Jan 30, 2011

The Sari Shop Widow by Shobhan Bantwal

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I've read only three books since last Sunday but enjoyed A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer, Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris, and a third,

The Sari Shop Widow
The Sari Shop Widow
Author: Shobhan Bantwal
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Kensington Publishing Corporation (September 1, 2009)
Genre: women's fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
Source: personal library/book giveaway


Product description: "Pungent curry. . .sweet fried onions. . .incense. . .colorful beads. . .lush fabrics. Shobhan Bantwal's compelling new novel is set on the streets of Edison, New Jersey's Little India, where a young businesswoman rediscovers the magic of love and family. ..

Since becoming a widow at age twenty-seven, Anjali Kapadia has devoted herself to transforming her parents' sari shop into a chic boutique, brimming with exquisite jewelry and clothing. Now, ten years later, it stands out like a proud maharani amid Edison's bustling Little India. But when Anjali learns the shop is on the brink of bankruptcy, she feels her world unraveling. . .

To the rescue comes Anjali's wealthy, dictatorial Uncle Jeevan and his business partner, Rishi Shah--a mysterious Londoner, complete with British accent, cool gray eyes, and skin so fair it makes it hard to believe he's Indian. Rishi's cool, foreign demeanor triggers distrust in Anjali and her mother. But for Anjali, he also stirs something else, a powerful attraction she hasn't felt in a decade. And the feeling is mutual. . .

Love disappointed Anjali once before and she's vowed to live without it--though Rishi is slowly melting her resolve and, as the shop regains its footing, gaining her trust. But when a secret from Rishi's past is revealed, Anjali must turn to her family and her strong cultural upbringing to guide her in finding the truth. . ."

Comments: I learned a lot about Indian-Americans and Gujarati family traditions, how the East and the West meet and co-exist in contemporary times. Recommend this for those who read women's fiction and international authors.

My next read is Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations by Jill Kargman, a new release.

What have you been reading recently?

Jan 28, 2011

Book Blogger Hop: Murder in Passy by Cara Black

Book Blogger Hop

Welcome to Book Blogger Hop! Visit other blogs by linking up to the Hop at Crazy for Books, weekly from Friday through Monday, blog hop other blogs in the Linky list, and answer the question of the week.

This week's question: What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011? Why are you anticipating this book?

Murder in Passy: An Aimee Leduc Investigation Set in ParisAnswer: I'm a fan of a California mystery writer who sets her books in Paris. Cara Black's latest, the 11th in the Aimee Leduc Investigations mystery series is due out on March  8 in hard cover and on Kindle, Murder in Passy: An Aimee Leduc Investigation Set in Paris.

I've read the ten books in the series and enjoyed them all. They describe Paris in detail, above ground and underground in the tunnels and catacombs that run underneath the city. They describe the different arondisements or districts of Paris and the people who live and work there. Can't wait to read more about Aimee's adventures in Paris as an investigator in computer security. Cara first book, Murder in the Marais: An Aimée Leduc Investigation, is one of the best in the series and is out in paperback edition this month. Murder in the Palais Royal (Aimee Leduc Investigations, No. 10) is due out in paperback on March 8.

What book are you looking forward to this year?

Jan 27, 2011

Found Books: Empress Orchid and Finding Nouf



Empress Orchid by Anchee Min
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (April 11, 2005)
Genre: Fictional memoir, historical novel

"My mother was taught the Ch'an concept of happiness, which was to find satisfaction in small things. I was taught to appreciate the fresh air in the morning, the color of leaves turning red in autumn and the water's smoothness when I soaked my hands in the basin."  (ch. 1)

Comments: I found this book among my niece's pile of books that I am storing until she reorganizes.  I've found some good books among hers, and this is another one. The writing is smooth and poetic and the novel is full of fascinating historical details about Yehonala, the last empress of China, a Manchu who ruled the Qing dynasty for over 40 years until it fell in the early 1900s.


Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris
Mariner Books (May 6, 2009)
Genre: mystery
Setting: Saudi Arabia

 This book I found on sale at the bookstore, a lucky find, as I love both mysteries and books that tell about other countries and cultures.

