Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Mark of Wu (Hidden Paths)The Mark of Wu by Stephen M. Gray
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Mark of Wu, Hidden Paths, Book One, by Stephen M. Gray
By Mike McIlvain
Stephen M. Gray knows how to push a lot of buttons within a person with his inaugural historic fiction novel based on China’s ancient wars in the Mark of Wu, Hidden Paths. He certainly did with me.
Reading an advance review copy, I was off into a readerland I had not visited in some time. In my own reading world I am not always out to finish the book. I like to enjoy it more than finish it. Some authors like Paul Theroux or, in Spanish, Arturo Perez-Reverte write sentences and paragraphs so well that I might get stuck on one somewhere and reread it numerous times. Gray is that type of writer.
Once past chapter 1, and a few word choices, his writing started to take off and in its own various crafty ways began to smooth me into his continuity. I began to relish his next chapter, paragraph and sentence.
Not all writers can do that, but his work shows plenty of mental energy, which says he needs to take good care of himself. It would be nice to have his caliber of writing around for a long time.
Gray seems to be right on the cusp of what could be some of the best writing seen in some years. It’s been a while since James Michener, and others of his level left us. Gray has the ability to stimulate, and I have moved from mildly interested to buying reading glasses, and seeking better reading time to absorb his words.
I lived in China for six years, saw some relics and monuments of the period he writes about, but his empathy puts faces, personalities, and human form to old stone. He might be good for China tourism, literacy, and the English language if this first book is any indication.
He touches the reader early with some good narrative descriptive in the book’s third paragraph describing a general’s funeral preparation.
“Three kneeling servants, one on either side of the body and another at the foot, finished dressing Yang Gai. One reached across the body, combing the General’s long silver hair so that it flowed to a gentle rest over his shoulders. The servant then groomed the stringy beard, which hung thinly from the tip the chin, and laid it down the center of General Yang Gai’s chest.”
And it improves as more character and scene development play into the mix his book offers.
Gray also demonstrates effective transition, moving from chapter 8 to 9. An assassin’s arrow drops a major character, changing the story’s tone considerably, adding more spice to the reader’s taste buds.
“Kuang stopped, then turned to Fu-kai, but the whistling sound of an arrow, piercing the air, startled him. And at that moment, when his mind put an image to the sound, the impulse spun his body, sending him to the ground.
“The bodyguards darted to their leader’s position, forming a protective wall around him.”
Gray’s writing found envy, pride, and other emotions in me. Hidden Paths starts in 519 B.C. when China approached the Warring States Period, which was very important in it’s development.
Reading Gray’s first book moved me from keenly cautious in the less developed chapter 1 to something of a cheering fan as I kept reading. Paths is well worth the little patience needed to get into the addicting pages that follow the beginning.
The ending does not let the reader relax. A personal conflict to keep war prisoners alive extends curiosity to the novel series’ following volume.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

From the Tsar's Railway to the Red Army

From the Tsar's Railway to the Red Army: Penguin SpecialsFrom the Tsar's Railway to the Red Army: Penguin Specials by O'Neill Mark
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you want to read non-fiction about hell on earth, and being in the wrong place at the wrong time don't pass this one up.

There are a few little nagging editing errors, but otherwise it kept bugging my eyes out. Unbelievable all the bad, and life-changing events the Chinese went through who wound up working in Russia during World War I. I am really glad I was not one of them.

It is also quite revealing how some of these workers became much more than that in the very changed Russia when the Bolsheviks took over. In a few cases.

Too many cases were tragic and inhumane. It was a nasty event -- both on the front and behind the lines. If job hunting, read this, and try and stay out of countries that might be in revolution, war, or suffering from epic plagues. You will know why in these pages.

It is a quick read of less than 100 pages, but action-packed, and then some. Most of these details are not common knowledge in many countries.

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Monday, February 09, 2015

The Chinese Labour Corps

The Chinese Labour CorpsThe Chinese Labour Corps by Mark O'Neill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Current colleague Mark O'Neill's The Chinese Labour Corps does a lot for my imagination.

The various facts in here beg to be a great motion picture, stirring all sorts of emotions, pushing buttons, and wondering what else could stem from this. I wish I knew how to write a screenplay.

My four stars out of five is a very strong four, and itching to be five. It is a five in thought provocation.

So many times over the decades of our lives we have read an seen action-packed accounts of those brave men in uniform. Behind the scenes there is a lot going on, too. There certainly was in World War I in France.

The lives differed considerably between those hired to work for the French and those with the British. The French Chinese workers had much more freedom, and a little more money. Some 3,000 remained in France after the war married to local women. But, it was different in the English camps. Some were shot down in riots.

