Blog Posts by mingh

blogger photo
Ming was named after an evil Emperor. But she reads more than said evil Emperor, including nonfiction and almost all genres. She should read more in the Romance genre but that genre is forbidden on the planet Mongo.



stripe


Sister
by Rosamund Lupton

cover image
08/01/11
When Beatrice Hemmings learns that her younger sister has gone missing in London, she hurriedly returns to her home country to comfort and assist her mother and the investigation. Tess is found one week later in circumstances that suggest suicide. Beatrice is unbelieving and so begins her search for the truth in her sister's life.
 
Beatrice tells the reader the story of her life with and without her sister. As they grow, Tess becomes the bohemian artist and Beatrice the suited New York consultant. What drove them to the choices they made? Beatrice reflects on their life together and why she is so sure her sister would not commit suicide.
 
Beatrice begins to understand that there was so much about her sister's life that she never knew. When Beatrice learns that Tess was pregnant and undergoing experimental gene therapy for her cystic fibrosis fetus at the time she went missing, she tries to learn everything she can about the therapy and the major pharmacy company that is underwriting it.
 
But Tess has also complained about menacing phone calls in the days leading up to her disappearance. And who is the father and what is his role in the story? Although the police are sympathetic, unless Beatrice can find evidence of some wrong-doing, they are reluctant to investigate. So it is up to Beatrice to find out.
 
Sister is part mystery, psychological suspense novel, and medical thriller all rolled into one. There are twists and turns in this novel that keep it moving at a good pace. Book discussion groups that like mysteries that delve into family relationships are sure to like this one.

Sex on the Moon
by Ben Mezrich

cover image
07/23/11

Thad Roberts could never fit in anywhere. He was bullied at school and his teachers felt he wasn’t applying himself. He should be working at genius level. But Thad found a wonderful girl who loved him. When his strict Mormon parents find out about the relationship they make Thad marry and kick him out of the house. His wife works while he finishes his degree in Life Sciences.

Always dreaming of being an astronaut, Thad gets accepted into the Intern program at Johnson Space Center. He knew that all of the shuttles had pilots from the military. But there was always a scientist or two on the shuttle missions and he wanted to be one of them, or God willing, one of the first people on Mars. So leaving his wife to work in Utah, he went to Houston to start his Internship.

Because of his degree in Geology Thad was assigned to the unit that worked with the lunar samples. Due to the long distance between them, his relationship with his wife falls apart. Thad falls in love with another Intern in the program and plans to steal the moon rocks and sell them for millions of dollars so that he and his love can go away and live their own lives. One problem: it is illegal for individuals to own moon rocks in the United States.

This true story is mainly a character study, but the action runs at a steady clip. Thad Roberts shared his story with Mezrich including the events that led up to the most amazing heist in history. Sex on the Moon is a highly readable story of a terribly misguided young man who desperately wants to be accepted and loved and is willing to do anything to get it


Sideways on a Scooter
by Miranda Kennedy

cover image
07/21/11
 
In 2002, Miranda Kennedy decides to live in India to become a freelance journalist in that part of the world. She has worked in Iraq and Afghanistan and was asked to travel to the Middle East as well as Indonesia. So India worked well for her as a base. Kennedy chooses to move to Delhi and start her adventure there.
 
Her own challenges when dealing with love force her to look at how women in India are dealing with love. Some have arranged marriages, some have love marriages, and some have a variation of both. She makes friends with a number of women, both Hindu and Muslim and is able to observe their lives. Marriage is the biggest event in a daughter’s life. Depending upon the faith of the family, the event may take months, the planning starts the minute a girl is born.
 
This is a fish-out-of-water story. One of the changes, Kennedy experiences is to put aside her independence and ego and hire maids. At first she doesn’t want maids, because she feels she is subjecting the women to this work. However, others convince her that the women need this work to survive. One of her maids is a member of the Dalit (Untouchable) caste and the other is a Brahmin, representatives of the highest and lowest castes. Kennedy finds both of their opinions valid and learns much about India and its people from them.
 
Some reviews have suggested this book as a read-alike for Eat, Pray, Love. Although there is a lot to learn about love and relationships in India in this book, it is more a memoir of the author's life living and working in a new country. Everything from purchasing groceries and riding the overcrowded buses and trains is included. As a Westerner you can see yourself making the same mistakes that Kennedy makes.
 
The story of a young woman moving to a different culture and seeing herself in the eyes of young women everywhere, who all are looking for a  love to share, a supportive family, and a place to call home. How each culture manages this and the opportunities it presents make this an interesting read. 

The Churchills in Love and War
by Mary S. Lovell

cover image
07/18/11
This in-depth book takes a look at the lives of the Churchills from the 19th century through the 20th. Its main focus is Winston Churchill's family and his cousin the Duke of Marlborough. The first chapter gives us a little back ground into the first Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill and his beloved wife Sarah. But true love matches in the Churchill line are few and far between.
 
