MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA: A Review

This 1997 novel, on the NY Times Best Seller List for over a year, gives the perfect women’s point of view on a Japanese women’s institution, surprisingly written by a man, Arthur Golden. It was researched very thoroughly and is a PWR selection for this quarter.  It is sexy, expressed in a most polite Japanese way, and described by reviews of its day as “astonishing,” “breathtaking,” a “literary sensation”, “seductive,” and “an exotic fable.”  If it isn’t considered a classic, it should be.

The novel recounts the story of Sayrui, a fictional famous geisha, probably a composite of several famous geisha of Japan’s past. Born in a tiny, poor, fishing village, Chiyo ( her first name as a servant in the geisha house she is sold to by her father)/ Sayrui’s life reflects the difference between the life of a geisha and the life of a prostitute. Hatsumomo, a famous geisha of the same house is her nemesis, insanely jealous and revengeful motivated by feelings of jealousy, fear, insecurity, and mean-spiritedness. Chiyo’s only friend, Pumpkin, eventually betrays Chiyo/Sayrui, making Mamha’s job as Sayrui’s mentor/”Big Sister” all the harder.

Of course it is a romance, but much much more than that.  There is a well-described picture of Japanese life both before and after the WWII bombings. Sayrui’s life goes from rags to riches to rags again to…I’ll let you read the end of the story. The underlying theme of the book deals with how a woman’s life and destiny depended on a man. It is a worthwhile investment of your precious reading time that will keep you turning pages into the wee hours.

THE FIRE BY NIGHT: A REVIEW OF A WWII NOVEL

Teresa Messineo’s debut novel, The Fire By Night, is a “once in a lifetime story of war, love, loss, and the enduring grace of the human spirit” (Lauren Willig, NY Times bestselling author). It chronicles the war experiences of Jo McMahon working in field hospitals at and sometimes behind the front in occupied France and Kay Elliott, an army nurse as well, held captive in a squalid POW camp in Manila.  The author spent seven years researching her setting and topic, often interviewing military survivors of WWII, who were eager to have their stories told–accurately.

The book is both historically and medically accurate, and appeals to the emotions of the reader without becoming maudlin or “sappy.” The author deals with the women’s “place” and lack of status in the war, as well as the raw emotion brought out by their experiences, some of them told in rather graphic and gory detail.

Both women find out that life goes on after war, loss, emotional trauma, and discrimination and misunderstanding by those who “mean well.” It is a fast read that kept this reader turning pages and up late to “see how it all comes out.”

Sunday (Evening) Post

I missed posting the Sunday Evening Post last week, so this week’s post will reflect two weeks worth of reading and watching.

What I finished since last post:  Freeks by Amanda Hocking and The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, both reviewed under “Recent Reads” a short time ago. Both Sunday editions of The Houston Chronicle (practically cover to cover).

Continuing to Read: Who Said I Was Up for Adoption?  by Colin Chappell, a blogging friend, told in alternate chapters from dog owner’s/dog’s point of view. Also The Fire by Night by Teresa Messineo, a story of allied nurses in WWII.

Have begun Ayn Rand’s Anthem, a novel of the future written while she was writing The Fountainhead.          

Watched on TV:  Two excellent episodes of PBS’s “Victoria,” two episodes of “Bull,” two episodes of “Superior Doughnuts” a really funny 30 min. comedy (new this season), Rick Steve’s visit to Paris on “The Best of Rick Steve’s Europe” on PBS,and one episode of “Gray’s Anatomy.”

I am really looking forward to starting: Joyful Journey, a friend’s autobiography which she signed and gave away to about forty friends yesterday, complete with coffee and dessert–a lovely afternoon, and Who Is Human? a novel about a computer that attempts to answer that question, available on Kindle, by Gary Pegoda, a long-time friend.

RECENT READS

This weekend I finished two books I started what seems like ages ago. Because of library books due and other reasons, I put each of them aside more than one time, and I promised myself I’d continue to stay off my feet and finish at least one of them this weekend.

The first was a YA paranormal romance (a genre I didn’t even know existed) reviewed by a blogging friend in the UK, Amanda Hocking’s Freeks.  This 2016 publication kept my interest throughout, and although I had little in common with the young characters, the ending was so exciting I was mentally yelling for the good guys to “Get it! Kill it!” I was not sure of the outcome until the last few “seconds” of the climax, an extraordinary feat for any author hoping to sustain my interest through the last chapters.

Maura, a carnival kid, was my favorite character.  She is just growing into her “gift”, necromancy, speaking with dead spirits, which she has inherited from her mother and her grandmother. Gabe, the love interest, is so handsome, cool, with just the touch of “danger” reflected in his golden eyes, who wouldn’t like him?  The relationships in the story are well drawn: Maura and Gabe, Maura and her mother, her mother and the “boss” of the carnival,  “freaks” with other “normals” in the carnival,  and the “carnies” and the “townies”. The setting is intriguing:  the carnival background against the eerie, something-is-just-not-right feeling of the small town in the South. The cover invited the reader to “Step inside a wondrous, strange, new world…,” and if the reader can suspend reality and believe for a brief moment, he/she will enjoy doing just that.

