Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats – Jan-Philipp Sendker

Review (Amazon):  A poignant and inspirational love story set in Burma, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats spans the decades between the 1950s and the present.  When a successful New York lawyer suddenly disappears without a trace, neither his wife nor his daughter Julia has any idea where he might be…until they find a love letter he wrote many years ago, to a Burmese woman they have never heard of. Intent on solving the mystery and coming to terms with her father’s past, Julia decides to travel to the village where the woman lived. There she uncovers a tale of unimaginable hardship, resilience, and passion that will reaffirm the reader’s belief in the power of love to move mountains.

My Review (Spoilers!): This review has some big spoilers at the end, so if you do want to read the book, you might refrain from reading my review!!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Executive Summary: Odd

So this was our romance/love story for this year’s book club, and I really thought it had a lot of potential. It’s a lot different than the standard story from this genre, and it had an unfamiliar setting. However, at the end of the book, I was left scratching my head about things.

Julia, a young professional lawyer, decides to take a sabbatical from her job to figure out what happened to her father. She grew up in New York City like her mother, but her father grew up in Burma. One day he up and left his family, his trail running cold in Bangkok. Her mother didn’t know anything of her father’s childhood, and Julia decides to see what she can find out. Her father was a lawyer, and by the time he disappeared, he and Julia’s mother did not get along well.

Over the next four years, nothing turns up of her father. Her mother one day sends a package of some remaining items of her father’s. Julia looks through them, and finds an envelope addressed to Mi Mi, in Kalaw, Burma from 1955. It’s a love letter, and the first key to the puzzle. When she tells her mother she is leaving, her mother is annoyed. She doesn’t understand what Julia expects to find, and she is bitter. She tells Julia that her father never wanted to marry her, and that he left her (and them) long before he physically did. Julia decided to go anyway.

When Julia gets to Kalaw (a very long and difficult journey), she meets an old man named U Ba at the tea house. He claims to know her father and begins to tell Julia his tale.

Tin Win (Julia’s father) was born to very superstitious parents. His mother had watched her brother die as a child and went to the astrologer regularly to seek guidance. Tin Win was born on a very superstitious day. Following his birth, bad things began to happen, and eventually, his parents sought the astrologer. The astrologer told them that the child will bring great sorrow to his parents. Not long after, Tin Win’s father died in a work accident, and his mother, knowing that she could not handle any more sorrow, left the boy. Eventually a neighbor, Su Kyi, comes to rescue him and moves into his house to look after him. He’s a strange boy, not having any friends, but spending most of his time playing outside. But over time, his eyesight begins to deteriorate.

Su Kyi takes him to the monks as she has a good friendship with the head monk, U May. She asks him what to do, and he suggests that Tin Win stay for a few weeks with the monks. During that time, he learns to deal with his blindness, letting his other senses develop so that he can manage in the world. He’s a good student but has no friends. He begins to develop extraordinary hearing, but he cannot identify the sounds he hears. He asks Su Kyi to investigate, but she can never get him the info he wants. And then one day at the monastery, he hears something new–a heart beat. He goes to identify the source, and he finds a girl. He speaks to her briefly, and then her mother calls her away. Her name is Mi Mi.

Eventually he finds her again at the town market, and he asks her to help him identify a sound. She agrees but she needs his help to put her on his back to investigate that the sound he is hearing is of an unhatched chick still in its shell. Mi Mi needs help because she cannot stand, nor walk, on her own due to a birth defect. Tin Win continues to meet her every market day, and they develop a symbiotic relationship–he is her legs, and she is his eyes. Over the years, it developed into the most intense love that Mi Mi’s parents and Su Kyi could even imagine.

But one day, Tin Win’s uncle, U Saw arrives from Rangoon. He volunteers to take Tin Win to a doctor in Rangoon to help restore his sight. He goes to see Mi Mi before he leaves, and they have a romantic encounter. He leaves with his uncle, who is only helping Tin Win because he believes it will help his own luck in business. Tin Win’s sight is repaired relatively easily as he had cataracts. He writes to Mi Mi every day, and she writes about the same, but his uncle intercepts both sets of letters before they reach their rightful owner. The surgery has helped U Saw’s luck, so he wonders what else he can do to boost his luck, and he doesn’t want this juvenile love to get in his way. He enrolls Tin Win in school where he excels. Following that, U Saw sends Tin Win to New York for college.

