Mar 23, 2009

Book Challenge: Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation Book Challenge is the first I have ever signed up for!

Reading only six translated books for the year looks like something I can actually do (I am a great procrastinator).

Books I've chosen:

Tokyo Fiancee by Amelie Nothomb, translated from the French, already posted.

Real World by Natsuo Kirino, translated from Japanese, already posted

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (translated from Japanese).

The Good Women of China : hidden Voices by Xinran, translated from Chinese by Esther Tyldesley.

Two more to go.....

Mar 22, 2009

It Happens in Threes: book review

Ruby Goodman hurriedly leaves her ex-fiance Thomas for her parents' family vacation home in the Florida Keys. In the Keys, she meets up with an old boyfriend, Michael, and a former employer, Nico. Michael uses her programming skills to help him crack Nico's money laundering business that is spread over many countries and involves millions.

The Florida trip doesn't turn out to be a nice holiday, rent free, with an old boyfriend and a job to go along with it. Ruby is in danger from Thomas, who refuses to let her go and begins to stalk her, and from another anonymous threat that also involves Michael. She also has to be wary of Nico, whose scheme she is trying to expose.

The book, It Happens in Threes, takes you from the sunny Keys to diving trips off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii. Ruby lounges around backyard pools, swims in the nude, dances suggestive hulas, and in general uses her femininity to keep the men around her interested but in check.

This book by Denise Robbins is romantic suspense, with heavy emphasis on the romance aspect. The love scenes often distract from the advancing of the plot, however, and made me impatient at times. Nevertheless, Ruby is an intriguing personality who surely knows how to use her womanly wiles to get her way, and who makes the reader want to continue the story to the very end!

The book ends with a twist to the plot. A very entertaining debut novel!

Book provided by the author for my objective review.

Book Review: The Fire Kimono by Laura Joh Rowland

The Fire Kimono
Well, I finally finished The Fire Kimono, not because it was dull or boring, quite the contrary, but because my cabin fever had me out and about. I finally had to head to the bookstore to sit in a corner and finish it in installments, all 207 pages.

Laura Joh Rowland does another excellent job in having her early 18th century protagonist, Chamberlain Sano Ichiro, solve crimes while avoiding family disasters as well as execution by an ineffective and vascillating shogun.

The discovery of a 40 year old skeleton buried under a tree brings to light old family secrets involving the shogun's family as well as Chamberlain Sano's mother. Trying to protect her as well as discover the truth about her past puts Sano and his immediate family in grave danger.

I loved the unfolding of the plot and how relationships are developed and tested during the novel: mother/son, husband/wife, daughter-in-law/mother-in-law, shogun/vassal, and the samurai/bushido code of conduct. Rowland has excelled in one of the best in this mystery series.

Mar 19, 2009

Books to be Reviewed

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee
Queen's Cross by Lawrence Schoonover
Mortal Friends by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho

My personal reading challenge!

Mar 13, 2009

Book Review: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher
Imagine my surprise, and delight, at the end of reading The Piano Teacher to find that the author Janice Y.K. Lee had also read one of my favorite books, a memoir/partial autobiography by the New Yorker correspondent Emily Hahn, printed in 1944, China to Me.

Hahn's book, about Shanghai during the late 1930s and then Hong Kong after the Japanese took over Shanghai, got me interested in that period of Chinese history, and I looked for other books set in that period.

One of them was Kazuo Ishiguro's fifth novel, When We Were Orphans, about a young English boy and a Japanese boy who both lived in Shanghai and were playmates, and what happened to them later during the Sino-Japanese war.

But let's get back to The Piano Teacher, a very enjoyable historical fiction set in the early 1940s and in the 1950s in Hong Kong.

Janice Lee's story deals with an English woman, Chaire Pendleton, who becomes a piano teacher for the daugher of a wealthy Chinese couple in Hong Kong, in the 1950s. While there, she discovers the story of the love affair between an Englishman and an Eurasian woman ten years earlier, a love that was doomed when the Japanese occupied the island and Chinese and Europeans alike had to struggle for survival at all costs.

That ill fated love story affects Claire's own love affair with an Englishman, but leaves her inexplicably bound to China.

I heartily recommend the novel and all the other books I mentioned that deal with that period of time in China's history. I first discovered Emily Hahn's book by chance at a used book sale at our local library. What a find! And here's Lee's The Piano Teacher: A Novel at the same library.

Mar 10, 2009

Book Review: Murder in the Latin Quarter by Cara Black

The best thing about reading the mystery novel, Murder in the Latin Quarterwas Paris itself, the old Paris that author Cara Black is so fond of describing. This time she takes us into the catacombs and tunnels underneath Paris, and also to the Latin Quarter with its history of philosophers, its students, and its new immigrants.

The Haitian community of Paris in 1997 are a mixed group. Some of them are still tied to the Haitian dictatorship under Papa Doc Duvalier. Some work for international organizations such as the World Bank.

