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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Spotlight on Four More Recent Titles of Interest, Sandi Tan, Kim Fay, Sabina Berman and Karen Maitland (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

In an ideal world I would have already read and reviewed these four August releases as I've read a number pages from each and they are all excellent in different ways, but for now a quick spotlight and hopefully a full review in the future.


Ghosts in the Far East and an extremely compelling narrator made me pick up The Black Isle by Sandi Tan.

"Uprooted from Shanghai with her father and twin brother, young Cassandra finds the Black Isle's bustling, immigrant-filled seaport, swampy jungle, and grand rubber plantations a sharp contrast to the city of her childhood. And she soon makes another discovery: the Black Isle is swarming with ghosts.

Haunted and lonely, Cassandra at first tries to ignore her ability to see the restless apparitions that drift down the street and crouch in cold corners at school. Yet despite her struggles with these spirits, Cassandra comes to love her troubled new home. And soon, she attracts the notice of a dangerously charismatic man.

Even as she becomes a fearless young woman, the Isle's dark forces won't let her go. War is looming, and Cassandra wonders if her unique gift might be her beloved island's only chance for salvation . . .

Taking readers from the 1920s, through the Japanese occupation during WWII, to the Isle's radical transformation into a gleaming cosmopolitan city, THE BLACK ISLE is a sweeping epic--a deeply imagined, fiercely original tale from a vibrant new voice in fiction."

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An interesting blurb and good opening pages in "The Map of Lost Memories" by Kim Fay

"Suspense and secrets are woven together in this engrossing fiction debut by Kim Fay. The Map of Lost Memories takes readers on a daring expedition to a remote land, where the search for an elusive treasure becomes a journey into the darkest recesses of the mind and heart.

In 1925, the international treasure-hunting scene is a man’s world, and no woman knows this better than Irene Blum, who is passed over for the coveted curator position at Seattle’s renowned Brooke Museum. But she is not ready to accept defeat. Skilled at acquiring priceless, often illicitly trafficked artifacts, Irene is given a rare map believed to lead to a set of copper scrolls that chronicle the lost history of Cambodia’s ancient Khmer civilization. Such a find would not only restore her reputation, it would be the greatest archaeological discovery of the century.

As Irene travels from Seattle to Shanghai to the Cambodian jungles, she will encounter several equally determined companions, including a communist temple robber and a dashing nightclub owner with a complicated past. As she and her fellow adventurers sweep across borders and make startling discoveries, their quest becomes increasingly dangerous. Everyone who comes to this part of the world “has something to hide,” Irene is told—and she learns just how true this is. What she and her accomplices bring to light will do more than change history. It will ultimately solve the mysteries of their own lives"


Update September 5 (short raw thoughts):

A somewhat disappointing novel that starts quite well (secrets, Shanghai of the 20's, mysterious women..) but slowly morphs into an average historical thriller where only the exoticism of the location and the female archaeologist-adventurer main lead kept me turning the pages as the action became the run of the mill predictable such and there was nothing exceptional in the writing either

Better books out there
...


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An unexpectedly compelling voice that had me paying attention in Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World by Sabina Berman

"As intimate as it is profound, and as clear-eyed as it is warmhearted, Me, Who Dove into the Heart of the World marks an extraordinary debut by the award-winning Mexican playwright, journalist, and poet Sabina Berman.

Karen Nieto passed her earliest years as a feral child, left alone to wander the vast beach property near her family's failing tuna cannery. But when her aunt Isabelle comes to Mexico to take over the family business, she discovers a real girl amidst the squalor. So begins a miraculous journey for autistic savant Karen, who finds freedom not only in the love and patient instruction of her aunt but eventually at the bottom of the ocean swimming among the creatures of the sea. 

Despite how far she's come, Karen remains defined by the things she can't do—until her gifts with animals are finally put to good use at the family's fishery. Her plan is brilliant: Consolation Tuna will be the first humane tuna fishery on the planet. Greenpeace approves, fame and fortune follow, and Karen is swept on a global journey that explores how we live, what we eat, and how our lives can defy even our own wildest expectations."

Update September 2 (short raw thoughts): Me, Who Dove Into the Heart of the World is a book that attracted my attention by its cover and then after the blurb seemed ok and I opened it, just took over my reading for a while. After that though I had quite a few other books to read but I knew I wanted to get back to it soon and I finally finished it.

A first person narrative from quite an unusual narrator ("Me" who has problems with "you" and with projecting subjectivity and has big cognitive issues, but has some genius level characteristics, most notably the ability to empathize with animals - not that it stops "Me" to be a sort of humane slaughterer in various meat related industries from pigs to fish, though she does not eat flesh - and to focus on a given subject)

Heart warming, funny and with lots of notable moments, the odyssey of Karen Nieto (see the blurb which is generally accurate and offers all the story detail one needs) is one of the surprise highly recommended books of 2012 for me - fast read with narrative pull and very life affirming, the book is also highly recommended if in need of an uplifting novel

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Finally a book I've just heard about yesterday and I only had the occasion to check an excerpt, but it is Karen Maitland the author of the superb Company of Liars, now going international to 1530's Portugal, the Inquisition, magic and much more in The Falcons of Fire and Ice.

"The year is 1539 and the Portuguese Inquisition ushers in an era of torture and murder. When the Royal Falconer is imprisoned on false charges to remove him from the inner circle of the boy King, the Inquisitors strike an impossible deal with his daughter, Isabela. Bring back two rare white falcons from Iceland within the year or her father dies.

Meanwhile in Iceland, a menacing stranger appears to have possessed the soul of a woman chained up in a volcanic cave and is threatening to destroy the community. The woman's twin sister, Eydis, is desperate to intervene but vivid dreams suggest the twins' only salvation lies with a young girl from afar, travelling in search of white feathers ...

Isabela's quest might hold a more crucial purpose then she could ever imagine and there are those among her travel companions who have an interest in doing her harm. But in order to fulfil her destiny, first she must reach Iceland's shores. Alive"

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