Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Bitter-Sweet Harvest by Chan Ling Yap


What would you do if you had to share your husband with someone else within months of your marriage?  Well, this is one of the dilemmas presented in Bitter-Sweet Harvest, the sequel to Sweet Offerings (2009). 

Bitter-Sweet Harvest is just as entertaining as the debut, if not more so.  It is the continuation of a family saga set in Malaysia in the 1930s and 1960s.  This is a superbly told love story that will tug at your heartstrings and the dilemma easily identifiable in today's society and among families just as much as it was an emerging issue fifty odd years ago.  I reckon Chan Ling Yap is a born story-teller simply because she draws the reader into the plot page after page without any let-up.  There is no shortage of intrigue and drama.  It is definitely a well-thought-out and well-written story and I now look forward to the denouement of this Southeast Asian trilogy - hopefully there isn't long to wait.

From the blurb:  Set in a Malaysia emerging from the outbreak of racial conflict in 1969, Bitter-Sweet Harvest (2011) tells of the difficulties and tensions involved in a marriage between a Malay Muslim and a Chinese Christian.

About the author:  Born in Kuala Lumpur, Chan Ling Yap was educated in Malaysia and subsequently in England where she obtained a PhD in Economics.  She lectured at the University of Malaya before joining the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome, where she worked for nearly two decades.  She now lives in the UK with her husband and two grown-up children.

A widely published author of various textbooks and technical papers, her foray into fiction was highly praised for its beautiful evocation of Asia.

For more information, visit chanlingyap.com

Rating:  4/5

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Last Good Man by A J Kazinski


This book encapsulates the whole of my summer reading of this year!

Why?  Because it is an absolutely brilliant story.  It has a combination of science, mathematics and spirituality to make a thrilling plot, great direction from start to finish, an array of believable characters, entertainment value, suspense and imagination.  If that does not make a bestselling book, I will eat my sand and soot-encrusted flip-flops.

On the serious side, it asks thought-provoking and earnest questions about humankind, about good and evil, love and forgiveness and life and death.  It also prompts us to examine ourselves, in particular, the reason for our existence here on earth.  Why are we here and where are we heading?

Additionally, this award-winning book gives scope for further exploration into the science of consciousness in relation to the metaphysical.

It has been a convincing and unforgettable read.  Everyone must own a copy and everyone should read it.  What more can I say?  I look forward to the next book by this dynamic duo.  

From the blurb:  There are thirty-six righteous people on earth who protect mankind.  They do not know who they are, but without them, humanity will perish.  

In Venice, disgraced policeman Tommaso di Barbera is waiting for a phone call.  He's uncovered a chilling trend - good people, known for their philanthropy, are dying mysteriously all over the world, each body bearing the same strange mark.

In Copenhagen, reclusive detective Niels Bentzon is the one to pick up the Interpol report.  Convinced it's nothing but a wild-goose chase, Niels calls Tommaso.  But neither speaks the other's language and Niels is afflicted with a rare phobia that means he can't leave Denmark.

It is only when Niels encounters Hannah Lund, a brilliant astrophysicist mourning her son, that he begins to piece the puzzle together.  A pattern emerges.  If Hannah's code is right, they know the exact time and location of the next death.  

But who is the victim?  Can they identify the last good man, before it is too late?

About the authors:  A J Kazinski is the nom de plume of filmmaker and author Anders Ronnow Klarlund and author Jacob Weinreich.  

Klarlund had his debut with the novel De hengivne (The Affectionates) in 2009.  He has written and directed the film Besat (Possessed), Den attende (The Eighteenth), Strings (Strings) and Hvordan slipper vi af med de andre (How Do We Get Rid of the Others).  

Weinrich graduated from the Danish School of Film as a script writer and had his debut novel published in 2001.  He has written a number of books for teenagers, for example, Krybet (Vermin).

The Last Good Man is their first collaboration.  Both authors live in Copenhagen.

The Last Good Man was first published in Denmark by Politikens Forlag under the title Den sidste gode mand in 2010 and subsequently published in hardcover and audio format in the UK on 6 March 2012.  It is the first part of a trilogy.  

