Aug 1, 2012

Book Review: Skios by Michael Frayn

Skios: A Novel
"I'm sorry to keep you waiting," said Dr. Wilfred. "Someone took my bag."
"No problem," said Skios Taxi. "Fox Oliver?"

"What?"

"Fox Oliver?"

Phoksoliva? Dr. Wilfred was too tired to start struggling with a strange language at this time of night. Surely they could have found someone to meet him who spoke English! (ch. 9)

Title: Skios: A Novel by Michael Frayn
Published June 19; Metropolitan Books
Genre: fiction, comedy

Setting: At a lavish party on the private Greek island of Skios, wealthy guests of a cultural foundation wait to meet this year's guest speaker, Dr. Norman Wilfred, an expert on the organization of science. Things start to fall apart when a social dilettante, Oliver Fox, takes over Dr. Wilfred's identity and his place at the function. With the mix up of suitcases, guests, taxi drivers, friends, lovers, and love nests, this farce took off in full gear, very much to my delight!

Comments: Laugh out loud comedy/farce set on a beautiful Greek island. Witty and clever. The plot reminds me of Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, involving hilarious situations caused by mistaken identities. If you like satire, you will love this spoof on academics, pretentious scientists, and those who idolize them.

I found out that Michael Frayn wrote Noises Off, a successful play turned into a movie. I must get a hold of this one and Frayn's other books written in the same satirical/farcical style.

Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of this book.

Jul 31, 2012

Book Teaser: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

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

"What...are they? The g-ghost, two years ago, I used garlic and the river to hide from it.

"Didn't you have any garlic tonight?" (p. 35)
Title: Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers
Published March 13, 2012; William Morrow
Genre: metaphysical intrigue, mystery

Book setting: Winter, 1862. A malevolent spirit roams the cold and gloomy streets of Victorian London, the vampiric ghost of John Polidori, the onetime physician of the mad, bad and dangerous Romantic poet Lord Byron. Polidori is also the supernatural muse to his niece and nephew, poet Christina Rossetti and her artist brother Dante Gabriel. (goodreads)

Jul 28, 2012

Book Review: Tahoe Trap by Todd Borg

Tahoe Trap: A Novel
Title: Tahoe Trap: An Owen McKenna Mystery Thriller by Todd Borg
Release date: August 1, 2012; Thriller Press
Objective rating: 4.5/5

About the book: A young illegal alien, Paco, calls for help when his foster mother is murdered. Tahoe Detective Owen McKenna not only protects the boy from the killers but plans with Paco to entrap them. 

Ten-year-old Paco witnessed the murder, but McKenna doesn't turn the case over to the authorities right away as the boy would be discovered as an illegal immigrant and deported, even though he grew up in the U.S., speaks only English, and has no ties to his home country, Mexico.

Comments: The mystery at first seems to revolve only around the foster mother, who was involved in collecting information about wealthy residents in the Tahoe area, but it quickly becomes young Paco's story of survival.

I enjoyed the view with McKenna in his Jeep (figuratively) as he drove around Tahoe, from misty mountain to dry desert to scenic beach, searching, following, investigating in order to find the killers. McKenna enlists Paco's help to concoct and prepare an elaborate trap for the killers, hence the title of the book. Super clever! I though it was unusual for McKenna, with his dog Spot, to do so much for Paco, to boost the boy's confidence.

More twists in the plot toward the end of the book turn the mystery into an even more suspenseful thriller. McKenna is a likeable guy who turns out to be a superhero himself.

About the author: Todd Borg won the Ben Franklin Award for Best Mystery of the Year and his Owen McKenna mysteries have been chosen for Top 5 Mystery lists by the Library Journal, and by Mystery News Reviewer G. Wedgwood. He has won other awards for the series. Borg and his wife live on Lake Tahoe's South Shore. 


Many thanks to the author for an ARC of this book.

Book Review: Gone by Cathi Hanauer

Gone: A Novel
Title: Gone: A Novel by Cathi Hanauer
Hardcover; published June 19, 2012; Atria Books
Genre: contemporary fiction
Source: publisher

A nutritionist, Eve Adams's time is caught up raising her two children, serving her clients and handling her client's pressing health and even their private family problems. She has a full life. Her husband Eric is a sculptor who has lost his drive to succeed and has no motivation in life. Eve seems to handle the children all on her own.

This is the status quo until the evening that Eric drives off taking the babysitter home and doesn't return. Eve fears the worst after she finds the babysitter is also missing. She begins to doubt her husband and examine her marriage.

The novel is a revealing look at relationships, family, careers. I focused mostly on Eve and Eric's story, which was well written and not at all predictable, and skipped over the people that Eve becomes involved in helping in her work as a nutritionist. I'm not sure how they fit in with the couple's personal story, except to show Eve's extraordinary dedication to her work and clients. I gave this interesting examination of a marriage a 3.5/5 rating.

Jul 27, 2012

Book Review: The Headmaster's Wager, a Novel

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
Publication date: August 14, 2012; Hogarth
Hardcover: 432 pages
Genre: historical, literary fiction

The Headmaster's Wager
The Headmaster's Wager:
Percival Chen, headmaster of an English language academy in Cholon, Vietnam in the mid 1960s, decides to wager a large sum of money in a mah-jong game, putting his school in jeopardy if he should lose.

The stakes are high - the winning pot plus a young Vietnamese woman are part of the bet. Percival, a Chinese who believes in the traditional ways, always dreams of one day returning to China, his homeland, and tries to raise his teenage son Dai Jai in the old fashioned way - urging him to always show respect by staying within the Chinese culture and not marrying outside of that culture. Dai Jai has been seen in the company of a Vietnamese girl, however, one of his classmates.

