Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book log 24: Ice Station Zebra


by Alistair MacLean
For as long as I’ve been a Flynn and before (so a very, very long time), I’ve heard how this book was a favorite for my late mother-in-law. One of these days I should read this book, I thought to myself, and the years went by and the MIL passed away, and the movie that was based on the book was on, so we watched it.

I was not impressed at all. She liked the book this was based on? I asked the hub, incredulous. This is really boring! The movie is just okay, I was told. The book is a LOT better.

And that turns out to be true. Not the first time the book is better, and not the last (although there have been the rare occasions that the movie is better than the book; Bridget Jones’ Diary comes to mind). I was reminded of a more recent work about espionage and intrigue involving a submarine, HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER, but the differences between the two works are many (and notable, considering how the political landscape changed between novels). The first that came to mind as I was reading this was style. While both books have elements in common (among others, they are both heavy on the info dumps), you can tell that it’s not just the political situation that’s changed between the books. ICE STATION ZEBRA is heavy on plot and not so much on characterization. Part of this is because it’s told in first person, with the narrator not forthcoming on his actual motives. Part of it is because the reading public isn’t as interested in heavy plotting; otherwise, too much thinking would be involved (I hope I’m being facetious, but we’re living in an age of the dull-witted but very rich Kardashians as the royalty of the boob tube). ZEBRA’s info dump is necessary to understand the workings of the submarine, while I got the impression, certainly after reading this, that a lot of the info dump in RED OCTOBER was for the love of the info dump. Which I can understand; there’s a certain soaring glory in the imparting of information, but a line must be drawn between imparting information that stops the story altogether and information that shoves the story forward. I was grateful for the movie version of RED OCTOBER because all that info dump got condensed into Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery jabbering at each other.

Anyway, ZEBRA is a Cold War story. And it even takes place in the Arctic. It is plot heavy so it must be read carefully, much like a very good mystery, which this is; the characters have motives that may or may not shift or even be duplicitous in the extreme. I can recommend this book, because they really don’t write thrillers like this any more. It was a best-seller in its day, and I can see why. Bring back the heavy plotting, I say!

COMING UP: The Sons of the Profits, and more!


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Book log 23: Any Other Name


ANY OTHER NAME
by Craig Johnson
In ANY OTHER NAME, the latest in the Walt Longmire series (on which was based the Longmire TV series, both of which I can recommend), we visit Wyoming during the week between Christmas and New Year's, but not in the usual Absaroka County. He's in another county by request of his friend, mentor, and old boss, Lucian Connally, to look into a suicide of the husband of an old friend. But he's got other challenges: he's on a deadline (his daughter's about to give birth, and he's got to get to Philadelphia), the snow just keeps falling, screwing up not only the roads but communications as well, and the way that Walt and his crew do, they not only wander off their own county, they wander into other states to find out what exactly the man was investigating before he decided to off himself.

Originally, I found myself liking this series because it offers a little bit of everything: mystery, paranormal, romance, comedy, tragedy—seriously, a little bit of everything. Add to that he's a sheriff in the new West, so there's that Western component to boot. The paranormal bit is often connected to the Native American cultures that Longmire often encounters, and this time it comes in the form of a couple of American icons and a buffalo. And there's also a trained raccoon that comes into the story, reminding me of Rocket Raccoon, so hey! I have to say there really IS a little bit of something for everyone. This is easy, enjoyable reading, just the right thing for summer perusal. (Of course, by the time you read this, that summer of which I write is almost over, so this may end up being your late summer/early autumn reading, or even the week between Christmas and New Year’s!)

COMING UP: Ice Station Zebra by Alistair MacLean. Hope your summer has been a good one and filled with fun reading!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Book log 22: Asian Tales and Tellers


Asian Tales and Tellers
by Cathy Spagnoli
This book was recommended to me in a forum interested in Asian-set and related books, and considering the number of workshops I’ve presented dealing with Asian mythologies, it was a natural. My good friend Jacquie Rogers and I present a series of workshops about myths and legends along the Silk Road and around the world, and particularly about how similar legends shift and change as you travel along the Silk Road. Sometimes, finding the stories got tricky for me, because I was the one tracking down stories in Asia. If I had been able to have this book around, things might have been a little easier! After I found out about it, I quickly hied over to the local library (again, very lucky I have one nearby) and reserved it.

