Book review: Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

Blackfoot (Two Monarchies Sequence, #2)

Blackfoot by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the second book of the Two Monarchies Sequence. (“Masque,” which I reviewed earlier, was the first book written but is the last book in the series.) “Blackfoot” starts essentially right where “Spindle” left off, although the actual story starts several years later. The book starts Annabel’s story and continues Melchior’s story. And while there is no actual fairy tale inspiration for this book, it has all the requisite fantasy elements: an interesting heroine who is smarter than she gives herself credit for; a sarcastic and mysterious hero who is wise but not too wise; and an annoying but lovable best friend. The magic remains complex but internally consistent, and the villain is quite scary.
My only disappointment after I finished this book is that there is only one more unread book in the series for me. (I may just have to re-read “Masque” to get all of the inside baseball references.) I can’t wait to see what the author writes next and the rest of her books are on my list to explore.




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Disneyworld & an 18th Birthday

To be sure, we celebrate every trip to Disneyworld. And we certainly celebrate every birthday trip to the happiest place on earth. But this particular trip (the birthday boy’s 61st trip, to be exact) is best known as “the Galaxy’s Edge trip.”
If you don’t belong to the Star Wars fandom, then that phrase has no meaning whatsoever. So for those barbarians, I will explain that Galaxy’s Edge is the new Star Wars land, located in Hollywood Studios in Disneyworld. There is currently only one ride there, known as Millenium Falcon: Smugglers’ Run where you are the pilot/gunner/engineer for the Millenium Falcon. Anything else I said would spoil the surprise and be inadequately descriptive of the ride. But let me repeat the key takeaway here: you are ON BOARD the Millenium Falcon. There are no other words necessary.
The theming of Galaxy’s Edge is pretty amazing, even by Disney standards. Kylo Ren and his stormtroopers make unscheduled but frequent visits. Chewbacca and Rey also appear (and I’m told that there are stories of people who try and hide Chewbacca when the stormtroopers appear). You can play an online game assuming the role of a supporter of the First Order, the Resistance, or an ordinary scoundrel. (I was most displeased when our daughter decided to install surveillance equipment on behalf of the First Order. She will do anything for Kylo Ren.)
Despite her inadequate moral framework, we all had a memorable time exploring Galaxy’s Edge and the rest of Disneyworld, of course, as part of the oh-my-gosh-the-boy-is-legal birthday celebration.

entering Galaxy’s Edge!
blue milk or green milk? (blue is better)
the Millenium Falcon!
on board the Millenium Falcon
waiting to board the ship
Galaxy’s Edge

Book review: Spindle by W.R. Gingell

Spindle (Two Monarchies Sequence, #1)

Spindle by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale but to say that is like saying that Shake Shack is just another burger joint. This re-telling of Sleeping Beauty is original, intricate and complex. The magic (or, more accurately, the magics) are complicated and internally consistent. Poly, the heroine, suffers from imposter syndrome (people think she’s a princess) and is courageous and resolute. Luck, the hero, is enigmatic and occasionally annoying (in a good kind of way). Their relationship is simultaneously amusing and touching. The allies and enemies that Poly and Luck meet on the way are well characterized, and the time travel element fits well within a fantasy story (as opposed to a science fiction story). The prose is elegant and accessible, and the foundational elements of the fairy tale are recognizable while, at the same time, the author imaginatively expands the story line.
I read the first two books of this series out of order, but they are both standalone books. W.R. Gingell is a gifted author, and I look forward to reading the next book in the series.




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Summer trip 2019: Hong Kong & Tokyo

Well, more accurately, the 2nd summer trip, this time to Hong Kong and Tokyo—a quick trip as we were gone just over a week. Jade has been in Hong Kong this summer on an internship where she is developing a curriculum to teach disadvantaged Hong Kong kids how to code. (As a math/computer science social conscience Chinese-speaking person, this checks all of her boxes.). She’s had a great substantive summer and also has a great first-hand experience in how democracy should work (i.e. the importance of the right of assembly under the 1st Amendment). The first items the organizers hand the protesters are a mask (to defeat the excellent facial recognition software China has) and a bilingual sign asking the police to stay calm.

sign handed to protesters
bird’s eye view of protesters

It was all quite civilized and British until the Chinese raised the stakes. It still is very safe as long as you avoid the areas where the protesters are (which are generally published ahead of time—did I mention that this was all very civilized?). However, with 10,000 Chinese troops garrisoned in Hong Kong, there is a very real risk of all of this going sideways quite quickly. In fact, I kind of feel like Dr. Strange in Avengers: Infinity Wars when he says he’s looked at 14+ million futures and only sees 1 where Thanos is defeated. I can’t picture that many scenarios, of course, but I don’t see one where it ends well for Hong Kong.


That being said, we had a lovely several days wandering around Hong Kong, including a trip to Hong Kong Disney with the four of us.

Hong Kong Disney
Festival of the Lion King at Hong Kong Disney

There is nothing quite like Disney to restore one’s faith in human nature. Perhaps our family chronicles can be marked solely by meals, trips to a Disney park, and trips to Hawaii.


Tokyo was our next stop. This year is the 20th anniversary of the US-Japan Leadership Program and the last year of George Packard’s leadership of the US-Japan Foundation. The celebration was festive and filled with gratitude and appreciation. Jim and I saw people we hadn’t seen in years as people came from all around the globe to help celebrate this milestone. There were people from every year of the program in attendance. It truly was an amazing experience.

