Apr 30, 2012

Book Review - The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James


Though I found the White House gardener Casey Calhoun a little off centered when it comes to solving mysteries, she clearly is a dedicated gardener in this cozy series, devoted to excellence in tending the vegetables in the First Lady's organic garden.

Casey thinks she has discovered the killers of two reporters in the White House Press Corps. She then tries to find out who is sabotaging the vegetables in the White House garden, and soon discovers the secrets of a female reporter who narrowly escapes death in a hit and run. Casey tries to put all the facts together, putting her own life in danger.

Far from being the crafty sleuth, however, Casey seems to fall into the solution to the crimes by accident.

An enjoyable cozy if you don't mind being exasperated with the main character at times. I enjoyed reading about the White House garden itself, the Secret Service personnel, and the press corps, assuming that the details are true to life - their duties, methods of work, volunteers at the White House, etc.

Title: The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James
Published: April 3, 2012 by Berkley
Series: A White House Gardener Mystery #2
Genre: cozy, mystery
Objective rating: 4/5

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Click on Greensleeves to hear Zen Garden Music.



Apr 29, 2012

Sunday Salon: Memoirs and Fiction

I posted only four book reviews last week, but it was a good week for me as I normally finish about two reviews. A variety of genres:

Another Piece of My Heart aka
 The Patchwork Marriage
Pilgrimage to the End of the World by Conrad Rudolph, a travel memoir about a thousand mile trip from southern France to Santiago de Compostela, the famous pilgrimage site in Spain.

Lucky Child by Loung Ung, a memoir about a childhood in war torn Cambodia and leaving a sister and two brothers behind to immigrate to the U.S.

The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James, a White House Gardener mystery.

A Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green, a contemporary novel about stepmothers and stepdaughters, and coming of age.

On my reading list are Broken Spirit, a mystery by Charles L. Fields, and
Dana Stabenow's Alaskan mystery, Restless in the Grave.

What have you been reading/blogging recently?

Apr 28, 2012

A Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green, a novel




Comments: An interesting story about a second marriage, a stepmother, a rebellious stepdaughter, and her coming of age. I had to admire the patience of Andi in dealing with her husband Ethan, an overly indulgent father of a rebellious teenage daughter Emily, who is often very rude to her stepmom. I wondered how I would handle such a situation if I were in Andi's place.

A good book of women's fiction with believable characters. Recommended.

Title: The Patchwork Marriage by Jane Green 
Published 2012 by Michael Joseph, Penguin paperback
Genre: contemporary women's fiction
Rating: 4/5

Goodreads description:  A story that explores the complications of a woman marrying into a ready-made family, and the true meaning of motherhood. Andi has spent much of her adult life looking for the perfect man, and at thirty-seven, she's finally found him. Ethan--divorced with two daughters, Emily and Sophia--is a devoted father and even better husband. Always hoping one day she would be a mother, Andi embraces the girls like they were her own. But in Emily’s eyes, Andi is an obstacle to her father’s love, and Emily will do whatever it takes to break her down. (from the description of the same book published as Another Piece of My Heart,  March 13, 2012 by St. Martins Press)

Thanks to Penguin for a complimentary review copy of The Patchwork Marriage.

Book Review: The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James

Title: The Scarlet Pepper by Dorothy St. James
Published: April 3, 2012 by Berkley
Series: A White House Gardener Mystery #2
Genre: cozy, mystery
Objective rating: 4/5

Though I found the White House gardener Casey Calhoun a little off centered when it comes to solving mysteries, she clearly is a dedicated gardener, devoted to excellence in tending the vegetables in the First Lady's organic garden.

Casey thinks she has discovered the killers of two reporters in the White House Press Corps and pursues that trail relentlessly. In the meantime, she tries to find out who is sabotaging the vegetables in the White House garden, discovers the secrets of another female reporter who narrowly escapes death in a hit and run, and attempts to put all the facts together, putting her own life in danger.

Far from being the crafty sleuth, however, Casey seems to fall into the solution to the crimes by accident.

An enjoyable cozy if you don't mind being exasperated with the main character at times. I enjoyed reading about the White House garden itself, the Secret Service personnel, and the press corps, assuming that the details are true to life - their duties, methods of work, volunteers at the White House, etc.

Apr 26, 2012

Book Review: Lucky Child by Loung Ung

"...I have come to accept that I might never see Chou again. I know that somewhere in Cambodia, the remainder of our large family is waiting to join Meng and me in America, but missing them has become too difficult. And so I've begun to think of myself as the only sister, even though I remember being part of a big family. That life is gone and no matter how I wish it, it will never be so again." (ch.16)

Title: Lucky Child: A Daughter of Cambodia Reunites with the Sister She Left Behind
Author: Loung Ung
Publisher: Harper Perennial (April 11, 2006), paperback
Genre: memoir

Comments: To the general reader, the importance of this memoir by Loung Ung, the second of three books on Cambodia and life after the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese invasion, lies not only in its historical value but in the heartfelt story of a family destroyed and separated by war.

We see life through the eyes of a young 10 year-old-girl who is chosen by her oldest brother Meng to leave Cambodia with him and his wife, escape to Thailand, and then travel as refugees to Vermont, U.S.A. Loung is haunted by the memory of her older sister Chou, whom she left behind, and the two brothers also left in Cambodia. She also is haunted by the memory of her parents, both killed by the Khmer Rouge while she was still a young child in Cambodia.

