Friday, July 17, 2015

flower net

flower net
red princess #1
lisa see
published 1997

The first body was found in ice: the U.S. ambassador's son, entombed in a frozen lake outside Beijing's Forbidden City. Thousands of miles away, in the heat-baked hold of a Chinese smuggling ship, another corpse is uncovered, this one a red Prince, a scion of China's political elite. Suspecting the deaths are linked, the American and Chinese governments pair ambitious attorney David Stark and brilliant detective Liu Hulan to uncover a killer and a conspiracy.

The only other book I've read by Lisa See is Snow Flower & The Secret Fan and I loved it!  I was looking for something to listen to while I did some work and saw she had a trilogy of crime novels.  Flower Net is the first, introducing Liu Hulan and David Stark who met in America when they were both working at the same firm.  I think.  I can't remember exactly!  I know they were in love once, but Liu gets word that her mother is sick and she returns to Beijing.  Family obligations have her remaining in Beijing, never returning to American and from what I could gather, never contacting David again until murders oceans apart appear connected and the two must work together.

The story itself was mostly interesting and I'm not sure if it was the narration of the book or the book itself that didn't enthrall me, but I wasn't in love with the book.  I'm pretty sure it was the narration.  And the strange background music that kept going on.  I think I'll try the next book in actual book form.

rules of prey

rules of prey
lucas davenport #1
john sandford
published 1989

The "maddog" murderer who is terrorizing the Twin Cities is two things: insane and extremely intelligent.  He kills for the pleasure of it and thoroughly enjoys placing elaborate obstacles to keep police befuddled.  Each clever move he makes is another point of pride.  But when the brilliant Lieutenant Lucas Davenport - a dedicated cop and serial killer's worst nightmare - is brought to take up the investigation, the maddog suddenly has an adversary worthy of his genius.

It has been over 20 years since I first read this book and started the wonderful journey through John Sandford's prey novels.  These are among my most favorite books and after the last few books I kept thinking, I should re-read this series.  So that's what I'm doing.  One down, twenty-five to go.

I love the way that Sandford has Davenport thinking.  Even though he's fishing he's plotting out what he's going to do to trap this guy.  Sometimes it works, and sometimes shit hits the fan, but it's always entertaining.  I sit there sometimes and try to figure out if and how he's going to get away with stuff he pulls.  It's fantastic.

I love that it's been so long that I've forgotten the details enough that the book is still fun to read.  There are still surprises and at the same time there's the familiarity with the characters.  I did get a little sad when certain characters who met their demise later in the series showed up, but like greeting old friends, it's nice to see everyone.

This is certainly a great introduction to Lucas.  It has all the things about him that I love about him and I remember why I love this series and kept reading it for twenty years!

one kick

one kick
kick #1
chelsea cain
simon & schuster
published 2014

Kick Lannigan, 21, is a survivor. Abducted at age six in broad daylight, the police, the public, perhaps even her family assumed the worst had occurred. And then Kathleen Lannigan was found, alive, six years later. In the early months following her freedom, as Kick struggled with PTSD, her parents put her through a litany of therapies, but nothing helped until the detective who rescued her suggested Kick learn to fight. Before she was thirteen, Kick learned marksmanship, martial arts, boxing, archery, and knife throwing. She excelled at every one, vowing she would never be victimized again. But when two children in the Portland area go missing in the same month, Kick goes into a tailspin. Then an enigmatic man Bishop approaches her with a proposition: he is convinced Kick's experiences and expertise can be used to help rescue the abductees. Little does Kick know the case will lead directly into her terrifying past.

I was soooo disappointed in this book.  Loving Chelsea Cain's Archie & Gretchen books I had high expectations I suppose, but I thought she really missed the mark with Kick Lannigan.

The story is jumbled, missing pieces which I assume it's because the book is part of a series and she wants to keep the reader interested throughout the next few books.  But for me, it only made me frustrated and made characters seem flat and unfinished.

And Kick.  Oh, I was most disappointed in her.  She talks for pages and pages about how many ways she can kill or incapacitate a man.  How she can take care of herself, she'll never be a victim again, etc. And yet every dangerous instance she finds herself in she is over powered, outgunned, out manned and just plain out of her league.  She prepares endlessly for 'every' situation, but then fails at every turn and must be saved by a man!  It was so utterly disappointing.