The Last Good Man is translated from the Danish into the English by the brilliant and talented Tiina Nunnally.

The introduction video by its publisher, Simon & Schuster UK:


Rating:  5/5

Monday, 20 August 2012

A Death In Valencia by Jason Webster



There is a paella and fish place in El Cabanyal.  They say it sells the best paellas in all of Valencia.

The guy who ran it was Pep Roures.  Decent man.  Distinctive ginger hair.  Fifty years old with a paella dish tattoo on his left shoulder.  He went missing for a week.  It seemed strange because his award-winning restaurant was virtually his life and an institution in the city.  How could he have simply vanish?  Where would he go anyway?  It just wasn't like him.

Word is that the Town Hall had been buying and tearing down the colourful fisherman's quarter on Valencia's sea-front for a redevelopment plan which Roures was very much against.

When Roures' bloated body washes ashore on to a public beach one week after his disappearance, Chief Inspector Max Camara of the Grupo de Homicidios finds himself with a case to solve, a case which proves as difficult and challenging as his thoughts, simply because he has nothing on it - no DNA, no witnesses, no suspects, no motive, nothing.  As he delves deeper into the case, he stumbles into a web of corruption and violence and uncovers deep animosities and hidden secrets.  There are rows and threats about abortion clinics - what is that all about?

Camara is forced to question himself as he plods along doing his job and if he were to let his doubts and scruples overwhelm him, this could well be his last case...

A Death in Valencia (2012), the second book in the Chief Inspector Max Camara series, delves into issues that rouse unruly passions and still divide the Spanish people today.  With a complex plot, well-developed characters, vivid descriptions of Valencia on every page - including its people, food, culture, history - and simple yet accomplished writing, I personally thought this was a more enjoyable read than Camara's first case - the death of a bullfighter under mysterious circumstances.

A Death in Valencia was sent to me by the author.  Because this book is about one hundred pages short compared to the first, I would urge the reader to read the debut - Or The Bull Kills You - first so as to get the best out of the series but the choice is of course in the hands of the reader.

About the author:  Jason Webster was born near San Francisco, brought up in England and now lives in Valencia, the subject of his acclaimed books.  These include Duende:  A Journey in search of Flamenco (2003);  Andalus:  Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain (2004);  Guerra:  Living in the Shadows of the Spanish Civil War (2006) and most recently Sacred Sierra:  A Year on a Spanish Mountain (2009).  He divides his time between Valencia and the mountains.  Or The Bull Kills You (2010) was longlisted for the CWA Specsavers Crime Thriller Awards New Blood Dagger 2011.

Webster introduces his latest book:



Rating:  5/5

Monday, 13 August 2012

Angle Of Investigation: Three Harry Bosch Stories by Michael Connelly


In the first story, Christmas Even, the case of a burglar killed in mid-heist leads Bosch to retrace a link to his past.

In Father's Day, Bosch investigates a young boy's seemingly accidental death and confronts his own fears as a father.

In Angle of Investigation, Bosch delves into one of the first homicides he ever worked back as a uniformed rookie patrolman, a case that was left unsolved for decades.

Together, these gripping stories span Bosch's controversial career at the LAPD and show the evolution of the haunted, legendary investigator he would become.

Angle of Investigation:  Three Harry Bosch Short Stories was first published on 11 October 2011.

I bought it from Amazon.co.uk in Kindle form priced at 99p.  Highly recommended - entertaining and straightforward.

Mulholland Drive, the third collection of Michael Connelly's short stories, will be out in eBook and audiobook on 4 September 2012 in the UK, Ireland, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.

About the author:  Michael Connelly is the author of the recent No 1 New York Times bestsellers The Fifth Witness (2011), The Reversal (2010), The Scarecrow (2009), The Brass Verdict (2008), and The Lincoln Lawyer (2005), as well as the bestselling Harry Bosch series of novels.  He is a former newspaper reporter who has won numerous awards for his journalism and his novels.  He spends his time in California and Florida.

