Tag Archives: China

Deacon Blues

Red Cell: A Novel by Mark Henshaw (Touchstone, $24.99, 336 pages)

The president of Taiwan orders the arrest of a set of spies from China, and China retaliates with a military attack.   As the U. S. moves battleships into the war area, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learns that its top mole within China, “Pioneer”, has been uncovered; and that the president of China is ready to go to war with America.   It seems that the Red Chinese have a secret weapon known only by the code name The Assassin’s Mace.

With the prospect of a war to end all wars on the horizon, The Company turns to Kyra Stryker, a young Jason Bourne-like agent who barely survived her prior mission in Venezuela.   Now she’s called upon to not only rescue Pioneer, but to also – as a member of the select Red Cell think tank, find and destroy The Assassin’s Mace.   Nothing less than the future of the Free World rests in her hands.

Mark Henshaw has written an espionage thriller that can stand beside the very best of its genre.   A former, highly-decorated CIA analyst and member of the Red Cell, Henshaw takes us deep within the world of spies, from Virginia to South America and Asia.   This one will make a great film, and every young actress in Hollywood will vie for the role of Kyra Stryker!

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Red Cell was released on May 1, 2012 and is also available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download.




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A Well Respected Man

The Secret Lives of Somerset Maugham: A Biography by Selina Hastings (Random House; $35.00; 640 pages)

William Somerset Maugham, author of the wonderful novels Cakes and Ale, The Moon and Sixpence and Of Human Bondage, wildly successful playwright and debonaire world traveler, was a decidedly private person.   He suffered from a crippling stutter, felt uneasy around most people, and throughout his long life he jealously and vehemently concealed the fact that he was bisexual.   Well, mostly gay.   He endured a long and miserable marriage to a brash and manipulative woman, Syrie Maugham.   And before he died he insisted that all of his personal letters and correspondence be burned.   If not for the fact that many of his friends and lovers retained the letters he wrote to them in spite of this fact, there wouldn’t have been nearly as much fascinating material on which to draw.   While reading Selina Hastings’ biography, which is culled to a large extent from these letters, I felt a bit of remorse knowing that it was his wish that his “secrets” accompany him to the grave.   But I read it with zeal and enjoyment nonetheless and comforted myself with the knowledge that a brilliant and wickedly observant writer born in this century – as opposed to the late 1800s – would not have felt the sad need to cloister his activities and thoughts in this way.

A good deal of Maugham’s writing, especially Of Human Bondage, is autobiographical: it depicts the wanton and forlorn abandon with which a man, often hindered by a physical defect that alienates him from his peers, can crave and seek the attention of a reprehensible mate.   The female object of this slaving and desperate attention, never his equal in intellect or virtue, cycles though phrases of appreciation and disdain, ultimately taking advantage of him and rejecting his honest but pathetic advances.   Selina Hastings succeeds in shedding light on the host of painful personal experiences, such as the loss of his mother and father at a young age that resulted in an exile to his stern uncle’s vicarage, his years as a resident physician in London’s poorest neighborhoods and the uncomfortable lifelong relationship he had with his younger male lover, that drove him to write about such dismal subject matter so tellingly.   What she does not do, however, is to offer much on how he often managed to take these bleak tales and turn them into mild or even hopeful visions on life and the world or whether he shared the curiously calm view of many of his characters that the world is a benign place with all of its millions of threads woven life a tapestry, a place that tosses us about with no ill- or good-will.

The remainder of his prolific literary output, such as the shorter novels and collections of short stories and vignettes, was largely gathered from overheard or shared conversations within his circle of famous and worldly friends or on his extensive travels throughout the Pacific and China.   He carried a notebook with him wherever he went, recording bits of dialogue or expressed thoughts, and turned them – sometimes with the nearly verbatim remnants of his notebook entries still intact – into stories and plays.   Reading the accounts of where and when he came by some of the actual material was a real delight.   By far my favorite bits of the biography were the accounts of his actual writing habits.   Each morning he retreated at an early hour to his study and sat and wrote for hours before continuing to the rest of his social and familial duties; he often studied classics and languages for hours in the morning if he had nothing to write.

