Wednesday, April 26, 2017

#BookReview: PENANCE by Kanae Minato

Summary: When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emily by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emily is found murdered hours later.

Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren't able to accurately describe the stranger's appearance to the police after the Emily's body was discovered. Asako, Emily's mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter's murder.

Review: Penance starts with a letter from Sae to a woman that attended her wedding, explaining how she came to know her husband and why, eventually, she had to kill him. Whoa, ma'am! I knew right then that this was going to be an interesting read.

As Minato delves into the lives of each girl, now women, that were with Emily at the time of her death, readers see that though Emily was the one that died, all of the girls were victims of the crime. And one by one, each becomes a criminal in her own way.

Because each girl has a different personality and played a different role within their group of friends, their perspectives are different. So it's interesting to watch the same story retold from their unique points of view. Quiet Sae believes that the murderer will come back to find her and leaves her small village for the big city where she can blend in and never be found. Maki becomes a teacher, determined to protect her students from the fate that befell Emily. Akiko has become an unstable homebody who continues to live with her parents and only finds joy in playing with her niece. And Yuko, who believes she has outsmarted the curse put upon the girls, finds that she really hasn't.

Minato's words brought each character to life and curiosity about the french dolls the girls referenced led me down a wormhole. While I did find the french dolls, and they were a bit creepy, I also found that Penance was made into a mini series in Japan and was shown in the U.S. in 2014. It's currently on Amazon Video, so I know what I'll be watching this weekend. I can only hope that it's as fascinating as the book.

240p.
Published: April 2017 (U.S.), 2009 (Japan)

Friday, April 21, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, April 25, 2017

Buffalo Soldier by Maurice Broadus
144p; Science fiction

Having stumbled onto a plot within his homeland of Jamaica, former espionage agent, Desmond Coke, finds himself caught between warring religious and political factions, all vying for control of a mysterious boy named Lij Tafari.

Wanting the boy to have a chance to live a free life, Desmond assumes responsibility for him and they flee. But a dogged enemy agent remains ever on their heels, desperate to obtain the secrets held within Lij for her employer alone.

Assassins, intrigue, and steammen stand between Desmond and Lij as they search for a place to call home in a North America that could have been.

Gone: A Girl, a Violin, a Life Unstrung by Min Kym
240p.; Biography

In 2010, Min Kym was poised to take the classical music world by storm. A former child prodigy—touring internationally by age thirteen—she had accomplished the yet rarer feat of transitioning to a soloist career, with a major recording about to be released and a grand slate of performances and press lined up. And then it all came crashing down, because she lost her violin.

Kym’s 1696 Stradivarius had never been just an instrument to her—it was her, her musical self, and also the life partner she knew and loved more intimately than any human. And suddenly it was gone, stolen from a London café, and with it Kym’s sense of who she was and what her life in music had meant. In this luminous, probing memoir, she reckons with that displacement, seeing with new eyes the triumphs and sacrifices of a life lived behind a bow, and finding revelations about art, passion, and what it truly means to do what you love.

All the Rivers by Dorit Rabinyan
288p.; Fiction

One day, in the cold of early New York winter, a chance encounter brings two strangers together: Hilmi, a Palestinian born in Hebron, and an Israeli woman called Liat. A promising young translator, Liat plans to study in New York for six months and then return home to Tel Aviv. Immediately drawn to the charismatic, passionate, and kind Hilmi, Liat decides that their connection will be—can only be—an affair, a short-lived but intense memento of her frozen winter away from home. But their passionate fling deepens into love, and Liat and Hilmi find themselves caught between their desire for each other and their duties to their families; between the possibility of creating a life together and the fear that Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to be enemies. And as the weeks and days slip by, Liat and Hilmi must decide whether their love is worth risking the disapproval of their families, their friends and even their government.

The Maids by Junichiro Tanizaki
224p; Fiction/Japan

The Maids
is a jewel: an astonishing complement to The Makioka Sisters, set in the same house, in the same turbulent decades, but among the servants as much as the masters. The Maids concerns all the young women who work—before, during, and after WWII—in the pampered, elegant household of the famous author Chikura Raikichi, his wife Sanko, and her younger sister. Though quite well-to-do, Raikichi has a small house: the family and the maids (usually a few, sharing a little room next to the kitchen) are on top of one another. This proximity helps to explain Raikichi’s extremely close observation of the maids and their daily lives.

In the sensualist, semi-innocent, sexist patrician Raikichi, Tanizaki offers a richly ironic self-portrait, but he presents as well a moving, nuanced chronicle of change and loss: centuries-old values and manners are vanishing, and here—in the evanescent beauty of the small gestures and intricacies of private life—we find a whole world to be mourned. And yet, there is such vivacity and such beauty of writing that Tanizaki creates an intensely compelling epic in a kitchen full of lively girls.

