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Deb Nam-Krane "dnkboston" RSS Feed (Boston, MA United States)

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Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties
Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women of the Fifties
by Rachel Cooke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.88

4.0 out of 5 stars An era of forgotten trailblazers, October 16, 2014
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I found this book difficult to get into; the author's style immediately gives away how personally attached she is to her subject matter, and some of her enthusiasm and effusiveness was jarring. However, once I hunkered down, I could understand her fascination. Most of the women she wrote about did lead fascinating careers and were, if not all revolutionary, definitely trailblazers.

It shows how quickly things turn that while we are immersed in an almost survivalist "back to nature" phase in cooking and home decor, people aren't talking about the contributions of Patience Gray, who literally lived what she preached about the snout-to-tail philosophy from the 1960s onward. It's equally surprising that as we "look forward" to the post-apocalyptic world (of climate change) we don't reflect more on what architect Alison Smithson had to say about her period's visions of what the world would look like after The Bomb. The more things change...

It is, perhaps, less surprising that we don't reflect on the genius that Muriel and Betty Box brought to the silver screen, in large part because the work they produced wasn't genius- just very successful at a time when women were not expected to know how to shape anything other than "women's" stories for women. And while there were representatives from "women's" fields here (Nancy Spain, the journalist who was assigned the women's page; Margery Fish, the garden writer; and Gray), the stories I found most engrossing were of Jacquetta Hawkes, the archaeologist and Rose Heilbron, the barrister and later judge. Honestly, I dreaded going into those chapters, but rather than being dry they painted a picture not only of the women who forged ahead in spite of opposition but also the fascinating times and societies they traveled in. (Heilbron's story was my favorite; it made me smile to think of a prim, educated woman calmly putting some of the organized crime members she defended firmly in their place.) Some of my enjoyment might also stem from the fact that Cooke's style is more serious and calmer in these chapters; I got the sense throughout that she was mimicking the writing style of each of her subjects.

It's a worthy read for anyone interested in the history of Feminism and British History. However, twenty years after reading Susan Faludi's Backlash, I have to say that it's depressing that it would be such a surprise that women in the Fifties worked outside the home as much as they did or that they enjoyed the measure of success and influence that they did, prejudiced laws notwithstanding. Hopefully this will be a good reminder that the reason the Fifties media pushed the idea of the ideal housewife so hard was because women like this were putting the lie to it.

Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire) [VHS]
Chi-hwa-seon (Painted Fire) [VHS]
Offered by leslie66
Price: $15.90
7 used & new from $6.97

5.0 out of 5 stars Korean history through the life of an artist, October 4, 2014
As much as this is the story of the 19th century Korean artist "Ohwon" (Jang Seung-ub), it is also the story of Korea's last years as an independent country. (Korea lost its independence in 1905 and did not regain it until the end of World War II.)

As others have broken down, Jang Seung-ub was born a peasant. His life is saved as a young boy by a nobleman when he is being beaten by another peasant, but the nobleman can do only so much for him; his wife admonishes him to send the boy away...because they can't afford to feed him. Several years later, the two meet up again, and the nobleman arranges for him to be sent to gain artistic instruction from a respected master. This is the first time Jang will run into the confinements not only of the system of the arts but also most of Korea at that time: talent is not as valuable as connections.

In fits and starts, the Korean establishment (as represented by a group of fellow artists who comment on his works throughout the film) comes to respect Jang's genius, but each snub pushes him further into his vices: drinking, disrespecting women and refusing to work. His most stable relationship is with a courtesan he rents a house with, but the woman who haunts him is the noble younger sister of the man who saved him. She, however, is untouchable, not only because of the class difference, but because of a congenital illness. It's fair to say that she was his idea of perfection, and when she dies he's plunged into another depression. When, years later, he meets a courtesan who looks exactly like her, he's quickly disillusioned to find that she's as coarse as the rest of her class.

The woman he does truly love, the courtesan Mae-Hyang, is separated from him by religious persecution: she's Catholic, and after they meet Catholics are purged and persecuted. It's only toward the end of the story, when Korea is in such a state of decline that religious persecution is low on their list of priorities, that the two can meet again without fear. However, so much damage has been done to both Jang and Korea that any thought of permanence is doomed.

