Sep 28, 2023

East Asian Traditions: Red String Theory, Lunar Love, Moon Cakes


Just read

Red String Theory by Lauren Kung Jessen, January 9, 2024; Forever, NetGalley
Genre: romance, contemporary, Asian literature

The Red String of Fate is an East Asian concept based on Chinese mythology. The belief is that a red string connects two people in life, regardless of place or time or circumstance. Finding the person at the end of your string means finding your soul mate or life partner. The string may stretch or tangle, but it never breaks. 

In Red String Theory aspiring artist Rooney Gao meets Jack Liu while they celebrate the Lantern Festival during the Lunar New Year in New York. 

They are both handed a large paper lantern to light and release into the air, and on a whim, they follow the path of the lantern floating above the New York streets. 

Rooney keeps wondering if Jack is the person at the end of her string, her string mate, the one she is meant to be with in life. Jack is a NASA engineer who is all science and hard facts and he doesn't believe in myths or legends. 

This is also the story about artist Rooney who uses red string to create her art, both small and large. How she moves away from the shadow of her famous artist mother to establish herself as an independent artist is one of the main themes of the book. 

Love and her belief in the red string of fate leads her on in her quest for artistic independence. She and Jack try to test if fate and destiny are real, as opposed to hard and scientific facts. They create the Red String Theory, a list of activities to see if or how fate does intervene. The first activity is to do something they wouldn't normally do, and see where it leads.

A cute and entertaining romance with myth and belief in old traditions leading on the two characters, Rooney and Jack. A five star read, for all the cleverness in character delineation and plot devices.

Now reading

Lunar Love by Lauren Kung Jessen, published January 10, 2023; Forever

Genre: romance, contemporary fiction, Asian traditions

I decided to read the author's first book, Lunar Love, which is independent of the second novel I reviewed above, with different characters. It uses Chinese astrology and traditions for its theme.

The publisher's description:

This sweet, enemies-to-lovers debut rom-com (is) filled with Chinese astrology 

Always a matchmaker, never a match...

Olivia Huang Christenson is excited/terrified to be taking over her grandmother’s traditional matchmaking business. But when a new dating app threatens her Pó Po’s Chinese zodiac approach, she becomes furious. Especially when L.A.’s most-eligible bachelor Bennett O’Brien is behind the app that could destroy her family’s legacy . . .

            As the two businesses go head to head, Bennett and Liv make a deal: they’ll find a match for each other—and whoever falls in love loses. But Liv is dealing with someone who’s adept at stealing business ideas . . . so what’s stopping him from stealing her heart too? (publisher)

Chinese tradition:  it's Moon Festival time now in September, when the mid-Autumn Festival with the Harvest Moon is celebrated with moon cakes. Moon cakes are made of sweet red bean paste and an egg yolk to represent the harvest moon. Some moon cakes are made with lotus seed paste, which is yellow in color. 

I got my tin of four moon cakes from Costco! I wanted to get more as I found them not as sweet as the traditional red bean cakes. But still delicious!

What's on your reading schedule this week and/or the rest of the month?injuly202

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Sep 23, 2023

New Books: The Raging Storm and The Paris Novel


In My Mailbox

The Raging Storm ( Two Rivers #3) by Ann Cleeves

Publication: September 5, 2023; Minotaur

Source: ARC from publisher

Genre: mystery, police procedural, British crime fiction

When Jem Rosco—sailor, adventurer, and legend—blows into town in the middle of an autumn gale, the residents of Greystone, Devon, are delighted to have a celebrity. But Rosco disappears again, and his body is discovered in a dinghy, anchored off Scully Cove.

This is an uncomfortable case for Detective Inspector Matthew Venn. Greystone is a place he visited as a child and parted ways with. Superstition and rumour mix with fact as another body is found.

As the winds howl, and Venn and his team investigate, he realizes that no one is safe from Scully Cove’s storm of dark secrets.

Ann Cleeves— award-winning author of the Vera and Shetland series, both hit TV shows—returns with The Raging Storm, the third book in the Matthew Venn series. (publisher

\She is a prolific writer of crime fiction, with three different series featuring British detectives. I reviewed one of her other books, The Darkest Evening (Vera Stanhope #9) and enjoyed it but was impatient to have the ending wrap up more quickly.

