Monday, April 27, 2020

The Body: A Guide for Occupants

Author:  Bill Bryson
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2019. 464 pages.
ISBN:  0385539304 / 978-0385539302

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Long ago, when I was a junior high school student in Iowa, I remember being taught by a biology teacher that all the chemicals that make up a human body could be bought in a hardware store for $5.00 or something like that."

Favorite Quote:  "The paradox of genetics is that we are all very different and yet genetically practically identical."

The word miracle is found only ten times in a search of an e-book version of The Body. Yet, it seems to me to be the central theme of this work. "That is the miracle of life. We pass our existence with this warm bobble of flesh and yet take it almost entirely for granted." What makes this theme more interesting is that it accompanies a book that is science-driven and at times makes comments on how aspects of the body could have or should have been better engineered. This is a book not about faith but yet centered on the idea of a miracle.

Bill Bryson sets out this foundation and then creates a lesson in all the amazing things about the human body that are taken for granted from birth to death. It delves into all the things that function together to make life possible and the things that can go very, very wrong. "The miracle of human life is not that we are endowed with some frailties but that we aren't swamped with them." The book highlights all the things about the body that are understood and all the many more that are still a mystery.

The book begins with a humbling thought. "That is unquestionably the most astounding thing about us - that we are just a collection of inert components, the same stuff you would find in a pile of dirt. I've said it before in another book but I believe it's worth repeating:  the only thing special about the elements that make you is that they make you. That is the miracle of life."

The book then goes through twenty-three chapters through various aspects of our bodies - the brain, chemistry, immune system, food, birth, and the appropriately named final chapter - The End. Through each chapter are numerous facts, scientific anecdotes, and social commentary. At the end of the book is a thorough set of notes on sources and an extensive bibliography.

As with Bill Bryson's other books, this one has very much the feel of a journey through the body. Like a journey, the book does seem to take side trips throughout, wandering to many aspects related to the topic at hand. One of my favorite aspects of sharing any journey are pictures. That is something this book is lacking. It contains no illustrations, which would have been beneficial. At the same time, would that then have made the book more like a textbook? I did find myself looking up some illustrations, but that did not lessen my enjoyment of the book.

Presumably, you would only pick up this book if you are interested in the topic. So, I am predisposed to like it. As a reader in a non-scientific profession, I do not see myself reading scientific or academic journals and textbooks. Yet, I am interested in learning more. This book finds the perfect balance of being easy to read yet full of researched information which adds credibility and provides resources for those wishing to delve deeper. For me, this "trip" through the human body is well worth the time.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay

Title:  Sunrise on Half Moon Bay
Author:  Robyn Carr
Publication Information:  MIRA. 2020. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0778310094 / 978-0778310099

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and a publisher's blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Adele Descaro's mother passed away right before Christmas."

Favorite Quote:  "I am strong. I'm glad I'm strong. But my strength doesn't mean you or anyone has the right to treat me with such terrible, heartless malice."

Two sisters. One is married, has children, and a career as a lawyer. The other returned home years ago from college because of an unplanned pregnancy and an ill parent needing care.

Justine is the older sister. She is married, has two children, and has a successful, high-pressure career in law. Her husband Scott is the stay-at-home dad. Her daughters are teenagers soon headed off to college. Adele is the younger sister by about twenty years. She was pursuing a graduate degree, when an unfortunate romance and her parents' illness brought her home to Half Moon Bay, California. She stayed, both to heal and to care for her mother. Adele provided the care, and Justine provided the finance.

Eight years later, the marriage is in shambles, and the caretaking duties are at an end. Both sisters find themselves at a crossroads in life with the opportunities and the challenges presented by the need to start over.

My least favorite part of the book is the romance. I enjoy stories of strong women, making independent choices, and raising each other up. A loving relationship can be a beautiful part of a woman's life. In a story, it depends on the balance between the story of the women and the romance. This book finds a balance with even the romance being based first on friendship and collaboration. Unfortunately, it does incorporate one physical scene; that I am definitely not the reader for. On the other hand, the book for the most part goes where you might expect it, and with the ending you might expect it to have.

