Family History

Review: Peony in Love

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Peony in LoveMy rating: 3 of 5 stars to Lisa See‘s Peony in Love, a historical fiction book released in 2007 by Random House set in 17th century China.

Why This Book
I found it sitting on a bookshelf in my condo’s laundry room. I read the jacket description, which sounded like a beautiful tale of love, emotions and a little bit of history. I brought it home with me that afternoon, knowing it would come in handy. And when I finished up a few ARCs, I needed a different kind of book; I saw this on my own shelf, which reminded me it was time to try something a few years old. I picked it up and began reading last week. It took longer than usual, but I’ll explain why later.

Overview of Story
The Peony Pavilion is a play that the character of Peony has read many times. When her father, of some wealth in 17th century China, puts on a showing of the famous play on his estate, 15-year old Peony is excited. But it’s when she sees a boy for the first time, she cannot control her thoughts. Unfortunately, she’s already paired off in an arranged marriage with a boy from another family, as well as the fact that as a girl, she’s not even allowed to be seen with any males other than those in her own family.

The book follows the story line of the play, which seems to be spilling over into Peony’s life. When she begins unknowingly starving herself, Peony dies and enters the afterworld on her own. She’s unprepared to deal with the consequences and is remorseful that she never found love. She soon sees the boy she fell in love with in a dream, learning he was the man her father had arranged in the marriage. She longs for him but cannot have him, as she is dead and he is very much alive.

Soon, her family members begin dying and join her in the afterworld. The boy moves on and gets married. Peony inserts herself to their life from the great beyond, leading to unfortunate circumstances for all involved. As she meanders her journey, Peony learns what is needed for her to move beyond the “waiting place” and into her new existence as no longer alive.

Approach & Style
1. The book is centered around a play within the book which mirrors the main character’s life. At times, it’s a little difficult to tell which is real life and which is the play.

2. The language is very ethereal, flowery and imaginative. This is less about plot and more about the beauty of Chinese beliefs about what women are allowed to do, what happens in death, and how to live one’s life.

Strengths
1. The love story is a strong one. You see and feel the poetry in the words and the relationships.

2. It’s very descriptive of life in a warrior state in 17th century China. I learned a lot of history that I wasn’t privy to beforehand.

3. You see everything thru Peony’s eyes, which helps create a very strong world and point of view.

Open Questions & Concerns
I am shocked at what Chinese women were put thru… between the sacrifices women made for men, the binding of feet and the cultural expectations and limitations. It was very upsetting. I understand these were customs for hundreds of years, with deep-rooted beliefs… some are just awful from today’s standards. Even awful back then.

Author & Other Similar Books
This is the first book about Chinese customs and history that I’ve read. I’m not sure what I could compare it to…. perhaps Memoirs of a Geisha, although it’s a different country and belief system.

Final Thoughts
This was a very tough read. I started it ten days ago and read 20 pages. I tried a few times, but couldn’t get into it. I forced myself to read 150 pages last night and then the remaining 100 today. It got better, but it wasn’t a positive read for me; however, I recognize the beauty in the story, characters, imagery and setting. It’s one of those books where I didn’t like it a lot, but I know it’s a good book.

I wish I had more knowledge of Chinese history and customs. Unfortunately, much of what happens in the book and how it’s described went over my head. I didn’t agree with how people felt or were treated. I didn’t know why there was so much of a belief in ghosts with a vengeance. I couldn’t get into religious and spiritual connections that were unfamiliar. And when I was getting close, I felt angry over how awfully these women were treated.

That said, I believe I would have liked this a lot more if I had a stronger background in the topics. The writing is good. The story is pretty. It’s just a weak connection for me because I was unfamiliar with the core practices, history and belief systems. But for the right reader, it will probably be a good 3 to 4 rated book. For me, it was about a 2.5, and I rounded up to a 3 to be fair.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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Review: The Rose Labyrinth

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The Rose Labyrinth3+ of 5 stars to Titania Hardie‘s novel, The Rose Labyrinth. Few have heard of the author or this book, but when I stumbled upon it in the book store, I had to give it a chance for a few reasons:

1. It was a book within a book. It’s a normal hardcover book, but in the front cover, there is a second book, a journal of sorts. In the real book, the main character uses a journal and a puzzle to decode the secrets from 400 years ago. And as readers, we get a copy of this journal, so along the way, we can try to figure it out, too. It sounds like a great concept, perhaps a bit of a gimmick. I didn’t find it particularly useful, and it probably caused too much of an increase in production costs.

