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review 2018-07-31 19:46
Jade City / Fonda Lee
Jade City - Fonda Lee

FAMILY IS DUTY. MAGIC IS POWER. HONOR IS EVERYTHING.

Magical jade—mined, traded, stolen, and killed for—is the lifeblood of the island of Kekon. For centuries, honorable Green Bone warriors like the Kaul family have used it to enhance their abilities and defend the island from foreign invasion.

Now the war is over and a new generation of Kauls vies for control of Kekon's bustling capital city. They care about nothing but protecting their own, cornering the jade market, and defending the districts under their protection. Ancient tradition has little place in this rapidly changing nation.

When a powerful new drug emerges that lets anyone—even foreigners—wield jade, the simmering tension between the Kauls and the rival Ayt family erupts into open violence. The outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones—from their grandest patriarch to the lowliest motorcycle runner on the streets—and of Kekon itself.

 

Recommended for people who love both The Godfather and kung fu movies.

I found I really had to be in the right mood to get started with this book (and it took me longer than usual to read it). I started it 3 or 4 times before I finally made it beyond the first few pages and discovered what a marvelous world Fonda Lee has created here. So it wasn’t the book at fault, it was my mood.

This is a fantasy world, where jade mined from the country of Kekon has magical qualities and some of the people of the realm have a special sensitivity to the stone. They get extra-special powers when they wear the stones, turning a regular person into someone with extra-strength, super-perception, etc. (they are known in Kekon as Green Bones). It’s real Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon stuff.

But this is very, very much a book about the two clans who uneasily share the city of Janloon, the No Peak clan and the Mountain clan. And let me tell you, they could give the Mafia a run for their money! It’s all about honour, family, & clan. May the gods help you if you disrespect any of these or if you try to trade loyalties!

The reader comes to know the main members of the No Peak clan intimately. There’s Lan, the Pillar (like the CEO) of the clan; Hilo, the Horn (the enforcer); and Shae, the sister who is trying to forge her own way in the world and separate herself from the gang lifestyle that she grew up with.

This is an extremely well-written, well-realized fantasy world. To my caucasian, North American eyes, this was exotic stuff, but I always knew what Lee was writing about, what she was trying to do. I loved her complex system of magic and the rules that governed it. If you’re sensitive about violence, I would say, “Set this book down and walk away. Jade City is not for you.” That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to read the book—I could only take so much death & destruction per day.

This author will be at the conference that I’m attending in mid-August and I will definitely be fan-girling.

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text 2018-07-27 18:13
Reading progress update: I've read 344 out of 498 pages.
Jade City - Fonda Lee

Hilo draped his arms over Shae's shoulders and hugged her, then spoke into her ear, "I could still kill him for you."

 

"Screw you, Hilo," she snapped.  "I can kill my ex-boyfriends myself."

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text 2018-07-20 18:14
Reading progress update: I've read 31 out of 498 pages.
Jade City - Fonda Lee

 

After struggling through the first few pages, I've found my groove with this book.

 

It's going to be a gooder.

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text 2018-05-05 20:00
Reading progress update: I've read 14%.
A Is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie - Kathryn Harkup

Belladonna is a member of the family Solanaceae, which includes other notorious species such as mandrake and datura. All these plants have their place in witchcraft, Harkup,

medicine and myth.

Other members of the family are considerably less terrifying – potatoes and tomatoes, for example. Even so, when tomatoes were first introduced into Britain people recognised their similarity to deadly nightshade and refused to eat them, thinking the fruits were poisonous. Displays of tomato-eating were arranged to reassure the public.

Wow. Hard to believe this was the first reaction to tomatoes, when it is now virtually impossible to avoid tomatoes or tomato-based products.

 

Also, it's probably taken ages before people were ready for this.

 

 

If people ever were ready...

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review 2017-12-18 03:01
My Quest for the Yeti
My Quest for the Yeti: Confronting the Himalayas' Deepest Mystery - Reinhold Messner

A bit of background: Reinhold Messner is, as you may know, a famous, record-breaking mountaineer. He was the first to climb Everest without supplemental oxygen, he was the first to climb all of the 14 eight-thousanders, and many other incredible feats. However, in the mid-to-late 1980s, he became the target of much mockery when the media picked up an interview in which he apparently claimed to have seen a yeti (which is not what happened, as this book explains). 

