Dec 31, 2010

2010 Book Reviews: Wrap Up

Everyone's doing a book wrap up for the year, so here's goes. I reviewed 70 books but must have read over 100!

This year I started to read romances and more general women's fiction, adding these to the mysteries I normally read. I also reviewed self-help books and a cookbook or two. A good mix of genres for 2010! I have starred * the ones I really, really like, though I liked them all!

Books Reviewed:
Defending the Enemy by Elaine B. Fischel, non-fiction
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh, Indian fiction*
Busy Body by M.C. Beaton, a cozy mystery*
The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton, women's fiction, romance*
A King of Infinite Space by Tyler Dilts, crime fiction
The End of Marking Time by C.J. West, dystopia
Every Bitter Thing by Leighton Gage, detective fiction*
The Insane Train by Sheldon Russel, crime fiction
The Love Goddess' Cooking School by Melissa Senate, women's fiction, romance
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley, mystery*
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, mystery*

Extinction by Dan Ailey, sci-fi
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, thriller**
A Dog Named Slugger by Leigh Brill, non-fiction
Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh, self-help
A Darker God by Barbara Cleverly, Greek island mystery*
There's No Hope for Gomez by Graham Parke, comedy
The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier, romance
The Blind Contessa's New Machine by Carey Wallace, historical fiction**
Half Life by Roopa Farooki, women's fiction
A Twist of Orchids by Michelle Wan, mystery**

Blood Hina by Naomi Hirahara, mystery
Petals from the Sky by Mingmei Yip, women's fiction
The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan, thriller
The Time of the Dragons by Alice Ekert-Rotholz, an historical novel
Kitchen Chinese by Ann Mah, fiction
Assassins of Athens by Jeffrey Siger, mystery
The Mountain Place of Knowledge by Marshall Chamberlain, adventure thriller
Making a Case for Life by Stephanie Wincik, non-fiction, health
Seducing Mr. Darcy by Gwy Cready, romantic comedy
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, fiction

Clean, Green, and Lean by Walter Crinnion, self-help, cookbook
Sahara by Clive Cussler, adventure thriller
In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck, historical novel
Flirting with Forever by Gwyn Cready, time-travel romantic comedy
Snakes Can't Run by Ed Lin, thriller
The Killing of Mindi Quintana by Jeffrey Cohen, legal thriller
Arabesk by Barbara Nadel, a Turkish mystery
Nanny's Theory of Style by Grace Coopersmith, romantic comedy
Perfection: A Memoir by Julie Metz, memoir
Pearl of China: A Novel by Anchee Min, fiction

Skin and Bones by D.C. Corso, crime fiction
The Stone Monkey by Jeffrey Deaver, thriller
Murder in the Palais Royale by Cara Black, mystery
Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult, women's fiction
A Dead Hand: A Crime in Calcutta by Paul Theroux, crime fiction
The Old Capital by Yasunari Kawabata, literary fiction
Feeling the Vibe by Candace Dow, fiction
Love in Mid Air by Kim Wright, contemporary fiction
At Home with Laurie Ann: A Decorator's Guide , interior decorating
The Godfather of Katmandu by John Burdett, detective fiction

 WOW: A Handbook for Living by Zen Ohashi and Zono Kurazono, self-help
The Writing on My Forehead by Nafisa Haji, women's fiction
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk, fiction
The Brick Layer by Noah Boyd, crime fiction
 Far From the Land: An Irish Memoir by Thomas J. Rice
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, fiction
The Risk of Infidelity Index: A Vincent Calvino Crime Novel by Christopher G. Moore
Paying Back Jack: A Vincent Calvino Novel by Christopher G. Moore, detective series
Thirsty: A Novel by Kristin Bair O'Keefe, fiction.
I Ching: New Interpretation for Modern Times

Dino Vicelli, Private Eye by Lori Weiner, crime fiction
The Trudeau Vector: A Novel by Juris Jurjevics, thriller
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, fiction
Knit, Purl, Die by Anne Canadeo, mystery
Simply Quince by Barbara Gazarian, a cookbook
Denise's Daily Dozen: The Easy, Every Day Program to Lose Up to 12 Pounds in 2 Weeks by Denise Austin, exercise and diet
The Cuban Chronicles by Wanda St. Hilaire, travel memoir
The Tricking of Freya: A Novel, by Christina Sunley
The Last Surgeon by Michael Palmer, a thriller
A Map of Paradise: A Novel of 19th C Hawaii by Linda Ching Sledge

What does your list look like this year?

