Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Book Review - In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

I have always been a lover of history and do consider myself to be a sponge when it comes to that subject. I find it constantly amazing what people have done in the past all in the name of (fill in the blank) and either successfully accomplished said goal, or died horribly while trying . . . .or both. When I met author Hampton Sides at the signing of his book, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Voyage of the USS Jeannette, I figured that his book would be a good read about a little known voyage.

I am now ready to eat crow. Big time.

In the Kingdom of Ice is a masterfully well told tale of Naval officer George Washington DeLong who, commissioned by James Gordon Bennett Jr., lifelong bachelor and the eccentric and wealthy owner of The New York Herald, embarks on an expedition to the North Pole in hopes of discovering the Open Polar Sea. On 8 July 1879, DeLong and his thirty-two man crew bid San Francisco and the United States good bye as they set sail north to discover new lands inhabited by strange creatures while surrounded by surprisingly warm waters. Two years later, the hull of the USS Jeannette was breached by ice and sank to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, leaving her crew in the middle of an ice wasteland in the desolate hopes of returning to civilization. Add to the tale random bouts of insanity, undernourishment and several points of starvation, losing an eye to syphilis, fighting dogs, sausages made out of walrus, chilblains, frostbitten feet and toes and many cups of willow tea and you have barely scraped the tip of this iceberg. This was an expedition that was doomed to fail and yet the spirit of the men, no matter how harrowing their situation at hand, was beyond the limits of "normal" people.

This is not a book for someone who wants a "light read"; Sides grabs you from page one and never lets you go with his detailed and "sucks you in" writing. This story is a part of American and Russian history and yet, with the way that Sides tells the story, I had to remind myself repeatedly that THIS ALL HAPPENED. None of this was fabricated for a movie deal or for Sides to get published again . . . . every bit of this book happened.

2015 and the only places left to explore are the deeper parts of the oceans and space. Now, in the late nineteenth century, parts of the world were still "unknown" - because of James Gordon Bennett Jr., Livingston was "found" by Henry Morton Stanley. A young poet and naturalist was on board one of the rescue ships for the USS Jeannette -  his name was John Muir, one of the founders of the Sierra Club. After the USS Jeannette sank, the crew, in their trek back to civilization, survived on polar bear, deer, reindeer, seal, willow tea and the oh so delicious pemmican. During one of the "rest stops" in the search for civilization, one of the crew members actually saw something slide from his foot when the doctor unwrapped the bandages from it . . . a part of his foot. Need I say more?

Even with all of this, In the Kingdom of Ice is an excellent book to read if you want to know more about the Arctic craze of the late 1800s and if you also want to dive into a true story that is truly Steampunk - adventure, history, invention, the strength of men in their march towards progress. Sides did an excellent job in bringing this piece of history to life and rightfully so. So glad I attended that book signing last year!


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Book Review - Thieves' Quarry by D. B. Jackson

Let me just say for the record that this is not actually a book review. This is, rather, a book love post.

After reading Thieftaker, the first book in the series created by D. B. Jackson aka David B. Coe, I was hooked. The book was the right blend of fantasy, history, romance, mystery and horror. I have been a fan of David's for many years and although we are now friends and fellow authors, my love of his work has not diminished. Although I waited for almost a year to read Thieves ' Quarry, the second book in the series,  it was well worth the wait.

Boston, 1768 - We are once again with Ethan Kaille, thieftaker and conjurer, as he accepts a mission on behalf of the Crown: solve the mystery of the entire crew's death aboard the HMS Graystone. However, when Kaille realizes that one of the men is missing from the roster of the dead, the plot thickens as Kaille realizes that magic is certainly afoot and it is most deadly. Jackson's writing will keep you guessing to the very end and even then, you will wonder how you didn't see it coming from the beginning. I will admit that when the "reveal" occurred, I was not ready and actually said, "What the hell?" with a grin on my face. That is the work of a master author and Jackson is definitely that.

Like I said before, the Thieftaker Chronicles is an excellent blend of mystery, history, romance (a pinch!), fantasy and horror; Thieves' Quarry put that mix into an even better blend that will leave you wanting more. Thank goodness A Plunder of Souls (third book) is out!

Thank you, D. B./David!


Monday, January 12, 2015

Book Review - Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata

I am like a sponge when it comes to anything that interests me. Japan, for example, is one such area in which I try to learn and read as much as I can about such a rich country. I enjoy watching Kurosawa films, am a somewhat part of a tea ceremony group at the Memphis Botanic Gardens, have read books about Shinto and Bushido, can speak rusty basic Japanese, and even have plans to write a book that takes place in Japan with a longing desire to visit the country for "research purposes". So it came as no surprise to me that I would enjoy the book Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata.

