Tea and Tea Set by Li Hong

“There is something in the nature of tea that leads us into a world of quiet contemplation of life.”
-Lin Yutang

4/5 stars
Paperback, 159 pages.
Read from May 28, 2018 to June 1, 2018.

Buying a book spur of the moment is one of life’s greatest pleasures. After I swore off buying new books when I moved abroad I altered the rules a little bit to acquire this book under the guise that it was a souvenir. 30140894 I have always had a love of tea and have enjoyed learning about it. Admittedly, there is much more to tea, its history, growth, preparation and drinking than I anticipated so I still have a lot more reading to do.

I picked up this book while I was visiting one of my favourite places in Hong Kong, the Nan Lian Garden which is located parallel to the Chi Lin Nunnery. Within the gardens, there is a teahouse, Song Cha Xie, that is donned in traditional Tang dynasty style architecture and is set within the middle of the beautiful gardens.

After removing my shoes and slipping on some sandals, I was whisked away into the tranquil environment of the teahouse where I was able to choose from a variety of traditional Chinese teas. I settled on a 20-year old pu-reh, my favourite type of tea.  I was shown how to make the tea properly with a proper Chinese tea set and inquisitively asked about all the different tea-tools at the table. Even though I was at the Nan Lian Gardens on a writing assignment, I had always wanted to visit the teahouse, despite the steep (no pun intended) prices, and decided to venture in and find a way to include the visit in my piece.

After a few utterly delightful hours of drinking tea on my own with nothing but silence around me, I regretfully had to leave. On the way out was when I spotted this book. I knew I had to have it after my great experience in the tea house. Prime marketing right? There were two other books to choose from by the same author, one on pu-reh and the other on green tea, but I didn’t dally on the decision long before walking out with this book. I wish I had all three, perhaps I will go back and get the one on pu-reh…

The book details the brief history of tea, the different types of tea, where they’re grown as well as descriptions of their taste and colour. The final chapter is dedicated to different types of tea sets, their best use and their history.  Even though this book is short, the content is concise and interesting. It also has fantastic accompanying images that really bring life to the book.  I have read much larger books on tea but found myself inundated with too much knowledge all at once whereas this book was concise and to the point and is easy to look back and reference. By far, this has been the most straightforward and enjoyable book on tea I have read so far and one that I am sure I will use again when I have more inquisitions.

This book is a perfect introductory piece for tea and tea knowledge. There is a selection of the author’s works on Amazon, so if you are tea lover I would definitely recommend snagging a copy for your library, coffee table, tea room or kitchen.

Want to know more about the Nan Lian Gardens or the Chi Lin Nunnery? Check out the piece I wrote for Sassy Mama Hong Kong.

Barney’s Version by Mordecai Richler

“In a nutshell, I am not unaware of my failings. Neither am I a stranger to irony.”

4/5 stars.
ebook, 379 pages.
Read from May 11, 2018 to May 17, 2018.

Forget The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz this is the novel that Richler should be best known for.

Barney Panofsky is the type of man that takes a no-nonsense approach to life and relishes in the absurdity that it often brings. Barney has been married three times, the last one whom he considers the love of his life and has lost due to his own poor choices. After being accused by his sworn enemy of being a wife-abuser, fraud and a murderer, Barney is compelled to write his own memoir to set the record straight, which what you are reading. The problem is that Barney’s memory is deteriorating and isn’t quite what it use to be. Who is telling the real truth about Barney?

This is a unique story of friendship and love through the eyes of an imperfect man. You could almost call this book a murder-mystery as the event of Barney’s friend’s death is constantly up for discussion in the book. The ending also offers a jaw-dropping conclusion, which I won’t spoil.

In comparison to The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, I enjoy this novel the most. I found Barney to be much more agreeable. I should also add that Duddy makes an appearance in this novel. As a reader, it was easier to sympathize with Barney’s choices, albeit even the poor ones, whereas I found myself shaking my head more than once at Duddy’s actions and lack of morals. Barney has morals and is a man that is intensely dedicated to the people that matter to him. He still makes stupid choices with the people he loves but at least his moral compass is straight. Additionally, Barney has a canny sense of honesty and humour about him that Duddy lacked.

“But I hate being a grandfather. It’s indecent. In my mind’s eye, I’m still twenty-five. Thirty-three max. Certainly not sixty-seven, reeking of decay and dashed hopes. My breath sour. My limbs in dire need of a lube job. And now that I’ve been blessed with a plastic hip-socket replacement, I’m no longer even biodegradable. Environmentalists will protest my burial.”

Be sure you read the footnotes for some added humour and clarifications. They are footnotes that Barney’s son adds that really expand on the story and Barney’s character.  Apparently, parts of Richler’s life were an inspiration for his book. Like the fact that Richler met and fell in love with his second wife during the wedding to his first wife, similar to Barney. I would like to imagine that Richler was a lot like Barney and that this is why he is such a readable and strangely likeable character.

Despite Barney’s blunt character and obvious faults, this book is actually highly moving and emotional. Barney becomes that obnoxious friend that you somehow don’t want to part with and miss the energy they bring when they are not around. You mourn Barney’s losses as if he were truly your own friend and are sad to part with him at the end of the novel.

While I enjoyed this book more than Duddy’s story, I would still recommend reading both and to read Duddy’s story first as it technically comes before this novel. I would say that this book is also a necessary read for anyone from Montreal or Canada. Richler paints an intriguing version of the iconic city that would appeal to both French and non-French Canadians. Overall, this is a witty, enjoyable and grabbing story sure to captivate the most imperfect of us.

 

The Hundred Names of Darkness by Nilanjana Roy

The sequel and conclusion to a unique story of a group of cats in India.

4/5 stars.
ebook, 290 pages.
Read from May 8, 2018 to May 11, 2018.

Cat lovers, if you have not come across this author and her work, you need to. It is thanks to this book that I found my way out a very deep book-rut.  I am sad to see this delightful story come to an end but I guess nothing good lasts forever. This book picks up exactly where the previous book, The Wildlingsleft off so if you have not read the first book, stop right now and go and get your hands on a copy!

Set in the sprawling streets of India, you are reunited with the main characters, our felines friends, Mara, Southpaw, Katar, Hulo and Beraal.

Thewildings4
Image from the India Bookstore.

The group is still recovering from their fight with the ferals and some drastic changes to their neighbourhood. Food is becoming scarce and the group is starving. Mara, still living with her ‘bigfeet’ (humans) is blissfully unaware of the group’s situation and has not stepped up to be their sender out fear of the outside world and the hatred she still feels from some of the other cats.  However, a frightening event at Mara’s home forces her into the outside world where she comes to learn and appreciate what it is to be an outside cat. Meanwhile, Southpaw has found himself in dire trouble and is suffering from a life-threatening injury. In desperation, the group leaves him with Mara’s ‘bigfeet’ in hopes that they will take care of him but at the time Mara was already missing from her home.  By the time Mara finds the group, no one knows the outcome of Southpaw’s fate.  In order to help her friends, Mara needs to find a way to have the other cats accept her and take on the responsibility of being their sender.

This book concludes with the hopeful ending you are expecting but that doesn’t make the rest of the story any less exciting. While not quite as action-packed as the first novel, this novel focuses more on Mara’s inner dynamics and struggles into becoming who she is meant to be. Mara has grown older and is no longer a kitten. With the help of some new friends and enemies of a variety of different species, you follow Mara on her final journey to becoming the sender of Nizamuddin.

If you are looking for an easy read with some very unique and likeable characters, even if you don’t like cats, you will still appreciate this entertaining story.