Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Book Review - "Bloodline: War of the Roses, #3" by Conn Iggulden

I had previously read the first novel in the series Stormbird and liked it but did not love it - the fictional character Derry Brewer was irritatingly unreal to me. In this third novel he only has a small part and his behavior and actions are much more believable.

The novel is divided into two parts: the first mainly dealing with the vicious Battle of Towton between the Lancastrian army led by Margaret of Anjou (Henry VI's wife) and the one led by Edward of York and Richard Neville ("the Kingmaker"), and the second part focusing on the poisonous feud between Elizabeth Woodville (Edward IV's wife) and Richard Neville, and the latter's ultimate downfall.

The battle scenes are skillfully drawn to keep readers on their toes, but after a while, they lose some of their pull (at least they did for me). I personally found Part Two to be much more satisfying than the first, if only for the vivid characterization of the leading actors like Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Richard Neville, and the piquant description of their increasingly convoluted relationships with each other as self-interest comes into play. In particular, Richard Neville is painted in a sympathetic light, which is not hard at all to believe.

Upon Elizabeth entering Edward's life, the friendship and trust between him and Richard begins to sour. Richard, once a loyal mentor and right-hand man to King Edward, is made to look like a fool in the French court on at least two occasions; his two brothers are made to suffer overt and callous humiliation, with the Neville family losing estates and titles; and Edward meanly rejects Richard's petition for his daughter to wed the Duke of Clarence (Edward's brother). So, we can at least understand his rage and his desire for revenge, even if we do not see the prudence of his making a precipitous and brash move to imprison Edward and consider putting Henry back on the throne. As things turn out, he sadly underestimates Edward's popularity among the subjects, which is enough to doom him to failure. His subsequent regret is almost a foregone conclusion.

This was a good historical fiction read that is worth 4 solid stars.

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel's Review of The Green Phoenix

What can be more rewarding than to read a historian’s well-written and commending review of your new historical novel, and on an influential scholarly platform such as the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel? It just makes my years of hard work seem all worth it.

Here are some quotes from the review:-

“Where the novel really shines is in the level of historical detail. Poon gives sumptuous descriptions of dress and hairstyles. Lavish dinners and quick snacks are laid before the reader in such a way as to inspire hunger pangs. The early years of Bumbutai’s life, both at home in the Mongolian Steppe and in Hung Taiji’s palace in what is today Shenyang, particularly come to life with a vivid array of colors, textures, and sensations.”

“The style of the work owes a debt to the famous wuxia novels of Louis Cha (aka Jin Yong). Some passages are lush to the point of being florid, but Alice Poon’s novel is, at heart a, romance of two kingdoms. She breathes fresh life into characters who do not often find their way into English-language fiction, and does an excellent job of bringing to the page the story of a woman who was the foundation upon which an empire that lasted over 268 years was built.”

“One of the joys of studying this period in history is that every name sounds like it was taken from Game of Thrones.”

Thank you so much, Jeremiah!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: 大理外传:一个英国人的大理速写本

I was sent a copy of this delightful book by my GR friend Jason Pym, a British artist living in Dali, Yunnan, who wrote it entirely in Simplified Chinese. Usually I would decline reading anything written in Simplified Chinese, as I think it mutilates and degrades the beautiful Chinese language. But I made an exception in this case, not least because it was written by a native British, knowing how hard Chinese language writing is for Westerners. Another major reason is that I wanted to learn about the ancient history of beautiful Dali.

I was not disappointed. A portion of the book is dedicated to relating the early history of Yunnan's "white tribe" 白族, which can be traced back all the way to the times of the Three Kingdoms 三國. In the 8th century, this ethnic tribe came under the rule of Nanzhao 南詔 and became a tributary state annexed to the Tang dynasty. Due to subsequent disputes with Tang, Nanzhao 南詔 was annihilated after a period of prosperity. By the 10th century, the Duan family 段氏家族 established the Kingdom of Dali 大理國, which carried the tradition of Buddhism and ruled in peace for 300 years until its conquest by the Mongols.

Other portions offer interesting information about the landscape, flora and fauna, tribal customs and other cultural tidbits of Dali 大理.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

TimeOut Shanghai's Interview with Me

TimeOut Shanghai's Helen Roxburgh kindly interviewed me through Skype in October and posted the interview in the magazine.

Link to the Interview

Friday, December 1, 2017

An Interesting Question at the Book Launch

I was asked an interesting question by the moderator of the book launch for "The Green Phoenix". Note the response from the audience!

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Book Review - "The Great Walk of China: Travels on Foot from Shanghai to Tibet" by Graham Earnshaw

Travel books have never been a favorite of mine, but I had been drawn to this one by a recent 5-star Goodreads review, plus the fact that the author happens to be my publisher.

What sets this travelogue apart from others is that its focus is on the author's interactions with the people he met throughout his journey on foot (this is possible as the author speaks fluent Mandarin and reads and writes Chinese), which naturally add a spontaneous and human dimension to the places he visited.

The author makes it clear at the start that this was not a contiguous journey, but rather a series of walks that spanned six years. He could only afford to devote a few days every month to this walking project, and each time he made a fresh start at the point where he had last stopped. The direction he took was always to the west. At the end of the journey, he covered the provinces of Zhejiang, Anhui, Hubei and Sichuan with a total distance of roughly 2,000 kilometers. Almost all the villages, towns and countryside he passed through were off the beaten track - I admit that the place names are all unfamiliar to me.

Through his random and incessant conversations with people from all walks of life he met on the road, readers get a good glimpse of how the locals go about their daily lives and of their thoughts about the past, present and future. It is apparent that the author not only has a deep sense of empathy for the lower echelons of Chinese society, but is genuinely concerned about the future of the kids who have the misfortune of being denied proper education.

The bright spots of the book are descriptions of otherworldly beautiful scenery of some remote and untouched countryside stretches which, if not consciously preserved, will be trampled and wiped out by blind development.

I love this book for its humbling and inspirational qualities, for which I gave 5 stars.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

More Book Launch Photos

I was pleased to meet the other new book author at the joint book launch: John Saeki, author of The Tiger Hunters of Tai O.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Book Launch on November 15, 2017 - Joint Event at Bookazine Exchange Square

The book launch for The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang will be a joint event with John Saeki, author of The Tiger Hunters of Tai O.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Historical Novel Society's Review of The Green Phoenix

A fantastic review by Viviane Crystal, Historical Novel Society:~

Link to the full review

Many thanks to HNS and Viviane!

"The loveliness of this novel, however, lies in the characters’ appreciation for beauty in nature, paintings, calligraphy, historical tales and legends, nature and spontaneously shared poetry that never fails to engage the reader. The history is well-researched and accurate, including the advice the Empress and her son receive from the German Jesuit and astrologer, Johann Adam Schall von Bell. The wisdom of Confucian and Chinese teachings ultimately leads the Empress to enable her country to evolve into modernity. The Green Phoenix is delightful historical fiction and a wonderful tribute to a noteworthy Chinese empress!"

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Asian Books Blog - My 500-Word Post on "The Green Phoenix"

Thanks to Rosie Milne over at Asian Books Blog, I had the opportunity to introduce "The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang" to readers of her blog.

Link to the Post

Monday, October 16, 2017

Book Launch Date & Venue - The Green Phoenix

I am happy to announce that the book launch for my new historical novel The Green Phoenix: A Novel of the Woman Who Re-made Asia, Empress Xiaozhuang, will take place on Wednesday, November 15 , 2017 at 6:30 p.m. at Bookazine, One Exchange Square (Shop 305-07), in Hong Kong. All are welcome! I will be signing books, chatting with readers and distributing beautiful bookmarks!

Whether you are a fan of Chinese history or not, chances are you will enjoy reading the colorful story of one of the most influential women in China’s history. Her efforts and ultimate victory at promoting peace and cultural diversity and tolerance in an afflicted China are significant not only in a historic sense, but are also an inspiration in our empathy-deficient times.

For readers’ easy reference, there is a complete List of Characters and a Chronology at the back of the novel. A physical book is much easier for flipping back and forth (versus an e-book). Plus you can get it signed by me at the book launch!

Looking forward to seeing you on November 15!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Book Review - "Passionate Minds" by David Bodanis

It was an educational read about Voltaire and Emilie du Chatelet, two French intellectuals who had a great impact on the French Enlightenment. Specifically, through their combined efforts, they enhanced understanding of Issac Newton’s optical and gravitational theories, as well as inspired critical thinking about philosophy and religion. I had previously read Candide by Voltaire and had always wanted to read more about his life. This book satisfied a great part of that curiosity. I had not previously heard of Emilie du Chatelet, and was glad to have learned such a lot about her contribution to the sciences and philosophy.

Apart from giving information about their intellectual influence on French society, the book also offered an intimate glimpse into the personal lives and love affair of these two distinguished individuals, and how they inspired each other to live up to their respective ideals.

The background is packed with historical details relating to social mores, French court politics, class distinction, religious dogma, discrimination against women and press censorship in pre-Revolution France.

This was a solid 4-star read for me.