Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Children of Llyr - Evangeline Walton

I finally got back to this fantasy series written in the 1930's and rediscovered and published in the 1970's.  It is of special interest to me because my ancestry is Welsh and the stories are based on the Welsh Mabinogion, ancient Welsh mythology prose poems.

This book is the story of the grown sons and one daughter of the ruler, Llyr.  In these stories the son's of women inherit the title and property so Branwen, daughter of Llyr, will bear the next King of the Island of the Mighty, or the island of Wales and England. She falls in love with the King of Ireland and goes with him and has a son.  Her brothers hear of her treatement there and launch a war to rescue her.

The book is dark and tragic as the forces of evil and good, represented by the brothers and the Irish King, struggle for power.  The seers (druids) fortell the rise of men and the dominantion of women as the evolution of the world .

The Mabinogion is actually a series of four "branches" of the ancient families.  The first book by Walton, The Island of the Mighty, told the story of the fourth branch.  She'd written the stories in the 1930's and only the first book was published.  In the 1970's, the remaining books were published and were a cult hit.

I still have one to read and one to find.  I've enjoyed the stories and the peek into my heritage.

Published: 1971  Read: January 2014  Genre: Fantasy

Valley of Amazement - Amy Tan

I've had mixed feelings on Amy Tan's books in the past and this one is no different.  It is the story of a mother and daughter in the late 1800's through the 1920's.  The mother is an American girl, Lucia, who comes to China's Shanghai province to pursue her Chinese lover and has her daughter, Violet.
Violet grows up in her mother's courtesean house and later runs her own.

I was frustrated and annoyed with the passive acceptance by both women of their situations.  Its something I've felt when reading of chinese women's lives in the past.  Some reviewers called them strong women.  I felt they made poor choices based on emotion that forced them to bear horrible lives.  The storytelling was also lopsided, with a brief introduction to Lucia in the first couple of chapters and she doesn't reappear until almost the very end.  I think the book jacket mislead me into believing the story would go back and forth.  I think it would have improved the book if their stories had been more intertwined.

There's a lot of information on Chinese courtesean houses or brothels and the lives of the women who worked in them.

Published: 2013  Read: January 2014  Genre: Fiction

Kitchen House - Karen Grissom

I read this book for one of my book clubs.  It is a story of an Irish orphan girl taken as an indentured servant into the house of a southern sea capitan.  She is adopted by the black servants and raised as a member of their family.  She never understands the difference between herself and them until she comes of age.  Her ignorance leads to tragedy.

The story is told from the girl, Lavinia's perspective and one of her "sisters", Belle.  It was a very quick read and the author made the story interesting enough to keep me reading by foreshadowing the doom early on.  I thought the ending was too tidy and ended up not liking the main characters for their continued misunderstanding and lack of willingness to reveal the truth.  It would have been interesting to have the perspective of one of the male characters.

Published: 2010  Read: January 2014  Genre: Fiction

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Trains and Lovers - Alexander McCall Smith

This is a little gem of a book.  As the title suggests, it tells of the experiences of four people on a train as they reflect on their past loves and their intersection with trains.  The author is well-known for his No. 1 Ladies Dectective Ageny series of books, and this is a departure from that genre.

The story begins on a train and as four strangers begin to exchange small talk they reflect back privately on a time in their lives when trains intersected their relationships.  The writer skillfully intertwines their stories of love found and lost.  It's a quick read with some food for thought.

Published: 2013  Read: January 2014  Genre: Fiction