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review 2018-06-08 19:03
Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene
Our Man in Havana - Graham Greene,Christopher Hitchens

Graham Greene is one of those authors that I've always meant to read - and following along with BrokenTune's Greene-land Adventures project increased my desire to dip into his books. The Summer of Spies gave me a perfect opportunity to check out one of his "espionage" books.

 

I wasn't expecting the level of farce contained in this book. It's not really a spy story - it's a story about a reluctant vacuum-salesman-turned-spy who has no intelligence to provide, but who needs to make the money he is getting for his dispatches worth the while of the British Intelligence service. So, he starts making stuff up.

 

There are some very funny parts of this book - the "missile drawings" that were obviously based on a vacuum cleaner is hysterical. The conversation between Hawthorne and his boss where the boss convinces himself that Wormold is actually some sort of a merchant king is bitingly funny, and also quite a propos of current politics, where, apparently, 49% of America can be convinced that a lying moron with inherited money is actually a brilliant strategist worthy of being President. 

 

When it is in your interest to believe something, this book points out, reality is of little import.

 

And, as it is in life, when delusion collides with truth, someone is probably going to die. The ending is a brilliant illustration of what happens when human beings are confronted with an inconvenient and embarrassing reality - sometimes maintaining the lie is easier than acknowledging that you've been fooled.

 

So it goes...

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-06-05 03:37
Ali Land: Good Me Bad me
Good Me Bad Me - Ali Land

In her debut novel Ali Land explores how much our parents have the ability to shape us:

Milly's mother was a Serial Killer but Milly still loves her, but she knew the only way to stop her and save other children was to turn her in to the police. This allows Milly to have a fresh start, with a new identity, try to rewrite her past as well as a new foster family. But anyone can see that Milly has secrets and she has to fight to keep them. As Milly's mother's trial comes closer and closer Milly does not know if she will be able to testify against her mother, but more than anything she wants to keep the foster family that she was placed with. Milly begins to wonder how much of an influence her mother has had over her, how much of it has shaped her and whether she is really destined to just become her mother one day. As things become more and more intense in Milly's life she is going to show exactly the type of person she is; Good or Bad.

Wow, this book is insane and intense. Dark, twisted and disturbing on so many levels, but I enjoyed it all. What made this even more impressive is this is Land's debut novel. Honestly I do not know how she will be able to top this novel. This had so many positives in the execution and the way of psychology and the whole idea of nature vs nurture aspect played out that I think it will be hard to top this book. I think Land will have to go in to a completely different direction with another book as anything similar would not hit the mark.

This book did have some writing flaws but I think that because it was told by Milly there were times when the dialogue was sloppy on purpose as Milly tries to adapt not only to her new posh surroundings and the people she comes in contact with, but it also expressed how different Milly was from all of these other people. Milly is such an intriguing character on her own I understand why Land chose not to have other points of view in this book; Milly was more than enough.

I'm not really sure I'm completely happy with the ending, more so when it ended not how it ended. I wanted more, to know what was going to happen next with everyone (I don't want to give  too much away of what I wanted more of as that would give some major things away in the book). Nonetheless, I was able to figure out one of the major plot lines or twist near the end but I think that Land makes it easy to find or realize on purpose, as you as the reader secretly hope that you are wrong. That said it is great that you are right as Land is okay with showing the dark side of human nature.

This was a great debut novel by Land that has you questioning how much your upbringing can shape you and really explores some of the darker sides of human nature. I look forward to seeing what Land comes up with next.

Enjoy!!!

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review 2018-05-22 17:35
The Miner's Lady (Land of Shining Water #3) by Tracie Peterson
The Miner's Lady (Land of Shining Water #3) - Tracie Peterson

I have wanted to try a Peterson book for awhile now, but felt really intimidated by her backlist. Seeing this book on my library shelf made the decision for me. I'm glad I chose this one as there was a lot to like in the book.

 

First up, Italian immigrants and their families in a historical romance - thank you! Finally! Seeing immigrants (other than from the UK or Ireland) in historical fiction (much less inspirational historical fiction) and their traditions while also seeing themselves as American was a treat that I take with grateful hands. I felt the immigrants' Catholic religion was downplayed a lot, but inspirational genre frowns upon anything touching Catholism, so I understood that the author had to navigate between the characters and her expected audience.