 

When I first saw the book, I must admit that I rolled my eyes. I looked at the title and thought "Oh, dear. Here we go - it's the story of Reinhold and his Yeti." Still I was intrigued, and now I am glad to have read it, because it is not what I expected.

 

While it is about Messner's encounter with an unidentified creature, he does not claim the creature to be a yeti. The book actually takes a look at the myth of the yeti while investigating what the creature he saw might have been. He also looks at why the story made the headlines and how the mis-reported interview caused a rather cycnical reception.

Why this skepticism? The answer is simple enough: explorers and discoverers see what they want to see. Like all of us, they perceive reality through their own preconceptions.

Messner's descriptions of his trekking and travelling in Tibet is phenomenal. He clearly loves the place and has a lot of respect for its land, people, and culture. His knowledge of the area is remarkable, and he comes across a fairly grounded person - except when he thought his girlfriend left him stranded in Lhasa. 

 

He visits many different areas and interviews locals about the yeti myth. His conclusion is that the yeti exists only as a myth, but that the creature he encountered was likely a rare Himalayan bear.

 

This book was published in 1998. Since the time of the precarious interview with an Indian newspaper in 1986, Messner had been subjected to quite harsh ridicule, and his credibility as a writer and mountaineer really suffered. 

Considering this undeserved treatment and considering that Messner's theory of a rare bear as the origin of the yeti myth, it has been satisfying and delightful to learn that the scientific community now (in the last month or so as I am writing this) seems to consider Messner's idea as a valid explanation. Well done that man!

 

Still, even with the latest articles supporting Messner's ideas, it is still worth reading this book. Messner's writing in parts is absolutely gripping as he avoids being arrested by the Chinese police, or as he walks across Tibet by himself with nothing but a backpack and a sleeping bag (not tent). 

 

The other part that I found really gripping was the part where he described his observations of the Chinese regime in Tibet. He gives some background to the political situation of his visits at the time that the book is referring to but he also adds his first hand experiences.

As I have learnt from this (and his Everest book), he doesn't hold back and he doesn't seem to embellish, which makes the paragraphs on Tibet quite a decent work of journalism (in any case much better than what I encountered in Forensics recently, not that this is a high bar to set). 

 

This is from a visit in 1988:

 

"One day, I was in the middle of Parkor when suddenly plain-clothes policemen carrying guns and radios went running past me. The Tibetans scattered in panic; an old woman next to me began crying, and a distraught cripple, who had been cringing by the roadside, dragged himself into the nearest doorway. A truck blocked the way of the fleeing crowds; tear gas was in the air. Six young lamas who had been carrying a banner proclaiming "Free Tibet!" were hauled into a truck, which raced off, sirens blaring. Columns of soldiers marched in; then came trucks and more soldiers, their clean olive-green uniforms clashing starkly with the Tibetans' dirty rags."

Not long after this scene, the Chinese government closed Tibet to foreign journalist as the number of protests in Tibet increased. Incidentally, this prevented Messner from being able to conduct more research into the yeti myth for a number of years. 

For clarity, Messner's concern in the book is not for the disruption to his project for the welfare of the people in Tibet. Not that he spends much time on political issues, but, as I mentioned earlier, he has a very high regard for the country and its people. 

I found Messner's writing about Tibet absolutely riveting. In many ways, I could not help comparing it to Heinrich Harrer's book Seven Years in Tibet, which is an equally riveting story. Both books show their authors concerns for the country, and though they have been written in different times, they shared a common outlook.  

"The Chinese paid no attention to tourists, and the Tibetans seemed preoccupied with mumbling their prayers, as they had done for centuries. Traditionally, prayers were written on strips of paper, then rolled into cylinders and stuffed into containers the size of a fist. These were set in motion by a swipe of the hand; a weight revolving around a metallic rod in the middle of the cylinder kept it spinning. Once a Tibetan symbol of faith, these prayer mills were becoming increasingly rare, and the paintings of gods on rocks were fading. But the mumbling continued. Most Tibetans are indifferent to the rise in living standards brought about by China's rule. Spiritual life is dying out, and they have nothing to counter this with except their mumbling."

As far as books go, this was one of the most surprising reads this year, and I love that the books has changed my own preconceptions of the author. 

 

 

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