Some of the lasting effects of the Chinese-French connection can still be seen today if you know where to look. Mark O'Neill's very well-researched book will point the way.

I noticed a seemingly strange interest in France and French things when I first came to Asia in 2010. I thought this book might have indicated that that WWI employment story was the root of it. It didn't say directly that it was, but maybe that is for another book?

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Saturday, February 07, 2015

Quiet Strength

Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning LifeQuiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life by Tony Dungy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one read over a period of time. My step-father gave me this one some 4 1/2 years ago when I left to go overseas to teach, and I have finally finished it.
Student papers and things get in the way, too.
Super Bowl-winning coach Tony Dungy and Nathan Whitaker weave the football and Dungy's strong religious belief together very nicely. It takes a pro to be able to do that effectively.
The content flows better than a fine-tuned offense in its finest game. I got various things out of it, and did sign up for Dungy's online All Pro Dads Internet feed. A few extra words of knowledge and experience can never hurt.
Dungy's coaching strikes me as similar to some of the best coaches I have covered in my sports writing days. Just do correctly what you are supposed to do.
A lot like "simplify, execute, and win."
I think it is inescapable to miss the part from 2005 when Dungy lost his oldest son to suicide. It is a very deep section, and one that might help others deal with close personal loss. This book supersedes football there, and might be worth keeping on the bookshelf for a long time for whenever such events happen.
I am glad I read it, and with it had not taken me so long.
The last lines are thought-provoking.
"We are all role models to someone in the world, and we can all have an impact -- for good."

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Friday, August 15, 2014

The Lady in BlueThe Lady in Blue by Javier Sierra
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Spanish Author Javier Sierra brilliantly weaves a four-part plot through small chapters with smart, short sentences into this very smooth read.
Somehow, or another, it took me six years to finally get to this one, It was worth it,
He also cleverly stimulates the reader at the end, too. Sierra notes his own stumbling into this story, and in his post scriptum casts doubt on the reader's chance that this book simply fell into their hands.
There is a lot to that. He notes his own obsession with this intriguing topic of bilocation -- being in two places at the same time -- and challenges you there as well.
I visited the town of Agreda, Spain, twice, where the nun is said to have traveled from while still at home in her convent. I have told others that there is so little to do there that I could see one's imagination taking them faraway.
Funny how Agreda seems to be sitting on the deck of a crude aircraft carrier when first approaching in a bus.

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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Helmet for My PillowHelmet for My Pillow by Robert Leckie
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I would like to find an anthology of Robert Leckie's works.

His transition has to be the best I can remember in a long time, and it is a terrific mix with his narrative descriptive skills. His pages flow like a raging torrent so quickly it is easy to forget other things while reading Helmet for my Pillow.

It is unfortunate that one cannot get any of his newspaper-bound stories in the Associated Press website archives. I would like to know more about his writing processes, too.

Leckie was already a newspaper reporter before he went off to war, working for the Bergen Record in New Jersey. Later, he wrote for AP, and turned out several books. He wrote one about football, which I believe I might have read when I was a pre-teenager.

His work is of grim times, literally dodging bullets and death in the Pacific war against the Japanese. His accounts make me understand that he might have been either emotionally drained after writing this, or relieved as few other war veterans are.

The chapter about his time as a brig rat, and another when he spent some time in the "P-38 ward" on Pavuvu were very interesting by themselves and lent great variety to the book. His writing on the marines' leave time in Melbourne is another potential separate study, too.

I got my copy coming back through the airport in San Francisco, and I almost hated to finish it both because it was so very well written, and finishing it signaled the end of summer. The only flaw I could find was his tendency to use the kind of words that might leave you looking for a dictionary, but that was not abnormal in the time he came along.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What the Best College Teachers Do

What the Best College Teachers DoWhat the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I took four long, enjoyable years to read Ken Bain's What the Best College Teachers Do.

I toyed with it, and tried to absorb it as best I could picking up former boss Sean Chadwell's discarded copy on a table after he left Texas A&M International University.

Finally, facing another fall semester at United International College, I decided to go ahead and finish it. I even enjoyed the epilogue. It was also interesting to learn that Bain and I almost crossed paths in Edinburgh, Texas where he taught shortly after I left.

I found usable material early on p. 31 with Questions are Crucial. It has been a regular first thing handout in my classes since.

I have to recommend this one for anyone teaching anything, anywhere. It was written, primarily, with students in the U.S., but is general enough to help those working overseas, or with foreign students, too.

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