heard. Mother Xi drives one of her ten sons to the eastern horizon, and then the son/sun would walk across the sky to warm all the people and living things. Just one at a time, as too many of them together would be too hot. But the sons/suns got bored of doing this by themselves....

Not sure if this is a system of gods. We have the great emperor (not capitalized) step in, then Hu YI, the Archer of Heaven (capiatlized). Ah he had once been a man and invented the bow and arrow. The gods placed him in the heavens among the constellations. (Orion?)

Wonderful illustrations by Yongsheng Xuan.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Invisible City by Julia Dahl (2014)

Rebekah Roberts is a joung journalist working as a stringer for "The Trib", a tabloid nestpaper in New York City (I vaguely remember an actual solid NYC paper The New York Herald Tribune, but it turns out it ceased publication in 1966). She is sent out to cover a woman's body found in a scrap metal place.

Very interesting look into the Hasidic Jewish community in New York, with references to the Catskills, where I have seen them in the town near my childhood camp. I do understand the need to stick together, as they have been persecuted so much throughout history, but it is really hard to read about the roles women are forced to play. What happens when someone starts questioning the strict rules of the community. Well at least here there was a safe house to go to and Rebekkah is able to get some answers by talking to the people there. 

At the same time, Rebekah is fighting her own internal demons, as her mother was a Hasidic Jew who fell in love with her father, but could not deal with the internal conflicts and abandoned them when Rebekah was very young. She has not seen or heard from her mother since. During the course of this story paths open where there is a possibility to meet her mother again.

How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny (2013)

I had to read this soon after the last one, as I was so distraught on how things were left, that Jean-Guy Beauvoir turned away from Inspector Gamache and even hated him. But Whew! things were resolved in this book.

The murder to be solved in this book is of Myrna's friend Constance, who is supposed to spend Christmas in Three Pines, but is found dead in Montreal. Myrna calls on Gamache to find why she didn't shop up. He learns she is one of the quints - quintuplets that were born 80 or so years ago and were quite famous. They had disappeared from the spotlight after their late teens, had changed their last names, and lived isolated lives. Throughout the other major things happening in the book, Gamache keeps tracing their lives to figure out who killed Constance. It also gives him an excuse to be traveling back to Three Pines.

But the major part of the book has been brewing for a long time. I would have to go back to the first book to see if their were any traces of it there, but there were always some problems between the administrators and Gamache. Then at some point it came out that he had gotten Pierre Arnot(sp?), head of the Surete du Quebec, arrested for corruption. The biggest event we got to read about a few books ago, was when Gamache and his team stopped the blowing up of a dam, with loss of lives on his team and Gamache and Beauvoir getting shot and taking a long time to recover. That too was connected with corruption at high levels. In this book we find that all of Gamache's trusted homicide investigators have been transferred out of his unit and replaced by young, disrespectful and incompetent men and it is only a matter of time that he is forced to resign. He only has Isabelle Lacoste to depend on. For this adventure he also pulls Ivette Nichole (sp?) out of the basement where he put her with her brilliant but warped mind, as she could not function as an inspector with him.

We are in familiar territory in Three Pines with the usual cast of characters, but even those are evolving, as Clara misses Peter, Ruth shows a softer side, and the house from the very first book becomes a home base for Gamache. I liked that the village made some of the bad guys feel uncomfortable, and accepted the new good guys with open hearts."How the light gets in" refers to things needing cracks, not being perfect, to have light come in. And lines from Ruth's poem get repeated a lot - What has hurt you so... (shoot, got to look them up again.)

At the end of the recorded book there was a conversation between the author and Ralph Cosham, the narrator of the books, who met for the first time. I was surprised to find that he reads the books cold - he doesn't read them ahead of time, he just starts recording, so he is as surprised by the turn of events as we are. But he too commented on the comfort he has with Three Pines. I would want to live there, except that they keep having these murders.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy (1995)

When I travel, I like to read books about the area that I am in. I was just in Vancouver and there was a used bookstore under my hotel, so I bought two books by Vancouver authors. This was one of them and a wonderful one at that.