Currently reading

The Paris Novel by Ruth Reichl

Publication: April 30, 2024; Random House, NetGalley

Genre; historical fiction, women's fiction, Paris, food

It's all about 1980s Paris and a woman whose mother left her a will with instructions and money to spend time in that city. Stella discovers herself in Paris, what she really likes - food, fashion, art - and this takes her far from her circumscribed life as an earnest copy editor for a small publisher back in the U.S.  In Paris, she meets writers like Alan Ginsburg and James Baldwin, in the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore where she takes refuge when her hotel stay and money run out. 

I'm enjoying the book so far and wondering just what else Stella will discover about herself and about the city and its people.

See my full review on Goodreads.

What's on your reading schedule this week and/or the rest of the month?injuly202

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Sep 16, 2023

Sunday Salon: All the Light We Cannot See; Bernardine's Shanghai Salon

 Sneak preview of Episode 1 - All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

Early this month, I got an invitation from Goodreads and access from Netflix to watch on Sept. 10 the first episode of AllTheLightWeCannotSee, which is a screen adaptation of Anthony Doerr's Pulitzer Prize winning book.

Episode 1 on Netflix, in my opinion, was completely fabulous - the actors, the setting, costumes, everything... in spite of some negative reviews posted by critics. I'm looking forward to watching all of it in November.

The light we cannot see evidently refers to radio waves, communication that was made over wireless radio to pass on Allied information during WWII in France. The picture above shows Marie-Laure, a blind girl who nevertheless is able to help the war effort in St. Malo. She is on the radio in the picture.

I will have to reread the book to see if or just how much the film has changed the novel. The Netflix 4-episode series starts airing Nov. 2.

My very brief review of All the Light We Cannot See (2015) is here

Currently reading

Bernardine's Shanghai Salon: The Story of the Doyenne of Old China by Susan Blumberg-Kasoff
Publication: November 7, 2023; Post Hill Press, NetGalley
Genre: biography, Shanghai, historical

I've read several historical novels and books about Shanghai just before and during WWII, before and after the Japanese bombed and invaded the city. In Shanghai, Europeans and other Westerners lived cocooned and safe in the International Settlement, an enclave restricted to Europeans. This is another book that describes the social life and variety of people in Shanghai, including White Russian refugees escaping Communism and European Jews escaping Hitler's persecution.

I've just started the book, following Bernardine as she arrives in Manchuria and Shanghai to get married to Chester Fritz, a long time resident of the city.

Publisher's description:

Meet the Jewish salon host in 1930s Shanghai who brought together Chinese and expats around the arts as civil war erupted and World War II loomed on the horizon.

Bernardine Szold Fritz arrived in Shanghai in 1929 to marry her fourth husband. Only thirty-three years old, she found herself in a time and place like no other. Political intrigue and scandal lurked on every street corner. Art Deco cinemas showed the latest Hollywood flicks, while dancehall owners and jazz musicians turned Shanghai into Asia’s top nightlife destination. She introduced Emily Hahn, the charismatic opium-smoking writer for The New Yorker, to the flamboyant hotelier Sir Victor Sassoon and legendary poet Sinmay Zau. And when Hollywood stars Anna May Wong, Charlie Chaplin, and Claudette Colbert passed through Shanghai, Bernardine organized gatherings to introduce them to their Shanghai contemporaries.

She started a salon in her home, drawing famous names from the world of politics, the arts, and the intelligentsia. As civil war brewed and World War II soon followed, Bernardine’s devotion to the arts and the people of Shanghai brought joy to the city just before it would change forever.

What's on your reading schedule this week and/or the rest of the month?injuly202

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Sep 9, 2023

Sunday Salon: Nordic Noir and an Unusual Romance


The Shadow Murders
: Department Q #9 by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Published Nov. 4, 2021; Dutton, NetGalley
Genre: police procedural, crime fiction, thriller, Nordic noir
Rating: five stars

Department Q thrillers set in Denmark are always suspenseful and this book is the most suspenseful I can remember reading in the series.

The themes alone are striking: It is 2020 and the police department is hampered by Covid restrictions and lockdowns in the city, but are called to investigate a woman who kills herself many years after losing her young son in an horrific explosion. That explosion at a car repair shop also killed the shop owner and several workers.

