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Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion

Asian Waters: The Struggle Over the South China Sea and the Strategy of Chinese Expansion by [Humphrey Hawksley]

Humphrey Hawksley’s journalistic career, when paired with his fiction-writing expertise, make for excellent non-fiction writing. Asian Waters is a really comprehensive and digestible read, despite its extremely weighty content. Hawksley’s tone and choice of language remains simple yet informative throughout, despite becoming increasingly complex in terms of content matter. Hawksley also manages to maintain a sense of pace and excitement with his writing, as if it were a novel rather than a non-fiction guide, especially when delving into and combing through actual history, geography and social science.

Though there is a hefty scope to cover when it comes to the Asia-Pacific conflict, the South China Sea, Chinese expansion and the territory dispute associated, Asian Waters covers everything you would want to know about the topic without it feeling as if you are being overloaded with information.

You may be tempted to read it as an almanac for the specialist topic it covers, or perhaps as an academic accompaniment, but it also doubles up as a travel book and is arguably best consumed in this way. Asian Waters was fascinating in itself, just for my own interest’s sake, so I imagine that it  would be particularly enlightening to consume whilst travelling the very area it covers.

The focus on political tension between the countries of the Asia-Pacific is unpacked with great skill and tastefulness, but without wavering on the hardy facts. This is where Hawksley’s experience as a BBC foreign correspondent is most prominent – his understanding of the dynamics at play remains at the forefront of his writing.

Asian Waters is not simply a retelling of the history and politics which have been at play for years, or solely the facts and information which led to the current situation. There is also vital contextualisation that allows the reader to understand where these issues sit at the time of reading, understanding how a Trumpian government impacts the conflicts, or how the relationship between Moscow and Beijing influence the rest of the world.

Asian Waters connects all the branches of knowledge and intellect to give a clear retelling of the reality, including social influence, historical action which has taken place, and the geographical layout that facilitates as much. As well as clarifying the past and contextualising the present, it focuses on the future. The book predicts how the implications of what has happened and is happening will affect what is to come for Asia.

Pages: 304 | ASIN: B07MXDFQK1

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Mandarin Ducks

Mandarin Ducks: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book Two by [Campbell, Robert]

In the year 1630, in Hangzhou, China, two families were getting set to join with the marriage of Li Bing and Xiaoyun Wang. Marriage is taken very seriously and there are many traditions that must be observed in order to ensure a prosperous marriage to the couple. Li Bing is the city’s celebrity of sorts as he prepares to take the exams to become an important civil servant for the city. This causes his father to receive many gifts and accolades, as well as resentment. Vice-perfect Wang Zhengqian, father of Xiaoyun, plots to ruin Li Bing’s father, the other vice-perfect Li Gao. Wang is power hungry and wants nothing more than to gain all he can, and cares little who he hurts in the process, his own family included.

Mandarin Ducks is the second book in a trilogy by Robert Campbell. The first novel gives you more background of this community and some the characters so I recommend reading that first, but it’s not required as this book can stand on it’s own. Taking place in the 1600’s of China, it talks about how some of the inhabitants have roots in Jewish culture, and how they have to keep that hidden away. Li Bing has a deep interest in discovering his heritage and Jewish roots but must go in secret to learn more about his past. His grandfather helps him some but is growing old quickly and Li Bing is worried all the past knowledge will be lost. There is a lot of focus on class and the nuances that each rung of society has to observe. I enjoyed reading about how the different classes interacted, and as the story line developed I grew more invested as things become more intricate and layered. The novel has a slow start and builds at a steady pace that never feels rushed and allows you to grow attached to the main characters involved in the plot. The side story of Li Bing learning about his Jewish roots mixed into the scandal between the vice-perfects was well placed and fit seamlessly into things, nothing felt like added filler, everything seemed important to the progression of the story.

I really enjoyed Robert Campbell’s style of writing. The prose is clean and the story is focused. The story expertly builds suspense and develops the characters in a way that you either love or hate them. There is real history encased in the story, making things more believable, and adding extra depth to the plot. I look forward to reading the next installment of this series.

Pages: 133 | ASIN: B07G7GV256

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Intrigue and Chaos

Juliann Troi Author Interview

Juliann Troi Author Interview

The Dragon of Hidden Treasures follows Kathryn and Ty through the perils of 1900’s China as they seek their dream. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing novel?