(Yasunari Kawabata)

My love of Japanese literature began years ago when I discovered the author Yukio Mishima. His books were the gateway into a world I knew very little about, yet once I arrived there, I did not want to leave. So it was that years later, while reading Thousand Cranes, that I feel as though I have returned to that world that smells of matcha tea powder. Thousand Cranes is a sparsely written yet beautiful story of a young man named Kikuji and his involvement with two mistresses of his dead father as well as the daughter of one of the mistresses. Each person plays their part as though they were in a Greek Tragedy, as they are the symbols of Life and Death to those who are witnesses. Surrounding the story is Chado, or the Way of Tea, and the ceremony that brings these people together under such bleak circumstances. The women see Kikuji as a new beacon of a old light that was once shown through his father, yet it is not enough as two of them fail to grasp it.

Kawabata's simple writing gives the characters layers, allowing no need to overpower the book with flowery and overly descriptive phrases. The characters literally speak for themselves. In now having a great appreciation for Kawabata, I know that I want to read more Japanese works, along with a return to Mishima. It has been too long.

(Yukio Mishima)


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Book Review - Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer

I have a very bad habit of flying through a book within days if I love it. When I purchased the last Harry Potter book, I raced home, read for an hour, took a nap then woke up again and finished it off! However, there are some books that, as much as I enjoy them, I will slow myself down and savour them like a cup of Earl Grey tea (I always have to mention that tea!) Such was the case with Seven Years in Tibet by Heinrich Harrer.

After trying to read several not so great books one after the other, my mind finally settled on this book. Actually, it had been "calling" me for a while now but I refused to read it for no reason. Perhaps I did not think that I was going to enjoy it, or perhaps the message would fall flat on me.

It was neither.

From the first page, I knew I was hooked - Harrer, an Austrian caught in India during the beginning of World War II,  wants to escape and make the trek to Tibet where he knows he will be safe. After several failed attempts followed by one success, he and his friend Aufschnaiter finally make it, all the while dealing with ornery yaks, frostbite, getting lost several times, having no food and several attempts of robbery. However, once they make it to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, their lives for the next seven years undergo a dramatic change. Harrer and Aufschnaiter, once thought of as strangers, soon becomes familiar faces to all, especially the 14th Dalai Lama who at the time was a young boy. This is not an easy book to read as you are right there with Harrer during his unfortunate moments in trying to reach Tibet and when he and the Dalai Lama must flee years later to avoid the invading Chinese. However, I did find that the meetings he had with the Dalai Lama as his tutor were touching and at times funny, as the Dalai Lama was a spirited and lonely boy who wanted to learn everything about the world. 

Now that I have read the book, I want to watch the movie; I've been told that it is quite good and I hope it lives up to what the book set out to do. I already suffer from Wanderlust and this book greatly increased it. It also presented a sense of spiritual peace and bliss within me whenever I picked it up to read. 

And, I still want to try butter tea!


Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Wanderlust Chronicles CONTINUED - Zaira

Greetings to all!

As I drove home from a bookstore today, I felt someone tap me on the shoulder. When I turned, I saw Zaira the Chronicler waving at me. She told me that she was ready to tell the next "installment" of the Wanderlust Chronicles. I told her to wait until I reached home and she did. When I arrived home, I made a cup of saenggang cha, or Korean ginger honey tea, as she sat next to me and talked while I typed.

I hope you enjoy the words, as I feel her tapping on my shoulder again . . . . . 

