2010 South Asian Author Challenge

Swapna is hosting the South Asian Author Challenge. She says:

This challenge is to encourage people to read books by South Asian Authors – South Asia being India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. Please not that it does not include the Middle East! The books can be from any time period, contemporary or classic.

There are two requirements for a book to qualify for the South Asian Author Challenge, both of which must be met:1) The author must be of South Asian descent. It doesn’t matter if they’re third or fourth generation, or are only half South Asian – I’m pretty flexible on this issue.

2) The book must be about South Asia in some way. It doesn’t have to be set in South Asia, as long as it’s about the culture or history in some way. On the other hand, it can be set in South Asia and not be about South Asians.

We don’t really need a list for this challenge, but I am thinking of these:

There are four different commitment levels:

  • 3 books
  • 5 books
  • 7 books
  • 10 books

Partial list of Guidelines:

  1. No lists required.
  2. Book reviews are not required (but are encouraged).
  3. You can participate even if you do not have a blog.
  4. Crossovers with other challenges are allowed.
  5. Books in translation are allowed.
  6. Re-reads count.

There will also be a prize for those who sign up before January 1, and another for those who complete it.

I don’t need a list to start with but I am signing up to read 5 books, and considering some of these:

  • Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie
  • Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie
  • The Wishmaker, by Ali Sethi
  • Brick Lane, by Monica Ali
  • The Black Album, by Haneif Kureishi

Actual:

  • One Amazing Thing, by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Blogger Unplugged! December 23, 2009   Jan 2, 2010

Oh…and, still not really here.

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2010 TBR (To Be Read) Challenge

2010 To Be Read ChallengeMizB at Should Be Reading is hosting the 2010 TBR Challenge.  We can’t change our lists after December 31st so I made sure to have a full 12 alternates to fall back on just in case I find there is stuff that  I don’t want to read after all.  Here is what she has to say about the challenge:

** Pick 12 books – one for each month of the year – that you’ve been wanting to read (that have been on your “ToBRead” list) for 6 months or longer, but haven’t gotten around to.

* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 months — you can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you should have a list posted somewhere for others to see
you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, of the current year!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren’t TRUE “TBRs”
* you CAN overlap with other challenges
* OPTIONAL: you can join the Yahoo! Group created for participants of the TBR Challenge, if you want to have a place to keep your list, or just to share with others about how you’re doing!

** OPTIONAL: Create a list of 12 “Alternates” (books you could substitute for your challenge books, given that a particular one doesn’t grab you at the time)

** Then, starting January 1, read one of these books from your list each month, ending December 31. )

By the end of the year you should’ve knocked 12 books off of your TBR list! (of course, if you’re anything like me, you’ll have added *at LEAST* 12 more to the ever-growing pile by then! LOL).

The good news is, though, that you’ll be making some progress! ;o)

I plan to read:

  1. Shanghai Girls, by Lisa See
  2. The Lost City of Z, by David Grann
  3. The Winter Queen, by Jane Stevenson
  4. The Crying Tree, Naseem Rakha
  5. Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters
  6. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  7. East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
  8. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  9. Renegade: The Making of  a President , by Richard Wolffe
  10. Sag Harbor, by Colson Whitehead
  11. A Reliable Wife, by Robert Goolrick
  12. A Great and Terrible Beauty, by Libba Bray

Alternatives:

  1. Snobs, Julian Fellowes
  2. Losing My Religion, by William Lobell
  3. Await Your Reply, by Dan Chaon
  4. Flannery, by Brad Gooch
  5. The Wishmaker, by Ali Sethi
  6. Royal Blood, by Rona Sharon
  7. Fear the Worst, by Linwood Barclay
  8. The Secret Lives of Men, by Christopher Blazina
  9. The Valley of Strength, by Shulamit Lapd
  10. The Laws of Harmony, by Judith Ryan Hendricks
  11. Escape, Carolyn Jessop
  12. The Future Has A Past, by J. California Cooper

Actual:

  • A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

I’m still not really around.  These posts are just popping up in absentia.  Just so you know.

