Tuesday, August 23, 2016

BOOKLOG 57: The Big Short

Inside the Doomsday Machine
by Michael Lewis

After Thomas Wolfe there was Tom Wolfe, he of the white suits, writing about modern-day nonfictiony things, including The Right Stuff, on which was based the most excellent movie. After Bonfire of the Vanities, his satirical novel looking at the indulgences, though, I lost track of his work, for one reason or another. Somehow, his fiction just wasn’t as riveting as the nonfiction he wrote.

In the vein of the early Tom Wolfe is Michael Lewis, who’s written riveting nonfiction in the books you may have heard of from the movies made from them (Moneyball? Liar’s Poker? The Blind Side? Aw, c’mon. That last movie won Sandra Bullock an Oscar. You remember). Since I read Moneyball when it was referenced in an interview I was editing, at the magazine I worked at when it was first published (the book, not the magazine), I’ve been a Lewis fan. For someone with little interest in math or Wall Street, I’ve spent a large part of my life involved in both, and surprisingly (or not), reading about both.

Anyway, with The Big Short I actually saw the movie first, for once. The cast was intriguing enough, and the topic a challenge enough (talking about the derivative markets and making it understandable for the movie-going audience? This we had to see), that we had to check it out. And it worked! Complete with the actress of the moment Margot Robbie (you may know her as Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, and the second wife in Wolf of Wall Street) in a bubbly bathtub explaining a complex bond tidbit. She was on screen for less than a minute, but it was memorable. (Do I remember specifically what her topic was? Of course not. But I did admire the conceit of having her explain it.)

But that’s not the book. (There are a number of asides like the one with Robbie to explain some detail, but that’s the one bizarre enough to stick.) Lewis explains the primary characters in a great big explosion that occurred on Wall Street—metaphorical, not literal—who at the beginning of the book don’t know each other. Lewis explains each, the characters, their backgrounds, and how they came about to be involved in the meltdown. If you’ve ever read The Bridge at San Luis Rey, in the same manner, you have unrelated folks involved at one moment in time and then, suddenly, they are related, in a way. If you like disaster movies, this is a disaster that doesn’t involve Michael Bay or Irwin Allen. Emotional disasters are a whole ‘nother thing, and Lewis details it all.

If you ever want an example of how getting involved in Wall Street isn’t good for anyone’s health in the long run, this book will make it clear.

Coming up: West of Everything by Jane Tompkins

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

BOOKLOG 56: The Book of Yokai

Mysterious Creatures of Japanese Folklore
by Michael Dylan Foster

Those of you who know me know that I co-present a series of workshops looking at myths and legends around the world and how each changes depending on region (for those curious, it’s the “Silk Road and Beyond” workshops, looking at dragons, vampires, werewolves/shapeshifters, angels, demons, ghosts, bigfeet, and even faeries, with “The Seven Seas” entry looking at water myths and creatures). The challenge on occasion has been finding reliable sources of information that doesn’t dip into someone’s gaming lore or comics or some such, all of which are inspired by but doesn’t necessarily adhere to the traditional lore. Fortunately, between my co-presenter Jacquie Rogers and me, we managed to find clean sources.

And only after all those workshops we scrimped and scraped for data did I discover this work. Timing is everything, and I don’t got it! But just in case this can help you, I’ll tell you about Michael Dylan Foster’s book. According to his bio, Foster is an associate professor of East Asian folklore at Indiana University. So he’s got academic chops in the topic (and I am so jealous!). He observes that the Japanese tend to hold their myths and lore closer to their lives than other cultures do, part of their everyday lives, so that in itself shapes the culture.

Foster dives into detail about the differences between two similar examples of folklore, separated by regional differences; considering that Japan isn’t that big a country, it’s remarkable the variations you can suss out if you look, and Foster looks. If you find yourself forgetting the great variations of nature and culture, this book will give you a great big honking reminder. A fun read overall. Highly recommended!

Coming up: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Monday, July 04, 2016

Happy 32nd Interdependence Day!

