Dec 29, 2008

Book Review: Peace and Love by Fulford Chin Choy

"More importantly, a love for life is one way to bring closure to the grieving for another. May there be peace in your life as well as your future." (p. 39)
Title: Peace and Love
Author: Fulford Chin Choy
Paperback: 264 pages
Publisher: BookSurge Publishing (January 14, 2008)
Genre: Inspirational, self-help

Book description:
"To change within, particularly for the better, takes more than a wish. True, the process starts with a volition but thereafter, it ordinarily will take determination, focus and a willing heart. Journey alongside a personal reflection on the influence of others while growing up. Then consider what it takes to change and how the seven deadly sins can sway your impulsive actions and emotional reactions. Contemplate counteractions and self control. With the insight gained, peace of mind likely can be had with one employing the heart, the mind and the will to do so."

A new self-help/inspirational book by Fulford Chin Choy of Canada was about 15 years in the making. Click on the book title for more details.

A March 16, 2008 review of the book on by Tenny S. F. of Honolulu states

"Fulford's book is an abundance of insights into what propels the human spirit. His deep reflection on some of the causes and simple cures for what ails and motivates everyone of us is unparalleled. A must read for any serious thinker who is interested in self growth and development. The array of insightful tips enables one to adapt to almost any condition with inner peace. A handy reference material for a changing world that will be revisited time and time again."

Dec 6, 2008

Book Review: Salmonella Men on Planet Porno by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Salmonella Men on Planet Porno the first book by prize-winning author Yasutaka Tsutsui that has been translated into English for an American audience. Published November 4, 2008 by Pantheon.

This is a collection of short stories that delve into conformity, individual craziness, and the fluidity between reality and the world of dreams. Two stories deal with men rejecting family intimacy and another examines people following their society's norms like unthinking automatons.

There are 13 stories in this 2008 book. Yatsutaka Tsutsui has won prizes in his native Japan and named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government.

Nov 12, 2008

Book Review: Real World by Natsuo Kirino

Title: Real World by Natsuo Kirino
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Knopf (July 15, 2008)

How would you react to a writer who names her books Grotesque and Out? I read the latter some time ago and found it so fascinating, I readily picked up Real World, (by Natsuo Kirino of Tokyo) when I found it on the New Releases shelf at the library.

Out portrayed the lives of a group of women harassed at work and/or at home in a male dominated society. They support each other through thick and thin in an "unholy" alliance of women. They get even, as I remember it, and cover for one another.

This new book, Real World, is about four teenage girls who suspect a local boy of committing a murder and are curious enough about him that they go out of their way to befriend him. Two are bored with their humdrum lives and want to be part of a new "adventure," so they befriend the boy, helping him in his escape. This in spite of the fact that the murder is of his own mother.

One of the girls gives him her bike and a new cell phone. Another takes the train to join him for a time while he runs from the authorities, paying for a cheap hotel where he can take a bath and get some sleep. A third is coerced into writing a "story or poem" of confession for him, which he wants to carry around in case he is ever caught by the police and has to answer to them. They all carry on conversations with the boy by cell phone.

The boy fantasizes that he is the Japanese soldier he saw in a film in grade school, a soldier being beaten and stabbed by an old Filipino woman and a man, evidently as a revenge for the Japanese occupation during WWII. This image seems to haunt him, and he sees his own demanding and nagging mother as the Filipino woman.

The four teenage girls who are curious about the boy and the 17 year old boy himself try to escape the reality of their lives, humdrum or horrific. They feel that what people see on the outside is different from what they are.

Real World is another noir novel by Kirino, this time about teens facing the consequences of the decisions they make.
***** Five stars for this novel!

Nov 11, 2008

Medusa: The Beginning by Kathi Harris

Kathi Harris's Medusa: The Beginning is a sci-fi novel published in 2007. It describes the rise of an African-American to the presidency of the United States in the middle of troubled times.

"Many of you have already accepted the fact that I am African American and realize my color makes no difference in my ability to lead or to inspire..."

The preceding is an excerpt from the novel, part of the president's acceptance speech.

The author is truly excited that her book has been so predictive of what has happened in America in 2008. To see more of the speech and learn more about her book, visit Kathi Harris's Book Corner, Lake Tales
or Lark Song

YOUR VIEWS: Does Obama's win change people's perception of race?

Nov 2, 2008

Book review; A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa by Nicholas Drayson is a clever way to write about Kenya and politics and its expatriates, British and Indian. In spite of the title, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa is actually a novel, with sketches and the names of dozens of birds in Kenya.

The story centers around a widower, Mr. Malik, who owns his own business but takes time off weekly to visit AIDS patients in a hospital and to attend the Tuesday bird walks led by a widow, Rose Mbikwa. Mr. Malik wants to ask Rose to the Nairobi Hunt Club Ball, but when another member of the Asadi Club, Harry Khan, expresses his interest in the lady as well, the club members decide the two men should have a competition to determine who should ask Rose to the ball.

The competition involves bird watching and making a list of the different species of birds they see within a set period of time. The winner will be the one that sees the most birds of different species. While Harry enlists the help of two Australian birders and hops on planes to fly remote parts of Kenya that have the most unusual birds, Malik remains close to his business and counts birds in his garden, at the Botanical Garden and the arboretum in the city, and the area around the sewage plant. He does make a car trip away from the city, to the home of a young man in his employ, which adds a lot to his list of bird sightings.

For Malik, the competition is more eventful than for Harry. Malik's car is stolen at the arboretum, and after he recovers it, he is waylaid in the bush by two Somalis intent on capturing his young employee Benjamin for conscription into their army. Malik escapes by leaving his car and hiding in a cave.
One more worry for Malik - the notebook in his stolen car. Not only does it have the list of birds he has seen, it also has compromising notes on the political characters he satirizes weekly in a newspaper column - which he writes anonymously.