He then continues on to law school, and then is pressured into marriage by Julia’s mother. They have two children–Julia and her brother. Mi Mi continued her life in Kalaw, becoming a sort of astrologer herself. Julia doesn’t understand U Ba and his decision to quit university and return home to his mother who was growing old. She doesn’t understand why her father didn’t just disregard U Saw and go back to Kalaw for Mi Mi. U Ba claims that it is just a different culture. She learns that U Saw died in 1958, a chance for her father to come back, but by then, her father, for reasons unknown on his end, was already married, and her brother was about to be born.

U Ba tells her that her father returned there, to find Mi Mi, and when he arrives at her house, she is on her death bed. She has been waiting for him. He crawls into bed with her, and when the doctor finds them the following morning, they are both dead. Per the time and culture, the two lovers were burned side by side on separate pyres. Julia is not prepared for the news, but she still wants to see where her father and Mi Mi grew up and where they died. They happen to arrive on the anniversary of her father’s death, which has become a sort of celebration in Kalaw for the two long lost lovers. She learns that U Ba is her half-brother–the product of the romantic night that her father and Mi Mi had before he left for Rangoon. They attend the celebration together and the book ends.

Verdict: 3 stars

I wanted to read this book because Burma is a country which has been so shut off for so long. I thought it would be an interesting glimpse into a place that would be unfamiliar. It was, but in a way that I didn’t understand. The timeline of the book is very unusual as well because at the time when Julia would have supposedly been visiting, Burma was under fierce military rule which most likely would have deterred her from going, but this aspect wasn’t mentioned in the book whatsoever. Also, I just hated how weirdly fairy tale it was. Tin Win and Mi Mi–a love story so strong that he married another but yet they die together and their story is celebrated each year with a holiday. It’s baffling.


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The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler


Review (Amazon): When a dying millionaire hires Philip Marlowe to handle the blackmailer of one of his two troublesome daughters, Marlowe finds himself involved with more than extortion. Kidnapping, pornography, seduction, and murder are just a few of the complications he gets caught up in.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: familiar

We picked this book as our mystery for the year, however, I’d say that it’s not so much a mystery as it is a detective story. Apparently this book was the start of the noir genre, and reading it after being exposed to so many stories which have used this theme, it seems a little cliche. It was written in 1939 so it is obvious that it was what created these cliches, but it is still strange to read.

The detective/main character of the book is Phillip Marlowe, and this was his first book appearance. He’s a sharp talking, scotch drinking, lady ogling sort of guy. You know the type. He’s the original. He’s hired by General Sherwood to find out who is blackmailing Sherwood’s youngest daughter Carmen. Sherwood is on his death bed, and is very wealthy. When Marlowe meets with him, Sherwood mentions that his older daughter, Vivian, was married to Rusty Regan, but Regan has disappeared. Marlowe likes Sherwood and agrees to take the case of investigating the man who is blackmailing Carmen. Carmen has been blackmailed before, by a man named Joe Brody, but this time it’s by a bookseller named Arthur Geiger. When Marlowe’s leaving the house, he meets Vivian who is convinced that he has been hired to find Regan.

Marlowe heads to Geiger’s bookstore, and realizes after asking the clerk, Agnes, a few questions that the book store is definitely a front. While he is there, a man came in and dropped off a package which was then delivered to the back of the store. Marlowe follows the man and realizes that the store is a front for pornographic books. Marlowe stakes out in front of the house to wait for Geiger and eventually sees him enter and eventually leave the store. He then proceeds to follow him to his home. Eventually a woman pulls up to the house and goes inside. The car window is open allowing Marlowe to determine that it’s Carmen’s car. Marlowe continues to wait, and he sees a flash of light and hears an odd scream from the house. He goes to the door and as he’s about to knock, he hears three shots fire out followed by footsteps running away.

Marlowe lets himself into the house where he finds Geiger dead, and Carmen naked and completely dazed. There is a camera set up pointed directly at Carmen although it has no film in it. The flash of light Marlowe saw was obviously the camera, and the shots were someone’s response to it. Marlowe dressed Carmen and takes her home and then walks back to Geiger’s. When he returns, the body is gone. He takes a little time investigating the house, but the only real thing of interest is Geiger’s notebook of customers.

The next morning, Marlowe is awakened by a phone call from a cop friend to let him know that one of the Sherwood’s cars is being pulled up from the pier. And there’s a guy inside. Marlowe immediately assumes it’s Regan so he heads down to see. He finds that it’s the Sherwood’s chauffeur.

