Review: French Concession by Xiao Bai

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French Concession by Xiao Bai is a complex novel that interleaves a number of different storylines told by different narrators who all live or work inside the French Concession in 1930s Shanghai. The novel begins with an assassination and from there follows a communist cell, some police officers in the French political section, an arms dealer, a newspaper photographer turned double agent, Shanghai police, and some Western speculators and diplomats trying to make their fortune. In the main storyline, the novel follows the communist cell, the arms dealer, and the cops as the one attempts to cause trouble in the Concession, one attempts to run their business, and the other attempts to stop the first two. According to documents at the end of the novel, this story is based on real happenings in Shanghai and came about when the author started trying to piece together documents that had been not well archived over the years.

It took me awhile to get into the story, possibly because of all of the different narrators and storylines. There are some storylines that are secondary to the main story, and I had a hard time at first trying to figure out how they fit. However, the novel begins with a list of characters and a brief description of who they are in relation to each other, and that helped me get into the story. Once I got into it, I kept reading into wee hours of the morning, because I wanted to know what happened.

One of the things that this novel does really well, in part because of all of the secondary stories, is its sense of place. You definitely get the feeling of a place that is full of people, all with their own agendas, trying to make their way in a bustling city. This was also helped on by an occasional map being included. Shanghai, and the French Concession, in part because it is a place that is created by the people that live in it, is a character in this novel. And, it was great. I originally bought it because I read a description that called it a noir novel. I was expecting it to be more pulpy. It is noir, for sure, following the suspects, the victims and the perpetrators of the crimes in the novel. But, it is much more complicated than a pulp novel and it required a lot more concentration. So, if you wanted something light to read at the end of the day, this is not for you.

 

If you enjoy novels that are told from multiple perspectives, give you a sense of a historical time and place, or are noir, then I totally recommend this novel.

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Pop Culture Assignment for Kate: Horror and Suspense

I had a hard time coming up with an assignment for Kate. My originally thought about assigning her first books in four different series but I had a trouble narrowing it down and  most of them are series that she would totally have read if she hadn’t been so busy the last couple of years working on PhD.  Which kinda defeats the purpose since the assignments are supposed to be of books that we normally wouldn’t read on our own.  So I decided on four different standalone horror and suspense novels.  All four of these books I enjoyed for different reasons.  I think it’s good to have a scare every now and then but also like how genre can comment on social issues without being in your face about it but also to an audience that normally wouldn’t seek out such material on their own.  So I’m excited to see how she like them.

cryers cross Cryer’s Cross by Lisa McMann

I’m starting off Kate with Cryer’s Cross.  I would say is kinda of a ghost story.  Kendall loves her small town in Montana but she has dreams of going to school in New York. When tragedy strikes and her friends start to go missing, she teams up with the new boy to solve the mystery.  Race, mental disorders and small town secrets all come into play in this well written mystery.

coldestgirl The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly Black

Holly Black is a master story teller and this is in my opinion one of her best books.  She takes the vampire genre to a new level with this one.  I have to say it’s right up there with Sunshine by Robin McKinley.  Cities have been walled up to quarantine off vampires from the regular populations.  Tana wakes up the day after a party to find herself the only survivor of a vampire attack with the vampire and her ex-boyfriend both tied up.  She must make the decision to take them to a Coldtown.  Depression and the search for fame are also examined as they make their journey.

the waking dark The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman

They called it the Killing Day when regular citizens go on a killing spree out of nowhere in a small town in Kansas.  Five teenagers from different parts of town are thrown together as they try to survive the night and the mysterious virus goes through the town.  Social classes, privilege, abuse all play apart of the narrative as they figure out what’s going on and how they can escape it.

scowler Scowler by Daniel Kraus

I changed my final book.  I originally was going to have Kate read another Holly Black novel but it didn’t really fit the whole horror theme.  This one kinda gave me nightmares.  So good Luck, Kate.  Ry and his mother and sister are trying to save their Iowa farm when a meteorite hits nearby and their past comes back to haunt them.  Their abusive father is on the loose and Ry must rely on his old imaginary friends to helped him survive his father before.  Can they do it again?

I hope Kate and everyone who chooses to read along will enjoy their Summer of Horror and Suspense.

 

Review: The Mortification of Fovea Munson by Mary Winn Heider

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Fovea Munson is a seventh grader. Her parents are surgeons that work in a cadaver lab training future surgeons. You know, when your patients are already dead, the hours are better. Fovea can deal with that, but she looks forward to her summer vacation every year where she goes to camp. And, when summer camp is cancelled and her parents receptionist quits suddenly, she finds herself working at the lab, which is so gross. And, if you think that is as bad as it gets, you’re wrong. Three disembodied heads in the lab talk to her. And, they need her to do them a favor.