It's also Christmas time, so things slow down in the police department. The group of four investigators in Department Q however must carry on, especially when they realize that the car shop explosion is linked to many, many other murder cases, with the culprit or culprits planning a new Boxing Day (Dec. 26) murder.

Vengeance, insanity, misguided religiousness, megalomania, are all mixed up in the case, which challenge Department Q - Carl, Assad, Rose, and George - to the nth degree and threaten their own lives.

Trigger warnings:  This series is listed as Nordic Noir, and it is very noir - that is, crazily violent. I enjoyed it, reading nonstop while biting my nails and getting very stressed. I don't know if I'll read another in the series - (I'm showing my age!) 

A romance/chick lit to lighten the mood: 

Sweeten the Deal
by Katie Shepard
Publication: October 17, 2023; Berkley, NetGalley
Genre: romance, contemporary fiction, chick lit
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The protagonists are 10 years apart in age, but MBA student Caroline Sedlacek loves having Adrian as her "sugar baby," someone she found online to be her paid boyfriend and companion for shows, opera, museums, sightseeing and cultural events. Caroline is not adept socially, doesn't know much about how to dress, attend events, or how to socialize, though she is business savvy and smart in other ways.

We learn later in the book that Caroline is neurodiverse, having a kind of mild cognitive disability, which makes her reliance on her sugar baby, Adrian, plausible as central to the plot. Adrian is a down-on-his-luck artist who can't even pay his rent at the moment.

I liked the ways in which Caroline helps Adrian get back on his feet as an artist, helping him promote and sell his once expensive art work. And of course, it's amusing how Adrian has to coach Caroline on the social front.

An entertaining and unusual contemporary romance written with humor and empathy.

What's on your reading schedule this week and/or the rest of the month?injuly202

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

Sep 2, 2023

Sunday Salon: Suspense Novels and Fall Anticipated Novels

Suspense novels were on my mind this past week

The Hike

The Hike by Lucy Clarke
Published April 27, 2023; HarperCollins
Setting: mountains in Norway

Four long time friends travel to the mountains of Norway for a four-day hike in semi remote areas, little realizing the risks from unpredictable weather, rough terrain, and ruthless people. 

I thought the varied backgrounds and personalities of the four friends made their actions less predictable and more interesting when they were confronted with physical challenges and danger. I also liked how the variety of surroundings - rivers, beaches, mountains, forests, played into the story's suspense. 

The mysterious disappearance of a young woman on the same mountain a year before also adds complexity to what seemed at first a straightforward mountain hike. Enjoyable thriller because of the characters and the surroundings, and the compelling plot.


The Last One
Published August 8, 2023; Emily Bestler books
Setting: Atlantic Ocean

Set on an ocean liner in the Atlantic, this thriller has only four passengers onboard, since the hundreds of others disappeared one morning with their luggage and personal effects, leaving the four alone to fend for themselves on a self propelling vessel bound for who knows where. 

I thought at first this was sci fi or fantasy, but then the real world of today crept in to give a chilling take on reality and the people who are entranced by it. I kept reading as the challenges for the four to survive their situation ramped up to unbelievable levels, and the ending floored me.

It was a hard to read book, as may have been the author's intention, but I can say I was intrigued but not entertained.

The InternThe Intern by Michele Campbell
Publication: October 3, 2023; St. Martin's Press

I liked the switch of the main focus from the young attorney interning with the well known judge to the emphasis on the judge herself, and her secret background and life. That the two women begin to help each other out in tight situations involving family and safety is a key point of the novel which I found unusual. This is a suspenseful novel, enjoyable and entertaining.

Other Books to Consider this fall:

The Night Parade: memoir and What We Kept to Ourselves  are two that grabbed my attention. I already reviewed Curtis Chin's memoir of growing up Asian in Detroit.

Here is The San Francisco Chronicle's list of 25 Most Anticipated Books for Fall, one of several lists. Everyone seems to have a list. These do look interesting. Do any of these appeal to you?

What's on your reading schedule this week and/or the rest of the month?injuly202

Memes: The Sunday Post hosted by The Caffeinated BookreviewerAlso,  It's Monday: What Are You Readingand Sunday SalonStacking the ShelvesMailbox Monday

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...