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THIB! Twenty Minute Book Club Challenge Welcome & Reviews – December/January

So today is the day! You can count any book that you read as of this day forward toward your 2010 challenge goal. You can readTHIB Challenge Polaroid along with us, or read ahead, or skip a book- you decide!

For the month of January THIB! will be reading:

Liar, by Justine Larbalestier

The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters

War Child, by Emmanuel Jal

Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Just a few housekeeping items before I announce the first prize of the challenge.

  • Please remember to sign up on the MckLinky in the challenge sign up post so that I know that you are definitely participating and can get in touch with you regarding any special opportunities regarding this challenge that come up over the year.
  • If you plan on substituting books over the year you will need to link the reviews on the Substitute Review Linky no later than February 28, 2010 at 12pm.
  • There are waves set up for each of the January books, so if you have few thoughts during your reading please feel free to stop in with your thoughts.  Leave me a comment if you need to be added to the wave, or if you need a wave invite.

Each review link submitted here by January, 25th 2010 will be an entry to win this Rose Journal from Journals & Books. Click on the book for details.:

Rose Journal

The winner will be announced on THIB! on Tuesday, January 26, 2010.

Are we having fun yet?

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Tonight: Don’t Miss That’s How I Blog! with Julie from Booking Mama!

Julie Peterson, Booking MamaJust a reminder that I will be interviewing Julie of Booking Mama tonight on Blog Talk Radio show, That’s How I Blog!, at 7:00 pm Eastern Time.  You can listen live or to the archived version later on.  If you listen live you can join the conversation in chat room, which is usually just as lively as the show!  If you have any questions or comments, you can send them to me at: nicole AT linussblanket DOT com before the show, ask in the chat room or call 646-381-4606 to ask yourself.  Julie doesn’t bite as far as I know and she has even come up with a question for me! At the end of the show, stick around for what I am calling the Twenty Minute Book Club.  If you’ve read the book or don’t mind spoilers, we will be discussing 31 Hours, by Masha Hamiliton.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Blogger Unplugged! December 23, 2009   Jan 2, 2010

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Blogger Unplugged! December 23, 2009 – Jan 2, 2010

Blogger-UnpluggedJen and Candace graciously suggested that we put down our computers and step away from our blogs, twitter and other internet related distractions on a guilt free basis this holiday season.  I am going to be away from my computer from December 23 through January 2nd.  I have a few things that I am working on that I might be able to schedule to post in my absence like, my review for Among the Thugs, by Bill Buford which is due by the end of this year for the Newsweek Project.  But if I don’t make it then it will be the first review that I post in the new year.

I have to also check the challenges that I plan on joining to see what the deadlines are for sign up.  I’ll either get those up if there are any that are due by the 1st or maybe just have one less challenge to complete.

I hope every one has a very Merry/Happy Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa or just enjoys the extra time off to spend with family and friends.  Have a happy New Year and I will see you in 2010.

Do you plan to unplug for the holidays?

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Book Club Pick: The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, by Sean Dixon

My book club isn’t one that pre-reads the books that we choose.  Some members might pick books that they have enjoyed in the past and wish to discuss, and there have been books I was reading with the thought that they might make enjoyable  book The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal, by Sean Dixonclub selections, but then chose not to use when I disliked the book.  I always expect that some people will like the book we choose and some won’t.

In fact I think that the most fun and passionate discussions tend to be around books that elicit polarized views from the members.  As long as you have a mature membership, those discussions are fascinating and informative.  I’m always a little bored when everyone is in perfect agreement on the book.

I picked this for my first book club meeting of 2010 because I thought it would be fun to read a book about a book club.  The book that I chose is The Last Days of The Lacuna Cabal, by Sean Dixon.  It starts off with a bang.  A girl is chatting with her boyfriend and then falls through the ceiling and into another apartment.  It is so strange!  I am hoping that- love it  or hate- my group will be able to read the whole thing so that we can discuss it.

