Sunday, September 28, 2014

My own novel - Emiliano's Discovery

If you enjoy my blog posts, please try my newly published novel, Emiliano's Discovery.  It is available in hardcover or paperback and as an e-book through or through all major online retailers such as Amazon, Chapters-Indigo, Barnes & Noble and iBooks.

A Walk Across the Sun by Corban Addison

I had just read and enjoyed Addison's newer book when I noticed his first novel was about India.  Since I'm headed there shortly, I had to read it - and it did not disappoint.  Though it did not paint India in the most positive light, given its focus on child exploitation, human trafficking and prostitution, it was not any more generous in its portrayal of Europe and the U.S. when it comes to these horrendous topics.

Ahalya Ghai, who is 17, and her 15 year old sister, Sita, are upper middle class Indian girls living in a seaside town near Chennai.  While home on winter break from the convent school they attend, they are suddenly orphaned when a tsunami kills their parents, grandmother and long time housekeeper.  Grief stricken and alone they try to make their way to the safety of the convent school but are instead abducted by human traffickers and introduced to a life of sexual violence in Mumbai.

At the same time, an American lawyer, Thomas, is dissatisfied with his life - his wife has left him following the sudden death of their infant daughter and the large firm he has devoted his life to is making him the scapegoat when a mistake is made and a large client threatens to sue.  By chance he gets wind of the crime of human trafficking when a young girl is kidnapped from a park he is visiting.  He thus picks up and moves to Mumbai to do a pro bono sabbatical with an NGO that prosecutes human traffickers. While there he also hopes to find closure with his wife and her traditional family.

Early in his assignment Thomas hears of the fate of Ahalya and Sita and dedicates his time to rescuing the pair. This leads him through the red light district in Mumbai, to the Russian mob in Paris, and ultimately back to the underworld in the U.S.

Like Addison's other book this is part crime novel, part political commentary and very much a story of human relationships and resilience.  I don't want to tell much more of the story for fear of spoiling it - and it's definitely worth the read.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Up at Butternut Lake by Mary McNear

I just picked this up blindly at the library when I was looking for something to fill a few rainy hours.  It was by no means great literature, but it was a perfect distraction.  Allie Becket is a widow whose husband was killed in Afghanistan.  Still struggling 2 years after his death, she sells her house in suburban Minneapolis, puts her belongings in storage and moves herself and her five year old son, Wyatt, to the cabin in the northern Minnesota woods which was built by her grandfather and where she spent many happy childhood summers.  She is hoping that freed from the constant reminders of her deceased husband, she and Wyatt will be able to move on.

When she gets there the cabin needs work and at first she is troubled by having a new neighbour, the handsome Walker Ford, but eventually she settles into town life as she reconnects with her friend Jax and makes a new friend in Caroline who owns the only diner in town.  She even gets a job working in a gallery.  And, of course, after initial resistance and overcoming both her fears and those of Walker, she learns to appreciate her neighbour.

Not the kind of book I'll remember for long, but it was well written and I enjoyed it while it lasted.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison

I really enjoyed this book that had so much packed into it - crime novel, love story, political commentary, family drama, and expose of health and human rights crises in southern Africa.

Zoe Fleming is a 29 year old American lawyer working in Zambia for an NGO devoted to combating child sexual assault.  She is carrying on the legacy of her mother who was a philanthropist who devoted her life to bettering the lives of those less fortunate in Africa until she was killed in a plane crash while on one of her African missions.  Zoe's father is a US senator who is a candidate for president.  Both Zoe's parents come from significant wealth and she is set to inherit a large sum of money held in trust for her until her 30th birthday.

One night a young girl with Down's Syndrome, Kuyeya, is raped and abandoned in a strange neighbourhood.  Her case is brought to the attention of Zoe's NGO and they must work to figure out who the girl is, what exactly happened to her and who perpetrated the crime.  They are not even sure of her age.  This  event sets in motion Zoe's quest - she delves into the Kuyeya's past, and that of her deceased mother to piece together both a suspect and a motive for the crime.  Her unlikely ally is a Zambian police officer, Joseph - this is where the love story comes into play.  Politics come into play when the suspect turns out to be the son of a wealthy former cabinet minister and a High Court judge - this leads to tampering with evidence and witnesses, threats against Zoe and the other members of the team and attempts to bribe judges.

