Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review – ‘The Dragonfly Saga: Book I: Empress of Canton’ by Juliann Troi

 

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Kathryn Hopewell is the wealthy daughter of William Hopewell, the head of the powerful Hopewell Trading house in Canton in the early 1900s. She has just stepped off the docks after completing business studies at Harvard University in America, and is off to a good start in what she believes will be her position of taking her father’s place as head of the trading empire. Alas, alack, gasp! An unforeseen circumstance has appeared! It turns out Kathryn’s father only sent her to Harvard because he had the money to burn and thought real university would knock that idea out of her silly little head. He has engaged her to a useless Australian named Collin McNeal, who will be the one taking over Kathryn’s hopes and dreams and who is apparently completely devoted to her, even though he has never met her.

There is unrest in China during this period. Warlords and generals vie for provinces and citizens are caught in the crossfire. Kathryn and her friend Lucy go shopping for one fateful day in a district outside their safe zone, and are captured.

Lucy, who is British, is (of course) snuffed out (in fact, anything not American is looked upon as slightly inferior in this cloying melodrama), but General Cheng Jiong’s nephew Wang Ti-wei (who is acceptable as a secondary character because he, too, has gone to school in America and has Americanized his name to Ty Wang before returning to China and getting embroiled in family and national politics) has fallen in love with Kathryn and protects her by offering to lead her to General Cheng’s home in the north where they will be free to escape and he can return her to her father.

Like Disney’s version of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, within three days, they have declared their undying love for one another, and become married in the peasant fashion (eat a meal and sleep in the same room together – which makes me wonder how many people I can claim as spouses today: all interested, come forth into my fold!)

The book ends with their arrival at General Cheng’s home of Shaoguan, which it turns out is actually Wang Ti-wei’s childhood home that was appropriated from him after his mother died. There they complete their final act of marriage, all in a rosy glow of prayer and Bible reading and endless repetitions every five seconds of his ‘sable’ eyes and her ‘teal’ ones.

This book attempts to produce a strong female character, and Kathryn is indeed feisty, but only through an arranged marriage can she receive her inheritance, even though she is more qualified, and the romanticization of the role Westernization played changing China forever, the fact that Ty has to be somewhat Western to be equal to Kathryn, is for lack of a better word, appalling, as though he could not have been legitimate without her as his wife, or she could not somehow have survived without a husband. The image below illustrates how I feel Troi uses Kathryn: she idolizes her – this ‘Chinaman’ is lucky to have her, and his many ninja-esque exploits only serve to feed into the fascination of the exotic that this book only uses as though to say, ‘What a fascinating time before they finally caught up with our American society’.

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I give this book 2 stars out of 5, because the writing isn’t entirely terrible, but nothing more than that, for not only being sexist and racist and very ‘Murican, I could not believe the amount of times ‘sable’ was used to describe Ty’s eyes. There is such a thing as a thesaurus. His eyes could also have been ‘black’, ‘dark’, ‘ebony’, ‘jet’, ‘jetty’, ‘raven’, ‘dusky’ or ‘dusty’, but no, ‘sable’ was the only adjective used to describe them, and that was enough to lose at least one star. Don’t even get me started on the many other adjectives she could have used instead of ‘teal’.

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Book Review – *Picaflor* by Jessica Talbot

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This book was truly a pleasure to read. Talbot has a way of using simplicity to approach the most complex of emotional subjects, including the wake of a suicide, a complicated childhood, the wonder and fear of starting fresh in a new place, the guilt and nostalgia of homesickness, and the satisfying though tentative steps one takes from desolation to confidence, healing and self-actualization. Based on the author’s own life, this book rings true without being trite or bitter or overdramatic. Talbot is succinct and graceful in her use of description, private yet open when sharing her inner thoughts. Picaflor is a gem to come across, a breath of fresh air, depicting the hummingbird in each of us, trying to find home. 5 out of 5 stars.


Book Review – Cycling to Asylum by Su J. Sokol

I have just spent a few months finishing up reading Cycling to Asylum by Su J. Sokol, and today I finally finished it. I have to say, the title seemed to provoke more interest and intrigue than the content provided. I enjoyed the character of Laek, a free-thinking teacher from New York in what could conceivably be called a near-future dystopian period, but I absolutely disliked his wife and his two children, basically because Sokol stops at crucial junctions in the story to do a chapter on every single person in the family and their point of view on the same event, which could have been consolidated instead of making the reader read laboriously through the same event four times. If each character was to have his or her own chapter, I would have preferred for that chapter to carry the story a little further, but in this book that just simply didn’t happen. The parents moved much of the story along, the sister a little bit, and the youngest child’s chapters were all completely unnecessary.

That said, I do enjoy a certain sense of national pride when I read this book – that Canada is where people go to find hope and a new life (this publishing house publishes several Canadian-based works, so I expected nothing less from them). They leave New York to get away from violence and terrorist groups to find a new life and hope in Montreal. I enjoyed Sokol’s accurate use of the intermix of English and French that characterizes much Canadian speech, especially in Quebec, and I thought the mood of a Canadian city in winter was captured best of all. Also, I enjoyed the sexual/relational freedom Laek and his wife Janie enjoy in their marriage, as their relationship with Philip seems to represent a bridge between the bad parts of the U.S. they are leaving behind and the good memories they made there.

All in all, I give this book a solid 3 out of 5 stars, for an interesting storyline, but no more than 3, for taking too long to reach a climax and the staunch formulaic nature of the manuscript.


Book Review – Palawan Story by Caroline Vu

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Yesterday marked my 1-year anniversary blogging on WordPress (yay, go me, and thank you all for reading and following along my book journey!), and today marks the first book review written in my new home in the Northwest Territories.

Today’s book is called Palawan Story, and it’s about the raw and tumultuous life of Vietnamese refugee Kim Nguyen, who escaped the aftermath of the Soviet takeover of Hue at the end of the Vietnam War to forge a new identity in the United States, and eventually, Canada. Palawan is the Filipino refugee camp where that identity is forged, and where her heart blossoms into what she will someday become. It is also about the lies we tell ourselves and one another, just to survive, whether with our very lives, or merely in society. It is a story of forgiveness. Boiled down, Palawan Story is in some ways, everyone’s story. No one is fully innocent, no one is fully guilty. We are what we choose to make of ourselves, and for Kim that sometimes means being more practical than ethical. The story of society in one turbulent nutshell.

I found this book intriguing, hard to put down, and entirely believable. It was very true to the human consciousness – willing or not, we often choose to forget the things that have harmed us, or choose to ignore the fact that our choices may hurt someone else. In some ways, Kim’s success through all she’s been through can be seen as a triumph, in some ways she reminds me of the ruthlessness humanity can lend itself to in its less than shining moments. As a protagonist, Kim is in every way human, for better or for worse, entirely relatable, and endearing despite her flaws.

For excellent realism, good research, and accurate exploration of the many differing cultures connected to the Vietnam War, I give this book 4 stars out of 5.