When Dai Jai leads an illegal protest at the school to defy the government's new rule that his father's school teach the Vietnamese language as well as English, Percival sends Dai Jai off to Shanghai to prevent him from being jailed for the offense and being conscripted into the Vietnamese army.

What changes life for Percival happens after he sends his son away to China and after he wins the high stakes mah-jong game and the Vietnamese girl along with it. Percival falls in love with the Vietnamese girl he won in the bet and his formerly circumscribed life slowly begins to change. Events escalate and Percival's life is affected dramatically, by the girl as much as by the war in Vietnam, the American presence there, and by the tumultuous political changes in China that affect his son Dai Jai.

My comments: The book revolves around the personality of the headmaster and the changes that personal circumstances and war have on his outlook on life. Vincent Lam has created an unforgettable character in Percival Chen, the headmaster, who made me alternately frustrated and anxious throughout the book.

Percival's naivete and his strict adherence to the old traditions almost lead to his undoing and you can say that many of the tragedies in his life are as much his own fault as that of the war and the political upheavals around him. Percival navigates rough waters and at the end of the book, I wanted to read more about this interesting fictional character.

Source: Book won in giveaway contest.

Jul 26, 2012

Book Review: FLESH: A Novel by Khanh Ha

Flesh Title: Flesh: A Novelby Khanh Ha
Black Heron Press: June 15, 2012; hardcover
Genre: historical, literary fiction
Objective rating: 4/5

I blinked away wet stars in my eyes. "I want my daddy's skull back." 
"Daddy's skull? the older boy said, and then tapped the skull with his pipe. "This?"
About the book:
Set in Tonkin (now North Vietnam) in the early 20th century, the book follows young Tai, who as a child witnessed the beheading of his father who was accused of being an outlaw. Tai's father was known as a bandit but was something of a Robin Hood, who helped those around him. He was betrayed by someone in his band of outlaws, someone whose name Tai does not know. As a dutiful son, he recovers the skull of his father from the rival village where the execution took place, and is helped by a boatman and his daughter to escape.

Tai makes a pact with a geomancer to find a desirable and auspicious burial site for his father's and his brother's bodies, as Tai discovers that a good burial site can mean prosperity in the future for himself, his mother, and the future members of his family.

The novel follows the young man as he becomes a servant to the geomancer in the city and then finds a patron who buys the burial site for his family and bestows other favors on him.  Tai later discovers who betrayed his father and what fate has in store for him.

Comments: While it was slow going in the middle, the book picks up toward the end and I was quite engrossed in finding out what would happen to Tai and the girl he thinks he loves. The times are hard, people are poor, but the natural surroundings bring peace and comfort, as the writer shows in his lyrical and descriptive writing.

The novel is set during the time when Tonkin was under French colonial rule. The relationships between the French, the resident Chinese, and the Tonkinese (Vietnamese) are all featured in the book, which gives you a good feel for the culture, the times and its conditions.

I rated the book 4/5 and recommend it for those interested in Vietnam during this period of history.


Khanh Ha was born in Hue, the former capital of Vietnam. During his teen years he began writing short stories which won him several awards in Vietnamese adolescent magazines. He graduated from Ohio University with a bachelor's degree in Journalism. He is at work on a new novel.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a complimentary review copy of this book. Click for other reviews

Book Review:The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

The Headmaster's Wager
Title:THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER: A NOVEL by Vincent Lam
Published August 14, 2012; Hogarth
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 5/5
"Tricks, Mr. Cho? Isn't this a mah-jong table?" said Percival, as he began to wash the tiles. "The only tricks are those of luck. Two hundred per player, then?"
"If you want to play, let's play." Cho looked up from under his eyeshade. (ch. 9)
About the book: Percival Chen, headmaster of an English language academy in Cholon, Vietnam in the mid 1960s, decides to wager a large sum of money in a mah-jong game, putting his school in jeopardy if he should lose.

The stakes are high - the winning pot plus a young Vietnamese woman are part of the bet. Percival, a Chinese who believes in the traditional ways, always dreams of one day returning to China, his homeland, and tries to raise his teenage son Dai Jai in the old fashioned way - urging him to always show respect by staying within the Chinese culture and not marrying outside of that culture. Dai Jai has been seen in the company of a Vietnamese girl, however, one of his classmates.

When Dai Jai leads an illegal protest at the school to defy the government's new rule that his father's school teach the Vietnamese language as well as English, Percival sends Dai Jai off to Shanghai to prevent him from being jailed for the offense and being conscripted into the Vietnamese army.

What changes life for Percival happens after he sends his son away to China and after he wins the high stakes mah-jong game and the Vietnamese girl along with it. Percival falls in love with the Vietnamese girl he won in the bet and his formerly circumscribed life slowly begins to change. Events escalate and Percival's life is affected dramatically, by the girl as much as by the war in Vietnam, the American presence there, and by the tumultuous political changes in China that affect his son Dai Jai.

My comments: The book revolves around the personality of the headmaster and the changes that personal circumstances and war have on his outlook on life. Vincent Lam has created an unforgettable character in Percival Chen, the headmaster, who made me alternately frustrated and anxious throughout the book.

Percival's naivete and his strict adherence to the old traditions almost lead to his undoing and you can say that many of the tragedies in his life are as much his own fault as that of the war and the political upheavals around him. Percival navigates rough waters and at the end of the book, I wanted to read more about this interesting fictional character.

About the author: VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. He is an emergency physician in Toronto and a Lecturer at the University of Toronto. His first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. He co-authored The Flu Pandemic and You, a guide to influenza pandemics.

I won a copy of this book.

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