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Book Review: Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China by Paul French

January 17, 2013 2 comments

Black adn white photo of a young woman above the skyline of Peking.Summary:
In 1937 the entire world is on the brink of war.  In Peking, China, the Japanese invaders are encroaching.  In the midst of this chaos the adopted daughter of British consulman is brutally murdered, her body found in the shadow of the Fox Tower, universally viewed with suspicion by the Pekingers as haunted by spirits.  Due to the special circumstances, the murder investigation requires the presence of both a Chinese and a British investigator.  They must race to find Pamela’s murderer before the Japanese engulf the city.

Review:
This true crime novel takes a bit to get things set up, but once they are, oh my how it sucks you in.

My fellow librarians will appreciate the backstory of how this true tale was discovered by French.  In the Afterword he states that he was digging around in some archives and stumbled upon a box of evidence that Pamela’s father sent off to the government, which was never really looked at and just put away in storage and then into archives.  It was through libraries that he even discovered this fascinating, intersectional true crime.  I think that’s encouraging to any librarian who has ever spent hours making a finding aid for archives.

So just what makes this true crime more fascinating than others?  Pamela was the adopted daughter of Werner, and her adoptive mother died at a young age.  She had been away at boarding school in Tientsin and was home for the holidays.  Because she was born in China but was also adopted by British consulman, there is an interesting assimilation into Chinese culture going on in her life that we don’t often see in Western novels.  Peking itself featured the legations and white districts for multiple different white Western countries.  This means that because Pamela was technically a British citizen murdered on Chinese ground both the Chinese and the British police force had to be involved and work together in the investigation.  Officer Han and DCI Dennis certainly make for a unique investigation team.  In addition, Pamela’s body was discovered in the shadow of the Fox Tower, and this led to speculation about fox spirits, which in Chinese tradition show up as wily women.  Of course quickly the seedy underbelly of Peking is implicated, featuring a multicultural bunch of addicts, dope dealers, brothels, and more, and naturally some of the classy elite start to be implicated into that underworld as well.  Add in the fact that the Japanese invasion was encroaching and toss in the first rumblings of Communism, and it makes for a story that is impossible to not find fascinating.

French unfurls the story well.  He quotes only when it is fairly certain what was said, but summarizes scenes well.  A clear picture of both Pamela and Peking are rendered fairly early in the novel.  I also appreciate that he spent time at the end talking about what happened to all of the key players and discussing how all-encompassing the Japanese invasion were.  I think what he handled best though was presenting people as individuals and not representative of their race or nation or even class.  In a true crime as multicultural as this one, that is important.  It’s also nice that in a story that could have easily turned into victim blaming, which happens so often when the victim is a young woman, he eloquently avoids any hint of that:

Pamela wasn’t perfect; she was making the same mistakes many girls do when experimenting with their independence, their newfound power on men. Her tragedy was to encounter the wrong men, at just the wrong moment. (location 2834)

I did, however, feel that the beginning was a bit lacking.  It took a bit to truly get into the story.  A faster pace or a more clear this is where we are going set-up would have been nice.  At first it felt like the rather dull story of some poor little imperialist rich girl.  But that’s not the story at all.  The story is that of an adopted girl in a country where she just so happens to be the color of worldwide colonizers, but it is instead the story of a diverse group of people horrified by the brutal murder of a young woman by a diverse group of sick, twisted people.  It would be nice if that was more clear from the beginning.

Overall, this is a well-told, historic true crime novel that manages to avoid victim blaming and also embrace multiculturalism.  It will be of particular interest to anyone with a fascination for Chinese or WWII history.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Netgalley

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Friday Fun! (Camping and Where I Have Been!)

September 15, 2012 4 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

Yes, I realize it’s technically Saturday, but things have been rather quiet around here the last couple of weeks, and I didn’t want to leave you hanging any longer!  So why have things been so quiet?

Well, first, it was Labor Day weekend here in the States, and I actually for once went on vacation for it. Shocking, I know.  I went camping in the Green Mountains.  This was the view from my tent:

Gorgeous, eh?  And it was such a great break!  Zero technology. My cell phone didn’t even have reception.  I got disgustingly filthy, and I loved it.  I went for a swim in the pond and for a hike and cooked over a campfire.

Oh, yes, and the boy I’ve been dating asked me to be his girlfriend, and I said yes. 😀 He’s an awesome boyfriend, and I love him.