2. It told the story both in current time and in the historical Elizabethan period. I love those types of mysteries, where we learn, as the character learns, how they fit into this whole puzzle.

3. I’d been itching to try a little bit of a romance book, just to see if I would find it at all interesting. And in this one, the main character’s story is about her own health issues and her subsequent falling in love with another. Eh… a few plot issues and mechanical (?) issues given she had surgery and well… didn’t seem like it would all work out that quickly. But who am I to judge?

4. I love the author’s name. I will check out another of her books to see how those compare. But I’m not in any rush.

Overall, I liked the book; however, it didn’t live up to my hope given the notes above. I imagine it is only in print, given the journal that comes with it, but that might be something to look into, if you’re interested.

I think the story is good, but there are other comparable stories. It’s a cross between Kate Morton and Dan Brown. But it isn’t as good as either of them, so… just do some review reading before you decide to take this one on. It may or may not be a fit.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators.

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365 Challenge: Day 35 – Genealogist

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Genealogist: One who is actively engaged in the study or investigation of ancestry and family histories

We’ve made it through another week and on this fifth Sunday, it’s time to wrap up the first month’s focus on my genealogical heritage. See below for a picture of my Ancestry DNA results.

genealogy

In the last four weeks, I selected the 4 countries where I believe my ancestors hailed from, as well as picked the top stereotypical traits people assumed about the people from those places. A quick summary:

  1. Irish: 20%
  2. English: 33%
  3. German: 33% (Includes the Scandinavian as some of relatives were on the border)
  4. Scottish: 13%
  5. Other: 1% (West Asian – I think everyone gets that!)

While the DNA results and the documentation have a 10% disconnect, it’s a very clear picture of who my people were and where I came from.

Why do I study my genealogy? Take a look at this post on my professional website. It will give you some insight into my historical nature and great big quest for the past.

I often wonder why I’m so persistent on it… do I doubt who I am? Do I need more details about where I came from? Is it trying to understand how it all began?

Ultimately, this interest goes back to more than just people… it’s how did the USA begin. What happened to the dinosaurs? What were the original continents like? How did Earth form? What other galaxies are there? It’s more than being curious. It’s more than dedication or obsession. When I’m researching a family member on my laptop, tons of windows open to compare and contrast records, and I stumble upon a find… my eyes light up, I can’t sit still and my fingers can’t keep up with my mind. The discovery is brilliant and I’m ecstatic.

I’m a linear person. I like to start at the beginning. I have to read the first book in a series. I prefer straight lines. I like to create project plans with a starting point and an ending point. I love watching time pass on a clock, counting down to the re-start of the 60 segment process.

I believe it’s the same orderly structure that drives me to research my roots. I like seeing things improve, gain strength, drive forward. Adding more knowledge with each successive chain or generation. I’m sociological, I suppose.

Seeing a family tree, learning how people survived, how they met… what types of jobs and families they had. What made them move? These are all details I enjoy searching for across the internet.

Can you imagine watching from the sidelines as your ancestors moved through their lives? What if we had a time machine and could go back not to change the past, but to watch it unfold on warp speed? Quick enough not to see the tedious things, but slow enough to watch how each generation changed. To see your 4 times grandparents meet on a boat and decide to marry within days. To know your 6 times great-grandmother suffered so many miscarriages due to the poor conditions of medicine and health, but then she finally gave birth to your 5 times great-grandfather. To know how wars impacted your family. To recognize who touched royalty at some point.

It’s not unlike my interest in mystery fiction. Investigation. Detection. Research. As I draft each of these posts, hitting number 35 today, several themes are starting to appear. I’ve always known about them on a smaller scale, but the picture is becoming more clear.

So now I throw it out there… where do I go next?

About Me & the “365 Daily Challenge”

I’m Jay. I am 40 and live in NYC. By profession, I work in technology. By passion, I work in writing. I’ve always been a reader. And now I’m a daily blogger. I decided to start my own version of the “365 Daily Challenge” where since March 13, 2017, I’ve posted a characteristic either I currently embody or one I’d like to embody in the future. 365 days of reflection to discover who I am and what I want out of life.

The goal: Knowledge. Acceptance. Understanding. Optimization. Happiness. Help. For myself. For others. And if all else fails, humor. When I’m finished in one year, I hope to have more answers about the future and what I will do with the remainder of my life. All aspects to be considered. It’s not just about a career, hobbies, residence, activities, efforts, et al. It’s meant to be a comprehensive study and reflection from an ordinary man. Not a doctor. Not a therapist. Not a friend. Not an encyclopedia full of prior research. Just pure thought, a blogged journal with true honesty.

