Sep 29, 2009

Book Review: The Texicans by Nina Vida

(p. 17)
"I've been thinking and thinking about Aurelia," Willie said to Oscar after Luz picked the baby up and took it inside. "I don't want to marry her, you see, but I'd like to buy her."
It's April 1844 in the Rio Grande Valley, Texas on the outskirts of San Antonio. Willie has heard about Aurelia's gift as a curer, a healer, and came to her because of a stomach disorder. Her family is poor and a marriage to Willie would be beneficial.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Should Be Reading Choose two sentences from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.

From the publisher's description:
"Joseph, a Polish-Jewish school teacher has become a rancher by chance. He marries Katrin, an orphaned immigrant from Alsace, to save her from an Indian chief, but he becomes obsessed with Aurelia, a Mexican girl who may be a witch. Together with two runaway slaves, and assorted Comanches, Tonkaways, and vaqueros, they struggle to settle in Texas. This is a gripping story of their trials and tribulations."

When I started the book, I didn't know what a "Texican" was, so looked it up in the Urban Dictionary online, which gave several meanings:

1. A person living in Texas during the time of the Republic of Texas. A person modern who advocates that Texas secede from the United States.

2. A native Texan of Mexican descent. 3. A Texan of Mexican ancestry. 4. A Mexican born in Texas.

5. A Texican is person of European descent in Texas. A Tejano is a person of Hispanic descent in Texas. 6. A Mexican living in Texas.

The novel includes all the above, the various people that make up the residents of Texas in the 1840s. This would also include the Comanches and other native Indian tribes.

The novel's main character is Joseph, a Polish-Jewish former school teacher who heads from Missouri to Texas after his brother's death there. Joseph meets a European girl in Texas who becomes his wife, and later meets a Mexican woman Aurelia, with whom he becomes obsessed.

Comments: The author is a skilled storyteller with excellent descriptions that evoke the time, the surroundings, and the people.

"The braves came home from the hunt with forty bison. They crossed the Colorado and rode into camp. Ten Elk riding ahead, the women laden down with supplies and dragging the butchered bison along behind them until the ground turned bloody and the bison meat was studded with gravel and dirt." (ch. 6)

I think of this as an historical novel telling the story of the variety of Texicans who lived in, settled in, and made up the new Republic of Texas.

Thanks to Nina Vida for a copy of the book for review.

Bookmark and Share

Sep 27, 2009

Book Review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen by Julie Powell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I should have listened to worldwide bookish wisdom and not seen the movie before I read Julie and Julia. Seeing the film first absolutely ruined the book for me. I keep envisioning Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Amy Adams as Julie as scenes from the film kept intruding during my reading.

I liked the film. Unfortunately, I didn't think the book had much more to offer once I knew the story. I keep admiring Julie's determination to finish cooking all the recipes in Julia's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I admire her tenacity and blogging successfully about it. I wish there had been her actual blog posts, printed chronologically with the dates for each one, instead of a continuous narrative based on her blog. Then there would have been something interesting to read after the movie!

I like that Julie added questions at the end of the book to help the reader on, and also her list of favorite related books. One entry that did not help me with the book. however, and stood out as a complete non sequitur to her previous list of recommended books on cooking:

"And a couple of random good reads to round things out...

"The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead" by Max Brooks. Words cannot describe how I adore this book.... I couldn't think of a way to justify putting the complete DVD set of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on a reading list, but this is the next best thing."
Now if there is one set of books/DVD I would not read or watch, it's Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Just not my genre.

It goes without saying though that those who haven't seen the movie should really enjoy reading this interesting and unusual story about the love of cooking, Julie and Julia.

Thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book for review.

Bookmark and Share

Book Review: Hardball by Sara Paretsky

Hardball Two missing persons - one that lawyer and private investigator V. I. Warshawski is hired to find, the other someone that she must find. Those who want to learn more about the city of Chicago, past and present, will certainly get a lot from reading Hardball.

Synopsis: V. I. Warshawski, lawyer and private investigator, is hired to find a missing man, Lamont Gadsgen. In the meantime her cousin Petra disappears, possibly abducted while visiting Warshawksi's office with two unknown men. The security cameras capture the three blurred figures on film. Warshawski has to find Lamont, who has been missing for many years, and also try to find Petra and calm down her father, who blames her for Petra's mysterious disappearance. The plot ties into the history of Chicago in the 1960s.