 

Chantel was a great character who was strong but was not needed to prop up the rest of the family - each member of her family helped out and wasn't a burden on another person, although one of them courted trouble and ended up paying the price. I like that Chantel wasn't the only one responsible in her family. Same with Dante - each of his family members did their part and worked together without being a prop to show Dante's goodness. 

 

And the sparks flew so much when Chantel and Dante were together it was a wonder that the town wasn't set on fire. Their romance was a slow burn (real slow) but the other plotlines in the story kept the romance from becoming repetitive. A lot of stuff goes down in a small mining town in Minnesota over the course of a year, which gave Chantel and Dante room to grow as individuals as well as a couple. 

 

One issue I had with the book was that the preaching got repetitive towards the last 25% of the book. Up until then, the religious tone was woven within the characters and story seamlessly, then all of a sudden it was scripture quotes on every page.

 

I have plans to read the other two books in the trilogy. Each book can be read as a stand alone, so no worries about having to read the series in order.

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review 2018-05-20 00:48
Man & Monster (The Savage Land #2)
Man & Monster (The Savage Land: Book 2) - Michael Jensen

It was great (I guess?) getting back to Hugh's Lick, which is still as much a stain on the frontier as it was in the first book. I hoped that we would get to see John, Palmer and Gwennie again, and we do. Even though they're not the MCs here, we still see plenty of them as they help Cold-Hearted Cole, new to the frontier and not having a good time of it. Wendigos trying to devour you can be such party-poopers, ya know. ;)

 

I really liked Pakim (I don't remember if he was in the first book or not) and the relationship that developed between him and Cole was often humorous and sweet, even while Cole was fighting his feelings. There was some good sexual tension there too, just don't expect any mind-blowing sex scenes.

 

I didn't feel as engaged in this book as I did with Man & Monster. Cole isn't as engaging a POV character as John was, for starters. Cole is purposely closed off for various reasons, and while we do get to see flashes of who he is underneath the cold-hearted persona, it's not quite enough for me to care about him as a character. Then there's the really bad horror movie aspect of the book that involves the monster/wendigo that's terrorizing Hugh's Lick. 1) The majority of these settlers deserve to be eaten, and 2) it was like reading the equivalent of "running up the stairs in the dark" for two hundred pages. The pacing felt off, if not downright slow, and the characters barely even paid any attention to the warnings or advice they got. I also figured out pretty quick who at least one of the wendigos was going to be. The editing also could've been better.

 

Thankfully, once the show - or the characters - finally get on the road and get to doing something not phenomenally stupid, the action was pretty well-written, if just as over the top as you'd get from any blockbuster movie. 

 

It was good, and fun, but I think going through and trimming out about twenty pages would've helped a lot.

 

I do think when authors take liberties with historical figures, they really should make an author's note on their research and what they decided to change about that person for the sake of their story. So there's that.

 

In closing:

 

"Oh, the Lord is good to me.
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need:
The sun and the rain and the apple seed;
The Lord is good to me."

 

Bet y'all haven't thought of that one in a hot minute.  I know I haven't. ;)

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review 2018-05-10 14:56
A truly romantic novel about a love that survives against all odds.
Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm - Hans M. Hirschi

I can reassure those who know Mr. Hirschi as the Queen of Unconventional Happy Endings. He’s done it again.

This book, perhaps the most romantic of the books I’ve read so far by this author, in my opinion, is about a love story that has survived incredible odds and lasted almost a whole lifetime. Despite being separated by different continents, being from different backgrounds, and hardly knowing each other’s languages and customs, two young men meet in Korea shortly after the war (in 1953) and feel attracted to each other. One, Martin, is an African-American soldier with a penchant for languages, helping the UN with the pacification tasks. The other, Ji-Hoon, is a young man working at the family restaurant, whose future path has been decided for him. He will get married and inherit the family business. They are both young, beautiful, and inexperienced. In such strange circumstances, they meet and get to know each other. Martin helps Ji-Hoon’s family providing supplies as often as he can, and he ends up becoming a friend of the whole family. But, they are not meant to be together. Martin goes back to the US and never meets anybody he feels the same about as he did for Ji-Hoon. He knows he was going to get married, but after a brief epistolary contact, they lose touch. Now in his eighties, thanks to a new nurse at the nursing home where he is staying, Kevin, and to the brother of one of the other residents, Eugene, he is encouraged to find out what happened to the true love of his life.

