Monday, May 31, 2010

40. Under Heaven

By:  Guy Gavrriel Kay
Rated 4.8 Stars
From:  Beth

FINALLY finished this wonderful book. It took me over a week to read it. Thank you Beth for loaning it to me. Shaun and I both read it and loved it.  We handled it tenderly and I will send it back later this week.  Probably Friday.

But it wasn't the kind of book either of us could zip through.  Since we have very similar views of it when I say we I am not using the royal we but speaking for us both.  WE loved, loved, loved the way it started out. But when it got into court politics both of us were reminded a little of Shogun.  That was kind of unfortunate because no book does all that well if you start thinking about Shogun. But poor, poor Shen Tai.  What a curse those horses were.  As if navigating thru his life wasn't complicated enough.   It was such a shame he wasn't ever able to bury all those warriors.  I found that very sad.  It was a great adventure though.

Description and review  copied with permission from Bookflurries by my good friend Connie, aka cfk 

The setting is the Ninth Dynasty of China with created characters and situations by Kay that ring true. I had recently written here about the Silk Road and that appears in the story. One of the themes of the story is that history is written later by people who maybe don’t find all the parts of the pattern. The people who will loom large in the historical record are not so large at first and so their activities are not written down to be gathered up by historians. That is where the story teller comes in. The storyteller recreates the story and finds the beginnings and makes a whole tapestry on the loom.

Shen Tai is a second son. He is not important in a world where many have completed their imperial examinations which he has not. He is voiceless. His father has taught all three of his children, "Who accepts the world only as it comes to them?" including Tai's sister, Shen Li-Mei. This makes all the difference in their lives as they choose to shape the world rather than remain voiceless.

Another theme is the idea that as we make choices or have choices made for us, the road of our life forks. That seems obvious, but when it involves several characters that we care about, it hits home more than having it just written down in one small phrase.

The story, based on the Tang Dynasty, includes the tribes north of The Great Wall where the term Under Heaven is more easily grasped. There the grasslands go on forever beneath the endless sky.

There is the capital city of two million souls, there is the palace of the Emperor, there are gardens and mountain passes. There are emperors and beggars, courtesans and first ministers. There is also a poet, the Banished Immortal. Kay says this man is based on Li Bai also known as Li Po. There are the men and women who seek to advance at any cost, generals and governors. There are Sardian horses from the West of great beauty that are desired at any cost. There are Kanlin guards who are trusted by all to protect and carry messages. There is a great sorrow and the song about it is written much later by a younger poet than Li Bai.

What makes a book one that fits me? I have been thinking why Under Heaven was such a perfect fit. First, it is a great adventure story. Second, I cared about the characters and could not lay the book down as I wanted to see what happened to them.

The story also was based on the giant, sprawling background setting of China’s Tang Dynasty which aroused my curiosity. I don’t know much about China so it was a pleasure to see it come alive on the pages of the book. I was taken to and through the Wall, I rode on the grasslands and saw the cave painting of horses. I watched the dangerous game played by the imperial men and women of the court. I wanted to learn more about the time and the people and the great poet.

There is lots of real danger and courage, a bit of romance, and a bit of fantasy with the Shamen of the grasslands and the man who walks with wolves. It is a wonderful book. It suited me. Thank you, Mr. Kay.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

38. London 1945 : life in the debris of war

By: Maureen Waller
Rated:  5 Stars
From Library
Recommended by Connie

I was ten years old when WWII ended so I have a lot of memories of that time.  But all my memories are that of a child so naturally I only remember the things that effected my world like food, gas and clothing rationing.  Especially sugar rationing! That was a big deal to me and I have vivid memories of adding sugar to my breakfast cereal almost grain by grain in order to save sugar for a birthday cake or cookies.

But I don't remember ever being hungry, cold or scared.  Reading this book I was quickly made aware that WWII was a very different war in Europe than it was in the American Midwest.   This was not a romanticized picture of what London bravely endured but a gritty portrayal of what life was really like for the people of London.

Publisher Summary

London at the outset of war in 1939 was the greatest city in the world, the heart of the British Empire. By 1945, it was a drab and exhausted city, beginning the long haul back to recovery.

The defiant capital had always been Hitler's prime target. The last months of the war saw the final phase of the battle of London as the enemy unleashed its new vengeance weapons, the flying bombs and rockets. They were terrifying and brought destruction on a vast scale, but fortunately came too late to dent morale seriously.

The people of London were showing the spirit, courage, and resilience that had earned them the admiration of the world during a long siege. In the harshest winter of fifty years, they were living in primitive conditions. Thousands were homeless, living in the Underground and deep shelters. Women lined up for horse meat and were lucky to obtain one egg a month. They besieged emergency coal dumps. Everyone longed for peace.

The bright new world seemed elusive. As the victory celebrations passed into memory, there were severe hardships and all the problems of post-war adjustment. Women lost the independence the war had lent them, husbands and wives had to learn to live together again, and children had a lot of catching up to do.

