Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Ghost Bride --by Yangsze Choo

384 pages
5 Stars

Li Lan is a Malay Chinese young woman. Instead of training her in the womanly arts of sewing, etc., her father—a recluse—educates her. Her mother died when she was a young girl of the same smallpox epidemic that scarred her father. Li Lan escaped with only one small pox behind her ear.

Once well-off financially, the family slowly slips into decline as Li Lan's father loses his wealth. The man who owns the debt has a son and heir, recently dead, and this spoiled young man's ghost returns during the night to haunt his mother's dreams, and demands that Li Lan become his Ghost Bride. Her father leaves the decision up to her, and she declines. But young Lim haunts her, the man she was betrothed to finds himself in the position of having the betrothal broken so she can marry young Lim, and Li Lan accidentally overdoses on an opium medication to forestall the dreams of young Lim.

She ends up travelling out of body through the realm of the dead where she finds her mother, and barely escapes back to the living only to discover her body has been taken over by another spirit who will not let her back.

I found this book to be well-written, and great fun. I've heard of Ghost Brides, but this is the first time I've read a story about one. I loved the trip through the Plains of the Dead, and how the dead 'lived.' The story did drag a little in the middle, but not for long.

Li Lan is not the heroine of an American novel. She is the heroine of a Chinese novel set in colonial Malaya in 1893. She has lived a sheltered life, with few life experiences on which to draw, the story takes place before radio and instant communication, and all her knowledge has come from her father, a badly scarred and reclusive opium addict, her amah who raised her mother and then herself, and the house staff.

She only wants to rid herself of the ghost of young Lim so she can marry her betrothed, Tian Bai, who by the end of the book is betrothed to another. The only friend she has to call upon for help is Er Lang, a stranger who always hides his face.

Part fairy tale, part murder mystery (who murdered young Lim? And why?), a coming of age story, and a damn fine read!  When you read this book, be sure to read the notes at the end, they, too are interesting and well written.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Here, There Be Dragons --by James A. Owen

Fiction / Fantasy

352 Pages / 1284 KB
4 Stars

This is a friend's favorite read, and while I found it a good story, I also found things in it, or not in it, that make it, for me, a good read—not my favorite.

It's a teen read, not sure it's quite Young Adult, but not sure it isn't. For me, the story dragged a bit here and there, and when the thief escaped in a rowboat, I couldn't understand why the sailboat didn't chase him down? They knew, immediately, what happened. And how did the thief, in his little rowboat, find the other sailboat that wasn't visible at the time?

Much of it reminded me of Tolkien and Lewis, who are not bad people to be reminded of, though without the strong religious bent. This is the first of a series, and I will most assuredly pick up the next in the series.

It begins in 1917, and John has been in the trenches of France and sent home to England to recuperate from a combination of shell shock and gas. He is a so-so student of his mentor, in ancient languages, and hasn't a great deal of ambition at the moment. He receives a note from his mentor, not entirely clear what the note means, he goes to London only to arrive at his mentor's office to find him dead.

He ends up with two other companions, Jack and Charles, being rescued by Bert from the snarling, nasty, killing imaginary beasts called Wendigos. They leap onto Bert's sailboat, sail out of London and onto a new sea, and into a fantastical adventure where they discover they are keepers of the great atlas, the Imaginarium Geographica, and must not only guard it, but save the Archipelago from evil.

A nice twist at the end, when their full names are revealed. If you're up on your literature, or at least that of Williams, Tolkien, Lewis, and Wells, it may hold even more interest for you. At the least, it's an enjoyable story, complete with some laugh-out-loud moments.

Little Flower by Christine Taing

90 pages
4 stars

What makes this book about bullies in school, and how to stand up and face them, so amazing is a twelve-year-old girl wrote it. She wrote a collection of short stories, and grouped them by age, has told a bit about bullying—what it is, and what it isn't (it isn't funny!), and given each age of child a means to counter the bully and possibly even make a friend.

As it says on the back of the book, "In this collection of short stories,m children learn to stand tall and strong against bullies and ultimately become the beautiful flowers they are meant to be."

If your children, or grandchildren, or even neighbor children are the target of bullies, consider sharing this book with them. If you know a bully, consider sharing this book with them. They may not realize, truly, the harm they cause.

And it's not just other children who bully, in many cases, it's also teachers, or parents, or neighbors.

I highly recommend this book.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Karma and Mayhem --by Catherine E. McLean

Fiction / Fantasy  

348 pages
5 Stars

The world-building of this story is marvelous. The title is spot-on! It is about Karma and it is about Mayhem, which seems to go on throughout the book.

This is an adult book, with full frontal nudity. Okay, it's a book, but the descriptions are pretty good.

Rowen and his veed, Tal, have been forcibly separated, and if not reunited within a specific period of time, and in a specific manner, they will die. (Don't worry about what a veed is, it is explained, and quite well. Just understand they are important to the lives of those who have them.)

Janay is a wounded warrior, and good friends with the Archangel, Adrada. He's a pretty interesting guy, but gives out no free lunches. To anyone. She stumbles upon Rowen practically in his death throes, and as a Peacekeeper, vows to save him. Even after she learns the terms from Adrada.

Tienan is Rowen's elder brother. He's not sure about Janay, but shucks, this is a "romance" so you know what's going to happen. It's all the fun stuff between the Prologue and The End that keeps you turning the pages to the unexpected twist.

I'm not much into the Romance genre, but I do enjoy a good SF/F book, and if there happens to be romance in it, that's alright, too. Archangels (yes, plural), samurai, veeds, warriors, sex, and mayhem. Lots of mayhem. For what more can a reader who loves a good escape ask??

The world, the characters, the story are all believable and great fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Encore: A Journal of the Eightieth Year --by May Sarton

336 Pages
5 Stars

To take from her last entry: "Knowing my journals would be read has provided a certain discipline for me. It has forced me to try to be honest with myself and thus with my readers, not to pretend that things are better than they are, but learn to evaluate without self-pity or self-glorification what has been happening to me."

I have read a few of May Sarton's works, including a couple of her Journals, and I find this one the one that I most resonated with. There were times when her honesty almost sounded like bitchiness, then I realized if she was bitchy, she wouldn't have had the legions of fans and friends she had coming to visit, calling, sending flowers, etc. And, had I been in the pain she was in, I probably would sound bitchy too, now and again.

She faced her cancer head on, and her disease passed over and by her and when it passed, only she was left. She admitted her fear (I don't know that I could do that) not just to herself, but to everyone. And she shared her great joy and love.

This journal was started in her 79th year, and finished in her 80th. She died in her 83d year, 16 July 1995. She talks about many of her contemporaries, authors I've read, or heard about, and many I didn't know or know of. But, for the duration of her book, I felt I was her friend, and a friend of May Sarton's surely was a friend of mine. I found it delightful to hear first person accounts of people I've only read, or read about.

I don't know if a young person would be able to relate to this book, but if a young person has an elder person in her life, this might be a good book to help relate to "Granny." And if you are that "Granny" this is a fascinating book to read.

A fascinating book to read a bit of before turning out the light. She truly earned every award she ever received or for which she was nominated.