This biography is thorough, well-written and despite its length and level of detail, leaves you even more curious about Mr. Maugham.   It lends a great deal of understanding to his actions, choices and the topics about which he wrote without extending too much bias, which is something from which many biographies suffer.   Maugham was without a doubt one of the most fascinating, dedicated and talented writers in recent history.   What a joy it is to be able to learn about his life, understand the processes he used to craft stories, get a glimpse of so many of his personal letters and get a taste of the many interesting (and famous in their own right) people and places he knew and loved.

Christine Van Winkle

Used by permission.   To see  more of Christine’s reviews (literary and otherwise) go to http://www.thewritechristine.com/ .

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There’s a Wall in China… a Review of the Book Lucky Girl: A Memoir

They’ve got a wall in China/ It’s a thousand miles long/ To keep out the foreigners/ They made it strong/ And I’ve got a wall around me/ That you can’t see…   Paul Simon

I grew up with a cousin who was adopted.   lucky_girl_2He learned this fact in his early teens.   He became quite angry but also quickly managed to accept it.   I know that he completely loved his adopted parents and a huge part of him died when they did.

Growing up I used to wonder how my cousin would have reacted if he had learned who his birth parents – who we knew were not from the U.S. – were, or if they had sought to contact him.   This memoir, Lucky Girl, by Mei-Ling Hopgood provided the answers for me.   In this intriguing true story, Mei-Ling is born to parents in China who quickly give her up for adoption to a family in the state of Michigan, U.S.A.   After graduation from college, and during the first part of her career as a newspaper reporter, she discovers how to contact her birth parents and siblings.   They make clear that they very much wish to see her also, and the first of what would turn out to be multiple reunions is set.   Thus begins the new chapter in Mei-Ling’s life…

Mei-Ling must literally make a journey of thousands of miles to decipher the secrets of her birth family’s past, and to learn about the life she might have led.   Initially there’s much happiness but then the family facades give way to human weaknesses, cruelties and non-explainable behaviors.

Once Mei-Ling takes this trip to a past she never knew she first accepts it and then – somewhat blissfully – lets it go.  

Hopgood is a likeable narrator without an excess of ego; she freely expresses her foibles and failings.   Because we can identify with her, we feel her fears, her nervousness in certain situations, her disappointments in others.   She is, though, far from the most fluid or natural writer, and more than a few mixed tense sentences break the flow of thought.   Yet she manages to tell a very engaging – and very human-scale – story of meeting, accepting and defeating the ghosts of her past.   Because these are the ghosts that haunt every one of us, this is her personal story and our very own story.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog.   This is a “bonus” review.

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A Simple Twist of Fate: A Review of Lucky Girl, A Memoir

According to an old Chinese proverb, “You can draw the image of a person…  but you can never know what’s inside a person’s heart.”   In this unique memoir, Mei-Ling Hopgood attempts to learn and describe what is in the hearts of the family that gave her up for adoption.   In 1974, Hopgood’s parents in China released her for adoption by a couple in Michigan.   More than twenty years later, Mei-Ling manages to contact her birth parents and her siblings who very much wish to see her.

The reunions, like much in life, wind up being both joyful and painful.   Families are complicated and for every joyful thing that Hopgood learns about her birth family’s past, she also learns about painful secrets and memories that are best left forgotten.

Hopgood discovers that while in most lives “the twists of fate are…  imperceptible,” this was not the case for her.   She was harshly removed from one life in order to be granted another.   Hopgood finds that she gained more than she lost and became a very lucky person, a lucky girl.   In the end she moved onward and found happiness.

This review was written by Joseph Arellano.   Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.lucky-girl1

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