Yet London's loss has often been its opportunity. Its people had eagerly embraced plans for a modern metropolis and an end to poverty. They voted overwhelmingly for a Labour government and the new, fairer social order that was their reward for all they had endured.

The year of victory, 1945, represents an important chapter in London's---and Britain's---long history. Acclaimed historian Maureen Waller draws on a rich array of primary sources, letting the people tell their own story, to re-create that moment, bringing to it the social insight at which she excels.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

37. Standing in the Rainbow

By Fannie Flagg
Rated 5 Stars
From:  Library
Audio Book

Last week on Bookflurries Connie listed Fannie Flagg's name on a poll asking who your favorite author was whose name started with an F.  I was reminded how much I had enjoyed this author's books and this one in particular so I decided a reread was in order..

Before I moved to Arkansas as a teenager I had spent my early childhood in various small towns in Missouri.   The book opens in 1945 and I am only three years older than her character Bobby Smith. Flagg completely nailed small town life in Missouri during the post WWII years.  This was a very nostalgic book for me.


"From the talented storyteller whose Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe became a beloved bestseller and a successful film comes a sprawling, feel-good novel with an old-fashioned beginning, middle and end. The predominant setting is tiny Elmwood Springs, Mo., and the protagonist is 10-year-old Bobby Smith, an earnest Cub Scout also capable of sneaking earthworms into his big sister's bed. His father is the town pharmacist and his mother is local radio personality Neighbor Dorothy (whom readers will recognize from Flagg's Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!). In 1946, Harry Truman presides over a victorious nation anticipating a happy and prosperous future. During the next several decades, the plot expands to include numerous beguiling characters who interact with the Smith family among them, the Oatman Family Southern Gospel Singers, led by matriarch Minnie, who survive misadventures galore to find fame after an appearance on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1949, the same year Bobby's self-esteem soars when he wins the annual town bubble gum contest. Also on hand are tractor salesman Ham Sparks, who becomes amazingly successful in politics, despite his marriage to overwhelmingly shy Betty Raye Oatman, and well-liked mortician Cecil Figgs, a sponsor of Neighbor Dorothy, who, as a bachelor in the mid-century South, also enjoys a secret life. The effects of changing social mores are handled deftly; historical events as they impact little Elmwood Springs are duly noted, and everything is infused with the good humor and joie de vivre that are Flagg's stock-in-trade"

Monday, May 17, 2010

35. Secret Daughter

By:  Shilpt Somaya Gowda
Rated 4 Stars
From:  Library

This is a beautifully written book that brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of India. It also carries the reader into the heart and soul of the people. One of those books that puts the reader into the story. The book gets into the attitudes towards motherhood, showing how they are shaped by parent's expectations as well as the culture. She also shows that it is possible to go beyond the limits of social structures and the plans that others have for us. Asha's experience with the women in the slum is a pivotal piece and one of the most revealing aspects of the story. This is a thought provoking study of marriage, cross cultural and inter generational connections and human potential for growth and creativity.

Publisher Summary

Interweaving the stories of a Kavita, an orphan; Somer, the American doctor who adopted her; and Asha, the Indian mother who gave her up in favor of a son, a debut novel moves between two families--one struggling to survive in the slums of Mumbai, the other grappling to forge a cohesive family despite their diverging cultural identities.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

34. Jane's Fame

BY:  Claire Harman
Rated 4.5 Stars
From:  Library

I am a Jane Austin Junkie.  Someone needs to develop a 12 step program for people like me.

But seriously, this was a very interesting book that looks at how and why Jane Austin and her books have become giants in the publishing world for almost two hundred years.  She is second only to Shakespeare in achieving that.

Mention Jane Austen and you’ll likely incite a slew of fervent opinions from anyone within earshot. Regarded as a brilliant social satirist by scholars, Austen also enjoys the sort of popular affection usually reserved for girl-next-door movie stars, leading to the paradox of an academically revered author who has served as the inspiration for chick lit (The Jane Austen Book Club) and modern blockbusters (Becoming Jane). Almost two hundred years after her death, Austen remains a hot topic, and the current flare in the cultural zeitgeist echoes the continuous revival of her works, from the time of original publication through the twentieth century. In Jane’s Fame, Claire Harman gives us the complete biography—of both the author and her lasting cultural influence—making this essential reading for anyone interested in Austen’s life, works, and remarkably potent fame.

Friday, May 14, 2010

37. Eleanor and Franklin

By:  Joseph P. Lash
Rated 5++++ Stars
From Library

Who knew the Roosevelts were such interesting people.  Given the pitiful state that politics today have sunk to we will never see their like again.  In public office anyway.

This is not so much a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt so as an examination of her life with Franklin. Some of this story is both sad in parts but mostly inspiring, and frankly I blown away by it.

Eleanor always saw her self as "just" a housewife and Mother who by circumstances just happened to be the wife to be the wife of the President of the United States.  But although she emphatically denied it, Eleanor Roosevelt was a great politician.  One who evolved into one of the great pillars of the New Deal and one of the great architects of the post-WWII order through her role in the founding of the United Nations.