Here's a description of the book from Goodreads, which uses Barnes and Noble's book summary:  "In a blazing hot desert in Saudi Arabia, a search party is dispatched to find a missing young woman. Thus begins a novel that offers rare insight into the inner workings of a country in which women must wear the iabaya/i in public or risk denunciation by the religious police; where ancient beliefs, taboos, and customs frequently clash with a fast-moving, technology-driven modern world.

The missing woman is Nouf Shrawi, one of several sheltered teen aged daughters of a powerful local family. Hired to track her and her potential abductor is Nayir, a solitary, pious desert guide of dubious origin, and a friend of the family. As Nayir uncovers clues that only serve to deepen the mystery behind Nouf's disappearance, he teams up with Katya, a liberated Saudi woman who is engaged to one of Nouf's brothers.

As they move closer to the truth, the pair's detective work unveils layers of secrets. In a land of prayers, purity, and patriarchy, the dreams of mere mortals often go unrealized, and the consequences of misbehavior for both men and women are disastrous. The final revelation of the truth forces Nayir to confront his own attitudes about women and society and in his deepening relationship with Katya, to face up to his own long-denied yearnings for love and intimacy.
 
Comments: I've just started this mystery novel and find it intriguing on many levels.

Found Books is an occasional meme to introduce books recently bought or "found." You are welcome to join in!

Jan 25, 2011

Eating Animals: Jonathan Safran Foer, Teaser Tuesday

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

Eating Animals

"The UN summarized the environmental effects of the meat industry this way: raising animals for food (whether on factory or traditional farms) "is one  of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. (Animal agriculture) should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity." (p. 58)

Title: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Back Bay Books; Reprint edition (September 1, 2010)


Goodreads description: Jonathan Safran Foer spent much of his teenage and college years oscillating between carnivore and vegetarian. As he became a husband and a father, he kept returning to two questions: Why do we eat animals? And would we eat them if we knew how they got on our dinner plates?

Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, and his own undercover detective work, Eating Animals explores the many fictions we use to justify our eating habits-from folklore to pop culture to family traditions and national myth-and how such tales justify a brutal ignorance. Marked by Foer's profound moral ferocity and unvarying generosity, as well as the vibrant style and creativity that made his previous books, Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, huge bestsellers, Eating Animals is a celebration and a reckoning, a story about the stories we've told--and the stories we now need to tell.

Jan 24, 2011

Book Review: A Heartbeat Away by Michael Palmer

A Heartbeat Away
Title: A Heartbeat Away
Author: Michael Palmer
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: First Edition edition (Feb. 15, 2011)
Genre: Political/medical thriller
Source: ARC from author

Plot: This is a medical and political thriller, involving a bio terrorist attack right in the Capitol building. A lethal virus is set off by a terrorist group, Genesis, in several parts of the chamber in which Congressional members, their staff, and the press are gathered for the President's State of the Union address.

There has to be a lock down and quarantine of the entire building, with the President, the Vice-President, and Speaker of the House included - the three in the top leadership position. President Allaire makes a desperate decision to find an antidote for the virus - he orders the freedom of a convicted terrorist, Griffin Rhodes, a virologist who had been jailed for stealing this same virus. Rhodes claims to have been set up, but agrees to work tirelessly against Genesis to perfect the antidote, his research at the time of his incarceration.

Who is Genesis and who are the masterminds behind the plot to destroy the government?

Comments: The plot may seem far-fetched but it serves as a great vehicle for a thrilling read. Rhodes races against time to save people about to die a horrible death inside the Capitol. At every turn, he is thwarted by Genesis. I found the action and plot very good reading and enjoyed the medical aspect of the thriller up to the end, where I found a disappointing wrap up of the story in the final blame for the terrorism plot. It seemed too easy an answer to give, like the ending of a James Bond movie, to be taken with a big grain of salt. The thrill of getting to the end of the book was all fun, however.

Objective rating: 4 out of 5.

Jan 23, 2011

The Sunday Salon: Book Surprises

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Welcome to the Sunday Salon. Click on the logo to join in!


Tandoori chicken with yogurt, Marsala tea, and a coconut cardamom rice pudding put me in a nice relaxing mood last night. I went to bed early and woke up too early this morning, so I decided to work on The Sunday Salon.