 

The Art of Racing In the Rain has been circling the track for me since before Christmas, and it brought relief as well as satisfaction to finish it today. Garth Stein’s philosophical, sad, sad novel is told from Enslow’s (the dog’s!) point of view, and he is the best narrator I’ve followed in a long, long time. It was published back in 2009, but since it was on the subject of death and my mother died that year, I didn’t even attempt to read it then. It is heart wrenching, at times funny, and endears the reader to the three main characters: Denny, a race car driver who specializes in racing in the rain or on a wet track; and his wife, Eve, who first displaces Enzo, then finally  entrusts her husband and their daughter, Zoe, to him. The circle of life and all of its philosophical tenets, as well as its absurdities, comes into play and develops during this 321 page novel.  Be sure you buy kleenex in preparation for reading this one.

 

A HOME AT THE END OF THE WORLD: REVIEW

This book, by Michael Cunningham, first published in 1990, took the author six years to write and took me just two days to read on my kindle. It was a slow-paced, but never draggy read.  In the words of the Los Angeles Times reviewer’s words, “We come to know [Johnathan, Bobby, and Clare] as if we lived with them, yet each one retains the mystery called…soul and in fiction is called art.” The novel redefines the concept of “family” and gives us an inside look at the AIDS epidemic, perhaps assigning the reader a new compassion for those personally affected by it. It deals with the commonplace but “makes the familiar strange and the strange familiar” (Ciardi) , giving this reader a whole new insight on the era.

One person whose outcome I was totally satisfied with was Alice, Johnathan’s mother. She was an unsatisfied, unhappy woman, trapped in a loveless marriage, then a widow, during the course of the novel. Although the ending, for all the characters, was not a totally happy one, this reader found it a satisfying conclusion to the life questions and personal quests of the three major characters.  In all, it was a good read.

RECENT READS: Reviews of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and Church of the Dog

Kathleen Rooney has written a fascinating book about a fascinating woman in Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk. The novel is based on a real person, Margaret Fishback, who lived in the 1930s and published witty poetry and several books. Like Margaret, Lillian, the fictional character works for many years as an ad writer for Macy’s Department store.The story takes place in one evening and night, New Year’s Eve, 1984, in Manhattan, as Lillian Boxfish walks alone for a total of ten miles.  As she walks, she considers her life, which covered ” ” from “the jazz age to the AIDS epidemic,” “from the Great Depression to the birth of hip hop.” It not only explores the changes in Lillian Boxfish,but the changes in N.Y. specifically, and the US in general.  Lillian is extremely openminded for an octogenarian, and is flexible to at least accept change as it throws itself at her. As a reviewer said, “There is a little of Lillian Boxfish in all of us. And if there isn’t, there ought to be.”

Another book I finished this week was Kaya McLaren’s Church of the Dog.  Interestingly enough, it was originally published in 2000, then after input and advice from fans and book club appearances, the author re-wrote it, making extensive changes and re-published it in 2008. The novel is set in Oregon farm country among the many cattle ranches and “good country people” who occupy them. One such couple is the McRaes, whose lives are turned around and upside down by the appearance of Maura O’ Shawnessey, who has the “gift,” as the Irish say. She fixes up an old bunkhouse on the McRaes’ property which comes to be called “The Church of the Dog” by the neighbors because of it’s arched entrance and mural of a  friendly dog on the front. Surprisingly, a real dog, who looks exactly the same as the mural arrives one night in the middle of a thunderstorm, which Maura names Zeus, appropriately, since Zeus was the god of the thunderbolt and storm. The novel holds many surprises and completely redefines the concept of “family.” However, no surprise is bigger than the surprise ending. It is available in large print at the Alvin Library.

Just One Damned Thing After Another: A Review

The title comes from the quote (source unknown) “Love is just one damned thing after another,” and Jodi Taylor, the author adapts the quote at the front to, “History is just one damned thing after another” in her first book in the “Chronicles of St. Mary’s” series dealing with romance and time travel. My first note I wrote about this novel is “I want to read the sequel”, which I knew had been published summer of 2016.

The cover of One Damned Thing …describes it as “A carnival ride through laughter and tears, with a bit of time travel thrown in for spice” (Publishers Weekly), an accurate description. St Mary’s Institute of Historical Research has an unassuming exterior, but inside, the researchers, historians, and technicians don’t time travel but “investigate major historical events in contemporary time.”

Max, Madeline Maxwell, PhD is the main character, best described as “a disaster magnet.”and her team go here and there in time, first on training missions, then back to the time of the dinosaurs, where the action really gets hairy as the team encounters other time travelers, not all of them good guys.   All of the characters are well drawn, and the twists of plot satisfy even this reader who is so fond of them. There is plenty of action as witnessed in this quote from the book describing a raptor attack on some time travelers:

“I watched as the first two (raptors) leaped in a pincer movement… and it’s true, they don’t wait until their prey  is dead before eating.  I watched them rip and tear…I watched them snarl and growl and gobble.” This is the most violent and most graphic scene, I have read, fully worthy of any Jurassic Park movie.

The book series, “St. Mary’s,” would make a great TV series.