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Caitlin H. - Reviews

1 to 4 of 4
City of Tranquil Light
City of Tranquil Light
Author: Bo Caldwell
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 11/8/2022

This book took me completely by surprise. I don't recall how it came to be on my want to read list, but when I did get a copy and read the back cover what it was about, I was not so enthused to read it; I've been more used to action-packed, sci-fantasy novels and series, which this was not. However, I am really glad I did decide to read it all. The description does not do this book justice - it's so much more than a story about two missionaries in turn-of-the-century China. It's a beautiful story about love and loss, about heartbreak and friendships and family, about how much people of different cultures can learn from each other, and about faith.

The theme of faith throughout the story was itself something wonderful to read. I don't consider myself particularly religious and was a bit hesitant when I read the that the story was about missionaries. I expected some fervent, Bible-beating Christians trying to forcefully convert Chinese and impose their Western ideologies; instead their faith was something gentle yet strong, that warmly embraced the changes they endured and the people around them. Their faith became something wonderfully infectious to the community around them as it grew and culminated in some intense moments of sacrifice. I was moved to tears when I read about the way their community stood by them against warlords that might certainly have lead to death, but did so with a devotion and love that only comes from deep loyalty and faith.

I was also wrong about adventure; the story of Will and Katherine has war, disease, famine, even encounters with bandits. While the first 40 ish pages were a bit slow, once their story moves to Kuang P'ing Ch'eng it really takes off into something marvelous. I was fascinated to see how they adapted to the very real challenges of integrating into such a different culture (and language) and learned to embrace the community they were living in as it learned to embrace them. It was very clear how well researched the book was into the lives of missionaries and into Chinese Culture. Given the political upheaval that has occurred in China over the past century, this story was also a fascinating insight into a people and culture that may be very different from what it is today. Will quotes Confucius early in the story: "To know what you know and know what you don't know is the characteristic of one who knows." I felt like that applied not only to the characters, but to me as well as I read it.

It did not shy away from describing some of the extreme violence that has been a part of Chinese history and the conflict of the civil war. It was really interesting to read how bandits behaved, how magistrates dealt justice, how starvation and disease affected people's behavior, and the realities of violence that no doubt occurred there. But as unsettling as it is to the reader, there is also the stoicism of the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng which helps them endure the most horrific of circumstances.

I found myself completely swept away in this story, and once I really gave it a chance, I finished the majority of the book in two days. I felt I could really relate to their experience of finding a home in a foreign country. " When you leave a place you love, you leave a piece of your heart." It wasn't just the story, it was the love between Will and Katherine, their struggles and devotion to their faith, the loyalty and friendship of the Chinese people they lived with all those years, and the transformations of certain characters: all of these things make this an outstanding book.

Author: Katharine McMahon
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.8/5 Stars.
Review Date: 7/22/2013

For those who enjoy the writing style of Kate Morton and the like, they will definitely enjoy reading Footsteps. Katharine McMahon has a gift for telling the stories of Women faced with various obstacles and how they overcome (or don't overcome) them. For a rather short-ish novel, she does an excellent job of giving her characters depth, their relationships and interactions believable, as well as provoking thoughtful observations and conclusions in the reader.
The book follows the story of two young women and goes back and forth between each characters' story: Helena (in modern times), and her grandmother Ruth (as a young woman).
Helena, the primary female protagonist, struggles not only with the loss of her husband, but with the prospect of raising her young child alone, a difficult relationship with her mother, and a haunting family legacy. She seeks distraction by collaborating with a photographer in researching her grandfather, as well her own family's history. I immediately felt empathy with her and enjoyed reading her character's chapters as she copes with everything and gradually changes throughout the novel.
Ruth's story begins with her as a young woman and progresses over several years of her life. She has her own difficulties within her family such as a convalescent mother and an absent father, and struggles herself with wanting to leave the small seaside town she lives in and having to stay; an interesting dilemma given that there were few options for women in her day. Many will find her situation familiar and relate-able, and though there were times I did not like Ruth or the choices she made, it only demonstrates how interesting and real her character is.
I should emphasize that this is not some touchy-feely book about women; this is a story with a plot and a mystery- or at least some mysterious elements. It also
provides interesting historical insight into life during the early part of the 20th century and photography.

Readers will enjoy the various reveals through-out the book and the unexpected ending.

