Jan 27, 2024

Two Thrillers, a Beloved Bookshop, and a Killer Gourmet Cook: Sunday Salon

 Arrived in the mailbox

The Road to Murder: A Tuscan Mystery #4 by Camilla Trinchieri

Publication; March 5, 2024; Soho Crime ARC

The sole witness at a crime scene speaks only English, and ex-NYPD detective turned amateur chef Nico Doyle is summoned by the local carabinieri to help. Setting in Gravigna, Italy. 

I've read two of the three previous books in the series: Murder on the Vine and A Bitter Taste of Murder. Loved the Tuscan countryside, characters, and food. 

Currently reading:

The Nature of Disappearing by Kimi Cunningham Grant, Publication: June 18, 2024; Minotaur, NetGalley

The title of the book caught my attention. A wilderness guide in Idaho teams up with an ex to find their missing/disappeared friend who had been on a mountain trek with her boyfriend.
 Enjoying the writing, nature setting, and the character of tracker Emlyn, This suspense story is moving along very well so far. 

Next on my reading list

A follow up novel to Days at the Morisaki Bookshop, to be released July 2, 2024, Harper Perennial, NetGalley

I have been enjoying several Japanese contemporary novels set in and around bookshops. 
Description: Satoru, with Takako’s help, must choose whether to keep the bookshop open or shutter its doors forever. Making the decision will take uncle and niece on an emotional journey back to their family’s roots and remind them again what a bookstore can mean to an individual, a neighborhood, and a whole culture. 

And now for something completely different:

Butter: A Novel of Food and Murder by Asako Yuzuki, publication April 16, 2024; Ecco, NetGalley

The cult Japanese bestseller about a female gourmet cook and serial killer and the journalist intent on cracking her case, inspired by a true story. I'm as interested in her food as I am in why she offs her diners.

Gourmet cook Manako Kajii sits in the Tokyo Detention House convicted of the serial murders of lonely businessmen, whom she is said to have seduced with her delicious home cooking. Kajii refuses to speak with the press, until journalist Rika Machida writes a letter asking for her recipe for beef stew, and Kajii can’t resist writing back. Inspired by the real case of a convicted con woman and serial killer—the “Konkatsu Killer”—Asako Yuzuki’s Butter is a vivid, unsettling exploration of misogyny, obsession, romance, and the transgressive pleasures of food in Japan.

What are you reading this week? 

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

Jan 23, 2024

Her by Khanh Ha: Book Tour/Guest Post

Book Tour/ Her: The Flame Tree by Khanh Ha

"The magnificent red poinciana flowers, which grace the ancient capital of Huế, symbolize farewell in Vietnamese adolescent romance"

Publisher:  Gival Press, (October 1, 2023)
Category: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Vietnam
Tour dates: January 16-Feb 23, 2024


Her: The Flame Tree by Khanh Ha is a love triptych that sweeps through the rich panorama of two generations of colonial and post-colonial Vietnam. The hopeless love of a young eunuch for a high-ranking concubine is one of this novel’s three stories that illuminate the oriental mystery of Vietnam, as epic as it is persevering,  Framed between 1915 and 1993, the book begins in Huế, the former imperial capital of Vietnam. It is in the Purple Forbidden City, that Canh, the young eunuch, fulfills his vow to be near the girl of his dreams, a villager-turned imperial concubine.

The novel begins with an expatriate Vietnamese man living in the United States who journeys back to Vietnam to search for the adopted daughter of a centenarian eunuch of the Imperial Court of Huế to find out who she really is. His world takes on a new meaning after he becames a part of her life.

Phượng. Her name is the magnificent flame tree’s flowers that grace the ancient capital of Huế. Her father, mentor of Canh the young eunuch, was a hundred-year-old grand eunuch of the Imperial Court, who had adopted and raised her since she was a baby. Their peaceful world suddenly changed when one day, sometime in the early years of the Vietnam war, Jonathan Edward came into their lives. On his quest to search for his just deceased lover’s mysterious birth, there he met Phượng, an exquisite beauty.

