Saturday, June 26, 2010

Book 62: Shanghai Girls

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

I absolutely loved Snowflower and the Secret Fan by See but her follow-ups have not been able to recapture the magic for me and live up to its standards. Peony in Love was alright as was Shanghai Girls but it wasn't anything special.

The novel revolves around two sisters from Shanghai prior to World War II. After their father loses all their money, and sells them into marriage, they try to pretend that their lives will not change, and that they will not have to move to the States. However, once the Japanese invade, getting on a boat to America suddenly seems like a very good idea.

The first part of the novel deals with their escape from the invading forces, and their time on Angel Island waiting to pass the questioning sessions. Once they join their husbands and in-laws in China City along with the newly-born Joy, Pearl and May have to deal with being treated as unpaid labor for all their father-in-law's business ventures.

Much of the novel's focus is on the two sisters. While their father-in-law is quite the tyrant at the beginning of the novel, living together in close proximity causes a shift in the relations and power dynamics of the family, as they become more like a family rather than simply business relationships.

It's been awhile since I read this, and it wasn't a bad novel. It was just disappointing given how much I liked some of her other novels.

Time for another Transition - Yay?

I have about a week left of CLC3 (Combined Logistics Captains' Career Course) and then it's time to pack up and head to my next duty station. I definitely have mixed feelings about that one. We just finished up Phase 3 of the course, which was the part that involved going to Eustis and dealing with branch-specific things rather than the whole multi-functional logistician angle. Honestly, I enjoyed the Transportation portion of this course more than anything else. I really am not excited about the fact that in a week I will be considered a logistician and not a transporter. I've also come to realize that I would love to command a pure transportation company and with where my next duty assignment is taking me, I will probably not have that opportunity (unless I'm somehow get command in the SB that supports the BCT I'm going to).

I haven't been blogging much, but I have been reading, though not as much as usual. I'm not sure if I've just been too unfocused or keep picking books that I'm just not in the right mindset for. Or maybe the books really are just crappy. I've also been rewatching Buffy, though I was a little hesitant to start the 4th season because on the one hand - Buffy, and Giles, and Anya! On the other - Riley. Every time he comes on screen, I just start telling him to die already.

I finally went to New York City for the first time ever over Memorial Day Weekend. Unfortunately, I still seemed to have the worst hangover of my life for the first day or two there (which leads me to think I had more than just a hangover - I didn't have that much to drink, I didn't black out or anything, but I couldn't keep food down for a day and a half). So I didn't do as much as I had originally planned but it was still a fun weekend. I saw two Broadway musicals, I went to the MET, I spent an afternoon reading in Central Park, went to the top of the Empire State Building, visited a Barnes and Nobles that claims to be the largest bookstore in the world, went to Tiffany's on 5th Avenue, and I met Dene, a fellow Pajiban. That was very awesome - lunch turned into a twelve hour day that involved a tour of the East Village, a few local bars, absolutely delicious Pickleback shots, and ended up with an amazing roof top view of the Manhattan skyline at night.

I finally read that Rolling Stones article that a few people have been talking about concerning General McChrystal last night/this morning. As usual, I'm completely unaware of what is going on around me, so I was rather late to the game. Probably yet another sign of my not really being a great officer. Is it bad that for the first half of the article I was more distracted by his anti-Gucci comments? I mean, I didn't love Paris, either - I thought it was a gorgeous city with way too many people and tourist, but I actually quite like Gucci and Prada. Oh well, way too focus on what's really important, right?

Book 61: Changes

Changes by Jim Butcher

This is the latest release in The Dresden Files series and originally, I was going to wait until it came out in paperback. But then people started talking about it online and Amazon had the hardcover for $9.99 so I decided against waiting.

It seems like in the last few novels especially, Harry has faced harder and harder challenges that require more sacrifices. Butcher is definitely upping the stakes as more characters that the reader actually knows and cares about have either died or been severely incapacitated in the last few novels. As the title suggests, this novel completely shakes up Harry's world. The very first line involves him receiving a call from his long lost half vampire ex-girlfriend alerting him that the daughter whose existence he didn't even know about had been kidnapped.

In ways, the novel reminded me of the season finale, Becoming, Parts 1 and 2, of Buffy's second season. Everything that is familiar to Harry is slowly stripped away. One of my favorite lines from Buffy (in addition to all the funny, super quotable quips, of course) was during the show-down when Angel asks/taunts, "No weapons, no friends, no hope. Take all that away and what's left?" Of course, Buffy stops the sword between her hands, pops Angel in the nose with it and replies "Me." Anyway, as Harry's world crashes around him, it definitely made me think of that. Of course, in Harry's case, he still has his friends but all the structured support that has been a constant in his life (not necessarily that they have always been helpful) becomes completely useless to him.