Join the fun and read a new post each day, or check out my book reviews, TV/Film reviews or favorite vacation spots. And feel free to like, rate, comment or take the poll for each post.

Review: The Distant Hours

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The Distant HoursMy rating: 4 of 5 stars to Kate Morton‘s The Distant Hours, a beautifully written and compelling story of sisters, mothers and daughters across two different time periods set in London and rural England.



Why This Book?
I’d read one of her other books, The Forgotten Garden, and fell in love with Kate Morton‘s style, effortless reads and vivid settings and characters. I had to continue absorbing as much of her books as I could, but given they are usually 500+ pages, and quite intense, I have to layer them in every few months. I happened to arrive in my building’s laundry room a few minutes early and perused the library’s bookshelves while waiting for the dryer to complete its cycle. Low an’ behold, there she stood.

Some kind soul had dropped off this book and it beckoned me to depart quickly with it. Well… as soon as I finished getting all my clothes out of the dryer. It sat on my living room’s bookshelves for a few weeks, until I’d seen a review of it this week and decided to move it up on my TBR list. SO GLAD I DID!

Overview of Story
Edie Burchill, a thirty year old book lover working in the publishing industry, recently split from her live-in boyfriend, is visiting her parents one weekend when a letter arrives in the mail, postmarked nearly 50 years ago. Edie’s mother, Meredith, tells her very little, only that it came from one of the Blythe sisters who live at Milderhurst Castle where Meredith stayed as an evacuee during WWII’s German Blitz. Though Edie and her mother aren’t very close, she knows Meredith hasn’t told her the entire story. And when Edie finds herself driving near the castle, and an opportunity to take a tour arises, she jumps on it. Inside Edie meets 85ish twins, Saffy and Percy, who care for their much younger sister, Juniper who is in her early 70s. All is not well with Juniper, who thinks Edie is actually Meredith from nearly 50 years ago. Edie visits local historians, presses her mother’s family and becomes closer to the twin sisters, in hopes she’ll discover what hides behind her mother’s wistful eyes. And as she falls deeper in the story, she learns of a broken engagement, a missing fiancee, a long-lost love, a crazy author, an affair and a few mysterious deaths. Not to mention the mystery of the “mud man” who the sisters’ father, Raymond Blythe, wrote a famous fiction (or was it?) story nearly 70 years before.

Approach & Style
The book alternates time periods every few chapters, showing what happened in 1939-1941 and what is happening currently in the 1990s. Chapters take on different points of view and focus from all of the core characters: Raymond Blythe. His 3 daughters, Saffy, Percy and Juniper. Edie spends time with her parents and her mother’s sister Rita. Mr. Cavill, the missing fiancee, has his own stories and connections, and his family is still looking for him in current time. The stories and characters unfold chapter by chapter, leading readers to discover all the covert relationships and actions that have occurred to bring everything to current times.

Strengths
Kate Morton is quickly becoming my favorite author. Her writing style, though a little exaggerated and too lyrical at times, is astoundingly beautiful. You will always picture the setting, the views and the backdrops. Her choice of words ranges from intoxicating to phenomenal. And her ability to stop the story at just the right moment before switching to a different character or point of view is dazzling. And sometimes, it’s not even a cliffhanger or point of suspense; it’s a mere change to give you a chance to breathe and let your imagination run free for a bit.

The plot is intricate, realistic and intense. You question with each chapter the motivation of the good people and the sentiment of the bad people. You wonder why they make the decision they make, only to find out later, you should never second guess it. I can imagine Morton writes very detailed outlines over several months, determining when to drop certain hints, and when to hold back for a complete and utter shock. She’s clearly writing in a forum and a genre that is well-suited to her strengths.

Open Questions & Concerns
At times, the story is a little too unclear. In 90% of the cases, it works to your advantage as your suspense and thrill increases; however, every so often, it goes a little too far, unravels more than it needs to and opens itself up to a few too many questions that don’t fully find resolution. In particular, with the ending of this one, I wasn’t sure of a connection to make with the delay that happens on the bus (no spoilers here!)… that said, it’s easily forgiven, but this reader wanted it a little more tidied up.

Empathy for the character of Juniper should have been a stronger theme. Readers will feel attached to her, but when you discover what truly happened to her in the end, and how it seems so much could have been prevented, you wonder whether she was just there to suffer. A tweak here and there might have made this a little more acceptable, but then again, reality doesn’t always work that way either. People have a misguided notion they are doing the right thing for the wrong reasons.