An interesting and unusual aspect of the book is the depiction of an unhealthy, abusive relationship in which the roles of the abused and the abuser are not the ones typically depicted. This sets me off to do some research to learn about the frequency such as the one described. I find that cases of abuse in which a man is a victim, as depicted in the book, occur frequently but are not as talked about as the much greater prevalence of domestic violence against women. Male victims often have a much harder time acknowledging the abuse and a harder time accessing resources because health care and other professionals may not as readily question a male as to whether injuries may be the result of abuse.

My favorite part of the book is the integration into the story of a workforce re-entry program for women. "They've all been held captive, of their own free will, of course, and yet when set free, they are lost. It didn't really matter if they were homemakers, moms, caregivers, whatever - suddenly they need work and have nowhere to turn." The challenges to re-entry can seem insurmountable and the counseling and resources these programs provide can be invaluable. The program not only impacts Adele directly in the story. In addition, through her experience, the book portrays the myriad of situations and demographics that the programs support.

Overall, the book is a beach read set in a lovely beach town. It does, however, incorporate enough substance to send me to do some research on some of the issues it highlights.

Sunrise on Half Moon Bay
Blog Tour

Author: Robyn Carr

ISBN: 9780778309482

Publication Date: April 14, 2020

Author Bio:

Robyn Carr is an award-winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than sixty novels, including highly praised women's fiction such as Four Friends and The View From Alameda Island and the critically acclaimed Virgin River, Thunder Point, and Sullivan's Crossing series. Virgin River is now a Netflix Original series. Robyn lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. Visit her website at

Book Summary:

Sometimes the happiness we’re looking for has been there all along…

Adele and Justine have never been close. Born twenty years apart, Justine was already an adult when Addie was born. The sisters love each other but they don’t really know each other.

When Addie dropped out of university to care for their ailing parents, Justine, a successful lawyer, covered the expenses. It was the best arrangement at the time but now that their parents are gone, the future has changed dramatically for both women.

Addie had great plans for her life but has been worn down by the pressures of being a caregiver and doesn’t know how to live for herself. And Justine’s success has come at a price. Her marriage is falling apart despite her best efforts.

Neither woman knows how to start life over but both realize they can and must support each other the way only sisters can. Together they find the strength to accept their failures and overcome their challenges. Happiness is within reach if only they have the courage to fight for it.

Set in the stunning coastal town of Half Moon Bay, California, Robyn Carr’s new novel examines the joys of sisterhood and the importance of embracing change.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Seven Letters

Title:  Seven Letters
Author:  J P Monninger
Publication Information:  Griffin. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1250187699 / 978-1250187697
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Irish tell a story of a man who fell in love with a fairy woman and went with her to live on an island lost to time and trouble."

Favorite Quote:  "Love must always have its own island."

Seven Letters begins with a lovely prologue of a man, a fairy, an island, and a love lost. This eerie beginning sets up high expectations for this book. The setting around the Blaskets, a group of uninhabited islands off Ireland's western coast furthers that expectation of a mystical, haunting tale. Unfortunately, none of the expectations come even close to fruition. There is a complete disconnect between the prologue and the rest of the story.

The story is much more modern and much more pragmatic. Kate Moreton teaches as a PhD candidate at Dartmouth, but she is on sabbatical to continue her thesis research on-site at the Blasket Islands. Her family has a connection to the islands, and her research is personal. That "research" ends up in a University provided apartment and a library cubicle. The on-site part of the research is not really on-site. Unfortunately, the book is not about that history or that research. It is not about the myth, folklore, or beauty of Ireland at all.

In Ireland, Kate meets Ozzie. Ozzie is American but Irish by heritage. He is also a veteran who carries the scars of war. There meeting is an instant love story, and that is where the story stays. A story of Irish folklore turns into a story of modern love.

That could be a fine story on its own. Unfortunately, Kate ends up not a very likable character. The character comes across as somewhat shallow and very self-centered. In her own words, she acknowledges, "I had been so intent on my own needs, my own petty academic career, my need for tidiness, that I had never seen what he needed from me." Unfortunately, the bulk of the book centers on her. Ozzie and his voice are missing from this book. His story is told through Kate's eyes, which conveys how it impacts her but not what his story actually is. So, the self-centered approach of that character is never broken or balanced by another perspective.