I'm gearing up for book reviews this winter, what with snow to keep me indoors and the temperatures plummeting here in the Midwest. I spent more time on my blog last week than usual. A nice surprise of books came last week, for added inspiration - four new books from HarperCollins, which will keep the TBR list high:
Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal
Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations  by Jill Kargman
Call Me Irresistible: A Novel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan

 The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel by Laura Lippman.

Right now, I'm reading Michael Palmer's new thriller, A Heartbeat Away.

Giveaways:
1. I'm  hosting a giveaway of Delirious, a debut thriller by Daniel Palmer, who happens to be Michael Palmer's son! Following in Dad's footsteps! Daniel is also a singer-song writer and his giveaway includes a free download of his music album! Through Feb. 10.

2.  I also posted Tatjana Soli's The Lotus Eaters author interview/book giveaway. The novel just been put on the New York Times bestseller list, and Tatjana has a lot of fascinating tidbits on writing that novel, plus a bit of information on a new book for 2012. My review of the The Lotus Eaters is part of the TLC Book Tour which runs through Jan. 27. Hope you'll stop by and enter the giveaway, through Feb. 15.

I didn't join in Bloggiesta, but took a look at their weekend schedule. The suggestion to download your blog was a good one! I did it and feel better about having a backup of three years' worth of blogging. Thanks for the tip, folks!

What did you do/read last week ?

Jan 21, 2011

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters

Author Tatjana Soli, author, discusses her novel about photographers and what they experienced covering the Vietnam War, in the New York Times bestseller, The Lotus Eaters: A Novel.






Welcome, Tatjana.

Q:  Can you tell us about the research you made in order to write the book? How long did it take and what are the different things you had to do?

Tatjana:  I had been obsessed with the war for a very long time in terms of understanding it for myself. I had read all the major works of fiction and journalism that are considered important, seen all the movies and documentaries. But when I decided that I would tackle writing about the war, I really immersed myself in non-fiction because it was absolutely essential to get the details right — so many people have experienced the war first-hand and it had to be credible to them.

That said, the factual history was only the starting point. As intellectually interesting as it might be, as a storyteller, you need to bring the experience to your reader— that is paramount. You need to give facts meaning, otherwise the scale of the pain and destruction in war become numbing. So part of this was also learning about the long history of Vietnam, how the culture was structured, who the people are, in order to have a sense of what was destroyed.

I think I spent about a year and a half taking notes, living out this experience in my imagination. Although ultimately, little of it made its way into the book, I studied aspects of Vietnam the way an actor does sense-memory exercises: I ate the food, listened to the music, read poetry, even tried in my miserable way to learn a little of the language. A tonal language that is beyond difficult. If nothing else, it kept the novel alive for me while I was writing it.

Q: What made you become interested in the Vietnam War, this period of history?

My mother and I lived on Ford Ord military base for two years in the late sixties, so the military experience had imprinted itself on me although I was a young child. I had frightening memories and had this real longing to understand what had happened. I think in the bigger context, Vietnam can stand in for all wars, especially conflicts that we are in today. So it is a remarkably topical subject at this moment in our history. I was also fascinated by the huge role journalists played in exposing the lies we were being told about the war, how they turned public opinion. Before Vietnam, much war coverage was in the service of boosterism, of making the public patriotic and supportive of the wars we were engaged in.

Q: The war is controversial. How do you feel about it, looking back in history? Did your research change your mind about how you felt before writing the book?

When I started to write the book, my memories of the pain endured by our soldiers and their families was really foremost in my mind. Helen’s family has been torn apart by her father and brother dying in two different wars. But as I learned more about Vietnam, my frame of reference expanded. We lost 58,000 soldiers and another 9,000 veterans to suicide in the five years after the war. I emphasize that because the war destroyed so many lives, even if they survived combat. A huge toll. Not to mention the disservice done to many of the returning soldiers who were made into scapegoats for an unpopular war. But the Vietnamese lost 1.5 million combatants; 4 million civilians were killed. The only war that the US was similarly affected by was the Civil War. Every Vietnamese family suffered loss; their lands were destroyed. For me this knowledge cured some of the myopia that is natural when dealing with people and cultures that you don’t know. Vietnam was more than just a blank battlefield. The war was more than just an American tragedy.