It was actually recommended to me because the original person who mentioned it referred to the Asian stories and the variations of a single story, but it wasn’t until I actually got hold of the book that I realized that it’s basically an ethnography. Having been an anthropology major, I nearly squealed at that. Fun! At least for me. It's an overview of storytelling around Asia, and it was even better than what I had expected. The stories were insightful and fun and they gave a true idea of how they would have been told by the storyteller in question, complete with onomatopoeic effects, a nice touch, since the Japanese stories made me remember how I would have heard them as a kid. And if you're not an anthropologist, you'll like the book just because the stories are fun and will inform your knowledge of what you may or may not know about the culture in question.

Cathy Spagnoli, it turns out, is a Seattle-area local, so I will have to keep an eye out for any appearances she may have planned. I liked this book, and you will too.

COMING UP: Any Other Name, the latest Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson, and then Ice Station Zebra, a golden oldie I’d never read, by Alistair MacLean. Hope your summer is a joyous one and filled with good reading!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book log 21: The Yokota Officers' Club


THE YOKOTA OFFICERS’ CLUB
by Sarah Bird
A good portion of the American population has to be military service dependents, both past and present (and who knows, future). A subsect of those dependents is those who find themselves overseas, and a smaller subsect is those who never get acclimated to the constant change. Sarah Bird, whose charming early book The Boyfriend School became the poorly titled (but still charming) movie Don’t Tell Her It’s Me (before eventually showing up for the home audience with the original book’s title), was a military dependent, and used her memories of her time in Okinawa and in Japan to come up with this novel.

Because I’d read her previous novels and liked them, I was already inclined to like this one, and would have even before I became aware of the topic. But the differences between her memories as a military dependent in Okinawa and mine as a military dependent in Japan are that her father was an officer and mine was a noncom, and she was a white girl speaking little or no Japanese or Okinawan (kudos to her that she notes there’s a difference), and I was a hapa speaking native Japanese.

Reading this book was like seeing a familiar landscape (sort of; I’ve never been to Okinawa), but from another perspective. I spent my childhood in Japan completely comfortable, only feeling uncomfortable once we came back to the US. (Acknowledged at the end is a book by an author named Mary Edwards Wertsch titled Military Brats: Legacies of childhood inside the fortress, also recommended by author Karen Harbaugh, who has a similar background as I do, about what military kids get used to or don’t with the constant moving.) Reading this book was oddly comforting yet oddly jarring, and I know part of that oddness was because this is a story written by an adult about a young adult looking back at specific points in her childhood. I knew those places, even though I’d never been to most of them; I knew many of those people, but the natives never struck me as being foreign because they were, basically, my peeps, even though they never would have thought of me in the same way. (At one point, Bird’s lead character stays at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, and she notes that the structure, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is being taken down, and I had a bit of delight there because that was just about the time my family was there, getting ready to go back to the US. Even as she has her character walking through the place, we were doing the same thing, knowing that history was being destroyed.)

Bird’s character also finds herself revisiting old haunts, since she had lived there years before, but of course finding little or nothing familiar from her childhood. I’ve done that too, but of course she was seeing it as an outsider, always an outsider, but when I went to see old haunts that no longer existed, I felt as though it was a place where I was an insider, which is a whole different feeling.

But this says little about the book itself. It’s all this and more. Were you an Air Force brat? Did you spend time in Okinawa or Japan? Did you grow up in the (by now a cliche to refer to it this way) turbulent 1960s? Or do you like a good read? All these things refer to this book, and I can recommend it with enthusiasm.

COMING UP: Asian Tales and Teller by Cathy Spagnoli, and after that, the latest Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book log 20: Romance Is My Day Job

Romance Is My Day Job
by Patience Bloom
A number of years ago, there was a particular book that was at the forefront of the chicklit craze. It was a simple story, actually, about the dates, sundry and various, that a young woman went on before she found Mr. Right. I heard lots of raves about it. I finally read it. I was not impressed. In retrospect, I should have realized at that point that I was not going to have a career in writing romance. I kept insisting on logic and rationale and common sense and unfortunately, those seemed to go by the wayside much too often. Now, fantasy, sure. But this is not that story. 

This is about the life story about someone who ended up being a romance editor, who dated and dated and ended up marrying someone she knew from her high school days. It had a beginning that annoyed the shit out of me (whenever I read something along the lines of "Oh, I'm wasting my parents' money by chasing boys! Hohoho, isn't that amusing and you should laugh too," my first reaction is that said person should be slapped and then forced to repay, every single cent, that said person wasted in her education, because she obviously didn't learn a damn thing. Anyway), and if not for the fact that I was waiting for my next book to arrive from the library, I would have promptly thrown it back to the library. But I kept reading, and grudgingly, I have to admit that it got a little better.