The story, although written in the third person, is told from Martin’s point of view. There are chapters set in the present, interspersed with chapters that took place in Korea after the war, providing the readers the background to understand both, the love story, and also how time has passed and changed things. There is a fair amount of telling in the book, as Martin, who is, in many ways, old-fashioned, not used to talking about his feelings, and of a generation where being openly gay was not the done thing (and in his case, being compounded by the race issue it would have made his life even harder), lives pretty much a quiet life, full of memories of the one event and emotion that really shook his world. Martin is confronted by some openly gay men (very different in outlook: Kevin, a Goth nurse who has trouble fitting in, but not with his sexuality; Eugene, who found a refuge for his more flamboyant mannerisms in an acting career; and Eugene’s nephew, who is married to another man and has children and a blissful family life, other than the conflict with his mother) and their questions and different outlooks make him, in a way, come of age and wonder, not only how things could have been, but also, why things could be. The fact that men still find him attractive, and there is still plenty of life left in him, together with the encouragement he receives, makes him go back to Korea pursuing the love of his youth.

The beautifully detailed writing manages to bring Korea to life, both in the post-war era and now. We share in Martin’s point of view and that makes us see the beauty of it, the wonder, but also the confusion and how much it has changed when we get to the present. The descriptions of places, food, and moments are emotional and beautiful. Korea and the way it has changed over time parallels what has happened to Martin. There are traces of the past, love for respect and tradition, but some of the old things had to be removed to make way for the new, and some could not be saved. It is not all for the better, but there is still beauty there, and its people are still the people Martin felt so fond of.

In some ways, we know little about Martin, who is not somebody who talks about him easily, and who only makes passing comments about his previous life and shares some brief snippets about his parents, his work, and his lovers over the years, but does not dwell on them. He is a modest and humble man who seems unaware of how much people like him or how fond they are of him. He is a credible character, and his doubts and hesitations fit in well with his age, his outlook on life, and also the effect he has on others. At the same time, his exploration of life and his perfect role as an observer when he first goes to Korea and on his return help readers explore and feel at one with him, sharing in his wonder and confusion.

Apart from Korea and the love story at the heart of the book, there are many other themes that come into play and create a complex background. The three men who end up going to Korea face some challenges and prejudice. While Martin could hide his sexual orientation, his skin colour was there for everybody to see, and being in the military he was fully aware of how different a treatment he was likely to receive from his colleagues. Eugene could not hide his gayness and pass for straight, and his lifestyle put him at risk. We know the #MeToo does not only apply to women, and in Eugene’s case, it had serious consequences for him. He was shunned by his sister all of his life, for being who he was. And his nephew suffered the same fate. Kevin, whose looks and style-choices have made him a bit of an outsider, is a loner and feels more comfortable with Martin than with people his age. There are parallels and similarities between the —at least at first sight— very different characters, and later on, we see these parallels are also in evidence across the world, with religious beliefs and conservative traditions coming in the way of love and understanding. We see Ji-Hoon only through Martin’s eyes at first, and he is not always insightful about people around him or about how he is perceived by others, but we have an opportunity to see what impact he truly had on his friends later on in the book.

Although the story of elderly men or women trying to find a lost love is not new, I enjoyed Martin’s process of discovery and his coming into his own. I love the comradery and the way the three men helped each other, with Eugene playing the fairy godmother and facilitating the trip, Kevin providing the technical and hands-on know-how, and Martin confronting his fears to become the hero he was meant to be. This is a novel about friendship, about history, about love, and about hope. We should never lose our hope and dreams. Nothing is impossible if we don’t give up. (Ah, there is no erotica, in case that you, like me, don’t particularly enjoy it).

The author includes a recipe at the end (the dish is central to the story, so I won’t go into detail), and he also explains some of the process and the language difficulties he faced and adds a glossary of terms at the end.

A gorgeous cover, for a truly romantic book that goes beyond the standard love story and includes an ensemble of characters you’ll feel sorry to say goodbye to. I’ll be eagerly waiting for Mr. Hirschi’s next book.

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