Book review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1)A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an unusual cross-genre book–part fantasy and part romance. There is deeper character development and more sparkling dialogue than you find in most fantasy novels. The author also takes care in developing her world, although much of it is by inference and implication rather than narrative. The advantage of this, of course, is that the novel moves much faster, and you learn about the character at the same time you learn about the world.
The story is told in first person by the heroine, Cat. She is an accomplished, snarky, and flawed character. I liked her immensely. The hero, Griffin, too, is very appealing. I also like that the romance is turned on its head, and it’s Cat who is reluctant to move the relationship forward, rather than Griffin. The secondary characters are well-developed and have their own personalities, especially Griffin’s team.
The weakness of most cross-genre books is that it does a mediocre job of both genres, and it’s the combination that makes such a book unique. The length of this book enables the author to treat each genre with the attention it deserves, so that fantasy and romance readers are both satisfied. And if you’re like me and love both genres equally, this book is deeply satisfying. Or, as satisfying as a swords-and-knives bodice ripper can be. (Which is, to say, quite a bit.) I am looking forward to reading the second book in this series!

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Book review: Blythe by John Kramer

BlytheBlythe by John Kramer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have no idea how to classify this book–it’s as if the author of The Hunger Games trilogy went drinking with Friedrich Hayek (“The Road to Serfdom”) and C.S. Lewis, and they all decided to write a novel together (while drinking). 🙂
The book is all about faith and freedom and redemption, and, yet, it is about none of these things. I have concluded that it is one of those rare books where you get out of the book what you put in, only with your thoughts more deeply developed and your words more lyrically written.
I realize my review is somewhat cryptic, but the book defies classification and is one of those books that stays with you long after you’ve finished it. It isn’t the kind of book I normally read, and it’s not always a comfortable read (intentionally so). Even with those caveats, I really enjoyed it, and it will keep me thinking for quite a while.
If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary to get your mind to go down roads it doesn’t normally travel, I highly recommend “Blythe” to get those brain cells going!

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Asia 2017

Beijing was the first stop on our tour. We went with family friends and since it was their first trip to Beijing, we played tourist. This process was helped disproportionately because our former exchange student was in Beijing at the time. She helped come up with the itinerary and arranged for tickets for many of our stops.

pretending to like each other at the Peninsula Hotel, Beijing

Highlights included the Summer Palace (my favorite stop in Beijing),

the 17 arch bridge at the Summer Palace

the Water Cube and Bird’s Nest,

entertainment at the Water Cube

Bird’s Nest

inside the Bird’s Nest

the Great Wall (on a misty and rainy day) where we discovered that the locals had conveniently blocked off traffic to the closest parking lot to the wall and paid off the local police so that they could offer a local “guide” who thoughtfully would enable us to drive up to the closest parking lot for a small fee and lunch at their farmstead. It was an instructive lesson in the demonstration of corruption-fueled capitalism. I have never seen the Great Wall in weather conditions like this—it has usually been clear and hot when we’ve been there. While conditions were a bit wet, the fog drifting across the wall and the mountains made for stunning views.

the Great Wall

We had a private tour of the National Museum, thanks to Jim’s connection with the Freer-Sackler. I am not certain the rhinoceros was the most impressive thing that we saw during the tour, but it clearly captured the boy’s fancy.

the most amazing item at the National Museum?

The Forbidden City was also a mandatory stop.

Forbidden City

inside or outside the urn?

They have now opened up the balcony where Mao made his famous speech declaring the formation of the People’s Republic of China while overlooking Tiananmen Square. (No further comment.) The views of the square are stunning.

view of Tienanmen Square

After Beijing, we went to Tokyo, for the US-Japan Leadership Program alumni weekend. While we did interesting conference-like activities, the kids went off to Tokyo Disney Sea. My only requirement for their visit is that they have a minimum of two photos together, looking like they liked each other. (I got 3 photos—way to go above and beyond the bare minimum, children!) :p

Tokyo Disney Sea

We had a fabulous trip, and it was way fun to play tourist after several years of not getting back to China.

Summer 2017: Honolulu

I know it seems as if we go to Honolulu all the time, but all I can say is that we aren’t ever there often enough.

We were the winning bid at a charity auction for a week at a house in Honolulu belonging to Kathy Ireland (note: our kids had no idea who she was) and decided to try out the staying-at-a-house concept over staying at the Halekulani. We cajoled some friends of ours to join us on our trip.

sunrise at Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

view from Villa Elizabeth

The kids took surfing lessons and hung out at the beach, but we also managed to fit in some semi-educational moments. The Punchbowl (officially known as the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific) contains not only a detailed description of the battles in the Pacific but also some of the most stunning views of the city.