Years of reading and editing tightly written genre fiction shows in this book, because it's well crafted, cleanly written (I could have done without the references to basically being an emotional idiot, and a stupid one at that, early on), tightly plotted, and properly ended with a happy wedding. It's not a bad book. It's not perfect, but it did its job in shaping the story of a woman in search of her own happy ending, and getting it. Good luck, Bloomie.

COMING UP: Asian Tales and Teller by Cathy Spagnoli, The Yokota Officers' Club by Sarah Bird, and after that, the latest Walt Longmire mystery by Craig Johnson. Hope your summer is a good one!

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy 30th Interdependence Day!

For those of us in the US, today is Independence Day, celebrating the day we as a nation decided not to be ruled by another nation. In other parts of the world, though, it's just July 4. But wherever we are, no matter what culture we're currently in, today is Interdependence Day for my husband and me, because it's our anniversary.

We got married on July 4 in Brooklyn, NY, 30 years ago, and had our reception in the restaurant in the tallest building in Bay Ridge. We chose that spot because that's where we lived; we loved the area (the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, right before the Verrazano Bridge, which leads you to Staten Island), and by having our reception in that building, we could see the fireworks over in Manhattan. It was one day that we knew most everyone we wanted to invite would have off, and surprisingly, neither the church nor the restaurant were booked. It was a lovely, sunny day (okay, it was summer in New York: It was scorching, the church wasn't air-conditioned, but the sky was a beautiful blue), and we remember it fondly still. 

Eventually, we moved away -- across the country, even, to Washington state -- but we had the opportunity to go back to New York a few years ago, just in time for our anniversary. We had dinner at the restaurant at the top of that same building, and watched the fireworks over in Manhattan again. We remember that fondly, too.

How is any of this relevant? Well, I write and edit romances. And our wedding was romantic. And it's Interdependence Day. So Happy Interdependence Day, one and all!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Book log 19: Washington's Spies


WASHINGTON’S SPIES
by Alexander Rose

I read this the old-fashioned way, on—gasp!—paper. It took a while longer, because I had to remember to carry the book around and then READ it, flipping pages. Am I being a little tongue in cheek? Not as much as I’d hoped. Anyway, this is the story of America's first spy ring, on which the AMC series TURN was based. I understand our old friend Bob Greenberger assigned this book to his high school students last term, and I'm impressed. My high school wouldn't have dreamed of assigning something this challenging! And challenging it is. I’m open about my liking for genre fiction, because it’s a clean formula, as opposed to hoity-toity Intelligentsia Fiction. But when it comes to nonfiction, which I’m also doing my best to read, no such rules.

It’s been many years since my history-taking days, and particularly American history (in college, if it was a choice between, say, anthropology, and history, I jumped on that cool anthropology stuff). I have friends who even majored in the topic, so I was well aware that my knowledge was, if nothing else, faint and even out of date (because history can be updated with the possession of new information). And this business about the American Revolution was a topic that was given short shrift when I was a kid, sadly enough, because the teachers had to cram as much information into the time allotted—a little bit world history, a little bit national history, a little bit regional history, a little bit local. As a consequence, very basic stuff. Spies for Washington? We barely heard about the shot heard ‘round the world. Hessians? Not until I was much older.

On the other hand, kids on the other side of the country most likely never heard about the Whitman mission, and I’m pretty sure most would never care. It’s a Washington state thing.

Anyway, about those spies. I had never heard of such a thing. Nathan Hale being executed, sure, I had read about, but for being a less than effective spy, no. John Andre, a spy for the other side, also being executed in retaliation, sure, but I couldn’t have told you why. And Benedict Arnold, who unlike his friend Andre survived, but from all accounts regretted his actions, with no trust from either side ever again. Alexander Rose’s book was challenging, but it was a good challenge. In many ways this was a civil war before the one in the 1860s, with your brother and neighbor possibly your enemy (or maybe your friend at one point and then your enemy, and you’d never know for sure), with both sides learning about spycraft clumsily, not knowing who to trust or how to communicate, using ciphers that didn’t necessarily work (you had to have the code to decipher or even pay attention to the details), be constantly terrified that someone might have slipped or given you away or even suspected, not to mention if you were an honest but straightforward spy, you would lose money and never get reimbursed. Not to mention that the man who became the Father of Our Country was a snobby social-climber…so I guess some things never change. You can do your job and never be appreciated if your handwriting was crap!

Good read!

And Happy Independence Day!

Next up: ROMANCE IS MY DAY JOB by Patience Bloom, about a Harlequin editor’s search for romance for herself! Hey, after Alexander Rose’s book, I needed something a little less challenging.