The love story turns again, becoming a darker story of the impact of war on returning soldiers and the plight of refugees. Yes, that is correct. The book begins with Irish folklore and ends up somewhere completely different. Again, this story is not told as it impacts those at the heart of it. The book sadly remains completely Kate's tale, even to the very end.

The letters in the book are less symbolic and inherent to the story than the title you might expect. They range from Dartmouth's approval of Kate's sabbatical to an attorney's letter to one that does not appear to be a letter at all. Once again, the expectation from the prologue is to be moved by these letters and for them to perhaps capture the love story. A couple are "love letters" but again fail to capture the promise of the beginning.

Finally, I am not entirely sure I understand the ending. Did that actually happen? It is unclear, and unfortunately, other than a general curiosity, I am not sure I really care. Clearly, I was not the reader to whom this book spoke.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Truths I Never Told You

Title:  Truths I Never Told You
Author:  Kelly Rimmer
Publication Information:  Graydon House. 2020. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1525804650 / 978-1525804656

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley and the Harlequin Trade Publishing's 2020 Spring Read blog tour free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "I am alone in a crowded family these days, and that's the worst feeling I've ever experienced."

Favorite Quote:  "I finally discovered that the love I have for my children is the most powerful thing on earth. It's fierce and determined and an absolute force to be reckoned with. I would do anything for them. On a good day I know that I am far from a perfect mother, but I am all they have, and all I can do is to make sure that I expend every breath trying to do my best."

Grace Walsh is a young woman in the 1950s. Young love and idealism lead to marriage against her parent's wishes.  An idealistic marriage leads to the responsibilities of adult life and not quite the partnership Grace envisions. Marriage also leads to pregnancy - multiple, back to back pregnancies. Pregnancy leads to 4 young children. Pregnancy and childbirth also leads to post-partum depression, an illness not acknowledged or given a name. Post-partum depression leads to desperate decisions. Her children believe she died in an accident.

Beth Walsh is Grace's youngest child. She and her husband have battled issues of infertility and are now the parents of baby Noah. It is 1996. Beth is a therapist and is surrounded by the love and support of her husband and her siblings. Now that she is a mother, she is completely unsure if motherhood is for her.

Maryanne is Grace's younger sister. She has always walked a path different than Grace's. She seeks to be independent and to make her own decisions at a time when that is not entirely acceptable.

Patrick Walsh - Grace's husband and Beth's father - is the man with whom the story begins. Beth's father is dying, and Beth takes on the task of cleaning out his now empty house. What she and her siblings discover is beyond anything they could have imagined. They discover a mystery of their own childhood.

Through the stories of Grace and Beth, this book tackles the serious issues of a woman's right to choose, motherhood, post-partum depression, and other topics surrounding women's rights over their bodies. It also emphasizes the stigma associated with mental illness - for a lack of acknowledgment, to a lack of understanding, and to negative labeling. At the same time, the book highlights the critical role of family and societal support in women's choices and in the treatment of mental illness. The women's' stories traverse the range of that support:

  • "Loneliness is so much worse than sadness, because loneliness, by definition, cannot be shared."
  • "This is our family's tragedy, and we each play a part in the suffering. By sharing it, we can survive it, because we subconsciously remind one another that one day soon, this will end, and we'll still be standing side by side."

What I love about the book is its compelling cover and the fact that it gives voice to the issue of post-partum depression - a very real illness often dismissed as the "baby blues." I also love that it pictures the impact of family support and the lack of that support. I do not know the science behind the idea that postpartum depression has a genetic component, but perhaps now I may research the topic.

My only hesitation about the book is that by the end, I feel like it tries too hard and in too many ways to make its point. Grace, Beth, and Maryanne and the different paths they take and the dramatic conclusions to some of their stories seem too much. The point is definitely made, but the same point would have been made without that drama. Nevertheless, the book remains a memorable story about an important issue not often written about.