Winston Churchill's mother was an American heiress who fell in love with Sir Randolph while visiting England. They cared for each other even through Sir Randolph's very difficult brain fever as a result of syphilis. Winston and his brother Jack also made happy love matches. They were the exception. Even their children couldn't find true love.
 
The saddest are the Dukes of Marlborough. Saddled with keeping up Blenheim Palace this bunch of rogues first would marry for money. Consuelo Vanderbilt, 18 years old, cried as she walked up the aisle to marry the Duke of Marlborough. Her mother wanted her to marry a titled man so as to show off  Mrs. Astor--who ruled New York at the time. Consuelo gave the Duke "an heir and a spare," and was out of the marriage by 23. Her life luckily turned much happier after she left the Churchill family.
 
Lovell also focuses on the Churchills during three wars, the Boer War, WWI, and WWII. Winston Churchill's father, Randolph was involved with the Boer war. Winston and Jack's involvement in WWI was difficult for the family especially when Winston was charged with the responsibility of the failure at Gallipoli. Of course, Winston also dominates the WWII years. By this time, both his and Jack's sons are in the war too.
 
An interesting look at the background and loves of one of the greatest men of the 20th century, Winston Churchill. When reading about the lives of the Dukes or Marlborough, you can understand why Winston Churchill turned down a dukedom. He didn't  want to saddle his children with the burden. He saw what it did to his cousins.

Murder of the Century
by Paul Collins

cover image
07/03/11

Subtitled, the gilded age crime that scandalized a city & sparked the tabloid wars, Murder of the Century takes place in 1897 when body parts are found scattered in various locations throughout New York. What makes this interesting is this is the start of the tabloid wars in New York. Although William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer had been trying to outdo each other for a few years, it was this murder that really ratcheted up the ante.

Both the Journal and the Herald offered reward money for information leading to the identity of the body (they put the pieces together without the head which was never found). Hearst pushed the Journal to publish more and more about every little clue. Even though some of the clues clearly had nothing to do with the murder, if they had their own sordid story, Hearst went with it. Pulitzer also tried to be first to publish the information.

The solving of the murder is here from the poor detectives who had to do their job under the watchful and following eyes of the reporters, to the courtroom antics, and the viewings at the morgue. Every day for months, people were allowed to come down to the morgue to view the body and make a guess as to whom it belonged.

The murder is solved and actually quite quickly once they get a vital clue. However, the New York papers were never the same. The largest typeface, traditionally held only for declarations of war, appeared for the most sordid stories  for morning and evening reading. And in color!

This isn’t an in-depth view of yellow journalism but how one New York murder changed the way newspapers delivered the news.


Area 51
by Annie Jacobsen

cover image
06/26/11

Area 51 begins with the crash of a UFO at Roswell and ends with the crash at Roswell. In 1947, Area 51 (apparently never officially called that) didn't exist. The atomic bomb testing was happening nearby and it seemed efficacious to have the development of new aircraft also occur in this remote area of the western desert. So work was begun in 1951 to create secret projects both aircraft and atomic.

Area 51 : an uncensored history of America's top secret military base, is interesting for anyone wanting to read more about America and UFO's, the escalation of the Cold War, military buffs, and top secret projects, from U2 planes to the drones that now fly over Iraq and Afghanistan. Area 51 is still the stealth capital of our world . . .
as far we know.

Jacobsen is clear about how much information is out there and how much is still classified. What is interesting is how something as small as the radio broadcast of Orson Welles' The War of the Worlds, would still define whether Americans should be told information that may make them panic. Also interesting is how much is defined as classified because it would seem to embarrass or shame those who did the work. It would be hard to point a nasty finger at Stalin for allowing Dr. Mengele to travel safely in exchange for his work, when we were injecting developmentally disabled children with plutonium so that we could see how they reacted.

An in-depth book of details about top secret projects and how the CIA would use conspiracy theories to work in their favor. Cover the truth or deflect the information. Something crashed at Roswell -- it wasn't a weather balloon.


Life on the Line
by Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas

cover image
06/09/11

Subtitled, a chef's story of chasing greatness, facing death, and redefining the way we eat, Life on the line is a foodie memoir and more. Grant Achatz (pronounced AK’etz), tells of growing up in Michigan with family restaurants scattered throughout the St. Clair region. When he was five he was helping out at the restaurant. He knew he wanted to work in food but was looking for something more than family restaurants. So he started school at The Culinary Institute in New York and quickly moved onto different places, including a short stint at Charlie Trotters.

The message he seemed to learn from Charlie Trotters is how NOT to run a kitchen. But Achatz soon was on his way to The French Laundry and the man who would become his mentor, Thomas Keller. At The French Laundry, Achatz learned not only how to run a kitchen but also how to run a restaurant. It was Thomas Keller who sent him to a workshop in Spain run by Ferran Adria, the avante-garde Chef. Adria changed Achatz’s whole view of food. Achatz knew that this new way of preparing and presenting food was not right for The French Laundry. When Achatz saw an ad looking for a chef to run the restaurant Trio in Chicago, Achatz applied and got the job.

