Apr 30, 2013

Book Review: Tiger Babies Strike Back by Kim Wong Keltner


Kim Wong Keltner's memoir describes her life growing up under the thumb of a demanding and stoic Chinese mother. Kim says she suffered from lack of affectionate hugs, outward shows of love, words of praise from her mother, and eventually moved away from their home in San Francisco after her marriage to native Californian, Rolf Keltner, to gain independence and a better perspective. But she says this about her mother:
The Reamer (Irene, her mother) didn't coddle me. But it wasn't for lack of love. She did not coddle me because she loved me. She wanted me to be strong so I could live without her." (ch. 38)
Kim gives this message to Tiger Parents, those parents who push their children to extremes toward success.
Tiger Parents,you may be asking yourselves, "What is the point of this book?"
Love your babies, and show your babies that you love them. Withholding acceptance and praise while pushing your children into achievement might yield certain results, but that kind of pressure stifles other aspects of growing up." (epilogue)
And there are messages for the children of Tiger parents,  for whom she wrote this book:
"Have an emotional life. Please yourself. Second best ain't worth killing yourself over...."
The author cites Amy Chua's Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother as an impetus for her book and as a response to Chua's Tiger Mother perspective.

To those who were not born with Tiger Parents, this sort of advice may seem unwarranted, but the author clearly feels everything she puts into the book. And there is a lot of emotion here. The memoir seems to rant at the beginning and even to generalize about who Tiger Mothers are and how they came to be. However, the author soon gets into specifics with examples from her family, acquaintances, and from her own life.

Not all Tiger Children escape unscathed from their parents' upbringing as Kim did. Some are forever stifled, she shows. These Tiger Children include those who never leave home and are brought up with the sole idea of being their parents' caretakers, or the child whose romantic and personal life is squelched by overwhelming family /parental disapproval.

One of the early drawbacks: living in a "Tiger box" made it hard for Kim to develop female friendships while growing up. Other Chinese girls in their own Tiger boxes wanted to show independence or exhibited one-upmanship, which prevented close alliances.

One exception to the Tiger parent rule was Kim's kinder grandmother Lucy, whom she remembers with fondness and brings into mind the difference between the generations in bonding with children.

I understood and felt everything that the author was trying to say, even though my parents are a generation removed from the "old country." A strict culture filters down inexorably though it may dissipate somewhat on the way down. I am anxious to see what others think about Kim's memoir, those who weren't raised within such strict confines. There is a lot in the book for general readers, to understand the interior of a traditional (though what might seem a somewhat stereotypical) Chinese family.

Title: Tiger Babies Strike Back: How I Was Raised By a Tiger Mom But Could Not Be Turned to the Dark Side by Kim Wong Keltner
Published April 30, 2013; William Morrow paperback
Genre: memoir
Objective rating: 4.5/5

For other reviews of the book, visit the TLC Book Tour schedule.
About the author: 
The only thing that keeps Kim Wong Keltner from writing is when she’s trapped under an avalanche of her daughter’s stuffed animals. Kim is the author of The Dim Sum of All Things, Buddha Baby, and I Want Candy. Tiger Babies Strike Back is her first work of non-fiction. You can reach her at kimwongkeltner.com

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for an ARC review copy of the book.

Also submitted to Teaser Tuesdayhosted by MizB of Should Be Reading, and to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link-Up Party.

Apr 28, 2013

Sunday Salon: Yoga Gripes, a book I should write

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey, and Mailbox Monday at MariReads.

We are having scattered showers after a perfect sunny day yesterday, when we sat and read in the backyard and pulled a few weeds. This morning I saw a northern red cardinal feed its mate (or was it a juvenile?) some bird seeds it gathered up from the ground. How sweet!

I also went to gym yoga and have to decide whether or not to keep going or just stick to the studio yoga that I started last week. At gym yoga, the instructor focuses on yoga postures mainly for the exercise value. At the studio, the instructor combines yoga poses with deep breathing exercises and meditative relaxation - the complete package that is quite relaxing.

At the gym class, one guy scoffed when I repeated the traditional yoga "namaste" after the teacher at the end of the class. "Namaste" is a sign of respect to the teacher and from teacher to student.  I don't feel I am performing a religious ritual when I do yoga, repeat it's phrases, or do meditation. Many people want the yoga exercises only and then wonder why it's not that much fun, not at all relaxing, but just a lot of hard work. They then skip a lot of their classes.