Marlowe heads back to Geiger’s shop to talk to Agnes. He asks if Geiger’s in, and she stammers and tells him that Geiger’s out of town. He notices the boy who was driving Geiger’s car loading some boxes of books into a truck, so he gets a taxi to tail them and finds out that the boxes are going to someone named Brody. He heads back to his office where he finds Vivian awaiting him. She continues to press Marlowe about why her father hired him, but he doesn’t relent. She then shows him the envelope that she received of the picture of Carmen from the previous night. It accompanied a phone call asking for $5000 (~$85000 today). They discuss what happened with the chauffeur, but Vivian doesn’t know anything. It wasn’t his night off, and she was gambling at Eddie Mars’ casino. Everyone thinks that her husband ran off with Eddie’s wife Mona which is why he’s nice to her.

He returns to Geiger’s house where he finds Carmen snooping around. Carmen tells Marlowe that it was definitely Joe Brody who shot Geiger, but she’s just playing along. While they are there, Eddie Mars arrives. They talk about what happened to Geiger, Eddie playing along in hypotheticals to see what Mars knows.

From there, Marlowe goes back to Brody’s and gets Brody to talk by offering up the customer list. Once he’s inside, he realizes that Brody and Agnes are in on it together. Marlowe’s pressing him hard about the pictures of Carmen when she arrives there too. Between the two of them, they manage to get the pictures from Brody. Carmen leaves and Marlowe questions Brody a bit more to learn that he blackmailed Vivian because he’d already hit up their dad before and he’s short on cash. The chauffeur found out about the blackmail and because of his crush on Carmen, went to Geiger’s and shot him. Brody was there and followed the chauffeur, but didn’t see how he ended up off the end of the pier (No one knows who killed the chauffeur or whether it was suicide.) and took the opportunity to take over Geiger’s dirty business. As Brody, Marlowe, and Agnes are wrapping up the story, there’s another knock on the door. Brody answers the door thinking it is Carmen and is shot twice. Marlowe races out the door and after the perp, eventually finding the boy from Geiger’s. Turns out he was Geiger’s gay lover who kept a secret room at Geiger’s house. (seems quite scandalous for 1939).

Marlowe instructs him back to Geiger’s house where they find Geiger’s body which the boy hid to keep him protected. He believed that Brody had killed Geiger so he decided to take matters into his own hands. Marlowe reaches out to his police friend who takes over from there.

And then with the real mystery over, Marlowe decides to look into what happened to Rusty Regan which is where the story gets a bit confusing in my opinion. He goes to talk to his cop friends to find out what came out of the missing person investigation which isn’t much. No one saw him take his car out and the only lead is that Eddie Mars’ wife also went missing. So Marlowe goes to speak to Mars. Vivian is at the casino winning big.

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Legend – Marie Lu

Review (Amazon): What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family in one of the Republic’s wealthiest districts, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic’s highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country’s most wanted criminal. But his motives may not be as malicious as they seem.

From very different worlds, June and Day have no reason to cross paths – until the day June’s brother, Metias, is murdered and Day becomes the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family’s survival, while June seeks to avenge Metias’s death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.

Full of nonstop action, suspense, and romance, this novel is sure to move readers as much as it thrills.

My Review (Spoilers!):

Executive Summary: exciting

One of my friends recommended this book to me and it was available for instant download from the library, so I picked it up while on vacation and just blew through it. It’s YA so it moves at a fast pace. It’s also different enough to be fresh and engaging.

The story focuses on two 15 year olds from opposite ends of life–June Iparis is the prodigy of The Republic (post-apocalyptic USA) who grew up in a rich family and scored a perfect 1500 on the test to determine people’s futures. She’s the only one who ever scored a perfect and is a hotshot in the army, moving up quickly especially with her older brother Metias’s help. Her parents died and her brother looked after her like a parent. Metias’s best friend Thomas is also a sort of brother to June, but he wants to ensure she is abiding all the rules like he does.

On the other hand, we have Day. He grew up in the projects with his mother and two brothers. His mother believes that he is dead, however his older brother knows that he is alive, and Day spends his day being a sort of Robin Hood to get food and other supplies to his brother to take care of their family. He is wanted by The Republic for a number of crimes but he has never been caught. Day has a partner named Tess.

Day and Tess watch the soldiers investigate every home on Day’s mother’s street to check for the plague. When the soldiers finally leave his mother’s house, they mark an X on the front door. But unlike the other X’s left by previous plagues, this one has a third line going through it. Something is different this time.

Day breaks into the hospital to try to get a cure for the plague. He manages to get some medicine but he barely squeaks out alive. In the process, he has to shoot Metias in the shoulder. He doesn’t like to hurt people, let alone kill them so he is always careful to minimize damages. Also in the process, he manages to lose the pendant which his father gave him.

