Book review: Invisible Child by Andrea Elliott

Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City by Andrea Elliott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a mentor of mine, and I am so glad she made the recommendation. The author, who is a reporter at the New York Times, follows one family and, in particular, one girl in the family, as the family navigates being on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic scale. The daughter who is profiled is mentored by various adults along the way, is admitted into the Hershey School–a school designed to help poor children by providing them with educational opportunities–and then, sadly, returns to NYC without completing her education at the school. The author illustrates with sensitivity and understanding many of the obstacles the poor have in navigating life and the system, even when given opportunities to break out of the poverty cycle. Sub-optimal choices are made more understandable and, overall, by profiling this specific girl and her family, the book is a powerful depiction of the systemic and psychological obstacles that are placed in the way of individuals to move upward socioeconomically.
That being said, I do have one major criticism: not surprisingly as a NYT reporter, the author has her political biases. Those biases in themselves need not detract from the story, but she felt it necessary to indulge in criticism of political leaders throughout the book. The book would have been even more powerful had the author been content to limit her criticism to the limitations and obstacles of the system that is designed to help the poor but often hinders the poor’s ability to create a better life for themselves. Her description of the bureaucratic and life obstacles to performing even simple tasks (such as getting to school on time) are immensely powerful. Criticism of NYC’s political leaders just comes across as gratuitous and petty and detracts from the emotional resonance of the story.
Despite this limitation (and the author is not subtle, so the criticisms are easy to spot), the book is a powerful statement on the limitations of government intervention (although perhaps not in the way the author intended) and the limitations constraining society’s most vulnerable. It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

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Christmas in Hawaii 2023 (dedicated to “Mommy and the Troops”)

I wouldn’t call spending Christmas in Honolulu a tradition for us, exactly, but it is certainly lovely when the calendar for the 4 of us align and make it possible. And so it was thisyear, when we spent 11 glorious days in paradise, enjoying the sun, ocean, and surf.

The theme for this year’s stay in Hawaii was that all good things were dedicated to “Mommy and the troops.” (Don’t ask because I don’t have a good explanation.)

It was amusing when the hotel staff continually apologized for the poor weather we had to suffer through. (And by “suffer through,” I mean cloudy days with occasional rain and in the low 70s. Terrible for December. :)) Although I am forced to admit that there was one morning when the rain was coming down pretty hard. Three of us were already in the water surfing, so getting wet was a somewhat irrelevant issue.

Highlights included surfing lessons (always!), walks around Diamondhead, family time, and great food. The island aloha vibe is real and welcoming. And the Pacific Ocean (especially when it’s warm) makes all other oceans look inferior.

Jim and Jade tied for Mario Party champion, but every championship won by any member of the family was dedicated to me and the troops. Such an honor!

This is a short post because anything I can say about the loveliness of Hawaii I have already said in previous posts. So I will leave you with an assortment of photos of Christmas and of Christmas in Hawaii.

We hope you all had a wonderful holiday season!! Belated best wishes for the New Year!!

surfing on Christmas morning
Christmas Eve brunch

Book review: The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

The Recovery Agent by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first in a new series by a well-known mystery author, Janet Evanovich, who writes the Stephanie Plum series. Gabriela Rose is a “recovery agent,” someone who is retained to find lost/stolen/missing items. And this time she is off to find lost treasure in order to save her family’s home.
While the premise of this mystery is wildly improbable (lost treasure based on a family legend), the author, as usual, writes fun and appealing characters with entertaining dialogue and well-paced action plots. I was highly entertained by the book, which can best be characterized as a fabulous beach read. You don’t have to think too hard, it’s an easy read, and (surprise, surprise), the heroine lives on to fight another day (or, more accurately, in book #2, which is coming out in June).
If you’re looking for an easy escape read, this one is for you. Fans of Stephanie Plum will enjoy this book as well. While the main characters aren’t quite as quirky as Stephanie’s posse is, they are also a bit more accessible and just as much fun. I will definitely be picking up book #2 in the series.

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Book review: The Murder of Mr Wickham by Claudia Gray

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of the book is clever–the author has taken many of the characters from Jane Austen novels, thrown them together, and murdered one of them (no spoilers, but based on the title, it’s clear which character it is). Then, two children of 2 couples from the novels are thrown together to solve the murder.
Like I said, the premise of the book is quite clever, and I applaud the author on her imaginative rendering of the story. The mystery is cleverly plotted, and as a fan of Jane Austen novels, it is fun to see the characters after their stories were told, as it were.
The issue is if you are going to borrow characters from Jane Austen’s novels, it would help to be as satirical and insightful and perceptive as she was. And while the author is a very good writer, the tone of her book falls flat, especially when compared against the original author.
This is, of course, not entirely the author’s fault. There are few writers as gifted with light-hearted satire and irony as Jane Austen. But if you are going to extend Jane Austen’s characters, then you should not be surprised to be compared to her (which is probably not to your benefit).
That being said, the book is creative and clever. It’s just that the characters don’t quite ring true to the originals. I enjoyed reading the book but will probably not read its sequel, at least not while my TBR pile is so long.

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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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