I like a cleaner, more focused mystery than the current one by Paretsky, however. Maybe I'm too familiar with Chicago, but I felt that Paretsky tried to cram as much of Chicago as possible into her book, more than the plot warranted. Chicago's southside urban ghettos and its gangs and the 1967 race riots in Marquette Park are central to the plot, but the author also throws in Navy Pier, the Polish community, more than enough Chicago politics, and lots of landmarks. I found it distracting.

Also, I was put off by the number of different characters introduced at the beginning. I didn't know who to focus on. The book would have been better had the writing and plot been more streamlined. Even then, you really can't describe all aspects of this city in one book.

I also found it interesting that Warshawski's love interest is named Morell. The name reminded me too much of Stephanie Plum's on-and-off-again boyfriend Morelli in the Janet Evanovich mystery series. Another unfortunate distraction!

Thanks to the publisher for an ARC for review.

Bookmark and Share

Sep 24, 2009

Book Review: The Elegance of the Hedgehog

The Elegance of the Hedgehog The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this social satire on modern French manners and society through the main characters.

Take one disenchanted 12-year-old child, smart but cynical for her age, add an equally cynical but likeable concierge/caretaker in a building of private apartments, and then mix in an erudite and wealthy Japanese gentlemen - shake together and see what happens when they meet and interact.

What they have in common is a love of beauty and art. Young Paloma thinks the world is not worth living in, until she discovers what she describes as perfection - the movements of a rising young player in a football game, for instance. The concierge, Renee, hides her love of good food, art, music, and literature behind nondescript clothing, unkempt hair, and a blank face that she shows to the tenants of her building. The Japanese gentleman, Mr. Ozu, is a new tenant who enjoys fine painting, music, and literature.

When Paloma and Mr. Ozu reach the conclusion that Renee the concierge is smarter than she lets on, Mr. Ozu is certain that Renee's cat Leo is named after the Russian writer Tolstoy. Renee decides that Mr. Ozu has found her out; his two cats have the names of characters in Tolstoy's War and Peace after all, and he has begun to observe her with curiousity. Ozu and Renee play cat and mouse games at first, trying to discover more about each other.

Young Paloma is anxious to get away from her wealthy parents and irritating older sister, who are always trying to draw her into meaningless conversations. She finds refuge in Renee's apartment. Mr. Ozu decides to invite Renee, whom everyone sees as a lowly concierge, to his elegant apartment for tea and again for dinner.

What happens next? Well, I won't tell everything!

I liked Renee's philosophical discourses on art, literature, beauty, and life. Her character is drawn to show that social stereotypes are just what they are - stereotypes. A concierge brought up in relative poverty is not what may seem to the outside world. She hides her knowledge of literature and art and her love of classical music because she, like the young girl Paloma, wants to be left alone by people who wouldn't understand her.

For those who like unusual and rebellious characters and who enjoy reading social satire, I recommend The Elegance of the Hedgehog.

Can't wait to read Muriel Barbery's previous book, Gourmet Rhapsody, now out in translation.

Bookmark and Share

Sep 22, 2009

The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme hosted by
Should Be Reading. Choose two sentences from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.

"Meaningful living is choosing your passions over your fears. It is accepting what you cannot control and focusing on what is in your power."
(from the cover of The Art of Meaningful Living by Christopher F. Brown, art by John Palmer)

A coffee-table style book with self-help advice on wisdom, action, and resilience. It is illustrated with 75 pieces of colorful abstract art.

Sep 17, 2009

BBAW: Reading

Saw this BBAW meme over at Lori's Blog and decided to play along to mark the end of BBAW Appreciation Week.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I try not to get crumbs or fingerprints on my book, so I'll usually put the book aside while I take a book break. I snack on chips, chocolate, or what's available.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read? How do you keep your place while reading a book?
I never put pencil or pen marks in books.

I try to mark the page with a bookmark, a piece of paper, anything available... When I can't find anything to mark with, I memorize the page number I'm on! That doesn't always work!

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Both. I've discovered some really good memoirs lately. I especially liked Lift: A Memoir by Rebecca K. O'Connor, a falconer.

Hard copy or audio books?
Hard copy, though I've listened to audio books on long drives.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
I put down the book at any point.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Not unless the dictionary is right next to me. I try to figure out the meaning by the way the word's used.

What are you currently reading?
Sara Paretsky's Hardball, an ARC of a new mystery/thriller by the Chicago author.