National Memorial of the Pacific

view from the Punchbowl

view from the Punchbowl

And you can see why Hanauma Bay was reserved for the Hawaiian royal family. My personal highlight was seeing a sea turtle for the first time. (My inability to see a sea turtle before this trip might have been related to my reluctance to go into the ocean, which is generally cold by my standards, but I doubt it.) 🙂

Hanauma Bay

But Honolulu isn’t Honolulu if we didn’t spend at least a couple of days at our favorite hotel, the Halekulani. The views from the hotel are just as stunning as ever.

view from the Halekulani

All in all, one of our favorite trips to Hawaii. (But don’t we say that every time we go?)

Book review: The Partner Track by Helen Wan

The Partner TrackThe Partner Track by Helen Wan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a loosely autobiographical story of a Chinese-American woman trying to make partner in a prestigious New York law firm and how the deck is stacked against those who aren’t white, male, and privileged. (At least, that’s the book’s premise.)
There are some moments in the book that resonated with me (such as the times when folks confused the Asian female lawyers or the times that the main character is mistaken for a secretary), and those moments are both illuminating and bittersweet. But the book also portrays the main character as without fault in any of the unfolding events. And the final humiliating straw–the emotional crux of the novel–made no sense to me at all.
That being said, the book is well-written and an easy read with moments of poignancy. However, it would have been a more interesting read had there been more nuance and shades of gray. Not every white privileged male is a jerk and not every minority is deserving of advancement. It would have been nice to see more than cardboard cutouts of stereotypes. The book was good, but it could have been so much more than it was.

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Graduation 2017!

We celebrated the graduation of our daughter from Sidwell Friends School last Friday. The day was perfect—sunny but not too hot and with low humidity. Jim’s mom, brother, and (brother’s) girlfriend attended, as did my parents. It was a joyous occasion, with lovely speeches given by Bryan Garman, the Head of School; Margaret Plank, the Clerk of the Board of Trustees (“clerk” = chair in Quakerspeak); and Michael Govan, Class of ’81, who is the head of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).
We had a whirlwind weekend of celebration, including a dinner at Peking Gourmet Inn to celebrate with many of those who were instrumental in Jade’s upbringing, and a dinner at the Inn at Little Washington to celebrate both Jade’s graduation and Jim’s mom’s birthday. (The specific number birthday is a state secret.)
Everyone left town on Monday (calloo, callay!). Despite the commentary, it was a wonderful weekend of family and celebration!

class of 2017

Prom 2017

As we move ever more rapidly into the bittersweet final moments of our daughter’s senior year of high school, prom was the highlight of the week.  A group of her friends met up for a pre-prom get together where several parents were on the verge of tears contemplating the fact that their children would soon be off to college.  There was also much laughter, much love, and much incompetence when it came to the pinning of boutonnieres.  🙂
We think Jade looked stunning, but we are admittedly slightly biased in this regard.
Between the pre-party, prom, the official after-party, and the small after after-party, she got about an hour and a half of sleep.  Good practice for those college all-nighters (studying, of course.). Most importantly, she had a grand time!

Dance Ensemble Recital

For three years, our daughter has participated in the Sidwell Friends Upper School dance ensemble.  Dance ensemble was her first ever dance experience.  It has been the place she has found the most serenity and peace during high school.  (Her only regret is that she didn’t start in 9th grade and avoid the trauma of softball.)

This is the last dance recital of her high school career and so I have inexpertly filmed two of her dances from the recital.

Our biggest thanks go to Marie McNair, dance instructor extraordinaire, who provided a haven of support, growth, and encouragement for our daughter!

Book review: Heresy by Sharan Newman

Heresy (Catherine LeVendeur, #8)Heresy by Sharan Newman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the eighth in the Catherine LeVendeur mystery series. Overall, the series is fabulous. It is fabulous not only because of the depth and accuracy of the historical research but also because the series depicts the lives and conditions of Jews during the Middle Ages. This interesting (and often heartbreaking) perspective is unusual, especially for a mystery series, and fascinating. The author doesn’t presume to apologize for the attitudes she describes (and, indeed, there is no apology needed–facts are facts), nor does she attempt to modernize the characters’ outlook.
This particular mystery is interesting because one of the main characters is Astrolabe, the son of Abelard and Heloise. As someone whose mind is not suited to deep philosophical or theological debate (which I discovered when reading Abelard’s writings for a college course many years ago), I was relieved to learn that neither was Astrolabe’s. 🙂
The mystery itself is not the strongest part of this particular book (historical mysteries often have this issue), but the discussion about the religious factions, Astrolabe (and Heloise’s) places in the world, and the ramifications of the Crusade are knowledgeably described and well-integrated into the story.
The main character, Catherine herself, is a delightfully imperfect person, and the secondary characters–all of whom you have gotten to know throughout the series–continue to grow and deepen.
I highly recommend this series and this book. The series is best read in order.

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