Truths I Never Told You
Blog Tour

Author: Kelly Rimmer

ISBN: 9781525804601, 152580460X

On Sale Date: April 14, 2020

Author Bio:

Kelly Rimmer is the worldwide and USA TODAY bestselling author of Before I Let You Go, Me Without You, and The Secret Daughter. She lives in rural Australia with her husband, two children and fantastically naughty dogs, Sully and Basil. Her novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Please visit her.

Author Q&A:

Q: What inspired you to write Truths I Never Told You?
A: The idea behind the story started with a curiosity about post-partum depression. I heard the statistic that one in five women develop the condition after the birth of a child and I was so shocked by it. I thought to myself—given how common this is, why don’t we talk about it?

Q: Which character do you relate to the most in Truths I Never Told You?
A: Most of us feel like victims of our circumstances at some point during our lives, at least for brief periods of time. I’ve certainly felt that way before—but writing a character like Grace, who lived in time where she had very little choice over how her life unfolded, really put that feeling into perspective for me. I loved writing the character of Beth too. To me she is loyal, loving and brave—but also ultimately humble and willing to be vulnerable. Despite that, my favorite character in this book was Maryanne—she’s fierce and determined and so courageous in her pursuit of change and knowledge, and that extends to a willingness to learn harsh lessons from life itself. Although Maryanne makes some heartbreaking decisions along the way, she always remains true to her values. A groundbreaking feminist like Maryanne represents something of a bridge between Grace’s powerlessness and the easier access Beth has to a life she can control. 

Q: What message do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: I hope that the story encourages people to talk more about how difficult early motherhood can be, and to be more aware of how new mothers in their lives might be feeling isolated or struggling.

Q: Do you plan your books in advance or let them develop as you write?
A: I’m a compulsive planner – I always know exactly where the story is going to go, before I actually start writing it. I’d never finish writing a book if I tried to wing it, and I’m so impressed by writer friends who can just fly by the seat of their pants!!

Q: Have you ever had a character take over a story, and if so, who was it and why?
A: Because I plan my books, I tend not to let my characters run away with the plot too much, but the way they engage with the action and make the plots unfold sometimes surprises me.

Q: Which one of the characters in this novel was the hardest to write and why?
A: It was very difficult to put myself into Grace’s shoes. Even writing a character with depression is challenging, but trying to immerse myself in the world of a woman who was so isolated with her struggle and so unsupported by her broader community was heartbreaking. I interviewed more than a dozen women as I was researching for Grace and Beth’s stories, and I have so much admiration for them and for all women who walk a journey with postpartum depression.

Q: What does a day in the life of Kelly Rimmer look like?
A: Every day is different, especially at the moment when I’m self isolating at home and trying to school my children too!! I always try to fit in some time outside either tending to the garden or walking the trails on our property, but beyond that, it’s generally an unpredictable mix of reading, writing, teaching and cooking or cleaning.

Q: What do you use to inspire you when you get Writer’s Block?
A: I try to have two manuscripts on the go at any one time. If I get really stuck, I just switch books. I also skip scenes if they aren’t coming easily. For me, finishing a draft is all about momentum – so if I hit a point in the story where I can’t quite keep the words flowing, I’ll just write around it and come back to it later.

Q: What has been the hardest thing about publishing? What has been the most fun?
A: I still really love the way it feels to picture a story, and the challenge of trying to translate the ideas in my mind into words on the page will always thrill me. It’s taken a while for me to learn how to balance that creative side with the more pragmatic aspects to publishing. As a writer at home tapping away at your keyboard, you’re master of the story and it’s an intoxicating power – but as an author working with a whole team of people at your publisher, you have to learn how to be flexible. I’ve slowly learned that for my books to be as good as they can be, I don’t just need to endure editorial feedback, I need to learn to relish it. When I’m immersed in the story, I just can’t see the big picture the way my editors can. The author’s name goes on the spine, but the best books are the result of the work of a whole team of people at the publishing house too. 

