About This Blog

I am always in search of a good book, which is getting harder to find these days. My taste is ecclectic though it leans toward books that take me places I've never been.

Through the books I've read during the past few months, I've been to China, Spain, Ireland, India, Afghanistan, Chile, Japan, The Philippines, and many other exotic places. I've lived the lives of a boy soldier in Africa, a Shanghai detective, a foreign intern in Spain, a famous geisha, a precocious boy in Ireland, and a college student in a circus train.

My reviews will not reveal the plot but it will give you a general idea of the storyline and the flavor of the narrative.

I make it a point to only post reviews on the good books I've read, whether from a small or big publisher, those that merit a four or a five stars. In this way, I can point my readers toward a new and exciting place on a journey they may otherwise not have taken.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Book Review: ‘Dragons and Dreams: Bedtime Stories’ by Becca Price


A few weeks ago, I was scouring the Amazon shelves looking for inexpensive, unknown books with five star reviews (yes, that’s how I save on my book money). I came across this hidden jewel: Dragons and Dreams, Bedtime Stories by Becca Price. For $3.99, it was at the top of my price range for a children’s e-book, given that it only has 64 pages. But I read an entertaining sample chapter and decided to spring for the bucks. Best money I ever spent.

There are no werewolves or vampires or cute hobbit-like creatures populating this book. Frankly, I am quite sick of those overwritten copycat characters. Instead, Dragons and Dreams gifted me classically-told stories, one of those rare “once upon a time” collections that are so light and charming.

I was introduced to a host of interesting characters such as the ornery but misconstrued dragon that flew into the mountain and panicked an entire village or a curious faerie and a talking sunflower, and of course, the obligatory princes and princesses with storyline reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the Brothers Grimm.
I particularly enjoyed “A Princess for Tea” about the misunderstood dragon, and “The Third Precious Thing,” a unique multi-perspective tale of a king and his three sons. The stories are told with hidden revelations so one can skim beneath the surface of the narrative.
This is a book even adults will enjoy. Five stars for this wonderful children’s book.

First published at blogcritic http://blogcritics.org/book-review-dragons-and-dreams-bedtime-stories-by-becca-price/

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Book Review: The Cliff House Strangler by Shirley Tallman

So I am back, reviewing one of the Sarah Woolson cozies, this time titled The Cliff House Strangler by Oregon author Shirley Tallman. In this third installment of the series, 1880s female attorney Sarah Woolson leaves the prestigious, male-chauvinistic law firm of Shepard and Shepard to open her own financially struggling law office above a bake shop. The novel opens with Sarah Woolson and former colleague Robert Campbell participating in a Madame Karpova séance at the Cliff House, attended by a few members of the San Francisco elite. After being treated to an absorbing oft-hallucinogenic séance, we find that one of the attendees is brutally strangled in his chair.

The event plunges our dear Sarah into the investigation with bull-like determination and cat-like curiosity. Of course, no one believes her. After all, she is only a woman, and a female attorney at that, an occupation frowned upon in the old male-dominated San Francisco days. This causes Sarah to work triply hard on proving her case. When two more séance attendees are found murdered and Madame Karpova is arrested for the murder, the case takes on the mantle of conspiracy and city hall corruption. But of course, only Sarah recognizes this.

In this episode, Sarah’s headlong and determined character is consistent with the past two novels of the series, traits that endear us to her character. The narrative is a true cozy, giving us a flavor of 1880s San Francisco with its taxi carriages, horse-drawn buses, and narrow unpaved streets. The city neighborhoods are all there (Russian Hill, Nob Hill, the Barbary Coast, Market Street, Sutter Street, etc.), but seen from an older prism, one of the many engaging aspects of the novel.
Is it a light novel? Of course, it is. That’s what cozies are, but it is also thick with suspense and plot, not to mention a unique, completely absorbing setting. The narrative prose is smooth, consistent, and vintage Sarah. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Five deserving stars.

First published on August 2, 2013 at blogcritics.  http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-cliff-house-strangler-a-sarah-woolson-mystery-by-shirley-tallman/

Monday, July 29, 2013

Book Review: The Belvedere Club by Nicola Twrst

I had promised to focus on little-known independent or commercially published authors, so I thought I'd post the review of this novel.

