Saturday, January 29, 2011

Married to Bhutan – Review

I received an ARC of Married to Bhutan from a friend, who just happens to be the author, Linda Leaming. Aha!, you say. Good words for a friend! But no. She didn’t ask me to write a review, she merely shared her work. And anyone who knows me is aware that I’m a picky reader—and blunt. If I had not found merit in Married to Bhutan, I would not be writing THIS review.

A "twitter" overview: Woman travels in Asia; becomes enamored with the small country Bhutan; decides to live and work there; marries a Bhutanese man and finds contentment.

But the book is more than a chronology of events. In this book, Leaming not only tells how she came to be in Bhutan, but describes the country and the people in a way that makes the reader understand why she has lived there for more than fifteen years. Insight into her own character and what Bhutan gave to her is interspersed with anecdotal stories of her adjustment. She pokes fun at herself quite often, and recognizes what a novelty she has been for her friends and Bhutanese family.

Through her descriptions, the environment comes alive. I feel that if I were to go to Bhutan tomorrow, I would recognize towns and landscapes. Unlike a travel pamphlet, the book is rich with imagery that describes the land as Leaming experiences it: her walk to work in the morning, her arduous trek to a high mountain retreat; riding along the narrow spirally roads to get from one valley, over the mountains to the next. All five senses are stimulated with Leaming's excellent writing.

Leaming shows how the awesome geography and environment has shaped the people, and has also insulated Bhutan from many cultural changes. On occasion, she speaks of her own frustration brought on by her American upbringing in this society so different from Tennessee. She has the ability to stand back and make quality observations about her own reactions as well as the attitudes and reactions of those around her, even her husband Namgay.

With Married to Bhutan Leaming offers readers a glimpse into a different lifestyle that, for her, was the a good match. If you like history (researched and validated), it's here, along with thousand-year-old stories of culture and philosophy. The strength of the book is in the presentation: it's not pedantic, not breast-beating or patronizing, but a quiet and skillful unfolding of a life rich in complexity and peace of mind.

Highly Recommended.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fold and Die - Review

I borrowed Fold and Die from my local Public Library. The cover advertised "back by popular demand," referring to the character, Jordan Lacey and the JL series. It appears, however, that author Stella Whitelaw, after seven other Lacey mysteries, tossed this one out to satisfy her agent or publisher.

The sloppy writing of the first fifteen pages almost convinced me to return the volume to my book bag, but I persisted. The writing improved. The mystery was quite transparent and Lacey never saw the clues. But then she rarely used any investigative skills in this story. I kept reading, hoping my assumptions about the crime and the culprits would be wrong. For me, Jordan Lacy, who is touted as zany came off more as ditzy. A couple of red herring elements were so out of context with the eventual story line and plans of the perps, they seemed more like word-count fill, and for one, Lacey's response was ambivalent.

With a setting of a cruise ship, there were points of interesting information. The tour-guide descriptions of the ship's stop were well written, but added to the ditzy nature of the protagonist—she put her PI job and worries on hold to sightsee.

Overall, I was disenchanted with this. Nice if you want to learn a little bit about cruise ships and Norwegian art and history; but other than that, not so nice.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Murder on the Mind - Review

I read a promo blurb for this book and was intrigued—but cautious. The book market is replete with "paranormal" story lines, and not all are to my liking. Many often veer into "possession" and demons and external mind manipulation. Not my style. I prefer extra-sensory perception (ESP) that is entirely within the character.

After reading the free sample chapters of Murder on the Mind I was more caught by the very ESP circumstances of protagonist Jeff Resnick. I bought the Kindle edition and started reading....

And couldn't stop reading.

The first-person presentation was well executed and I was drawn in to Resnick's unique mental circumstance as well as his personal reuniting with older half-brother Richard Alpert. Jeff Resnick had been victim of a brutal New York City mugging that left him physically and economically stranded. Richard, a doctor and heir to millions, rescues him and takes him to their boyhood city of Buffalo, where Richard currently lived. Jeff must overcome his often negative feelings toward his brother and deal with depressing memories in mini-mansion where he lived after their mother died.

