Book Recommendation: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

I picked up A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate at the library–on a whim, which is how I pick out a lot of my library books. And I wasn’t disappointed. Susanna Calkins’ debut mystery had me guessing right up to the big reveal at the end. I had picked practically every character in the book as a suspect before the end, and I was still surprised to learn who the killer was. This is a book I highly recommend for anyone who loves a good mystery, Restoration England, and above-stairs/below-stairs intrigue.

A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is the story of Lucy Campion, a chambermaid in the London home of Magistrate Hargrave. The tale is set in the seventeenth century and the amount of research that went into the book is astounding. The author’s vast knowledge of this time period  (she has a doctorate in British history) is obvious and imbues the text with a richness that would be hard to fake.

Lucy’s life is nothing but an endless cycle of drudgery until a series of murders catches the attention of London and another servant in the Hargrave household becomes a victim. Lucy takes it upon herself to find out all she can about the victim (whom Lucy thought she knew very well…but she may not have known the victim as well as she thought) and before long she finds herself in some shady places where no self-respecting young girl would have ventured alone in the seventeenth century. As she gets closer and closer to learning the truth about the murder, Lucy becomes embroiled in a life-threatening confrontation and has to fight harder than she ever dreamed if she wants to emerge from the ordeal alive.

There’s a little bit of romance in the book, too–just enough to give it that extra spark.

Did I mention that all this takes place against the backdrop of the deadly London Plague? The plague killed 90,000 Londoners before its ravages came to an end. Add to that the horrors of the Great Fire of London, and you’ve got yourself a pretty fantastic story.

Until next week,

Amy

 

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Book Recommendation: “Trials Elsewhere” by R. Matthias

Steve Jobs once said, “The ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” The author of today’s book recommendation is one of those people.

I don’t normally read non-fiction, but a while back I saw a blog post about R. Matthias’s book, Trials Elsewhere: Stories of Life and Development in West Africa, and I thought it sounded interesting. And when I actually sat down to read the book, I was not disappointed.

The author of Trials Elsewhere is a Canadian IT specialist who travels to the Gambia in West Africa to make the world a better place. The book offers an up-close look into his life in a place that is vastly different from the West.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part is about the author’s life as an NGO (non-governmental organization) volunteer in West Africa. After his stint at the NGO, Matthias takes a job with an internet service provider (ISP) and the second part of the book shares the story of his experiences as a manager in the ISP office.

Matthias’s path from idealistic fresh-faced volunteer to jaded office manager is strewn with stories ranging from burglaries to a run-in with the secret police, to a jungle trial, to corrupt officials to a tyrannical boss and his subversive secretarial sidekick, to his invitation to a local wedding as the “expert” photographer.

What impressed me the most about Matthias’s tales was the insight he gains from the time he spent in the Gambia. He understands why he becomes bitter and frustrated and more importantly, why the people of the Gambia don’t share his initial enthusiasm about bringing change to West Africa. He understands that Western ways are not always understood or welcomed in the Gambia, and he changes his managerial methods to dovetail with the attitudes toward work shown by his employees and colleagues. He presents his ideas clearly and concisely, with a bit of humor thrown in for good measure.

There is quite a bit of technical jargon in the book, and I had to skim through some of it because I simply don’t understand it. That being said, I think such sections would be very intriguing to someone with an IT or other technical background.

Thanks to R. Matthias for this glimpse into a world I have never seen!

Until next week,

Amy

Book Recommendation: Rooftops of Tehran

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You probably knew this was coming, since I posted part of it accidentally over a week ago, but now I’ve written more than just the first two paragraphs.

What first drew me to the book Rooftops of Tehran was its cover and the beautiful title font. But once I started reading, I quickly realized the cover isn’t the only beautiful thing about the book.

Mahbod Seraji has written a haunting story about a small circle of friends living in Tehran in the mid-1970s. At the center of the circle is Pasha, a young man with lots of questions, ideas, and conflicting dreams. The story follows Pasha through a trying time in his life, a time which makes him question everything, including whether he wants to be part of his own future- the future planned for him by his parents and other family members.

