Book review: Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

Christmas at Copper Mountain by Jane Porter

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am generally not a fan of contemporary romances, preferring historical ones. I picked this one up because (i) it was a Christmas romance (and I am a sucker for those); (ii) it’s a novella so I knew I could get through it quickly; and (iii) the author is the wife of the owner of the surfing school we use when we visit Hawaii (no joke).
I was quite pleasantly surprised by the book. Novellas are difficult because you don’t have the page length to fully develop the characters. But the characters were all likeable, the author has a deft touch for setting and a gift for depicting a scenario that fleshes out minor characters and gives insight into the main characters, and the Christmas setting gave off warm and fuzzy holiday vibes.
I will definitely pick out another one of her books when I am in the mood for a contemporary romance. The author has a lovely writing style that is warm, gracious, and friendly.



View all my reviews

Book review: Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

Singapore Sapphire by A.M. Stuart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is the first in a series (because, of course, I have finished reading all the other books in all the other series I have started). This book caught my attention because it takes place in Singapore in 1910 during British colonial rule, and it’s a period I know very little about.
I really enjoyed the debut novel to this series. The heroine is strong-willed but flawed, and the portrayal of the constraints of her position as a woman as well as the privileges of her position as a British white woman are both realistically described with little fanfare. The plot is interesting and well-paced. Even though you know the heroine survives (because, a series), the anticipation towards the climax is well done. And the author does an excellent job of portraying Singapore as it was with all its warts without either being preachy and with a deft touch, as the best historical mystery authors can do.
I have already bought the second book in the series and look forward to learning more about the main characters and Singapore during this time period!




View all my reviews

Book review: Priority Target by Ethan Jones

Priority Target by Ethan Jones

My rating: 2 of 5 stars


I don’t generally post reviews of books that I didn’t particularly like (mostly because books are a deeply personal thing, and authors work hard at their craft, regardless of whether I liked the book or not), but this book irked me in ways that I felt the need to express.
I started reading it because I like action/adventure/thriller books, but the main protagonist in these types of books is almost always male. In this case, the author made a deliberate choice to have a female protagonist, and I was intrigued.
Unfortunately, the book was a disappointment. The plot was quite interesting and was well-paced, so that was a plus. But if you are going to write a female protagonist, you’re going to have to do better at differentiating the protagonist than throwaway lines like “I put on mascara and lipstick” or “I brushed my hair and put it in a ponytail.” There are differences between a male and a female protagonist that go beyond hair, makeup, and clothing. Not exploring those differences shows a lamentable lack of imagination by the author.
So I’m passing on this series. If you are interested in female protagonists in thrillers, I highly recommend Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country series. At least the female protagonist in his books is not messing with her lipstick.



View all my reviews

Book review: Ghost Recon by Tom Clancy and David Michaels

Ghost Recon by David Michaels

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I love Tom Clancy’s novels, and I took a chance on this one, which is a spinoff of his by another author. The plot was interesting, and the action fast-paced. Maybe it was the mood I was in, but despite those factors, the book just did not grab me. The characters were flat (which is a common problem in a military thriller, even Clancy’s), and there wasn’t enough oomph to make up for it. There was an attempt at dealing with mental health issues, but it was done in such a cursory way that it felt unauthentic.
It was an easy and fast read and entertaining enough, but it certainly didn’t make me rush out to buy the next installment.



View all my reviews

Book review: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Only an author as talented as Erik Larson could seamlessly weave together stories about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and a serial killer during that same time period and make both suspenseful and compelling. It is such a highly readable book that I had to double-check that it was non-fiction rather than historical fiction.
There are connections, not the least being that the vast influx of people into Chicago to work and view the World’s Fair made a few missing young women here and there difficult to trace back to a single killer.
The fact that the author makes the World’s Fair (which almost didn’t happen) almost as suspenseful as the serial killer is further testament to his writing skill. His ability to effortlessly weave facts and portrayals of the main players together and combining two disparate plots is uncanny. The book shouldn’t work in its format (alternating chapters of alternating plots) but, somehow, it does, and the result is an excellent and very compelling book.
I highly recommend it!