The case also pits Zoe against her father - a pillar of his campaign is reducing US foreign aid which Zoe sees as so necessary when it becomes apparent how hard it is to obtain tests that would be routine in the US such as DNA testing to identify perpetrators or MRIs to determine the extent of injuries.

Everyone in the book has secrets - Kuyeya, her mother, the perpetrator and his parents, Joseph and Zoe herself.  Unravelling the secrets and following the criminal investigation and trial made this book a real page turner.  I couldn't wait to see how it all ended.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford

I didn't love this book and I'm really not sure why - the characters were very likeable, the topic was interesting and, like the author's other book, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, it was well written.  Perhaps the problem was I read it in close proximity to China Dolls which had a similar subject matter (Chinatown San Fran vs. Seattle, depression era, the entertainment industry...) and I preferred that book.

This book tells the story of William, a 12 year old boy growing up in a Catholic orphanage.  He has vague memories of the night five years previously when he last saw his mother but he doesn't really know what happened to her.  The nuns have indicated she is dead.  But one day he goes to the movies and sees an ad for an upcoming show and he is convinced one of the stars, Willow Frost, is his mother.  He and his blind friend Charlotte escape the orphanage in an effort to find her.  While he finds her, he does not receive positive confirmation it is his mother before the nuns find him and return him to the orphanage.

At this point the book goes back in time and we learn the story of William's mother when she was a teenager.  She was herself orphaned and became an unwed mother in very unfortunate circumstances.  The novel then goes back and forth in time until we find out the whole story of how William ended up in the orphanage.

There are awful scenes of child abuse (both Willow and Charlotte) and the treatment of unwed Chinese mothers in depression era Seattle is deplorable.  We also see how women are belittled by all the traditional men in their lives.

So the story was good and I did want to read it through to the end but somehow it just didn't jump out and grab me.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

China Dolls by Lisa See

I've read several of See's books and they all remind me a lot of Amy Tan's work.  This one deals with three young Asian girls who meet in San Francisco in 1938.  The city has attracted all sorts of entertainers and want to be entertainers in anticipation of a world's fair to be opening on Treasure Island.

Grace Lee is a 19 year old Chinese girl from Plain City, Ohio.  She runs away in the middle of the night to escape her abusive father who runs the local laundry.  Though Chinese, she has been raised solely amongst "Occidentals" and is very unfamiliar with Chinese customs.  She tries out for a dancing role in the world's fair but is turned down and sent to a nightclub opening just outside Chinatown called the Forbidden City.  Trying to find her way there she runs into Helen Fong, who on the surface appears to be a sheltered girl who has never left her family's compound.  She is accompanied to and from work at the Chinese Telephone Exchange by one of her seven brothers.  When she sees Grace looking for the Forbidden City she skips work to take her there and ends up auditioning as well.  While at auditions, the two girls meet the third main character, Ruby Tom.  She is the most brazen of the three girls, and the most experienced with men.  She is also Japanese, passing as Chinese, which becomes both a point of contention for Helen and her family who suffered under the Japanese invasion of China, and the world at large after the attacks on Pearl Harbour.

The book takes us through the lives of these three girls from when they meet, through the war years and the immediate post war era with a brief epilogue that takes place in 1988.  While the core of the story is the friendship and betrayals of these girls, as well as their emotional, financial and relationship ups and downs and the secrets they harbour, there is also a lot to be learned about the Chinese community in San Francisco at that time, in particular the city's entertainers who go on the "Chop Suey circuit", the interment of the Japanese, the horrible effect the war had on many young men and their families and even what it was like to be gay at the time.

Sometimes the book seemed to go on for a bit too long but in all I was drawn in and wanted to know what had happened.  I did guess some of the secrets but they were not too obvious so I was still anxious to know if I was right.  I definitely recommend this book if you like Amy Tan's work and books of that nature.