Background: a renowned Haitian scientist is killed in Paris after discovering high levels of lead in the liver of Haitian pigs, possibly caused by the water supply on Haitian farms. Coincidentally, a water supply company in Haiti is in Paris petitioning the World Bank for funds.

The plot develops when Aimee Leduc is drawn into the mystery after a Haitian woman comes to her office, Leduc Detective, begging for help, fleeing from an unknown danger, and claiming to be Aimee's half-sister. The woman, Mireille, takes fright, leaves the office suddenly, and disappears into the illegal immigrant underground.

Aimee is desperate to find out more about her half-sister. She finds out that Mireille used to work in the Paris lab of the murdered Haitian scientist and is a suspect in the case. Aimee wants to prove her sister innocent and scours the Left Bank, the Latin Quarter, and underground Paris to find her.

The book gives us a strong sense of the city as well as the old underground Paris, now used by students in the Latin Quarter. Medical students from the Sorbonne hold regular parties in the catacombs; others show films there.

They call themselves cataphiles. Cataphiles hang out in the underground, light their way with catalamps, and avoid the cataflics, Parisian police in blue uniforms who patrol the catacombs.

Comments: Detailed description of location, names of streets, and directions, which I think only a Parisian can follow or would want to follow. The plot is a bit far-fetched, as are some of the characters. Focused as it is on one set of people, I was left wondering how the Haitian community actually fits (or doesn't fit) into the larger Parisian community.

But Paris is the main character. And she is always fascinating!

Besides Murder in the Marais, one of my favorites in the series, which I reviewed, is Murder on the Ile Saint-Louis (An Aimee Leduc Investigation)

Mar 5, 2009

Book Review: French Pressed by Cleo Coyle

French Pressed
French Pressed is a coffeehouse mystery by Cleo Coyle, featuring Clare Cosi, owner of a coffeehouse in Greenwich Village, New York.

Clare keeps busy managing her shop and keeping an eye on her daughter Joy, who has just landed an internship as a cook at a well-known restaurant. Joy has caught the eye of the restaurant's famous chef Tommy Keitel, but he is married and many years Joy's senior. Clare decides to work for Chef Keitel too, providing coffee and desserts for the restaurant, just to stay close and keep an eye on Joy.

Plot: The murder of a young cook intern, a friend of Joy's, rattles everyone and Clare tries to protect her daughter while giving Joy the leeway she needs to feel independent. Joy however become the suspect in a sedond murder involving the restaurant, and Clare goes all out to prove her innocent.

This is the sixth in the popular coffeehouse series. The reader becomes caught up in the relationship between Clare and her daughter, an aspiring chef, and in the world of gourmet food, gourmet coffees, and the high-end restaurant business. An engaging novel that keeps the reader in suspense to the very end, French Pressed is well worth reading, not only for the plot but also for tips on pairing good coffee and delicious desserts.

I give this cozy mystery 4 stars.

Book Review: New-Slain Knight by Deborah Grabien

New Slain Knight
In New Slain Knight an historian's feel for setting, a musician's love of song, and the writer's fluid prose and imagination combine to make this spell-binding storytelling.

A story of love, betrayal and death, and a ballad titled "New-Slain Knight" haunts the pages of this book set in the Duchy of Cornwall in south England.

In this 2007 Haunted Balled mystery by Deborah Grabien, a British musician Ringan is entrusted with the care of his niece, Rebecca, for two weeks while her parents are away. When Ringan's girlfriend Penny suggest they all drive down to Cornwall for a holiday, Ringan arranges for them to stay with an old friend and fellow musician, Gowan Camborne.

What began as a holiday by the sea turns into a ghost haunted event for all three, as Penny senses something odd at the first sight of Gowan and his ancestral house.

Sensitive to events that have happened in the past and to Gowan's ancestors in Cornwall, Penny sees the death of an unknown man killed by his sweetheart many years in the past. Rebecca, a young teenages, is also affected and becomes haunted by a young woman, perhaps the same young woman seen in Peggy's "dream."

Penny and Ringan and Gown try to find the origin and the history of these haunting spirits in order to free themselves from their powerful and dangerous influences. Sleep walking, near drownings, and journeys up and down the Cornish coast eventually lead them to the tragic story of a sister and brother, and a desolate lover.

The hauntings seem to be brought on by a combination of Gowan's ancentral home, the words and music of the ballad, "New-Slain Knight," and Penny herself, whose presence seems to be a catalyst for these spirits to inhabit her mind and the mind of young Rebecca in these particular settings.

The plot has enough twists and turns and sudden strange events to keep you turning the pages. The Cornish idioms and manner of speech make the setting realistic and immediate.

I highly recommend the book, even to those who might be squeamish about the ghostly or supernatural.

Book Review: The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly

The Tomb of Zeus
The Tomb of Zeus by Barbara Cleverly is an archaeology mystery published in 2007.

Those who love Greece, the Greek Isles, and Greek mythology will have little problem with the archaeological setting - the island of Crete in the late 1920s.