I’ve been a student of Chinese history for more than thirty years, though my interest was mainly ancient China. One night in 1996 I had a fantastic dream about a foreign woman captured by a warlord. It was just a thread and probably inspired by something I’d read in passing, but it stuck. I wasn’t really a writer then and certainly not interested in Republican Era China (1911-1949) but I just couldn’t forget the dream. I started focusing my studies on the period and got totally sucked in. There was so much intrigue and chaos during that time, I had no trouble taking that thread of a dream and turning it into a thrilling series full of twists and turns, some based on actual historical events.

Kathryn is a unique character that I enjoyed watching develop through the story. What were some ideas you wanted to capture in her character?

There wasn’t just upheaval in China during the 1920’s. The whole world was changing. In Kathryn, I saw a chance to show the evolution of women: from having no rights, no voice or even choices, to challenging the established system on every level with the hope of changing things for the better. There were women like Kathryn then, courageous pioneers who dared to dream big and rise above their lot in life. They laid the foundation for the rights and freedom today’s women enjoy.

I felt like this was a story about empowerment and pursuing your dreams. What were some themes you wanted to explore in this book?

I had two main themes in mind for this story: put aside prejudice and dare to strive for your dreams. Dreams are important. They give us hope, and without hope, we will literally shrivel up and die. For a variety of reasons, we can put ourselves in a box and be held prisoner by ‘can’t’ or ‘impossible’. It’s difficult and often painful, but I believe if you’re willing to work hard and make the necessary sacrifices, you can break out of the box and achieve your dreams.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I’m currently working on Sunrise In Kweilin, Book 2 of the ‘Hidden Treasures’ saga. It’s set to be released in February 2019.

Author Links: GoodReads | Facebook

The Dragon of Hidden Treasures: Book 1 by [Troi, Juliann]

China, 1923: In an ancient land battling for its very existence, violence and chaos reign supreme. Amidst the devastating aftermath of a revolution that toppled the divine Imperial system and left the once glorious Empire torn and bleeding, ruthless warlords have claimed dominion. Political intrigue and betrayal are the only rulers now.

In the wrong place at the wrong time, Kathryn Kidwell is captured during an invasion of Canton by the warlord, Cheng Jiong. Recognizing the folly of allowing the only daughter of a powerful American trade lord to be cold-bloodedly murdered, Ty Wang must make an impossible choice: to save Kathryn will cost him his life, but to let her die could mean the death of his beloved homeland.

The Dragon of Hidden Treasures, Book 1 is the first chapter in the electrifying saga of Ty and Kathryn’s desperate struggle to stay alive and stop a war that would blow China to pieces. Bound together by a love as strong as it is forbidden, their efforts could ultimately change the fate of a nation…and destroy them both.

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Kaifeng Chronicles

Robert Campbell Author Interview

Robert Campbell Author Interview

18 Cranes follows a young boy as he prepares for an important civil servant exam while being tormented by nightmares. What was the inspiration for the setup to this intriguing story?

The story was inspired by my own journey of learning about China, first through teaching Chinese students in Canada, and then through my eye-opening experience teaching and traveling in China.

Bing is an interesting character that continued to gain depth as the story progressed. What were some driving ideals behind his character?

Bing is a composite character, reflecting some the attitudes and behaviors I’ve observed in my Chinese students, but also embodying elements of historical and fictional persons I’ve read about.

This story takes place during the summer of 1630 in China. Why did you choose this time and place for your story?

The story takes place in the final years of the Ming dynasty, culminating in a monumental and highly consequential event that takes place in the city of Kaifeng in 1642. By starting in 1630, I’m building the necessary background for readers to understand the significance of the event when it takes place.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

18 Cranes is the first in a series of nine novellas, collectively known as, Kaifeng Chronicles. The second book, Mandarin Ducks, has been available for the past few months. The third book, Grand Canal, is scheduled for release in late January 2019.

Author Links: Website | Twitter

18 Cranes: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book One by [Campbell, Robert]In the late summer of 1630, 23-year old Li Bing writes the provincial level imperial examinations, the first step towards entering the Chinese civil service. He is tormented by a dream of 18 cranes, and as he awaits his exam results he seeks out insights from those around him to help him understand his dream. In the end, he learns more than he imagined.

