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.

Pop Culture Homework Assignments 2018

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Back in 2015, Beth and I decided to do something fun. We decided that, for the summer we would challenge each other to read something outside our comfort zones by each of us assigning the other four books to be read before Labor Day. The books should somehow be thematically linked, but that theme could be anything. Beth assigned me four books by the same author. I assigned Beth four books that had to do, somewhat loosely, with travel. We had a lot of fun that summer, and even did some extra credit work in the form of creating sundaes based on book characters.

 

And, then, inexplicably, we took two summers off from this fun tradition.

 

Well, ladles and jelly spoons, we are bringing it back. This year we are once again assigning each other summer reading to be done by Labor Day! Our books will be assigned next week and we will be off to work!

 

 

Reading Challenge! Asian Lit Bingo!

Lit Celebrasian tweeted out this great challenge!! I am going to try and do it. I’m always up for an excuse to go book shopping (but, I already have some sci-fi in mind) and this is a perfect excuse to go through the #ownvoices tag on twitter and find new favorite authors!

The challenge is in honor of Asian American Heritage Month. So, we’re looking for books by Asian authors with Asian main characters. The link above takes you to the main page if you have anymore questions

Im still working on my TBR, so I will get back to you with that!

Diverse Narrators, Diverse Lives Challenge

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Our second challenge of the year will be led by Beth! It is a challenge focused on story tellers and their perspectives. We give you, the Diverse Narrators, Diverse Lives Challenge! There are fifteen books in this challenge and they are all character focused. The books can be either fiction or non-fiction. Beth will be leading this challenge because she tends to read mostly  fiction. There are a lot of different character-driven stories out there in the world, and she is great at finding them!

So, if you are looking to read books from many different points of view and you’re interested on exploring some new characters and perspectives, please consider taking this challenge!

Diverse Authors, Diverse Lives Challenge

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Our first challenge of the year will be led by me, Kate! It is a challenge focused on content creators. We give you, the Diverse Authors, Diverse Lives Challenge! There are fifteen books in this challenge and they are all author focused. The books can be either fiction or non-fiction. I will be leading this challenge because I tend to read both fiction and non-fiction, so it makes sense for me to focus on authors and not on characters.

 

So, if you are looking to read books from many different points of view and you’re interested on exploring some new authors this year, please consider taking this challenge!

New Year, New Challenge!

Last year, Beth and I started the Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge. Our original challenge is made up of three mini challenges containing ten books each. There is an author challenge, a character challenge, and a medium challenge.

It turns out, if you can’t double count things, that this is not the easiest challenge to complete. I, at least, failed to complete it. This year, Beth and I decided to do something a little different. So, we’re going to have two challenges, one that Beth is going to lead and one that I am going to lead. They will be announced this week. We’re both very excited about it. We hope that you will be excited, too, and will join one or both of us on a reading adventure!

Only 32 Days left in 2016, How are your other reading goals going?

img_1341With only 32 days left I’ve pretty much conceded that I will not finish my Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge.  Sigh.  I will obviously have to work harder next year but I am only 3 books away from my Goodreads Challenge of reading 65 books this year.  I’ve actually read more then 65 books this year but since Goodreads only counts you are reading for the first time and not books you’ve read before.  That’s kind of a bummer but whatever.  It is what it is.  I’ve been doing the Goodreads Challenge since 2011 and every year I’ve read a little less every year.  In 2012 I read 94 books and last year only read 68. I’m a little sad that I don’t read as much as I used too. I don’t read at home as much as I have in the past.  I mostly only read on the ride too and from work.  I think that explains why my book totals have lowered in the last couple of years.  That being said, reading an average of 77 books a year for the last 5 years is pretty good.  And the whole point of the challenge is to set a goal and try to complete it and I am 3 books away from this year goal and only 32 days to finish it.  So this a long ranting post and round about way to ask how close are you to any of your reading goals or challenges?  Have you finished any of yours yet?  Give us a shout at let us know.

Another Diverse Stacks, Diverse Lives Challenge Update

Beth already did a challenge update this month and with a little over a month left in 2016, I thought I should see where I stand.

 

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In June, with about half the year under our belts, I had read six books off of the challenge list. Six books. Off my own challenge list. Ugh. I am the worst.

 

So, let’s see how well I’ve done since then. To The Raven King, The life-changing Magic of Tidying Up, The Year of Yes, Sad Girl Poems, the Feminist Mystique, and A bunch of Captain America, I have added: Americanah, Kindred, Bitch Planet, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Whipping Girl (in progress), Call Me by My Other Name (to be reviewed), and Emperor of Sound.

So far I’ve read 13 out of 30. As I don’t like failing at things I set out for myself, I have thought about rearranging the things that I’ve read this year on the list so that I can use things that aren’t currently on the list so that I can satisfy categories I haven’t gotten yet. Like, if I moved Shonda Rhimes to “read a book by a woman of color” then I could put Caitlin Moran in at “read a book by a woman”. But, I read Shonda Rhimes book first, so it is staying where it is. The good news for me is that I have another six categories already picked out. The even better news is that I’m part way through two of those books. However, there’s still a lot of work that has to be done in 2016 and, I have to tell you, folks. I’m not feeling sanguine about meeting the challenge this year.