Archive | August, 2010

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan

31 Aug

The Bonesetter's DaughterThis is the first Amy Tan book I’ve read and the title of the story is what made me pick it up. Can’t say I was disappointed, but strangely feel like something was lacking in the story.

In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Amy Tan tells the story of women through the generations, about their voiceless-ness and helplessness and how they overcome it. The story also throws light on cultural issues that Chinese women and children of Chinese origin face in America.

The protagonist Ruth is not one of those strong, will-get-what-I-want sort of women – not exactly admirable. Understandably, considering her eccentric mother, she has trouble trusting and communicating with the people she loves.

Synopsis: Ruth is a ghost writer who lives with her long-term boyfriend (Art) and his two children from an earlier marriage. Ruth’s mother LuLing seems to be getting more muddled every day and is exhibiting signs of dementia. While caring for her mother, Ruth finds a bunch of papers where her mother has penned down her story – the true version. Ruth gets these pages translated and learns about her mother’s life and about her grandmother Precious Auntie and comes to understand her mother and forgive her.

Against the backdrop of a small town in China, culture, superstition and forgotten arts like bonesetting and ink making, LuLing and Precious Auntie’s stories get revealed. Precious Auntie was a bonesetter’s daughter, and due to a series of unfortunate events is unable to claim her daughter as her own. Having lost her power of speech, she is rather helpless and powerless to have a hand in the fate of her daughter. The motif repeats with Precious Auntie leaving her daughter a long letter that explains how her life turned out the way it did.

Although the book is named for Precious Auntie, the bonesetter’s daughter, the most interesting stories are those of LuLing and her sister GaoLing. Their adventures in China and escape to America overcoming great odds, is a great story.

Written communication is the link between all three women – both LuLing and Precious Auntie use the written word to pass on their life story to their daughter. While Precious Auntie writes to pass on what she knows is the truth, LuLing writes to make sure she doesn’t forget. In telling her daughter the real story, she ensures that her story is not forgotten.

What is jarring in the story line is Ruth’s cavalier attitude towards all the writing that her mother hands to her. Being a writer, I would expect her to show more respect for the written word, whether it’s in English or Chinese. I also would have liked her better if she had stood up more forcefully to Art and his daughters, but then I guess the story would have been an entirely different one.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter gets a definite “Like” from me. Will be going back for more books by Amy Tan.

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

24 Aug

The Other Boleyn GirlHaving read a lot of Elizabethan literature in college, I have rather an obsession for anything Elizabethan or Tudor. Henry VIII and the story of the six wives (some of whom he beheaded) also caught my fancy when I first read about it.

The Other Boleyn Girl is the story of the lesser known Boleyn sister, Mary Boleyn. Historians may disagree with the characterization, dates, motives and actions of the people in this story, and there has been criticism of inaccuracies, but read it as a novel, a fictionalized version and it is rather believable for the most part and thoroughly enjoyable throughout. The characters are rich, the intrigue delicious and the romance wonderfully old-world. Poetry and jousts are the order of the day, and being a courtier is a full-time job. Philippa Gregory has used history as a starting point and let her imagination fill in the blanks and take the story forward. All the women characters are full of life and immensely likable or hate-able, no milksops here.

The story begins in 1521 with the execution of Duke of Buckinhamshire, who is a relative of Mary and Anne Boleyn. Mary is the narrator of the story and through her eyes we see political intrigue, matters of church and state, adulteries, romances, court workings and plenty more. It is a time when the young King Henry is still very much in love with his wife Katharine of Aragon (a Spanish princess). But men will be men and a king is much more than a mere man, and so continues his many affairs while the Queen finds strength in prayer.

It is at this happy time in the English court that Mary Boleyn catches the King’s eye. Even though she is married at the time, she is offered up by her ambitious family, seeing this as an opportunity to get closer to the King.

King Henry VIII

King Henry VIII

The way Gregory tells it, Mary is no innocent lamb either. But through the course of her affair, she falls in love with the King and even has two children by him. But she doesn’t have the cunning or the charm to hold his interest for too long and the King’s roving eye moves on. Soon she is usurped by her own sister, Anne Boleyn, an ambitious and rather ruthless woman. She manages to hold onto the King’s interest for 5 years without giving in to him, all the while urging him to set aside his marriage with Katherine. This works, no doubt in great part because Katherine is unable to produce a male heir. Convinced that his marriage is cursed (since he married his brother’s wife) Henry is desperate to have his marriage of 24 years annulled so that he can marry Anne.