Desserts LaBelle: Soulful Sweets to Sing About by Patti LaBelle
272p.; Cooking

Her New York Times bestseller LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About, which sold more than 300,000 copies, established her as a cooking star. Today, Patti's baking skills have the country buzzing. In Fall 2015, a fan's YouTube review of her sweet potato pie became a viral sensation, with over 20 million views. In just one weekend, her pies were completely sold out at Wal-Mart stores across the country.

Now, for the first time, fans of Patti's pie can make their own, as well as other amazing sweets! Filled with her favorite recipes for pies, cakes, cookies, and puddings, as well as a chapter on diabetic-friendly recipes, moving personal stories from her career and life, this is the most personal cookbook LaBelle has written. Every fan of soul and sweets will want to own it.

Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal
288p; Fiction

As an only son, Kiran has obligations—to excel in his studies, to honor the deities, to find a nice Indian girl, and, above all, to make his mother and father proud—standard stuff for a boy of his background. If only Kiran had anything in common with the other Indian kids besides the color of his skin. They reject him at every turn, and his cretinous public schoolmates are no better. Cincinnati in the early 1990s isn’t exactly a hotbed of cultural diversity, and Kiran’s not-so-well-kept secrets don’t endear him to any group. Playing with dolls, choosing ballet over basketball, taking the annual talent show way too seriously. . .the very things that make Kiran who he is also make him the star of his own personal freak show…

Surrounded by examples of upstanding Indian Americans—in his own home, in his temple, at the weekly parties given by his parents’ friends—Kiran nevertheless finds it impossible to get the knack of “normalcy.” And then one fateful day, a revelation: perhaps his desires aren’t too earthly, but too divine. Perhaps the solution to the mystery of his existence has been before him since birth. For Kiran Sharma, a long, strange trip is about to begin—a journey so sublime, so ridiculous, so painfully beautiful, that it can only lead to the truth…

The Boy in the Earth by Fuminori Nakamura
160p.; Fiction/Japan

As an unnamed Tokyo taxi driver works a night shift, picking up fares that offer him glimpses into the lives of ordinary people, he can’t escape his own nihilistic thoughts. Almost without meaning to, he puts himself in harm’s way; he can’t stop daydreaming of suicide, envisioning himself returning to the earth in obsessive fantasies that soon become terrifying blackout episodes. The truth is, his long estranged father has tried to reach out to him, triggering a cascade of traumatic memories. As the cab driver wrestles with the truth about his past and the history of violence in his childhood, he must also confront his present, which is no less complicated or grim.

Season of Crimson Blossoms by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
320p.;Fiction/Nigeria

Season of Crimson Blossoms tells the captivating story of an illicit affair between a twenty-five-year-old street gang leader, Hassan Reza, and a devout fifty-five-year-old widow and grandmother, Binta Zubairu, who yearns for intimacy after the sexual repression of her marriage and the pain of losing her first son. This story of love and longing—set in a conservative Muslim community in Nigeria—reveals deep emotions that defy age, class, and religion.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

#BookReview: LIKE A MULE BRINGING ICE CREAM TO THE SUN by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Summary: Morayo Da Silva, a cosmopolitan Nigerian woman, lives in San Francisco. Almost seventy-five, she has a zest for life and enjoys road trips in her vintage Porsche. But when Morayo has an accident, crushing her independence, she is prompted to reassess her relationships and recollect her past life and loves. A humorous, joyful read.

Review: Morayo Da Silva, or Dr. Morayo as she’s known to most people she encounters, is such a wonderful character. You know how some people just bring out the best in others? She’s one of those people. In just 118 pages, Sarah Ladipo Manyika introduces us to a woman that affects everyone she comes in contact with, no matter how brief their encounter might be.

What I loved most about Like a Mule is the range of characters that Dr. Morayo interacts with. Her mailman, Li Wei, knows that she leaves mail in her box for days so that he’ll be forced to knock on her door but doesn’t mind because it gives them a few minutes to catch up. But Li Wei comes bearing an envelope from the DMV telling Dr. Morayo that in order to renew her driver’s license, she’ll need to have an eye exam. The biggest threat to someone as independent as Dr. Morayo is the thought of losing their freedom. But this threat leads the doctor to reflect on her life up until that point and readers are in for a treat as she tips down memory lane.

