Monthly Archives: July 2016

Review of The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan

The Hundred Secret Senses

I’m still trying to pare down my physical book shelf. So, I’m getting to a lot of older, traditionally published books that I’ve picked up here and there then let languish. This week it was The Hundred Secret Senses, by Amy Tan.

Description from Goodreads:
Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of Southwestern China, Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses is a tale of American assumptions shaken by Chinese ghosts and broadened with hope. In 1962, five-year-old Olivia meets the half-sister she never knew existed, eighteen-year-old Kwan from China, who sees ghosts with her “yin eyes.” Decades later, Olivia describes her complicated relationship with her sister and her failing marriage, as Kwan reveals her story, sweeping the reader into the splendor and violence of mid-nineteenth century China. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, Tan conjures up a story of the inheritance of love, its secrets and senses, its illusions and truths.

It’s Amy Tan, so you can expect an emotionally over-involved, unreliable, female narrator/main character, complicated family dynamics, a distant mother and a satisfying but not perfect ending. You can also expect excellent, emotive, descriptive writing. This one holds few surprises.

I did however enjoy it for the most part. I struggled a bit with Simon’s character. He was just as his ex described him, too quick to go with the flow. And as a result, I felt a lot of Olivia’s complaints and fears were legitimate and his unwillingness to stand up for them, or even apparently understand that he should, felt contrived to me. What’s worse, I didn’t feel he deserved Olivia’s compromises in the end.

Similarly, I disliked how much of the turmoil was laid at the feet of Olivia’s own self-doubt. This felt very much like blaming her for her own victimhood. Did she deserve some? Sure, but I felt too much was left to her by dint of Simon’s obliviousness.

Kwan, of course, stood out for me. I adored her. Was she overly cheerful and too forgiving? Yes, but I also saw her reasoning in the end.

All in all, exactly what I would expect from an Amy Tan book. I’m glad to have read it, but now need to clean my palate with something silly and fluffy.

What I’m drinking: Strong black tea with milk. My English relatives are visiting. I think I’m up to four or five cups a day now.

Review of Taming Heather (Cariboo Lunewulf #1), by Lorie O’Clare

I’m trying to read some of the physical book from my shelves, to make room for new ones and to replenish the restock stash for my Little Free Library. Wanna see a picture? I’m awful proud of it.

Sadie's Little Free Library

Anyhow, I’m trying to clear out the physical book, so this was my morning.

Taming Heather

I picked up this used copy of Taming Heather, by Lorie O’Clare, from Goodwill for $0.70.

Description from Goodwill:
Heather Graham had one thing in mind—furthering her career. And an exposé on the werewolves in her community would do just that. All she needed was to get up close and personal with one of them, and she could write an article that would give her front-page coverage across the nation. Her career would skyrocket! And Marc McAllister was just the man—and werewolf—to help her do it.But when Marc realizes Heather’s flirty behavior exists solely so she can exploit werewolves in her newspaper, he decides it’s time to show little Miss Graham exactly how a werewolf behaves. And Marc McAllister isn’t just any werewolf, but purebred Cariboo Lunewulf—wild, strong, aggressive and the quintessential alpha male.In a clash of wills, bodies and souls, Marc and Heather set off enough sparks to start a raging fire. Drawing the wild side out of Marc hits Heather with a bolt of lust that won’t go away. Unexpectedly for Marc, he may just have met his match in the little spitfire.But their biggest hurdle may not be with each other, but from another direction entirely.

Oh man, this was bad. If I used stars here, I’d say it’s only avoiding a one star because I laughed a lot. (There was very little deliberate humor in it.) It was basically just a thin veneer of plot to allow for lots and lots of sex that essentially started the moment the man characters met. But hey, it’s Ellora’s Cave and that’s practically their business model. So, I can’t say I went in unaware. I happen to occasionally like that sort of book in a “I’m laughing with you, not at you sort of way.”