I have read about Chinese and Japanese in western U.S., but there is also a substantial population across the border in Canada. This is a book about the Chinese in Vancouver around the time of the beginnings of World War II. They lived in a section of the city that was right next to current day downtown, so it was fun to recognize Hastings St., as I walked along it every day I was visiting. They kept up ties with China and were very distressed at the news of Japan waging war against China. I hate to admit that I know the basic fact that China and Japan have historically been enemies, but realizing it is another part of world history to explore. This war was constantly in the background of this novel, and the story ended soon after Pearl Harbor, with the Chinese happy that Americans will be joining in the fight against the Japanese.

The story is told from the point of view of three children - and I think the author did a great job getting into their mind set. The family consists of Father, Stepmother (second wife, actual mother to last two children, but grandma made the decision that she was to be called Stepmother), the Old One (grandma), First Brother Kiam, Second Brother Jung-Sum, Only Sister Jook-Liang and Third Brother Sek-Lung. I think Third Uncle lived with them too.

Liang tells her story from when she was five in 1933. She was taken care of her grandmother who she called Poh-Poh. Wong Bak, an old stooped man that was a friend of Poj-Poh, comes for dinner and for some reason Liang and he become companions. They go to the movies and do other things together and she likes to dance for him. He becomes her only friend when Poh-Poh ends up being very busy with Sek-Lung, who is a very sickly baby. But then he returns to China.

Jung's story was how he became the adopted son in the family. We learn how he acquired a pet turtle. He find his salvation in boxing and interested in sports in general. 

The last half of the book is Sek-Lung's or Sekky's story. His attachment is to the Old One who patiently nurses him to health. One of the many things I learned from this book was about the many dialects of Chinese that I have never thought about. I had heard of Cantonese and Mandarin, but it is a huge country with many dialects and different ways of talking among different classes of people. So Sekky laments on how confusing it is, but that the Old One and her friend Mrs. Lim speak many different languages, depending on the conversation partner. It is touching on how hard it is for him to accept, when the Old One dies, and he still sees her for a long time afterwards, and yes, I do believe he actually was seeing her. Through his eyes we see the coming on of WWII and the growing hatred of the Japanese living in Canada. Great description of Mrs. Lim's house that was built on a rocky cliff with a swaying but sturdy set of stairs leading up.

Having grown up in my own ethnic community, though it was not a physically close as this one, there are similarities, but I always have to remember that we are European and blend in with the white population of North America. The Chinese were not eligible to become citizens of Canada, even if they were born there. The keeping of traditions weighing against learning English and becoming Canadian. The kids went to English and Chinese schools, when possible. 

A deeply moving book and from the acknowledgements, looks like it was well researched.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi (2012)

A randomly picked up book from the library young adult section. Not bad. But of course, only the first in a trilogy. We have an earth divided into those that live in Pods, protected from the dangerous Aether or electrical storms that could destroy all in their path. All their basic needs are taken care of and to prevent boredom, they wear a Smarteye, through which they communicate and spend most of their waking hours in worlds of their choosing. Others have been left on the outside to fend for themselves. They appear to live in villages that try to survive by farming and hunting.Aria is from a Pod, a Dweller a Mole, Perry an Outsider or Savage. They meet briefly, when Aria ventures into a forbidden Pod containing a forest and fruit trees and when Soren, a boy from her Pod, attacks her, Perry rescues her. Aria gets cast outside after the incident, left to die. Perry finds her and they start their arduous adventure together - mistrusting and not understanding each other - until they do. I could not begin to explain Perry's situation, but his too is precarious. His brother is the leader of their village and has a son Talon, that Perry loves very much, but who is ill and getting weaker. At one point, the Dwellers kidnap Talon, and Perry feels it his duty to go rescue him. Aria's goal is to find her mother. Before she was exiled, she had not heard from her mother for a while, but a message had appeared in her Smarteye from her mother that she was unable to retrieve before all fell apart. Their goal is a haven of sorts headed by Marron, who could fix her Smarteye and help them towards their goals. On the way they have to deal with hunger, fatigue, the electric storms, cannibals, wolves, a strange child Cinder, but they do run into Perry's old friend Roar, which helps to have another person on their team, plus Aria can speak to him much more easily than Perry. Like this well enough to go look for the next book.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (2012)

This book was the winner of the 2013 Macavity Award for Best Mystery and I can see why. This is the first Armand Gamache book that has nothing to do with the small Quebec town of Three Pines. Instead all the action happens in a fictional monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, (St. Gilbert between the wolves) which is based on a real Benedictine monastery that was built to escape from anti-clerical laws in France in 1912. The fictional monastery was built by some of the first immigrants to Canada, hidden in the woods, but now discovered because of their chants.

