Enigma of China

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Enigma of ChinaEnigma of China by Qiu Xiaolong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Series: An Inspector Chen novel
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: June 17, 2014
Category: Crime / Mystery
Setting: Shanghai, China
Author Website: http://www.qiuxiaolong.com/index2

About this book:

It is timely that as i write, the protesters are blocking the streets of Hong Kong and demanding more control from Beijing. The very premise of Xiaolong’s book Enigma of China is a government determined – no matter the cost – to keep harmony in a country that is increasingly dissatisfied with its government.

This is the first Inspector Chen novel I have read but it is the eighth book in the series. I was surprised that it didn’t feel like I was coming late to the table even when a few events from previous books were mentioned. And I very much enjoyed the mix of poetry within the prose of the story. It reminded me of theme music. If you have ever heard a movie scene without all the background music put it in, it sounds empty. That is how I would imagine Inspector Chen’s world would be without poetry. It was not a distraction but an accompaniment to the story that I very much enjoyed.

The mystery in this novel is politically intriguing and complex. Inspector Chen does his best to investigate without giving reasons for himself to be investigated. Which brings up one of the reasons I like to read books set in other countries. Poor health keeps me from traveling and I find most travel journals are not entertaining enough for my tastes. So I look for stories written by someone who has actually lived in another country and understands the culture. Those books, like Xiaolong’s, allows you to crawl inside that world and experience (for a little while anyway) what it is like to be there. For example, pay attention to Inspector Chen’s description of food. I’ve moved only a few states from where I was born and can’t get certain food items that were staples of my childhood diet. You can feel Xiaolong’s appreciation for China’s traditional food whenever Chen gets hungry; Xiaolong’s now lives in St. Louis.

So why didn’t I give this book – which I obviously enjoyed – five stars? I think it’s because I found the ending so uncomfortable. It certainly wasn’t the writing or the wrap up in the mystery; Xiaolong satisfies all the necessities on those scores so don’t worry you’ll know who “done it” in the end. But the very tension that Inspector Chen lives with in China hung heavy on my shoulders as I closed this book. I didn’t like it. So I am torn.

The reader in me wants to leave a book satisfied and possibly a little educated. Xiaolong did both very well. So I think on that hand it deserves five stars. But I’m agitated by the book. Something in my blood is nervous and unsettled and waiting for the other shoe to drop. How can I possibly move on to another book – any book – feeling this way? I feel like I need a reading palate cleanser. So as a reviewer I have to caution readers this book will make you feel as if you are left hanging. And so I only gave it four stars.

I may be splitting hairs with my rating but I think/hope Xiaolong is pleased that his book made me feel both the thrill of a good mystery and the oppression that has brought Hong Kong into the street this week.

Learn about other books in this series:

Death of a Red Heroine (Inspector Chen Cao #1)
A Loyal Character Dancer (Inspector Chen Cao #2)
When Red Is Black (Inspector Chen Cao #3)
A Case of Two Cities (Inspector Chen Cao #4)
Red Mandarin Dress (Inspector Chen Cao #5)
The Mao Case (Inspector Chen Cao #6)
Don’t Cry, Tai Lake (Inspector Chen Cao #7)

A Royal Pain

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A Royal Pain (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries #2)A Royal Pain by Rhys Bowen

My Rating: 3 of 5 stars
Series: A Royal Spyness Mystery
Publisher: Berkley Prime Crime
Release Date: July 7, 2009
Category: Romantic Mystery
Setting: England
Author Website: http://rhysbowen.com/

About series:

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie is 34th in line for the throne of England and she is flat broke. All she has is family honor and a distant relationship with the Queen of England. Set in 1930’s England, Victoria moonlights as a maid and when called upon by the Queen of England looks in on things that the Queen wants looked into by someone she trusts. That might put Victoria in harms way, but there is often a handsome man or two available to help her out when some muscle is required. One of those men is her grandfather from the other side of the family, a former bobby who walked the beat in some of London’s more unsavory neighborhoods.

About this book:

A good friend gifted me with this second book in the series and based on her recommendation I’d not wait to get the first and dove right in to the Royal Spyness Series. As I starting reading it I first I thought this series might have been the inspiration for the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries that I’ve been recently watching on Netflix. It was the right time period, but I soon realized that Victoria was not of the same extroverted character that Miss Fisher is and looked further to discover that that TV series was actually based on books written by Kerry Greenwood.