Also reading the memoir, Julie and Julia, and sometimes pick up The Elegance of the Hedgehog

What is the last book you bought?
Bought The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I loved his first book, Shadow of the Wind.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I'm reading at least three right now - a mystery/thriller, a memoir, and literary fiction.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
I tend to read in the afternoons and at night. I read outdoors, on a couch by the window, in the car while my hubby is driving, at the bookstore, at a coffee shop. Wherever.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Cozy mystery series by M.C. Beaton as well as gardening mysteries, petsitter mysteries, dog mysteries, feng shui mysteries, and so on. I also like mystery/thriller writer, Ridley Pearson, among others.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
All the books I mentioned above and more.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
They are not organized, sad to say. I organize them by newer versus older, right now anyway.

How about you?

Tagged: Professor B. Worm

Bookmark and Share

Sep 16, 2009

What's on your desk Wednesday?

I've been tagged!

What's on your desk Wednesday? is a weekly bookish meme hosted by Sassy Brit of . Check her blog out each Wednesday for the post titled, What's on your desk Wednesday?

You can do one of two things or both!

Grab a camera and take a photo of your desk! Or anywhere you stack your books/TBR pile. And no tidying! Add this photo to your blog.Tag at least 5 people! Come back here and leave a link back to your photo in comments.
List at least 5 BOOKISH things on your desk (I'm thinking your TBR pile or books you haven't shelved...) List at least 5 NON BOOK things. (I'm thinking some of some of the more unusual items on your desk/table?) Tag at least 5 people to do the same. Come back here and leave your link, so we can come and visit your blog. Or add your answers in the comments if you don't have a blog.

Five bookish things on my desk:

Hardball by Sara Paretsky,
The Official Scrabble Word Finder by Robert W. Schachner,
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, third edition
A Year of Pleasures by Elizabeth Berg
One Deadly Sin by Annie Solomon, won in a give away by Carole's Notebook.

Five non book things on my desk: The Music of China compact disc, a yellow flashlight, a paper/photo scanner, a box of paper clips, and a goose neck lamp.

Not very exciting, I know. I keep books in another room as well as downstairs and in the basement, so my desk is mostly book free but covered in notebooks, in which I hope to write sometime. Thanks, Sassy for the tag! I'm to tag a few others, so here goes:

Rose City Reader
The Little Bookworm

Sep 15, 2009

Book Review: The Hidden Man by David Ellis

A teaser sentence from the thriller, The Hidden Man by David Ellis:

"I'll do that," I promised. "But I need more than a month to prepare, Sam. I need six months, minimum."

(ch. 10, from an uncorrected proof. Final edition may differ.)
I thought the plot of this mystery was very good. I also like the relationship between the lawyer Jason Kolarich and his childhood playmate, Sammy, who suddenly, just before the trial, requests that Jason defend him in a case of suspected murder. Jason balks but then reluctantly agrees; he and Sammy go back a long way. Sammy hasn't confessed to the crime, and no one except the law seems to blame him for the death of a pedophile suspected in the disappearance of his little sister Audrey thirty years ago.

The Hidden Man has lots of twists and turns, enough to keep you going, although I had to navigate a maze of different ways to try a case and to defend in criminal court. Those familiar with courts and trial law will get the most out of the intricacies of this very good legal thriller.

From the publisher:

" Jason Kolarich is a midwestern everyman with a lineman's build and an easy smart-ass remark. He's a young, intelligent, and successful lawyer, but he's also struggling with an overwhelming emotional burden - one that threatens to unravel his own life, and possibly the lives of those around him.

When a long-estranged friend resurfaces needing Kolarich's legal help, the lawyer has to try to salve old wounds. Yet as the trial looms, it becomes clear that unsettling events from the past are precisely what need to be exposed in order to crack not only this case but also a mysteriously connected one that went unsolved more than thirty years ago."

Author David Ellis, an attorney from Chicago, is counsel to the speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives and was the prosecutor in the Governor Rod Blagojevich impeachment trial. He has written six other mystery novels and is an Edgar Award winner.

Thanks to Putnam, New York for an advance review copy.