Harry also his share of adventure - he is arrested by soldiers while birding at night too close to a military compound. In the end, does it all work our for Malik, the book's obvious hero? Does he win the competition, stay out of jail?

The book has been sold, evidently, in eight countries. I enjoyed reading it.

Oct 26, 2008

Book Review: Death Swatch by Laura Childs

Death Swatch: A Scrapbooking Mystery #6 by Laura Childs, published Sept. 2, 2008; Berkley

A scrapbooking mystery by Laura Childs is my latest find. I have enjoyed several of the mystery novels in the series and am getting some ideas for showing family photos from the book, Death Swatch (Sept. 2008) I'm also finding out a lot about New Orleans culture and couture, past and present, about the pirate Jean Lafitte and buried treasure near New Orleans (fictional and legendary), Mardi Gras parties, and of course ways to spend time and money making your memories with scrapbooks and "memory" books.

Don't look for realism - just plain New Orleans fun mixed in with murder and mayhem. In Death Swatch, the main character witnesses the death of a party goer and is not at all traumatized. She goes about her sleuthing, her scrapbooking, and party going with so much aplomb. Of course, this is meant to be a "cozy" mystery and meant to be read just for fun.

Oct 19, 2008

Book Review: Expresso Shot by Cleo Coyle

Espresso Shot by Cleo Coyle, seventh in the series, published September 30, 2008. Set in Greenwich village, NYC.

Clare Cosi and her ex-husband Matt jointly run an upscale coffeeshop in Manhattan. Matt's about to remarry and begs Clare to stay close to his fiancee, who might be in danger from unknown persons. Clare herself is involved with a policeman, Mike, so she doesn't mind that much though it keeps her from managing her coffeeshop.

Lots of coffee talk in this novel. Mochaccino - espresso with chocolate syrup, steamed milk, foam, topped with whipped cream. Doppio expresso - double shot of espresso. Hazelnut-toffee latte with foam. Macchiato - espresso dotted with a spoonful of foamed milk.

Don't think I've heard of those much.

Oct 12, 2008

Beethoven's Symphony No. 8

I'm not a classical music aficionado but can say I am now a big fan of Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93. Having never heard this symphony before, I didn't know what to expect at a concert I attended last night, but the guest conductor Scott Yoo brought the music to life with his lively movements. Watching him conduct definitely helped me understand and appreciate the music.

The 8th symphony is described as one with "rough, boisterous humor," with no slow movements. And so it was, delightful in the way it carried the musical theme, bouncing it around like a ball, from one section of the orchestra to the other, and then expanding it to the entire orchestra.

Mozart's Brandenburg Concerto 9 No. 4 in G Major I enjoyed immensely as well, but in a different way. It was so soothing that it lulled me to sleep. I can recommend it to anyone who needs music for relaxation, and even as a lullaby. It may be however, that the pianist played somewhat hesitantly and not with the kind of vigor that might have kept me from being totally relaxed.

Sep 21, 2008

Exotic settings

More books on the desk, books with a foreign setting:

Folly du Jour by Barbara Cleverly, a Joe Sandilands Mystery, 2008. It's springtime in Paris, described as the Jazz capital of Europe, and mischief is afoot.

Deadline in Athens, by Petros Markaris, translated from the Green by David Connolly, 2004. An Inspector Costas Haritas mystery, a series written in Greek and set in Athens, about Albanian immigrants in the land of sun, shrimp, and calamari. I'm enjoying this new book but, alas and alack, I don't see that any others in the series have been translated.

The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters, set in... you guessed it... Egypt of course. This time thought there is no Amelia Peabody and her brood to brood over along the Nile or among the pyramids. In this book, Peters sets her other heroine, Vicky Bliss, in Amelia's territory, the Valley of the Kings. Art and artifact thieves. Another mystery.

Did I mention the non-mystery books about birds in East Africa and gardens in Peking/Beijing during the 1900s Boxer Rebellion? Armchair sleuthing and armchair travel can be pretty exciting!

Sep 20, 2008

Friendship Walls in a Chinese Garden

A funny thing about leafing through that 1926 novel set in China by Louise Jordan Miln, It Happened in Peking, I came upon a description, one of many, of Chinese gardens. Seems an old custom is to have a "friendship wall" in the garden usually made of bamboo - one that visitors and guests can write on, leaving their names or comments. I thought of the Chinese American architect Maya Lin's wall, with all it names, in commemoration. The Vietnam wall in Washington, of course. Wondered if the old Chinese friendship wall in the garden was an inspiration for Maya Lin.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a novel by Mark Haddon is about an autistic boy who decides to find out who killed a neighbor's dog. It tries to show the world through the eyes of this autistic boy, how he processes information and how he reacts to other people. It's a mystery novel, though.

Tried to finish Norway to Hide, a mystery by Mady Hunter set in Scandinavia, but scanned to the end to find out whodunit instead of reading it through. Too many attempts at humor by the author that fell flat. The book lacks the wit of truly funny writers such as Tamar Myers.

Sep 4, 2008

As the World Churns

I have Tamar Myers' Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery, As the World Churns, at my workplace, The Foreigner by Francie Lin in my bedroom (not really, I just have the book), Janet Evanovich's Fearless Fourteen on the downstairs couch, and Kinshu Autumn Brocade by Teru Miyamoto on my desk at home. (These are all books, by the way).

The Strangeness of Beauty by Lydia Minatoya turns out to be a very enjoyable book - local Japanese during WWII and the occupation of Japan. How informed and involved were they in the policies of their government? Japanese women formed a peace alliance organization described in this book. Fact of fiction? In any case, the author brings humanity to the residents of a country at war.

