Sep 30, 2007

Book Review: Chamomile Mourning by Laura Childs

One of my latest book finds, Chamomile Mourning (2005), happens to be the sixth in the Tea Shop Mystery series by author Laura Childs.

Set in Charleston, So. Carolina, the mystery is centered around the Indigo Tea Shop, its owner Theodosia Browning, her master tea blender Drayton Conneley, and her pastry chef and tea sandwich maker, Haley Parker. (The first names of the characters seem to conjure up old, historical Charleston).

The book quickly immerses us in tea lore while also telling its story; Drayton, the tea connosieur, serves his customers unusual teas such as Royal Golden Yunnan, Dragonwell tea, Nilgiri tea, Chin Sun Oolong from Thailand, Mai Jiang green tea from China, African Redbush, Darjeeling, the "champagne of teas," and many more.

Theo uses only the best for her tea- Crown Dorset, Spode, and willow-pattern teapots, for example- and serves pastries, savories, and light lunches at elegant tables with linen napkins, silverware, and fresh flowers.

The plot thickens when she leaves the relative safety of her teashop to venture outside of Charleston to solve the murder of auction house owner, Roger Crispin, whose untimely death ruined her rose-decorated cake and the rest of the Poet's Tea at a local Heritage Society get-together.

Theodosia interviews people in the backwoods, avoids being run off the road, and narrowly escapes death by bullet and by quicksand.

She also finds a new love interest in this novel.

The contrast of the teashop setting in Charleston and the wilderness and swamps of South Carolina adds some heady spice to the last part of the book. The pace of the novel picks up at the very end of the book and saves Chamomile Mourning from being just a novel about tea making, hatmaking, interior decorating, and frivolous fashion.

Tea lovers, however, will have a good time reading about different varieties of tea and the foods they complement. They may also enjoy the book's bonus recipes for strawberry biscuits, cinnamon-apple scones, marmalade and cream cheese tea sandwiches, chocolate tea, and she-crab soup!

Sep 20, 2007

Sudoku Mysteries

Seen at Barnes and Noble: the first in a new Sudoku Mystery Series by Kaye Morgan. Do we have inventive and savvy writers or what?

Here are several mysteries with the sudoku theme, by different authors. I haven't read any of these as yet, but have them on my "To Check Out and Possibly Read" list.

Death By Sudoku: A Sudoku Mystery by Kaye Morgan, July 2007.

Murder By Numbers: A Sudoku Mystery by Kaye Morgan, January 2008.

The Sudoku Murder: A Katie McDonald Mystery by Shelley Fredont, April 2007.

The Sudoku Puzzle Murders: A Puzzle Lady Mystery by Parnell Hall, April 2008.

Aug 19, 2007

Medusa: The Beginning, book review

Kathi Harris's Medusa: The Beginning is a 730-page novel, divided into several sections, the first section set in the West Indian island of Jamaica, where Kathi was born and raised. Here she details the lives of two young people from the countryside who meet in the capital city, Kingston, where they marry and raise a family of five girls, the last girl later becoming the heroine of this science fiction novel.

The first section, 221 pages, I would call "The Quintessential Jamaican Novel," were it a book in itself. The story reflects Jamaican customs and manners in detail, and the dialect or patois spoken and understood by all Jamaicans is used heavily in this section. Kathi has added a glossary for all readers, which "translates" some of the dialect words and expressions into standard English.

In the second section of the book, the family migrates to America and settles in Florida. There they encounter life and the culture of a different country, but more opportunities open up to them. This section deals with American politics at home and abroad and tackles global problems such as pollution, changes in the environment, and introduces in her novel, a Black president!

Kathi's website, Larksong, gives a summary of the novel's plot and the importance of the young girl, Lark, to this sci-fi story of the survival of mankind.

A higher education and counseling graduate from the University of Toledo, where she received her Ph.D., she admits she prefers writing to just about anything else and is now waiting to publish Book II in the Medusa series.

An article from the London Times discusses how sci fi can point to the things we should be concerned about:
Why Don't We Love Science Fiction:

Book provided by the author for my objective review.

Jul 22, 2007

More Garden Mystery



I have just begun the third of Anthony Eglin's English Garden Mysteries, The Water Lily Cross. As in his first book, The Blue Rose, this latest novel focuses on the consequences of creating a hybrid plant or flower that is so unusual, one of a kind, that its high value poses a personal risk to its breeder or owner.

In the Water Lily Cross, a friend of retired botany professor Lawrence Kingston mysteriously disappears on his way to a conference on global warming. Kingston finds clues left by his friend about a new water lily hybrid that can absorb salt and thus desalinate any salt water it is planted in. The implications of such a discovery are mind boggling, to say the least. Eglin lists other plants that actually do remove minerals or pollutants from soil and water. The water lily in this book is, however, purely fictional.