I saw lots of one liners on this book on how it made made the reader feel, but I am guessing that it was hard to summarize because I saw very little in the way of a true description/summary of the book from other reviewers and bloggers. Here is an intriguing description found via Goodreads.

The girls of the Lacuna Cabal Montreal Young Womens’ Book Club are at a crossroads. One of their founding members is dead, they’ve made a few unfortunate compromises to their membership, some of them aren’t getting any younger, and they’ve been stuck on a single weepy tome for six long months. Resident maverick Runner Coghill decides to shake things up by introducing a cherished family heirloom to the group – ten pristine stone tablets, carved in cuneiform, telling the oldest story in the world: The Epic of Gilgamesh. Because their new book is written in an ancient language, the group must take the unprecedented step of allowing Runner to translate the whole story for them.

A few bloggers whose opinion I have come to trust also chimed in on this book.  Jen from Devourer of Books had this to say in her review of The last Days of the Lacuna Cabal:

I’m not sure whether the plot or the characters are odder.  In fact, as I was reading it I kept saying to my mom and my husband, “this book is so weird!”  However, each time I followed that up with “but I really like it!”  My description of this book makes it sound ridiculous, I know, but it worked.  At least for me.  It might not work for everyone, you have to be open to the oddity.  I was totally enthralled, though.  There is some foul language and sexual content, but – to me at least – it didn’t seem gratuitous in context of the story.

Jenclair at A Garden Carried in the Pocket summed up her review of The Last Days of the Lacuna Cabal by saying:

I liked it. There are flaws that brought me up short at times, but…I liked it. I can’t categorize it and find it impossible to explain. This book is not for everyone, but I hope to hear more from this author.

After reading so little of it I’m not sure what I will think of the novel.  I hope that I will like it and manage to get through it, otherwise it might be a little awkward to participate in a discussion on it!  I definitely think it’s a book that will require my full attention. I will probably see if I can set aside several hours in a day before January 14th so that it will have my undivided attention.

Has anyone else read this one or heard anything about it one way or another?  What questions would you pose to a group about this book?

FTC Disclosure – I am an Amazon Associate (Do I have to keep saying that when I have only made .60, which they won’t pay out by the way since it is such a small amount?). Oh…and I had to buy this book for book club as did the other members.  Do I get brownie points for that?

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Tonight: Don’t Miss That’s How I Blog! with Deborah from Books, Movies, Chinese Food

Deborah- Books, Movies and Chinese FoodJust a reminder that I will be interviewing Deborah of Books, Movies, and Chinese Food tonight on Blog Talk Radio show, That’s How I Blog!, at 8:00 pm Eastern Time.  You can listen live or to the archived version later on.  If you listen live you can join the conversation in chat room, which is usually just as lively as the show!  If you have any questions or comments, you can send them to me at: nicole AT linussblanket DOT com before the show, ask in the chat room or call 646-381-4606 to ask yourself.  Deborah doesn’t bite as far as I know and she has even come up with a question for me! At the end of the show, stick around for what I am calling the Twenty Minute Book Club.  If you’ve read the book or don’t mind spoilers, we will be discussing Boneman’s Daughters, by Ted Dekker.

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TSS – Progress: Notes From A Reading Life ~ December 20, 2009

The Sunday SalonI have been thinking about getting this post up for a really long time.  The last time that I did a progress notes post  was back on October 20th.  I really wanted to track my reading a little bit more regularly than what I have been doing.  My progress notes will be even more important next year as I try to make more deliberate choices about my reading.

There are a number of challenges that I am looking forward to working on which will be guiding me in those deliberate reading choices.  I will be examining those in one of my first posts of the new year.  I think by the time all is said in done I am in about 14 challenges, but there is enough overlap that most of them should not only not be a hardship, but each one also allows me to read more books from my TBR shelf (one of the limitations that I placed on my challenge reading is that the books come from books that are already waiting for me on my shelves.  Thankfully I have vast shelves!)

