Review: A Murder of Magpies, by Judith Flanders

I have enjoyed Flanders’ nonfiction books on Victorian society so I was eager to read this one, her first novel. Main character, Samantha Clair is a book editor, mostly of “women’s fiction” in present day London. As the author of several books, Flanders must be well acquainted with the publishing industry and here she portrays them, warts and all. but with sly humor. The plot involves the sudden disappearance of one of Samantha’s authors, fashion journalist Kit Lowell, whose new book is an expose of a recent fashion industry scandal involving the mysterious death of a high profile Spanish designer. The police are not taking Kit’s disappearance too seriously so Samantha decides to do some digging into it on her own. If Flanders writes another novel, I would definitely put it on my “must read” list.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Midnight in Siberia: A Train Journey into the Heart of Russia, by David Greene

The author is one of the hosts of NPR’s Morning Edition. For two years, in 2010-2011, he was an NPR foreign correspondent and lived in Moscow. He returned to Russia in 2013 to make a five week long train journey from Moscow to Vladivostok. Each chapter of this book is based on individuals he met and spoke with on stops on his trip across Russia. Each shows different facets of what life is like in Russia today. I think Greene was hoping to find more of a longing for Western style democracy among the people he met but many of them longed for a leader like Stalin who would provide stability and less of the government corruption and bribe taking that they encounter today. These glimpses into a different culture can help us understand the Russian people, their fatalism, endurance and love of their country, as imperfect as it is.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books (and Two Not-So-Great Ones) Saved My Life, by Andy Miller

Although he worked as a book editor in London, Miller felt that on closing in on his 40th birthday there were books he had been meaning to read for years. Life in the form of his career and family obligations had crept in. He was also spending far too much time reading emails, newspapers and magazines, doing Sudoku puzzles and crosswords and “piddling about on the Internet.” So he set himself a goal of reading the books he had been avoiding and this volume is his take on those books. I have read seven of them but feel inspired by the author to try some of the others. Why not see how many appeal to you?

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou

I read this book several years ago and just listened to the book on CD version which was read by the author. Angelou with her background as an actress and poet gives an excellent reading of her work. This is the first of the eventual seven volumes she wrote about her fascinating life. This book is often found on high school reading lists and is one of the most challenged. Angelou, born in 1928, grew up in the pre-Civil Rights era in Stamps, Arkansas, St. Louis and San Francisco. The blatant, institutional racism of that time is graphically described. The author finds strength in her family, especially her mother, grandmother and brother and in her love and studies of literature including Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and Paul Laurence Dunbar.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon

This is the latest in the Mitford series about Episcopal priest Father Tim, his family, and the people of the tiny village of Mitford, high in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Mitford is modeled on the author’s hometown of Blowing Rock in that state. Father Tim finds himself volunteering at the local bookstore to help out the owner, Hope Murphy, who is in the midst of a difficult pregnancy. He also tries to forge a better relationship with his adopted son Dooley’s brother, Sammy, a troubled seventeen year old. I listened to the book on CD narrated by John McDonough who did a superb job. Do yourself a favor and take time for a “visit” to Mitford, you will enjoy it.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: I Stand Corrected: How Teaching Western Manners in China Became Its Own Unforgettable Lesson, by Eden Collinsworth

The author has had a varied business career that includes dealings with China over the past few decades. In her latest venture she was in China with her young adult son when his idea for an afterschool etiquette program evolved into teaching Western business etiquette in China and writing a book on that subject for a Chinese publisher. Choosing what advice she found necessary to highlight illuminates the wholly different worldview that the Chinese have from Westerners. Some of the topics she covered were personal hygiene, rules of the handshake, making sense of foreigners and behavior that is considered universally rude. She also tells interesting stories from her own life as a wife, mother and businesswoman. As the world’s fastest growing major economy and one of the United States’ main export partners, we all need to be informed about China, its economy and people.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo

Marie has a very successful consulting business in Tokyo to help clients declutter their homes and get rid of excess possessions. In this book she outlines her method of assembling and examining all one’s things by category (clothes, books, papers, miscellany and things with sentimental value) and then asking of each one “Does this spark joy?” If not, out it goes and “once you have learned to choose your belongings properly, you will be left with only the amount that fits perfectly in the space you have.” There are other benefits accrued including a more serene, happier outlook on life and the ability to find the mission in life that speaks to your heart. This book is just the thing for spring cleaning inspiration.

Translated from the Japanese by Cathy Hirano

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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