 

From here the story builds into something that is funny and touching. Fovea needs to enlist help from outside, reaching out to a person she knows but isn’t really friends with at school. She sets up an adventure. It is great! The cast of characters are delightful and Fovea herself is amazing. I really, really enjoyed going on this adventure with her.

This is a middle grade book, for readers 8-12. If you know a kid that age that’s into science and weird stuff, get them this book. If you know some adults who are into science and weird stuff (and don’t mind reading kids books. I know, what, so weird), recommend it for them, too! I certainly enjoyed it!

What I’m Reading Now: The Mortification of Fovea Munson by Mary Winn Heider

I’m super excited to get started on The Mortification of Fovea Munson that I got as an ARC. It comes out on Tuesday!

Full disclosure: Mary Winn Heider is the sister of a good friend of mine, so if I really like this book, my review is going to be full of muppet flails of excitement and if I don’t like it, it’s going to be a review full of sad trombones.

Joint Review: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

This book had a lot of hype before its release and it was right up both our aisles. So, we both got it on publication day. We decided we would do something different. Instead of only one of us reviewing it or doing two reviews, we’re doing a joint review. We’ve come up with five questions.

What are your overall impressions of the book?

Kate: the writing was tight and the story sucked me in. The characters were great; I loved that they had obvious flaws and strengths. And the premise of the novel, zombies rising during the Civil War was so interesting.

Beth: I agree with you about the writing and being sucked in.  I was invested in the story from the first page.  The characters felt like real people and allowed to be imperfect and unapologetic about their undesirable traits.  And who doesn’t like a good zombie novel?  I think what I liked the most about it that is that we are seeing the aftermath of the Civil War from the perspective of a Black girl instead of a white person.  How many books are from that point of view?

Kate: Not enough.

What did you think of the historical context?

Kate: I like what-if historical novels but I was a little worried about this one. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Slayer already did the paranormal set during the Civil War and it was meh. But, this was so much better. Where Buffy Lincoln changed the context of the Civil War (the South have to be defeated! they’re evil vampires!) this novel leaves the context intact and to it adds zombies. So, we can’t just write off the uncomfortable Civil War context of the bible being used to justify slavery or the ideology that there is a racial hierarchy because oh no! supernatural beings! And, that made it so much more thought provoking and interesting.

Beth: This could have gone bad very quickly but I think she handled the time period well.  I kinda like the fact that the Civil War never really ended, it sort of was put on hold when the zombies started to come from the dead leaving this uneasiness to every day life.  Sure, slavery ended and they passed laws to educate former slaves and Native Americans but as for the racial hierarchy it was never really addressed.  Much like it is today.  Justina Ireland doesn’t shy away from the the injustices against African Americans and Native Americans pre-and post-Civil War and even though Jane and Katherine are educated and can kill any shambler, they will always be reminded of their place.

Kate: Agreed. She definitely didn’t shy away. I also liked the follow up at the end of the book which included readings about residential schools.

Who was your favorite character?

Kate: Jane McKeene. Obviously. She’s a hero. and a role model. I can’t wait to see what Jane gets up to next.

Beth: Agreed Jane McKeene is my hero.  I want to be her friend.  Not only is she smart, sarcastic, likes to read but she can also kill zombies.  That’s so badass!

Kate: I know this is a little early but, Jane McKeene for best character of 2018!

Beth: Indeed.  She’s going to be hard to top.

What was your favorite part?

Kate: Any time Jane and her friend Katherine fight zombies.

Beth: I loved the zombie fights but I think I loved the most the bickering between Jane and Katherine.  The chemistry between those two was amazing and you can see how the relationship developed over the course of the novel.

Kate: their relationship is so good. I really liked that the most developed relationship was their friendship and not a romantic connection.

Beth: exactly! More of female friendships in YA please!

What are you looking forward to in the next book? (possible spoilers)

Beth: I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in California and finding out who Jane’s Momma married that betrayed her.  I feel like whoever he is, he’s going to be play a bigger part in Jane’s story.  I also hope we get more of Katherine’s backstory beyond being raised in a brothel.

Kate: Yes! More of Katherine’s backstory! Please! Especially with the role that brothels played in Western expansion in the US! And, maybe some gold rushing in Cali? I also hope we meet Jane’s mom and her Aunties. Oh, and I hope we meet Daniel Redfern again.

Beth: Me too!  I think we will meet Jane’s Mom and Aunties again and I want to know more about Daniel Redfern.  I feel we only have cracked the surface of his character.

A Wizard of Earthsea

img_3304 Thanks for reading A Wizard of Earthsea with us this month.  I hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did.  What did you think?  How do you feel it ended?  Why do you think Vetch never made a song of Ged’s journey like his promised?  Are you going to continue and read the rest of the books in the Earthsea Cycle?  Sound off in the comments and let us know what you thought of this classic.