I'm not even sure I have enough interest in the book to continue with the series.  We read this book for our book club and the ones who hadn't read Cain's other series seemed to like it much better than I did.  So maybe a lot of it was my high expectations, but still....I wanted more from Kick.

Friday, June 12, 2015

the ocean at the end of the lane

the ocean at the end of the lane
neil gaiman
william morrow books
published 2013

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn't thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she'd claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

There is something incredibly bewitching about Neil Gaiman's writing and it's only emphasized when you listen to the audiobook read by him.

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane is creepy, haunting, terrifying, sad and magical.  A different kind of coming-of-age tale with the most wonderful of characters.  Lettie and her mother and grandmother were so rich and delicious.  I wanted to be friends with them.  I was desperate for them to come and save the boy from Ursula Monkton.

I loved how the character's names sounded coming from Gaiman.  Ursula Monkton, Lettie Hempstock....and how the narrator, the boy, had no name.

I kept thinking how freaking terrifying the entire experience would be.  How helpless he felt, how strong Lettie was and was heartbroken at the end.  I wanted him to remember.

All in all, a fantastic read (or listen)!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

fresh off the boat

fresh off the boat
eddie huang
spiegel & grau
published 2013

Eddie Huang is the thirty-year-old proprietor of Baohaus—the hot East Village hangout where foodies, stoners, and students come to stuff their faces with delicious Taiwanese street food late into the night—and one of the food world’s brightest and most controversial young stars. But before he created the perfect home for himself in a small patch of downtown New York, Eddie wandered the American wilderness looking for a place to call his own.

I had started reading/listening to Eddie Huang's book awhile back in my quest to find audiobooks that kept me interested.  It couldn't really hold my attention and I found Huang's style slightly irritating so I just let the book expire.  After watching the sitcom Fresh Off The Boat on ABC I decided to give it another try.  I had read about the controversy about the show.  How Huang has said that the show is so far removed from his life that he doesn't even watch it and what a piece of garbage it is, etc. so I wanted to see how different it was.

What I discovered is that ABC created likable characters where there were few.  Did they sugarcoat things?  Of course!  He sold his rights away to a  family network so they could create a sitcom.  If he wanted edgy he should have shopped out to AMC or FX.  But I guess for a guy who hates TV and 'only watches HBO' he just didn't know any better or in Huang speak he was 'ignant'.

What did I like about this book?  I loved the way he talked about food.  He has a knack for describing technically while still painting a picture so you can see the steam rising off a simmering bowl of beef noodle soup.  He has good points about fusion food (it's unnecessary) and how to cook with your senses, with your tastes and experiences than with measuring cups and recipe cards.  It had me craving food the entire time.

Huang is incredibly intelligent.  Well read not because he wanted to be able to say he read Tolstoy but because he really wanted to read Tolstoy.  You could tell that he loved to learn even if he didn't want to be 'that Asian'.  His path to Baohaus in impressive in it's long winding route and he has, at such a young age, accomplished quite a bit.

Unfortunately, the list of things I didn't love about this book is a little longer.  Huang's intelligence has him under the impression that he is smarter, better than everyone else.  He talks about being humble, but that's bullshit.  There is nothing humble about this guy.  He's a major shit talker.  He has a disdain for anyone who isn't 'real', which is kind of ludicrous considering he spent his entire childhood trying to get so far away from his culture that he doesn't even see it.  He hates everyone..  He goes on about ABCs (American Born Chinese), David Chang, frat boys, college kids, Americans, white people, white people, white people.  He has such a chip on his shoulder it's amazing he doesn't tip over.  He doesn't consider himself American, doesn't subscribe to the idea of an American patriot.  When 9/11 happened it didn't really happen to him because this wasn't his country.  Then why stay here?  For a time he has to go to Taiwan for some sentencing thing.  Why didn't he stay there?  Oh, because there were no opportunities for him.  He had to come to AMERICA to do what he wanted to do.  He comes across as snobbish and ungrateful.

But the icing on the cake is how he totally relates with the struggle of black people.  I mean, he understands being held down because his parents sent him to 7 different private schools and raised him in a gated community where Tiger Woods lived.  He tries to distance himself by saying stuff like, well, it was his father's money not his.  When his father gives him a Mercedes for his first car he says it was such an insult because he didn't buy it for himself and showed what a horrible childhood he had.  It's hard to feel sorry for that kind of hardship.