 Lucky Child is the story of the two sisters, living and growing up in two different countries - the U.S.A. and Cambodia, about their eventual reunion, and their experiences in between the time they were separated as children and the time they were reunited in Cambodia as adults.

Recommendation: I would recommend this book and the others, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers and Lulu in the Sky to anyone wanting to know more about the period 1975-1979, when Cambodia was turned into the Killing Fields under the Khmer Rouge who murdered millions of its own people in order to establish their power. The book is also a story of survival, immigration and adjustment of refugees to life in the United States, eventual reconciliation of Loung's family, and their lives after a war of devastation.

About the author: Loung Ung was born to an affluent Cambodian father and Chinese mother, and was only 5 years old when the Khmer Rouge stormed into her native city of Phnom Penh. Four years later, in one of the bloodiest episodes of the 20th century, some two million Cambodians – out of a population of seven million – had died at the hands of the infamous Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. Among the genocide victims were both Loung’s parents, two sisters, and 20 other relatives.

Today, Loung has made over 30 trips back to Cambodia. As an author, lecturer, and activist, she has dedicated 20 years to promoting equality, human rights, and justice in her native land and worldwide. To find out more about her work, visit her at http://loungung.com/

You can see the complete tour and other reviews of this book, thanks to TLC Book Tours.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book for the tour.

Apr 25, 2012

Book Review: Pilgrimage to the End of the World by Conrad Rudolph


Title: Pilgrimage to the End of the World: The Road to Santiago de Compostela
Author: Conrad Rudolph
University of Chicago Press, May 19, 2004
Genre: travel, culture, memoir
Source: free ecopy from publisher

"Traveling one thousand miles through southern France and northern Spain, Conrad Rudolph made the passage to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela, a popular and important pilgrimage destination for Westerners today. In this chronicle of his travels, Rudolph writes a book that is at once travel guide, literary work, historical study, and memoir." (book description)
"The pilgrimage to Santiago can begin from anywhere. But...there are said to be four classic starting points....By far the most beautiful is the one from Le Puy, in the heart of the Massif Central....  (Doing the Pilgrimage, pp. 95-100)
Comments: I've fascinated by this pilgrimage that many people take, walking to the holy site of Santiago de Compostela, the Spanish city where the remains of the apostle Saint James the Greater is said to reside in a large and impressive cathedral. The walking trip from Le Puy, France, through the Pyrenees mountains, and through northern Spain is about a thousand miles and took the author two and a half months to complete.

I first heard about the pilgrimage from  two people I once worked with, who resigned their jobs, walked the pilgrimage and then decided to stay in Spain and run one of the refugios or pilgrim's hostels that line the long route along the way to Santiago de Compostela.

It was interesting to learn from the book that pilgrims from all over the world, mostly Europeans, range in age from their twenties through late sixties, some even in their seventies. I imagine the older pilgrims take one of the shorter routes that start closer to or in Spain and skip going through the Pyrenees in France.

About the book: The book was a free download from the University of Chicago Press, which offers readers a free digital book each month. Their recent offer, Pilgrimage to the End of the World, came out in print in 2004.

The title shows that the author took the pilgrimage route beyond Santiago de Compostela, a hike of three days more to Finisterre, where land ends at the Atlantic Ocean and the "End of the World." This book has maps and photographs of the pilgrimage route, of monuments and churches and some of the small villages along the way. It suggests a detailed and specific list of items pilgrims should take with them, plus a warning to pack light. The author suggests vigorous hiking training for several months to prepare for the long and challenging walk along the pilgrimage route to the holy site.

I recommend the book to anyone wishing they could make the trip and of course, to those who are thinking about doing it and need background information as well as helpful tips and other recommended reading. The author made the trip in the mid 1990s and published the book in 2004. I did find that a couple of his links to web cams in Santiago de Compostela and along the route no longer work.

Conrad Rudolph is a professor of medieval art and chair of the art history department at the University of California, Riverside. This is his fourth book.

Apr 24, 2012

Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google? by William Poundstone

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by MizB and asks you to choose sentences at random from your current read. Identify the author and title for readers.

"Perhaps success is a matter not so much of being smarter, but of being less entitled. And tenacity is a big part of creativity. That is the unstated thesis of today's interview by ordeal. As one former Google interviewer said, "The goal is to find out where the candidates run out of ideas."  (ch. 10)
Title: Are You Smart Enough to Work at Google?  Trick Questions, Zenlike Riddles, Insanely Difficult Puzzles, and Other Devious Interviewing Techniques You Need to Know to Get a Job Anywhere in the New Economy.
Author: William Poundstone
Published January 4. 2012; Little, Brown and Co.

Publisher's description: "You are shrunk to the height of a nickel and thrown in a blender. The blades start moving in 60 seconds. What do you do? If you want to work at Google, or any of America's best companies, you need to have an answer to this and other puzzling questions.

ARE YOU SMART ENOUGH TO WORK AT GOOGLE? guides readers through the surprising solutions to dozens of the most challenging interview questions. The book covers the importance of creative thinking, ways to get a leg up on the competition, what your Facebook page says about you, and much more. "


I received this as a complimentary review copy.

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...