The Queen's Governess
The Queen's Governess
Author: Karen Harper
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.
Review Date: 1/26/2015

I am an avid reader of historical fiction and have a particular interest in Elizabethan/Tudor history, so this story about Kat Ashley, famous governess of Elizabeth Tudor definitely drew my interest...initially.
The story follows the life of Mistress Ashley (née Champernowne), through her own point of view, from her childhood in Devon, to introduction into Court life and intrigue under the reign of Henry VIII, and throughout her time in the position as the Governess and companion of Elizabeth. Though the story is an intriguing one, I would credit it more to history than to the writer. Karen Harper's writing style was abrupt, lacking in finesse and smooth transition from subject to subject, making the reading experience feel almost rushed. She often would jump back and forth through time from what was occurring in a particular moment in the book to an aside where she mentions what happened in the future- lacking in any continuity. Modern terminology/slang is often interjected at inappropriate moments, like the phrase, "famous last words". The character development was poor; often times a crucial element to explaining a character's motivation for something specific would be thrown in at the last moment- in the last 50 pages 'Kat' is describing Elizabeth's temperament and comes up with personality elements that were non-existent in the previous 200 pages.
I found the descriptions of the main protagonist, Kat Ashley, to be the most disappointing. History remembers her as a fierce character, defending and protecting the Princess (later Queen) through various dangers, even defying those in power for her charge. Instead, in this book she is an insecure, nervous, frightened, weepy woman who seems to barely get by except by luck. Had the writer created a balanced character, showing both her strengths AND weaknesses, it would have given depth to the character-and certainly would have made the book more interesting.
Though the writing style was rather dissatisfying, the historical research was ...acceptable (though there were a handful of anachronisms & mistakes), and the exploration of the events that occurred in this novel is notable. For someone who has cursory interest in Tudor England, the book is adequate. However, if you are looking for an in-depth look and the intrigue, history, and the people of the Tudor age, with a great story-teller that draws you in from cover to cover- I would not recommend this particular book. Overall- Karen Harper falls short of the allure of the famous Kat Ashley.

Song of Kali
Song of Kali
Author: Dan Simmons
Book Type: Paperback
  • Currently 3.3/5 Stars.
Review Date: 1/24/2018

The Song of Kali might be one of the most ghoulish novels I have read, yet to my own confusion, I found it intriguing, & despite the ending, I found the journey itself suspenseful and interesting.
The story is about a man named Bobby Luczack who travels to Calcutta with his wife and baby daughter in order to pursue a story on a manuscript of a poet that has supposedly been dead after his disappearance 8 years prior. From the moment he and his family step off the plane, Simmons immediately sets the atmosphere of Calcutta; the torturous humidity, the filth, the poverty, greed- it struck me as an abhorrent place that I would have no desire to visit. (THAT SAID- I should strongly point out this is no reflection on India or it's people, but rather the specific setting of this Novel. I took it as a work of fiction, though I can see how some might find it an offensive representation of Calcutta.) In any case, the descriptions by the author did an excellent job of creating and maintaining atmosphere throughout the book. As Bobby seeks out the manuscript of the mysterious M. Das, he quickly finds himself entangled with suspicious characters and gangster-cult members devoted to the goddess Kali: the Kapalikas. As the story progresses, the more harrowing and strange his experiences become.
The mystery surrounding the vanished poet was the most interesting part of the novel, however I found the so-called 'investigation' by the main character somewhat unsatisfactory. It sets up to be suspense-building, however he doesn't actually do any REAL investigating. I would have preferred the author do something similar to Tom Knox (another horror-suspense novelist) where the characters are actually engaged in trying to work out the puzzles. Bobby's interactions are somewhat limited to the dubious character Krishna, plus a contact with the writer's union who initiated the whole sequence of events. Added to this is the mythology of Kali; this would have been an excellent opportunity to explore the thuggee cult in greater detail, as well as Indian religious practices associated with the goddess, but no real effort is made to do this, which was rather disappointing.
The thing that bothers me the most was the kidnapping of their baby, Victoria. Notwithstanding my own personal abhorrence to the kidnapping of any children, much less a 9 month old baby, the whole situation makes no sense. No explanation is ever given as to who or why she was kidnapped, not to mention when she is finally found, the circumstances surrounding it are murky and don't connect with the main Kapalika/M. Das storyline AT ALL. Researching the thuggee cult I learned that babies were not generally the offerings to Kali; in fact, the thugs would target primarily men. So why bring the baby into this? Very Unsatisfactory conclusion.
One objective observation on my part: the biggest complaint I have noticed from other readers is the portrayal of Calcutta and it's Indian inhabitants in a borderline racist fashion. I have no idea what Simmons intentions were when writing, but I did note that this was written in the 70's and it may be a reflection of his own experiences during his trip there. Hygiene has historically been an ongoing problem in India, and it is vividly reflected in the book. However, Simmons does attempt to have balance by having the protagonist's wife be an Indian woman (and a very beautiful one), but she is notably 'civilized' from living in Britain. The author does seem to address this directly on one particular scene when Bobby is sitting down with the writer's union representative. They are discussing Calcutta & Bobby asks if there is a streak of insanity in the city. The other man hands him editorials from the US showing numerous incidents of crime. He says:

It was as if only a thin wall of electric lighting protected the great cities of the world from total barbarism.
... 'It's a hell of a thing Mr. Chatterjee. Your point is well made. I certainly don't want to sound self righteous about Calcutta's problems.'
..He nodded slightly. 'As long as you understand that it is an urban problem, Mr. Luczack...'

Overall, I would say to those readers curious about the book, if you have a taste for horror/suspense, by all means indulge yourself in reading make up your own mind; though for those who prefer to avoid the macabre, you should probably steer clear.

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