An encounter with Dawud, the Palestinian man who runs the local corner store but would rather open a chain of falafel shops, sets her on the path to reminisce about her childhood crush on a Lebanese neighbor. From her marriage to a big man in Nigeria to her affair with a Brazilian photographer, Dr. Morayo has lived! Of all of her relationships, most endearing to me is her relationship with Sunshine, an Indian woman who used to live in her building and confided in her years ago, and has become somewhat of a daughter to her.

When her independence and her books are threatened, she lashes out at those closest to her. As independent as Dr. Morayo imagines herself to be, she does depend on Sunshine and others around her, though to a lesser extent. Accepting her new lot in life, even as she finds her independence fleeting, she continues to pour into others like rays of sun shining on flowers to help them grow. I have no idea how Sarah Ladipo Manyika made me fall in love with this world citizen in this all too brief story, but she did. I can’t wait to read more from this author.

118p.
Published: April 2017
Disclaimer: Copy of book received from publisher, opinions are my own.

Friday, April 14, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, April 18, 2017

The Color of Our Sky by Amita Trasi
416 p.; Fiction/India

India, 1986: Mukta, a ten-year-old village girl from the lower caste Yellama cult has come of age and must fulfill her destiny of becoming a temple prostitute, as her mother and grandmother did before her. In an attempt to escape her fate, Mukta is sent to be a house girl for an upper-middle class family in Mumbai. There she discovers a friend in the daughter of the family, high spirited eight-year-old Tara, who helps her recover from the wounds of her past. Tara introduces Mukta to an entirely different world—one of ice cream, reading, and a friendship that soon becomes a sisterhood.

But one night in 1993, Mukta is kidnapped from Tara’s family home and disappears. Shortly thereafter, Tara and her father move to America. A new life in Los Angeles awaits them but Tara never recovers from the loss of her best friend, or stops wondering if she was somehow responsible for Mukta's abduction.

Eleven years later, Tara, now an adult, returns to India determined to find Mukta. As her search takes her into the brutal underground world of human trafficking, Tara begins to uncover long-buried secrets in her own family that might explain what happened to Mukta—and why she came to live with Tara’s family in the first place.

The Golden Legend by Nadeem Aslam
336 p.; Fiction/Pakistan

When shots ring out on the Grand Trunk Road, Nargis’s life begins to crumble around her. Her husband, Massud—a fellow architect—is caught in the cross fire and dies before she can confess her greatest secret to him. Now under threat from a powerful military intelligence officer, who demands that she pardon her husband’s American killer, Nargis fears that the truth about her past will soon be exposed. For weeks someone has been broadcasting people’s secrets from the minaret of the local mosque, and, in a country where even the accusation of blasphemy is a currency to be bartered, the mysterious broadcasts have struck fear in Christians and Muslims alike. When the loudspeakers reveal a forbidden romance between a Muslim cleric’s daughter and Nargis’s Christian neighbor, Nargis finds herself trapped in the center of the chaos tearing their community apart.

Finding Gideon by Eric Jerome Dickey
384 p.; Fiction

As a hit man from the time he was very young, money, women, and danger have always ruled Gideon’s life; but for the first time, it’s taking its toll. Neither Gideon nor the city of Buenos Aires has recovered from the mayhem caused during Gideon’s last job. But before the dust has settled and the bodies have been buried, Gideon calls in backup—including the lovely Hawks, with whom Gideon has heated memories—to launch his biggest act of revenge yet…one he believes will destroy his adversary, Midnight, once and for all.

Yet Midnight and his second-in-command, the beautiful and ruthless Señorita Raven, are launching their own revenge, assembling a team of mercenaries the likes of which the world has never seen…and Gideon isn’t their only target. Gideon will need all of his skills if he is to save not only his team, but his family as well.

The Last Days of Café Leila by Donia Bijan
304 p.; Fiction/Iran

Set against the backdrop of Iran’s rich, turbulent history, this exquisite debut novel is a powerful story of food, family, and a bittersweet homecoming. When we first meet Noor, she is living in San Francisco, missing her beloved father, Zod, in Iran. Now, dragging her stubborn teenage daughter, Lily, with her, she returns to Tehran and to Café Leila, the restaurant her family has been running for three generations. Iran may have changed, but Café Leila, still run by Zod, has stayed blessedly the same—it is a refuge of laughter and solace for its makeshift family of staff and regulars.

As Noor revisits her Persian childhood, she must rethink who she is—a mother, a daughter, a woman estranged from her marriage and from her life in California. And together, she and Lily get swept up in the beauty and brutality of Tehran.