Q:  Are you currently working on another book?

I have finished a second novel that will be published in 2012. A big departure from The Lotus Eaters, it is set in contemporary Southern California, on a citrus ranch, and involves a ranching woman and a girl who she hires to take care of her. I like to describe it as a novel involving two very dangerous female characters, an orange grove, and voodoo.

Q: How can readers reach you?

Through my website, or tatjana@tatjanasoli.com. I love to hear from readers, and I also am open to speaking to book clubs, either in person if local to Southern California, or by phone or Skype.

Tatjani's website is www.tatjanasoli.com/TatjanaSoliAuthor.html. A novelist and award-winning short story writer born in Austria, she attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program. She lives in California and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

(What is the book about? Click on the link for my review of The Lotus Eaters)

The Lotus Eaters: A NovelBook Giveaway: The publisher has agreed to give away a copy of The Lotus Eaters: A Novel to readers of each TLC book tour participant. U.S. residents only, no P.O. boxes, please.

To enter, leave a comment on what interested you about the book review below or about Tatjana's discussion, and include your email address! The giveaway will run through Feb. 15. The book will be sent through TLC by the publisher.

UPDATE: The giveaway winner is Suzanne of CT.

Jan 20, 2011

Book Review: The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli



Title: The Lotus Eaters: A Novel
Author: Tatjana Soli
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (December 21, 2010)
Genre: fiction
Source:  TLC Book Tours

Summary: The novel is set during the Vietnam War, a combination of adventure, romance and history, with some subtle political commentary. Helen, an American photographer working for Life magazine, has decided to stay in Saigon at the end of the war with wounded fellow photographer, Linh, even though the victorious North Vietnamese soldiers are entering the city and there is danger for Americans and South Vietnamese alike.

The book takes us in flashbacks to Helen's arrival in Vietnam 10 years earlier as a photographer, her doomed love affair with fellow photographer Sam Darrow, and her subsequent relationship with Linh, another photographer who is a former North Vietnamese defector to the south.

Comments: Two love stories, the first due to the urgency and stress of war, and the second because of proximity and shared experiences. In the beginning, Helen relies on Darrow for information and to help her as a photographer of the war. Her love for Linh comes later, after more time and experience in Vietnam. 
The book is also a commentary on the Vietnam War, through stories about the soldiers, their skirmishes, relationships with the Vietnamese, positive and negative. I assume they are based on the the author's research on real events.

The monk shook his head and poured tea.
"He is only a simple monk. He is afraid for the Westerners, that you will lose your way by interfering with Vietnam's destiny. (ch. 9)
Title, The Lotus Eaters: The title is arresting. especially for those who know Tennyson's poem of the same name, describing the voyages of Ulysses and his band of warriors who are tempted by the sleep-inducing lotus and the people of the land they discover, to remain and never leave the place. The title though may not refer to the Vietnamese in the war, who, on both sides, were far from being drugged as the title would suggest. The title may more appropriately refer to the Americans in the war, and to Helen, who refuses to leave Vietnam, wanting more and more of the heady war experience, reluctant to leave and let go.

Easy to read, I thought the writing could have been more tightly edited, less wordy. It tends to ramble in its descriptions. It would have had a greater impact and punch if it were less so. The content though is first rate and gives the reader a deeper sense of those controversial years of the war.

Objective rating: 4.25 out of 5. 

Book Giveaway: Click here to read an interview with the author and to enter the book giveaway.

Tatjana Soli's website: http://www.tatjanasoli.com/TatjanaSoliAuthor.html
Book tour stops: http://tlcbooktours.com/

© Harvee Lau 2011

Edgar Allen Poe Award Winners 2011

The 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Awards for crime writers will be presented April 28, 2011 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

Two of the categories include Best Novel and Best First Novel by an American Author. My picks for winners are in orange!!