Dec 30, 2010

Book Review: Defending the Enemy by Elaine B. Fischel

Title: Defending the Enemy: Justice for the WWII Japanese War Criminals
Author: Elaine B. Fischel, member of the American defense team, Tokyo Trials
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Bascom Hill Books (February 1, 2010)
Genre: Partial memoir, historical account
Source: Review book provided by Phenix & Phenix Literary Publicists

About the Author: Elaine B. Fischel was born in New York. The end of WWII found her working in Tokyo for two-and-a-half years at the trial of the 28 accused Japanese war criminals. General Douglas MacArthur, the leader of the Occupation, recruited American lawyers to defend the fallen leaders to insure that history would say this was a "fair trial." Elaine's assignment to the Defense enabled her to interact with the fallen leaders... and with military leaders, diplomats, the Japanese royal family, and Japanese citizens from all walks of life. When the trial was over, Fischel returned home and attended the University of Southern California School of Law. She went on to practice law for 57 years. (Book description).

Product Description:
Defending the Enemy is an eyewitness account of an extraordinary time in America's history - the "Tokyo Trials." From 1946-48, Fischel worked in Tokyo alongside the American attorneys assigned to defend the Japanese war criminals held responsible for the torture and deaths of millions of civilians and prisoners of war. She recounts the post-WWII transition in Japan to the country's occupation by their former enemy, and the subsequent surprise on the part of the Japanese citizenry that the U.S. allegiance to democracy meant providing a fair trial even to the men considered the most evil perpetrators of atrocities. In letters to her family at the time, the author as a young woman tries to explain her ...(interactions) with the defendants and her own surprise at the growing fondness she felt for many of the "villains" of WWII - particularly premier and general Hideki Tojo.

Fischel interweaves the ... trial alongside her tales of travel throughout Japan, her social engagements with high-ranking military and civilians, and her unique enduring relationships, such as her friendship with Emperor Hirohito's brother, Prince Takamatsu. In doing so, Fischel illuminates the paradoxes inherent during this period in history.

My comments: I was fascinated by the title of the book, the chance to read an inside and personal account of this period in American and Japanese history.  I found a few gems, including the author's questioning the role of Russia as one of the countries involved in the Tokyo Trials against Japan. Russia was an ally of Japan until just before the end of the war and was involved in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of Chinese in Manchuria, yet was invited to sit in trial against Japan but not as a defender itself in war crimes.

Another gem was her account of General Tojo's testimony as the number one war criminal at the trials.

Before a full house replete with reporters, Tojo testified how the Japanese had been forced to go to war because of America. America had given Japan an ultimatum about China. The Americans told Japan to get out of China or they would not have access to any of the world's oil. However, the Japanese had been fighting in China for more than ten years and invested significant military and economic resources in this battle. Japan was not amenable to being threatened or forced to leave. (p. 231, ch. 15)

Some of the top level war crime defendants, the A-level group, said as part of their defense that they had no personal involvement in the atrocities committed during the war and lay blame for military aggression on military cliques and on the Japanese Navy.

I admit I am not a historian and don't have knowledge of the facts outside of Fischel's book, though many of these historical accounts of the Tokyo Trials exist. I can understand her wish to leave a detailed account of her experience with the defense team as a legal stenographer. I think her book is valuable as a part of the history of the proceedings, from a personal point of view. Fischel has included numerous newspaper accounts of the trial, personal letters written to her by the defendants, their relatives, and many other people involved. Letters include some from the Emperor's brother, Prince Takamatsu, who was not a part of the trials.

Historians of the period would find her book a useful addition to the body of work that already exists. General readers will find it interesting and controversial at the same time. I cannot accurately rate the historical value of her account, but from a general reader's point of view, I would give her book a 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Dec 21, 2010

Game of Patience, A Novel by Susanne Alleyn: Teaser Tuesday

Game of Patience (Aristide Ravel, #3)

Title: Game of Patience by Susanne Alleyn
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur (March 21, 2006)
Genre: Police procedural, historical novel

"I see no pearl bracelets or diamond brooches here."Aristide stepped aside so that Montereau could peer into the jewelry box.  (p. 55)

Goodreads book description: "With elaborate French cultural atmosphere, author Susanne Alleyn has created a sophisticated and stylish mystery set in the uneasy and turbulent years between the Terror and the rise of Napoleon."

