With books, you can travel the world
I’ve been traveling the world this summer, with books set in England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Iceland and Stockholm. And, now I’ve been to Cambodia, Vietnam, Shanghai, Alaska, the Caribbean and Stockholm again in the last month.
“Crossing the Bamboo Bridge: Memoirs of a Bad Luck Girl” (2016) by Mai Donohue. Behind the newsreel footage and books on the political aspects of the war in Vietnam, we forget the people who were simply trying to make a living and raise their families. Mai, a Barrington author, teacher, fabulous cook, mother and wife, has written an unforgettable account of what it was like to grow up in Vietnam during the 1950s and ‘60s. And, you can hear her voice in every word.
She survived the loss of her father and brothers by Ho Chi Minh’s followers, an impoverished home life, a brutal marriage to an older man at age 14 and, after running away to Saigon, harrowing attempts to find and keep jobs to support herself amid wartime and an uncertain future. But, her dream of being free to make her own choices and her refusal to settle for less will lead her to find love and happiness and bring her to the United States. It’s just a marvelous story of determination, courage and, finally, good luck for a bad luck girl.
“The Fool’s Truth” (2015) by Loretta H. Marion of Bristol is a mystery/thriller, with a touch of romance. When Cordelia flees her abusive husband, taking her toddler daughter with her, she is aided by old friend (maybe more?) Ramon Alvarez. But, her trip north is interrupted in Murphy, Maine, where she has car trouble. This is one of those books where you don’t want to give too much away. All of the characters have a touch of mystery or hidden pasts, except the sleazy English tabloid journalist, now the editor of the Murphy newspaper, who is just what he seems.
Each chapter is introduced with an apropos quote from the teachings of Buddha, Sherlock Holmes stories, Shakespeare or authors commenting on journalism. The plot clips right along and you’re not quite sure what will happen next. It’s a very enjoyable read.
“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (2015) by David Lagercrantz. If you’re a fan of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series and were sad to hear of his passing in 2004, a new author has taken over and written the fourth book. It’s a solid offering and picks up a year after the third book ends. A cast of characters at the beginning is a good reminder of who’s who.
Computer savant Lisbeth Salander is digging for information on the network of Zalachenko, her late father, a criminal and former Soviet spy, and trying to find her twin sister. Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist at Millennium magazine, is having a hard time professionally. At first, I thought the translation was a little stiff, but once the action picked up, things hummed right along. Salander is a wonderful character, a perfect match for Mikael’s crusading reporter and they make a formidable team. It’s a pleasure to have them back.
“The Map of Lost Memories” (2012) by Kim Fay. Set in the early 1900s, this treasure hunt travels from Seattle to Shanghai and Saigon and then into the jungles of Cambodia in search of the lost history of the ancient Khmer civilization written on copper scrolls. Irene has spent her life studying the Khmer. But, passed over at the Seattle museum where she works, she vows to restore her reputation and return with a prize worthy of a museum of her own. But, can she trust those who can help? And, everyone seems to be harboring secrets, including her longtime mentor. This is a great treasure hunt with lots of twists and turns and a satisfying ending.
“About Grace” (2004) by Anthony Doerr is a sprawling novel that kept surprising me, and I like that. David Winkler has dreams and that’s what he calls them — not auguries or premonitions. He is a hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Alaska when he meets Sandy and realizes he dreamed about her. After their daughter Grace is born in Ohio, David has dreams that will force him to flee thousands of miles away — to the Caribbean and back to Alaska. It’s a beautifully told story of love, romance, sacrifice, forgiveness and how to make peace with your life. It left me with sharp visions of all the beautiful places David travels to, especially the far north of Alaska. Doerr is a gifted writer who could take me anywhere.
“March” (2005) by Geraldine Brooks seems like a fascinating idea. A look at Mr. March, the father of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women.” The first three-quarters of the book were an unflinching look at the Civil War and the atrocities of both sides and Mr. March’s place in them. Told through letters home to Marmee and flashbacks to how the couple met and wed, I enjoyed the back story of the classic, one of my favorites. But, the last quarter threw “Little Women” off kilter for me and I didn’t like it. And, I became annoyed with Mr. March and his self-pity and self-blame. If you’re a huge fan of “Little Women” and don’t want to see it in a harsher light, skip this one. But, if you don’t mind learning a lot more about these characters, warts and all, go ahead.
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