Among The Thugs, by Bill BufordI just started reading Among The Thugs, by Bill Buford as apart of the 50 Books For Our Time/Newsweek Project that My Friend Amy is hosting.  We have until the end of the year to turn in our reviews, and I just recently picked up a copy of this one.  It’s always fascinating for me to discover the depth of the books that I have lurking in my apartment, just waiting to be read.  When I put this book into my Goodreads catalog I discovered that I already owned a book by Buford entitled Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany that I bought earlier in the year.  It has also been waiting patiently along with a  host of other books I have picked up over this year and past years.

So far I have read about twenty pages of Among The Thugs and I plan on making a further dent in it later on this afternoon after I finish up the last half of the fantabulous More of This World or Maybe Another.  I really Buford’s prose and straightforward way of reporting on the dangerous ‘firms’ that rise up around English Soccer teams.  It reminds me a lot of the movie The Green Street Hooligans, a fictional account with  fictional street thugs that examines the same culture that Buford is exploring in his book.  I really enjoyed watching The Green Street Hooligans, so I am looking forward to seeing the truer version behind what is portrayed in the movie.

More Of This World Or Maybe Another, by Barb JohnsonMore of This World or Maybe Another is collection of short stories is set in and around New Orleans, which is probably the place I have read about most this year. I have also read  City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza and Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans, by Dan Baum, which are both excellent books. This collection of moving and emotionally evocative short stories just adds to the excellence of the aforementioned books about New Orleans.

What’s great about these stories is that they are linked, so we get to see the different characters several times and at different stages in their lives and since the characters know and are related to each other we get to see their relationships to each other and how they see each other.  It avoids that short story feeling of, huh?, that I often associate with not enough information.  That being said, each of these stories is so beautiful and the feelings and stories of the characters are so palpable that they work totally on their own.  Barb Johnson is a wonderful writer and I am looking forward to finishing these up today.

Books I have read in the last week:

  • The Swan Thieves, by Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Cradle, by Patrick Sommerville
  • The Girl on Legare Street, Karen White

Books I have read since my last Progress Notes:

  • The Dancing Plague, by John Waller
  • Labor Day, Joyce Maynard
  • The Story of A Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer
  • Ash, by Malinda Lo
  • The Carnivore, by Mark Sinnett
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • Seven, by Jacqueline Leo
  • Daniel O’Thunder, Ian Weir
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
  • The House on Tradd Street, by Karen White
  • Shiver, by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garci & Margaret Stohl
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • The Hidden, Tobias Hill
  • When She Flew, by Jennie Shortridge
  • In A Perfect World, by Laura Kassischke
  • What the Witch Left, by Ruth Chew
  • Isis, by Douglas Clegg
  • Dragon House, by Jon Shors
  • Life After Yes, by Aidan Donnelley Rowley – This book isn’t due out until June of 2010, but I have already read it and loved it.  The main character was a flawed and difficult woman but the story was so rewarding.  I was fortunate enough to read a pre-publication copy and I can’t wait to see it released.  The cover they are using for it now is gorgeous.
  • The Help, by Katherine Stockett – I finally finished listen to this book on audio and it is truly as great as everyone says that it is.  If you have already read the book I highly recommend listening.

What is everyone else looking forward to reading today?

Disclosure- I am an Amazon Associate.  Some of the books listed above were sent to me by the publisher or author for review, while others were purchased by me for my ever expanding personal library.

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Out Of Twenty: 11 Questions For John Shors

Yesterday I reviewed a book by new-to-me author John Shors entitled Dragon House.  It’s about two Americans who travel to Vietnam to open a center to give Vietnamese street children a safe environment and an education.  I was amazed by the rich attention to detail and I was transported to the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in this story. John was gracious enough to stop by and answer a few questions about his book and writing process.