Achatz was on top of the world when he learned that he had a virulent form of tongue cancer. A chef needs his tongue for developing new foods and tastes. This was devastating to Achatz. And so he writes about how he had to deal with a prognosis that would possibly end his life in two years.

An interesting read for foodies, anyone interested in the restaurant business, and reading about someone dealing with a life-threatening illness.


The Devotion of Suspect X
by Keigo Higashino

cover image
06/07/11
Within 25 pages the reader knows who killed Mr. Togashi and why, in this suspenseful mystery by Higashino. Yet we learn there is so much that even the killer doesn't know, leaving Detective Kusanagi with an unknown corpse,  motive, and suspects. Turning Occam's Razor (the simplest answer is usually the correct answer) on it's ear, Higashino creates a simple mystery that is anything but simple. 
 
With his many years on the force, Kusanagi has some tricks up his sleeve. Sometimes he likes to try out case theories with physics professor Manabu Yukawa. Yukawa can usually pinpoint problems in Kusanagi's theories by pointing out how the police have missed very simple clues. But when Yukawa learns that an old genius mathematician classmate may be involved, suddenly the simple clues seem to be overly specific and planted to lead in particular ways. When Yukawa goes to meet his former classmate, the battle of the wits is on.
 
Following the twists and turns as the police try to break Mr. Togashi's ex-wife, step-daughter, and neighbor will have readers second guessing what they actually read. With a surprise twist at the end, readers will enjoy watching the characters squirm as the noose becomes tighter.
 

In the Garden of Beasts
by Erik Larson

cover image
06/03/11

Erik Larson's new book is the story of an American family living in Germany during one of its most provocative times. William Dodd hadn’t even made the short list of candidates for Ambassador to Germany at the beginning of Roosevelt's presidency. Roosevelt had just been in office months and there had not been an Ambassador to Germany in over a year. No one wanted the job. One of Roosevelt’s insiders suggested William Dodd who was chairman of the history department at the University of Chicago. He spoke fluent German and had received his doctorate in Germany.

When Dodd received the call, he was languishing in his department. He hadn’t achieved everything he had hoped and thought that this might be the pinnacle of his career. So he, his wife, adult son Bill, and adult daughter Martha, went to Berlin in 1933. His charges were to lay low, not cause trouble, avoid the "Jewish problem" and try to impel the new leadership to pay back its debt from the first World War.
 
Before he went to Berlin, Dodd thought that the rumours of beatings and disappearances had all been, as the German government had explained, blown out of proportion. But as Americans were showing up to the consulate bloody and beaten, Dodd came to realize that things were much worse than originally thought. Washington was of little help in giving direction. But like many foreigners, Dodd did not believe that the German government, with so much in-fighting, would last for very long. He watched horrified as Hitler’s government, which in 1933 seemed unorganized and  ruled by thugs, shored up its power into a war machine.
 
Meanwhile, daughter Martha was having the time of her life in 1930’s Berlin. She met high ranking party officials, spies of all sorts, and writers and actors. Martha was having a ball, until some of her lovers went missing or were killed. She also discovered that she was being used as a pawn for many sides. Slowly, Martha began to see the dark side of Berlin.
 
Covering the times from 1933 until 1938, Larson gives us what life was like for Americans in Berlin, even those with special privileges such as the Ambassador. Washington was no help to what Dodd saw. He felt very alone as what he witnessed compelled him to speak out for honor and character to no avail. What he had  hoped would be a pinnacle to his career ended in pain and sadness.

Tags:  history

The Sisters Brothers
by Patrick deWitt

cover image
05/31/11
This is the story of two hired assassins, Eli and Charlie Sisters, as they travel from Oregon to San Francisco to kill a man. As told by Eli, this road trip during the start of the 1850's gold rush, has them meeting many interesting characters. Each person that they meet finds them facing a mirror of their own values and morals. Sometimes they look better in the mirror, and sometimes they look unconscionably brutal. Eli tries to help people along the way. But the brothers also abandon people along the way. Since they have long ago given up their own morality, Eli questions the beliefs of others and whether people can change.
 
Placing the novel in the gold rush era, the brothers find desperate men and women who have given up everything for this chance of riches. Because they are hired assassins for money they attach their own morality to everyone who is in search of it. Occasionally, the brothers come across people who force them to question the role of money in their lives and what they need to do for it. Luck is as important as hard work in the world of gold and therefore leads to superstitions. Some of the people, especially the women and children have been dragged into this life because of the men. Even at the mercy of Charlie's kidding, Eli tries to help those who keep a small reserve of humanity.
 
Along the way, Eli and Charlie discuss whether this should be their last hit. Eli wants to retire to a shop. Charlie wants to be his own bossman like the one who hires them to kill. Their delay in getting to San Francisco has unintended consequences. At the end of this long road, after everyone they've met, the reader wonders if this time it will be different. A starkly beautiful novel.
 
 
 
Tags: