Shangai Love by Layne Wong

Shanghai Love Book CoverShanghai Love by Layne Wong is a masterfully crafted love story. It begins with a young, Chinese girl being prepared for her wedding day, a day that has been arranged since she was a mere child. The scene is beautiful, yet sad, and the reader soon discovers that Peilin’s husband-to-be is dead—he died fighting in the war. Peilin, just seventeen, is to be married to a ghost, forced to leave her family, and become a dutiful daughter-in-law to a tyrannical, self-important woman.

The story soon switches to Henri. The year is 1938, and he is a Jew living in Nazi Germany. Henri is a doctor, like his uncle, running an illegal practice for fellow Jews out of his basement. Foolishly, he tells his lover his secret and is chased out of the country to Shanghai.

Their two stories intertwine when Peilin, who has been taught Chinese medicine, is asked to run the herbal shop owned by her new family in Shanghai. It is here that the Western doctor and the Eastern herbalist meet by chance, and their lives change forever. The road is not an easy one, as Peilin is bound to her familial duty and Henri battles prejudice and guilt.

Wong weaves an intricate tale of two people—so different in many ways and yet so similar in others—overcoming numerous obstacles, both internal and external, to find peace with themselves and each other. The characters are extremely well developed; the culture explored in-depth. The amount of detail to both people and beliefs is staggering. The work discusses important themes such as love (both familial and romantic), culture, prejudice, and self-awareness.

Shanghai Love is both entertaining and informative. The reader will come away with a sense of satisfaction with the resolution of the story as well as an appreciation for the culture and time period of the piece. 

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Building Long-Term Relationships by John W Leoff

perf6.000x9.000.inddBuilding Long-Term Relationships by John W Leoff is like a textbook for marriage; there is a chapter for almost any topic that can affect your relationship with your spouse, complete with cited research and multiple examples. Leoff tells the reader from the very beginning that this is not a book that you can read cover-to-cover easily; it is better used as a learning tool—working chapter by chapter with your partner and answering the questions provided to better learn about the self and the relationship.

Leoff’s chapters cover almost every aspect of life. He discusses topics that directly affect a marriage, such as communication and problem solving. In addition to the common sense issues, he also deals with aspects that the average person wouldn’t think to associate with their marital problems—family dynamics earlier in life, stages of childhood development, and dealing with change not only in the private sector but the public one as well. Every chapter introduces the topic before explaining in immense detail each aspect and how it relates to a person’s relationships. Leoff cites numerous professionals and follows everything up with examples from society as well as from personal sessions.

Referring to Building Long-Term Relationships as a textbook is the closest analogy the reader can make. This book is packed with information. So much information that at times it can be extremely dense and the reader may find their eyes glazing over. If the reader is looking for a book to provide answers for a “quick-fix” to their marital problems, they will be disappointed. Leoff cautions that there is no quick fix, and he does not waver. When addressing a topic, he exhausts all avenues and sometimes doesn’t even tie in to marriage until the very end of the chapter. This book is for the reader who wishes to fix or sustain their relationship, but who also wishes to know how the self operates, how society operates, and how he or she can reconcile differences that cause tension in marriage as well as internally in the self.

Bedbugs by Ben H Winters

Bedbugs is a horror novel narrated by an insomniac, unemployed mother who has anxiety problems.  Told through Susan Wendt’s impressions, the reader is never sure what is truth and what is imagined by this woman who is so influenced by media and her own insecurities.  The novel blurs the line between reality and imagination at every turn – it is not until the very last chapter that the reader learns the true story and knows who to believe.

The story begins with Susan Wendt searching for the perfect place for her family to live.  Susan has recently quit her job at a law firm to pursue her painting.  Her husband Alex makes decent money photographing jewelry and watches for a commercial company.  Their daughter Emma is a well-adjusted child who is watched by a young nanny in the mornings and early afternoon.  After months of searching, Susan has found a place that sounds too good to be true – it is a charming, two-story home in Brooklyn with a bonus room in which Susan can paint.  The house is everything they have been looking for and they can afford it; they fall in love with it on sight.  Susan even loves their landlord, an eccentric old woman named Andrea Scharfstein.  Susan and Alex decide to move in.

During the first night in the house, the reader learns that Susan is not as care-free and happy as she lets on.  After her husband and daughter are fast asleep, Susan continues to unpack because she has terrible insomnia.  She is sure that her husband resents her for not working and staying home to paint while he is stuck in a lousy job instead of taking artistic photographs, she chastises herself for not being able to paint and for wasting money on a nanny when she doesn’t work, she thinks about her mother’s untimely death…all these self-deprecating thoughts make her unable to sleep.  That first night she is sure she sees a man standing outside her daughter’s window.

Then things start to go very wrong with the house and her marriage.  Alex is stressed about work and Susan blames herself; she starts having horrible nightmares filled with blood and gore.  Susan begins to notice little problems with the house – there are cracks, loose outlet covers, uneven floorboards, and most bizarre of all – a faint pinging noise with no discernible source.  When Susan finally steps into the bonus room to paint, there is a horrendous smell and a strange photograph with a bloody fingerprint.  Andrea tells her the story of the couple who lived there before them, but something doesn’t seem right to Susan.  One day, Susan meets Louis – the elderly handyman and friend of Andrea’s – and learns that there was a tragedy in the basement and a subsequent darkening of the houses’ atmosphere.  But all of this is just the beginning of Susan’s terror-filled journey…how much is reality and how much is a product of her anxious brain? Is she losing it or is there a menace in her home?

Bedbugs is an intense and suspenseful narrative told from the perspective of a likable woman with glaring psychological issues. From the very beginning, the reader connects with Susan and feels like he truly knows her.  He wants to trust her and believe her reality, but at the same time, his objectivity is constantly questioning her perceptions.  This novel does a fantastic job of keeping the reader guessing – any time another clue is revealed it only adds to his confusion.  This story is a real page-turner – the reader will be hooked until the very last page!

BedBugs

Ben H Winters

Copyright 2011

 

…And The Whippoorwill Sang by Micki Peluso

Image…And The Whippoorwill Sang by Micki Peluso is so many things: at times a personal memoir, at others a social and cultural commentary; it sometimes reads like a relationship advice column, and yet it is also a dramatic story with an extremely moving and emotional ending.  In telling her family’s story of love and loss, Micki provides an in-depth look into her personal life that is framed by the cultural backdrop of the times, so that her story becomes as impressive and as important to the reader as events such as the assassination of Present Kennedy. 

 Micki begins her tale with a prologue that captures the reader’s attention and immediately causes her to start asking questions as to what has transpired.  The first scene is of a mother dealing with the reality that her daughter has been in a serious, and probably fatal, accident—with her husband five hours away and the doctors urging her to accept defeat.  The horror of the emergency room is juxtaposed in the next chapter with Micki’s wedding 22 years earlier to the love of her life.  As her tale continues, the terror of the present is dispersed throughout a retelling of the past.  Micki recounts her elopement to Butch and her mother’s subsequent move to Florida.   She tells of her happiness in marrying Butch, but that his parents did not approve because she was not Catholic and, therefore, their baby was illegitimate. Because they had to stay with Butch’s parents, Micki tells of how she went through a four-week Catholic indoctrination in order to marry Butch in a “real ceremony.”  The first touch of humor enters the story when Micki confesses to sending the priest to a rest home for frazzled priests after dealing with her religious debates.

The book continues in this fashion: Micki tells her family’s history, interspersed with humor, cultural commentary, and personal opinions while constantly reminding the reader that the focus of the tale is her daughter who is hovering between this life and the next and how the family deals with this situation and its aftermath.  Micki tells the reader that as she sits in the ICU, she is “grabbing onto the past in an effort to block out the future.”

From the get-go, Micki’s honesty about herself and her family is refreshing and leads the reader to truly care for the people she writes about.  Throughout the book, the reader will laugh, cry, yell in anger, and sometimes cry out a righteous “amen, sister!”  Her story is so detailed and told with such emotion that by the end of the novel, the reader feels as if she is part of her family and dealing with the same emotions.  She definitely keeps her promise…

 

And The Whippoorwill Sang

Micki Peluso

Light Sword Publishing

Copyright 2007