Zaira walked on, not caring that both Julie and David watched her. She had to reach the city, or else face Iardin's wrath. She hefted her pack on her shoulder as her feet made no sound on the concrete road.
I thought I saw it,” she murmured to herself, only to smile as the bright sliver of light flashed again. She glanced behind her shoulder and noticed that they were gone. Zaira turned back to face the light that now pulsed and walked faster towards it. Just as the scents of cinnamon and turmeric enveloped her nose, she grinned as she jumped through the light . . . and into the middle of a marketplace dressed with colourful scarves, flags and people selling and buying wares from all over this and other planes. Zaira dusted herself off and checked her bag. Yes, she thought. It was still there. She set the bag on her shoulder again and made her way towards the tall thin white tower that stood in the middle of the city. Hopefully, Iardin was in a good mood today. Hopefully. Just then, She felt strong winds fly around her and soon, she found herself in the middle of an ornately decorated waiting room. She looked around then sighed just as she heard the words, “I saved you the trouble of walking,” flow like silk behind her. She turned and watched Iardin, the Eater of Dreams, saunter towards her. His long and thin bare feet did not make a sound yet the bangles on both his arms jingled softly like a trained Wind Dancer during one of their performances. Zaira's eyes always focused on his long white blonde hair that trailed down his naked shoulders and back in the form of braids and strands. He wore his traditional indigo coloured wrap skirt, or gojika, past his knees as it complimented his pale and luminous skin. His hair always reminds me of a dream, she thought, only to frown as Iardin caught her thought and smiled deliciously. “You always loved my hair, Zaira, fairest of all Chroniclers. Tell me,” he said as he stopped a foot away from her and held out his hand, “do you have what I requested, or perhaps you were too busy thinking of my hair?” He shook his hand, causing the bracelets to jingle again. Zaira crouched down as she set her bag on the floor and opened it to pull out a small wooden box. She glanced at his expecting eyes then stood up and handed it to him. He covered his hands over the box then cradled it to his chest like a child going to sleep.
Shall I go now?” she asked in a neutral voice, hoping that he would quickly send her away so that he could have time to enjoy his latest “acquisition”. She hoisted her bag on her shoulder and made as if to leave, yet noticed that his eyes never left her face. They bore into her as if searching for something as he took a step closer and sniffed the air around her head.
You smell . . . different. Why?” He raised a hand and placed it over her chest. Instantly, warmth spread throughout her body, causing her to feel slightly drugged. Zaira felt her eyes droop yet widened them and tightened her grip on her bag, causing Iardin to lower his hand with a chuckle. “I see. Food with someone. A moment of caring. How delightful.”
She saw me on the street and offered me food. She thought I was a beggar or something.”
And did you happen to tell your new little friend about you and just what you had in your bag?” He shook the box gently and Zaira swore she heard a faint voice moan from inside.
She asked some questions yet I refused to tell her everything. I had to return to you, of course,” she said with an added bow before him. The Eater of Dreams laughed as he turned and walked towards a large blue and white cloth chair that sat on the other side of the room.
Come, come, Chronicler,” he purred as he walked, “surely you don't mean to leave so soon? Not when you have made good on your promise.” He sat down in his chair and stroked the box in his lap like a pet as he watched Zaira walk towards him. “You still have not received your payment. I have yet to meet a Chronicler that refuses to take their payment, no matter how . . . complicated their errand may be.” He reached down on the right to open a large jewel encrusted box and pulled out a small bag. “Ten gold, as promised.” She walked up to him and looked at the bag in his hand then slowly took it from him. She refused to count it front of him for fear that it would upset him and that was the last thing she needed at this point. Zaira placed the bag in a side pocket of her pants and nodded.
May I leave now? I need to return home and rest.” She felt her body begin to sag as the tension flowed from her like water. She needed her bed and soon.
Go and get rest.” Zaira turned quickly and made her way to the entrance in unmasked relief. “However,” he said in a voice that made her stop and freeze on the spot, “return in three days. I may have another errand for you, Chronicler.” Zaira nodded her head without turning around then left as quickly as possible.
Iardin watched her leave with renewed tension and chuckled again. Chroniclers are so predictable, he thought as he opened the lid on the box and surveyed its contents. There sat a transparent form that resembled a small cloud yet it was far from that. He gingerly poked it, causing it to emit a low and faint moan. He slid another finger inside of it and watched as the cloud thing began to take density.
Such is the price for one such as myself,” he whispered as he lifted the cloud thing up with his finger. It felt warm and thick now; just right. He lifted it towards his nose and sniffed. Faint hints of perfume, spices and anxiety. He sniffed again. Depression, despair. A willingness to die. He opened his mouth and let his long serpentine tongue gracefully flick against the warm blob. Yes, he thought as the blob shuddered with every touch of his tongue, you know, don't you? You wanted to live when no one else wanted you to. When you died, no one believed you. No one rescued you. A small room covered in shadows. Hair falling across your face as the pain left followed by increasing warmth.

Warmth like this,” he said as he placed the blob in his mouth and swallowed it whole. He felt the blob utter one last scream as it faded away, then licked his finger clean of the residue. “That suicide was delicious,” he sighed as he slowly got up and made his way to his resting chambers. Such a meal like that would give him lovely dreams for a week. Dreams of her raven coloured hair, distant eyes and how much she desperately wanted to be loved.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all! Now that 2014 is behind us, let us turn towards the new year and hope that it will be a year filled with discoveries and wonder.

May this year be the year you finally decide to take an art class, or learn how to cook a new recipe, or even register for swimming lessons. Maybe this is the year you finally travel to Uruguay (grin), or visit loved ones you hadn't seen in a long time. Make that phone call, tell someone you love them and be YOURSELF.

May this year the year of you falling in love with someone you least expected, or finally finding the courage to live your life the way you want to. Stand up and show the world just who and what you are. Take the first step, then another and another.

In short, may this year be YOUR year.

I know it will be for me.