Aug 22, 2008

Usain Bolt of Jamaica

NBC announced that runner Usain Bolt will donate $50,000 to the Sichuan earthquake victims, his thanks for a wonderful time in China, where he has won three gold medals while breaking three world records.

Someone said it must be the Chinese food, but I've heard that Usain has been eating lots of chicken nuggets in China. His father said it was the Jamaican yams that has made him so fast. On the other hand, swimmer Phelps got his energy by eating breakfasts for ten.

The Bird's Nest and the Water Cube must also have good feng shui for all the athletes who broke world records there!

Regarding his antics on the track after winning the 100 meter race,

Bolt says he was just having fun.

Comment: reader indicates that Bolt first announced his donation for the earthquake victims at the press conference hosted by the International Sports Press Association.

Aug 17, 2008

Book Review: As the World Churns by Tamar Myers

It takes 3 avocados and half a pint of heavy cream, plus milk, lemon juice, and sugar to make this recipe for avocado ice cream I found in As the World Churns, a Pennsylania Dutch Mystery with recipes by Tamar Myers. There are also recipes for Amish style chocolate, honey, creamy orange, and butter pecan ice cream.

The book's main character Magdalena Yoder of Hernia, Penn., an Amish/Mennonite innkeeper, charges her guests extra for the "full Amish experience" - in other words, they pay more to make their own beds and help with the chores! I enjoy the puns and wit of the hilarious Magdalena.

The setting for this mystery novel is a cow competition, the Hernia Holstein Competition, which brings out-of-town farmers and their prize Holsteins to Magdalena's PennDutch Inn, which puts up man and beast alike. The cows are put up the barn, of course.

The death of an old vet who claims to find something strange about one of the cows' udders puts Magdalena in sleuthing mode. I'm reading on to find the outcome. Drugs in the udder? Radioactive milk? A Holstein that's not a Holstein? You can never tell with mysteries!

Aug 10, 2008

Book Review: Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement

Pet sitter Dixie Hemingway lives on Siesta Key, a small island off the coast of Sarasota, Fla. She has become involved before in solving crimes while doing her rounds taking care of other people's pets.

This time in Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues, she takes on a five-foot iguana and its owner, feeding them and making sure they make it out of their funk. The iguana was left in the cold and its body temperature had dropped to dangerous levels when Dixie found it. The owner is ill with some unknown malady that makes his skin dimpled and blue-green.

When the owner's security guard is shot dead, Dixie gets caught up in the drama of Who Did It, all while recovering from her own "blues," the death of her husband and daughter in an car accident several years ago.

Dixie is a down to earth, gutsy main character, whose love of animals belies her tough stance toward many humans.

I'm really enjoying this book, even more than the previous pet sittery mystery by author Blaize Clement, Duplicity Dogged the Daschund.

Aug 4, 2008

Asian books

I hope to get through all or part of It Happened In Peking by Louise Miln, published in 1926. Setting is during the Boxer Revolution in 1900, when foreigners were not welcome in China. One hundred and eight years later, 2008 in Beijing, foreigners are much sought after and being made more than welcome at the 2008 Olympics. Ah, history!

Also hope to try to read Kinshu, Autumn Brocade by Teru Miyamoto, in translation, and Shame in the Blood by Tetsuo Miura, a literary prizewinner in Japan. Then there is The Strangeness of Beauty by Lydia Minatoya, about an American born woman who returns to the strict samurai family of her mother in Japan. All fascinating novels that may reveal more about Japanese traditional and modern culture.

These books are all at home, borrowed from a library, waiting to be read. I've just started Sujata Massey's novel about the Shimura family's cousins in Hawaii. Found out that some Japanese Hawaiians speak an old fashioned version of Japanese and use words differently, dropping parts of words that made them more formal or polite.

Tamar Myers books

As the World Churns, a Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery with recipes, by Tamar Myers, though I prefer her Den of Antiquity mystery series, one of which, Death of a Rug Lord, I just finished. Tamar Myers by the way, according to her website, is the child of Belgian missionaries who had her while they were living in the Congo. Now this may be true or it could be a made up story, much like the ones she creates in her Den of Antiquity books. I suspect, however, that her web page gives her true history, which is as interesting as some of the characters in her novels.

Jul 29, 2008

Overseas Chinese, books

The books I should be reading include Beijing Coma by Ma Jian set in Beijing; The Foreigner by Francie Lin, set in Taiwan, and The End of East by Jen Sookfong Lee, set in Vancouver's Chinese community. All are novels that reveal aspects of the Asian experience in various countries and environments. Semi-serious books.

But I am heading straight for books that are my first love - mysteries! Am finishing the Alaskan mystery by Sue Henry, and have picked up a Mystery of Antiquity and a Pennsylvania Dutch Mystery, both by Tamar Myers. Then there is the new Sujata Massey mystery I found, set in Hawaii. Alaska is spellbinding, Tamar Myers is funny and witty and clever, and Sujata Massey is intriguing.

Which set of books would you choose first?

Jul 26, 2008

Book Review: Degrees of Separation by Sue Henry

Degrees of Separation by Sue Henry, published April 1, 2008, NAL
Source: library

I knew there was a book waiting for me when I hotfooted it over to the library on Friday. There it was on the new releases shelf - Degrees of Separation by Sue Henry, a mystery set in Alaska, with its dog mushers and Iditarod dog races. I wasn't expecting the book, nor did I know about it before I caught sight of it, but the novel was just the thing I was waiting for. In other words, it fit the mood I was in.