Beyond the vacation and personal development, it’s the start of the semester at work, so I’ve been incredibly busy with beginning of the semester library classes, orientations, and just general helping out the new students.  Also, the audiobook I’m currently reading while completely *awesome* (Fuzzy Nation by John Scalzi), is also super-long.  The other book I was reading on my kindle that will be reviewed next week was kind of dullsville, so had trouble holding my interest.  All of these things came together to make for a bit of silence, BUT!  Never fear. I will always return! With bells on. 😀

Happy weekends all!

 

Friday Fun! (New Job! *Confetti*)

February 24, 2012 8 comments

Hello my lovely readers!

I am so incredibly happy to get to give you all a big update in the life of moi this week.  Tuesday morning after the long weekend, I got a phone call offering me my first professional librarian job!!! Although I’ve been doing the work of a librarian for quite some time now, this position actually requires an MLIS and is in the exact same area of librarianship as my interests.  I don’t like to name exactly where I work on this blog, because this blog represents just me and not my workplace.  Suffice to say, then, that I will be working in educational librarianship in a library that supports one of the medical schools in the Boston area.  The library is the ideal mix of medicine and academia, and I’m so stoked to start work there in mid-March.

This of course means that my life over the next couple of weeks and at least through March is going to be crazy (crazy in a good way).  I’ll have a new schedule, new commute, new health insurance, new paycheck schedule, new….well everything!  It’s all wonderfully exciting and still kind of hard to believe after over a year of job hunting.

Of course this means that other things, like my writing and this blog, are going to have to be pushed to the back burner for a bit until I adjust to all the newness.  One thing I know about me is that I can sometimes push myself too hard, and I don’t want to do that this time around.  So, I’m going to push the release of Waiting For Daybreak back to May or June.  You can also probably expect a few less posts a week here, although I will be doing my best to write up everything for all books finished that week over the weekend and schedule them ahead of time for the next week (Wow, did that sentence make sense?)  There will also be slower responses to comments.  These are all good things, though, because this just means this blog has returned to being my hobby instead of what I’m doing to keep my sanity while job hunting, lol.

I do hope you guys will keep following along, because I’m still the same me, just a far far happier one now. 😀

Friday Fun! (Gym, Thundersnow)

October 28, 2011 6 comments

Snow on the ground this morning.

Hello my lovely readers!  I hope you all had nice weeks.  I discovered at my potluck that all of my friends are *amazing* cooks!  We should do this potluck thing more often. 🙂

This week I returned to meeting with a trainer.  In January it will be exactly one year since I started focusing on my fitness, and I’m rather determined to meet a few goals before then.  I figured a trainer would help.  He’s also nice and tough on me, which I enjoy.  I am a bit distraught to discover that I’m still having issues holding a plank for a minute. I make it. But just barely.  Needless to say, that’s one of my big goals for the next two months.

We got our first snow of the year last night, and it wasn’t just snow, it was THUNDERSNOW.  That’s what we call it when there’s thunder and lightning with snow instead of rain.  I loooove winter, and I was happy to see snow this morning, although I must admit that I hope this winter isn’t incredibly long like the one in the Little House books.

I got a lot of library loot last night.  I’m thinking of having my own mini read-a-thon at some point next week, especially since I’m no longer working at the restaurant.  I’m picking up my final check today and handing in my uniform.  I’m happy to have my evenings back to myself, though I will miss the extra money, heh. In any case, let me know if you’d be at all into a mini read-a-thon at some point in the next week.

Happy weekends!

Book Review: Farewell by Honore de Balzac

February 21, 2011 1 comment

Picture of BalzacSummary:
Philip, a colonel in the military, lost his love Genevieve in Siberia when retreating from the Russians.  Years later, he randomly stumbles upon her in a country house with her uncle, having lost her mind from her horrible experiences in Siberia with the military after they lost each other.  She is only capable of saying one word.  “Farewell.”

Review:
I decided to read a Balzac work due to a reference in the musical The Music Man.  The elderly ladies of the town think the librarian is scandalous because she keeps works of Balzac in the library.  Clearly I needed to know what all the fuss was about, so I decided to see for myself.

My first instinct is that this classic work of tragedy shouldn’t actually be that scandlous, which perhaps was the point in The Music Man.  These elderly ladies are *so* ridiculous to object to Balzac.  In any case, however, in retrospect I can see what is so shocking.  The incredible weakness of mind and character demonstrated by both Philip and Genevieve are both irritating and depressing.  I’m not sure what point Balzac was trying to make, but all I could think was that both of them needed to man up.

That’s not to say the book isn’t well-written though.  The translation is lovely, and I’m sure in the original French it is even prettier.  Just imagining Genevieve only being able to say “Adieu” sounds prettier than “Farewell.”  The scenes are vividly described, and the reader is certainly engaged.