The Pope refuses to authorise this, and finally Britain breaks away from the Roman Catholic Church, establishing the King as head of state and church. Henry marries Anne and she is now the Queen. Mary is forced to serve her as a lady-in-waiting and help their family protect their interests. Anne’s troubles are far from over: the King continues his cavorting, which Anne doesn’t accept with the patience of Katherine. Anne is also unable to provide a male heir to the increasingly panicky King. Other families are jostling for power and Anne is helplessly caught in a web of her own making.

Mary Boleyn, in the meantime, has realized what is important to her: her children and the love of a good man. She marries Willam Stafford (her first husband died of the sweating sickness) and lives the simple life as the wife of a farmer in a quiet little village. Political intrigue threatens her life and peace, but she manages to come out of it virtually unscathed although the rest of her family is lost to her.

The King now falls in love with the quiet and pious Jane Seymour and the cycle continues. Anne Boleyn is accused of witchcraft, adultery and incest and in spite of all her efforts is found guilty and beheaded.

Great read: the characters are wonderful, the plot and many sub plots engaging, the twists and turns are delightful. History buffs may scoff, but as a story, it is brilliant. All the other Philippa Gregory books are now on my to-read list.

Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn

Mary Boleyn

Mary Boleyn

Katherine of Aragon

Katherine of Aragon

The Casebook of Forensic Detection by Colin Evans

19 Aug

The Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World's Most Baffling CrimesThe Casebook of Forensic Detection: How Science Solved 100 of the World’s Most Baffling Crimes by Colin Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Any student of detection and forensics, casual or serious is sure to love this book.

I always expected a book of true crime to be a little too factual and boring, but Colin Evans makes this a very pleasurable read (once you ignore human depravity and gore).

A book like this needs to be presented well, and in this also The Casebook doesn’t disappoint. It has sections for the major disciplines like Fingerprinting, DNA Typing, Ballistics, Cause of Death, Psychological Profiling etc. The cases are then presented chronologically so that you can follow the progress of each branch of science. 100 very well known cases (mostly homicides) are presented with the facts of the case the way it was handled by those in charge. The science in many instances was not only essential to solve the crime, but was also instrumental in proving the case in court and getting a conviction.

Each case is presented in 2-3 pages, not going into too much detail, but just presenting the pertinent facts.

Summing up each case is a comment on how the expert made an impression,
or science was brilliantly put to use or what progress was made in forensics through this case.

Fascinating read, and quite unexpectedly, I managed to get through it all at once. Will definitely be re-reading this in a few months.

Even if the book had been less than satisfactory, I would be inclined to look at it with fondness if only for the many favorable mentions of Sherlock Holmes!

Death In Holy Orders by P.D. James

16 Aug

Death In Holy Orders (Adam Dalgliesh, #11)Death In Holy Orders by P.D. James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have been on a hunt for some good murder mysteries to sink my teeth into. As luck would have it, I came across this P.D. James to satiate that appetite. This is the 11th book in the Adam Dalgliesh series and the great thing is, not too much background is needed to get into this story and its protagonist. James gives enough of a peek into Dalgliesh’s past for you to understand the story and not too much, so the focus stays on the mystery at hand.

While the writing was lovely and the story kept me interested right to the end, I was not convinced about the motivations of the murderer. Neither was I very impressed at how long it took for the Dalgliesh and team to actually get to the conclusion of the case. It seemed a little forced towards the end.

Synopsis: Dalgliesh is arm-twisted into looking into the case of accidental death of Sir Alred’s adopted son, Ronald while in training at St. Anslem’s Theological College. The College is struggling to stay open, having been declared an extravagance by the Anglican Church. While Dalgliesh is at the college, the body count soon mounts, leaving no doubt that Ronald’s death was no accident. Dalgliesh’s team has the difficult task of questioning ordained priests and priests in training, as the all the inhabitants of the college become suspects in this multiple murder mystery.

Adam Dalgliesh’s character is a very interesting one, and one of the reasons I will be going back for more he has to offer. An intellectual with varied tastes, the son of a parson and a poet, he is at first glance an unlikely detective. I haven’t had enough time to really warm up to him, but I am intrigued.

P.D. James has an easy style and her writing is another aspect that I really enjoyed. The plot doesn’t race off at breakneck speed in an effort to get to the conclusion of the mystery. James takes her time with mood, setting, characters and details what make this more than a quick mystery novel.