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Polar Star by Martin Cruz Smith

Arkady Renko #2

Another detective novel? YES! This iteration finds Renko in exile from Moscow working on a fishing factory ship in the Bering Sea in a joint US-Russia operation. A girl is found dead in the net and Renko is called upon to investigate, once they learn he used to be an investigator.

The level of detail, and research that went into this book shows. There are diagrams of the main boats where the story takes place. The dialogue is witty, and realistic. Renko is no superhero, but I really feel for him. He's 'real'.

This book is the kind of thriller that you read late into the night before realizing it's hours past your 'bedtime'. The ending was very, very satisfying.

This novel combines some of my favorite things: ships, the arctic, detective, and a historical setting.

Rating: ★★★★★

Book #122 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #BookReview #Books #Russia #crime #murder #USSR #fishing #MartinCruzSmith #ArkadyRenko

From Beirut to Jerusalem by Thomas L. Friedman

I was given this book by a friend in my book group. It has sat on my shelf for a long time. I have read many books on Palestine in the mean time. I finally picked it up and read through it. This is a remarkably fair, and balanced account by a Jewish New York Times correspondent who lived in Beirut and then in Israel too.


Eyewitness: Flags

I recently found a whole treasure trove of old Eyewitness books at Mollie's Used Book store recently. This was one of the new titles I picked up.

As with other books in the series, Eyewitness books are like mini-museums on specific topics. This one was about flags. First, there are some chapters on historical use of flags, and then terminology and parts of the flag. Then, the book has individual chapters on countries and their flags. Sometimes more than one flag is grouped together because of circumstances related to the history of their flags.

These books were my lifeline when I was growing up, before there was high-speed internet. It's all well and good to read about the world, but it's even better to have a reference book full of pictures to see the world too.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #119 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #BookReview #Books #DK #EyewitnessGuides #DiscoverKids #flags #nonfiction

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

(Hercule Poirot #10)

I had heard of the book, and the author so I had slightly higher expectations than I should've had. I was expecting a bit more action and intrigue than I got in this one. Maybe I'm just not a big mystery fan, because this book didn't really do it for me.

Rating: ★★ Book #118 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #mystery #AgathaChristie #train #murder #HerculePoirot

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell

The third book I've read by Orwell, and it is as good as people say it is. He writes in a clear manner about a very complicated time, the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. If you didn't know, he volunteered to fight in the P.O.U.M. militia against Franco and the fascists. This experience in the war shaped his worldview, and you can start to feel where he got the dystopian world of 1984 from. You can read more about Orwell and his most famous book, “1984” by reading The Ministry of Truth: The Biography of George Orwell's “1984”.

This book switches back and forth between his personal experience in fighting at the front with his militia and his analysis of the political situation, the infighting between “Trotskyists”, Communists, Socialists, and Anarchists.

Personally, I had never even really heard of this war. I had heard the name Franco, and knew he was a Bad Guy, but knew little of the history of the region. This was a great book to get to know about this conflict, and to learn more about Orwell's experience in the war.

Rating: ★★★★★ Book #117 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #war #SpanishCivilWar #GeorgeOrwell #Catalonia

KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps by Nikolaus Wachsmann

Nazis are bad mmmkay? This is basic knowledge we are taught in school. We are also taught that one of the reasons Nazis were bad was because of concentration camps. I have been fascinated with WW2 since I was a kid. I wrote a paper on Hitler in the 4th grade, and read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich around that time. I never actually learned that much about concentration camps though. I remember knowing that about 6 million Jews were killed during the war in the camps, and they just killed people all the time in th camps. These facts I learned in school are basically true, but it isn't the whole story behind the concentration camps.


That We May Live by Two Lines Press

“The essential idea behind Calico is, let's talk to the translators... find out what's interesting, what's not being published in English, what's percolating in other parts of the world that we haven't heard about yet. THAT WE MAY LIVE is a collection of speculative Chinese fiction... of unnerving, uncanny, weird stories about urbanization and late capitalism.”

For me, this really sparked my interested: translated Chinese fiction, speculative fiction! I'm in! Sadly, this collection didn't live up to my high expectations, but I still enjoyed most of the stories.

First off, the book was a unique size. It was a square. The title page of each story had a quote in Chinese and English on a beautifully designed red grid-like pattern.