 I do feel grumpy today :) The good stuff? New books and ARCs for review.

ARCs:
The Wonder Bread Summer by Jessica Anya Blau, a comic novel

Do You Believe in Magic: The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Paul A. Offit, M.D. An "expose" about vitamins, supplements, herbs, oils, saunas, and more. He does say that some nontraditional methods for healing do work!

The Alley of Love and Yellow Jasmines by Shohreh Aghdashloo, a memoir by the Iranian American actress and Oscar nominee who left her home country and husband after the 1978 Iran revolution.

The Abomination by Jonathan Holt, a thriller set in Venice and written by an English literature grad from Oxford. The first in the Carnivia Trilogy.

Historical Novels:







The GI Bride, by British writer Iris Jones Simantel






Motherland by British writer William Nicholson, set in post-war England, France, India, and Jamaica.







Mysteries:



A Case of Redemption by Adam Mitzner, a legal thriller set in New York City. A high-profile attorney agrees to represent a popular rap artist accused of murdering his pop star girlfriend.



Rese's Leap: An Island Mystery by Darcy Scott, set in Maine, the second in the series.


Matinicus: An Island Mystery by Darcy Scott, the first in the Maine series, honorable mention in the New England Book Festival contest.




Book tours coming up:
Tiger Babies Strike Back, a memoir by Kim Wong Keltner
Roses Have Thorns: A Novel of Elizabeth I, historical novel by Sandra Byrd

Library books:




The Dance of the Seagull, an Inspector Montalbano mystery by Andrea Camilleri

The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie, the 15th in the detective series set in England

This should last me a while....What have you been reading?


Apr 26, 2013

The Belly Dancer: A Novel by DeAnna Cameron

Friday 56 Rules: *Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.

"I think I'm coming down with something." She kept staring. Three boys in short pants, screaming and batting at a ball with brooms, the sunlight bleaching the tops of their heads into halos.
"I know when you're ill, and you're not ill."
"You don't know everything."
"I know you."
Book description: At the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, with exhibitions from all over the globe, young socialite Dora Chambers is given the task of enforcing proper conduct in the Egyptian belly dancing exhibition. She accepts, trying to please her socially ambitious, aloof husband and earn the approval of the local women of high society—the World's Fair's Board of Lady Managers.

Dora is captivated and shocked by the Egyptian belly dancers and by their enigmatic manager, Hossam Farouk. Her eyes are opened to the world beyond her own life of social expectations and quiet servitude and she discovers the truth about her own desires and passions.

Title: The Belly Dancer: A Novel by DeAnna Cameron
Published March 6, 2012; Berkley paperback
Genre: historical fiction
Source: copy from the author, a book win from Naida at The Book Worm

Apr 24, 2013

Book Review: The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips



Title: The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Paperback reprint April 2, 2013; William Morrow
Genre: romantic fiction

Lucy Jorik was last seen running away from her fiance, her family, and her wedding in a previous book, Call Me Irresistible, a book that follows her disgraced maid of honor Meg and Lucy's left- at-the-altar would-be groom, Ted.

The Great Escape, the sequel to that book, is Lucy's story, of what happens to her after she takes off, escapes from her wedding to Ted and follows a stranger - the mysterious and scruffy-looking Panda. Panda picks her up on his motorcycle as she flees the wedding and tries to persuade her to return to her family, but Lucy is determined to stay away to think things over. She follows Panda to his island home on Lake Michigan and refuses to leave.

What happens is intriguing as well as predictable to some degree. I enjoyed the great escape and makeover that Lucy decides to give herself on the island, even down to her new nickname, Vixen. Too bad reality has to force its way in after a while and then a great lark of an adventure turns into more sobering experiences.

I enjoyed the book quite a bit but hated to have it turn too realistic towards the end. It seems the author was trying hard to make the novel relevant as the book started out as a good escapist romance. Nevertheless, a very good read. I recommend it for romance readers as well as for general fiction readers.

For more reviews, visit the TLC Book Tour schedule. Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of the book.


