Saturday, July 7, 2018

Eagle and Crane: A Novel by Suzanne Rindell

Eagle and Crane: A Novel. Suzanne Rindell. Penguin Publishing Group. July 2018. 448 pp. ISBN#: 9780399184291.

Haruto (Harry) Yamada and Louis Thorn grew up side by side on California farmlands.  At one time their lands had been joined and owned by the Thorn family.  But to Louis’ father and brothers’ lifelong chagrin, the father had gambled too much in a drunken stupor one night and lost the most valuable west side of his property to the Yamada family.  Not a good loser, he bore a grudge against the Yamadas that grew with the telling into fantastic hate and determination to get back at them for “tricking” the Thorn family out of their property.

When we meet Harry and Louis, they have spent years apart and are now barely on speaking terms, sad because they had been childhood companions and friends for a long time, until Louis heard enough of the conflict to turn him against the “Jap” Harry.  Now they are to slowly become united as they are snagged into flying “barnstorming” and daredevil deed exhibitions planned by Earl, a con man who originally sold a “cure all tonic.”  Ava and her mother Chloe work for Earl and Ava becomes a new source of contention between Harry and Louis.  Later on, that romantic triangle becomes the focus of a mystery.

WWII arrives with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the flight business (which is vividly described quite enjoyably) collapses as all Japanese and Japanese-Americans are interned in camps for the duration of the war.  The mystery begins when Harry and someone else in his family escape the camp and supposedly take up one of the bi-planes and crash it spectacularly with no seeming effort to save themselves.  Murder? Suicide?  It’s up to the local sheriff and FBI Agent Bonner to figure that one out! 

The plot and character presentations are intriguing and keep a perfect pace and pitch for any reader to follow.  Uncertainty is the prevalent motif of this romance/mystery novel so that the reader feels like he or she is the investigator and/or chronicler of this work of historical fiction.  This is a unique perspective of the way WWII changed the lives and attitudes of Americans toward foreigners forever!  Something to reflect on in these trying days of similar conflicts!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Trial on Mount Koya: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Trial on Mount Koya: A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann. Prometheus Books. Copyright July 2018.; pb. 256 pp.; ISBN: 9781633884151.

November 1565.  The nation of Japan is divided as daimyos vie for victory over each other for the position of Shogun.  Oba Nobunaga has spies everywhere and Samurai Hiro Hattori is traveling with his friend, Portuguese priest Father Mateo, to Shingon Buddhist Temple on Mount Koya.  His mission is to deliver a message to an agent from Hiro’s home town of Iga.  However, Ringa the agent never gets to deliver any message as he is murdered that same day. So begin a series of murders that Hiro and Father Mateo are asked to solve. 

All the reader knows is that the first four deaths, as they gradually occur on different days, are unusual.  The victim of each monk is posed as one of the Buddhist Judges of the dead in the afterlife, a judgment that progresses over a period of time.  The description of each Judge and the way the victims are posed in death is fearful and awesome!

The reader gets to focus on two different areas in this mystery story.  One focuses on elements of Shingon Buddhism, one of many sects of Buddhism, and one which obviously has political connections, a common aspect of 16th Century Buddhism. The other is the divided nature of the resident monks of Mount Koya.  Some have samurai backgrounds, some poor backgrounds, some thwarted ambitions, some holding unresolved issues and all who try to maintain a life of prayer and meditation when outside matters are not encroaching on their peaceful way of existence.  They also hold a prideful sense of arrogance in stating multiple times that the depth of Shingon Buddhism is beyond Hiro and Father Mateo’s miniscule understanding.

One might hope no further deaths will ensue but that is not the case.  The reader expects Hiro and Father Mateo to solve the mystery of so many deaths and how he does that makes the remainder of the novel fascinating and exciting.  There are some interesting and even humorous scenes involving some woman monks and a child who is a bit of a mystery as well as the adults in the novel. 

Susan Spann is a highly skilled writer who knows exactly where to place tension, complexity, simplicity, levity and seriousness in a very successful work of historical mystery fiction!

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Sister. Mark Lawrence. Penguin Publishing Group. April 2018. 432 pp. ISBN#: 9781101988886.

Grey Sister reads as a stand-alone novel although you will enjoy it more if you read its prequel, Red Sister.  Intense is the word that most describes the character and plot development in both novels but more so in Grey Sister.  Nona Grey is at the stage of her convent (No, not like any convent experience you’ve read about or experienced!) experience where she must choose to permanently become a member of the Martial Sisters (red), the Sisters of Discretion (grey), the Mystic Sisters (blue) or the Brides of the Ancestor (black).  Nona is still trying to figure out in which place she fits.  She has extraordinary physical abilities, enhanced by her experiences on the Path which are fueled by her phenomenally rage when inspired by some wrongdoing experienced directly or indirectly.  So great is her fury that the power that emanates from her can take down concrete walls and buildings!  It’s hard to believe there are other Sisters with as intense powers, but there are!

Nona’s quest in this novel of the series is to figure out the secrets of the Universe and who controls them. This is a world of ice and cold moons that are controlled by devices, one of which has been stolen.  While the quest continues to find that device, Nona continues to study shadow-making, potions for poisoning, thread-weaving, sword battle and physical battle.  She certainly has become better in each one, but the challenges she most pays attention to are that of silent meditation and a type of balance walking that is almost impossible to complete in one attempt.

Who is trying to control Nona or even kill her?  Her old nemesis is dead but after that event a spark of evil named Keot (almost like an animal spirit) is now inside Nona and often contradicts what Nona decides but is an ever-present advisor.

Action abounds throughout this novel, rising and falling with death-defying conflicts.  The Noi-Guin are a series of warriors who want Nona dead.  The other nuns in training are one minute fully helping Nona and then threatening her very existence.  A secret lies in the deepest recesses of ice-cold caves below the convent, a place in which they are forbidden to enter.

The ending of this particular novel is quite spectacular.  Readers who love mystery, rocking adventure, various levels of the fantastic, physical and mystical battles, etc will love this series beyond description!  Although sometimes the end goal is unclear, it still has enough clues to satisfy any reader sharp enough to capture them when they appear.  Nicely crafted, Mark Lawrence! Looking forward to third novel in this intriguing series!