John ShorsJohn, welcome to Linus’s blanket.  Will you tell me a little about yourself and how you started writing?

I’m from Des Monies, Iowa, and started writing when I was in high school. I grew up reading a few books a week, and that passion is what first interested me in the idea of being a novelist. Of course, I had no idea that becoming a full-time writer would be so difficult. I think it would have been much easier for me to climb Mount Everest!

How did your characters present themselves to you?  Do you make an outline or do they come to you some other way?

At the outset of each novel, I do a character outline for everyone in my book. But I really don’t get a feel for my characters until I’m well into the editing process. At that point, after maybe seven months of writing every day, I establish a rapport, an intimacy with my characters. This is such an enjoyable experience, as writing becomes so much easier.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

In Dragon House, I really enjoyed bring the two street children, Mai and Minh, to life. I have spent a lot of time with street children during my travels to Asia, and was/am so inspired by the hope, brilliance, and resilience of these children. The prospect of creating two such children within Dragon House greatly appealed to me, and I think that Mai and Minh really reflect my enthusiasm. I’m quite happy with how they turned out.

Noah and  Minh have both lost limbs, but from different experiences.  Was that something you purposefully wanted to explore with these characters?

In some ways, yes, in some ways, no. I wanted Noah and Minh to connect, at least initially, because of their lost limbs. But I wanted them to move beyond that particular connection into something deeper and more profound.

The imagery in Dragon House was extremely vivid.  I found myself physically reacting to theDragon Housedescriptions in the book.  How were you able to accomplish that?  Have you had a lot of experience with Vietnam?

First, thank you for the compliment. Second, I have been lucky enough to travel three times to Vietnam (in 1993, 1999, and 2007). I love almost everything about Vietnam–the people, culture, food, climate, history, affordability, etc. It’s a country that is near and dear to my heart, and I know it well. I’ve explored much of it by motor scooter (not a particularly safe endeavor), and some of the excitement of those adventures is experienced by my characters as they undertake the same sorts of journeys.

In Dragon House you explore questions of alcoholism, poverty, child neglect and abuse,  and the different effects that the horrors of war has on veteran…did you know that you wanted to write a book that included these issues and did that influence your decision to set it in Vietnam?  Did any of these things arise out of what was coming from your characters or a master plan you had?

I did want to explore some of those issues, and Vietnam seemed like the perfect place to do it. My home country of America obviously has a history with Vietnam. And America’s involvement with Vietnam isn’t that different than its involvement with Iraq, I believe. So, I wanted to compare and contrast those two conflicts, and did so by setting Dragon House in Vietnam, and having one of the central characters be a vet from the Iraq war. As far as the questions of alcoholism, poverty, and child neglect, those are universal sufferings, and could occur in any country in the world. Modern-day Vietnam seemed like a good fit for exploring those issues, though; as such suffering is out in the open in Vietnam.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include?

That’s a tough question. All of the interesting things I discover tend to make their way into my books. Unless of course, I lose a sticky note or two, which has been known to happen.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Well, one of my characters, Iris, is quite well read and is a fan of the classics. The street children would be delighted to come across books of any sort. Street children dream of going to school, so books are quite magical to them.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  I’m kind of obsessed with it- probably because there is so much that I am involved in and like to do, that I’m always looking for ways to make all of it work time wise.  What does a typical day look like for you?

I usually am at the computer by 8:30 a.m., checking emails. I do that for a bit, and then roll up my sleeves and start to write. I try to write until about 3 p.m., at which point my brain has turned to mush. Then I answer more emails (I get at least 100 emails a day from readers). I may look over a contract or participate in an event. I also continue to speak (via speakerphone) with five or six book clubs a day. These conversations mainly occur at night, after my wife and I have put our little ones to sleep.

What’s next for you?  I really enjoyed reading Dragon House, so I want to know if  you are working on something new and when we can expect it.