Through the eye of her father, history is retold. Just before the fall of the French Indochina during the last dynasty of Vietnam, a young eunuch hopelessly fell in love with a high-ranking concubine. Once the eunuch had secured the concubine’s trust, it became a fatal attraction. The eunuch died. The concubine, still a virgin, lost her mind. Her father said she was possessed by the young eunuch’s spirit who had been madly in love with her. 

My comments: 

I was amazed by the book's background history of the ancient city of Hue and its Imperial dynasty that existed before 1945.  I found "The Imperial City was built in 1362 and in 1993 was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Between these two periods of time, the city even served as the capital of Vietnam from 1802 to 1945 during the reign of the Nguyen dynasty." (from Backpackers Wanderlust).

The book focuses on stories of Phuong, the adopted daughter of a eunuch of the Imperial Court of Hue. Her father, the grand eunuch for 63 years, and the emperor's last concubine, An-Phi, had a love story that ended sadly. An-Phi, as a civilian in later years, roamed the streets, mad, giving away her jewels. 

The book tells, through the stories about the adopted daughter of the eunuch, Phuong, the history of Vietnam from the Imperial times through the French occupation. The other main character is the American Vietnamese boy, Jonathan Edward, who had come to Vietnam to find the parents of his deceased girlfriend, a half Vietnamese-half French girl, only to fall in love with Phuong and die tragically in her arms.

The book is long and approaches this portion of Vietnamese history in an indirect way, by telling stories of different people and their lives affected by the country's history. It's a book to savor slowly, and worthwhile to capture the flavor of the country, old and new. 

 Guest Post by the Author 

On Death Scenes

©Khanh Ha

It happens. Somebody dies. Death can occur in the middle or the end of a novel. Someone’s death could spin the story around. It could be the protagonist’s death.

Each writer writes his death scene with trepidation. How much should he write it without overwriting it?

Some death scenes are so memorable they never leave your memory as long as you read books. Here is the scene in the ending of A Farewell to Arms (Earnest Hemingway) that captures the moment after the death of the protagonist’s lover in a hospital. The doctor then offers to take him back to his hotel.

“Good night,” he said. “I cannot take you to your hotel?”

“No, thank you.”

“It was the only thing to do,” he said. “The operation proved—"

“I do not want to talk about it,” I said.

“I would like to take you to your hotel.”

“No, thank you.”

He went down the hall. I went to the door of the room.

“You can’t come in now,” one of the nurses said.

“Yes, I can,” I said.

“You can’t come in yet.”

“You get out,” I said. “The other one too.”

But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn't any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

To date, I have always thought that the best prose ever written in the English language is found in the opening and the ending of A Farewell to Arms. And if you are keen enough as a reader, you will notice its influence on Cormac McCarthy’s prose especially in his award-winning novel All The Pretty Horses.

That brings us to Cormac McCarthy whose hero in All The Pretty Horses meets his death in Cities of The Plain, last book of the trilogy. In this scene, John Grady Cole lies dying from a knife wound and his friend, Billy Parker, goes out to get Cole a glass of water. When he comes back, death has taken his friend away.

When he got to the packingcrate the candle was still burning and he took the glasses both in one hand and pushed back the sacking and crouched on his knees.

Here you go, bud, he said.

But he had already seen. He set the waterglasses slowly down. Bud, he said, Bud?

The boy lay with his face turned away from the light. His eyes were open. Billy called to him. As if he could not have gone far. Bud, he said, Bud? Aw goddamn. Bud?

Aint that pitiful, he said. Aint that the most goddamn pitiful thing? Aint it? Oh God. Bud. Oh goddamn.

When he had him gathered in his arms he rose and turned. Goddamn whores, he said. He was crying and his tears ran down his angry face and he called out to the broken day against them all and he called out to God to see what was before his eyes. Look at this, he called. Do you see? Do you see?

In Her: The Flame Tre, I wrote a novel whose ending witnesses the death of the main character. He is shot and dies in his lover’s arms.

He fell. The lights glared beyond. He got up, fell, and got up again. He saw lights wildly searching the darkness and heard voices descending on him.