The second in the Eglin mystery series, The Lost Gardens, I have yet to read. As The Blue Rose won France's Prix Arsene Lupin Award for best mystery novel of 2006, I' m betting his second novel is also good.

For a review of Eglin's 2009 garden mystery, see The Trail of the Wild Rose: An English Garden Mystery

Jul 14, 2007

Chinese Food in Toronto

Once more to Scarborough, Ontario, home to a whopping number of restaurants with interesting fare. Yesterday, we tried a new restaurant close to where we were staying and were served a Hong Kong style meal.

We started with the house tea, a blend of Ceylon and other Chinese teas that together have a unique flavor. We had Cantonese dishes of tofu and beef over rice, beef and fugah (a bitter green vegetable), and Malaysian-style noodles with pork cooked in salty black bean sauce.

The Hong Kong surprise came with the after dinner choice of beverage- Horlicks, Hong Kong style tea served with milk, and Ovaltine.

Horlicks, Ovaltine, and milk with tea are definitely left over habits from British Hong Kong. These have traveled to Canada with the new immigrants.

Today, we are having fresh lychee (which I eschew as lychee is really the fruit of a nut I'm allergic to), sweet mangoes, pawpaw, roasted pork with crispy skin, and barbecued pork. This is lunch.

Our dinner tonight will be Trinidadian-East Indian-Jamaican. We are having curried goat and curried chicken, with roti.

Last but not least, this is really a family reunion, an informal one. But in any event, we enjoy conversing at the table.

Tomorrow? Dim sum, of course, with Peking duck, our final meal before we leave Canada, the land of immigrant flavors.

Jul 8, 2007

Reggae Routes: the Story of Jamaican Music by Kevin O'Brien Chang and Wayne Chen

Reggae Routes: The Story of Jamaican Music
I did some web searching and found an interesting article on the little known connection between reggae development in Jamaica and some of the Chinese Jamaicans, children of immigrants, who helped develop the movement in Jamaica as musicians and as record producers.

See the fascinating story at
http://www.danwei.org/chinese_reggae_pioneers.php.

The website also refers to a book on the history of Jamaican music titled Reggae Routes, the Story of Jamaican Music, written by Jamaicans Kevin O'Brien Chang and Wayne Chen.

A discussion of the book from a Temple University website: http://www.temple.edu/tempress/titles/1443_reg_print.html

Jun 28, 2007

Book Review: The Refuge by Sue Henry

Sue Henry has branched out from her Alaska mysteries featuring dog musher Jessie Arnold, and has begun a new Maxie and Stretch series, featuring a retired widow and her miniature dachshund, Stretch. The widow, Maxie McNabb, spends the winters with Stretch motoring outside of Alaska, driving around the Lower Forty-Eight in her 30-foot motor home, spending a lot of time in the southwest.

She solves mysteries in Taos and nearby locations in the first two books in the series, all while sightseeing and camping out in her motorhome.

But the third book in the series is all about Maxie, without Stretch.

In The Refuge, Maxie leaves Stretch and her motor home in Alaska to fly to the Big Island, Hawaii, to help an old acquaintance, Karen Bailey, who has been injured in an accident and left with a cast on her leg. She needs Maxie's help to help her pack up and move back to Alaska, where she is from.

There are myserious circumstances surrounding Karen and unexplained attempted break-ins to the house in Hilo, Hawaii when Maxie arrives there. There is a suspicious stranger lingering nearby the house, and later on, a search of the house that leaves packed boxes torn open and contents trashed.

Maxie meets and hires a young man to help with the packing and shipping of her friend's belongings. Intending to work faster without having to take care of Karen too, she sends Karen on ahead to Alaska and works with the young man, Jerry, to finally ship and sell Karen's belongings.

After the packing and shipping has been done, they rent a truck camper to tour the Big Island while they wait for Maxie's flight back to Alaska. But the mystery surrounding Karen follows them around the island, even as they visit tourist sights such as Hawaii's Volcanoes National Park, the park's Kulanaokuaiki Campground, the Chain of Craters road, and The Refuge, a place of cultural and historical significance, where the mystery comes to a head and Maxie and Jerry barely escape with their lives.

The book's best quality is the description of the Big Island and the places you can visit and see with a truck camper. From this point of view, the plot is really just incidental. I chose the book because of the setting, and I wasn't disappointed in the virtual tour of Hawaii, with some mystery thrown in.

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro.  Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of such magnitude and celebrity, I found...