If you’re looking for a good mystery that will challenge your inner sleuth and offer you lots of giggles, then you may want to check out The Belvedere Club. Set in free-spirited Marin County, a place of hot tubs, new age crystals, and progressive latte-sippers, this debut novel by Marin County author Nicola Twrst is an entertaining read.
The novel opens with a female reporter’s murder in the premises of an exclusive women’s club run by the philanthropic silver-haired ladies of Marin society.
The incident sends Briana Kaleigh, a Washington D.C. photo-journalist and the dead woman’s best friend to Marin County to look into the murder.
Pushy, high-strung, and caffeineated, our lovely protagonist soon collides with the mellow sandal-wearing Lieutenant Dusty Arkansas, the Zen-Buddhist investigator handling the case.
The two couldn’t have been more different. Sparks fly when they join forces to catch the perpetrator, gumshooing their way to a host of eccentric suspects and witnesses from an obese voyeur chef to a blind bag lady to the age-spotted ladies of the Belvedere Club, picking up contradicting clues along the way.
The love-hate relationship between Arkansas and Brianna makes the pages come alive as the reader wonders whether they are romantically attracted or simply tolerating each other.
Quirky description of Marin County colors the pages. Bay Area description and attitude is spot on.
The novel has loads of twists and turns with perfectly placed red herrings that make it difficult to guess the perpetrator.
There are subtle hints, however, giving readers aha moments in the end. Overall, a highly enjoyable book.

first published at blogcritics.com http://blogcritics.org/book-review-the-belvedere-club-by1/

Movie Review: Outsourced (the movie)

I've been slacking off in my reviews and posting on sites other than my own blog. But I'm back in full force.  I thought I'd post a movie review to get me started.

In this time of mindless special effects and comic book-derived blockbuster movies, I was glad to encounter an indie film with simple but engaging story. Outsourced features a character named Todd Anderson (Josh Hamilton), the telemarketing manager of a company that sells Chinese-made American flags, tee shirts, and other patriotic knickknacks. Immediately, one sees the ironic humor in the story.

A high-ranking executive tells him that the company is outsourcing the entire customer service group to India, ordering Todd to fly to Delhi and train a new telemarketing group. He balks at the assignment, but under threat of losing his job and substantial stock options, he eventually surrenders and takes the long flight to India.

Culture shock slaps him in the face the minute he arrives at the airport and when he takes a dangerous pedicab ride to an overcrowded train station on his way to his new telemarketing digs, which turn out to be a dilapidated trailer-like shed with substandard fixtures. On his first week in India, he is stricken with the East Indian version of Montezuma’s revenge. The filth he sees boggles his mind.
But under pressure from his bosses, he half-heartedly begins to teach his telemarketing crew how to interact with U.S. customers by adopting American speech patterns and slang. We are then treated to a series of humorous exchanges between Todd and his East Indian employees.

It takes a while for Todd to realize his basic problem: he is constantly fighting India instead of accepting it and enjoying the culture. The epiphany takes place during India’s Festival of Colors (Holi festival) when Todd mistakenly leaves for work despite his landlady’s warning to stay indoors that day, and is pelted in the streets with fistfuls of colorful powders. Incensed, he fights back and begins pitching powders of his own. He ends up thoroughly enjoying himself. As he begins his acceptance of India’s culture, he sees his employees in a new light, engages them more, earns their respect, and even falls in love with one of them, the lovely and outspoken Asha (Ayesha Dharker).
The scenes in this movie are phenomenal, transporting viewers into the midst of this exotic, dirty, stinky, yet magical and beautiful place. Todd’s transformation from a miserable person stuck in a bad place to someone who slowly accepts and enjoys the culture is endearing.
Outsourced ranks way up there as one of my favorite romantic comedies. It is not a new, circa 2006, but it’s so good it warrants a review for readers who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the film.

First published at blogcritics.com

Book Review: The Renegades by T.Jefferson Parker

I’ve been reading T. Jefferson Parker’s Southern California mysteries for a decade now, starting with the Merci Rayborn series such as Black Water and Red Light, two of his character-driven thrillers. I have since moved on to another T. Jefferson Parker series featuring Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy, Charlie Hood.
The Renegades opens with Hood’s partner, Terry Laws, being machine-gunned to death while on a routine house call with Hood. Hood escapes the ambush and is subsequently hired by internal affairs to investigate Terry Law’s past to see if it has any connection with his murder. What Hood discovers is far from the squeaky clean image Law has established in the department. He finds unusual cash deposits in Law’s bank account and a bogus charity foundation that generates an unusual amount of donations. The recent double-murder of two Mexican cartel runners in a Joshua Tree highway in which a substantial amount of drug money goes missing raises his suspicion that a group of rogue deputies may be operating in the desert.
What I like about T. Jefferson Parker novels is the fast-paced narrative complemented with rich literary tones, so rare in mysteries and thrillers. The same type of narrative holds true for The Renegades, but darkly-flavored with noir. The prose and descriptions in the book are excellent, so cinematic one could almost picture the Joshua trees and the massive boulders of Jacumba. There are a few unlikeable (and unsavory) characters that I thought receive too much page time, which somewhat negatively impacted the book. I mean, who would want to follow these terribly unsympathetic yoyos?
Nonetheless, this is a good story worthy of a read for the gripping suspense built into the narrative. While The Renegades doesn’t compare with the excellence of Black Water, whose main characters were well-developed and likeable, I would still give this book the nod.