That being said, I found Victoria a delightful character who doesn’t take herself too seriously and yet is smart enough not to give away all her charms for free. She is a good girl in the fast times of pre-World War II. I’m not sure why, but I found that incredibly courageous of Victoria. Maybe I’m getting old? Or maybe Ryhs Bowen has just written a truly delightful mystery story. I’m looking forward to hearing how Victoria pursues her love interest, Darcy O’Mara, and maintains her moral stance to save herself for marriage in an age where it seems every girl is throwing away her virginity for a good Jazz tune. Or maybe it is going to be more interesting to see how he pursues her. I’m sure that their romance will be surrounded by more murders and mystery and I’m looking forward to reading about those as well.

Victoria is the Mary Tyler Moore of her generation trying to make it on her own. And I can see her twirling in the middle of Belgrave Square and tossing her hat into the air with the closure of each successful case. Victoria hasn’t set out to be a female detective but neither is she afraid to pursue the opportunities that life gives her. And that is probably the lesson that she is trying to teach all of us. Seize the day. Whatever the day may bring. Be it love, laughter or murder.

Learn about other books in this series:

Masked Ball at Broxley Manor (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #0.5)
Her Royal Spyness (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #1)
Royal Flush (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #3)
Royal Blood (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #4)
Naughty in Nice (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #5)
The Twelve Clues of Christmas (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #6)
Heirs and Graces (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #7)
Queen of Hearts (Her Royal Spyness Mysteries, #8)

Miss Phryne Fisher Series by Kerry Greenwood:

Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1)
Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2)
Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher, #3)
Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, #4)
The Green Mill Murder (Phryne Fisher, #5)
Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher, #6)
Ruddy Gore (Phryne Fisher, #7)
Urn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8)
Raisins and Almonds (Phryne Fisher, #9)
Death Before Wicket (Phryne Fisher, #10)
Away With the Fairies
Murder in Montparnasse (Phryne Fisher, #12)
The Castlemaine Murders (Phryne Fisher, #13)
Queen of the Flowers (Phryne Fisher, #14)
Death by Water (Phryne Fisher, #15)
Murder in the Dark (Phryne Fisher, #16)
Murder on a Midsummer Night (Phryne Fisher, #17)
Dead Man’s Chest (Phryne Fisher, #18)
Unnatural Habits (Phryne Fisher #19)
Murder and Mendelssohn (Phryne Fisher #20)

Learn about Mary Tyler Moore TV series:

Games of Thrones

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A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire, #1)A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series:     A Song of Ice and Fire
Publisher:    Bantam Spectra
Release Date:    August 6, 1996
Category:   Sci-fi
Setting:   Fantasy Land
Author Website:   http://www.georgerrmartin.com/

About series:

 

This is an epic novel following several ruling families or houses in a fantasy land where summer lasts for decades and winters can last a lifetime. There is a mixture of magic, science fiction, and paranormal.  Plus a dose of romance and plenty of battle scenes to keep the men happy and interested.

 

About this book:

 

A long time ago in this amazing fantasy land, the House of Targaryen ruled. Their animal to call was the dragon which followed them into the battlefield and won them the kingdom. But all the dragons died. And their king was overthrown and the last of the Dragonstones fled across the seas.

 

Now the king is from the House of Baratheon, but he is a drinking womanizing king who let’s others run his kingdom. Mostly working behind the King is his wife’s family from the House of Lannister. The king’s brother-in-law is actually called the kingslayer – which would make me nervous as a king – but he is the one who killed the Targaryen and won them the throne. The king though relies on his best friend who is the head of the House of Stark. This household is the main focus of this book. We are told the story through the eyes of the Stark family whose symbol is a direwolf (a bigger than normal wolf that scares everyone.) The Starks motto is “Winter is coming” and this is a haunting threat that follows us through the book.

 

There are other houses in play as well, such as Lady Stark’s sister who married into the House of Arryn. Their castle is way up in the sky and the loneliness of it has driven Lady Arryn a bit mad and she has brought up her son in her crazy image. She won’t even come to the aid of her father and brother at the House of Tully.

 

It’s the combination of all these other houses which makes this novel truly a masterpiece of woven stories.

 

  • I love the characters and world building of this novel.
  •  I love how the stories intertwine.

 

But this novel is about more than that. There is a paranormal side to this storyline. In this first book, it is all about one house fighting against another, but soon – maybe when ‘winter comes’ – they will need to band together and fight a worse enemy… the zombies.  I hate zombies. I don’t know if I can continue to read the series when the zombies reach the Wall. But in the meantime, I want to see what happens to the Stark children as they travel their own paths. I want to see the evil get their punishments and innocent be protected. And maybe what makes all this so enjoyable is that there is this threat of winter coming hanging over our heads.

 

Learn about other books in this series:

 

About this series on HBO: