Jun 30, 2012

Sunday Salon: On the Road Again - Toronto

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday

It's been a while since I've been to my second favorite city after Chicago  - Toronto. Not only the wonderful variety of foods, but a chance to catch up with friends and relatives.The Toronto Hakka Conference begins today but since I'll be here only a short while, I've decided to visit with family instead of going to the two-day conference.

The Chiness of Hakka origin (don't ask me what that means right now; it's complicated) are exploring their roots and history and culture. There will be a ten course Chinese banquet to wrap up the conference that I'll attend, however, with dancing to lively calypso, soca, "jump up", reggae, and other Jamaican music (don't ask me right now why this kind of music; that's also complicated.)

I am reading an ARC of Spencer Quinn's new Chet and Bernie mystery, A Fistful of Collars, a mystery that won't be released until Sept. 11, 2012 so I'll hold my comments till then but I do want to say, it's making me chuckle and smile as I read along. Chet is the one with the black head and two pointed ears, and his pal Bernie sits next to him. They make a delightful duo of detectives.

I'm also listening to an audio book while on the road, Flowers for His Funeral: A Mitchell and Markby Mystery,  a 1997 book by Ann Granger, one of my favorite female mystery novelists. Someone is killed at the Chelsea Flower Show in a most unusual and "sneaky" way. Flowers and mystery - just my kind of thing.

That's all for now! It's a beautiful and mostly sunny day in Canada. Hope the weather's good where you are!

Jun 28, 2012

Abdication, a Novel by Juliet Nicolson

Welcome to The Friday 56 hosted by Freda's Voice
Rules:*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56.
*Find any sentence (or a few) that grabs you.
*Post it.
*Add your (url) post to the Friday 56 Linky. It's that simple.
Abdication: A Novel
Even so, May longed to have the money to pay for the tea. May had arrived in London with twenty pounds that her mother had given her. "I wish I could afford to give you more, my darling," her mother had said.

Title: Abdication by Juliet Nicolson
May 22, 2012; Atria Books Hardcover
Genre: historical novel
Source: publisher

Book description: England, 1936. 
The year began with the death of a beloved king and the ascension of a charismatic young monarch, sympathetic, glamorous and single. By year’s end, the world would be stunned as Edward VIII gives up his throne in the name of love, just as the unrest and violence that would result in a Second World War were becoming impossible to ignore. 

During the tumultuous intervening months, wise-beyond-her-nineteen-years May Thomas will take the first, faltering steps toward creating a new life for herself. She secures a position as secretary and driver to Sir Philip Blunt, a job that will open her eyes to the activities of the uppermost echelons of British society, and her heart to a man seemingly beyond her reach. 

May and others become embroiled in the hidden truths, undeclared loves, unspoken sympathies and covert complicities that define the year chronicled in Abdication. Abdication is a story inspired by a love affair that shook the world at a time when the world was on the brink of war. 

Book Review: Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip

Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip
>Title: Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip
Paperback; May 25, 2012; Kensington Publishing
Source: author, for review
Objective rating: 4.5/5

About the book:In Mingmei Yip's novel set in 1930s Shanghai, Skeleton Women refer to women who are trained spies, beautiful assassins and courtesans who seduce their male victims in order to eventually turn them into skeletons of death.

And yet, the orphan Camilla, who was trained to be such a deceiver by her boss Master Wang, finds it difficult to dispose of Wang's rival Master Lung as she is ordered to do. She must first find out all Lung's financial secrets and where he stores his important papers and bank books. This is gang rivalry after all, and Wang intends to be the top man in Shanghai after defeating and disposing of his main rival, through his master spy, Camilla.

There are two other well known Skeleton Women in the book - a gossip columnist Rainbow Chang and a magician, Shadow. Shadow and Camilla, whose talent is as a singer known as the Heavenly Songstress, compete to be the best known celebrity for talent and beauty and both rely on Rainbow Chang to promote them in her newspaper column.

The novel is about the relationship between these skeleton women and about Camilla's increasing discomfort with her role as a virtual slave to Master Wang to spy and then assassinate, and being in the middle of the tug of war between Wang and Master Lung, who she must keep deceiving while she ferrets out his financial and gangland activities. There are other conflicts, namely her personal love life and growing emotional attachment to another, younger man.

My comments:The author quotes extensively from two Chinese classics by Sun Tzu, written more than 2,000 years ago - The Art of War and the essay The Thirty-Six Stratagems, which is described as "an essay used to illustrate a series of stratagems used in politics, war, as well as in civil interaction, often through unorthodox or deceptive means." Although Sun Tzu probably wrote for men, the author's character Camilla knows these works very well and uses the advice and strategies for her own means.

The novel is peppered throughout with Chinese sayings or aphorisms that reflect Camilla's own dilemmas, her observation of people or situations, and her plan of action.

Some of the sayings:
"If you pay enough, you can make a dead man turn a millstone." 
"When the rabbits are caught, the hounds are cooked." 
"...tiehan rouqing, an iron man with tender sentiments."
What also made this book enjoyable to read was the author's frequent inclusion of famous Chinese poetry and songs, words that mirror or reflect her feelings or situation. I wish I could include some of them here, but there are too many.

One question that I do have about the plot: If Camilla is known as a skeleton woman, why is she kept and trusted by her patron Master Lung, whom she has vowed to destroy? Even though he has his bodyguard search her every time she enters his bedroom, still he must have been taking a big chance!
I also liked that Camilla gradually changes from being callous and unfeeling to developing genuine love and feelings of human friendship as her life story goes on. How she deals with the twin rocks of disaster between which she is caught is the tension that also kept my interest in the novel.

A book I highly recommend for those interested in women's fiction, historical fiction, romance, and the poetry, and some of the classics of Chinese literature.

Learn more about the author at her websiteMingmei Yip and on her blog.

Jun 27, 2012

Author Interview: Kathleen Jabs, Black Wings

Title: Black Wings by Kathleen Jabs
Paperback; Fuze Publishing, LLC (December 15, 2011)
Genre: mystery

LT Bridget Donovan suspects the worst when her former Naval Academy roommate, Audrey Richards, perishes in a botched take-off from an aircraft carrier. The Navy says it's an accident, but facts don't add up. Could it be suicide, or murder? Donovan's unofficial investigation into what really happened, both during their past Academy days and in Richards' final hours, forces her to examine the concepts of honor, justice and the role of loyalty in pursuit of those ideals.

Kathleen Toomey Jabs is a 1988 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and is currently a Captain in the Navy Reserve. She holds an MA from the University of New Hampshire and an MFA in Creative Writing from George Mason University. Her stories have been published in a number of literary journals and received several prizes, including selection in the National Public Radio Selected Shorts program. She lives with her family in Virginia.

Based on your personal experience in the Navy, why write a mystery?
Kathleen: "I certainly didn’t start out to write a mystery! For that matter, I didn’t start out to write about the Navy at all.

In 1999, I enrolled in the MA program at the University of New Hampshire. I had two small children, a Navy spouse, and a fierce desire to write. I snatched every free minute and began to write short stories.

My first characters were: a Japanese woman living with her in-laws in a strict marriage, a teenage boy visiting the Paris catacombs with his mom and new stepdad, and a 17th century noblewomen leaving the “new world” to return to Spain. I had been stationed in Japan, visited France, and accompanied my military spouse to Panama so the choices weren’t as far-fetched and random as they might’ve seemed, but in many respects the stories were about places not people. The characters never really came alive. None of the stories were even close to submission ready. I wasn’t sure I’d ever be thesis-ready.

One day, my creative writing professor challenged me: “Why don’t you ever write about the military?” I had no quick, glib response. My own military background was something I tended to hide or downplay. As a 1988 Naval Academy graduate, my experiences of school and the military, in general, were complicated. How was I going to dissect that or peel back the careful veneer of spit and polish without revealing something raw or embarrassing? Exposing some part of myself? Yet I couldn’t face the idea of getting another round of lackluster comments in workshop. I took the challenge.

For the next 18 months I wrote about women in the military, and as I did, I faced down old ghosts—the constant scrutiny, the sweat, the discomfort with self, body, choices, the loneliness and longing. Along the way, I found characters that were human, likeable, charting their way through a strange and hostile land. I kept writing. Once I started writing fiction in a military setting, I found I wanted to understand the women and tell their stories.

Bridget Donovan, the main character in Black Wings, grew from one of my early story drafts. I watched her emerge from self-conscious plebe to assured midshipman. I’d been writing a series of stories around her and various roommates when one day the sentence, “Audrey Richards wanted to fly” popped into my head. I was hooked.

At one point in my Navy career, I’d considered switching to aviation. The whole aviation world was cool and mysterious, but it was also competitive and fraught with danger. My imagination wandered. Could the intensity of competition drive someone to consider murdering a rival or maybe arranging an accident? What if rivalry and bad blood between two pilots went all the way back to the Naval Academy? What leads to obsessiveness? To murder?

These kinds of questions began to haunt me. Once I knew Audrey Richards crashed I found I had a mystery. I needed people to understand Audrey, but I also needed a cast of characters around her who might have a motive. That led me to thinking about honor scandals and what honor means. At the US Naval Academy, there is a very prescribed honor code. While it seems black and white, I saw firsthand during my time at the Academy that the issues are often complicated, the choices are really hard. Why not put Bridget and Audrey in that situation and let them explore the choices and their consequences?

The story grew on its own in many ways, becoming more of a “mystery” with each twist. My personal experience gave me the insight into the Academy world and also fueled the questions I couldn’t answer but couldn’t help but ask."

Thanks, Kathleen for visiting and discussing Black Wings. 

For more interviews/reviews visit the Black Wings Blog Tour Site:

Jun 26, 2012

Book Teaser: The Island House by Posie Graeme-Evans

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

But something else was down there, something big. As she stood on the stone floor of what was, undeniably, an undercroft - a crypt such as a monastery might have - awe feathered her spine. (ch. 7)

Title: The Island House: A Novel by Posie Graeme-Evans

Published June 26, 2012; Atria Books

A novel about a young archaeologist who unearths ancient secrets, a tragic romance, and Viking treasure on a remote Scottish island. Written by the author of The Dressmaker.

Jun 25, 2012

Mailbox Monday: New Books

Mailbox Monday is hosted in June by Burton Book Review. These books arrived in my mailbox recently, sent by the publishers.

Title: Wallace: the Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed a Breed - One Flying Disc at a Time
Release date: August 30, 2012 by Gotham

New York Time bestselling author of The Lost Dogs writes about an unwanted pit bull rescued in 2005 from a shelter who became an international celebrity. A true story. Today, Wallace is a champion. But in the summer of 2005, he was living in a shelter, a refugee from a suspicious pit bull–breeding operation. Andrew “Roo” Yori entered the picture. A scientist and shelter volunteer, Roo could tell immediately that Wallace was something special. Roo learned that Wallace was about to be put down. Frantic—and even though they already had two dogs—Roo and his wife fought to keep Wallace alive until they could adopt him.

Serendipity led them to the world of competitive Frisbee dogs. It seemed like a terrible idea. Pit bulls are everything that most Frisbee dogs aren’t: large and heavy with thick muscles that can make them look less than graceful. But that was fine with Roo—because part of his mission was to change people’s minds about pit bulls. After overcoming everything from injuries to prejudice against the breed, the unlikely pair became World Champions. (book description)


Title: Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Released June 21, 2012; Penguin
Genre: thriller

By the author of Mercy also known as The Keeper of Lost Causes, this is a new thriller in the same Department Q series. The two books in the series will be made into movies in 2013.

A homeless girl on the streets of Copenhagen carries secrets about some powerful people. But she has a secret of her own. They are looking for her, but so is Detective Carl Merck of Department Q.

No Rest for the Dead

Title: No Rest for the Dead: A Novel by twenty-six mystery writers.
Reprint release date: July 3, 2012; Touchstone

Twenty-six bestselling authors collaborated to write one mystery, No Rest for the Dead. Each writer wrote a chapter in the thriller about Joe Nunn, a detective, who tries to find the true murderer of a curator of a San Francisco museum.

The Skeleton Box

The Skeleton Box: A Starvation Lake Mystery by Bryan Gruley
Released June 5, 2012; Touchstone
Genre: mystery

What did you get in your mailbox recently?

Jun 23, 2012

Sunday Salon: Books Set in Asia

The Sunday Salon.com Welcome to the Sunday Salon.

I was really happy to receive two surprise books yesterday, thanks to the publishers, both novels set in India.

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: A Vish Puri Mystery by Tarquin Hall will be released July 10, 2012 by Simon and Schuster. It's a mystery novel set in New Delhi. I've read The Case of the Missing Servant, the first in the series, and really enjoyed the main character, India's P.I. Vish Puri.

I received the ARC of Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes by Betsy Woodman, the first in a planned series of books featuring Jana Bibi, her chatty parrot, and her housekeeper, living in Hamara Nagar, India. The book will be released July 17, 2012 by Henry Holt.

I'm in the middle of reading
Mingmei Yip's Skeleton Women, a novel set in early 1930s Shanghai,
finished The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam, set in the Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and
finished The Fear Artist (A Poke Rafferty Thriller) by Timothy Hallinan, a thriller set in Bangkok.

I plan to write reviews of the above three but may not post two of them till their release dates in the U.S! These books are going to take some thinking to review; they are pretty complex, with complex settings, and complex situations and characters. But I think I'll enjoy doing it.

What's on your plate for the next couple of weeks?

Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro. Intellect having "heart" Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of suc...