It quickly turns out that Harry's daughter is caught in the midst of the Red Court's headquarters. While the Red Court is petioning the White Council for a peace treatise, Harry's daughter is about to become one of the last casualities of the war. Harry and his friends do not trust the Court's motive for peace but the Council is tired of war and willing to hear them out, even at the expense of a seven year old girl (Harry, of course, wants to keep his connection to her secret for her future safety).

Given the lack of support from the Council, Harry ends up accepting an offer he has had for a while now but has not wanted to resort to, all in the name of saving his daughter. I can't wait to see how these consequences will play out in future novels, especially given the cliffhanger Butcher ended this novel on - this is the first time I have actually been completely caught up on the series so I didn't have the option of simply going to the store and buying the next installment, not that any of the previous ones have had quite such an open ending.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book 60: Turn Coat

Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

As much as I enjoy The Dresden Files, they are also like popcorn. Meaning, I can't say they always leave a huge impression two months later, so this review is going to be rather short, even after reading the summary online, which I think managed to confuse me more than it helped (I'm pretty sure my brain has stopped functioning some time in the last two months). Then again, I read a Sookie Stackhouse novel earlier this week, and I've already nearly forgotten it, so Butcher is a more substantial type of popcorn, possibly. Yeah, brain = not working.

In Turn Coat, the Warden Morgan, comes to Harry for help after being accused of murdering a member of the Senior Council. Morgan, of course, is known for not liking Harry at all, and was basically his probation officer in the beginning of the series so it's rather unexpected that he would turn to him for help. However, Harry is willing to help because despite his personal problems with Morgan, their past has also given him an understanding of the man, and Harry knows that Morgan would never betray the Council.

The issues with the secret Black Council have been building over the past few novels, and this one definitely has a few break throughs on that front as far as revealing some of the players. The White Court is also heavily involved in this novel (then again, with Thomas being Harry's half brother, they always tend to be involved, which is fine since they have some fun characters - although honestly, with their death rate over the past few novels, I'm surprised there is still a Court left or employees).

Dresden soon finds himself attacked from all sides: the Council, a skinwalker, a type of supernatural and super-evil being, and a few beings with connections to the Black Council all want Morgan. As usual, when Dresden is in a tight corner, he manages to concoct a plan that could work if it doesn't get them all killed first.

I really enjoy this series because it is so much fun even if it occasionally can get over the top. I don't think I felt that way about this one although I did after reading the summary. That's the problem with quite a few of the things I like: when I start actually explaining them, they sound rather ridiculous. Oh well.

Book 59: Island Beneath the Sea

Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

I haven't written a review in a while and I'm not even sure where to start at this point. While Isabel Allende's novels aren't always masterpieces, I count her as one of my favorite authors, and was incredibly excited to discover she'd released a new novel.

The novel takes place in Haiti, and ranges over forty years. As usual, Allende has a wide variety of characters, and she has clearly done historical research on the topic. Unfortunately, I wasn't really that impressed with her main character, Tete, especially in comparison to some of her other novels' protagonists. That isn't to say that I didn't enjoy the novel but I just didn't feel nearly as interested in Tete as for example Eliza of Daughter of Fortune, or Ines from Ines of my Soul. Fortunately, the rest of the cast and the actual story were enough to make it an interesting ride.

Tete is a young slave girl on Sainte Domingue, and is purchased to be Toulouse Valmoiran's new bride's maid. As a result, while she witnesses the cruelty of the sugar plantations, she has a slightly easier time of it as a house slave. Not that it completely spares her by any means - as a house slave, she also attracts the master's sexual attentions simply due to her proximity, and has her firstborn taken away to prevent her mistress from becoming agitated.

After the slave rebellion, Tete chooses to flee to New Orleans with her Valmoiran due to her mother-like attachment to his son, and the difficulty she believes her daughter would have among the former slave community. Many of the other characters from the novel end up in New Orleans as well, including Violette Boisier, who was actually my favorite character in the novel. She started out as a courtesan, married a French soldier for love, and then becomes a rather shrewd and insightful business woman in New Orleans. In ways, she is very reminiscent of some of Allende's other characters and shows a mix of traits of quite a few of them. I also enjoyed the French doctor.

As I said, however, Tete is the main character, even though the others left more of an impression on me. I also thought it was surprising how easily Tete accepted some of her children's desires at the end of the novel . . . As I said, overall I enjoyed the novel but other than the fact that it was set in Haiti and I therefore learned a little bit more about the slave rebellion, I'm not sure there is really anything in this novel that hasn't been done before - many of the characters seem familiar from both Allende's previous novels and other novels about slavery. Still, at least it held my interest which is more than I can say for a few novels I've started reading lately.