Laetitia Talbot, a student from Cambridge, is sent by her professor to work on the island with British archaeologist Theodore Russell. Russell has invited her to stay with him and his wife and two other students at his Villa Europa.

When she arrives, Laetitia is disturbed by an air of menace at the villa. When one of the occupants dies, Laetitia's discomfort definitely increases. Was the death a murder or a suicide? She is determined to find out, even if she has to unearth all the secrets surrounding the villa.

Interestingly, the characters in the story parallel the characters in Greek mythology. Theseus of Greek myth arrives in Crete to find and slay the half-man, half-bull Minotaur hidden in a labyrinth underground. Theodore Russell is in Crete at a much later date to unearth ancient Greek statues and temples in archaeological digs. Theodore's complicated family and love life also parallels that of Theseus.

Laetitia is aware of this as she searches for clues to solve the murder. She is helped by a former lover, William Gunning, who is working with her in Crete. Together they uncover an ancient tomb at their work site that only creates a second mystery. Have they found the long-sought tomb of the Greek god, Zeus?

A very enjoyable book that deals with a murder mystery and an archaeological mystery. The plot revolves around Cretan culture, history, mythology, and religion, and also around Laetita's attempts to solve a present day murder in a very exotic locale.

Book provided by the publisher for my objective review.

More on antiquities on Crete.

A Pale Horse by Charles Todd, a review

I found A Pale Horse by Charles Todd, a mystery set in the U.K., an interesting and well written book.

Setting: Nine cottages in Berkshire, England beneath a hill with a chalk horse etched out on its side, presumably by ancient Britons. One of the cottages has been empty for a while, once occupied by a man known as Partridge, who has "gone missing." No one has seen him recently, not his neighbor who feeds his cat in his absence, nor any of the other residents of the cottages.

Characters: Partridge worked for the British army during WWI, developing poison gases for the war effort. The British War Office has since been keeping tabs on him due to the sensitive nature of that work. When he disappears, Inspector Ian Rutledge is sent out from London by Scotland Yard to find him.

Mystery plot: Rutledge is also called on visit Yorkshire, a town where some young schoolboys have found a man lying dead in a deserted abbey, his face covered with a WWI gas mask. The schoolboys are convinced it's the work of the devil, and give no information to the authorities looking into the case. Rutledge clears the local schoolmaster of this crime after the local inspector falsely puts the blame on him. Rutledge begins to suspect the dead man is actually Partridge, the man the War Office wants to find.

Main plot: The mystery of Partidge's life and death and the effects on his family of his work on poison gases for warfare is the basis of the book's plot. There are several false leads and red herrings in the way of the truth, including the suspicious deaths of two of the other cottage residents in Berkshire, but with uncommon persistence, Rutledge is able to untangle the web to get to the heart of the mystery of Partridge, his life, the suicide of his wife, and the estrangement of his two daughters.

Historical relevance: The novel is set in the 1920s, just a few years after the end of the first world war. The theme follows early attempts to develop biological weapons.The seriousness of Inspector Rutledge job is offset somewhat by a subplot involving Rutledge's sister and her love affair, which, unlike Partridge's life, has a happy ending.

A goodbook for mystery lovers who are also history buffs. I would rate this police procedural/British mystery 4 stars.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.

Mar 3, 2009

Book Review: Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels
In this character-driven novel, Dirty Little Angels by Chris Tusa, we meet sixteen-year-old Hailey, who wants a sign that God is listening to her prayers to help her family. She has tried prayer, as her mother taught her to, but life is still harsh in New Orleans.

Hailey’s father has been laid off from work and spends his time in the pool hall and with another woman; Hailey’s mother is confined to bed after an injury to her back; the parents are sleeping separately, and the threat of a divorce hangs in the air. Her older brother Cyrus has been arrested several times, carries brass knuckles in his pocket, and hangs out with high school kids who smoke pot and drink.

When Moses the preacher, a man with a violent past, enters their lives, he doesn’t lead them out to a “promised land,” however, but into violence, crime, and personal danger. In the end, when Hailey's brother Cyrus is threatened, Hailey makes a crucial decision. Does Hailey become a Dirty Little Angel?

It’s easy to become involved with the main character - her angst and her confusion about friends, sex, and religion. The dialogue, setting, and action in the novel gives the reader a good sense of time and place. Most of the book seems to simply set the stage and unveil character, and we wonder where it all will lead. If you persist to the end of the novel, you will be well rewarded with the last chapters of the book.

The author has described his novel as “southern gothic with traditional elements of the grotesque. It's character-driven, though a plot does develop. It is a bit violent, though I try my best not to glorify the violence. I like gritty books that don't have a tidy ending, so don't expect an Oprah-style novel.”

Very easy reading, fascinating characterizations, and a strangely satisfying ending.

Book provided by the author, for my objective review.

Empresses of Seventh Avenue by Nancy MacDonell: Historical Novel

 Fashion in Paris and New York City during WWII   Empresses of Seventh Avenue World War II, New York City, and the Birth of American Fashion...