Jessie Arnold, a kennel owner and dogsled racer, has started to train her dogs for the Iditarod again after being laid up with a knee injury. But first she has to take care of her ailing dog Pete, an old faithful who had run with her in several dog sledding races over the years. Jessie takes Pete in to the vet because of his breating difficulties and the vet advises her to let him go peacefully instead of letting him die at home with increasing painful breathing.

She does that, and afterwards takes old Pete home to be buried behind her cabin where other dogs also lie.

It's only a novel, but I was reminded of my own Harvey, whom I still miss, and who had to be let go in June because of his own breathing difficulties.

With the heart- tugger opening story of Pete, I'm now ready to read on as the novel moves to the mystery and the inevitable crime that Jessie will solve up there in snowy Alaska, in the middle of October, in her new book, Degrees of Separation.

Jul 23, 2008

Book Review: The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

The samurai's garden has a pond with carp, a wooden bridge, pine trees, among other things, and is in a small town near the sea, a couple of hours from the city of Kobe.

The novel The Samurai's Garden is written by Gail Tsukiyama, an author who has a Chinese mother and Japanese father and who lives in California. Her novel is set in Japan, and is about a Chinese man who grew up in China but who is visiting his father in a small seaside town near Kobe to get away from the war back home and to recover from tuberculosis. Ironically, the war at home in China is the Sino-Japanese war, when the Japanese take over Peking and eventually Shanghai, and later, Hong Kong.

The young man is taken care of by a taciturn man, who has served his father's family for years and who loves to garden. While convalescing in Japan, the young man meets and gets to know two young girls who live in the small town as well as a woman who lives in a leper's colony but who comes to help the "samurai" caretaker with the gardening.

That's where I am at the moment in the book. There are many sections that are quotable, though I haven't included here any quotes from the Samurai's Garden. I can only say that the peaceful environment of the garden, with a convalescing Chinese man being taken care of by a quiet and sensitive Japanese gardener is in direct contrast to the situation in China, which they hear about in the news and from letters.

I'm fascinated by stories of Shanghai during the late 1930s under Japanese occupation, from all points of view.

Also reading The Stone of Heaven about an emperor's obsession with jadeite, a green stone found in the southwest of China. Many of the pieces he had carved are in Beijing's Forbidden City.

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Jul 22, 2008

Darkness Falls, book review

Now that the environment, global warming, and especially fossil fuel (oil) are foremost on our minds and in the news, and especially the new focus on Alaskan oilfields, I thought posting this review of the novel Darkness Falls would be timely. I reviewed the book several months ago for New Mystery Reader and have to admit that I was surprised that I enjoyed the unusual plot once I had read it.
In Darkness Falls, an environmental thriller by Kyle Mills, one of the main characters, Jenna Kahlin, makes the mistake of her life when she helps a rogue environmentalist carry out his extreme solution to global warming, global pollution, and the slow destruction of the environment.

She helps him by taking the bluprint of another biologist, Erin Neal, and using that research to create a voracious oil-eating bacteria that could spread unchecked through oilpipes and underground oilfields, literally destroying them and drying up major oil reserves. The bacteria, however, would be contained, as it would be harmful only to oil and would die quickly on contact with oxygen and the air. She does this only to preserve the Alaskan environment and to stop oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Little does she realize that her partner in that successful venture, Michael Teague, had plans for "preserving" not just Alaska, but the environment of the entire world. When the same bacteria shows up thousands of miles away in Saudi Arabia, destroying major oilfields and oil reservoirs there and threatening major supplies to the United States, Erin Neal is forced out of his self-imposed exile and hermit's existence to find a way to stop the advance of the bacteria.

The author paints a convincing picture of doom if major oil sources were to suddenly dry up. Our dependence on oil for housing, food, and our basic daily needs is brought home in the course of the book. How Jenna and Erin, together with Homeland Security manager, Mark Beamon, race against time and pit their wits against mastermind Teague, is the basis of this novel.

Jul 21, 2008

Best Mystery Awards 2008

Members and subscribers of the Mystery Readers Journal are now in the process of voting for the best mysteries of the year. Here are two of the categories they have announced for the annual Macavity Awards for books published in 2007.

Best Novel
Soul Patch by Reed Farrel Coleman

The Unquiet by John Connolly

Blood of Paradise by David Corbett

Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie

What the Dead Know by Laura Lippman

Best First Mystery
In the Woods by Tana French

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Stealing the Dragon by Tim Maleeny

The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees

Those interested in joining and voting can do so on the Mystery Readers Journal website. There is a fee to join up or subscribe.

I haven't read any of the above books, but they are on my list!

Jul 20, 2008

Santa Fe Dead by Stuart Woods

I have heard Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico are exotic (to us in the midwest) locales and since I've never visited the desert, I've been intrigued by Native American Indian culture in the southwest, cacti, fence lizards, snakes and other creepy crawlies, and most importantly, the blooming of the arts in New Mexico.
So it ws no surprise I picked up a book that had Sante Fe in the title and was also a mystery. I finished Santa Fe Dead by Stuart Woods in record time, reading it in every spare moment. I didn't get a lot of info about New Mexico but I did get a good plot with interesting characters, most particularly the villain.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get up an interest in another of Woods' books, Beverly Hills Dead . The book is set in the McCarty era when many actors were blackballed and careers in the movie industry destroyed. Old stories, I thought.

As a resulty, I scouted around for other books and found Stone of Heaven in a used bookstore/coffeeshop, about the historical importance of jade in China and the East. Written by two British journalists, the research takes us into historical and modern day Burma, China, India, and a few other places. The history of jade goes back to the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. I'm really enjoying all the stories, myths, and the symbolism surrounding this stone.