"Paris, 1796. Aristide Ravel, freelance undercover police agent and investigator, is confronted with a double murder in a fashionable apartment. The victims prove to be CĂ©lie Montereau, the daughter of a wealthy and influential family, and the man who was blackmailing her."

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose two sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

Dec 17, 2010

The Friday 56: Broken Birds by Jeannette Katzir


*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Link it to host Freda's Voice, here.

Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila

Broken Birds, The Story of My Momila by Jeannette Katzir, 2009

There is a truth in war: Every survivor has a story to tell. Sadly, it is very true. They have remembrances of evil too horrible to talk about, but anable to be forgotten. But, what of their children, the second and third generations? They too have stories to tell. Fortunately, their tales are not of prison guards and ovens, but of parents, who because of the war, were badly broken. Channa, a Partisan Fighter during World War II, prepares Katzir and her four siblings to survive a war that ended before they were born. Channa's rules are unbreakable: Failure means Death. Strangers mean Danger. Anyone who is not blood is a Stranger. When Channa suddenly dies, the unexpected contents of her will force her adult children to recognize the affects her guidance has had on their relationships with one another, with their created families, and with her. What was once a close-knit family is now led down the road to emotional destruction. (amazon)

"To stay alive here, you have to fight every day!" the man told Nathan.

Dec 15, 2010

Virtual Book Tour: The Active, Creative Child by Stephanie Vlahov

Pump Up Your Book Promotions is hosting author Stephanie Vlahov through Dec. 17.

Title: The Active, Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion

Author: Stephanie Vlahov
Paperback, 105 pages
Published April 10th 2006 by Hohm Press
Genre: parenting, holistic/health
Source: author/publicist

Author's introduction: " I am writing this book for everyone out there who has a child whom they clearly adore but often do not understand. There is a huge population of active/creative children who are going to make this world a better place....Active/creative children are often misunderstood by the medical community, by schools and by their own parents."

Comments: Lucky are the children who are allowed to develop and flourish in spite of behavior that may seem disruptive to others. Vlahov helps to guide parents into a new way of looking at active children with creative urges and channeling their energies constructively. Highly recommended for those at their wits end coping with children who, as Vlahov puts it, will give you a "life of high drama." Highly recommended for parents and teachers!

About the author: Stephanie Vlahov has an M.S. in psychology and theater arts and has used her background and experience to write this book on parenting energetic children, children whose creative urges put their behavior outside the "average" norm. Many of these children could also be mislabeled as having an attention deficit disorder.

Vlahov's book describes some behaviors of these creative children and offers tips and hints throughout the book on coping and nurturing. Some examples:

- "The active/creative child  will continually get into things, will march to the  tune of a different drummer."
- "The active/creative child is often labeled as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)"
- "Expect differences and heightened awareness."
- "Appreciate and train your child's high verbal ability."

There is an index at the back of the book as well as a list of recommended reading. Click here for more information on the book and author, Stephanie Vlahov.

Dec 14, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick

The Forever Queen (Saxon #2)

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose two sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"It is not in my power to give you Aethelred's crown," she said, holding it out to him. "That you must win for yourself, but it is in my ability to give you mine." ( p. 273)

Title: The Forever Queen
Author: Helen Hollick
Paperback: 656 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (November 1, 2010)

Goodreads book description: Aged only thirteen, Emma, daughter of the Duke of Normandy, is married in a strategic alliance to King Aethelred of England. Inept and arrogant, Aethelred is loathed by his young wife, whom he punishes for his many failings as a ruler. Their first son, Edward, is born through an act of violence that is little more than rape. England is invaded by the Viking King Swein Forkbeard and his son Cnut. After a bitter struggle, Aethelred loses his kingdom and his wife. Emma, now dowager queen, holds London against the invader Cnut. When he demands she surrender or suffer the consequences, Emma stakes everything on a dangerous gamble, but troubles and tragedy still await the indomitable queen as she struggles for power and for survival...