Tehran in the 1970s is a turbulent place to be. Pasha and his best friend, Ahmed, spend much of the summer on the roof of Pasha’s house. Sleeping and spending time on the roof is a common practice in that city to escape the heat and dust and noise. They talk about books and neighbors and girls, but mostly girls. And in particular, two girls- Zari and Feheemeh. Feheemeh is the love of Ahmed’s life, but it’s Zari who has captured Pasha’s heart. Unfortunately, Zari has been betrothed since birth to another friend of Pasha.

It’s the relationship between Pasha and Zari, and their respective feelings for her betrothed, Doctor, that makes this story heartbreaking, shocking, and beautiful. One fateful night, Pasha unwittingly attracts the attention of the Shah’s secret police, leading to a series of events which will forever alter the course of Pasha’s life.

The suspense initially comes from the back-and-forth of the storytelling. Part of the tale is told in the present from a psychiatric hospital, part in the recent past in Pasha’s Tehran alley. From the hints given in the present, the reader knows something horrible has happened to Pasha. The present and the past come closer and closer together until they collide in an electrifying event that suddenly makes Pasha’s presence in the hospital achingly clear.

But the suspense builds from that moment and Pasha’s release from the hospital is not the end of the story. The reader continues to follow Pasha through his halting recovery, wondering what the future holds for someone as broken as he is.

I can’t say any more without giving away the ending, but I can highly recommend the book. I’m so glad I read it. I hope you’ll check it out, too.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. I’m working on my next newsletter, which should be out in a few weeks. If you haven’t joined my mailing list, click here to sign up. I’ll be doing a giveaway in the next newsletter to celebrate the upcoming release of my next novel, House of the Hanging Jade.

Book Recommendation: Do Not Wash Hands in Plates

I recently had the pleasure of reading Do Not Wash Hands in Plates by Barb Taub, with photographs by Janine Smith and Jayalakshmi “Jaya” Ayyer. It’s a lighthearted story of three women-of-a-certain-age traveling across India together, eating, sightseeing, eating, shopping, and eating their way through cities and villages all over the subcontinent and enjoying (almost) every minute of it.

The women, friends from their university days, had experienced international travel together years before, when they met up in Luxembourg from three different points of departure in the United States. This trip was a bit different– this time they were meeting from two different international points of departure (Scotland and the United States) and one from within India. It was a little more difficult this time, admittedly, but the women finally met up (in the middle of the night) and their adventure together began.

From the vastly inconcise traffic rules (really “more like guidelines,” according to Jaya) and the closure of national monuments due to the arrival of a certain high-ranking American to bargaining with locals over the price of souvenirs and experiencing the open friendliness and generosity of the Indian people, this story took me on a journey I only wish I could have experienced in person.

I was laughing out loud before I even finished the introduction. Barb Taub has quite a way with words and her descriptions of people, places, and things were witty and evocative. Her ability to share the trio’s experiences with readers lucky enough to pick up this book is inspirational. Her writing made me want to call up a couple old friends and invite them to the other end of the earth just to see what would happen. I might still do that.

And if you like Indian food, you’re in for a treat. I’m a sucker for Indian food and this book had me drooling. It seems everywhere they went the women’s hosts were determined to feed them until they popped. Whether it was breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacktime, teatime, or any other time, the food was plentiful and delicious. Janine and Jaya have included some luscious-looking photos of the food they enjoyed on their trip.

My favorite part of the book, and undoubtedly Barb’s least favorite, was the illness which befell her while traveling. It was side-splitting in more ways than one. Want to know more? You’ll have to read the book yourself. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

I finished Do Not Wash Hands in Plates in just one sitting with a smile on my face and a lightness in my heart. I’m so glad Barb, Janine, and Jaya shared their experiences with readers. Their desire to showcase to the rest of the world the rich culture of India, the majesty of its landscape and, of course, its food has resulted in a book you’ll love.