Jul 17, 2008

Winter Study by Nevade Barr

Winter Study by Nevade Barr, published 2008.
Am now reading Winter Study by Nevada Barr, a popular novelist and a favorite of mine. It's set on the Isle Royale in Lake Superior near the Canadian border and deals with the scientific study of wolves. In this book, there is a giant animal, possibly a wolf/dog hybrid that is terrorizing the wolf population as well as the scientists on the island in the Wolf Study project.

Of course, as you read on, the evildoers turn out to be. as expected, not the animals, but humans.


A friend's reading a book about China reminded me of the 18th century classic story, Dream of the Red Chamber, which describes in detail the lives of men and women behind the walls of a large family compound in traditional China. It's basically a love story about two young people who grow up in the compound that houses a large extended family and whose love for each other is thwarted by the matchmaking of the matriarch in the family.

Dream of the Red Chamber by Tsao Hsueh-Chin is available used and new on Amazon and probably in many college libraries, if not in a large public library.

I recommend it for its portrayal of life in the old China, particularly among the women of the time. I read the book (which comes in two volumes) many years ago and plan to go back to it, hopefully with a new perspective (age and all that).

Jul 3, 2008

Book Review: Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang

An armchair traveler like myself gets a kick out of reading books that combine mystery, adventure, and information about other countries. One of these is The Eye of Jade, set in modern day Beijing, where a young detective Mei Wang hunts for a missing piece of Han dynasty jade and comes across a murder in the process. The book describes interesting scenes from every day life in Beijing - the food, traffic, modern apartment buildings, the mixture of old and new, and life in the 1980s after Mao Tse Tung. The author, Diane Wei Liang, was born in Beijing and took part in the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, so I trust her observations.

I have also started The Abyssinian Proof by Jenny White. set in Istanbul, Turkey. The main plot is a little far-fetched, reminding me in this respect of The Da Vinci Code, as it's about a missing silver box, lost since 1453, that contains the proof of the existence of God. The main character, local magistrate Kamil Pasha of Istanbul, is caught up in the drama as the book takes up the story in 1887. Life in Turkey in the late 19th century is described in detail, and the city architecture features prominently. The book is written by a professor of anthropology at Boston University whose expertise is in Turkish politics and society.

And then there is The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings, which takes place in Siam in the early 1900s. An aspiring opera singer marries a young medical missionary who takes her to the northern jungles of Siam, now Thailand, where she is instantly criticized by older missionaries and their wives for being too modern and liberal in her views. She had been a supporter of the vote for women and marched at home in Boston with the suffragettes! A former lawyer, now novelist, the author must have done some serious research about Siam the the royal court at the time.

Jun 28, 2008

More Feng Shui Mystery

Just discovered: Singapore Feng Shui practioner C.F. Wong and his assistant, main characters in The Feng Shui Detective by Nury Vittachi. Seems to have been printed around 2004.

Jun 22, 2008

Currently Reading and Gardening

Whiskey and Water by Nina Wright, a mystery featuring a real estate agent Whiskey Mattimoe and her Afghan hound Abra, set on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Next on the list, The Sudoku Puzzle Murders by Parnell Hall, a Puzzle Lady Mystery with crossword and sudoku puzzles sprinkled throughout the book for the reader to figure out. Solutions also included.

I mean to also read The Moon in the Mango Tree by Pamela Binnings Ewen about a young singer in the 1920s whose husband is a medical missionary who becomes physician to the royal court of Siam. She travels around the world to find her place as a singer. The part about Siam intrigues me, especially the Siam of the early 1900s.

I have also borrowed from the library, The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang, a new detective series set in China, written by a Beijing-born woman who took part in the Student Democracy Movement in the 1980s in China, has a Ph.D in business administration from the U.S., and left teaching after 10 years to write for a living from London, where she now lives. More Chinese mystery novels!

In the meantime, I also have to tend to the garden, where spring flowers have finished blooming and summer ones have not yet come up. The spirea bush needs trimming, and the mushroom mulch needs to be tucked around roots so that the roses and clematis start producing flowers again! Trying to use only organic type of fertilizers but will have to spray the rose bushes as they have some sort of brown spotting on the leaves.

Can't wait till winter-spring to use what I learned in a three-hour tree pruning workshop I attended two weeks ago. (How much can you learn in 3 hours?) The Rose of Sharon and the red acer palmatum (Japanese maple) in the back as well as the green one in the front both need some shaping and controlling. Alas, I don't have the skill of Japanese gardeners, but will have to experiment.

Jun 16, 2008

Almost Spring in Kyoto

It was mid-March, just before spring, when I traveled for the first time to Kyoto, Japan. This Torii, a Shinto gateway, is flanked by evergreen trees. It is one of the largest in Japan.

The Torii leads to the sprawling Shinto Heian-jingu Shrine. A stone lion stands guard in the forefront.

Gardens surrounding the shrine are still under the spell of winter, with a promise of spring to come.

Jun 15, 2008

Steer Toward Rock by Fae Myenne Ng

Steer Toward Rock

A new novel by Fae Myenne Ng, American born Chinese, who writes about new Chinese immigrants and Chinese born Americans in California. Jack Moon Szeto is caught between the world of San Francisco and the world of old China, which follows him to this new country. Set in the 1960's, the novel deals with love and marriage, old traditions and the search for the new.

I am enjoying a very good book about a Chinese poet making a living as a chef in Georgia, by Ha Jin, A Free Life, which I am just about half way through. Next I'll start reading this new novel, Steer Toward Rock, published May 2008 by Hyperion. The immigrant experience once again, this time in San Francisco's China Town.