Rating:  4/5

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Or The Bull Kills You by Jason Webster


It's true - either you kill the bull, or the bull kills you - traditional Spanish proverb.

Chief Inspector Max Camara hates bullfighting, but one hot afternoon in Valencia he has to judge a festival corrida starring Spain's most famous young matador.

That night, he is back in the ring, and what he finds on the bloodstained sand shocks the city of Valencia to its core.

As Camara hunts his prey through the streets and bars, firecrackers echo for the festival of Fallas, and the town hall election.

The anti-bullfighting campaigners and the breeders of prize beasts fight to the death.

The bullring is a test of virility, but should it be a site of national pride or shame?

Or The Bull Kills You (2010) has a brilliantly authentic setting and a great detective, with a love of flamenco and brandy.  This is the first of a series of books starring the quirky and forceful Camara - a man destined to make his mark.  The second book entitled Death in Valencia is out in September 2012.

About the author:  Jason Webster was born near San Francisco, brought up in England and now lives in Spain, the subject of his acclaimed books.  These include Duende:  A Journey in search of Flamenco (2003);  Andalus:  Unlocking the Secrets of Moorish Spain (2004);  Guerra:  Living in the Shadows of the Spanish Civil War (2006) and most recently Sacred Sierra:  A Year on a Spanish Mountain (2009).  He divides his time between Valencia and the mountains.

Webster talks about his book:



Rating: 4/5

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Reading Is Good For The Soul


21 Immortals: Inspector Mislan and the Yee Sang Murders by Rozlan Mohd Noor


As I have said previously, Rozlan Mohd Noor's books are exceptionally good in a lot of sense but more importantly, it captures the subtleties and nuances of Malaysian culture, language, politics and crime.  21 Immortals (2010) has been nominated for the 2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award by the National Library of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.  It is a highly recommended read and is available on Amazon.co.uk in Kindle edition priced at £4.48.

Blurb:  "Look, I don't care what happened in ninety-five.  I have a murder to solve.  Right now, you and Fatty Mah have motives.  Maybe you and Fatty didn't do it.  Maybe the two of you did, or contracted it out.  Either way, I'm going to find out," the inspector says firmly, having reached the limit of his patience, annoyed with Four Finger's attitude.

"You have a hearing problem, meh?  I told you it's not our style.  We don't do families and children," Four Finger Loo replies, equally irritated.

"As you said, that was how it used to be, but not anymore.  Maybe, you used non-triad methods to throw us off the track.  How's that for a theory?  To me, payback is a damn good motive to kill," Mislan replies, watching the retired Tiger General's face closely for giveaway signs.

About the author:  Rozlan Mohd Noor was an officer with the Royal Malaysian Police for 11 years before opting for a career in human resource management.  He worked in several major corporations and multinationals before, eventually, starting his own HR and security consultancy.

Even after leaving the force, the evolution of crime scene investigation (CSI), and the introduction of technology continues to fascinate him.  Initially, he wrote crime stories to entertain friends.  Later, encouraged by them, he started working on novels.

In February 2010, Rozlan Mohd Noor's 21 Immortals (Book One of the Inspector Mislan & the DUKExpressway Murders series) and five other books from Australia and New Zealand were shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best First Book in the Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.  His was the only title from Southeast Asia.

Rating:  5/5

Monday, 6 August 2012

21st Century Slaves by Lim Kah Beng


When you are holidaying in The Orient, it is normal practice to want to find local authors or books to buy and read.  Lim Kah Beng is an author new to me and his debut caught my eye as I was browsing in Popular Bookstore in Penang a few weeks ago.

I do not normally read sci-fi but Lim's book is so intriguing that I finished it in one sitting.  It is based on the author's interest in cloning technology and its abusive consequences to humankind as well as the illegal trade of organ trafficking.

One minor snag is that the language and characterization have an exotic and foreign feel to it - perhaps the book could have gotten a better rating if the plot was set either in Malaysia or Singapore, that is, the author's own homeground - but overall, the storyline was well thought out and well written.