Overall, it is a well-told tragedy that suffers a bit from weak characterization.  I recommend it to fans of tragedies and classic French literature.

3.5 out of 5

Source: Audible app for the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad

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Friday Fun! (Reflections and Looking Forward)

December 31, 2010 11 comments

Hello my lovely readers!  Today is the last day of 2010, and it feels to me like it just flew by, in spite of everything that happened during it.

As far as this blog goes, 2010 was my first full year of blogging.  I really think I’ve solidified what I want my blog to be and look like this year.  My layout and sidebars really reflect who I am, and I think I’ve finally got a solid style going for my reviews as well as weekly schedules.  I hope you guys think so too!  In 2011, I’m hosting my first reading challenge (sign up here!) and now that I’m out of grad school, I expect my non-review posts to be slightly less librarianship focused.  But you never know.

On a personal note, 2010 was the first year I lived entirely in one place since I was 15 years old.  It’s been kind of amazing, and I’m loving having the feeling of having roots somewhere.  As my first full year living in Boston, I’ve been able to fully experience all the thrills of living in such a historic, academic city.  I enjoy every aspect of it–even the ones I complain about.  I love it that I can eat any variety of foods pretty much anytime I want.  I can’t get over the fact that I can get a veggie burger at pretty much every single pub.  I learned how to ride my bike in city traffic and experienced the joy of riding to the park to spend the day on the grass reading while others read, toss a football around, or play volleyball, and cap the day off with a walk to get some bubble tea.  I discovered local independent bookstores and their fabulous used book basements that have killed my tbr pile.  I went to a free Dharma and meditation session for the first time and found out how awesome it is to be quiet in a roomful of people.  I’ve had the bonding experience of struggling with public transit on rainy days and in blizzards.  A recent immigrant who barely spoke English once shared her umbrella with me when waiting for the bus, and it was the highlight of my day.  I tried container gardening for the first time and encountered the community of urban environmentalists.  So many new experiences in so little time.

This year also saw the end of my first real relationship.  It’s been sad and a struggle for me, but I view the entire relationship from beginning to end to now as a wonderful experience, and I wouldn’t undo it for anything in the world.  My only regrets are some of the mistakes I made, but how else can we grow and learn?  Now that I know what a relationship *can* be, I’m working on being ok being alone until the next one comes along.

This year also saw me complete my Masters of Library and Information Science!  The last two weeks have been the first time since I was….what?  Four years old?  That I haven’t been a student.  I’m thoroughly enjoying having time to myself to do more of what I’d like to do.  I’m nervous about the next step of my career–hunting for a higher paying job with the blessings of my current employer–, but I’m also thrilled to see where I end up.  Part of me still can’t believe that I’m a white collar, highly educated, young professional living in a city.  Someone pinch me!

I also hope in 2011 to really get down to business with my writing.  I want to finish at least one novel, hopefully two, and start shopping them around to publishers.  I have faith in my writing, and it’s time to start acting on it.

Don’t worry; this blog won’t suffer.  It’s so closely tied to my favorite hobby of reading that I have a hard time imagining ever not blogging again.  I’m looking forward to 2011.  I’m eager.  I will strive for my goals and take everything life throws at me.  Anytime I start to struggle or feel down, I just remember how shocked and proud 14 year old me would be of 24 year old me, and I smile.  I can’t wait to see what 2011 brings.  Everything is a learning experience, and I truly feel that I am beating down more and more demons as I get older.  Bring it on, 2011.  I’m ready, and I’m not afraid.

 

Friday Fun! (Long Weekend, Job Hunt)

Hello my lovely readers! As ya’ll know, last weekend was a 3 day weekend for moi.  I am pleased to report that I managed to hit up some Memorial Day weekend sales with my gal pals.  The rest of the weekend was mostly devoted to being lazy, as it should be.  I also had my first veggie burgers of the season.  I know you can eat them year-round, but for some reason I prefer them when it’s warm out.

Since I’m acquiring my MLIS in January 2011, at my yearly review a couple of weeks ago I talked to my boss about my position.  It was newly created when I was hired, so whether they wanted to keep it paraprofessional or make it professional was unclear.  Well folks, they want to keep it paraprofessional.  I’m welcome to stay, but also have their blessings to start looking for a professional position, which I’ve been doing.  So I’m looking for my first professional job.  You guys know how job hunting is; I don’t need to go into that.  It has, however, been taking up a bit of time.  If any of you guys happen to hear of anything or can put a good word in for me, I’d appreciate it. 🙂

This weekend I’m looking forward to trying out a longer bike ride again to see if I’m getting any better.  This undoubtedly will be combined with picnicking and reading.  Happy weekends!