Tokyo
Tokyo with USJLP

Book review: Masque by W.R. Gingell

Masque (Two Monarchies Sequence)

Masque by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


To say that this book is the retelling of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale does the author an injustice. So, yes, “Masque” is a retelling of the traditional fairy tale, but it is one of the most fun and original retellings I’ve ever read. To begin with, the story is set in a setting where both magic and technology exist. But, more interestingly, a murder happens, and the heroine decides she wants to solve the murder. The heroine (who is the narrator of the story) is, in turn, sarcastic, irreverent, funny, and perceptive. I love her. The hero is also a strong character in his own right, but it is the heroine whose story it is and who tells it as she wishes.
The secondary characters are fully formed and engaging in their own right, and the love story is reluctant and adorable.
The only minor flaw in the book is that the mystery is not that complicated–I figured it out shortly after the first murder (and I hate figuring out the murderer before the end). But this book is so much more than the murder mystery and well worth the read.
Note: this is the first book I’ve read by this author, and it looks like this is not a sequential part of but tangential to the Two Monarchies series. I am excited that I have 3 more books (and fairy tale retellings) to investigate!
I highly recommend this book!



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Book review: Madame Fourcade’s Secret War by Lynne Olson

Madame Fourcade's Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France's Largest Spy Network Against Hitler

Madame Fourcade’s Secret War: The Daring Young Woman Who Led France’s Largest Spy Network Against Hitler by Lynne Olson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Marie-Madeleine Fourcade was the the leader of a intelligence gathering group, the Alliance, in France during World War II that was instrumental in providing the Allies with key intelligence, including plans of Germany’s rocket program and coastal defenses in preparation for D-Day. The author explains the relative anonymity of her accomplishments as representative of the social mores and expectations of women, especially in France (although certainly true of the time as a whole).
The account of Marie-Madeleine’s life is fascinating–her victories and success are impressive and her failures heartbreaking. The toll of lives lost working for the Alliance network was high (the Nazis executed dozens of Alliance members when it became clear they were going to lose the war), and time and again, networks had to be rebuilt after the Nazis swept in and destroyed them.
This book is a fascinating glimpse into the difference one woman can make, against all odds, against the prejudices of her time, and against a brutal enemy that took no quarter. I highly recommend it!



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Book review: Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne

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Absolution by Murder (Sister Fidelma, #1)

Absolution by Murder by Peter Tremayne

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Historical mysteries are a tricky balancing act. On one hand, the author should paint a realistic portrait of the period and needs to include the necessary details to describe the setting in which the mystery takes place. On the other hand, the author should also write a compelling and interesting mystery. Often, historical mysteries fall into either the category of a history book with a run-of-the-mill mystery or the category of an interesting mystery with insufficient or inaccurate historical detail.
This book falls into the former category. The author is clearly well-informed about the period (664 AD during a split between the Roman and Celtic churches) and writes about the shifting political alliances and complex religious issues with confidence and authority. But when I am able to guess who the murderer was within 10 pages of the murder, I know the mystery is not compelling. If you want to learn more about this relatively unknown period, the Sister Fidelma mysteries seem like a good way to absorb the information painlessly and easily. And I really like that the main character is a woman. But there are better historical mystery novelists out there–ones who can write knowledgeably about the period and produce a compelling mystery at the same time.



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Hawaii: July 2019 version

By now, there isn’t much more that I can say about this little bit of paradise than I haven’t already said.

sunrise in o’ahu

So let me just mention the highlights of this trip, which include the following:

  • Continuing our 4th of July tradition of spending it with Dianne, John, Benjamin and Isabelle (this time in Honolulu)
Dinner at Chef Mavro
  • Getting to spend the 4th of July holiday with our former exchange student, Yinan
deep sea fishing
  • Unsuccessfully going deep sea fishing (not a nibble!) and having the entire group overdosing on Bonine, much to the dismay of the non-deep sea fishing group who discovered the Bonine-overdosed group was useless for the rest of the day
  • Parasailing, which was a really fun experience (it is eerily quiet 400 feet up in the air and, of course, incomparably beautiful)
getting ready to parasail
  • Meals at our favorite Honolulu restaurants—Chef Mavro and The Pig & the Lady (let the record reflect that I am the “lady”)

We look forward to our next trip to paradise!

sunset in o’ahu

Book review: Lady in Waiting by Marie Tremayne

Lady in Waiting (Reluctant Brides, #1)

Lady in Waiting by Marie Tremayne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A rather unusual premise: the heroine is about to be forced into an unwanted marriage with a despicable man and, to avoid the wedding, she runs off to become a housemaid in a reclusive earl’s household in the country. Naturally, the “housemaid” and the earl fall in love.
I realize that “grounded in reality” is not a phrase a reader ever uses with respect to a Regency romance, but I found it difficult to believe that a young woman from an aristocratic household would convincingly pass off as a housemaid, even an inexperienced one. I also found it difficult to believe that an earl would ever think about marrying one of his housemaids, no matter how persuasively the author wrote the love story.
That being said, the characters are charming and likable, the plot was no less a flight of fantasy than most romances, and I give the author points for the premise. It was a fun read. I rate the book 3.5 stars.



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Book review: Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien

Death by Dumpling (A Noodle Shop Mystery, #1)

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This is a perfect beach read, especially if you are Asian-American. The main character, Lana Lee, grew up helping out with her parents’ restaurant. Life goes a bit sideways on her, and she’s returned to work there while sorting out her life, putting up with her perfect older sister, and dealing with being the primary suspect in a murder case. Along the way, she learns more about her family’s past, tries to be an amateur detective, and meets a cute policeman.
The tone is light-hearted, the heroine is likeable, and there are plenty of cultural references that resonate with those who grew up with immigrant Asian parents. The mystery is interesting without being too intellectually taxing.
All in all, a solid debut to a series. If you are looking for a fun beach read, this is a good place to start!



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