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.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Book Review of Shaman by Noah Gordon

I visited our local library and found an old gem among the clutter of mediocre books being published these days. Shaman did not get much press when it came out a little over a decade ago. Which is a pity, because this book has everything one would ever want in a novel.

Written in an easy-to-read descriptive prose, Shaman tells the story of a gifted 19th century physician cursed with the ability of knowing when a patient is about to die with a mere touch of a hand. Set in the area of the Platte River in the Central Great Plains, the novel takes the reader through a journey among the Sauk Indians, their eventual massacre, and the bloody blue and gray civil war with Rob J. Cole and his deaf son Shaman as the protagonists in this two-part novel. The narrative of this novel is excellent and places the reader smack in the scene with the main characters. The pacing is terrific and I'm not talking about thriller-type pacing but one that involves deep, character-driven velocity, featuring larger-than-life events that shape lives.
Five Stars

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Book Review of Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn

This review sets the  mood and general storyline but does not reveal the plot. 

Set in imaginary feudal Japan, Across the Nightingale Floor is part YA fantasy and part romance with a bit of a poetic narrative. It opens with sixteen-year-old Takeo finding his entire village wiped out by a powerful warlord's men (the men actually were sent there to kill him). What better way to start a novel? Orphaned but having escaped death, Takeo is taken in by Lord Shigeru of the opposing Otori Clan who has traveled far and wide to adopt him. Takeo has mystical powers (something of which the boy is not aware) that he inherited from a secret and outcast race called the Tribe with which Shigeru has a mysterious link. Shigeru mentors Takeo and coaxes out his mystical powers of invisibility and sharpened hearing, even as the powerful warlord, threatened by this power, plots Takeo's demise. The pacing is terrific, filled with betrayals and misty intrigue, a cross between Shogun and Lord of the Rings. There is never a dull moment in the entire book. As with all YA fantasy novels, one has to suspend disbelief but the author did a terrific job in building a realistic imaginary world, oxymoron as the word might seem. Four Stars

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book Review of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho

Once again, a book that takes one on an enlightening journey to exotic places in the world.  The Alchemist is the story of a Spanish shepherd boy in search of the truth about life and existence.  In the course of his travels, he encounters an alchemist, a man who possesses the mysterious secrets of metals that if heated under certain conditions reveals the secrets of the soul.  Santiago's journey takes the reader from the arid plains of Andalusia, Spain to the bandit-plagued deserts of Morocco and Egypt, each stage of the voyage sprinkled with hidden wisdom and epiphany. 
The story is laid out in simple narrative, mystical almost, yet one gets a vivid picture of the scenes as the boy goes through his illuminating passage.  Though the narrative is a bit detached at times, it nonetheless lets one inside the head of the boy and his desire to discover the truth about life.  Though a YA novel with a YA protagonist, The Alchemist possesses adult themes, making it a satisfying read for both readers.  It is a short book packed with lessons and insights. 
Four Stars.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Book Review: The Conch Bearer by Chitna Banerjee Divakaruni

I love books that take me to places.  In the case of The Conch Bearer, it is india.  It's  a modern day fairy tale and adventure story about a twelve-year-old boy named Anand, a believer in magic and living a destitute life with his mother and ill sister in the city of Calcutta. 
One day, an old healer, attracted by Anand's faith in magic, shows up at his doorstep and entrusts him with a powerful magic conch shell.  In exchange for curing Anand's ill sister, Anand must undertake a dangerous journey to the Himalayas to return the conch shell to its rightful owners, the Brotherhood of Healers.  In every turn, he is shadowed by a powerful and ruthless villain who wants to possess the conch shell to increase his magical powers.  The story takes readers from the grimy streets of Calcutta to the majestic mountains of the Himalayas, replete with roaring rivers that turn into something dangerous and alive.  The narrative is beautiful and simple, the story fast-paced and told in a thriller-type fashion so that the reader knows exactly what sort of dangers Anand and his girl partner are getting themselves into.

Four Stars!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Book Review: Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

I mentioned in my profile that I like books that take me to places.  If you are a mystery aficionado and like to be taken to China, this is the book for you.  Qiu Xialong's Death of a Red Heroine takes the reader to mid-1990s Shanghai, a time when the country is just getting into its capitalist binge.  The protagonist is Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau, Special Case Branch, which essentially means he is in charge of politically sensitive cases.  Aside from being a detective, the protagonist is also a poet, a translator of English mystery novels, and a gourmand.  When a woman labeled as The Red Heroine (a role model citizen for the Party) is found floating in a Shanghai canal, Inspector Chen is called to investigate the murder.  His investigation takes him to sensitive areas of government pitting him and his partner Guangming against the new and powerful capitalist cadre in China. 

What I like about this book is the accurate portrayal of the ridiculous bureaucracy created by the all-powerful and seemingly schizophrenic Party, which seems to have one foot in capitalism and the other foot firmly planted in communism.  Inspector Chen has to go through hoops and countless political barricades just to get simple things done.   I loved walking in the busy Shanghai streets with its food stalls and markets and crowded shikumen houses.  The scents and descriptions of exotic Chinese food pervading the novel only add to the sense of being there. I mean, how can one not salivate at the mention of a hot and sour pork soup bun or braised cock's comb with tofu and scallions or guangdong roast duck on pan fried noodle?

I give this book five stars.