For those of us in the US, today is Independence Day, celebrating the day we as a nation decided not to be ruled by another nation. In other parts of the world, though, it's just July 4. But wherever we are, no matter what culture we're currently in, today is Interdependence Day for my husband and me, because it's our anniversary.

We got married on July 4 in Brooklyn, NY, 32 years ago, and had our reception in the restaurant in the tallest building in Bay Ridge. We chose that spot because that's where we lived; we loved the area (the southernmost tip of Brooklyn, right before the Verrazano Bridge, which leads you to Staten Island), and by having our reception in that building, we could see the fireworks over in Manhattan. It was one day that we knew most everyone we wanted to invite would have off, and surprisingly, neither the church nor the restaurant were booked. It was a lovely, sunny day (okay, it was summer in New York: It was scorching, the church wasn't air-conditioned, but the sky was a beautiful blue), and we remember it fondly still. 

Eventually, we moved away -- across the country, even, to Washington state -- but we had the opportunity to go back to New York a few years ago, just in time for our anniversary. We had dinner at the restaurant at the top of that same building, and watched the fireworks over in Manhattan again. We remember that fondly, too.

How is any of this relevant? Well, I write and edit romances. And our wedding was romantic. And it's Interdependence Day. So Happy Interdependence Day, one and all!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

BOOKLOG 55: The Highwayman

A Longmire Mystery
by Craig Johnson

As always, Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, mixing up elements of mystery, paranormal, modern-day western, and even soap opera (here and there, not much, don’t worry), comes through once again with this book. In The Highwayman, local legends come into play, specifically ghost stories. Like all good ghost stories, there’s a grain of truth in the one that is the central story here. Once more, Johnson brings us into the Wyoming world of Walt Longmire, this time introducing us to the local state police who keep the roads safe, and tracking down those who choose to abuse them. Central to our story this time are even those who have died keeping them safe—who are rumored to still do so, even after their deaths. What’s going on? There’s also a rumor about gold coins that were stolen long ago, but they’re showing up near a site where a particular highway patrolman met his death. Was he involved? Did he know something about them? Walt Longmire has to find out.

I have long recommended these books by Craig Johnson, and this latest one just proves once again to me there’s good reason.

Coming up: The Book of Yokai!

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

BOOKLOG 54: Sayonara Slam

Booklog 54: SAYONARA SLAM: A Mas Arai Mystery
by Naomi Hirahara

You may or may not remember my writing about Mas Arai, the elderly Hiroshima survivor/gardener/amateur detective, whose English is none too good (but then neither is his Japanese), but who nevertheless manages to solve many a puzzling crime. Anyway, just to refresh your memory, he’s an elderly Hir…okay, now you remember. Sort of. Seriously, Mas is a kibei, a Japanese-American, born in the US but educated in Japan, in his case caught in Japan during World War II. This is Hirahara’s sixth mystery with Mas, this one concerned with a suspicious death in Dodger Stadium during the World Baseball Classic, Japan versus Korea, during which Mas, who has a unique perspective since his son-in-law is the head of the gardening staff there, discovers that the death was murder…and the story begins.

As always, Hirahara has done her research to build memorable subplots, in this case using a little-remembered historical fact about an American POW ship that brought Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians (kidnapped from Peru, in fact) to a prearranged location during World War II to exchange for Allied POWs. The fact that the Japanese-Americans and Japanese-Peruvians weren’t spies and had nothing to do with the war didn’t matter. Then there was all the great detail about knuckleball pitchers (I’m a Seattleite, and remember Phil Niekro, knuckleballer extraordinaire, fondly), and the master/apprentice relationship in Japanese culture/baseball, and how Korea fits into Japan’s modern history, all explored. And Mas finally being forced to acknowledge that yes, he has a girlfriend.

My only complaint about this book, in fact, was the editing: where was it? Tenses jumped all the time, POV changed for two sentences out of the blue, and typoes that suggested that there was a step left out (when one reads that someone’s “interest was peaked,” you know that editing was uncertain). Fortunately, I could skip it because, after all, it’s Mas.

