Book review: The Iron Princess by Barbara Hambly

The Iron Princess by Barbara Hambly

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have loved all of Barbara Hambly’s books, and this one (a standalone book) is no exception. The author is excellent at world-building and has a deft approach to explaining the rules under which the world operates without actually explaining them. (This is an underrated skill when writing fantasy.) The adventure/world-building/conflict in this book tends to overshadow the romance aspect, but that is characteristic of all of her books. The book delves into realistic societal and systemic conflicts while integrating magic and fantasy elements. The characters, especially the main character, are well developed.
I am a devoted fan of the author and am always eager to read her books. This book is no exception, and I highly recommend it.

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Rainbows and Shave Ice (plus Lawyers, Guns & Money!)

We returned earlier this month from a fabulous vacation in Hawaii! Highlights include:

— Visits from all of our children: Jade could only stay for a week but managed to spend a dinner explaining her research in combinatorics (which was summarized by us mere mortals as “counting triangles”). Yinan stayed for 2 weeks, and Jim was happy to have his tennis partner back. Marcus is working remotely for the summer so stayed the entire time with us.

— Visits from family and friends: we had visitors for much of the time we were there—some repeat and some first-time. We introduced them not only to the glories of Honolulu but also to Scattergories (a family favorite) and Exploding Kittens (a new family favorite). We did learn through Exploding Kittens who can and cannot be trusted, so beware!

— Surfing! No trip to Honolulu could be complete without surfing lessons. Marcus and I surfed three times a week while others surfed or didn’t surf in accordance to their preferences. The waves were lovely, and even when it’s not an optimal day for waves, there’s something about being on a surfboard in the ocean that is especially magical. The addiction continues!

— Food! And, of course, no trip to Honolulu is complete without a commentary on food. (I’ll be updating the Honolulu travel tome soon to include these new discoveries.) We returned to old favorites—The Pig & the Lady (nouvelle Vietnamese), Doraku (sushi), Sushi-sho (omakase), Uncle Clay’s (shave ice), and Goma Tei (ramen)—and discovered new favorites—Umi (seafood), Senia (nouvelle American), Scratch (Hawaiian), Honolulu Noodle (Taiwanese beef noodle soup), and Koko Head Cafe (Hawaiian brunch). We will definitely be back to all of them! Because, as the Samoans say, “Eat til you’re dizzy.”

— Beautiful scenery: and, of course, let’s not forget the reason people love Hawaii, which is the beautiful ocean and mountain views. It is a state with indescribable beauty and a true spirit of aloha. While the state’s soul and resilience will be tested in the aftermath of the tragic fire on Maui, we have no doubts that it will emerge more beautiful and stronger than before.

And, of course, our trips often have a theme song. This time it is Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.” I’ll leave it to you determine if there is a particular reason for the choice of song.

courtesy of Ty Gurney surfing school and 83 East video

Three Galas and a Photo Op

We are fond of galas, especially ones where we (or our hosts) have our own tables and, therefore, we can chat with our friends (or make new ones). We are less fond of photo ops, but they can sometimes be entertaining, generally for reasons other than the actual photo op itself.

April/May have been a whirlwind of galas for various charitable activities. The first one up was the Folger Shakespeare Library gala held on April 29 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in DC. The setting was beautiful, and the weather was perfect. We enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Folger Gala 2023

In mid-May, the Freer Gallery of the National Museum of Asian Art celebrated its centennial. Festivities included an event at the Vice President’s residence (at the Naval Observatory), including a photo op with the Vice President and the Second Gentleman. Kamala Harris is surprisingly petite (she is wearing heels in the photo, and I am not). Why no heels for an event at the VP’s residence, you ask? Because the event was outside, by the pool, and there was no way I was going to risk tripping in my heels and falling in. By the way, had I known the Vice President’s residence had a private pool, I might have reworked my life aspirations. (There seems to be no better reason to be Vice President!)

Photo Op with the Vice President and Second Gentleman

There was a celebratory black-tie centennial event for the Freer as well.

WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 11: May Liang and James Lintott attend the National Museum of Asian Art Centennial Celebration Dinner on May 11, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for National Museum of Asian Art)

And, last but not least, we had friends who were kind enough to invite us to the Whitney Museum gala in New York. It was a star-studded event (maybe not by New York standards but definitely by DC standards), and we had a great time.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 16: May Liang (L) and James Lintott attend the 2023 Whitney Gala and Studio Party at The Whitney Museum of American Art on May 16, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images)

A deep breath taken over the Memorial Day weekend. One more gala in June, and then we are free of galas (and photo ops) until the fall!

Book review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a difficult-to-place genre of a book, which I really enjoyed). A group of middle-aged female assassins are retiring, but someone is trying to kill them, and they have to “unretire” long enough to fend off attempts to kill them while trying to figure out who has ordered the hit. The book alternates between the past lives of this squad and the present. It’s a technique that generally annoys me since it breaks up the narrative thread and results in a choppy story, but I didn’t mind it in this case because the author is skillful enough to interweave the threads of past and present seamlessly, and both story lines are interesting enough to keep the reader engaged.
Part mystery, part thriller (without a lot of gratuitous dead bodies so common in the thriller genre), and part revenge fantasy for older women, this was a hoot to read and was a very enjoyable story. (The author also writes the Lady Julia Grey series and the Veronica Speedwell series.) I think this is a standalone book, which is a shame, because I certainly would love to read more about the idiosyncratic characters in this book!