Michael Gallardo, a world-renowned quantum-mathematician, was found barely alive with gunshot wounds and deep lacerations all over his body in the Everglades, Miami.  Autopsy revealed very odd findings of a man with a solid build of a young adult and yet had coronary arteries and osteoarthritis of an old man.  The most unusual occurrence was that the man seemed to have suffered from two cancers - lung and colon.  

However, when he appeared very much alive and well at his own funeral, everyone was shocked, not least his wife, and even more mysterious was the fact that FBI agents showed up out of the blue and hastily removed 'Michael's' body.

Florida Herald reporter, Jim Baker, and neurologist, Elizabeth Lund, set out to investigate when a close friend of Jim died as a result of their queries and investigation.  All pointers seemed to lead to Bioclonics, a US biotechnology firm with its research facility in the Everglades responsible for a slew of medical and scientific breakthroughs.  Could Jim and Elizabeth stop more people getting hurt and uncover the truth before it is too late?

About the author:  Dr Lim Kah Beng was born in Taiping, Malaysia and completed his higher education in Epsom College, Surrey, UK.  He received his medical education at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, now part of the Imperial College School of Medicine.  Dr Lim specialised in dermatology at the St John's Hospital for Diseases of the Skin, now renamed St John's Institute of Dermatology and integrated into the King's and St Thomas School of Medicine.  He now runs a private dermatology practice at Gleneagles Medical Centre, Singapore.

Dr Lim is an ardent researcher and has published numerous articles in international medical and dermatological journals.  21st Century Slaves (2010) is his first novel.  He is married with a son and daughter who are both doctors.

21st Century Slaves by Lim Kah Beng can be purchased from Amazon.co.uk at the price of £6.10.

Rating:  3/5

Duke: Inspector Mislan & the DUKExpressway Murders by Rozlan Mohd Noor


Move over, Inspector Singh, Inspector Mislan Latif's here!

I am pleased to have found a gem of a book while on holiday in Penang recently.  Apart from Shamini Flint's Inspector Singh series, I had a hard time finding a crime author who writes outstandingly good crime thrillers based in a far flung country such as Malaysia.  It is not surprising to note that outstandingly good Malaysian crime novels are hard to come by particularly ones that are comparable to international crime bestsellers and so it is with trepidation and satisfaction that I read this book with much expectation of the best that Malaysia can offer.

Without much ado about nothing, my summary of Duke is that it has panache, pace, tension, good characterization and a mysterious plot that keeps the reader in the dark from the beginning right through to the unexpected denouement.  Duke (2011) is the second book in the Inspector Mislan series and in my opinion, the best Malaysian crime thriller I have read in a long time.  I look forward to a third book (and more) in the series and would highly recommend this book/series to all crime enthusiasts, especially those who are interested in new authors and obscure settings.  Do read it and decide for yourself.

Duke is available on amazon.co.uk in Kindle edition priced at £5.05.

Blurb:  A married man and his young woman companion, who are planning to marry in Thailand shortly, are found dead, with gunshot wounds, in a car locked from the inside, on the DUKExpressway leading out of the city during Ramadan.

It looks like an obvious case of murder-cum-suicide to all but Inspector Mislan, who is surprised by the amount of political interference and pressure he gets to close the case quickly, and at the attempts to set him up for the fall.

About the author:  Rozlan Mohd Noor was an officer with the Royal Malaysian Police for 11 years before opting for a career in human resource management.  He worked in several major corporations and multinationals before, eventually, starting his own HR and security consultancy.

Even after leaving the force, the evolution of crime scene investigation (CSI), and the introduction of technology continues to fascinate him.  Initially, he wrote crime stories to entertain friends.  Later, encouraged by them, he started working on novels.

In February 2010, Rozlan Mohd Noor's 21 Immortals (Book One of the Inspector Mislan & the DUKExpressway Murders series) and five other books from Australia and New Zealand were shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best First Book in the Southeast Asia and the Pacific region.  His was the only title from Southeast Asia.

Rating:  6/5