As Jang's reputation spreads and Korea's politics decay, he (and Korean art in general) become more and more the solace for the Korean psyche. This is particularly painful to Jang when he is struggling to find his own vision and not simply copy old masters. For anyone who knows the history of this period, it's impossible not to hear an indictment of the intellectual culture of Korea, which rewarded mastery of Chinese Classics and considered any deviation from it heresy.

Throughout the film, China and Japan struggle for dominance over Korea; we see this through not only the soldiers stomping through the scenes but also the people vying to own some of Jang's art. This is a reflection of the Korean nobility's struggle of ideas between a Reformist and Conservative vision, and to what extent foreign influence should be allowed. It becomes clear that the only thing authentically Korean is the voice of the artist- but an artist is as influenced by his times as anyone else.

Highly recommended for those interested in Korean history and art.

Above All
Above All
Price: $7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars A sensual novel in every respect, September 28, 2014
This review is from: Above All (Kindle Edition)
I received a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Casey is in her early thirties, holed up in the mountains of New York State while she licks her wounds from the break up of her longtime relationship with Nick. Even in her sleepy campsite she can't help but hear about his debut novel and how it's taking the literary world by storm. She's closer to reconnecting with the self she lost in her twenties while she was nurturing his dreams, but that doesn't make his thanks to his new girlfriend any less stinging.

In walks Ben, a camper in his late twenties that Casey knows she can't have but that she can't stop thinking about anyway. And who could? He's tall, dark-haired, handsome, kind, a great cook- and really into Casey. She soon realizes that she doesn't want to say no to a future with him, but what about his dreams?

And really, what about hers? What I found most thought-provoking in this book was the implied question of whether dreams change. The younger Casey wanted to be a painter but shelved that ambition and replaced it with a more practical degree in Art History. So when she gets an unexpected opportunity to have a long-buried fantasy satisfied, why does she hesitate? Is she unworthy of the dream- or is the dream unworthy of her? And how many of her desires invite the same question?

There are several graphic sex scenes in this novel, but everything goes toward the development of the relationship between Casey and Ben. The novel is very sensual even before the two meet: as I was reading, I felt myself transported to the lake, mountains, cabin and campsites. Brooks does an excellent describing not only the way a setting looks but how it feels. And not just settings: even though I'm an avowed tea drinker, I found myself craving a cup of very hot French-pressed coffee with a splash of cream, accompanied by an almond croissant with powdered sugar on top. Really, everything that Brooks described was mouthwatering- and not just the food.

This was an enjoyable, quick but not-too-quick read. I would happily read more from Brooks (but I really hope she incorporates more food in future works).

Kazu (R) 100% Organic Green Tea Matcha, 9 Ounces, with Free Gift
Kazu (R) 100% Organic Green Tea Matcha, 9 Ounces, with Free Gift
Offered by Lau Family's Herbs
Price: $18.99
2 used & new from $18.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Delicious, earthy kick of energy, September 16, 2014
I'm not one for coffee, but I like a little kick of energy in the morning and afternoon. Matcha tea lattes fit that bill perfectly, but they get to be ridiculously expensive if you buy them in cafes.

Kazu's matcha tea mixes very well (as with most such powders, it's better diluted with a little warm water first) and one and a half teaspoons is perfectly complemented by a half teaspoon of sugar. This is very good with either steamed or iced milk.

This also works well for baking, although that's more of an acquired taste.

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials: A Singaporean Mystery
Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials: A Singaporean Mystery
by Ovidia Yu
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.81
86 used & new from $0.51

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Singaporean foodie who solves mysteries on the side, August 26, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Rosie "Aunty" Lee is a wealthy widow who keeps herself occupied by running a catering business. Even indulging her lifelong love of cooking isn't enough to keep her out of trouble- although when someone is killed at one of the function she's catering, it's hard to blame her.

The pat answer for why Mabel Sung and her sickly son Leonard ended up dead is murder-suicide, but Aunty Lee isn't having any of that. Too bad, because the next easiest answer is that one of her specialties poisoned him, and she knows that isn't true either. And what does this have to do with the young Chinese national who just committed suicide, the boyfriend who is presumed dead and the house that Mabel Sung constructed shortly before her death?

It always strikes me as odd that the word "cozy" is applied to something that involves murder; doubly odd here that it will also apply to one of the darkest forms of human trafficking. You might find yourself giggling at some of Aunty Lee's (contrived) outbursts, but you'll also find yourself genuinely disturbed by what you read.