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The Call of the Wild

Title:  The Call of the Wild
Author:  Jack London
Publication Information:  Macmillan. 1903. 232 pages. (original
ISBN:  None for the original Multiple others.

Book Source:  I read this book through the Serial Reader app.

Opening Sentence:  "Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from  Puget Sound to San Diego."

Favorite Quote:  "He had lessoned from Spitz, and from the chief fighting dogs of the police and mail, and knew there was no middle course. He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in primordial life. It was misunderstood for fear, and such misunderstandings made for death. Kill or be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law; and this mandate, down out of the depths of Time, he obeyed."

My original memory of The Call of the Wild by Jack London is high school English. At that time, my student brain revolted against the idea. This was the story about a dog and his self-actualization. The discussion of the lessons of the book and the emotions of the book escaped me. This was an assignment I had to get through. That was all. It was a "classic" because I was told it was a classic. The teenage me was clearly not the reader for the book. However, even at that time, it left enough of an impact that I remember it still.

Recently, the book has made the headlines for the new movie version recently released. Although I have not seen the movie, I have seen the previews and seen the "PG" rating. Clearly, the movie turns the story into a family-friendly adventure set amid the beautiful frontier scenery.

That brings me back to the original book. The story is about Buck, a loved dog, growing up in sunny California. The Alaskan gold rush creates a market for dogs of breeds that can survive the harsh conditions and do the work required. Buck is stolen and sold. So begins his Alaskan saga. He experiences hardship, abuse, treachery but also love and caring. With each passing day, he also experiences the call of the wild - a calling to his animal instincts away from the bounds of human connection. Sometimes, he responds. Sometimes, he is kept from it by force. Sometimes, he himself returns out of love.

For a story about a dog, the emotions and the bonds that anchor us make this a very human tale. Buck learns the lesson of eat or be eaten. "In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them." However, even for him, actions are exacerbated by anger and tempered by love. In that, Buck becomes a memorable character - dog or human.

It is always interesting to reread books. It defines for me how much my reaction to a book is determined by where I am in my life and all the experiences that have brought me to that point. This book is no different.

This time around, this book is not just a story about a dog. Nor is it the sanitized version I envision the movie is. It is, however, an amazing tale that conveys adventure and emotion and leaves me with thoughts of nature vs nurture and of determining or becoming who you are meant to be. In short, it is a story I have remembered from high school days, but it is this reading and my reaction that will now stay with me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The World That We Knew

Title:  The World That We Knew
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2019. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1501137573 / 978-1501137570

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "If you do not believe in evil, you are doomed to live in a world you will never understand."

Favorite Quote:  "People said love was the antidote to hate, that it could mend what was most broken, and give hope in the most hopeless of times. That time was now."

Set in 1941 in Europe, the book begins with the question of what a mother would do to save her child. The answer is anything. A mother's love and desire to protect a child stands larger and steadfast than any faith, any commandment, and any opposition.

Hanni is a Jewish mother who sees the destruction and almost certain death that is all around her. Her only wish is not for herself. Rather, her one goal is that her daughter Lea should escape and live. Hanni cannot leave her own aging mother. So, who is to guide and protect Lea. The answer comes from the Jewish faith in the creation of a golem.

In Jewish mythology, a golem is created of clay but brought to life through magic. A golem exists only for the purpose its creator gives it. It is to cease to exist once that purpose is fulfilled. In this story, the golem created is Ava, and the creator is Ettie, the daughter of a rabbi. The rabbi's wife refuses the original requests, but Ettie, who has her own visions of escape from the atrocities she sees around me, does what her father will not.

With the golem Ava's protection, Lea finds her way to Paris to a distant family member. In that household are three young people - Victor, Julien, and Marianne.

Through the experiences of Ava, Ettie, Julien, Lea, Marianne, and Victor, this story depicts the horror of war. At the same time, the story also depicts love - between individuals and also of those who in their own way worked against the horror of war to save those they could. It is also a story of love in the sacrifices one is willing to make for those we love.

A third layer to the story is the mystical, surreal story of Ava itself. There is a children's story titled The Velveteen Rabbit. It is about an object and a little boy. It is about love, and it is about what "real" means. The idea of Ava's story beckons the lessons of that children's story.