One of the monks has been murdered, the abbot called the police and Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauvoir come to solve it. This is an order of monks sworn to silence, but who sing exquisite Gregorian chants and have gotten substantial funds from a recording the slain monk had made of their singing and put out into the world.. The chants are an important part of this story and it was fascinating to find out how music notation evolved. The book lulled me into a contemplative calm, as Gamache and Beauvoir get to know the monks and interview them for the investigation. It seems so unlikely that a monk would kill another, but something riled one of them to murderous heights. They discover a division among the monks - those who would like to make another recording, maybe even travel and perform, while others do not want to lose what they have in their quiet contemplation. For a while, I thought the book might become boring. Hah!

Flying in obnoxiously over the monastery, Gamache's highly disliked boss appears and stirs things up. Then a monk from the Vatican shows up, from the office that used to be the Inquisition. More disturbance. And the relationship between Gamache and Beauvoir gets tested. Old story lines from previous books rear their ugly heads and disturbed the peace of this intriguing and potentially low key mystery.

I do want to comment on the self sufficiency of the monks. They have their chores maintaining the buildings, taking care of the animals and vegetable garden. They use wild blueberries from the forest and coat them with chocolate for a product to barter with other monasteries and maybe sell. Not quite sure how they made it before they got the funds from the sale of the recording for putting in a geo-thermal unit and other improvements to the building. There is a small part of me that envies this kind of devotion and simple lifestyle.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Tha Nancy Mitford Omnibus by Nancy Mitford (1956)

Since the Mitford Murders was based on this real person and family, I though I would read something of what Nancy Mitford wrote. I only started reading"the Pursuit of Love" the first of three pieces in this omnibus. I found it very similar to the recent Jessica Fellowes book - a similar household with many children, where the girls are looking at who they are going to marry and lie about going to sleep over a girlfriend's house, but go to a dance instead. Fellowes does add in the mystery element, which made that book more engaging. I don't have a problem not finishing a book and don't regret picking this one up and glad that it was in our library.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (2013)

I had read about this and when my audio book guy recommended it as being Daniel Silva like, I went with it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We have Nate Nash, CIA agent who is handling one of the greatest sources the U.S. has ever had in Russia - Marble. He is young, intuitive and working hard to keep from having to work with his father and brothers in the law business. Things go wrong in Moscow and he is reassigned to Helsinki.

Dominika Egorova is a unique woman, who sees music and people's emotions as colors. She became a dancer, but an injury cuts short her dance career and when her father dies at the same time, her KGB/SVR uncle Vanya pulls her into the Russian spy service. She goes through the training including Sparrow school, where she is taught to seduce and is sent off to seduce Nate. Her reading of people by the colors they emanate is useful for reading their intentions, often full of lies in the spy business. And then she meets Nate....

This is a reminder that the two super powers are back in a cold war state, though we don't talk of it in that way anymore. Latvia was mentioned briefly as a place to fly through or that the Baltics were a sore point for Putin. the book ends in Estonia.

At the end of each chapter there is a recipe from the story - whether they ate at a restaurant, or one of the characters cooked. I had to go get the print copy from the shelves in our library, so I can look through the recipes, as some sounded really good. They don't have quantities, but they have method, and some things I have already made. The range is wide from Russian dishes, to American, Greek, Thai, Italian and many more.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (1962)

I read this book when I was young, maybe high school, and really liked it. After I saw the movie, I wanted to reread the book, but it has taken me some time, so now I have to go see the movie again. I just remember Oprah being one of the trio of spirits or witches.

The book no longer seems so amazing, but realizing that it was written over 50 years ago, and all the fantasy books I have read since that built on the foundations that LÄ’ngle established, yea it is pretty cool. 

Meg lives with her scientist mother and younger brother Charles Wallace. Their astrophysicist father has been missing for a few years and they don't know if he will be coming back. Charles Wallace discovers Mrs. Whatsit in the woods behind their house. Calvin, an older boy from school is drawn to join them, and with the help of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs. Which, they go off into other worlds to find and rescue their father. Calvin and Charles Wallace each have their strengths, but it is Meg that has to keep everyone together.