Although I didn't like all the stories, there were a few I really like and this is now leading me to seek out those authors. I like diving into sort of unknown collections like this so I can be introduced to new authors that I wouldn't normally encounter. I guess that's party the reason I love translated fiction so much, I am always striving to break out of my North American-European-English-bubble.

“Sour Meat” By Dorothy Tse ★★★★

Translated from Chinese by Natascha Bruce

“Auntie Han's Modern Life” By Enoch Tam ★★

Translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

“Lip Service” By Zhu Hui ★★★★

Translated from Chinese by Michael Day

  • I really liked this one. A look at the life of a woman newscaster, and her hidden life.

“The Elephant” By Chan Chi Wa

Translated from Chinese by Audrey Heijns

“The Mushroom Houses Proliferated in District M” By Enoch Tam ★★

Translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

  • This definitely a story about the rage of overpriced housing in Asia, and scammy developers.

“A Counterfeit Life” By Chen Si’an ★★★

Translated from Chinese by Canaan Morse

  • I like the downbeat, analysis of why do we really want a boring 9-5 job? This is a good 2020 story about people who .

“Flourishing Beasts” By Yan Ge ★★★★

Translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang

These stories were all so unique, I think I may actually benefit from re-reading them again. I think a lot of them have lots of metaphors and allusions as they have been written in China, a repressive authoritarian country that does not like literature that analyzes, pokes fun at, or exposes the ills its government.

Rating: ★★★ Book #115 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #Books #BookReview #CalicoSeries #TwoLinesPress #ChineseLit #SpeculativeFiction #TranslatedFiction

The Hazardous Tales Series ★★★★★

All these graphic novels take a historical event, and package it in a bit of humour, and make it easily digestible to all. It tries to make history 'cool' and 'fun' for teens and I think it succeeds.

At the back of every book, he lists a bibliography of books used to research the book. He calls that section the “research babies”. There is also the “correction baby” that handles questions on historically inaccurate things in the story. He also often has historical pictures, and or diagrams about the real characters in the story at the back of the book.

This is a great series. I ordered Hazardous Tales #7-10 already. I could read #7 & #8 on Epic! but I shall wait and read the paper copy. I want to savour the last 3 books in this series. I'm not sure if Nathan Hale is still creating these stories. I sure hope so. I wish there were historical graphic novels like this focusing on Canadian events. I'll have to keep my eyes open for one!


One Dead Spy by Nathan Hale

(Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #1)

I read Hazardous Tales #4 before I read this one, but I understand why some people say you should read this one first. This one introduces the narrators, and the whole setup of the series.

This book is about a spy for the American continental army during the American War of Independence. Now my American history is not all that great, I am Canadian after all, but this was an interesting book. I learned about the spy, and the general ebb and flow of the war.

Now, for me this wasn't as interesting as Hazardous Tales #4, because I'm just not that into American history. I will still go and read the rest of the books in this series now because I discovered them on (Epic!)[]. There is another WW2 one about the bombing of Hiroshima I believe. I'm looking forward to reading that.

This whole series is great if you want to: learn history, not get bogged down with every little detail, and have some jokes in there too.

Rating: ★★★★ Book #110 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #BookReview #Books #America #HazardousTales #GraphicNovel #NathanHale

Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood by Nathan Hale

(Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #4)

An incredible graphic novel that uses humour, facts, and cut animals to tell the incredibly complicated story of World War 1 (WW1).

Hale uses 3 narrators to keep the story moving along. There is Nathan Hale, American spy who was hanged (in Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales #1), the hangman, and the British soldier who escorted the spy. It is actually the hangman's idea to tell the story with cute animals for each country because he found the story so boooorrring.

The author tells the story with the animals taking the place of countries and it really works. It takes a gruesome tale of a very, stupid, pointless war, and makes it digestible. I read through this in one hour, but I think I could find myself re-reading it to savour the graphics again, or even brush up on the key events of WW1. Of course, in a graphic novel, he cannot go into every nitty gritty little detail, but he certainly got the main points down, and made it exciting, and a joy to read.

I hope teenagers discovery this series and have fun learning history with it! But adults can enjoy this too. It is funny. Trust me!

Rating: ★★★ Book #109 in my My 2020 Reading Challenge #BookReview #Books #GraphicNovel #WW1 #war #Europe #HazardousTales #NathanHale