When June finds out about the break-in, the story has changed a bit from where it was left off. Her brother is dead. He was stabbed in the heart by Day during the attack. She is assigned to find Day, and she figures out a plan. She decides to pose as a blackmarket plague medicine dealer. She spreads the rumors to the right sources, but when she goes to meet him, Day sees her and knows by the knot of her cloak that she is military so he scrams. June creates a new plan–to go undercover.

In the meantime, Day discovers a pipe leading up to the pier where he and Tess sometimes sit with a red painted number on it.

June wanders around the slums for a few days with no real leads, but then she stumbles into a Skiz fight (a street fight). A bartender who Day knows is the reigning champ, and decides that she will pick a random victim from the audience, and she selects Tess. For some reason, June volunteers to go in her place. Bets are taken, mostly against June, but of course she ends up winning although she gets stabbed by a knife in the meantime. Day and Tess help her since she helped save Tess, despite them losing a lot of money by betting against her.

June stays with them a few days while she recovers, and June and Day start falling for each other, even sharing a drunken kiss. She even turns off her ear bud where Thomas (who is also falling for her) keeps bothering her. Eventually though she sees Day touch a non-existant pendant on his neck and she realizes that he is who killed her brother. She follows him to find out where his family lives (where he sees another pipe with another red number), and then she calls it in. The following day, the army officers show up at Day’s family’s house luring him in. His family goes outside, and June steps out to let him know that she is who turned him in. She wants him to turn himself in, but the captain tries a different tactic. She orders Thomas to put a gun to Day’s mother’s head and shoot her. Day is furious and takes down some of the officers who are there but is eventually shot in the leg and taken into custody along with his two brothers.

Due to the situation with Day’s mother, June begins to grow skeptical of both Thomas and the Republic’s mission. But still, she is convinced that Day killed Metias. She interviews him when he wakes up, and he admits to many acts of wrongdoing but he insists that he did not kill Metias. June asks him about his past, how “Daniel Altan Wing” died in the labor camps. Day laughs because he knows the labor camps are not real. They are only something that the rich think happens. In reality, the poor and the ones who score too poorly on their tests get taken for experimental testing. It’s what happened to Day, and they thought he was dead. So when he woke up, he decided to continue to be dead. When June is done interviewing him, she orders him to be moved to another cell and along the way, he sees a red 0 painted. It’s the same as the other red numbers.

June continues her skepticism and starts investigating Day. She looks up his test score which is listed as 674, the lowest score she’s seen ever. She knows he is smarter than that so she keeps digging. She opens up the restricted file of his test and it’s identical to hers–he got a perfect score too.

Day is sentenced to death by firing squad in 4 days’ time. June is in charge of watching over him until then. He tells June that the Labor Camps aren’t real and about the experiments they did on him. He asks about the plague which never goes away and comes back in different forms every year, but only to the poor because the rich get vaccinated. How do the rich get the exact vaccination every year? June begins to think of her father who had worked on the plague vaccinations. June leaves amidst confusion but sends Day to the hospital to get his leg looked at.

June continues her investigations which become even more pointed once the Republic opens fire on a bunch of unarmed protesters. She revisits Metias’s death and realizes that she was set up to not fully investigate what happened to him. None of the crime scene photos are of the arm which Day said he injured. But looking closer at the knife imbedded in her brother’s chest, she sees rifle grease on the hilt and knows that it was Thomas who killed him. She looks at her brother’s journal and realizes that he has left her a secret message in it. She decodes it to lead her to a website which explains that her parents were also killed by the Republic.

June realizes that saving Day may be the only way to fix things. She reaches out to Kaede (the girl from the Skiz fight) and finds Day’ friend Tess has joined up with her and the Patriots (rebels of the Republic). They create a plan to get Day (and his two brothers) out before the execution. Unfortunately for them and their plan, the Commander moved up the execution date. The electro-bomb goes off as planned which restricts use of any guns, and the Patriots are there. June leads Day and his older brother John out, but they are running out of time, so John, who looks identical to Day, sacrifices himself to be executed in Day’s place. June and Day escape and begin to try to formulate a plan to find Day’s other brother Eden.

Verdict: 4 stars

This was one of the best YA books I’ve read in a while. It’s certainly better than Divergent or the Mortal Instruments series. While I did give it 4 stars, that is in relation to other books in its genre. While the plot was a little predictable to me as an adult, I thought that it was well written and well thought out. I liked that the numbers were deliberately put into the story and then it turned out that they pipes were how the Republic was infecting specific people. I also enjoyed the dichotomy of two really strong characters but on opposing sides (and with opposing genders). I didn’t feel like June was weak or overly swoony even though she did grow and develop through the novel. I really appreciated that.






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