Bookmark and Share

Sep 12, 2009

Book Review: Trail of Crumbs, a Memoir by Kim Sunee

Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home by Kim Sunée
Genre: memoir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trail of Crumbs is the memoir of a young woman haunted by memories of being lost or abandoned by her mother at age three in a Korean markeplace. Persistent nightmares and her longing for "Omma" to come back to claim her in that marketplace suggest an unfulfilling childhood in the U.S. with her adoptive family. Her adoptive mother she describes as distant and disapproving. Her happy memories in the U.S. are of her adoptive grandfather, who taught her about New Orleans food and cooking.

The book is partly about travel - Provence and Paris, France - and partly a memoir of the author's love affair with Europe, European food, and European men - very different from the "narrow" and circumscribed life in New Orleans. Kim Sunee escapes to college in France and stays to live in Europe for many years with her French lover Olivier and his young daughter. When she doesn't find fulfillment in this either, Sunee finally tries psychotherapy in France, where a psychiatrist tells her the problem - she is divided.

A quick trip to Asia, suggested by Olivier, doesn't do anything to heal this divide. Korea is unsatisfactory, and she becomes sick on a trip to China. She finally accepts herself and her life while spending time in French Guiana - a simpler place than any she has ever lived in.

Those interested in memoirs, adoption and adopted children, French food and recipes, and Provence, will enjoy the book - the personal journey of a Korean American woman and food writer seeking to find out where she belongs.
Kim Sunee is "founding food editor for Cottage Living and the host of 'Local Flavor with Kim Sunee' for" Her website is

Thanks to the Hachette Book Group for the review copy of this book.

Sep 10, 2009

Book Review: The Fruit of Her Hands by Michelle Cameron

The Fruit of Her Hands: The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz by Michelle Cameron
Genre: historical fiction

I was amazed and impressed by the way in which the author took her research of her 13th century ancestor, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, and wrote an historical novel based on his life. Although she knew little about his wife, the author recreated her, Shira of Ashkenaz, as the main character in her novel.

The book details the childhood of Shira and her interest in biblical studies, created a love connection to the apostate Nicholas Donin, and gave him an additional motive for his hatred of the Jewish religion - his unsuccessful bid for Shira's hand in marriage. The book develops the character Shira as the perfect woman and mother, a "pearl" of a wife to Meir ben Baruch.

From the Author's Note:
" I don't remember the first time my mother told me I was descended from a famous rabbi who lived in Europe in the 1200s....I stumbled upon a reference to Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenbert, the Maharam....

I had never known that in 1242 an apostate Jew named Nicholas Donin, having been excommunicated by the chief rabbi of Paris, convinced the Pope and French royals to burn every copy of the Talmud in a Paris market square. My ancestor, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, was among the witnesses.... I learned how, years later, Meir ben Baruch settled in Rothenberg, founded a Jewish seminary, and became known throughout Europe for the wisom of his responsa, letters written in response to Talmudic questions."

Those interested in the history of religion in 13th century France, Germany, and England, and in the conflict between the Jews and Christians on an official basis and in the daily life of the time, will be fascinated by the research as well as by the fictional story of Shira as wife and mother.

My thanks to the author/publisher for an advance copy of The Fruit of Her Hands and the opportunity to review it. You can visit the author's website for more information on the book and book tour at Michelle Cameron

Chinese Literature: Reading Challenge

Music listened to for the challenge:

Chinese Classical Music video online

2. Erhu - Spring Scenery South of the Yangtze River video

Book reviews completed for the challenge:

1. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

2.Waiting by Ha Jin

3. A Map of Paradise: A Novel of Nineteenth Century Hawaii by Linda Ching Sledge, Chinese migration and settlement in Hawaii.

4. I Ching: A New Interpretation for Modern Times by Sam Reifler

5.Pearl of China: A Novel by Anchee Min, March 2010.

The China Challenge is hosted by Jen at Biblio File. I was persuaded by the excellent review of The Uninvited by Geling Yan, posted by Mel U of The Reading Life.

There are several levels of the challenge, from a pledge of just one book to planning a trip to China and learning some Mandarin! I chose Hiking the Great Wall:

Read 10 books about China
1 should be a work of translated fiction
1 should be nonfiction.
Here you can read 1 book (but only 1) about Chinese immigration. So, stories of Chinese people abroad, or nonfiction about overseas Chinese communities.

Anyone can join and you have until Sept. 2010 to complete the challenge.

Bookmark and Share

Sep 9, 2009

New Book: Deconstructing Sammy by Matt Birkbeck

Received from the author for review, a Harper Collins paperback edition just available Sept. 1, on the life of legendary singer, Sammy Davis Jr.