She cradled him, weeping. He woke as if to a whitewashed memory and in that moment he knew all that he had lived through. He saw her eyes and her face as if he had never left her, as if nothing had happened or changed, like the smell of the earth.

“Jonathan! Speak to me, Jonathan!”

She turned him on his side so her warmth would keep him awake.

“Hold on, Jonathan. Just hold on.”

Red hot pain dimpled his back, so hot his breath seemed to flame. He felt her hands touching his back and saw they were red when she covered her mouth.

“Wrap him. Stop the bleeding,” someone said, hovering over him.

A monk. He knew the face, but the name didn’t come. Hands touching him. His body no longer seemed to belong to him. He felt an energy shrouding him and a deafening commotion without sound. He saw a young girl who smiled as she walked hand in hand with him through a valley yellow and red with autumn. He saw cranes sleeping in the lagoon at low tide, and among their mirrored white bodies he saw himself cloaked in white.

She pressed her cheek against his. “Jonathan.”

He closed his eyes; the scent of the earth came to him. He saw her eyes very close to his, then his head fell against her chest. The dimple of pain went away.

About Khanh Ha

Author Khanh Ha is a nine-time Pushcart nominee, finalist for The Ohio State University Fiction Collection Prize, Mary McCarthy Prize, Many Voices Project, Prairie Schooner Book Prize, The University of New Orleans Press Lab Prize, Prize Americana, and The Santa Fe Writers Project. He is the recipient of the Sand Hills Prize for Best Fiction, The Robert Watson Literary Prize in Fiction, The Orison Anthology Award for Fiction, The James Knudsen Prize for Fiction, The C&R Press Fiction Prize, The EastOver Fiction Prize, The Blackwater Press Fiction Prize, The Gival Press Novel Award, and The Red Hen Press Fiction Award.

Website: http://www.authorkhanhha.com
Blog: http://authorkhanhha.blogspot.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/KhanhHa69784776
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorkhanhha
Pinterest: www.pinterest.com/khanhha

Thanks to the author, Khanh Ha, for a review copy of this book, and for his guest post on writing death scenes, including the one in his book. 

Enter the Rafflecopter sweepstake, hosted on the blog tour, to win a copy of the book. 

Jan 20, 2024

New Books: Super Smart Main Characters


Two novels with "freakishly smart" young female protagonists

Wordhunter: A Novel by Stella Sands
Publication: August 6, 2024; Harper Paperbacks, NetGalley
Genre: contemporary fiction, police procedural

I was intrigued to find out how word forensics or forensic linguistics is used in crime solving, done by analyzing written evidence, papers, letters, email, etc. to find the authors suspected of being criminals. A genius with words, Maggie Moore has always been fascinated by words, and as a college student she was recommended by her prof to help the police track down a cyber stalker, by analyzing his emails and letters.

Looking at word choice, dialect, syntax, spelling, use or misuse of punctuation, writing style, and more, Maggie pored over his emails to find traits leading to the stalker and, with Detective Jackson, goes on to tackle another case - finding the kidnapper of the mayor's missing daughter, through his correspondence.

I liked how the relationship between the detective and insecure Maggie develops into one of trust and reliance during the events, some of them life threatening.

An interesting read with an unusual, quirky character Maggie, who finally learns to stand up for herself with both a predatory boss and with her personal life.

Life, Loss, and Puffins by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Publication: May 14, 2024; Lake Union Publishing, NetGalley
Genre: fiction, travel, YA

I loved the adventures that 13-year-old Ru, a "freakishly smart" college student, and her 17 year old friend Gabriel, undertake in order to see the aurora borealis in Northern Canada near the Arctic Circle. They also consider going to Newfoundland to see Atlantic puffins. 

Ru is on her journey to deal with the recent death of her mother and having to move to Kentucky to live with a controlling, unsympathetic aunt. Underage runaways, Ru and Gabriel are wanted by the police, but how they manage to find help along the way is surprising but gratifying.

A lovely read that made me side with the young teens in their October-November planned adventure by car to the Arctic Circle.  It may be a bit unrealistic they were able to pull this off, but they did, with so many different people helping them. Theirs is a heartwarming journey and an informative one too about the Northwest Territories in Canada. 

