May 18, 2009

Fortune Cookie Chronicles, book review

New York Times metro reporter researches and writes about Chinese food in her memoir, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, 2009.

An interesting question in her book:

"It gnawed at me. Could fortune cookies have been introduced to the United States by the Japanese?"

Many people wanted to know the answer to this one: (from Everyday Mysteries

"Two men in the early 1900s in California claimed the credit - a Japanese man who served tea and fortune cookies in 1914 in San Francisco, and a Chinese man of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles who stuffed Biblical messages in cookies. A judge ruled that Japanese-American Makoto Hagiwara of San Francisco was the real inventor of the fortune cookie!"

Jennifer 8 Lee tackles other questions about Chinese food as well in her memoir -the origin of chop suey, American stir-fry, and the phenomenon of multiple lottery winners on March 30, 2005 who bet on the same numbers provided by their fortune cookies!

The book details Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and around the world in places such as Australia, Brazil, Toyko, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. There are explanatory notes on each chapter at the end of the book, and an impressive bibliography.

The author certainly did her homework for this one! However, I was prepared for a memoir rather than a book of such detailed restaurant and food research. The information wasn't new or unusual enough and much of it seemed to me to be already common knowledge. Correct me if I'm wrong!

(Jennifer 8 Lee thanked me on Twitter for reading her book. She has a blog for more Chinese food information at The Fortune Cookie Chronicles)

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.


May 17, 2009

Book Review: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I'm still coming down from the emotional roller coaster ride of this book. It made me alternate between laughing and crying, then I was plunged into feelings of dread and doom as I watched/read scenes that reminded me of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury.

Then the novel, for me, descended into horror, which the tidy ending doesn't much dispel.

I think the author may have intended to evoke these feelings, his characters reflecting a side of Barcelona and Spain during and after the Civil War, and during the repressive Franco dictatorship. I can't decide if it's a four or a five star read. I gave it the benefit of the doubt, despite or because of the feeling of awesome dread that the book left me with.

This excerpt, central to the plot, can probably give a sense of the atmosphere and mood in the novel that precipitates the catastrophic events.
"Sophie had only to exchange one look with Don Ricardo Aldaya to know she was doomed. Aldaya had wolfish eyes, hungry and sharp, the eyes of a man who knew where and when to strike. He kissed her hand slowly, caressing her knuckles with his lips. Just as the hatter exuded kindness and warmth, Don Ricardo radiated cruelty and power." p. 380.
Book lovers will like the basic story, of a boy who discovers a fascinating book and sets out to find out about the author Julian Carax and the reason Carax's books are being systematically sought out and destroyed. What he finds are the stories of a group of boys who attended the same elite Catholic school years before, how the boys' lives intertwined and even collided over the years, and the mystery and tragedy that resulted.

I found these stories powerful and intriguing, the writing and characterizations excellent. I read all 487 pages in three days! The novel was translated from the Spanish by Lucia Graves.

Submitted for the
Lost in Translation Reading Challenge.

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May 12, 2009

The Kiss Murder, book review

The Kiss Murder by Mehmet Murat Somer of Istanbul, Turkey, is the first in the Turkish Delight mystery series that has been translated into English and published by Penguin Books.

The main character, who works with computers in the day, dresses up as Audrey Hepburn at night, when he runs his unconventional nightclub. The mystery involves the murder of one of his nightclub employees, who had refused to turn over letters from a client that someone wants to use for blackmail.

Though the book is described as "outrageous and hilarious" and very popular in the author's native country, Turkey, I find much of the humor has been truly "lost in translation."

What may be excruciatingly funny in the original Arabic, culturally and linguistically, unfortunately didn't carry over for me into the English version. The "humorous" events fell flat. If you can, try reading the novel in the original!

Note: A "Teaser Tuesday" meme quote from the novel generated the comments for this post.

May 11, 2009

Book Review: Trail of the Wild Rose by Anthony Eglin

The Trail of the Wild Rose: An English Garden Mystery by Anthony Eglin
Published April 14, 2009; Minotaur
Genre: mystery

There is a lot to like about this mystery by Anthony Eglin. In The Trail of the Wild Rose, plant lovers will like Eglin's discourses on the history of the modern rose; travelers will like the descriptions of gardens around England, and mystery lovers will like the elaborate plot.

The plot has plant hunters mysteriously dying off, the first during an expedition in the mountains of Yunnan, China, and the second in a hit and run four years later. Will similar "accidents" happen to the third, fourth, and fifth persons who were on the plant expedition with the first victim? What is behind the deaths, and does it have any relation to their plant gathering in China?

The plot has lots of red herrings, false leads, and more than a few culprits who go out of their way to obscure the truth. Readers will find the main character, retired botanist and teacher Lawrence Kingston, very British and quite charming as he goes about sifting out facts, smelling the roses, and helping the police come up with solutions. I enjoyed the novel for the detailed history on roses and their propagation,and for the descriptions of historic places Kingston visits - Oxford, Dorset, Cornwall, London, and Wales.