You can find Do Not Wash Hands in Plates here (Amazon.com) and here (Amazon.co.uk).

If you’re interested in finding out more about Barb Taub, visit her blog at http://barbtaub.com/.

Until next week,

Amy

 

Book Recommendation: Honolulu

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Ever since I read Moloka’i by Alan Brennert, I have wanted to read Honolulu. And I’m happy to report that Brennert did not disappoint.

Honolulu is the story of Regret, a Korean picture bride who emigrates to Hawaii for the opportunity not only to be free from the land ruled by the Imperial Japanese, but also to be free from the oppression suffered by women and girls in the Korea of long ago. Regret learns from an early age that she is inferior to her brothers (hence her given name), that her dream of getting an education is hopeless, and that her only path in life is a choice between spinsterhood and destitution or marriage in a culture where daughters-in-law are mistreated and humiliated by their husband’s families with impunity.

Regret’s decision to become a picture bride, much to her father’s mortification and dismay, is one that will alter the course of her life in ways she could not have imagined. As was the case with thousands of picture brides over the years, Regret was misled as to the social circumstances of her betrothed (she is led to believe he is handsome and wealthy, but…you’ll have to read the story to find out the truth) and as to the brutal realities of living on a tropical island during the early twentieth century.

The troubles which befall Regret as she tries to build her life in Hawaii seem almost insurmountable, and the story is told in a way that brings the reader straight into Regret’s home and into her thoughts.

I loved Honolulu. It took me a long time to read, but that was my fault–I started the book at the beginning of the holiday season and every time I picked it up to read, I was too tired to keep my eyes open for more than a couple minutes.

Regret’s story is woven into the history of Honolulu and the Hawaiian islands. It is a story of family, love, loss,joy, sadness, fear, resignation, contentment, racial injustice, poverty, and success. Though Honolulu is a work of  historical fiction, much of the story is a carefully researched commentary on the relations among all the different cultures and peoples struggling to live alongside each other in the growing city. Though Regret doesn’t always realize it at the time, she is part of the important events which shape the city of Honolulu into the modern place of mingled races and traditions it has become. Instead of calling the city a “melting pot,” Regret refers to it as a “mixed plate,” which is a Hawaiian dish consisting of different types of food, often from different parts of the world, arranged to complement each other.

I highly recommend Honolulu and I’m looking forward to reading another of Brennert’s works, Palisades Park. If you read Honolulu, I hope you’ll let me know what you think of it.

Until next week,

Amy

Book Recommendation: No Comfort for the Lost

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This week I’m highlighting a book I’ve waited a long time to read.

No Comfort for the Lost by Nancy Herriman is a beautifully written, historically fascinating look at the underside of 1867 San Francisco. It is the captivating story of Celia Davies, an English-born nurse living in the city and caring for its most unwanted residents–in many cases, the Chinese women and girls forced to work as prostitutes in the seedier parts of town. The reader is introduced to San Francisco as it existed 150 years ago–expanding, dirty, bustling, beautiful.

Celia is the guardian of her half-Chinese cousin Barbara, whose father passed away leaving them a home and leaving Celia a bit of money she uses to run her free health clinic. Barbara, besides being a member of a hated ethnic group in San Francisco, has health problems which prevent her from moving quickly or deftly. She occasionally helps Celia with her patients, but is sometimes not able to help as she would like.

When a former Chinese prostitute, a friend of Celia and Barbara, is found murdered, Celia takes it upon herself to attempt to figure out the culprit because certain members of the San Francisco Police Department have shown reluctance to spend too much time on crimes involving Chinese victims. Luckily, Celia finds a sympathetic detective, Nicholas Greaves, who is interested in the plight of the victim and who, despite the warnings from his overbearing and very unpleasant boss, is willing to invest police time and resources to find the perpetrator. With a past which is only hinted at in the book, Greaves has a soft spot for underdogs and a personal need to do the right thing. And he has a soft spot for Celia, too, despite (or perhaps because of?) her stubborn pig-headedness, which can only be described as both endearing and maddening.