Final Thoughts
If you love flowery language, tremendous detail and an ethereal quality in a story, you must read Morton’s books. And this one in particular shows the push/pull between siblings and parents and children, all the things you never know even though you live together for so many years. We are all different people and despite sharing so much in common, our relationships are unique. This books shows us how to question why a sister can control another, how a mother can choose not to truly love her child… and how a man could go crazy over losing so much in a lifetime.

Go into this one expecting a long and intense journey, and you will be pleased. Go into this hoping for a thrilling ride of great leaps and shocks, you will be disappointed. This is not about how dastardly someone has behaved; this is about how people disappoint one another when they least expect to.

About Me
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I read A LOT. I write A LOT. And now I blog A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you’ll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I’ve visited all over the world. And you can find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures.

Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Vote in the poll and ratings. Thanks for stopping by.

View all my reviews

Review: Victoria

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Victoria
4+ of 5 stars to Daisy Goodwin‘s Victoria, a historical fiction novel released with a PBS TV series bringing the book to life on Sunday evenings. I was very sad when Downton Abbey was ending, but looked forward to the release of “The Gilded Age,” “The Crown,” and “Victoria,” all of which handled similar themes and historical families. I won this book through a giveaway but had already started watching the TV series. I finished the book this week with one episode still left to watch to see how this chapter of the story ends — and so far, I’m quite fascinated. A MUST-READ for all…


Story

Victoria’s father was next to be king, but he died young, and his brothers inherited the throne after their father passed on; however, none produced heirs. At 18, Victoria became Queen when her uncle died and she was quickly thrust into the spotlight. Raised by a German mother, with little education, and still a very young girl, Victoria waffled between rebellious teen and resourceful leader throughout this story. It covers about 2 years of her life from 18 to 20, ending when she proposes to her cousin Albert in order to bring some additional stability to her power. Based on Victoria’s journals and several other historical documents, Goodwin recreates the beginnings of a rocky reign which eventually became the longest British royal on the throne (until Elizabeth II recently surpassed it a year ago). While the TV Series ends with Victoria and Albert married, having their first child, and her Prime Minister about to retire, the book stops a few months earlier… but it’s still an amazing story.


Strengths

1. The story is classic: rebellious teen, loves someone she cannot have, fights with her mother, wants all the beautiful things, but is coming of age… so much drama we all have today but with the splendor of nearly 200 years ago added in for good measure.

2. It’s full of family genetics and history. Who’s married to whom? Who cheated on whom? It’s her cousin? It’s her uncle? It’s also her third cousin once removed from the other side? Crazy… but it seems logical and makes sense all at the same time.

3. The ability to recreate the setting and the ambiance is well done. Goodwin is a master.


Suggestions

I have very little to suggest. Perhaps a family tree tucked into the jacket of the book? A little more background on her father and early years before she inherited the throne? It may help readers understand how her parents fell in love, what kind of relationship they had, how she was raised by her mother using German educational systems. You get a flavor of it, but I thirsted for a bit more.


Final Thoughts

Forget this is founded in some reality. Ignore that it’s about royalty. Pretend it is modern times. The story is just a classic tale. And it has everything.

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“Watching a Glass Shatter” – 18 Chapters Drafted

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I’ve been a busy writer the last two weeks and doubled my chapters drafted from 9 to 18.  On track to complete draft of the entire book by Halloween.  Who’s excited to hear more about the Glass family?  For now, check out Chapters 1 & 2 here

-jjciv

“Watching a Glass Shatter” – Chapter 2

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Chapter 2 “Who is Olivia Glass?” has been released and the widow reacts to her husband’s untimely death prior to sitting for the reading of the will.  What secrets are going to come out?

Summary:  The wealthy Glass family has lost its patriarch, Benjamin Glass, sooner than expected. Benjamin’s widow, Olivia, and her 5 sons prepare for the will reading in their own way but Olivia receives a very unexpected confession via a letter from her late husband that will shatter the whole family: one of their 5 boys is not really their biological son. Prior to revealing what Ben put in the letter, Olivia asks her sons to each spend a week with her as she isn’t ready to let go of the past.  Olivia visits each son with the expectation she will reveal the newly learned family secret while with each son but when she arrives, Olivia learns that her sons have each been keeping a secret from her.

In this family drama, Olivia and her sons are on a quest to determine the course of their life without Ben.  Olivia never expected her remaining years would be so complex and life altering.  As she spends time with each son, she gets a clearer picture of what she needs to do. By the final visit, Olivia is ready to move forward but will her family ever be the same?

Chapter 1 – Who was Benjamin Glass?

Chapter 2 – Who was Olivia Glass?

-jjciv