He talks big about being hard and you can tell he so badly wants to be a 'gangsta' but his misdeeds were born out of desperation to be tough, not because he was.  He is, despite his protestations, a poseur.

Now, I'm not saying that he couldn't relate to the lyrics in hip hop.  I'm not saying it was easy growing up the only Asian around white kids or that having parents who beat their kids wasn't a shitty way to grow up, but no, I don't think that means you are the same as another race.  Just be your own.  Own your shit.  Carve your own path.  He doesn't want to be Taiwanese, he wants to be black, but he isn't.  But he'll take the Taiwanese when he sees how he can make it successful.

Maybe it's because I'm just not into the hip hop scene, don't speak the language, but it got tiring.  The book is full of alternately whining about being held down by the white man and patting himself on the back for being smarter than everyone else.  I can see why ABC changed his story and I'm glad they did.  ABC's Fresh Off The Boat might not be the show that Eddie Huang wanted, but it's put main cast Asians on a major network for the first time in 20 years and that should be something to be proud of.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

neil patrick harris: choose your own autobiography

neil patrick harris: choose your own autobiography
neil patrick harris
crown archetype
published 2014

Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based-life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. You will be born to New Mexico. You will get your big break at an acting camp. You will get into a bizarre confrontation outside a nightclub with actor Scott Caan. Even better, at each critical juncture of your life you will choose how to proceed. You will decide whether to try out for Doogie Howser, M.D. You will decide whether to spend years struggling with your sexuality. You will decide what kind of caviar you want to eat on board Elton John’s yacht.

Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a hideous death by piranhas. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song. Yes, if you buy one book this year, congratulations on being above the American average, and make that book Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography!

At first I worried that listening to this book rather than reading I would lose out on the awesome 'choose your own adventure' aspect of the autobiography, but in the beginning of the audiobook NPH explains how they've changed things to account for that and just that bit of humor had me sold.

I'm already a NPH fan.  Loved him since the Doogie Days and was a huge fan from the beginning of HIMYM so it was a no-brainer once I started listening to autobiographical audiobooks to pick up this one and I'm so glad I did.  I also feel sorry for any person who read the book instead of listening to NPH read it to them.  You missed out big time.

I loved the stories and I loved the way he told them.  I wanted to be his friend and join in on the 40th birthday celebration.  It was all so very the-best-thing-ever.

I cannot recommend this book enough.  For the Scott Caan story alone.

a place at the table

a place at the table
susan rebecca white
published 2013

Alice Stone is famous for the homemade Southern cuisine she serves at Cafe Andres and her groundbreaking cookbook, but her past is a mystery to all who know her.  Upon Alice's retirement, Bobby Banks, a young gay man ostracized by his family in Georgia, sets out to revive the aging cafe with his new brand of Southern cooking while he struggles with heartbreak like he's never known.  Seeking respite from the breakup of her marriage, weathly divorcee Amelia Brighton finds solace in the company and food at Cafe Andres, until a family secret comes to light in the pages of Alice's cookbook and threatens to upend her life.


That sums up what I felt about this book.  It was okay.  It didn't make me feel much of anything.  I wasn't astounded by secrets revealed (or really even a bit surprised).  I didn't fall in love with any of the characters (except maybe Bobby's grandmother) and I wasn't entirely happy with the ending.  But it wasn't a bad book.  It was easy to read and I did really enjoy Bobby's story.  Alice was interesting and mysterious, but the book really seemed to be about Bobby up until the last 5 chapters or so when she switches to Amelia who by then, I cared nothing about.

Maybe if the stories had been broken up more I would have been more invested in Amelia.  If we had switched around so that in the beginning we hear a bit from Alice, then Bobby then Amelia and then back to Alice and so on.  Instead, we start with Alice and her story is so shocking that you spend the rest of the book wondering where that's going to come in.  Then we move to Bobby and spend about 80% of the book reading about his life as a child, discovering his sexuality, his move to New York, falling in love, becoming a chef, etc.  So that by the time I got to Amelia I just didn't care about her.  She was no one to me.  I wanted to know what effect she would have on Bobby and what her purpose was for him.  I almost hated her just because she took the story away from Bobby who was infinitely more interesting that this whiny, bitchy woman.


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