Susan Elizabeth Phillips soared onto the New York Times bestseller list with Dream a Little Dream. She’s the only four-time recipient of Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Favorite Book of the Year Award. A resident of the Chicago suburbs, she is also a wife and mother of two grown sons. Visit her website, susanelizabethphillips.com, like her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Apr 21, 2013

Sunday Salon: Spring Has Sprung

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to It's Monday; What Are You Reading? at Book Journey, and Mailbox Monday at MariReads.

Spring seems to have arrived after a scare of snow flurries early yesterday. The sun is out for the most part and robins are busy making nests. The dark-eyed juncos that stopped by the backyard for about a week are mostly gone, probably to their summer grounds in Canada and into the Arctic. I also noticed an Eastern towhee outside the window a few days ago. These upper areas are its breeding grounds; it lives permanently further south.

Spring cleaning is going pretty well. Organizing and clearing out the basement is slow but steady. I may have space to sit and read comfortably down there soon!

Library books I've borrowed include:
Scarlet: Lunar Chronicles #2 by Marissa Meyer, a sci-fi fantasy based on the fairy tale, Little Red Riding Hood
The Man Who Turned Both Cheeks by Gillian Royes, a mystery novel set in Jamaica

What was in my mailbox?

Three ARCs:
The Girl Who Married an Eagle by Tamar Myers, the third and final mystery novel in the series set in the Belgian Congo
Slingshot: A Spy Catcher Novel by Matthew Dunn, a thriller
Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich, a romantic comedy


A memoirOnce Upon a Gypsy Moon by Michael Hurley - his two-year journey on a sailboat from Maryland south.

A mystery: Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth, sixth in the mystery series

Am almost finished with The Great Escape: A Novel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips for a book tour on Wednesday. Come back then to see my comments!

I have started yoga again after a winter break and back to a new teacher at the gym who is turning out okay, though I miss the Swami who teaches at the yoga studio. There are also good online yoga videos.

What's on your plate this Sunday, besides breathing sighs of relief that the tragic events in Boston are basically over?

Apr 17, 2013

Book Review: Have Mother, Will Travel by Claire and Mia Fontaine


I think when I go home, I'll see female colleagues less in terms of our age differences and more in terms of the shared experiences of our gender. (Mia Fontaine, ch. 13)

Claire Fontaine and her daughter Mia take a trip to seven countries in Asia and Europe, to renew and strengthen their mother-daughter relationship, to find out more about themselves, and to find out about other women around the globe.

They travel to China, Malaysia, Nepal, Cairo, Greece and the Balkans, and to Avignon in France as well as to Budapest. There they interact with and observe other women, mothers and their daughters, as well give us the feel and the flavor of the countries they visit. The trip is designed as a scavenger hunt for the travel group they are with, where each group chooses things or places, foods or events to find and experience. Along the way, mother and daughter manage their inevitable conflicts, ask each other pointed personal questions, and share new discoveries.

Reading the book was having an interesting armchair travel experience, seeing the countries and people from their points of view and also learning about the shared history that made up their first memoir, Come Back: A Mother and Daughter's Journey Through Hell and Back. Mia has come a long way from the runaway teenager and user that she had been to a more independent and responsible woman and daughter.

I did find myself confusing one person with the other while I was reading, as mother and daughter share chapters, both writing as in a journal. Claire's entries are in regular print and Mia's thoughts are in italics. As I found their writing styles not too dissimilar, I would forget to switch and would sometimes read Mia's entries thinking it was Claire's and vice versa. That was the only confusion for me, keeping them straight at all times, in spite of the difference in the fonts.

I like that you can pick up the book and start at any chapter. Here is an excerpt from Claire's thoughts, chapter nine:
My heart and soul, however, came alive in Plovdiv, a verdant, historic hilltop town in Bulgaria.Till now, I wasn't sure why. As Mia and I sit for lunch against a low stone wall and a cascade of ivy tendrils and the wind blows the little green corkscrews across my cheek, I suddenly understand....
It lies on the same latitude, exactly, as Cleveland Heights, where I was born and spent much of my childhood. It has the same plants and flowers, the same trees, insects, climates and constellations, the same fragrance, light, and colors. One I hadn't been surrounded by in decades.
I did enjoy their travel narratives and interactions best of all.

For more reviews of the book, visit the TLC Book Tour schedule.