Ru and Gabriel spent four amazing nights on the frozen tundra in a wooden cabin/geodesic dome watching  the northern lights/aurora borealis for hours, from indoors and from the outdoor walkway at the top of the dome, close to the Arctic Circle.

They didn't go to Iceland or Newfoundland to see the puffins, but Gabriel did lead Ru to some Atlantic puffins in a local zoo when they returned to the U.S.

Sure they had to face the music back at home in California, but for them the journey of a lifetime seemed worth it.

What are you reading this week? 

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

Jan 13, 2024

Sunday Salon: Read and Reading in Freezing Weather

 Winter Bomb

There are a couple of inches of snow on the ground and on the trees, and there is a high wind advisory for a couple days, so I plan to stay in comfortable lounge pants and watch TV from my new jumbo lounger/beanbag. I could hear the wind all night, and looked outside glad to see the ground free of tree limbs. The giant old oaks around here drop their heavy limbs every now and again in someone's backyard, but none so far, so good. And also, the wind chill is going to be way below zero for the weekend at least. 

Hope you have better weather where you are.

What I read recently

A bizarre honeymoon for a couple on a Greek island. It doesn't have the usual touristy scenes but a more realistic and less comfortable Greece. I gave it three stars.

I gave four stars to this novel about a Caucasian man with a fetish for Asian girls and women, and about the young woman who means to kill him for the suicide of her mother, his one time lover. 

A three star for this thriller set in Iceland, about two people considered murdered, one a twelve year old girl and the other a young woman. A police procedural with a deliberate question mark at the end.

Currently reading 

I like that the plot develops different angles to keep the reader interested in this rom com that at first seems totally predictable but is not, except for the ending, of course. Did these two former high school sweethearts later get married in Vegas, or not? Entertaining read.

All the books are from NetGalley.

What are you reading this week? 

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

Jan 11, 2024

How to Live Japanese by Yutaka Yazawa: Review


How to Live Japanese

Pub Date 11 Oct 2018
Quarto Publishing Group - Aurum Press, White Lion Publishing, NetGalley

Detailed and very readable book with sections covering the history, geography and topography of Japan, as well as the religions, cuisine, cultural traditions, famous landmarks and more.

This book would be good background reading for anyone traveling to Japan, to help   make the land, the people, and the customs easily understandable.  Religious celebrations, festivals, holidays, are all included in easy to understand and fluid prose.

Outstanding to me were descriptions of Mt. Fuji and its importance, mountain walking and trekking that are popular for so many, onsens and hot spring resorts, the unique preparation of food as in sushi and more, the geisha tradition and history, pottery making in the Kyoto region and elsewhere, other arts and crafts, farming and fishing occupations, religious festivals and celebrations.

Those already familiar with Japan will recognize many of the sections' information, and see these from the Japanese-born author's point of view.  I enjoyed reading about what was new to me and what I was already familiar with.

Yutaka Yazawa

Having spent university and early career years in London, Yutaka Yazawa decided to return to his childhood home of Tokyo. After a long career travelling in law, he decided to make the switch to writer. He has also written The Little Book of Japanese Living. 

Jan 6, 2024

Sunday Salon: Books for the Beginning of 2024

 My books to start off the new year 

My rom com, cozy mystery request was finally approved, just in time for Chinese/Lunar New Year 2024, which begins February 10 

March 26, 2024; Berkley, NetGalley
Setting: Jakarta, Indonesia

Book description: What should have been a family celebration of Chinese New Year descends into chaos when longtime foes crash the party in this hilariously entertaining novel by the author of Dial A for Aunties.