First published at blogcritics.com

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Book Review of The Russian Hill Murders by Shirley Tallman

Part of the fun of reading books is discovering midlist authors who have published good books but are still relatively unknown to the general public. Even with good editorial reviews, their titles languish in the Amazon ranking abyss.
Such is the case with Oregon author Shirley Tallman, who has published a stable of highly-entertaining books from Minotaur/St. Martin's Press. When I recently read one of her cozies, The Russian Hill Murders, I wondered why I haven't heard of her or any of her work. Is it because she's not a name brand author and had been passed over by the press? The book was incredibly well-written and so engrossing I finished it in two days.
The novel features a tough-minded socialite, Sarah Woolson, a female attorney in late 19th-century San Francisco working for the largest law firm in the city. Being a woman, and despite her success in solving a Nob Hill murder, she is treated as the company go-fer, asked to perform mundane tasks such as typing correspondence and making coffee for the stodgy partners who are of the opinion that law practice has no place for a woman.
This second-class treatment galls Woolson. When a socialite chairing a hospital's charity event dies in the middle of a sit-down dinner, Woolson's catlike curiosity for sniffing out crimes where none seemingly exists goes into overdrive. Her suspicion is further validated after the accountant managing the charity's finances mysteriously dies of food poisoning. When the hospital's Chinese chef is conveniently arrested, Woolson's instinct tells her the perpetrator is someone else. This sends her on an investigative path to find the truth against the wishes of her bosses.
The novel takes the reader to the belly of San Francisco's 1890s underworld, from the rough-and-tumble streets of the Barbary Coast, to the city's powerful tong gangs, to Chinatown's filthy sweatshops, contrasting it with the city's socialite world of which Sarah Woolson is a part.
Good books such as this are getting harder and harder to come by. The narrative is evocative and funny, the voice, impeccably unique. The reader can't help but root for Woolson and follow her journey to the satisfying conclusion. This is a highly enjoyable novel, one that takes the reader to unusual time and places.

Its sequel, The Cliff House Strangler is already in my Kindle bookshelf, glowing like a smoldering coal, waiting to be read.

Article first published as <a href='http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-russian-hill-murders/'>Book Review: <i>The Russian Hill Murders</i> by Shirley Tallman</a> on Blogcritics.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Book Review of The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

I thought I would review the book for those who haven't read this entertaining novel. The story starts when Mikael Blomkvist, the editor of an investigative financial magazine called Millennium is found guilty of libel by a Swedish court for the article he published about a shady financier. The dense back story on Blomkvist's predicament unfortunately slowed down the narrative to the point that I began to wonder whether the book may have been overhyped. But twenty pages into the novel when the intriguing Lisbeth Salander is introduced, the story takes off like a rocket.

Disgraced and derided by the Swedish press (they dubbed him Kalle Blomkvist, after a fictional amateur boy sleuth in Astrid Lingren's novels), Blomkvist takes a temporary leave of absence from Millennium. Out of work, he is hired (enticed actually) by Eric Vanger of the venerable Vanger Corp to investigate a cold case that happened thirty years before: the disappearance of sixteen-year-old Harriet Vanger, the likely heir to the Vanger fortune. Blomkvist accepts the job and searches for an assistant to help him with his research.

Enter punk-haired and severely underdeveloped Lisbeth Salander (yes, the girl with the dragon tattoo, among her other body art), a mistrustful, anti-social, and oft-violent twenty-five-year-old woman who has been declared mentally incompetent by the state and placed under guardianship of a state-appointed lawyer. What the government doesn’t know is that Salander is a highly intelligent protégé, a kind of wonder girl, who secretly works as an investigative researcher for the biggest security firm in Sweden. Through his unthreatening wiles, Blomkvist is able to earn Salander's trust and the two of them embark on an investigative journey that uncovers a sinister Vanger family history that eventually endangers both their lives.

This book is fast-paced with extremely well-drawn characters, especially Salander whose flawed but endearing personality readers can't help but root for. The relationship between Blomkvist and Salander is touching but tense, which adds to the sexual intrigue. Though the descriptions are sometimes overwritten, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of the best reads I've had in a long time.

Article first published in http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-girl-with-the2/ on Blogcritics