Title: Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World by Claire and Mia Fontaine
Published April 2, 2013; William Morrow paperback
Objective rating: 4/5
Genre:  memoir, travel

Claire Fontaine is a former screenwriter living in the US and Europe. She is a certified relationship and life coach. Mia Fontaine is a motivational speaker who has written for the New York Times, blogs for Ms. Magazine, and is at work on a narrative nonfiction book. She lives in New York City. Find them at their website or on Facebook.

Thanks to the publisher and TLC Book Tours for a review copy of the book.

Linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link Up/Ben's Recovery Fund.

Apr 16, 2013

The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn

Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB; choose sentences from your current read and identify author and title for readers. First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. Opening sentences in a book can help readers decide if the book is one they would continue reading. 


Before I died the first time, my husband left me broke and alone with our two tiny children and it made me feel very depressed, etc. It's the same old story: He went to buy cigarettes and never came home. Really. Wouldn't you think you'd want to pack a bag or two, leave a forwarding address? Couldn't he have at least taken the dog? These were the things I wondered in the beginning. Not: was he having an affair, or: was he mixed up in something nefarious, but: I can't believe he wouldn't bring his datebook, his favorite loafers; I can't believe he didn't change the light bulb in the hallway before deserting us. He knew I couldn't reach that light bulb. The whole thing was unlike him. Then again, I was the one who died, which was unlike me, too.
"SOMETIMES ALL YOU NEED IN LIFE IS A FABULOUS PAIR OF SHOES—AND A LITTLE HELP FROM A MERMAID. Formerly a magazine editor, Jenny Lipkin is raising two children in a cramped Park Slope walk-up. When her husband, Harry, vanishes one evening, Jenny reaches her breaking point and a split-second decision changes her life. Pulled from the brink by an unexpected ally, Jenny rethinks her ideas about success, motherhood, romance, and relationships." (publisher)

Title: The Mermaid of Brooklyn: A Novel by Amy Shearn
Paperback published April 2, 2013; Touchstone
Genre: women's fiction

Would you keep reading, based on the first chapter, first paragraph? 

Apr 14, 2013

Sunday Salon and the Mailbox

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to Mari Reads for Mailbox Monday.

Just a few books this week while I breathe a sigh of relief that my basement is slowly being organized, bookshelves put up, items and books given away, boxes recycled. I have much more to do, including recycling guitar music books and magazines, and CDs, music tapes, etc. that my dear sons left behind. Spring cleaning!

I started yoga again after a four month hiatus, but at the gym and not at the yoga studio unfortunately. We have a membership at the gym and they offer yoga classes as part of the price.  It seems to me that I do too-fast yoga exercises at the gym versus doing the whole yoga thing (yoga atmosphere with controlled yoga movements)  at the more expensive studio. We had no relaxing downward dog or child's pose in the entire one hour class at the gym! I may yet land up at the studio!

About books: I'm reading Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh and like that it's a mystery as well as a literary novel.

Also on my reading desk is Have Mother, Will Travel, a travel memoir by mother-daughter duo, Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine. This is for a book tour on Wednesday. I like the travel details and their views of the countries they visit.

A few new cozies in the mail: Topped Chef by Lucy Burdette and Mrs. Jeffries Turns the Tide by Emily Brightwell. Also a romance,  Down London Road by Scottish author, Samantha Young. I haven't read her previous book, On Dublin Street but I gather the novels are a bit erotic! Down London Road is described as "a passionate sequel" to the first book. Now, I'm curious.

Along with several other bloggers, I have been included in the Sunshine Award given by Trish at Desktop Retreat. Do visit her lovely blog!

What are you reading this weekend?
  

Apr 12, 2013

Final Sail by Elaine Viets


*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader  *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grabs you. *Post it. *Add your (url) post in Linky at Freda's Voice.



"Yes. My husband was so thoughtful," Blossom said. "Arthur told me he bought a funeral plan when his first wife died. I can't remember her name. I'm so upset."
"Honeysuckle," said Helen.

To catch a jewel smuggler on a luxury yacht, Helen needs to pose as the ship’s new stewardess. While Helen’s cruising to the Bahamas, her significant other Phil’s got his own job—trying to catch a gold digger who may have killed her new husband. Helen needs to watch her step on board ship as she searches for the smuggler —or she may end up going from undercover to overboard. (book description)

Title: Final Sail: A Dead-End Job Mystery by Elaine Viets
Expected publication: May 7, 2013; Signet paperback
Published in 2012 as hardcover

Apr 9, 2013

Book Review: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter


My thoughts: You could say this is a novel about Hollywood and film making, about how it can make you a success as it did Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who are featured in this novel, or it can chew you up and spit you out, as it did the fictional character of Beautiful Ruins, the aspiring actress Dee Moray.