In this way, the story of war manages to convey belief and hope and new beginnings. "He and ... had decided they would go to New York, where anything was possible. They wanted a new world, one where the future could be made by anyone who wished to do so, a country made by immigrants."

There is symbolism - particularly that of the heron - in the book that I still do not understand. I wish I could find the explanation of why a heron. The magical realism of the golem, the heron, and the angel of death lends an unusual tone to a story of war and the Holocaust. The book remains a memorable story of war but ultimately leaves a lasting impression of love and is ultimately the very human emotional story of a creature who is not created as human.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

That Hair

Title:  That Hair
Author:  Djaimilla Pereira de Almeida (author). Eric M B Becker (translator).
Publication Information:  Tin House Books. 2020. 200 pages.
ISBN:  1947793411 / 978-1947793415

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "My mother cut my hair for the first time when I was six months old."

Favorite Quote:  "The truth is that the story of my curly hair intersects with the story of at least two countries and, by extension, the indirect story of the relations among several continents:  a geopolitics."

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida was bornin 1982 in Luanda, the largest and capital city of Angola. She moved as a child and grew up near Lisbon, Portugal. In that respect, this fiction is semi-autobiographical.

Mila, the main character of the book, is the daughter of a black Angolan mother and a white Portuguese father. She is born in Luanda. The city was founded in 1597 by Portuguese explorers. The city and country have their own history of cultural mixing and colonialism. 

At the age of three, the family moves to Lisbon. The mix of heritage, race, geography, and culture is the story of Mila, and perhaps, Ms. Almeida's life.

This book tells this cultural story and a conversation about race, feminism, colonialism, and growing up black in Europe through the prism of Mila's curly hair. The term "ethnic hair" is not used in the book but can be found in today's marketing of hair products. It is this term that rings through my mind while reading this book because the term itself embodies a racial connotation. Every individual in this world has an ethnic heritage. So, what does the marketing mean? Clearly, some ethnicities and races are more "ethnic" than others. This becomes yet another example of the pervasive, systemic prejudices embedded in our social systems.

For me, this book is personal. My initial reason for reading it is the association with being a curly girl. I look for the products for "ethnic" hair although I do not fit the profile the advertisers market that term to. I have encountered situations in which my curly hair and the rest of my ethnic heritage have not gone together in people's minds. It has sometimes been another way of creating the "other" and the "different." Another reason for reading it is my own experience of being an immigrant as a child.

The story of this book is not mine or even close to mine. Yet, I feel as if I relate to it. I want to relate to it and perhaps see in it my own experience eloquently expressed. Isn't that one of the main reasons we read? To be completely transported away to a world we may never know or to see our own emotions and thoughts come to life in an author's words.

That being said, unfortunately, I struggle with the book itself. In some ways, its vignette approach reminded me of The House on Mango Street. However, this book is much more of a narrative with long, somewhat philosophical passages. It reads much more like an essay and commentary than a novel. Perhaps, that is the book, and perhaps that is the translation. Unfortunately, it leaves me somewhat disconnected with a story with which I expect to feel a strong emotional reaction.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

A Hero Born

Title:  A Hero Born
Series:  Legends of the Condor Heroes, Book 1
Author:  Jin Yong (author). Anna Holmwood (translator).
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2019. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1250220602 / 978-1250220608

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It begins with a storyteller, with news from the north, a tale of crushing defeat and humiliation, a great Chinese Empire in tatters and fleeing north."

Favorite Quote:  "There are always those who claims good reputations falsely."

Wuxia stories are a genre of fiction about martial artists in ancient China. Think adventure, fantasy, heroes, villains, and lots and lots of martial arts. A Hero Born is one volume of a wuxia trilogy. The trilogy first appeared as a serial in the Hong Kong Commercial Daily between 1957 and 1959. The trilogy is comprised of The Legend of the Condor Heroes, The Return of the Condor Heroes, and The Heaven Sword and Dragon Saber. Interestingly, the translated title references the condor, no species of which is native to China. This book is the English translation of the first volume.

