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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Book Review of The Physician by Noah Gordon

This epic novel is set in 11th-century London, a time when the city is plagued by extreme poverty and overrun by drunks, thieves, and cutthroats. When Rob Cole, our young protagonist, is orphaned at age nine, he fears being passed over by adoptive families and cast into slave labor. A fortuitous break comes his way when he is taken in by a traveling barber-surgeon, the medieval equivalent of a snake oil salesman, flimflam man, and healer rolled into one. Under the guidance of his devious tutor, Rob travels the English countryside as a barber-surgeon apprentice, lancing boils, treating coughs, and hawking their all-cure elixir, which was nothing more than apple brandy mixed with a host of questionable herbs.

It is in one of the villages that Rob discovers his gift of touch when he foresaw a patient's death with a touch of a hand. At first, he is horrified by the discovery, for he experienced the same morbid sensation when he touched his mother's hand the day before she died. Compounding his fear is the grim possibility of being accused of witchcraft by the clergy. But as the years went by and the gift continues to manifest itself, he begins to realize that healing is his destiny. When his mentor dies 10 years after they first met, Rob, now a young man, is free to pursue his calling. The calling sends him on a dangerous journey to the Near East, through the bandit-plagued countryside of Byzantine Europe, Turkey, and Syria disguised as a Jew so he could study medicine in the best medical university in Persia (where Jews are accepted, but not the crusading Christians).

The novel has the flavor of Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, but with a deeper character development and story arc. The narrative is fast-paced, one engrossing scene unfolding into another, revealing yet another adventure, danger or discovery. The intensity of Rob's desire to unearth the secrets of healing is admirable and the portrayal of Bagdad and Persia as the center of advanced medicine is intriguing. It was interesting to see the comparison between the crude monastic treatments practiced in Europe which relied heavily on bleeding versus those practiced by the famed Avicenna in Persia where illnesses were scientifically studied and complex surgeries such as cataract removal were performed. Vivid descriptions permeate throughout the book such that one gets the feeling of actually being in the dusty streets of ancient Isfahan skirting legless beggars and camel dung. An insightful and unforgettable read.

First published at Blogcritics under the title of Book Review: The Physician by Noah Gordon. http://blogcritics.org/books/article/book-review-the-physician-by-noah1/

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Once in a while, I indulge in cheap thrills and post a review of it in my blog.  Since The Lincoln Lawyer is currently showing in the theaters, I thought I would review this excellent thriller by Michael Connelly.   The story takes us to the City of Angels with its winding traffic jams, jaundiced skyline, and perpetual Hollywood hustle.  Our protagonist is Mickey Haller, a high-energy criminal defense attorney who uses a stable of Lincoln Continentals for an office, each one equipped with a phone, a fax, a laptop, a printer, and a pull-out desk.  You can't get any more original than that.  His clients are not the wrongly-accused but those living in the L.A.'s netherworld—pimps, pushers, hustlers and con artists—dregs of society who nonetheless have the right to legal representation.   
When the son of a wealthy Beverly Hills realtor is accused of assault, the mother hires Haller to prove his innocence.   At last, Haller acquires his first high-profile "franchise" case, a deep-pocketed client way above the lowlifes he usually represents.  The fees would tide him over for months to come and boost his reputation as a leading Hollywood defense attorney.  But as he delves deeper into the case, he discovers a convoluted web of crime and felony that reveals are darker side of his client, putting his innocence into question and Haller's own life in danger.   
The narrative is fast-paced, the descriptions of L.A. life searing in their intensity.  As the Lincoln Lawyer takes us into the belly of this urban jungle, one could almost feel the verve of the city, beating like a racing heart.
Four Stars.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review of The Help by Kathryn Stockett

As a practice, I don't usually review well-known books or those in the current bestsellers list since I focus more on good books that are unknown or have been published way in the past that younger folks may not have had the opportunity to read.  But I would be remiss if I didn't review The Help, for this novel touched me straight in the heart.   

The novel is set in 1960s Mississippi, a time when racism is still a way of life in some towns, but is being confronted by rapidly developing civil rights changes.  The story is told from three point-of-views: that of two black maids and a young white woman who is the daughter of a big cotton farmer and raised by a black maid. The three-tiered POV works well in that it allows readers to absorb the story from different perspectives, each one powerful in its own way.  The novel took me into the kitchens of white families and allowed me to experience in a vicarious way how black maids are treated, mostly despicably bad, though at times with certain characters, the relationship (even friendship) between maid and master turns into something beautiful and touching like that of white aspiring writer Skeeter and maid Aibileen who helps Skeeter write her inflammatory book; Aibeleen and her four-year-old ward Mae Mobley (who sees Aibeleen as her true mother); and feisty maid Mindy and her white trash and sensitive master Cecelia Foote.  The Help is a book that is hard to put down and  makes the reader feel completely satisfied, yet sorry that the experience is over. 

I give this book five big stars.

Just Got Back From A Long Vacation in Hawaii

Well, after a long vacation in sunny Hawaii, I'm back to do more book reviews.  I apologize for being on the lam for so long, but I needed to vege out, wipe my internal drive clean, and re-energize.  The nice part is that the break allowed me to read a lot of books.