Dee Moray is made to believe she has stomach cancer and, to be rid of her, is sent away from the Cleopatra movie set in Rome to an unknown and tiny seaside Italian village, Porto Vergogna, where she is to wait for producer Michael Deane to take her for cancer treatment in Switzerland.

Dee is befriended by the young owner of the tiny hotel, Pasquale during her three-day stay in Porto Vergogna. Pasquale sees her as the beginning of his dream come true for his remote hotel, which he hopes will attract tourists and rich Americans as other Italian towns do.

On one of their walks, Pasquale shows Dee a ruined bunker forgotten in the hills, on the walls of which a WWII soldier had drawn pictures of the town and pictures of a girl, possibly his sweetheart. The sharing of this secret place seals their friendship, but Dee and Pasquale soon go their own way to lead separate lives, though reluctantly. That was in the 1960s. Some forty-six years later, an aging Pasquale turns up in Los Angeles, hoping to find Dee, the actress, and this starts the producer Michael Deane off on what he plans to be another of his money-making film schemes.

Comments: I found this a moving story of love and friendship, duty and trust, and two people who survive the greed for fame, fortune and reputation, whether in the film industry or in tourism. The title has multiple meanings, I think, referring to the beautiful but "ruined" Dee of the film industry, maybe even to the beautiful Richard and Liz, and the ruins of the WWII bunker Dee visits with Pasquale whose paintings show fading beauty of another sort. I gave the novel 5 stars for the characterization, the plot, the writing, and the message. For the entire book. Go read it!

Title: Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walters
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 2, 2013)

Book description: From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is an inventive story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.

For more reviews, visit the tour schedule and TLC Virtual Book Tours, which provided the review copy of the book.


Jess Walter is the author of six novels, including the national bestseller The Financial Lives of the Poets, the National Book Award finalist The Zero, and Citizen Vince, winner of the Edgar Award for best novel. His collection of short fiction, We Live in Water, has just been published by Harper Perennial. He lives in Spokane, Washington. Find out more about Jess at his website and follow him on Twitter.

This review is linked to Cym Lowell's Book Review Link Up Party

Apr 7, 2013

Sunday Salon: New Books for April

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon! Also submitted to Mailbox Monday hosted by Mari Reads. Visit to see the new books of other bloggers.

A few surprises plus two books I requested and got! How cool is that?

First the surprises:



Title: Paper: An Elegy by Ian Sansom
Published October 25, 2012; Fourth Estate
Book description: A history of paper, in all its forms and functions. Both an international cultural study and a series of personal reflections on the meaning of paper, the book is a timely meditation on the very paper it's printed on.


Title: Out of Range: A Novel by Hank Steinberg
Publication: June 4, 2013; ARC from William Morrow
Book description: In Uzbekistan, journalist Charlie Davis was wounded when the government fired on a group of protestors he was covering on assignment. He and his pregnant wife, Julie, barely escaped. Years later on a trip to Disneyland with their children, Julie vanishes. Charlie soon discovers this isn’t a random abduction and Julie isn’t who she seems to be. She’s been harboring dark secrets that have come back to terrorize them.

Ooh, suspenseful. Can't wait to read it!

Two books I hoped to get:


Title: The Cooked Seed: A Memoir by Anchee Min
To be published May 7, 2013; ARC from Bloomsbury
Book description: In 1994, Anchee Min made her literary debut with a memoir of growing up in China during the violent trauma of the Cultural Revolution, Red Azalea. The book propelled her career as a critically acclaimed author.Twenty years later, Min returns to the story of her own life as an immigrant to the U.S., from the deprivations of her homeland to the sudden bounty of America, without language, money, or a clear path.


Title: A Natural History of Dragons: a Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan
Published February 5, 2013; Tom Doherty Associates
Book description:  All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. A science fiction and fantasy novel.

Now if these don't pique your curiosity, as they do mine....

What's your Sunday like? 