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Holiday 2022

While many people think of the holiday season as consisting of snow and hot chocolate and other winter festivities, we much prefer sun and ocean and warmth for the holidays. And so off we went to Hawaii for Christmas!
Honolulu never disappoints. (Nor does the Halekulani where we were staying.). We enjoyed warmth and ocean views.

pool time!

And beautiful sunrises.


And equally beautiful sunsets.


Marcus and I took surfing lessons (and I graduated to an 11’ hardtop at his insistence). (Jade would have joined us, but, you know, a broken leg is a bit of an impediment…)

getting ready to surf!

We even went to see “Hamilton,” which was playing at the Blaisdell Center. It, too, never disappoints!

Don’t throw away your shot!

Oh, and a session on how to make a pahi kauna, a traditional Hawaiian war dagger.

shaping the dagger
a pahi kauna (Hawaiian war dagger)

And, as always, there was delicious food—a wonderful dinner at tbd…, a Christmas dinner at Roy’s, and a lavish Christmas Eve brunch at Orchid’s.

Christmas Eve brunch at Orchid’s

New Year’s Eve was a casual dinner cooked at home with some close friends (family, really).

New Year’s Eve menu

But we’re getting old so we celebrated New Year’s Eve on London time and allowed the kids to scatter to their own celebrations.

We hope you had a wonderful holiday season!! Here’s to a fabulous 2023!!

Happy New Year!

Book review: When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the debut novel of the author (and full disclosure: the author was my son’s favorite high school English teacher).
Reading this novel is like peeling an onion–you think you know what’s happened and what’s going to happen, but then you peel off a layer of the story and another layer appears, giving a different angle and additional depth to the story.
The story takes place in Seoul and is about a search for identity and belonging and what those two words mean to a person who appears to have both but has neither and to a person who thinks they have neither but actually has both. The journey by the main characters is a journey of continuing revelation about the façades people erect about themselves and others and what happens when those façades are torn away.
This is a stunning debut novel, and the themes of identity and belonging are universal and resonate, no matter the setting. I can’t wait to read the author’s next book, and I highly recommend this one!

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Book review: Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

Cleopatra’s Daughter by Michelle Moran

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have really enjoyed all of Michelle Moran’s books that I have read, but this one is one of my favorites. Of course, it helps that I love reading about ancient Egypt. This book is about Cleopatra’s daughter, Selene, and what befell her after Octavian conquered Egypt. The descriptions of Egypt and Rome during Selene’s time period were fascinating, and even more interesting were the machinations and power struggles surrounding Octavian, involving not only his advisers but his family members as well.
I liked this book so much that I ordered a hardback copy of it (I originally read it on my Kindle). Any book that I willingly add to the already large amounts of clutter in my house definitely deserves a place of honor!

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Book review: Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose (A Lady Arianna mystery)

Sweet Revenge by Andrea Penrose

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The debut novel of the Lady Arianna Regency Mysteries (I think my theory is that if I keep discovering new good series, I will never run out of books to read. I think I will never run out of books to read anyway, but that’s a different matter altogether.)
This series is actually an earlier series from the same author as the Wrexford & Sloane series. Both of these historical mystery series have a female protagonist that is “modern,” in that the character does not consider herself bound by the female norms of the times. Both do it because they have no choice–life has dealt each a bad hand.
Lady Arianna has accumulated some interesting skills as part of her unusual childhood, and these skills come in handy in her initial quest to seek revenge for her father and then in her subsequent quest to find a murderer.
This is a grittier, darker Regency mystery series, more along the lines of C.S. Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series (although not quite as dark) then Georgette Heyer mysteries. The perspectives of hero and heroine are interesting and unusual, and the mysteries are well crafted. I am thoroughly enjoying this series!

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Book review: Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell

Castle and Key by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the latest (but hopefully not the final!) book in the author’s Two Monarchies series. I have loved all of the books in this series and highly recommend that you read them. This most recent book is the story of Susan Farrah and is an intricate tale of a Bluebeard-like villain, magic, and romance. It is a delightful read, full of drama and fun.
The series is best read in order if you want to experience the most out of the characters. The author has a vivid and whimsical imagination that she transfers well onto paper. This book (and the series) is highly recommended!

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Book review: The Second Empress by Michelle Moran

The Second Empress: A Novel of Napoleon’s Court by Michelle Moran

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Michelle Moran is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. She does impeccable research, and the historical characters come alive in her books. This book is no exception, even though it isn’t my favorite historical period. There has been so much written about Napoleon (and, to a lesser extent, Marie-Louise) that I find the era somewhat over-chronicled.
That being said, this was an excellent book. Since it was not written from Napoleon’s perspective, it was interesting to see his character formed in the reflection, as it were, of the people surrounding him. That was a clever touch and made the book (and the character of Napoleon) much more interesting.
If you enjoy the Napoleonic period, this is a must read. And for fans of excellent historical fiction, you just need to add Michelle Moran to your list of must read authors.

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