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Search tags: historish
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review 2018-07-14 23:15
Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax
Plum Rains: A Novel - Andromeda Romano-Lax

It is 2029 and the first world is troubled by an aging population compounded by a worldwide fertility crisis. In Japan this crisis has led to the importation of immigrant workers to care for the elderly, but the culture and the politics make it incredibly difficult for workers. All are required to pass rigorous language tests if they wish to stay in the country. The development of smart technology and robots are also being used to cover the needs of a less and less able-bodied population.

Angelica Navarro is a nurse for an elderly woman, Sayoko, in Tokyo, her job seemingly secure because of Sayoko's resistance to most modern medical appliances. Then, Sayoko's son gives her a new kind of care-giving robot with sympathetic technology that allows it to educated itself on its owner's needs. Angelica can only watch as a bond begins growing between the two and fear what will happen to her.

This is one of the better near-future novels I've ever read. It immerses the reader into modern life in Tokyo through Angelica's forced "outsider" perspective. Chapters from Sayoko give perspective on how Japanese culture adapted, or failed to adapt, after World War II and the upheavals of the 20th and 21st centuries.

I was a little frustrated at first with Angelica's antagonistic relationship with Hiro (the caregiver robot), but it is completely understandable once more of Angelica's background is revealed. Sayoko's seeming lack of compassion is settled as well. This book covers some complicated, fraught ground of race, globalization, ethical technology, pollution, and more with grace. There are no neat endings and people who are being victimized do not always make judgements that satisfy a reader. This was a great sociological science fiction novel, and I'm waiting for it to make greater waves in reader's circles in the coming months.

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review 2018-07-10 02:09
The Boy From Tomorrow by Camille DeAngelis
Boy From Tomorrow - Camille DeAngelis

This is the kind of novel I would have loved as a kid, and happily it's one that I love as an adult. Josie and Alec share a house, even a bedroom, but have never met. It's because they live a century apart. Through the use of a spirit board - is Ouija trademarked? - the two become friends. Their communication is severed, but not before Alec gets a hint of danger ahead for Josie and her little sister. Is there anything that Alec can do to help them from a hundred years in the future?

Historical fiction is tricky business, and the hurdles may not be more difficult when writing for a younger audience, but they certainly get a little silly. DeAngelis skillfully leaps those boundaries without sacrificing any of the wonderful details of the past that she inserts into this story.

This is a great new-house story, historical mystery, and a touching depiction of an impossible friendship. OK, you won't cry as much as you did at 'The Fox and the Hound', but you have two children 100 years apart - there's sadness ahead, we both know it. A good story.

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review 2018-07-09 23:10
Silent Companions by Laura Purcell
The Silent Companions: A Novel - Laura Purcell

Its hard to get the right vibe for gothic fiction in our modern times. Purcell wisely decides to set her story in the Victorian period and adds a healthy dose of 'Yellow Wall-Paper' paranoia.

Soon after her marriage Elsie Banbridge is made a widow and sent to wait out her pregnancy at her husband's remote family estate, The Bridge. Her only companion is a cousin, her deceased husband's only living family, and a few servants. The estate has something of a dark reputation in the village and Elsie feels isolated. The discovery of a 'silent companion', a trompe l'oeil figure painted on a board, in a locked attic room awakens old rumors and fears. The figure, painted in the late 17th century, looks like Elsie, and soon she discovers it is not alone.

A quick read, and quite chilling. The use of the Companions, or dummy boards, was genius. Good period detail and flawless setting.

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review 2018-06-14 03:27
The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Wintrop
The Castle in the Attic - Elizabeth Winthrop

William is having a hard time adjusting. He's just found out that his beloved Mrs. Philips is leaving him to return home to London. She's been his companion since he was born, but now he's old enough to look after himself, and, hey, his parents are going to spend more time with him now. William is taking it so hard, because Mrs. Philips is family, but also because he's a bit of a loner, with only one friend not a British nanny, and - dare I say a - crybaby? I scrubbed away a lot of this characterization when I was little, so it was surprising to read it now. That is not why the book has faded for me. William's character, as atypical as it is for such an 'early' kids novel, is vital to the success of the story. His success is so much more meaningful knowing his struggles.

My problem was everything else. 'The Castle in the Attic' was full of mystery and magic, and I imagined myself exploring the castle, meeting Sir Simon, learning swordplay and, why not?, gymnastics. The prophecy was thrilling, the danger so clear. As an adult all of this faded into the simple language demanded at the time. The world William travels to didn't feel convincing, and the nanny problem seemed absurd to me. Has William never really bonded with his parents before this? Who would hire a nanny knowing that was the result? Winthrop likely didn't intend this, but it felt as if Mrs. Philips was responsible for coddling William and her presence isolated him most of the other children.

This is still a worthy book for kids, but I'm afraid its another one lost in the nostalgia wars.

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review 2018-06-09 05:15
The Romance of Leonardo da Vinci by Dmitry Merezhkovsky
Leonardo - Dmitry Merezhkovsky

I read this on the recommendation of a friend whose taste in literature is even more antiquated than mine. I know that's ridiculous considering how many new books I'm reading, but I'm most happy when I'm deep in a Trollope.

Merezhkovsky follows the life of Leonardo da Vinci mostly through the lens of his time in Florence and the attitudes of the people, the politics and life in Renaissance Italy. Often the man himself fades into the background in favor of other characters, particularly his apprentice Beltraffio who goes through many struggles with his faith and the genius of a man like da Vinci. I've seen some criticism at how 'Romance' seems to be an awfully Russian sounding Italian Renaissance, but to that I say booooo. Merezhkovsky clearly did his research here, creating a meticulous image of the era as understood by scholars of the time. The philosophy and the style, I grant you, being written by a Russian, will likely be Russian. They have little to do with one another apart from setting and time-frame, but I kept turning over George Eliot's 'Romola' in my mind as I was reading this. It was a startling time. His characterization of Machiavelli and that man's relationship with Da Vinci was the most interesting historical speculation, but I'll be honest and say that the witches sabbath was just the most bat-shit crazy and unexpected bit of reading I've ever found in a novel of this period. It was pure fun.

This forms the middle volume of a thematic trilogy involving the decay of the classic tradition and its inevitable revival. I don't know if I'll read the others, but I'm intrigued.

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