Quick Review: THANK YOU, MR. NIXON by Gish Jen (Knopf)

JenG-ThankYouMrNixonUSHCA novel comprised of linked short stories, which paints a picture of China’s past half-century

Beginning with a cheery letter penned by a Chinese girl in heaven to “poor Mr. Nixon” in hell, Gish Jen embarks on a fictional journey through U.S.-China relations, capturing the excitement of a world on the brink of tectonic change.
 
Opal Chen reunites with her Chinese sisters after forty years; newly cosmopolitan Lulu Koo wonders why Americans “like to walk around in the woods with the mosquitoes”; Hong Kong parents go to extreme lengths to reestablish contact with their “number-one daughter” in New York; and Betty Koo, brought up on “no politics, just make money,” finds she must reassess her mother’s philosophy.
 
With their profound compassion and equally profound humor, these eleven linked stories trace the intimate ways in which humans make and are made by history, capturing an extraordinary era in an extraordinary way. Delightful, provocative, and powerful, Thank You, Mr. Nixon furnishes yet more proof of Gish Jen’s eminent place among American storytellers.

An interesting and engaging novel, Thank You, Mr. Nixon contains 11 linked short stories that give us a glimpse of how China’s social, political and economic evolution since its “opening” affects those who experience it: Chinese, Honk Kongers, members of the wider Chinese diaspora, and others. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE JUSTICE OF KINGS by Richard Swan (Orbit)

SwanR-EotW1-JusticeOfKingsAn excellent start to a new fantasy series

NO MAN IS ABOVE THE LAW

The Empire of the Wolf simmers with unrest. Rebels, heretics and powerful patricians all challenge the power of the imperial throne.

Only the Order of Justices stands in the way of chaos. Sir Konrad Vonvalt is the most feared Justice of all, upholding the law by way of his sharp mind, arcane powers and skill as a swordsman. In this he is aided by Helena Sedanka, his clerk and protégé, orphaned by the wars that forged the empire.

When the pair investigate the murder of a provincial aristocrat, they unearth a conspiracy that stretches to the very top of imperial society. As the stakes rise and become ever more personal, Vonvalt must make a choice: will he abandon the laws he’s sworn to uphold in order to protect the empire?

I remember reading the synopsis for Richard Swan’s debut quite a while ago. “That sounds interesting,” I thought to myself, and made a note. The buzz for the novel grew over the next few months, as it was sent out to authors for blurbs. So, when I was able to read an early copy, I jumped at the chance. The Justice of Kings is a very strong debut, and an engaging start to a new fantasy/crime series. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE GOODBYE COAST by Joe Ide (Mulholland)

IdeJ-PM1-GoodbyeCoastUSHCRaymond Chandler’s iconic detective, Philip Marlowe, gets a dramatic and colorful reinvention at the hands of award-winning novelist Joe Ide

The seductive and relentless figure of Raymond Chandler’s detective, Philip Marlowe, is vividly re-imagined in present-day Los Angeles. Here is a city of scheming Malibu actresses, ruthless gang members, virulent inequality, and washed-out police. Acclaimed and award-winning novelist Joe Ide imagines a Marlowe very much of our time: he’s a quiet, lonely, and remarkably capable and confident private detective, though he lives beneath the shadow of his father, a once-decorated LAPD homicide detective, famous throughout the city, who’s given in to drink after the death of Marlowe’s mother.

Marlowe, against his better judgement, accepts two missing person cases, the first a daughter of a faded, tyrannical Hollywood starlet, and the second, a British child stolen from his mother by his father. At the center of The Goodbye Coast is Marlowe’s troubled and confounding relationship with his father, a son who despises yet respects his dad, and a dad who’s unable to hide his bitter disappointment with his grown boy.

Steeped in the richly detailed ethnic neighborhoods of modern LA, Ide’s The Goodbye Coast is a bold recreation that is viciously funny, ingeniously plotted, and surprisingly tender.

When I heard that Joe Ide was going to be writing the first novel in a new Philip Marlowe series, I was intrigued. I know of Marlowe, of course, but have never actually read any of Raymond Chandler’s novels (although, like a great many classic books, I do own a few of them — just keep forgetting, because they’re on my Kindle). Having read all of Ide’s other novels to date, though, I knew I wanted to read The Goodbye Coast. I’m happy to report that it is a very enjoyable P.I. novel. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE LONG GAME by K. J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-LongGameUSNo matter what we might believe, we are all pawns in a far larger, longer game than we can imagine

The unnamed narrator of The Long Game is an Adept, a member of an Ecclesiastical order charged, among other things, with opposing a race of immaterial demons, creatures capable of possessing and controlling human minds. Complicating the narrator’s life is the fact that, over time, he has developed a cordial “relationship” with one of the demons. Complicating matters further is the unexpected arrival of Amalasomtha, a young woman with impossible abilities who claims to have come from the remote — perhaps mythical — country of Idalia. She also claims that, for reasons she does not entirely understand, she has been tasked with capturing one such demon and returning with it to Idalia. The truth, it turns out, is considerably more complex.

Amalasomtha’s arrival sets in motion a chain of events encompassing murder, magic, deception, and an array of unintended consequences. By the story’s end, this consistently witty account of demonic possession, hidden agendas and Ecclesiastical politics has taken us to some unexpected places and given us a glimpse of a larger story still, the “long game” that lies at the heart of all human history.

This new novella from K. J. Parker seems to be set around the same demon mythology that the author introduced in Prosper’s Demon, and has appeared in a few other recent novellas. It’s a novella that displays all of Parker’s fantastic gifts for storytelling: a playful humour, intelligence, and a well-paced and -balanced narrative. As expected, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: OUR AMERICAN FRIEND by Anna Pitoniak (Simon & Schuster)

PitoniakA-OurAmericanFriendUSHCAn engaging political mystery

A mysterious first lady.
The intrepid journalist writing her biography.
And the secret that could destroy them both.

Tired of covering the grating dysfunction of Washington and the increasingly outrageous antics of President Henry Caine, White House correspondent Sofie Morse quits her job and plans to leave politics behind. But when she gets a call from the office of First Lady Lara Caine, asking Sofie to come in for a private meeting with Lara, her curiosity is piqued. Sofie, like the rest of the world, knows little about Lara — only that Lara was born in Soviet Russia, raised in Paris, and worked as a model before moving to America and marrying the notoriously brash future president.

When Lara asks Sofie to write her official biography, and to finally fill in the gaps of her history, Sofie’s curiosity gets the better of her. She begins to spend more and more time in the White House, slowly developing a bond with Lara — and eventually a deep and surprising friendship with her.

Even more surprising to Sofie is the fact that Lara is entirely candid about her mysterious past. The First Lady doesn’t hesitate to speak about her beloved father’s work as an undercover KGB officer in Paris — and how he wasn’t the only person in her family working undercover during the Cold War.

As Lara’s story unfolds, Sofie can’t help but wonder why Lara is rehashing such sensitive information. Why to her? And why now? Suddenly Sofie is in the middle of a game of cat and mouse that could have explosive ramifications.

I’ve been a fan of Anna Pitoniak’s novels for quite a while (I read an ARC of her debut, The Futures, quite early), and so was very interested in reading this novel. The premise is undoubtedly going to grab attention, given recent political events in the US. Our American Friend is an engaging, well-written Cold War and political mystery. I enjoyed it. Continue reading