The story begins in a time of war in the 1200s. Two sworn brothers make a pact that their soon to be born children will either live as sworn siblings or a married couple. Unfortunate events ensue. One dies, and the other disappears. The wives and the unborn babies also are thrown in different directions. The main story follows of the children - Guo Jing. It follow his upbringing in Mongolia and his training by some legends of martial arts. Of course, eventually, the paths of the two children cross. Some of the connections between the fate of the fathers and the outcome of the children are drawn. The book ends on a cliffhanger as is to be expected.

The beginning of this book is challenging for many reasons. The language, and hence the names are unfamiliar. A lot of characters are introduced, and for a while, it is difficult to follow their relationships and story threads. A lot of description of battles and martial arts is provided. As someone who has no knowledge of martial arts, the descriptions are hard to envision. The words, particularly the names of the martial arts moves, do not necessarily create a picture for me. I almost give up on the book.

However, I am glad to have persevered. After a bit, the characters settle into a cohesive image. The names are still a challenge, but an understanding of the relationships and the development of the characters makes that a minor point. A central plot and the main character emerge from this panorama of the world of martial arts. I invest in the characters and want to see where the story goes. At this point, there are the heroes and the villains. There are also those on whom the jury is still out. Good or evil... only time will tell. The book continues with a mix of a human story, a political story, and the mystery of beliefs and legends.

What connects is the human story. Wives who seek to keep the legacy of their husbands safe. Mothers who see the future of their children as nothing of what they imagined. Young men born in hardship and those born in wealth. The relationship between teacher and student. The losses of war. Young people on the cusp to discovering love. Those seeking revenge and those seeking redemption.

I am sorry when the volume comes to an end because I want to know what happens next. I am looking forward to volume two and three hopefully to be translated.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Lost Book of Adana Moreau

Title:  The Lost Book of Adana Moreau
Author:  Michael Zapata
Publication Information:  Hanover Square Press. 2020. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1335010122 / 978-1335010124

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "His father was a pirate."

Favorite Quote:  "...literature was a memory of a memory of a memory."

I love books about books. The premise of an undiscovered manuscript is even better. The cover adds a mystery and movement. The post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans adds a setting full of life, struggle, emotion, and the triumph of human spirit.

I so wanted to love this book. I did so love the beginning portion of the book. The story of the pirate, the little boy, and a mother writing stories in the 1920s captured me entirely. It is an emotional and fanciful tale, and I want to know more.

Then, the story turns and jumps decades. I follow along. A grandfather passes away. A grandson is attempting to tie up the loose ends of his grandfather's legacy. An undeliverable package sends on a chase to find the history and the intended recipient. The journey brings him to a town struggling to survive and recover after a disaster. The idea is not as fanciful as the beginning, but nevertheless has the making of a powerful story. I want to follow along.

The main setting becomes New Orleans, a fascinating city at any time filled with its own folklore and culture. It should add to the magical feel of the book. The timing in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina adds a disaster the likes of which this generation had never witnesses. Both the destruction and the resilience of the city were remarkable and powerful images. I want to see how the the magic of the city, the story, and the reality of the hurricane balance.

The manuscript at the heart of this tale is a science fiction story. That genre adds another element entirely to the narrative. The book description references the possibility of parallel worlds, and that seems to lend itself to the science fiction genre. Again, I want to know more.

The issue is that I get lost. The book introduces many characters and vignettes telling their stories. The book jumps locations and timelines. The book includes many references, some of which I know and some are more obscure. I don't know to research a reference if I don't at least have an inkling that it is a reference.

So, unfortunately, this reading experience becomes frustrating. I want to love this book, but I find myself walking away from it again and again. It has all the elements of a story I would have loved, but perhaps I was simply not the right reader for it. "... maybe the world would be better if it adapted to the whims of the children rather than the other way around. If streets, she said, followed the patterns and logic of children then there would never be such a thing as getting lost, there would be a certain madness, yes, but it would be a lovely madness, one capable of multiple dimensions." Perhaps, I was simply not the reader capable of following the dimensions of this story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.