Thursday, April 7, 2011

Off the Bookshelf

  • The Queens of K-Town by Angela Mi Young Hur - Chick Lit set mainly in New York's Koreatown about a dysfunctional family with a kind of reverse 'wild goose' phenomenon: a Korean family has come intact to America, but the mother returns to Seoul, ostensibly to care for her dying father. The narrative is confusing at first, as Cora's story is told alternately in first and third person at two different points in her life: first, at sixteen, in the period surrounding her friend's suicide, then at 26, when she is contemplating suicide herself. Lots of familiar elements, from the grad student whose thesis keeps shape-shifting to the mistakes one makes after too much soju in a Korean barbeque restaurant, woven together in a way that at least kept me turning the pages.
  • Bangkok Babylon by Jerry Hopkins - I picked this up in Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport for fear that my borrowed Sony eReader's battery would die on the flight home, and it makes great travel reading, as it consists of about two dozen profiles of Western expats in Thailand, written with Hopkins' famous ability for broad narrative sweep mixed with a unique eye for telling detail. His subjects include a couple of CIA operatives left over from the Viet Nam war, a couple of bar owners, the Lonely Planet guide author, a few businessmen, a child molester, and himself (he's the guy that worked for Rolling Stone and then wrote seminal bios of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix, among others, creating a new genre).
  • The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark - This book has the makings of great novel, with delicious imagery (it mostly focuses on life in the kitchens of the Doge of Venice in about 1498), well-drawn characters, and an intriguing plot about how chefs serve as the Guardians of knowledge in this benighted time, with their recipe books as secret compendia. After 350 pages, we're well-set for a stunning climax. The reader has been sensing the momentum of a subplot about the Gnostic Gospels and the power-hungry Borgia in Rome, Pope Alexander VI, but the story ends without even a mention of them. Perhaps this was the author shying away from Dan Brown-ing it, but whatever the reason, it is a serious flaw.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart - The jacket blurbs for this book compare it to the great Roald Dahl, but I frankly don't see it. On the plus side, I found its 485 pages an adequate diversion for a few days, with its quirky but believable characters who find themselves in a peculiar set of circumstances and undertake a risky adventure to thwart a mysterious foe. In the negative column, the evil foe and his sinister plan seem rather farefetched--not just to me now, but to me as a reader at age twelve (the target demographic). Still, it has lots of clever puzzlers and sticky situations for our heroes to solve along the way, thereby keeping the reader engaged. There is a sequel, which I might pick up if I find it on sale, like this volume was.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I want to borrow that book "Bangkok Babylon". Maybe you should write your own Seoul version, "Seoul's Shangri-La"