May 29, 2007

Book Review: Murder with Peacocks by Donna Andrews

I wrote this in 1999 on the web, one of my first attempts at reviewing a book online. I identified myself simply as "A reader."

After seeing several articles by newspaper writers upset at web reviewers, I revisited my old posting, one of the first 10 or so of about 68 done by reviewers/readers at the same site on the mystery, Murder With Peacocks by Donna Andrews (1999).

Here it is.

"13 out of 15 people found the following review helpful:

A comedy of manners with peacocks (brides) - and a mystery.
July 5, 1999.

A delightful heroine, Meg, overworked, has amazing energy to organize three weddings for difficult brides-to-be, one of whom is her mother. In spite of a murder here and there and near-fatal "accidents," Meg tries to organize everything from fittings for gowns to addressing hundreds of invitations and even "renting" peacocks for her brother's wedding.

In between her hectic schedule, she tries to solve the murders as well, all the while hampered by demanding brides-to-be, relatives, an eccentric father and fatuous mother, and a host of zany characters. A fun book to read, as a mystery and as a comedy and good natured farce on weddings, their rituals, and the entanglements of a small town where almost everyone is related. Even the animals are fun - Duck, the Dog Spike, and of course, the peacocks.

The unraveling of the mystery leaves some questions unanswered, but it's fun getting all the way to the end."

Female mystery lovers who enjoy, or hate, weddings, you might enjoy reading this book.

May 27, 2007

May Showers. Spring Flowers, and Migrating Birds

My early summer garden is visited by birds and lots of squirrels, but also by critters that take the heads off some of my flowers!
In the garden early this morning, using new birding binoculars bought on International Migratory Bird Day at a local state park, I saw blue jays, robins with worms in their beaks, a cardinal preening on a really high television antenna, a young hawk, and a pigeon with its beige under-feathers ruffling in the wind.
I heard lovely warblers but couldn't find them among the thick leaves of surrounding oaks. The migrating songbirds are miniature in comparison to the larger robins and blue jays that stay in this area all year round.
In the garden, the rambling rosebush in the photo will be full of roses by the end of next week. The bleeding heart bush in the forefront has finished blooming, but the yellow-green ornamental euonymus bush behind it lasts all summer and into the winter. A hosta edged with yellow and a sedum plant peep out to the right of the bush.
Here are my new efforts at digital photography! Hope you enjoy the yellow-green colors of my late spring garden!
For some lovely and very artistic nature photos, see the site of photographer Blue Heron:

May 15, 2007

Literary blogs

Seems newspaper book reviewers are angry with bloggers invading their territory and writing online book reviews or simply making comments online about books.

Josh Getlin of the Los Angeles Times writes about the "Book Review Wars" and cites Michael Dirda, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book critic: "The book review section … remains the forum where new titles are taken seriously as works of art and argument, and not merely as opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting."

As a blogger who rants about books, shallowly or not, I wonder... if blogger comments are as bad as Dirda claims, then why should he be worried? Could it be he think readers are tired of the traditional book critic's own "grandstanding and overblown ranting" and want to hear more from people like themselves?

In any case, people from the "lit blogosphere" have responded to Dirda and started a virtual war of words between the lit bloggers and the newspaper book reviewers - via the web, of course.

According to the following article, they have come to a kind of truce and agreement that they can co-exist in the world of books, and share the readers. See the complete story from the Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2007:
Literary Blogs and the Critics

May 14, 2007

Book Review: Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis by Cara Black

Cara Black's mystery novels are each set in a different neighborhood of Paris. Her most recent in the series is Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis (2007).The main character in the series, Aimee Leduc, owns a detective agency with her business partner, Rene, a four-foot dwarf who is a computer whiz. They work mainly in computer security and together they provide systems administration, systems management, and computer security to businesses, government agencies, and whoever else can help pay their bills.

In the novels, Aimee gets caught up in the lives of the Parisians in the different quarters of the city - the young and the old, immigrants and long time residents, people who remember the war and the lives changed by the war. As she solves crime after crime in the city, she also uncovers old secrets and ghosts, stories of guilt and grief, love and hope. Paris is steeped in history and its old buildings, even the underground sewers and tunnels, the river Seine, the cobbled streets all work their way into her interesting and original plots.

I've read all the books in the series and have listed them all below as I was impressed with the story line, the characters, and the novels' strong sense of place.

(Did I forget to mention that the main character has a bichon frise like mine? Aimee's dog is named Miles Davis, after the jazz musician. Mine is called Harvey though my sons named him Double-Oh-Seven James Bichon.)

Cara Black lives in San Francisco but travels often to Paris. and is working on her next Aimee Leduc mystery, which is probably also set in Paris. The title of each of her previous novels indicate the area of the city in which her plot is centered: Murder in Montmartre (2006), Murder in Clichy, Murder in the Bastille, Murder in the Sentier (nominated for the Anthony Award, 2003), Murder in Belleville, and her first, Murder in the Marais (1999).

Here's an interview with Cara Black done by crime writer, Peter Lovesey, for mystery's At Home Online. See

Cara Black in turn interviews Shanghai native and mystery writer, Qiu Xiaolong, author of the Chief Inspector Chen Cao series, Death of a Red Heroine and A Loyal Characer Dancer. See


May 9, 2007

Hello, Dalai Lama

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for LivingThe Dalai Lama was in a light hearted mood on that warm and sunny afternoon in Chicago, when he spoke before a crowd of about 11,000 people who had bought lawn tickets to see, or rather hear him speak, at Millenium Park in Chicago on May 6.

He joked about his meeting in the 1950s with Chairman Mao, who gave him "permission" to fly the Tibetan flag in a Chinese-occupied Tibet. He acknowledged that some of the crowd in the park were there to satisfy their curiousity about the Dalai Lama. He told them he was there to speak to them as a person, implying he was not addressing them as Tibet's 14th Manifestation of the Buddha, but as another man.

The casual and light-hearted atmosphere of the day was evident too among some of the people there to protect him. The African-American city employee who was there to tell the crowd what they could and could not take into the park also gleefully announced, "No marijuana! The Dalai Lama does not want to smell marijuana!"
When he focused on his topic, "Finding Inner Peace in a World Full of Turmoil." the Dalai Lama spoke of the need for compassion and for diluting anger by turning it into something more contemplative and analytical.

Here's a Chicago lawyer's point of view. See the link below.

May 2, 2007

Book Review: Girl in a Box by Sujata Massey

Another side of Tokyo?

Try reading Sujata Massey, whose mystery series is set in modern Japan.

Her most recent book, Girl in a Box, reveals the shopping culture and shopping habits of Japanese and expatriates alike, and the sales organization of ritzy Tokyo department stores. Of course, because this is a mystery novel about big business, the yakuza (gangsters) are involved in the plot, as are a shady American or two.

The sales culture, the relationship between managers and staff, and staff and customers, all point to the enormous efforts made to please clients.

On another note, there is a visit to a hot springs resort in the north, where the store managers go for a business conference, and so we also learn about public baths and bathing "etiquette."

Other novels in the series delve into the world of Japanese arts, folk culture, antiques, and religion. We see Japan while following the exploits of the main character, Rei Shimura - English teacher, aficionada of Japanese folk arts, antiques dealer, and sometime spy. She is also a haafu (half Japanese), with close relatives in both Japan and America, which gives her insight into both cultures. She appears in The Flower Master, The Bride's Kimono, Zen Attitude, and The Typhoon Lover, among others written by Sujata Massey.

Sujata Massey herself is part Indian and part German, but grew up in California. She spent many years in Japan teaching English and studying Japanese and says that, in Japan, she feels more at home than in India.

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