The book ends with Franklin's death and its immediate aftermath. Although he was with his mistress when he died, and that fact affirmed his infidelity to her, I really can't entirely blame him.  The marriage of Eleanor and Franklin was so highly charged with politics and the causes in which  both he and Eleanor most fervently believed that it's hard to really blame him for seeking a little comfort from a not very bright, undemanding woman.  And even though I think he felt overwhelmed by Eleanor sometimes he never tried to stifle her, never stood in her way, and always backed her up.  And for her part she always did the same for him.  They were truly a dynamic duo  I don't think either of them would have ever been able to achieve what they achieved without the other.

This is biography at its best.

Product Description

In the words of Arthur Schlesinger, Eleanor & Franklin "is a beautiful book - beautiful in its scholarship, insight, objectivity and candor." Joseph Lash was secretary and confidant to Eleanor Roosevelt. His book was made into the PBS special of the same name.

About the Author

Joseph Lash won a Pulitzer prize for this biography. he was a longtime associate of Eleanor Roosevelt and is also the author of Eleanor: The Years Alone.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

40. Savor the Moment

By:  Nora Roberts
Rated: 4.5 Stars
From Library

Light, fluffy and fun.

Publisher Summary

Wedding baker Laurel McBane has been in love with her business partner's older brother, Delaney Brown, since childhood, but she worries that her relationship with the dashing Ivy League lawyer will never move beyond friendship.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Maisie Dobbs

Maisie Dobbs 

Through her own natural intelligence—and the patronage of her benevolent employers for whom  she worked as a housemaid—Maisie works her way into college at Cambridge. When World War I breaks out, Maisie goes to the front as a nurse. It is there that she learns that coincidences are meaningful and the truth elusive. After the War, Maisie sets up on her own as a private investigator. But her very first assignment, seemingly an ordinary infidelity case, soon reveals a much deeper, darker web of secrets, which will force Maisie to revisit the horrors of the Great War and the love she left behind.

Birds of a Feather - 
Audio Book - Rated 4 Stars

Maisie, "Psychologist and Investigator," as the brass nameplate on her office door declares, gets hired by a wealthy industrialist to find his only daughter, Charlotte Waite, who has gone missing. With the help of her cockney assistant, Billy Beale, Maisie sets out to learn all she can of Charlotte's habits, character and friends. No sooner has Maisie discovered the identities of three of these friends than they start turning up dead—poisoned, then bayoneted for good measure. At each crime scene is left a white feather. Increasingly preoccupied with these tragedies, Maisie almost loses sight of her original mission, until it becomes apparent that the murders and Charlotte's disappearance are related.

Pardonable Lies
 Audio Book - Rated 4 Stars

In late 1930, the London "psychologist and investigator" gets involved in three cases: proving the innocence of a 13-year-old farm girl, Avril Jarvis, accused of murder; undertaking a search for Sir Cecil Lawton's only son, a pilot shot down behind enemy lines in WWI, whose body was never recovered; and looking into the circumstances of the death of her university friend Priscilla Evernden Partridge's brother in France during the war. Maisie must go back to the region where, 13 years earlier, she served as a nurse, and confront her memories of mud, blood and loss. Filled with convincing characters, this is a complex tale of healing, of truth and half-truth, of long-held secrets, some, perhaps, to be held forever.

Messenger of Truth 
Audio Book - Rated 4 Stars

Georgiana Bassington-Hope, a pioneering female war reporter who was a classmate of Maisie's at Girton College (Cambridge), asks Maisie to investigate the death of her twin brother, Nicholas Bassington-Hope, a WWI veteran and artist. The police have ruled Nick's fall from a scaffold at a Mayfair gallery before his masterpiece could be unveiled an accident, but Georgiana suspects foul play.

An Incomplete Revenge 
Book - Rated 4 Stars

Maisie's benefactor, tycoon James Compton, wants to buy an estate in the bucolic hamlet of Heronsdene, but is wary after a string of mysterious fires. Maisie soon proves Compton's suspicions correct when she encounters the shady current landowner and a vaguely menacing band of Gypsies in town for the seasonal harvest. The locals are also curiously tight-lipped about Heronsdene's wartime tragedy, when a zeppelin raid wiped out a family. Teasing out Heronsdene's secrets will take all the intrepid former nurse's psychological skills and test her ability to navigate between the Gypsy and gorja (non-Gypsy) worlds.

Among the Mad - 
Audio Book - Rated 4 Stars

On Christmas eve 1931, a man Maisie passes on a London street detonates a bomb, killing himself and slightly wounding Maisie. This traumatic event turns out to be linked to threatening letters the British prime minister starts to receive, the first of which mentions Maisie by name. Maisie joins a high-powered investigative team devoted to averting the cataclysmic disaster promised by the unknown author of the messages. By providing the letter writers perspective, Winspear removes some of the mystery.