Unfortunately, the sex wasn’t that great. The writing was extremely repetitive, with the same stock words/phrases being used again and again and again and again, sometimes more than once within the same paragraph, and the same information being provided over and over. The characters never really lived up to their description; the book depending on that description to give them life, instead of providing proof. Plus, I thought Marc was a jerk. Lastly, the copyediting needed a bit more work and it contradicted itself.

What I’m drinking: Milky chai. My stepfather gave me some loose chai from The Natural Way, but I failed utterly in making it correctly. It hardly had any flavor at all. I think I didn’t boil it long enough, so it’s basically just warm, brown milk. *shrug* live and learn

Review of Skin Lane, by Neil Bartlett

This is how I set myself up for a perfect afternoon. Yoga pants all day, candy, several cups of tea and weather that barely broke 85°, after several weeks of near triple digits. Life is good.

Skin Lane

Skin Lane, by Neil Bartlett came highly recommended, so I bought myself a physical copy. (I don’t think it’s even available in e-format.)

Description from Goodreads:

At forty-seven, Mr. F’s working life on London’s Skin Lane is one governed by calm, precision, and routine. So when he starts to have recurring nightmares, he does his best to ignore them. The images that appear in his dreams are disturbing—Mr. F can’t think of where they have come from. After all, he’s an ordinary middle-aged man.

As London’s backstreets begin to swelter in the long, hot summer of 1967, Mr. F’s nightmares become an obsession. A chance encounter adds a face to the body that nightly haunts him, and the torments of his restless nights lead him—and the reader—deeper into a terrifying labyrinth of rage, desire, and shame.


I don’t think I can manage a real review of this. The best I can manage is a rambling wordgasim. There were passages in this book that left me so shattered that all I could do was read and re-read them, occasionally searching places to share. Like this part on page 46:

By the time he was what would now be called a teenager, his father, never quite sure what a widower was meant to do with children anyway, had taken to spending every evening alone in the front room with the evening paper; this meant that although by the age of sixteen Mr. F knew how to contribute a week’s wages to the household budget, how to scrub and bleach and to cook, no one had ever taught him how to feel. Indeed, the only real lesson his father taught him was that feelings should never be spoken of; his dead mother, for instance, was never mentioned, and there were no pictures of her in the house. When the younger of his brothers was killed, it was Mr. F who went to the door to get the telegram, and when he had given it to his father to read, the old man (men were old at fifty in those days) had done nothing but sit, stony-faced in his usual arm-chair, never saying a word, waiting until night had fallen and the house was dark before walking slowly upstairs, closing his bedroom door behind him, and shouting out his lonely, foul-mouthed, broken-hearted grief to the empty bed on which his children had been conceived. That night, Mr. F again found himself sitting on the stairs, with his head on one side, wondering what the noises meant. Wondering why the door had to be closed before they could be spoken.

It’s a little long for sharing, but I was so effected by it that I tried posting it on Goodreads. When it didn’t fit and I couldn’t bring myself to prune it, I read it to my husband and posted it on my personal Facebook page instead. I needed someone to share the experience with me before I could move on. This pattern of mundane, mundane, mundane, emotional gut-punch was one that Bartlett used to great effect on several occasions and it never failed to enrapture me.

The use of language and pacing to elicit feelings was sublime. I didn’t even mind that the pace was slow and the story really a little on the depressing or melancholy side. The luscious prose made up for any small detractions I could find. Made up for the fact that Beauty was a little shit, of course he was. He’s a pampered 16-year-old boy, unable to grasp the gravity of the situation he founds himself in; practically unaware of it really. Made up for Mr. F’s occasionally un-relatable lack of emotions, which let’s be fair, was instrumental to his character.

Honestly, I have nothing constructive to say. Go read it. There were moments I didn’t like in the book, but by the last page all I could do was curl the book into my chest and hug it to myself. It will go on my to-keep shelf. It should probably go on yours too.