I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed Dragon House. Thank you for reading it. My forthcoming novel is called The Wishing Trees. My editor and I have been working on the back-cover copy, which for now, reads:  Almost a year after the death of his wife, Kate, former high-tech executive, Ian, finds a letter that will change his life. It contains Kate’s final wish—a plea for him to take their ten-year-old daughter, Mattie, on a trip across Asia, through all the countries they had planned to visit to celebrate their tenth anniversary.

Driven to honor the wife and mother they still deeply mourn, Ian and Mattie embark on an exotic journey that retraces the early days of Ian’s relationship with Kate. Along the way, they leave paper “wishes” in ancient trees, symbols of their connection to Kate. Through incredible landscapes and inspiring people, Ian and Mattie are greeted with miracles large and small. And as they grieve over what they’ve lost, they begin to find their way back to each other, discovering that healing is possible and that love endures—lessons that Kate hoped to show them all along…

Anything else your readers and potential readers might like to know?

Well, a lot of good is coming out of Dragon House. I’m donating some of the funds generated from the book to Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation (www.bdcf.org), which helps street children in Vietnam. In three months, Dragon House has raised enough money to buy complete sets of school books for 500 street children. I’m grateful for this outcome.

Thank you John for a wonderful interview!

For more information on Dragon House visit the book website at: www.dragonhousebook.com

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Dragon House, by John Shors – Book Review

Dragon HouseWhen Iris’s father dies she promises him him that she will travel to Vietnam to finish work on plans that he had to open a center for street children. Though at the time her primary motivation is to comfort a dying man with whom she has had a troubled relationship, Iris ultimately decides that she will go for a month to ensure that the center does indeed open.

Before Iris can leave for Vietnam, she receives a visit from the mother of a childhood friend, Noah, who has become disabled in the Iraq War and has been despondent and abusing alcohol for months.  His mother is convinced that Iris taking her son with her to Vietnam is the only way to save his life.  Iris is skeptical but she agrees that Noah can come along. Neither is prepared for the sights that they will see nor the experiences that they will have.

As I was reading this novel I was immediately taken with the wonderfully vivid descriptions of the city of Vietnam.  I really felt as if I was on the street with all of the tourists, dodging the scooters, smelling the food, and seeing the people wearing the masks that enable them to have some protection from the horrible pollution caused by all of the traffic and congestion. The wonders of the city as well as the poverty had me in awe and I found myself alternately smiling or wrinkling my nose up in response to scenes in the novel.

Shors’ characterizations are just as moving as his scenic and atmospheric descriptions and even though the painful pasts of Iris and Noah are explored in some detail I was equally interested in the touching stories of Mai and Minh, the two street children who for so long only, had each other; Qui and Tam, the grandmother and her sickly granddaughter whose mother has abandoned her; Thien, Iris’ father’s cheerful, helpful and resourceful assistant; and Sahn, the crotchety old police officer trying to hide that he is disabled, and come to terms with the fact that the same Americans whom he killed and were the enemy in the Vietnam war are the same people who are now coming to help and rebuild in the country.

I loved getting to see all of these characters meet and interact and the subtle influences that they had on each other.  There were lots of interesting mirror images within the novel as both Sahn and Noah have to come to terms with being war veterans along with the demons that haunt them from the war, then there is the way that Iris and Thien have different reactions to Noah and his drinking, and that Noah and Minh are similarly disabled.  I received a full and moving picture of the lives of the less fortunate in Vietnam and the dangers that they face and I have to admit to shedding a few tears in places because I was so taken by the incidents in the characters’ lives.

In addition there is a little adventure and mystery here as they face dangerous setbacks in opening the center.  It had me wondering until the very end as to whether everything would work out for the characters I had come to love.  Though, Loc, the villain in the story struck me as a little wooden, he wasn’t a major hindrance in what was an informative and thoughtful novel.  I am looking forward to reading more from John Shors.

Recommended.

Read More Reviews At:

Challenges: Winter Reading Challenge

FTC Disclosure – I am an Amazon Associate.  Review copy provided by the author.

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