Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Book log 21: 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

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.