Description from the publisher:

Award-winning investigative journalist Matt Birkbeck delivers a stunning work of reportage that is equal parts cultural history, celebrity biography, and ultimately, a shocking behind-the-scenes look at the world of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Description from Goodreads:
Adored by millions, Sammy Davis Jr. was considered an entertainment icon and a national treasure. But despite lifetime earnings that topped $50 million, Sammy died in 1990 near bankruptcy....

Deconstructing Sammy is the extraordinary story of an international celebrity whose outsize talent couldn't save him from himself.

Harper Paperbacks
304 pages
ISBN: 978-0-06145-067-9

Watch for my later review!

Sep 8, 2009

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers

"I'm tired of giving details," grumbled Harriet, perversely.

"You'll be tireder before the police and the newspaper lads have finished with you...." (ch. IV)

Picked up this Dorothy Sayers mystery over the weekend and got involved with Harriet Vane, detective writer, and her admirer Lord Peter Wimsey, both main characters in the famous detective series by Sayers.

In Have His Carcase, Harriet wanders about the seacoast of England trying to sharpen her detecting skills by noticing all the details there are. By lucky or unlucky chance, she comes upon a corpse on a remote section of beach.

It looks like suicide but Lord Wimsey decides otherwise. They both do their sleuting and come up with some interesting answers. Good book with a good start, but my interest started flagging half way through. Since this is by Dorothy L. Sayers, I know it'll pick up again!

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Choose two sentences from your current read, and add the author and title for readers. Anyone can join in.

Sep 2, 2009

New ARCs

The Hidden Man by David Ellis, a thriller

Hardball: A V.I. Warshawski Novel by Sara Paretsky, a mystery

Thanks to Putnam for the chance to read these ARCs of brand new mystery novels set in the Midwest!

Book Review: Lift, a Memoir by Rebecca K. O'Connor

Lift, A Memoir does an excellent job of combining a description of the art of falconry with the memories of a woman becoming a confident falconer in spite of growing up with uncertainty in her personal life. Left by her parents at a young age, she learns about birds and the natural world from her grandfather, and develops a love of birds including hawks and falcons. She becomes a bird trainer, naturalist, and owner of a peregrine falcon. This is her story.

In Lift Rebecca trains her young peregrine falcon, Anakin, to become a skilled hunter. The memoir follows this training, when Rebecca must earn the falcon's trust and she in turn must develop trust he will return after every flight.

There is a story about being connected to the earth that I particularly enjoyed. Rebecca had been unsuccessful with a goshawk, which she had been trying to hunt with in unfamiliar Australian bush. She was in Australia at the time, helping with a bird show and rehabilitating Australian raptors. Murrundindi, an Australian Aborigine, performed a mysterious "grounding ritual" to help her with the hunting.

"I want her (the goshawk) to depend on me to flush her quarry, to believe that I will let her chase it, and to trust me to assist her once she catches it, but I'm failing."
(This quote is from an advance uncorrected proof and may differ from the final publication).

Murrundindi tells her to hunt barefooted, with the dirt between her toes and dirt streaked and smeared, warrior-style, on her face. She soon begins to "hear the land" and sense animals such as wild rabbits, and has successful hunts with the goshawk afterwards.

Flashbacks to her childhood throughout the memoir also tell the story of the Rebecca's childhood, her grandparents, and a renewed relationship with her mother and her mother's new family. It also tells the story of her love for Adam, another falconer. The second part of the book, when Anakin is trained, is thrilling. Stories of the author's finding ponds for her falcon to hunt a variety of waterfowl and duck, and of the people who helped, and the descriptions of the falcon diving to its prey are unforgettable.

Rebecca's story of her love of predators, beginning with her fascination with a praying mantis when she was only a child and ending with her acquiring and training the peregrine falcon Anakin, meshes very well with the equally fascinating story of her own personal life. I recommend this book highly to anyone interested in memoirs and interested in the natural world. I found the stories very moving and the description of the birds in their natural habitat, hunting naturally, very beautiful as well as informative.

Author I want to thank the author Rebecca K. O'Connor for the chance to be an advance reader of Lift, A Memoir. She has written several reference works on the natural world and a novel, Falcon's Return.

Red Hen Press, California
Tentative publication date: Nov. 1, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59709-460-3

Asian and Pacific American Heritage Month: Four Novels

For  Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month   (May),  I'm posting my book reviews by several Asian American novelists. The f...