Aunty Lee is not a perfect detective, and that's part of her charm. The story doesn't suffer from an overuse of red herrings, but Aunty Lee's ability to read people works only up to a point. However, her instinct that something doesn't quite fit and her determination to fully understand something more than makes up for it. So, too, does the fact that she's ultimately a good judge of characters, and even the most irritating of the people she keeps around end up having more to them than might be evident at first.

Highly recommended for fans of mysteries- and food.

The Big Hit
The Big Hit
by James Neal Harvey
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.49
14 used & new from $9.27

3.0 out of 5 stars Would have benefited from some stream-lining, August 23, 2014
This review is from: The Big Hit (Paperback)
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This was not predictable, but that was due in part to the number of red herrings and detours thrown into the story. Even the big angle hinted at on the cover and in the promo materials is meant to throw you off. There's a point at which that can come off as clever, but at 407 pages, it's more irritating that anything else.

Mongo the hit man thinks he's very smart, good looking and suave. He may very well be one of the smartest people he's ever met- and that only highlights that he needed to get out more. He doesn't read as a sociopath as much as he does a sophomoric loser who's gotten lucky enough times that he now believes his own PR. Detective Jeb Barker has a lower estimation of himself, but that doesn't keep him from underestimating the importance of politics and optics, especially when you're dealing with a high profile case like the murder of a Hollywood starlet. Both of them are going to trip themselves up, but one of them is going to do a better (or worse) job of it.

Mysteries have a certain rhythm to them, and cops and detectives should be approaching their cases in a no-nonsense way if it's going to come off as at all believable. This does that. However, even within those parameters, this comes off as stilted, and without too many dialogue tags it's difficult to tell who's speaking at times. And some of the language just doesn't work in some places and made me think that I was reading something that might be better set in the Fifties than in the 21st century. (What guy describes two topless women as "terrific broads" in this day and age?) The expository dialogue also got to be a little bit much, and given that much of it was part of the red herrings, annoying.

Finally, the loose ends, as someone mentioned, are frustrating, particularly the lack of explanation for a very important "tip" that came through early on.

Not the worst mystery I've ever read, but definitely one that could have been tightened up more.

Double Down: Game Change 2012
Double Down: Game Change 2012
by John Heilemann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.46
258 used & new from $0.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Not as much fun as Game Change; then again, neither was 2012., August 22, 2014
If you think you're going to read a book like this and come away with a better understanding of any candidate's policy on anything, you're mistaken. This is all political calculation with a big dose of gossip and some armchair psychoanalysis. Once you accept that, you can enjoy the ride.

This book lacks the fun factor of Game Change in part because the 2012 campaign wasn't nearly as much of a circus as the 2008 one. The Republican field was filled with unstable lunatics (calling the candidacy for Romney early on was easy) but, obviously, the Democrat's nominee was known from the get-go. And while the Obamans may have been as dysfunctional as any political operation, that's just not the same thing as John Edwards trying to get past his own mistakes and Hillary Clinton trying to overcome her reputation (and establishment sexism). On the GOP side, while Bachmann,Gingrich, Cain and Perry provided plenty of amusing and cringe-worthy episodes, they were never nearly as important as the star of 2008's GOP debacle, Sarah Palin. Oddly, there was almost nothing about Ron Paul, arguably the wackiest of all of the candidates.

People who watched the Republican presidential field closely might be surprised by how many, well, sane and sagacious characters there were: Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels and Jeb Bush most prominent among them. All of them had reasons to stay out of the race and away from the national stage, but they saw pretty clearly on that Mitt was a weak candidate who would create a vacuum that would invite a freak show.

The candidate that many thought had the best chance: Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Although he flirted with the idea for a few weeks, ultimately he decided that his bona fides weren't strong enough. Once he made his decision to stay out, putting his clout behind Mitt was the obvious choice. While many thought he would make a strong candidate for VP, the vetting process dashed that notion pretty decisively. Suggestion: don't bet on Christie in 2016 (even if he clears BridgeGate). Who else will you probably not see again? Jon Huntsman, the ostensibly reasonable and moderate candidate who turned out to be not nearly as wealthy or principled as his public image led observers to believe.