Dec 13, 2010

Poems of Liu Xiaobo, Nobel Prize winner

Liu Xiaobo of China received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010, during a lengthy prison sentence for his political opposition. During this detention, he also published the poetry collection June Fourth Elegies (Graywolf Press, 2012) and the essay collection No Enemies, No Hatred (Harvard University Press, 2012). He died, still in custody, on July 13, 2017. (from

Poems by Liu Xiaobo,  and "Your Lifelong Prisoner"

Click on the titles to read the poems.

Dec 12, 2010

Sunday Salon: It's Snowing!

The Sunday

It rained last night and into the morning, but that has all turned into a softly falling snow. It's rather nice, since I did chores yesterday and can stay in!

World and Town
World and Town

I'm in the middle of reading a great library find, World and Town: A Novel by Gish Jen (Oct. 5, 2010). It's about the scientist daughter of a missionary born in China, who helps a Cambodian family, fairly new immigrants in California. Her own life story and love life weaves into the story of the Cambodians, who are trying to fit into American life in a small town in the northwest.

My Christmas gift to myself was a Kindle. I have downloaded quite a few of the classics - Dickens, Jane Austen, Henry James, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, The Iliad, the Odyssey, The Art of War, the sayings of Confucius, the Dream of the Red Chamber, and a few mystery novels. Most of the books are free! Some cost $1 or less and a few are $2.99. 

Two classics I've started to re-read are War and Peace and Pride and Prejudice. I would not have even tried it except for having the books so available on the Kindle! So there's a positive!

I'm doing a blog tour on Dec. 16 for The Active, Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion by Stephanie D. Vlahov. Come back then for a look and some ideas on how to give your creative child the best guidance!

The snow is still falling, and it is pretty. The first significant snowfall of the season! Have a great week!

Dec 8, 2010

Book Review: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Genre: Historical fiction
Paperback, 530 pages
Published May 1st 2008 by John Murray (first published 2008)
Source: Library
Rating: 4 of 5

Comments: My husband listened eagerly to the entire audio book version. That's a pretty good endorsement. He was somewhat disappointed though by the ending, as there were loose ends not tied up. He felt the author didn't quite know what to do with all the myriad characters he created in this awesome historical drama. He'll be glad to know that Sea of Poppies is only the first in the Ibis trilogy, and that the story is not over.

I was intrigued by the myriad accents put on by the eBook reader, Phil Gigante, and by the pidgin and Anglo-Indian words used in 19th century India. Gigante's voice versatility gave color and immediacy to the reading of the novel.

Goodreads book description: "At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Its destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean; its purpose, to fight China’s vicious nineteenth-century Opium Wars. As for the crew, they are a motley array of sailors and stowaways, coolies and convicts.

In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. An unlikely dynasty is born, which will span continents, races, and generations.

The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, the exotic backstreets of China. But it is the panorama of characters, whose diaspora encapsulates the vexed colonial history of the East itself, that makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive -- a masterpiece from one of the world’s finest novelists."

The novel  is a Man Booker Prize nominee (2008).

© Harvee Lau 2011

Dec 7, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

City of Tranquil Light

Title: City of Tranquil Light: A Novel
Author: Bo Caldwell

Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (September 28, 2010)
Genre: historical fiction
Source: publisher

You'll make a good preacher, Will."
I stared at her, unconvinced. (p. 59)
Book description from Goodreads:
Will Kiehn is seemingly destined for life as a humble farmer in the Midwest when, having felt a call from God, he travels to the vast North China Plain in the early twentieth-century. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine. They soon find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty that plunges the country into decades of civil war. As the couple works to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng— City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love—and face incredible hardship, will their faith and relationship be enough to sustain them?

About the author:

Bo Caldwell based City of Tranquil Light on the lives of her maternal grandparents, missionaries in China in the early 1900s. She is also author of The Distant Lands of My Father.