Coming up: Hm. I know!

Friday, May 27, 2016

BOOKLOG 53: Kolea

Booklog 53: KOLEA
by Russell Cahill

Prehistory stories are interesting, because they’re part fantasy and part conjecture (thus fantasy again) and part history, because you can actually construct some idea of what life was like back then. In Russell Cahill’s Kolea, we have the story of a boy, destined for greatness, who’s taken from his biological parents and raised by others in an effort to protect him from those who would do him harm—classic adventure beginnings, right? Myth scholar Joseph Campbell would be nodding (and of course so would Christopher Vogler) at this beginning. That this story begins and ends in the islands we now know of as Hawai’i long, long ago, travels all the way to what we now know of as Alaska, and then the return trip back home makes it a true adventure. These travelers, led by the boy turned man, Kolea (whose destiny was predicted in the classic way, naturally), had to go to Alaska, to escape those who again was out to get him. But I’m not telling this story right.

Okay, it’s got the classic beginnings, as I said. I was immediately tickled by this, just because so many of the great stories of our known civilization have had similar starts (see Campbell, again, and the Earl of Cardigan’s breakdown of the similarities between those heroes. I was an anthro major; this was right up my alley!). Destined for greatness, hidden away from those who would harm him—do some research on this, and you’ll find that a lot of those heroes of yore have stuff like this in common. It makes for great story.

Anyway, the details of Kolea (the story, not the guy) interested me, too. The author, who is of Hawai’ian descent and was a park ranger for national parks in California and Alaska and (of course) Hawaii, had a lot of local lore and local research to draw from, put in fascinating bits about culture, and foods, and how to build stuff, including watercraft that could make their way to Alaska safely. We know it’s possible; think of all the logical conjecture about how the Polynesians made their way all around the Pacific in their amazing craft, with nary a yacht or engine in sight, not to mention compasses or sextants. And how we find amazing evidence how these folks must have been in places that we can’t imagine how (and no, not aliens).

Like adventure? You’ll like Kolea. Especially appropriate if you’re going to Hawai’i for vacation, or Alaska for vacation, or anywhere, actually. Read this and imagine how the human species has striven to explore.

Coming up: Dunno!

Wednesday, May 04, 2016


by Julia Park Tracey

When I first read these two mysteries, what to call them in the way of category stumped me for a while. Not just a mystery, not romantic suspense, not just an adventure, what? What would be the mot juste? Then it finally came to me: it’s chicklit mystery!

First of all, it’s the story of Veronika Layne, a young reporter, as California liberal as you can get, with tattoos, piercings, and recycled oil powering her little car, working for small community newspapers in the San Francisco area. That may seem like it’s pretty quiet stuff, but not so, as Veronika finds out. There are mysteries and odd happenings afoot in the suburbs, the one that she knows best in particular, with much of the hippie community if not intact, then certainly echoing many years after. In #1, Veronika Layne Gets the Scoop, our intrepid reporter—because all reporters are intrepid—pokes her nose into the rumors that a real estate developer is destroying native burial grounds. But she finds out there’s more to the story than just that, and it doesn’t help that her editor doesn’t seem that interested in the story. In #2, Veronika Layne Has a Nose for News, our reporter is on the trail of the murder of a TV house-flipper star, and why a classic home he bought ostensibly to refurbish was instead torn apart. There’s also a treasure hunt involved, because treasure hunts are cool these days, and nostalgia, and really, sweetness, because Vee really misses her boyfriend, who’s out East for a while.

The author, who’s the current poet laureate of Alameda, Calif. (who knew such a thing existed?), is working on the third installment of Veronika’s stories, but when it’s going to see print (digital or paper) is a question that has yet to be answered, because the publisher for which she wrote them has closed up shop. But I think it’s pretty clear Veronika’s stories will continue, one way or another.

Anyway. Looking for a mystery? Try ‘em! They’re both wonderful reads!

COMING UP: So hard to choose!