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The Dragon of Hidden Treasures

The Dragon of Hidden Treasures: Book 1 by [Troi, Juliann]

Kathryn is faced with giving up her dream of being an independent professional woman and putting to use her education in her father’s company, and Ty is a man trapped in a job for the Chinese warlord, Cheng Jiong, wanting nothing more than to be with Kathryn. The ties that bind him, however, may be stronger than he thinks. When Kathryn is kidnapped and Ty finds himself part of the plot to use Kathryn’s position as leverage, Ty and Kathryn strike up an unusual alliance which leaves both of them in danger and both with more to lose than they could ever realize.

I do not know exactly what I expected as I began to read of Kathryn’s education and her father’s plan to marry her off to a man she did not know, but I know this much: Juliann Troi’s writing in The Dragon of Hidden Treasures Book 1 is simply beautiful. When an author writes so fluently in the language of imagery that it makes you forget where you are and who is around you, you know you have met the best of the best.

Kathryn is a force with which to be reckoned. She is beyond her time and is as cunning a character as I have seen in a while. Right out of the gate, Troi had me rooting for Kathryn to overpower her father with her obvious common sense and business savvy. She is a true testament to the fact that women have, for decades, been a force in business whether they were allowed to have their names attached to their work or not. She exemplifies every strong woman striving to be heard and seen in a man’s world.

The budding relationship between Kathryn and Ty is enviable. His love for her is clear from the first words he speaks of her. Though the “stalker-esque” behavior at the outset is a little unsettling, it plays well into the plot and is less of an issue when the reader sees their destiny play out. Again, Troi is an artful writer–plain and simple–making the most basic of actions flow beautifully across the page.

Revelations are an important part of Troi’s writing. As Kathryn and Ty’s story progresses, Kathryn is stunned by Ty’s admissions about his family. Without giving anything away, I can say that I was just as surprised as the key character. Ty has been down quite a harrowing road, and that experience lends itself well to Troi’s plot and is a vital part of the character development. Troi does not lay all her cards on the table and is a master at throwing the reader for the proverbial loop.

Juliann Troi’s historical fiction is an all too accurate portrayal of the struggle women have faced to be heard and to take part in the biggest decisions in business dealings throughout history. Interspersed throughout the romantic tones of the book are tidbits of China’s history peppered with glances into the horrors of war. I look forward to Book 2!

Pages: 584 | ASIN: B079XX8BZM

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An Interesting Psychology

Igor Valec Author Interview

Igor Valec Author Interview

Damnation is a thrilling dark fantasy novel that follows King Lortar as he finds himself surrounded by enemies. What was the inspiration for the setup to this novel?

Loosely, the Warring States period of ancient China.

Asuf was an intriguing character that I enjoyed following. Your book is filled with interesting characters, who was your favorite character to write for?

Princess Alerise. She has an interesting psychology and fun dialogue. Plus I have a thing for tomgirls, villainesses, and blondes, and Alerise just so happens to tick all those boxes.

The characters inhabit a world with a rich backstory. How did you create the backstory for this world and what were some themes you wanted to capture?

From the ground up. First the geography, then the ecology, then the peoples and their cultures, then their histories.

As for themes, I wanted to show a harsh people bred by a cruel and uncaring world—but more importantly, I wanted to show how kindness, however small, can exist even in a world that punishes the kind.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

The sequel to this book will most likely be available sometime in 2021.

Author Links: Website | Twitter

Damnation: A Grimdark Fantasy Political Drama by [Valec, Igor]An Empire fallen. A kingdom beset. A family divided. When King Lortar discovers a savage cult performing heathen rites, he’s forced to battle a foe he never imagined: his own son. Surrounded by enemies, Lortar is trapped in a world of treachery and betrayal, where mercy is vice and malice is glory.

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18 Cranes: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book One

18 Cranes: Kaifeng Chronicles, Book One by [Campbell, Robert]

For most of his life, Bing has prepared ceaselessly to take the civil servant examinations, with little time for anything beyond the collections of texts that dictate political matters. Passing the exams would be the first step in following his father’s path, and also determine nearly everything else about his future. Finally, the day to begin them has arrived, and Bing faces the grueling challenges before him with understandable anxiety, but also a necessary determination. Outside of the exam compound, however, his focus is frequently drawn to a mysterious dream that recurs almost nightly, as well as a glimpse into history from his beloved grandfather.

In 18 Cranes by Robert Campbell, we’re introduced to Bing, his loved ones, and some of the traditions of village life in 17th century China. With an engaging narrative and colorful descriptions of Bing’s world, 18 Cranes does an excellent job of holding the reader’s attention, even while discussing a subject as mundane as civil servant exams. Despite a lack of any real action, the story never seems stagnant. Of course, there’s more going on than just rigorous testing. Bing is also suddenly plagued by a recurring dream, the meaning of which eludes him. The reader learns a lot about Bing and his relationships with his loved ones over the course of several expertly crafted conversations that examine each part of the dream, which always ends with 18 red-crested cranes ascending into the sky. The number 18 in particular holds special intrigue and multiple explanations are suggested for its meaning. To further the feeling of mystery, toward the end of the story, Grandfather Ai begins to tell Bing about the origins of their family. The short oral history is enough to stoke Bing’s stifled imagination. Restricted by his strict studies, Bing has never had the opportunity to read many legends or works of fiction and his curiosity, although kept under control, nonetheless exists. Grandfather Ai’s revelations also provide an interesting twist for the reader.

The uncertainty of the future is an overarching theme throughout the book and is explored through both tangible avenues, like Bing’s performance in the exams, as well as in deciphering the symbolism of his dream. There is also a considerable emphasis placed on Bing’s age, with repeated mentions that he could be one of the youngest people to ever pass the exams on the first try. Because of this, it reads a good bit like a coming of age story.

18 Cranes is subtitled “Kaifeng Chronicles Book One”, in reference to the village that Bing’s maternal ancestors came from. I’d be excited to read the rest of the series and follow Bing further through the avenues of his life. The abundance of detailed descriptions make it easy to picture the aspects of Bing’s village life, from the shores of West Lake to the flowers in the gardens. This book is an interesting and well written story that moves at a good pace.

Pages: 123 | ASIN: B07C8LC32H

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Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet

Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet by [Martek, Igor]

Dreaming on an Arabian Carpet, by Igor Martek, follows the trials and tribulations of Ricky, a man facing one dilemma after another in his life in the Middle East. Ricky is a Filipino man making his way in Kuwait and struggling to come to terms with his career demands while taming the turmoil that is his love life. When Breeze, his girlfriend from China, is not in the picture, Ricky is coping with a love lost with Leoni. The on-and-off love triangle that looms over Ricky leaves him contemplating his life choices and provides readers with a character who is philosophical, introspective, and, at times, a bit morbid.

Ricky often finds himself at odds with his own desires. As a character, he is trusting–far too trusting, in fact. Over the course of the book, he runs the gamut of emotions. He finds himself contemplating religious expectations, the course of his career, and the real reasons he may or may not belong with Breeze.

I found myself hard-pressed to like Breeze; it was a real struggle. As a reader, I wanted desperately for Ricky to find himself, find a way to cope with Breeze’s flighty nature, and realize her true intentions. The author does a wonderful job of keeping frustration levels high in that respect. If anything, Breeze is true-to-life. There is no fairy tale resolution where she is concerned. The relationship between Ricky and Breeze runs hot and cold, and I felt myself quickly realizing that Ricky could do much better than Breeze. Her tendency to talk down to him and to leave him wondering where he stands left me disconcerted and hurting for him.

As much disdain as I held for Breeze, I may have disliked Leoni even more. She, too, comes in and out of Ricky’s life with little or no warning and shakes up his emotions, his intentions, and his choices. Leoni seems to use Ricky to stroke her own ego and comfort herself following each of her subsequent divorces. Martek has created quite the triangle with Leoni, Breeze, and Ricky. Ricky spends a lot of time recounting his past experiences with both women, and the story tends to bounce back and forth fairly randomly.

Martek paints beautiful pictures of his settings. His vivid details in scenery and the cuisines of each of the cultures depicted are quite appealing and provide fantastic visuals as the reader watches the story unfold. In addition, the author includes history lessons throughout Ricky’s story.

Martek is an eloquent writer of fiction and is more than capable of writing in the romance genre. While Martek has woven an intricate tale that immerses the reader in culture, drama, and clings to intense and realistic personal relationships, it does lack humor. The serious nature of the story doesn’t lend itself well to overtly comedic moments, but the overall tone seems too sober. Well-placed, light-hearted moments would be a welcome addition to the story line.

Pages: 173 | ASIN: B0771PDS4G

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