After an ultra-romantic honeymoon across Europe, Meddy Chan and her husband Nathan have landed in Jakarta to spend Chinese New Year with her entire extended family.  Meddy and her Aunties however become helpless pawns in a decades-long war between Jakarta’s most powerful business factions. 
Determined to rescue her loved ones, Meddy embarks on an impossible mission—but with the Aunties by her side, nothing is truly impossible…

Click on title to see my review

This next book title grabbed my attention

Book description: A bracing, wildly entertaining satire about a small Southern town set in Georgia, a pitched battle over banned books, and a little lending library that changes everything

Publication: June 18, 2024; William Morrow, NetGalley
Click to see my review

A collection of short stories also caught my eye

Book descriptionThe Un-Inquired is the confession of refugees, families, and lovers. It chronicles the stories of those who are struggling to find their voice in society and discover themselves, recollecting their trauma and memories, from the loss of a foster brother in a shooting incident to the hallucinations of a Japanese American immigrant with schizophrenia. 
An antiheroic tale of finding a way to survive in a world, the collection is at times emotional and tender, at times melancholy, lonely, and wryly introspective.

Publication: January 12, 2024; Querencia Press, NetGalley

Can't omit a thriller

The title The Plus One and book cover made me request this ARC

Book description: The wedding of Radhika Singh and Raj Josh at a luxury resort in Cabos will mark the union of two influential and wealthy Indian-American families. No expense will be spared for what Radhika and Raj have coined “R&R,” a week of rest, relaxation, and celebrating their love. 

Shaylee “Shay” Kapoor is an outsider, dating Raj’s best friend, Caleb Prescott III, and is sucked into this world of wealth and excess. But on the morning of the wedding festivities, the wedding coordinator Daniela makes a frightening discovery: Raj and Radhika are dead, gunshots to the head.

Shay may be an outsider but she may be the only person with enough perspective to untangle everyone’s lies, and discover the motive for the murder.  See my review

And for later, a book on the Booker Prize 2024 list

Book Description: Memorably introduced by Ishiguro himself, The Summer We Crossed Europe in the Rain collects the lyrics of sixteen songs he wrote for world-renowned American singer Stacey Kent, which were set to music by her partner, Jim Tomlinson. An exquisite coming together of the literary and musical worlds, the lyrics are infused with a sense of yearning, melancholy, love, and the romance of travel and liminal spaces.
Illustrated by the acclaimed Italian artist Bianca Bagnarelli

Publication: March 5, 2024; Knopf 

What are your first reads for 2024?

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

Jan 3, 2024

Book Tour: The Spice Maker's Secret by Renita D'Silva


The Spice Maker's Secret by Renita D'Silva, historical fiction

Publication: January 3, 2024; Bookouture, NetGalley

I enjoyed the sweet romance that developed in an Indian village between Bindu, the poor teenage tenant of a rich landowner, and Guru, the landowner's young son. That Guru did not let Bindu's low status prevent him from wooing her was an interesting part of the plot. 

However, when society's strict rules and the landowner's own restrictions put Bindu, his son's new young wife, in a golden cage, so to speak,  Bindu rebels in the only way she can, convincing her wealthy husband to allow her to continue making her spice pastes and to cook, but also secretly submitting her poetry and stories to a publication run by a handsome British journalist. Bindu is not allowed to read magazines or discuss politics with any of the Indian or British guests at the many parties the landowner throws. 

The tragedy of Bindu and Guru's ill fated marriage takes up most of the rest of the novel. The story switches from unhappy Bindu in 1930s India to Eve, a young woman living in1980s London. The novel later reveals the connection between the two women living in different historical periods in a dramatic fashion.

Heartrending, the novel first shows the restricted lives of women, poor and wealthy alike, in pre-Independence India, and focuses on Bindu, one woman who chafes at these rules and the price she pays for her independent spirit. 

The author has given a startlingly clear depiction of both the rich and green land of India and the tropical surroundings, the relationship between those in poverty and those of wealth, and the role of women in 1930s India. 

I heartily recommend this historical novel for those wanting to know more about the social and working life and the culture and traditions of people in this era in India.

Author Bio:

Renita grew up in a picturesque coastal village in the South of India, the oldest of three children. Her father got her first story books when she was six and she fell in love with the world of stories. Even now she prefers that world, by far, to this.

Sign up to be the first to hear about new releases from Renita D'Silva here: https://www.bookouture.com/renita-dsilva

Buy Link:

Thanks to Bookouture for providing access to this novel for their book tour.

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