Mad Country by Samrat Upadhyay
304 p.; Short stories

Samrat Upadhyay’s new collection vibrates at the edges of intersecting cultures. Journalists in Kathmandu are targeted by the government. A Nepali man studying in America drops out of school and finds himself a part of the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. A white American woman moves to Nepal and changes her name. A Nepali man falls in love with a mysterious foreign black woman. A rich kid is caught up in his own fantasies of poverty and bank robbery. In the title story, a powerful woman, the owner of a construction company, becomes a political prisoner, and in stark and unflinching prose we see both her world and her mind radically remade.

Where Jasmine Blooms by Holly S. Warah
392 p.; Fiction

American-born Margaret Mansour wants nothing more than to rekindle the struggling twenty-year marriage to her Palestinian husband, Ahmed—but not if it means uprooting their home and children in America and moving halfway across the world.

Young and ambitious Alison Mansour has a degree in Near East Studies, but her American education and Syrian background are of no use when her new marriage begins to crumble under the weight of cultural and religious differences. The communication between Alison and her husband is already shaky; how will they cope with the arrival of their first child?

Zainab Mansour, the matriarch of her family, never expected to live in America, but after the death of her husband she finds herself lost in a faithless country and lonely within the walls of her eldest son’s home. She wants what’s best for her children but struggles to find her place in a new landscape.

Emerging from the interwoven perspectives of these three women comes a story of love and longing, culture and compromise, home and homeland. Exploring the complex political backdrop of the Middle East from a personal perspective, Where Jasmine Blooms travels from the suburbs of Seattle to the villas of Jordan and the refugee camps of the West Bank, on an emotional journey exploring what it means to be a family.

Friday, April 7, 2017

New Books Coming Your Way, April 11, 2017


Penance by Kanae Minato

240 p.; Fiction

When they were children, Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko were tricked into separating from their friend Emili by a mysterious stranger. Then the unthinkable occurs: Emili is found murdered hours later.

Sae, Maki, Akiko and Yuko weren't able to accurately describe the stranger's appearance to the police after the Emili's body was discovered. Asako, Emili's mother, curses the surviving girls, vowing that they will pay for her daughter's murder.

And Then There Was Me: A Novel of Friendship, Secrets and Lies by Sadeqa Johnson

304 p.; Fiction

Bea and Awilda have been best friends from the moment Awilda threw her fourteen year-old self across Bea’s twin-sized bed as if they had known each other forever. Bubbly, adventurous Awilda taught sheltered, shy Bea how to dress, wear her hair and what to do with boys. She even introduced Bea to her husband, Lonnie, in college, who pledged to take good care of her for the rest of their lives. But philanderer Lonnie breaks that promise over and over again, leaving Bea to wrestle with her self-esteem and long time secret addiction.

Recently Lonnie has plopped the family in a New Jersey upper class suburb, which lacks the diversity that Bea craves but has the school district and zip code envy that Lonnie wants. The demands of carrying a third child and fitting into this new environment while pretending that her husband is not cheating on her again, is more than she can handle. And just when she thinks things can’t get any worst, the ultimate deception snaps the little thread that was holding her life together and all comes tumbling down.

Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

336 p.; Fiction

Leaving the safety of America, Teera returns to Cambodia for the first time since her harrowing escape as a child refugee. She carries a letter from a man who mysteriously signs himself as “the Old Musician” and claims to have known her father in the Khmer Rouge prison where he disappeared twenty-five years ago.

In Phnom Penh, Teera finds a society still in turmoil, where perpetrators and survivors of unfathomable violence live side by side, striving to mend their still beloved country. She meets a young doctor who begins to open her heart, immerses herself in long-buried memories and prepares to learn her father’s fate.

Meanwhile, the Old Musician, who earns his modest keep playing ceremonial music at a temple, awaits Teera’s visit with great trepidation. He will have to confess the bonds he shared with her parents, the passion with which they all embraced the Khmer Rouge’s illusory promise of a democratic society, and the truth about her father’s end.

Land Of My Fathers by Vamba Sherif

210 p.; Historical fiction

The proud Republic of Liberia was founded in the nineteenth-century with the triumphant return of the freed slaves from America to Africa. Once back “home,” however, these Americo-Liberians had to integrate with the resident tribes—who did not want or welcome them. Against a background of French and British colonialists busily carving up Mother Africa, while local tribes were still unashamedly trading in slaves . . . the vulnerable newcomers felt trapped and out of place. Where men should have stood shoulder to shoulder, they turned on each other instead.

Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun by Sarah Ladipo Manyika

126 p.; Fiction

Set in San Francisco, this delightful story introduces a truly memorable 75-year-old protagonist, exploring themes of aging, friendship and loss.









Indian Magic by Balraj Khanna

248 p.; Fiction/Humor

An entertaining and well written novel that gives a fascinating insight into another side of London in the 1960s. This is the life of an immigrant trying to succeed in a society where non-whites are not welcome.