I thought the plot in this book better than the previous one in the series, The Water Lily Cross, which had a plot that was unbelievably close to sci fi - a waterlily hybrid that desalinates sea water, turning it into fresh water over time! Wouldn't that be a prize piece of genetic engineering if it were true!

May 4, 2009

Best Mysteries, Macavity Award Nominations

Mystery Readers International and Mystery Reader Journal have nominated the following mystery novels for The Macavity Awards.

Awards for 2009 will be presented in October at Bouchercon in Indianapolis.


Best Mystery Novel:

Louise Penny: The Cruelest Month (Minotaur)
Sean Chercover: Trigger City (Wm. Morrow)
Deborah Crombie: Where Memories Lie (Wm. Morrow)
Declan Hughes: The Dying Breed (UK) / The Price of Blood (US) (John Murray/ Wm. Morrow)
Arnaldur Indridason: The Draining Lake (Minotaur)
Lisa Lutz: Curse of the Spellmans (Simon & Schuster)
Louise Ure: The Fault Tree (Minotaur)

Best First Mystery:

Stieg Larsson: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Knopf)
Zoe Ferraris: Finding Nouf (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
G.M. Malliet: Death of a Cozy Writer (Midnight Ink)
Charlie Newton: Calumet City (Simon & Schuster)
Scott Pratt: An Innocent Client (Onyx)
Michael Stanley: A Carrion Death (Harper; Headline)
Dan Waddell: The Blood Detective (Minotaur)

Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery:

Kelli Stanley: Nox Dormienda (Five Star)
Rhys Bowen: A Royal Pain (Berkley)
Ward Larsen: Stealing Trinity (Oceanview)
David Liss: The Whiskey Rebels (Thorndike/ Random House UK)
Jeri Westerson: Veil of Lies (Minotaur)
Karen Maitland: Company of Liars (Michael Joseph/ Delacorte)

For past winners and a complete list of categories and nominations for 2009, visit Mystery Readers International:The Macavity Awards

Book Review: Bon Appetit, by Sandra Byrd

Bon Appetit: A Novel Bon Appetit: A Novel by Sandra Byrd

Bon Appetit reads like a memoir but is a light and entertaining work of fiction about an aspiring chef from Seattle who travels to France to work in bread and pastry bakeries in the village of Presque le Chateau.

Throw in some recipes, descriptions of trips to Paris and Versailles, a budding love affair that could turn into a love triangle, and you have a Bon Appetit of a book!

I copied the recipes for French Onion Soup and Simple Apple Galettes and promised myself to try them. There is also a tempting recipe for Chocolate Truffles which sounds very easy to whip up!

Bon Appetit is the second in a series of three novels with chef Lexi Stuart. The first, Let Them Eat Cake, is set in Seattle, and the third, also in Seattle, will continue the saga of Lexi's development as a bread and pastry chef and probably settle the question, "Which one of her suitors will she choose?"

This is also the first "religious" novel I've ever read. The main character prays when she is in a dilemma and relies on quotations from the Bible to carry her through the ups and down of her culinary experience. Interestingly, this didn't bother me as the novel was not overly spiritual, nor preachy.


May 2, 2009

Fault Line by Barry Eisler, book review

Fault Line is a fast paced thriller with an intriguing plot and lots of action. Three people connected to a brand new computer security software, Obsidian, including the softward developer Richard Hilzoy, die suddenly, one after the other.

It begins to seem like a nasty conspiracy to Alex Treven, Hilzoy's lawyer, who gets so nervous he calls his estranged older brother Ben for help. Obsidian is being patented and is not yet on the market, but someone wants to make sure the software is never introduced to the public.

Ben works for a branch of the government in special operations, and is more capable of handling "bad guys" than the bookish Alex. Though they haven't been in touch for years, Ben flies in to San Francisco to help his brother, protecting him and his associate Sarah from the ruthless group out to destroy the Obsidian software and all the people who know about it.

The question is, why is this particular software so threatening, and to whom?

The personal relationship between the three main characters, Alex, Ben, and Sarah, adds to the interest in the book. Why is Alex and his brother Ben so antagonistic to each other and what has kept them estranged until now? Who has been the "better brother" in the family over the years? And who gets the girl in the end?

"The truth was, bad memories never died. No, at best they were quiescent, just waiting for the right circumstances to pop up like an evil jack-in-the-box and say, Miss me? Don't worry, I'm still here! And I'm not going anywhere, either. Never, ever."

This book will appeal to those who love lots of quick action, suspense, and a good plot. Eisler has also written a John Rain thriller series, one of which, Rain Fall, has been made into a movie just released in Japan.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.


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...