The story presented here is that Romney lost because he refused to apologize even when he knew he had made a mistake and because he was so desperate to keep the conservative base that he wouldn't take on obviously offensive positions that he didn't agree with (e.g., Rush Limbaugh's insults to Sandra Fluke). While I agree that these were mistakes, I think it's odd that they didn't speak to the other obvious observation about the Romney candidacy: he lied and frequently, and his statements such as the infamous 47 Percent remark highlighted the electorate's worst fears that he was a plutocrat who didn't understand middle- or lower-economic-classes. (His team's explanations for why they lost only seemed to confirm those fears.)

Is that a lot of Romney? Yes- and perhaps it's even clearer why the book lacked the fun factor of Game Change.

Recommended for political news junkies who aren't interested in policy.

The Golden Hour (A Judd Ryker Novel)
The Golden Hour (A Judd Ryker Novel)
by Todd Moss
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.73
104 used & new from $4.21

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Awkward style that stretches credibility, but on balance enjoyable reading, August 21, 2014
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I might not have been the best person to read this; a family member of mine was stationed in Mali during the coup- for the Peace Corps. Obviously, I'd been following the developments pretty closely, and I had a good source to check in with after I read this book. So I can confidently report that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb was not a feint and no one was kidnapped from the Peace Corps in Mali. And while there was some corruption, a drug ring leading to Al Qaeda is highly unlikely. What I'm more likely to find plausible are the tales of inter-departmental infighting in the US, and that the person trying to control everything would be a fish-out-of-water academic works too. (The wink in the last chapter about just who might be running back channel operations is maybe a little much, but this is fiction and that was fun.)

My bigger gripes are about the writing style, some of which I found plodding and overly declarative, and at times I had trouble telling who was speaking. For whatever reason, that was more of a problem in the task force and departmental meetings; outsiders- and particularly the Malians- were more enjoyable to follow. In spite of the awkwardness, the author was able to convey the personalities of the characters and I could easily imagine the scenes.

All in all, recommended with some reservations for fans of political thrillers.

Seattle Postmark: a novella
Seattle Postmark: a novella
Price: $0.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sweet story of a young mother finally getting what she needs, July 24, 2014
Disclosure: I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review. This did not bias my review at all.

I laughed and cried while reading this novella. Helen's a young woman who's keeping it together for the sake of her son in spite of her dysfunctional parent, failed marriage, teeth-gritting job and compromised health. The Guy Who Got Away is the perfect salve for her wounds- unless being selfish isn't something people outgrow. So what does she need? I'm not going to give it away, but it's literally staring her in the face. Watching her realize that was delicious.

Recommended for fans of chick lit.

Vincent Mallory Edgerton (Semya Slotin Mystery Book 4)
Vincent Mallory Edgerton (Semya Slotin Mystery Book 4)
Price: $3.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The origins of an intense love story, July 18, 2014
Semya Slotin is brilliant, loyal and brave (or is it reckless?). Hyper-competent and self-sufficient, she'd get through life just fine with her best friend/partner-in-crime Polliannah Koch. But she doesn't have to; the perfect man for her is out there, and his name is Vincent Mallory Edgerton.

Vincent is also smart, loyal and brave, but just as cocky (being born into a loving, uber-privileged family can do that to a guy). But his family does try to give back, hence the creation of FREGG, a secret crime fighting organization that doesn't answer to any government but occasionally gets tapped on the shoulder by one. Vincent is the second generation and one of their best it takes something as serious as an attempted hit on him to make his superiors (including his father) put him on a deep undercover assignment. Vincent is pretty sure the next two years are going to be hell- until tying up some loose ends puts him directly into a beautiful detective's path. Just one problem: the gorgeous woman who's seemingly made for him is related to the people who put the hit on him. Make that two problems: she doesn't know. One more: he can't tell her.

Think I just gave away the plot of the book? That's just the sideshow; the real work is tracking down a missing person, and that investigation quickly reveals something much more nefarious. Good thing Vincent is so how come Semya keeps getting the scoop first?

I loved this; fast-paced, international reach, and a case that had personal meaning for the detectives (and an issue that's shockingly prevalent across the world). Semya shows real vulnerability for the first time in this series; she's earned the right. (But even at her most vulnerable, she still manages to do some damage...) But I still have questions: Why is Semya's adoptive mother sniping at Vincent's father, and why did Semya's biological mother go to him before Semya was born? How come her biological father was never told about her? What isn't Vincent's father telling us? Finally, where is Vincent now? I am waiting impatiently for the next book to answer those questions!

Recommended for lovers of mystery and romantic suspense

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