Jun 12, 2008

A Free Life by Ha Jin

My latest read - am about half-way through Ha Jin's A Free Life, a novel that describes the life of a Chinese student studying at Brandeis who is stranded in the U.S. after Tiananmen and who tries to make a life here with his wife and young son. A great book that helps us to understand the new immigrant experience.

May 10, 2008

A Person of Interest by Susan Choi

Now reading Susan Choi's A Person of Interest, about an Asian professor, Lee, a mathematician at a midwestern university, who becomes a person of interest in the investigation of a mail bomb that kills a computer science professor whose office just happens to be next to Lee's. Novel was partly influenced by the real-life case of Taiwanese professor, Wen Ho Lee (who was acquitted of charges brought against him at his place of work), according to the book promo.

I'm impressed by her writing in A Person of Interest and her skill in getting us involved in the intricacies of her main character's thinking and how he might be perceived by others around him.

Choi's 2007 novel, American Woman, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize last year. She is, by the way, part Korean and part European American, but born in Indiana.

Apr 23, 2008

Book Review: Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot Pattison

Prayer of the Dragon by Eliot Pattison is intriguing because of the cultural tidbits about Tibet. The main character is a Chinese policeman who has spent time in a Chinese gulag and whose companions now are an old Tibetan monk and another Tibetan from a secret outlawed temple.

All three are called to a small Tibetan town after murders have occurred there. The monks are threatened and tortured by the overly zealous town headman, who wants no interference and no upsurge of religion in his territory. The murders are somehow connected to the sacred mountain called the Dragon, and the secrets on the other side. There are miners panning for gold in the mountain and the valleys, and the policeman must find the perpetrators of the crimes or risk being charged himself.

Interesting novel, but overly long and drawn out. Had to skip to the end after two-thirds of the way into the book.

Apr 20, 2008

Book Review: All Shots by Susan Conant

Read Susan Conant's 18th dog lover's mystery novel, All Shots. More about her malamute dogs - training them, keeping more than one in the same household, showing them for awards and titles. And making sure everyone knows the difference between a malamute and a Siberian husky.

The plot involves identity theft, both human and canine. Set in Cambridge, Mass., the book also describes various Harvard types and their current fads, one of which is maintaining a "Media-free" environment for preschoolers. No TV, no TV cartoon characters on their toys, books, or clothing, etc. Interesting!

Mar 25, 2008

Time to Blog

Now reading the novel, Grave Imports by Eric Stone, about the smuggling of priceless cultural artifacts out of Cambodia. Witty dialogue, good observation of people and place. Wicked satire of the British expat.

Just finished The Accidental Florist by Jill Churchill, which is not about a florist at all, but about mothers-in-law that the author has a good time bashing. I was not sympathetic, having recently become a mother-in-law myself.


If it didn't take so much time, I'd add to my blog more often. It takes time from chores, housework, reading, writing, talking, visiting, traveling, taking care of the dog, procrastinating, meditating, and even sleeping.

There are so many steps to getting pictures from my camera onto the computer and then onto the blog! A sometimes daunting process!

My hat's off to those of you who blog religiously every day or every other day. And to those you who have figured out how to manipulate your templates to look original and eye catching.

Where do you get the time!

Feb 23, 2008

Book Review: Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

The Street of a Thousand Blossoms, a novel by Gail Tsukiyama, follows the lives of two ordinary boys growing up in Tokyo, their hopes and dreams and their experiences from 1939 through war in the 1940s and new lives in the modern Japan of the 1960s.

Tsukiyama tries to portray the lives of the ordinary Japanese and how they might have been affected by the war. The two brothers have different goals - Hiroshi dreams of becoming a famous sumo wrestler and Kenji learns to hand craft masks used in Noh theater. Their lives are changed and affected by the war thought they are not an integral part of it.

A novel from a Japanese-American author who has written five other novels including Women of the Silk and The Samurai's Garden.

Feb 17, 2008

Book Review: Red Mandarin Dress by Qiu Xiaolong

Red Mandarin Dress: An Inspector Chen Novel (Inspector Chen Cao) In the fifth mystery in the series by Qiu Xiaolong, Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau reluctantly puts aside his studies of classical Chinese literature to help solve the sensational Red Mandarin Dress murders.

Three young women have been found in public locations in the city, each dressed in a torn red mandarin dress. Inspector Chen and police officer Yu race against time to solve their murders before the serial killer can find another victim.

Chen and Yu visit libraries and interview expert tailors and people knowledgeable about the old style mandarin dresses. They link the dresses back to the period of the Cultural Revolution.

Using the information he gathers, Chen uses modern psychology to create a profile of the killer, at the same time as he analyses each situation with relevant quotes from Tang and Sung poetry and sayings from the sage Confucius.

I enjoyed reading about the detailed police procedures used to solve the crime in modern day Shanghai. I also found interesting the author's distaste for some aspects of the past, namely the Cultural Revolution and its lingering effects, and the "cruel" cuisine that is still practised by some cooks and demanded by patrons.


Feb 13, 2008

Conversation and Food in Canada

How we came to be where we are, health care in Canada and the U.S.

Food favorites

- Jamaican jerk chicken and pork
- mango slices with red pepper flakes
- green tea ice cream
- squid in curry sauce
- vegetarian sushi
- curried goat and roti

Feb 7, 2008

Book Review: Twilight by Brendan DuBois

Just finished writing a review of Twilight, a futuristic thriller by Brendan DuBois, about the UN occupation of America after civil war breaks out as a result of nuclear attacks on America's major cities. The novel creates a Sarajevo in the U.S., with militant groups at war with the government to control the country and the scarce food and fuel.

A thriller that is none too pleasant to read, but interesting nevertheless.