Throughout his recovery, Resnick is bombarded with images of a ghastly killing that soon becomes public knowledge; but Resnick had known about it long before the crime was committed. ESP. Is he going mad? Does he really have a gift? He begins his own investigation into the crime.

The story development was a good as the character development. Descriptions weren't limited to the gory and gruesome, but included persuasive descriptions of Buffalo, its where's-my-heavy-coat weather and surrounds. Richard and his significant other, Brenda, were complete and interesting. This being the first of a series, some things were left to develop in later books, such as Jeff's relationship with Maggie.

Did this book have any faults? Of course. Nothing is perfect. I was a bit dissatisfied with the denouement scene, which seemed a bit contrived. There were a few standard mystery-writer clich├ęs that might have been left out. Bur none were terribly detracting. Murder on the Mind is a gripping and well wrought mystery.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Being Someone Else – Review

I bought the ebook version of Being Someone Else, because I had enjoyed a previous "Sticks" Hetrick's mystery, Something In Common.

This Swatara County story has an intricate plot that makes for eager reading to get it figured out. Although it is part of the "Sticks" series, Hetrick didn't play as much a part in solving this mystery as I would have liked, but the complimentary characters of detective Flora Vastin and police chief Aaron Brubaker were compelling.

It starts with a murder (duh) and no clues. Then another murder in an adjacent county compounds the questions. The coming together of circumstantial evidence and intuitive thinking leads the police force to an affluent family that has just returned to live in the area. If they are involved, how and why? It's a tricky proposition.

As with most contemporary mysteries, the evolution of the protagonists' private lives also come into play, and we learn of Sticks' growing involvement with Anita, and Flora's courtship by Harry. These are nicely developed, and Flora's situation has impact on the solution of the mystery.

A few negatives: I got the Finkbines and Fishburns confused on occasion; for me there were a few too many "Let me tell you the story" type explanations; and in my post-reading reflections, I wonder about some of the motivation elements that set up the story.

Being Someone Else is also a story of relationships, and the interactive dynamics of several sub-characters are revealed. My personal feelings on this technique, no matter how well presented, is not positive. I prefer stories—especially mysteries—told from only one or two points of view; but multiple viewpoints are a feature of so many novels these days, I sigh and get on with it.

Multiple character development figures strongly in many Lindermuth stories, and he does it well, with each point of view showing a distinctive personality. That, along with good aesthetics of editing and layout, makes Being Someone Else a nice addition to any mystery list.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rethinking the N-word?

Needless to say, the N-word (to be PC) is not one of my favorite words. And the use of it in literature has caused many books to banned by libraries, and not used in many school systems. The re-publication of Twain's Huck Finn is making people rethink this again. Here's a thoughtful article on the Charlotte News Observer's blog, The Reading Life.

There is definite pain involved in hearing slanderous and intentionally cruel terms leveled at you. Being black American and Indian American, I have many times been on the receiving end—often when the speakers thought I was out of earshot and just as often when they sneer and look right at me. I have inured myself to it and can keep on walking with no desire to lash out. That, I know, is useless.

When writing historical fiction, I am conscious of the language of the time-period and like to stay in sync with that. But I also know the reaction to terminology that pops up today, from enlightened non-black Americans to those who still feel the lash in that word. It's a tricky line to tightrope. I've found that in dialogue, an unsavory character can speak all kinds of rough language without using the words many find offensive; the character is still obnoxious and crude. But the intent is the same. I think this is what NewSouth, Inc. intends by changing the Twain text.

I do often wonder, however, if people object to use of words because it puts the character saying them in a bad light—a place they themselves might be because they identify more than they want to admit.

There's a good chance a lot of self-recrimination will be lost with the change in Twain's text. More people might read the American Classic, but will they understand what Twain was intending? I tend to agree with Pam Kelly and Frazer Dobson. I think a lot will be lost.