Apr 5, 2013

Book Review: The Boreal Owl Murder by Jan Dunlap


When I found this free on Kindle, free for a time anyway, I thought it would be a good book to get ready for the bird watching season around Lake Erie, during the annual warbler migration in May.  I really enjoyed the book.

In Minnesota, high school counselor Bob White finds a Boreal owl researcher's body in the deep woods. Bob had gone in the middle of the night to the nature preserve to catch a glimpse of the elusive owl.  After discovering the body, Bob becomes a target too for someone who wants to keep him away from the owl's habitat deep in the woods.

I liked the plot, especially since I could not guess the real culprits or the motives. It kept me reading along. There is also a lot of humor in the dialogue, which lightens up the book quite a bit. I only wish the cover had a better drawing of the owl! I hope to find and read more in the series.

Book description from goodreads: "Birding, the gentle pastime of watching birds, can at times become a competitive sport. Even at its worst, though, when birders don't give out information of their sightings and try to sidetrack other birders, it seldom rises to the level of serious harm, usually. But when Bob White, a mannered school councilor and dedicated weekend birder, finds a body on a birding trip, the idea that there's an exception to every rule gets hammered home."

Title: The Boreal Owl Murder: Bob White Murder Mystery #1 by Jan Dunlap
Published September 1, 2008; Kindle edition
Source: free on Kindle

Here is the Cornell University photo and description of the Boreal Owl:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
"A small owl of boreal and montane forests, the Boreal Owl is found throughout Alaska and Canada, and across northern Eurasia, as well. It is found in the lower 48 states only in the mountains of the West, in extreme northern Minnesota, and as an occasional winter visitor to the northern states."

Boreal: Of or relating to the forest areas of the northern North Temperate Zone, dominated by coniferous trees such as spruce, fir, and pine. (definition from the Free Dictionary).

Submitted to Saturday Review of Books

Book Review: House of Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt


Rocamora compared Rembrandt's appearance with that of another great artist, Velazquez, always well groomed and conscious of his handsome mien. Rembrandt, by way of contrast, is a disheveled unkempt man of gross peasant features and wild hair. Rocamora amused himself imagining how this rumpled genius would have fit into the Spanish Court. (ch. 4)
This novel continues the life of Vicente de Rocamora, former Dominican priest and confessor in the Spanish royal court of the 17th century. His life of political and religious intrigue and danger was outlined in the previous book, Rocamora, Vicente has left Spain to live in the Netherlands as a physician and has changed his name to Isaac in the follow-up novel, House of Rocamora.  In this book he also meets the famous artist Rembrandt.

Book description: A new life and a new name … House of Rocamora, a novel of the 17th century, continues the exceptional life of roguish Vicente de Rocamora, a former Dominican friar, confessor to the Infanta of Spain, and almost Inquisitor General.

 After Rocamora arrives in Amsterdam at age forty-two, asserts he is a Jew, and takes the name, “Isaac,” he revels in the freedom to become whatever he chooses for the first time in his life. Rocamora makes new friends, both Christian and Jew, including scholars, men of power and, typically, the disreputable. He also acquires enemies in the Sephardic community who believe he is a spy for the Inquisition or resent him for having been a Dominican.

As Isaac Israel de Rocamora, he studies Medicine at Leyden and, at age forty-six, receives a license to practice. That same year Rocamora weds twenty-five year old Abigail Touro, and together they raise a large family. During his time in Amsterdam, Rocamora has a bizarre encounter with Rembrandt, serves the House of Orange as physician, and advises Spinoza before the philosopher’s excommunication.

He survives a murder attempt, learns from the great English physician Harvey, and a surprise visit from a childhood friend leads to an unusual business venture. Life is never routine or dull for Rocamora. The intrigues start with his arrival in Amsterdam and do not end until he takes his last breath."

Title: House of Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Publication Date: November 19, 2012
Raven’s Wings Books paperback
Genre: historical novel

Here is my review of the previous book: Rocamora. Visit the author's website to find out more about how and why he wrote the books.

A review copy of this novel was provided through the Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours. Visit their website for other reviews of the Rocamora books. 