Picture yourself in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia, around the early 1990s, after the break-up of Yugoslavia into separate entities, when Bosnian Serbs fought with Bosnian Muslims and Bosnian Croats for supremacy and for territory in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Picture the genocide or “ethnic cleansing” that resulted when Serbs tried to rid the land of Bosnian Muslims.

Then transfer this scenario to the United States, with the U.S. government powerless after nuclear attacks on its major cities, citizens at war with each other over scarce resources such as energy and food, and bands of armed and organized militia fighting the government to take control of the chaotic land, all the while getting rid of “undesirable” members of the population, in their own form of “cleansing.”

Envisioning this scenario will put you right smack in the middle of the thriller, Twilight. We view the situation in the U.S. through the eyes of Samuel Simpson, a young Canadian photographer who has joined the UN organization trying to keep the peace in the embattled country. He is with UNFORUS and with a group of people whose goal is to find Site A, proof of genocide committed by the militia which will serve to convict U.S. war criminals being held in The Hague.

There is a time limit, as the criminals will be released if Site A and proof of mass murder is not found in time. Samuel and his group have to tread carefully through dangerous situations involving the militia, who have murdered civilians as well as UN personnel.

There is definitely a lot of intrigue built into the plot of this novel, as the UN group literally treads on ground they have not seen before, in situations that are unpredictable and frightening. Written with gripping detail and description of countryside, surroundings, and events, the book presents a challenging situation that is gloomy in its forecast.

There is little sense of poignancy in the book, except for an old man who puts his life at risk to help the UN group. The attempt at a love story between Samuel and team member essentially falls flat, thought it is meant to be a saving grace for Samuel in the middle of the turmoil. We are not caught up in his feelings. Indeed, his love interest is not a well developed character.

A good thriller, but don’t expect to be fully satisfied at the end of the book.

Feb 6, 2008

Book Review: Spanish Dagger by Susan Wittig Albert

The yucca plant common to the Southwest USA is also known as Spanish Dagger because of its sharp narrow leaves, pointed at the tips.

Spanish Dagger, a mystery novel by Susan Wittig Albert, sets its murder victim right in the middle of a patch of yucca. The body of a man is found by herbalist China Bayles while she was out gathering leaves of the yucca plant for a papermaking class.

Tidbits of herbal lore pepper the leaves of the novel, at the beginning of each chapter:

Tequila is made from the blue yukka (agave), sorry, I mean yucca, and has the same healing properties as the fresh plant. So no problem with those margaritas!

Juice from the Yucca plant is also good for lathering your hair and bathing.

Anyway, if you like your mysteries spiced with herbal lore, here is a book for you.

Jan 31, 2008

Saving Fish From Drowning by Amy Tan

Saving Fish From Drowning (2006) by Amy Tan is a novel I read about a year or so ago. I remember thinking it was based on personal experience - a memorable trip taken a group of Americans to Myanmar, their getting separated from each other, and their resulting contact with some of the embattled hilltribe people there.

The book enters the world of the hilltribe groups trying to survive under the rule of a harsh regime intent on destroying them.

Jan 21, 2008

Emperor Penguins in Winter

I watched the life story of the Emperor Penguins on the Discovery channel last night and was mesmerized by the inborn instincts they have to survive - traveling for miles and miles inland in the winter to colder, harder ice in Antartica in order to fnd a mate and hatch an egg in temperatures reaching minus 120 degrees Farenheit.

While the male remains inland in the cold to protect the egg, the female treks back across the miles to the ocean in order to feed and make the long journey back to take food to the young hatchling. Sometimes the egg is lost and freezes, sometimes the male doesn't survive the cold or lack of food, sometimes the female doesn't return or returns too late.

However, hard as it seems, these animals have been making their ritual journey for a thousand years, and 66 percent of their eggs survive each year, on average.

A very moving film, with beautiful filming (the scenery and close-up shots of traveling penguins and icy landscapes). I recommend it to those who haven't seen it.

Jan 18, 2008

Book Review: Tapped Out, by Natalie M. Roberts

Title: Tapped Out: A Jenny T. Partridge Dance Mystery by Natalie M. Roberts
Published October  2007: Berkley
Genre: cozy mystery

Finished this cozy mystery by Natalie M. Roberts, about crazy dance moms, the world of dance, and a "ditsy" dance teacher involved in murders. I enjoyed reading about the setting, Utah, and a funny Samoan missionary who really wants to be a dancer/dance teacher.

Here's my review:

When Utah dance teacher Jenny Partridge agrees to help out as a teacher at the Hollywood StarMakers Convention dance competition, little did she realize just how far someone would go to try to discourage her. First, a telephone call threat, then the bombing of her car, followed by another bomb set off in her dance studio, and an attack by a snowplow in a dark parking lot. .

Things become more serious when she finds the body of a StarMakers Convention dance teacher in a dumpster. Jenny persists, however, as she needs the money that convention director, Bill Flanagan, has offered her to coach at the two-day dance event. Bill, an old flame and fellow dancer, is in a quandry as two of his teachers have disappeared without leaving any word of their whereabouts or intentions.

Jenny doen't play sleuth in this second book in the dance mystery series. Events happen around her that leave her depending on a few of her dance moms and her current love interest, detective Tate Wilson. Her character and attempts at humor might seem familiar to those who have followed the mystery series featuring Stephanie Plum, who does play sleuth - the supposedly "ditsy" main character, her conservative parents who try to match her up with every single male available, a quirky grandmother, and reliance on her sometime boyfriend, the detective, to pull her out of sticky situations.

Subplots include a Samoan missionary who asks Jenny to help him leave the mission to become a dancer, "psycho dance moms" who hound her day and night about their little dance darlings, and the development of a relationship with detective Tate.