As the story progresses, we find that the list of suspects is growing and that the people Celia and Barbara know and trust are not always what they seem (it wouldn’t be a mystery otherwise, would it?). I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that I suspected almost everyone in the book before being completely surprised by the ending.

I loved the book. I loved the descriptions of old San Francisco, the antiquated medical methods described to treat injuries and illness, and the story of Li Sha’s murder and its aftermath. Not only that, but one of the scariest undercurrents running through the book is the bigotry experienced by Chinese immigrants during the 19th century. In many ways, the issue has echoed down the years and still exists today, even in presidential politics in the United States. I was struck while reading the book of the similarities between 1867 San Francisco and the present day worldwide.

Nancy Herriman has a way with language and uses it in a way that evokes an older time and is still immensely readable and enjoyable. The amount of research that must have gone into No Comfort for the Lost is obvious and breathtaking in its depth. But besides all that, there are the backstory mysteries–what happened to Nicholas Greaves’ sister? What happened to Celia’s husband, Patrick?

And the very best part? There’s another Celia Davies book on the way! It’s called No Pity for the Dead and it will be released in August, 2016. I will be in line to pre-order it!

Full disclosure: Nancy Herriman is a friend, but as you know from previous posts, if I hadn’t liked her book I simply wouldn’t have recommended it.

Until next week,

Amy

P.S. If you’re interested in visiting Nancy Herriman online, her website is www.nancyherriman.com.

Book Recommendation: Asylum

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I recently finished Asylum by Jeannette de Beauvoir and I knew immediately that it was going to end up in the Book Recommendation section of my blog.

As I’ve done for several of the books I’ve recommended, I won Asylum on Facebook during a book launch party for another author (not Ms. De Beauvoir). I wasn’t able to get to it for a while because I was busy reading so many other books, but once I finally sat down to read it I loved it.

Asylum is the story of Martine LeDuc, who works for the City of Montreal as the marketing director. Martine wakes up one morning to find there has been a fourth victim in a series of brutal murders in the city. As the mayor’s liaison to the city’s police department, Martine is tasked with making sure the police are looking day and night for the killer and reporting the department’s progress to her boss. These killings are, after all, a huge smudge on the city’s reputation. The police put a man in custody for the murders, but Martine is convinced the man is innocent of the crimes. Working with a detective on the force, Julian Fletcher, she begins to investigate the crimes on her own, following clues that lead her straight into Montreal’s past.

Martine delves into a dark period of Montreal’s history that has been buried in the memories of some, forgotten by others, and is rarely spoken of in polite company. It is the systematic conversion of some of Montrel’s most unfortunate orphanages into asylums, institutions for the mentally ill. In the asylums these children, known as the Duplessis Orphans, were the unwitting and terrified human subjects in monstrous “medical” experiments that were performed at the behest of some very influential people and organizations both inside and outside of Canada.

As the puzzle pieces begin to fall into place, Martine finds herself in danger that she didn’t see coming–danger that threatens to turn her into the fifth victim.

This book was a fascinating read. The Duplessis Orphans really did exist, and many of them really were human subjects for bizarre drug experiments. Jeannette de Beauvoir has woven a story combining history and fiction that had me on the edge of my seat. From the beginning right through to the breathless climax, the story moves at a fast pace. The characters are complex, and the setting is incredible. Though I did eventually guess who the killer was, it didn’t dampen my enjoyment of the story one single bit (mostly because I wasn’t sure of it until the end). I suspected almost everyone at one point or another.

And bonus: if you like French, you will find much to love in this book. Snippets and phrases in French are sprinkled liberally throughout the book, and I found myself reading those parts out loud and repeatedly just to hear the lilt of the language. It’s gorgeous.

I hope you’ll check out Asylum and let me know what you think. And, in case I haven’t mentioned it recently, if you read it please consider leaving the author a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Authors appreciate reviews, and I’m sure Ms. de Beauvoir would love it!

Until next week,

Amy