Friday Fun! (Happy 2010!)

January 8, 2010 4 comments

Sorry for the hiatus last week, guys.  I was recovering from my New Year’s Eve fun.  For New Year’s Eve I acquired First Night buttons so I could go see the Kaiju Big Battel (sic) taking place in Boston.  (Side-note: I cannot for the life of me understand why it’s called First Night and not Last Night.  It’s the last night of 2009, not the first night of 2010! Ideas?!)  I happened to catch some crazy Middle Eastern dancing that was occurring on a stage nearby while I was waiting.  I have no idea what kind of dancing it was.  It wasn’t bellydancing, and they hopped around waving their arms and fake swords a lot.  Anyway, so Kaiju Big Battel is essentially WWE only the wrestlers are wearing monster costumes ala Godzilla and the stage has miniature buildings set up that they also smash.  Two of my favorite characters of the night were Plantain and Dusto Bunny.  Dusto Bunny was actually dusty! (Sorry I have no pictures of Kaiju to show you.  I have yet to upload them from my camera).  Anyway, then I met up with friends in the Common to see the ice sculptures and rang in the new decade on the Esplanade.  It was definitely a fun night!

This week has been busy busy busy at work.  They’re renovating my library (again).  Currently all of us are crammed in one room while they work on the rest of it, but the exciting part, you guys, is I’m going to go from having a cubicle to an almost office!  It’s pretty much an office minus a door, but I’ll have a divider up in lieu of a door.  Plus they’re building me bookshelves, and I’m getting a brand new wood desk!  I’m excited to move into my new office.  It’s going to make me feel much more part of the team, since currently I’m the only one without an office.

In cooking this week, I tried out making gnocchi from scratch for the first time using sweet potatoes.  It’s pretty simple, actually.  You just cook the potatoes, pass them through a sieve, then combine it with spices, egg, and flour.  The tricky part, I discovered, is adding just the right amount of flour.  The consensus upon eating it was that it was neither good nor bad.  A bit too floury.  However, on reheating the leftovers, it went to good.  I’m thinking maybe I just didn’t cook them long enough?  I’ll definitely try it again.  I think it’s one of those recipes you improve with over time.  Kind of like pizza dough.

Oh, also, I’m all caught up in Lost now, so I’m totally ready for the new season. Bring. It. On!

Have a great weekend everyone!

The Electronic vs. Print Books Debate

December 16, 2009 8 comments

The eBook debate has been fairly consistently humming in my virtual world –twitter, GoogleReader, listserves, etc…  Frankly I’m starting to wonder at the vitriol being spewed by both sides of the debate.

We have the print people who are absolutely certain that the electronic people are out to kill any and all print books leading to some sort of Big Brother society where The Man can delete our censor our books whenever he sees fit.

Then we have the electronic people who firmly believe print books are horrible for the environment and anyone who wants to still read them is a backwards, ancient person trying to hold society back.

Um, people, what planet are you living on?

I really believe the eBook vs. print book situation, if allowed to naturally play out, will lead to a world where print and electronic books coexist gracefully.  A world where some people will still prefer print books in most cases but electronic books in others, and other people will prefer electronic books in some cases but print books in others.  Consumers as a group are actually far more flexible than anyone is giving them credit for.  Sure, there’ll be the die-hard hold-outs who will refuse to read anything not in print, and there will be the obsessive electronic fans who will refuse to read anything not on a screen, but in between these two extremes are everybody else.  From what I have seen, people choose which option is best for the situation.  Most people I know have a few books in each format, depending on what they need them for.  Consumers aren’t busy spewing vitriol at each other.  They’re busy saying “Well, I want this genre book on my iTouch for my commute, and this nonfiction book in print so I can write my thoughts in it as I go reading it in the evening.”

The reason for all the angry commentary is plain and simple: fear.  People are afraid of change.  Booksellers are afraid their stores will become obsolete or at least  not profitable anymore if people are downloading their books.  Electronic vendors are afraid the print folks will shout them down before they ever even get a chance.  Then there’s the snobs who think their way is always the best way and are afraid of anything else.

Well, you know what?  I doubt either scenario will happen.  I see a future where booksellers have print books and stations where people can download new electronic books to their reader, and possibly even charge their reader for a small fee.  I see a future where people still have a bookshelf of beloved print books, but also a charging station for their eReader.  I see a future (hell, I’m already living this) where morning commutes feature people reading on eReaders and reading print books they own and reading library books and listening to audiobooks.

So, really, people, calm down and just let the change happen.  It’s not going to kill anyone or anything.