Mildly entertaining cozy novel, the mystery does give some insights about Utah and its missionaries, the world of dance competitions, and the obsessed parents of child dancers, the paycho dance moms. Yes, the mystery is solved, and it does involves Jenny, but not through her own attempts at crime solving.

Jan 14, 2008

China To Me by Emily Hahn

China to MeThe American journalist/traveler Emily Hahn wrote about her own experiences living in Shanghai, Chungking, and Hong Kong from 1935 to 1943. Her book about revolution and war in China and how it affected the local people and foreigners alike is titled China to Me: A Partial Autobiography, first printed in 1944. It's fascinating reading.

The Year of the Rat
Another author writing about Shanghai around 1948 when the Communists enter the city after battles with the invading Japanese, frightening off the Europeans and leaving thousands to flee or fend for themselves - this is the topic of the novel, The Year of the Rat by Lucille Bellucci, printed in December 2000.

Journey from Shanghai
Bellucci has also written a semi-autobiographical novel, Journey from Shanghai, about a girl who flees the upheaval in Shanghai with her Italian father and Chinese mother, going to Rome and then moving on to other parts of the world, including Brazil. She has written novels set in South America as well.

Jan 13, 2008

Feng Shui and Feng Shui Mysteries

Feng Shui is the art of placement, arranging your environment according to ancient methods that strive to create harmony and a peaceful atmosphere. It could also be seen as a form of interior design when applied to homes, offices, and other living and working spaces. Feng shui favors order and an absence of clutter to help create a pleasing environment.

Two authors who have written mystery novels using a feng shui theme: Leslie Caine: Fatal Feng Shui, a mystery with an interior decorator as the main character. Denise Osborne: Evil Intentions and A Deadly Arrangement, by an author trained in feng shui.

Here's a fun book on how Feng shui works: Move Your Stuff, Change Your Life: How to Use Feng Shui to Get Love, Money, Respect and Happiness by Karen Rauch Carter.Interior decorating following a set pattern based on location and environment, color, shapes, and the five elements of air, earth, fire, metal, and water.

Jan 10, 2008

Mystery Novels set in China and Tibet

Bone Mountain: A Novel (Inspector Shan Tao Yun)
Eliot Pattison's Bone Mountain and his other mysteries are set in Tibet.

The Dutchman, Robert van Gulek, is well known for his Judge Dee mysteries set in China. More recently, Qiu Xiaolong, has written mysteries in more contemporary times, including When Red is Black and Death of a Red Heroine, featuring Inspector Chen Cao of Shanghai.

Jan 7, 2008

Book Review: The Lost Tribe by Edward Marriott

The Lost Tribe: A Harrowing Passage into New Guinea's Heart of Darkness An anthropologist reader had strong objections to Edward Marriott's travel novel (1996) about the author's experiences visiting a primitive people in Papua, New Guinea.

The anthropologist-reviewer, who describes himself as having studied the same group of people, the Liawep, for three years, says there are scientific, legal, and ethical problems with Marriot's work. The reviewer is clearly upset that Marriott has profited from the book and not returned any of the profits to the tribe that would help them. He also says the tribal people have disagreed with what was written, were disgusted with it, and denied many of the events.

To see the entire comment, see Amazon. com's listing of Marriott's The Lost Tribe and the readers' comments that follow.

Jan 6, 2008

Book Review: Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski


Fieldwork: A Novel by Mischa Berlinski, published January 22, 2008; Picador

Missionaries and anthropologists are in juxtaposition in Fieldwork, a new novel by Mischa Berlinski. The action takes place in Chiang Mai and northern Thailand among the hill tribes. An American journalist tries to solve the mystery of an American female anthropologist jailed for murder. The book delves into religions, superstition, and another way of seeing reality.

The novel follows four generations of an American missionary family, the Walkers, who have lived, preached, and raised children in remote areas of southern China and north Thailand along the Burmese border.

The book also looks at Martiya, the daughter of a Dutch anthropologist who follows in her father's footsteps and goes to study the Dyalo, a fictional group of people, who closely resemble hilltribe groups in Southeast Asia.

Social science and religion seem to clash in the hills of Dyalo, where Martiya tries to understand tribal customs, beliefs, and religion but where the missionaries try to change the Dyalo and convert them. The spirits of the Dyalo are seen as real and dangerous and jealous of the Christian missionaries. Martiya, on the other hand, looks at the spirit world of the Dyalo through an anthropologist's supposedly objective, non-confrontational, non-challenging perspective.

The mystery of why Martiya put two bullets into the back of David Walker, fourth generation missionary in northern Thailand, is explained at the end of the book. Her subsequent suicide in a Thai jail comes after she has completed two manuscripts on life in the women's prison which she sends to be printed in a journal of ethnography in the U.S.

Whether Martiya committed the crime for the sake of her science or because of purely personal reasons is an interesting question

Anthropologists put up with some of the difficulties of fieldwork -boredom, disgust, frustration - because of an overwhelming and overriding curiousity about the people they study. The author of the novel, Mischa Berlinski, gives some of his insight into the life of the father of fieldwork, Malinowski, who worked with the Trobriand Islanders who live off the coast of New Guinea. It was his curiousity about one aspect of the islanders' customs that kept him going, Berlinski claims. The puzzling rituals and value placed on armbands and necklaces was more important to Malinowski than the sadness seen in his face in a picture taken with the Trobrianders.

Author Berlinksi worked as a journalist for a time in Thailand and has cleverly created a tribe, the Dyalo, complete with customs and beliefs, to make his work seem realistic.

The book poses questions about the impact of missionaries overseas and the question of changing a culture versus merely observing it.

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

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