Dec 4, 2010

Book Review: Busy Body by M.C. Beaton

Busy Body: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M. C. Beaton
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Minotaur Books; First Edition edition (October 12, 2010)
Genre: mystery, cozy
Source: Library

About the book: Agatha does it again - solves a couple of murders while helping her friends and employees of her private investigation company in Carsley, a village in the Cotswolds. Not a typical P.I. heroine, she is middle aged, heavyset with bear-like eyes, but with "good legs" and lots of raven hair. Her determination gets her through thick and thin and she has faithful friends. A former husband jumps in and out of her life as does a sometime lover, Sir Charles Fraith, both of whom play a part in the resolution of this mystery.  
John Sunday, with the Health and Safety Board, is so detested by the residents of the neighboring village of Odley Creusis that it no surprise when he is stabbed, but no one in the village will say by whom, if they know. When another person dies, Agatha is hired by the son of the victim to find the killer. Attempts are made on the lives of two other people, and everyone feels the danger in the tiny village. 
Comments: Another enjoyable cozy by the prolific M.C. Beaton, who writes two other mystery series set in the U.K. I liked the village setting, the mystery plot, as well as Agatha's personality.
Rating: 4.5 of 5.

Nov 30, 2010

The Active Creative Child by Stephanie Vlahov: Teaser Tuesday

The Active/Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion

The Active, Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion

"Discipline is Not a Four Letter Word.
Advocate for Your Child's Creativity." (ch. 4)

Book description from Goodreads: With an active, creative child, parents and teachers need to be flexible, energetic and smart! Here is a practical handbook for coping, establishing realistic boundaries and avoiding labels when you have a really inquisitive child. Active/creative children are often misunderstood by the medical community, by schools, and by their own parents. Their energy can be astounding; their curiousity is boundless -- and channeling that energy is necessary. This is encouragement and genuine help to support a child's natural curiosity and energy: * work with your child's energy, don't squelch it * keep your own ego from interfering with your child's passion * how to avoid over-stimulation * how to choose the best artistic outlets * how to choose the best teachers.

Title: The Active, Creative Child: Parenting in Perpetual Motion

Author: Stephanie Vlahov
Publisher: Hohm Press; April 10, 2006
Source: Publisher/publicist

Nov 23, 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to choose two sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

The Lacuna

"It was a form of revenge to steal the pocket watch. Something he could keep from his mother for refusing to tell why she had gone off to the jungle." (from The Lacuna)

I'm now listening to  A Novel; The Lacuna, Unabridged 16 CDs by B Kingsolver [AUDIOBOOK] [UNABRIDGED] (Audio CD)

Book description from Goodreads: "In her most accomplished novel, Barbara Kingsolver takes us on an epic journey from the Mexico City of artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo to the America of Pearl Harbor, FDR, and J. Edgar Hoover. The Lacuna is a poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities."

Love it when the authors read their own books. This is one of them, by Barbara Kingsolver, whose hardcover of The Poisonwood Bible I enjoyed reading. The Lacuna is historical fiction set in Mexico and the United States. Though the main character, Harrison Shepherd, is fictional, others such as the artists Rivera and Kahlo are not.

Nov 20, 2010

The Sunday Salon: Audio Books

The Sunday

I finally stopped procrastinating and did reviews of books I've read. Sometimes I let the reviews-to-do pile up. It's too tempting to just start reading new books instead.

Done last week:The Tapestry of Love, a romance set in France; The End of Marking Time, a dystopian novel; A King of Infinite Space, a detective novel, and Ever Bitter Thing, a police procedural set in Brazil. The week before, I reviewed The Insane Train, a mystery novel.

 Sea of Poppies
I'm continuing to listen to audio books although I've pretty much recovered after eye surgery and can read again. I'm now listening to Sea of Poppies, a book I had found hard to read before because of its complexity, detail, and length. I've decided to listen to it instead and that seems to be working fine for me. The novel's set in nineteenth century India and China during the time when the British were exporting opium from one country to another. There's a lot too about Indian culture and customs of the time.

The Angel's Game (El cementerio de los libros olvidados #2)
The Angel's Game
I admit I abandoned the audio version of The Angel's Game, an interesting book of magical realism, if you are in the mood for it.  I stopped listening at the point where one of the characters entered a house, followed a foul smell and found a decaying dove in a box, with something like a dart or needle through its breast. Magic and supernatural terror at work. I was not in the mood. I thought Zafon's previous book, The Shadow of the Wind, was one of the best books I've read in a long time.

Made plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays! What have you been up to?

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...