"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Passion of Artemisia by Susan Vreeland

Set in the 17th century, the story opens with Artemisia having been raped by her father's assistant, Agostino Tassi. Her father has accused him of this rape and sets into motion a trial that will continue to haunt Artemisia for the rest of her days. The rapist is released and Artemisia, her reputation ruined, is forced into an arranged marriage.

She begins to paint her collection, most notably her "Judith" collection. Her art becomes famous with the most renowned people of her day. She portrays the women in her paintings as strong and independent, retribution being the key. I found Vreeland's account of how the paintings came about and why to be extremely interesting. Artemisia soon becomes the first woman to be accepted into the Academy of Sciences in Florence and this causes a rift in her marriage.

The people along the way are also wonderful characters brought to life, especially Graziela who is wise beyond her years and helps to put things into perspective for Artemisia. Her passion for painting brought her the utmost joy and pain. A lesson not lost on Artemisia.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford

The book tells the modern day story of Henry Lee and his relationship with his progressive son Marty. Their awkward bond magnified by the death of their wife and mother. Henry is struggling to find his way as a widower; his loneliness pulls him out of his home, out to walk in Seattle.

One day, Henry walks past the old Panama Hotel. The Seattle hotel has been boarded up since Japanese families were sent to internment camps in WW II. As Henry stops to watch, the new owner of the Panama discovers the treasures and belongings of the Japanese families; and specifically a parasol, which jolts Henry's memory back to Seattle in the 40's.

Henry is the only son Chinese parents who have instructed him to speak only "American" at home. That neither of them understands the language only serves to isolate the young boy. He is sent to an all white "scholarship" school where he is taunted for being Japanese (even though Henry dutifully wears the "I am Chinese" button his father gave him.). His life is miserable; everyday he gives his lunch to a street musician on the way to school to avoid being accosted by the school bully. The musician and he develop a sweet friendship, which lasts throughout the book.

Eventually a new student joins the school, a Japanese-American girl named Keiko Okabe. Keiko is proud to be American born. Happy to have found each other, struggling with the ways they are treated as second-class citizens, Keiko and Henry develop a friendship.

In the 1940's Henry's father is a Nationalist who remembers the history of the Japanese and the Chinese. He is unforgiving of a relationship between Henry and Keiko. On the other hand, Keiko's family welcomes and respects Henry in their lives. Eventually Keiko and her family are sent away to an internment camp, but Henry is determined and visits them. The two are eventually separated, but not before promising friendship without end.

The story follows the misery of prejudice and hate of the war. It keeps the theme of friendship alive with three very different relationships Henry forges. I liked this book. Well written and tied up nicely at the end.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Fourth Perimeter by Tim Green

I've read a lot of suspense novels over the years. They tend to fall into three categories for me. On the one hand, you have those books you can't put down, well-written, entertaining, and intelligent. Second, you have those that are for one reason or another forgettable: ham-handed politics, poor plotting, lousy writing, etc. Then there are the ones in the middle: not particularly bad, but on the other hand nothing really to recommend them either. The Fourth Perimeter definitely fits into that category.

Kurt Ford is a former Secret Service agent. He left the agency, and founded a hi-tech security firm, and has made a few billion dollars running it. Now his son, following in his footsteps, has become a Secret Service agent too, and as the book opens the author shows you how a woman and her accomplices fake the suicide of Kurt's son, murdering him. You're unsure why.

Kurt, of course, is certain that his son didn't commit suicide, the way many parents are: he had no reason, he was cheerful, etc. He goes on a quest, first to figure out why someone would want his son dead, and then for vengeance once he begins to figure things out. It's a bit more complicated than this, but once you get started with the book it will all be fairly obvious.

I didn't hate this book. I also didn't like it much. There's a dead spot in the middle where Kurt "works" in his office all day, and yells at his fiance if she interrupts him. Neither the plot or the dialog is particularly interesting or intelligent. It's an alright book, but there have been many better.