BEST NOVEL

Coben, Harlan. Caught
Franklin, Tom. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
French, Tana. Faithful Place
Hallinan, Tim. The Queen of Patpong*
Hamilton, Steve. The Lock Artist
Lippman, Laura. I'd Know You Anywhere

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

DeSilva, Bruce. RogueIsland
Doiron, Paul. The Poacher's Son
Gordon, David. The Serialist
Pizzolato, Nic. Galveston
Thompson, James. Snow Angels*


BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

Goddard, Robert. Long Time Coming
O'Flynn, Catherine. The News Where You Are
Swierczynski, Duane. Expiration Date
Tallis, Frank. Vienna Secrets
Tyler, LC. Ten Little Herrings

Source: Partial list from The Poisoned Pen

Jan 18, 2011

Book Review/Giveaway: Delirious by Daniel Palmer

Delirious

Title: Delirious
Author: Daniel Palmer
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Kensington, available January 25, 2011
Genre: Techno-thriller, psychological thriller
Source: Advance uncorrected proof from the author
Objective rating: 4.5 out of 5


"I've been experiencing lost time," Charlie said.
"I see," she said. "That can be very scary."
"I may have done things that I can't remember doing," Charlie explained.

   (ch. 23, from an advance uncorrected proof. Final copy may differ).
Plot:  Charlie Giles is rich and successful, creator of a  revolutionary electronics product, InVision, and a senior director at a giant electronics firm. But something suddenly goes wrong.

Charlie seems to be doing unexplainable things in the company and also in his private life. Charlie can't remember writing threatening notes that appear in his own handwriting. He can't remember being involved in murders though all the evidence points to him. His father and brother were schizophrenic and Charlie had been assured he was born free of the disease. But was he? How to explain unexplainable events that lead to threats and murder? Is he also a victim of this mental disorder? Charlie becomes a fugitive trying to find the answers that will preserve his sanity, his legacy, and his own family.

Comments: Well written page turner and  psychological thriller, the book takes you into the world of medicine, corporate conglomerates, technology, while it spins a compelling story of  sanity, mental disorder, family loyalty, and revenge. Well worth reading for lovers of suspense and mystery. To read the first few chapters of the book:  The prologue and first three chapters can be found here: http://www.http//bit.ly/hmMBT8

Book giveaway: Author Daniel Palmer has provided a second, signed ARC of his new book for a reader. To enter the book giveaway, leave a comment with your email address and tell us the name of a  mystery, thriller you have read. U.S. and Canadian residents only; no P.O. boxes, please. The give away ends Feb. 10.

More about the author/musician:  http://www.danielpalmerbooks.com/
Download a free copy of Daniel's album “Home Sweet Home” at www.http://bit.ly/fW6SN3 

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

© Harvee Lau 2011
UPDATE: Winner of the giveaway is stacibuckeye. Congratulations! An email has been sent!

Jan 11, 2011

Enlightenment for Idiots; A Novel, Teaser Tuesday

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


"Lie down on your backs and close your eyes," I instructed my students, as I walked among them handing out silky eyebags stuffed with flaxseeds. "Let the weight of your body surrender into the embrace of gravity."  (yoga class, p. 20)


from Enlightenment for Idiots: A Novel by Anne Cushman
Goodreads book description: "Nearing age thirty, Amanda thought she’d be someone else by now. Instead, she’s just herself: an ex-nanny yogini-wannabe who cranks out “For Idiots” travel guides just to scrape by. Yes, she has her sexy photographer boyfriend, but he’s usually gone—shooting a dogsled race in Alaska or a vision quest in Peru—or just hooking up with other girls. However, she’s sure her new assignment, “Enlightenment for Idiots,” will change everything; now she’ll become the serene, centered woman she was meant to be. After some breakup sex, she’s off to India to find a new, more spiritual life.

What she finds, though, is an ashram run by investment bankers, a yoga master who trashes her knee, and a guru with a weakness for fashion models. She escapes a tantra party at the Taj Hotel, has a nasty argument outside the cave where the Buddha used to meditate, then agonizes through the ten-day silent retreat that’s supposed to make her feel better.

No, India is not what she had pictured. But she finds a friend in Devi Das, a redheaded sadhu who refers to himself as “we.” And when a holy lunatic on the street offers her an enigmatic blessing, Amanda realizes a new life may be in store for her—just not the one she was expecting." (Goodreads)