Apr 3, 2013

Book Review: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt

2012 Finalist International Book Awards for Historical Fiction
 The novel, Rocamora, gives an account of Vicente de Rocamora's life in the 17th century Spanish court as a Dominican priest and confessor to the Spanish Infanta, as a priest who rose to such fame that he almost became Inquisitor General of Spain. It is fascinating because of the historical background. The book details the atmosphere of fear, ambition, political greed, and the obsession of "purifying"  Spain during this time, to rid itself of not only Jews, Moors, and others not of "pure blood." Many were expelled from Spain in the 15th century and many others chose to leave the country over time unless they had decided to convert and become "New Christians". Anyone declared a heretic as well as anyone deemed to be homosexual, bigamist, blasphemer or other were subject to the auto de fe, a public penance and sentencing that could result in burning at the stake.

Vicente de Rocamora in this novel is based on a real person in 17th century Spain,  a poet whose works did not survive. He had family members in the Dominican order of priests, became a Dominican himself and served in the Spanish court, but later in life, after learning he was part Jewish and not one of the"pure bloods" in Spain, changed his name to Isaac, moved to the Netherlands, and became a physician.

Rich historical detail and atmosphere is the background tapestry for the story of Vicente rising to power in the Spanish Court, an ambition that gave honor and fame to the family name. I enjoyed reading the novel though it does take time to read to absorb the detailed information. I highly recommended the novel for those interested in the religious atmosphere of Spain during this time.

In an historical novel, I always want to know what's fiction and what is historical fact. It's helpful that the author has asterisks marking the fictional characters in his list of important people in Rocamora. He also has a map of Spain and Portugal in the 17th century and historical notes at the beginning and at the end of the novel.

Book description: "Rocamora, a novel of 17th century Spain, is based on the life of Vicente de Rocamora, who struggles to make his place in a Spain obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent convert.

Poet, swordsman, and master of disguise, at the insistence of his family, Vicente enters the Dominican Order and is soon thrust into the scheming political and clerical hierarchies that at Court. Vicente becomes Confessor and Spiritual Director for King Philip IV’s teenage sister, the beautiful Infanta Doña María, five years younger than he, protégé and possible successor of Inquisitor General Sotomayor, and an invaluable assistant to the King’s chief minister, the Count-Duke de Olivares.

Vicente needs all his skills and cunning to survive assassination by a growing list of ruthless foes in both Church and Court, solve a centuries-old riddle to quell rumors of his own impurity of blood, and above all suppress his love for the seemingly unattainable María."

Title: Rocamora by Donald Michael Platt
Published September 26, 2011; Raven’s Wings Books
Genre: historical novel
Source: review book provided. For other book reviews, visit Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours


Donald Michael Platt's novel, ROCAMORA, set in 17th century Spain and Amsterdam during their Golden Ages, was released December 2008 and republished September 2011. The sequel HOUSE OF ROCAMORA was published November 2012. He is working on a novel set in the 9th century Carolingian Empire about another unusual historical character, Bodo, the Apostate. Please visit his Webpage for more information. 

Apr 2, 2013

Dancing to the Flute by Manisha Julie Amin:

 Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by MizB; choose sentences from your current read and identify author and title for readers. First Chapter, First Paragraph is hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea. Opening sentences in a book can help readers decide if the book is one they would continue reading.


Opening sentences: "Kalu stood still, staring up in to the banyan tree, oblivious to the sounds around him or to the man resting against one of the tree's many trunks. Finally, spotting the perfect leaf, the boy began to climb."
Book description: “'Kalu picked up the flute by his side and started to play. The sound was deep and full, as if he were translating his thoughts into music.' 
Abandoned as a young child, Kalu, a cheeky street kid, has carved out a life for himself in the village of Hastinapore, India. Kalu has also found friends: Bal, the solitary boy who tends the local buffaloes, and Malti, a gentle servant girl, who with her mistress, Ganga Ba, has watched over Kalu since he first wandered into the small town.

 One day, perched high in the branches of a banyan tree, Kalu chooses a leaf, rolls it tightly, and as he’s done for as long as he can remember, blows through it. His pure, simple notes dance through the air and attract a traveling healer, whose interest will change Kalu’s life forever.

 Dancing to the Flute is a heartwarming story of a community, the transforming powers of music, the many faces of friendship, and a boy’s journey to become a man."

Title: Dancing to the Flute: A Novel  by Manisha Jolie Amin
Published February 5, 2013; Atria
Genre: literary novel