View all my reviews

Book review: The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


For those of you who are familiar with John Green because of books like “Fault in Our Stars,” the author also does a podcast called “The Anthropocene Reviewed,” a mix of the scientific and the personal. If you like the podcast, you’ll like this book. Many of the chapters are based on the podcast, and the format is similar as well.
I found the factual essays to be interesting, and the personal essays to range from mildly interesting to incredibly moving. It’s a fast and easy read. Fans of John Green will enjoy the book immensely. And if you’re new to him, this is a good place to start (with a minimum of angst included). 🙂



View all my reviews

Book review: Rise and Kill First by Ronen Bergman

Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel’s Targeted Assassinations by Ronen Bergman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This is a fascinating book about the history of Israeli intelligence and policies of targeted assassinations. The author is an Israeli investigative reporter, and the book is written originally in Hebrew. The translation is excellent, however, and the book is very readable and incredibly interesting. In addition, the author is surprisingly even-handed about the foreign policy, operational, and tactical policies and decisions of the Israeli government and intelligence agencies. He is critical of the blunders made and of the decisions taken, especially in recent events, but he is also realistic about the choices faced by the Israelis.
If there is one quote that epitomizes the philosophy of the Israeli intelligence agencies, it is this one: “Let’s admit the truth: most of the Jews in the Holocaust died without fighting. We must never reach that situation again, kneeling, without the ability to fight for our lives.”
The title of the book comes from a Babylonian Talmud, “If someone comes to kill you, rise early and kill him first.”
Read the book.



View all my reviews

Graduation 2021 and Hawaii

Two joyous events, especially in a year like this one.

In mid-June, we celebrated our daughter’s graduation from Stanford (total brag: she graduated with a degree in math, with distinction, and phi beta kappa). The graduation was a limited in-person event (two fully vaccinated guests per student). Issa Rae was the graduation speaker, and she did an excellent job. In addition, we had two VERY lovely friends who opened their home for a reception after the ceremony for Jade and her friends and their families. It was a truly celebratory day, and I think everyone appreciated the moment even more than they usually would.

Graduation 2021

Our summer trip was to Honolulu a few weeks later. We rented a house and enjoyed spending time with family and friends. There was a beautiful ocean, there were many beautiful rainbows (Hawaii isn’t called the rainbow state for no reason), there was fabulous food (fancy and not fancy), and there were wonderful guests who stayed with us. It really was a perfect time to relax, eat, and have fun.

I cannot tell you how wonderful Hawaii is. I can feel my blood pressure going down after landing at the Honolulu airport. My east coast friends wonder why we don’t go to the Caribbean for sun and ocean since it’s so much closer. I’ve concluded that it’s best to smile and keep the magical island paradise of Hawaii as a west coast secret. 🙂

sunrise over Koko Head
Moon over Koko Head
Pali Lookout

Book review: Cleopatra’s Heir by Gillian Bradshaw

Cleopatra’s Heir by Gillian Bradshaw

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I’ve enjoyed Gillian Bradshaw’s historical fiction for many many years. This book has an interesting premise: if Cleopatra and Julius Caesar’s son survived after Cleopatra’s defeat and death, what might have happened to him? Would he have tried to take his throne back? Would he have been content to live like a normal person? How might he have done that?
The author explores this premise, exploring the possible mindset of Caesarion as a privileged (in the non-21st century meaning of the word) member of the royal family to someone with no family, no money, and in danger of his life. The book is charmingly written (as is all of the author’s books) and informative about life in the Egyptian court. If there is any criticism, it is that there is a little too much teenage drama and angst from Caesarion. But perhaps that is more about my impatience with and intolerance of teenage angst than it is a criticism of the book. 🙂
The book also takes an interesting perspective on Octavian, Cleopatra, and Mark Anthony and makes them more human than legend has made them. I liked the angle.
In the end, as the Author’s Note made clear, Caesarion was almost certainly killed by the Romans. But this book fascinates with the “what if” alternative. It’s definitely a worthwhile read!



View all my reviews

Book review: The Woman Who Smashed Codes by Jason Fagone

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This book is a fascinating biography of Elizebeth Smith, a woman who, along with her better known husband–William Friedman–was responsible for the creation of the field of cryptology. She pioneered methods of decryption, broke German codes (including Enigma machine codes that the Germans thought were unbreakable), and changed the role of intelligence gathering forever. Needless to say, by both her own choice and society’s preferences, her role in the field of cryptology is relatively obscure. (It didn’t help that J. Edgar Hoover made sure that the FBI received credit for many of her successes.)
The author uses materials from Elizebeth’s own files, newly unclassified materials from World War II, and interviews of her to tell her story. The result is a highly engaging, highly readable story of a formidable woman who took little credit for herself, her pioneering role, and her resounding successes, which played a pivotal role in the Allied victories over Germany.
I highly recommend this for anyone who is interested in cryptology, World War II, and/or the role of women during this period.



View all my reviews