Sunday, September 26, 2010


The Untold Story of the Honorable Detective and His Rendezvous with American History

Part academia, part history, part theory, part commentary and part mystery itself, this ambitious book tackles numerous subjects at once.  Not because the author lost his focus, but because the stories, and the people in them, were so intertwined.

Author Biggers 
The character Charlie Chan was "invented" by American writer Earl Derr Biggers.  Yet Chan was inspired by real-life Honolulu detective Chang Apana.  Apana was illiterate and spoke only broken English but was an amazing officer and caught dozens of criminals in his lengthy career.  A bit of a legend in his own time (stories circulated about his abilities with a bullwhip), Biggers got the idea for a Chinese detective.  The books were wildly popular, and prompted several films (some not even based on books written by Biggers).  All of this amid American anti-immigration policies and before Hawaii was even a state.
Detective Chang Apana
Huang ably describes the circumstances in which this character was born and how he rose to fame.  Aspects of Orientalism, the Great Depression, popular Hollywood, and literary prowess are all investigated.  By setting the contexts for Chan's popularity, Huang gives perspective to what might seem like an outmoded and, by some, racist character.  In fact, Huang tackles this dialogue head-on and dissipates the rhetoric without insulting the angry critics.  Rather, he exposes how very complex Chan really is -- and the reception he has received in other countries, including China.

Actor Warner Oland with Chang Apana
Less focus is given to Biggers and his creation of the character than I would have liked, but only inasmuch as that is where my curiosity lies.  While the films inspired by Chan are of varying degrees of quality, the books are solid and show significant research on Biggers' part.  Having read most of Biggers' novels, I was surprised to find how literary they were, having been introduced to Chan by Warner Oland.

Huang does credit to a number of artists who helped to shape Charlie Chan.  And he graciously allows for an enjoyment of Chan, particularly the films, that is not insensitive.  Thankfully, in researching and putting together this book, Yunte Huang took a bit of Charlie's own advice: Mind like parachute - only function when open!

Thanks to the folks at WW Norton for the review copy. 
Book Details : Hardcover, August 2010, ISBN 978-0-393-06962-4, 6.7 × 9.5 in / 354 pages, Territory Rights: Worldwide

Thursday, September 16, 2010

REVIEW: MAD WORLD by Paula Byrne

Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead

"Thorough" is the first word I would use to describe this biography.  Intense, assured, incisive. America had Hemingway and Fitzgerald, while England had Waugh and Wodehouse.  
Wodehouse found the whole scene rather silly and made hysterical fun of it.  Waugh, on the other hand, had a more complicated view.  
The Great War had left aristocratic families in tattered remnants.  Elder sons were dead, or maimed.  A heavy tax was levied against the very wealthy, forcing many to close up or sell manor homes.  A few found themselves forced to take jobs.  The younger siblings of these wayward families felt they had their own marks to make and became known as the Bright Young People.  Waugh, for his part, was a member of the club, but not to the manor born.  His inclusion was based solely on his friendships with various hosts of the ongoing party. He felt distinct self-loathing both for participating in their debauchery, and in desiring to be a part of it.  

It seems his cynicism ebbed and flowed, depending on his mood (or more likely, his standing within an important family).  But his wit remained intact and was employed in varying thicknesses upon all of his writing.  
This biography chooses the writing of Waugh's most famous work, Brideshead Revisited,  as its ultimate target, but as I mentioned before, it is nothing if not thorough.  At times, it can see a little too tangental.  For instance, the chapter exploring the secret scandal of the Lygon family is a bit to muddled, although it makes for good gossip.  
All in all, the author has approached her subject with supreme respect, and bravely included even the unsavory bits for her readers. 

Many thanks the folks at Harper Collins for the review copy.  The paperback will be available March 8, 2011.  Hardcover available now. 

Monday, September 13, 2010

LOCAL BOOKSTORE: The Book Lady, Savannah GA

I submitted this very short description of The Book Lady as part of the Spotlight on Bookstores series.  Every Wednesday, this blog hosts a section encouraging people to write about their favorite independent bookstore.

My submission:

I love to frequent a little, independent, used bookstore called THE BOOK LADY, on Liberty Street in Savannah.  It is nestled a couple of steps down from the street level, in the lower level of an historic old home in downtown Savannah. Brick walls, stuffed leather chairs, fireplaces and floor-to-ceiling shelves, filled with interesting titles.  Her desk is always covered with stacks of invoices, orders, and other books she is considering.  She handwrites all of her receipts on a small pad.  And there is nothing that can stump her encyclopedic knowledge.  But the store has one more secret - a garden out back.  A tiny spot of green, overflowing with flowers - a quiet place to shuffle through your latest find.

Submit yours, and encourage others to frequent these little gems.

*Photo snagged from the Book Lady's FaceBook Page.*

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Thursday, September 2, 2010


This is unabashed writing at its funniest.  Imagine if David Sedaris were a twentysomething, Jewish, naive, experimental actor abroad, with questionable taste in men -- then wrote a book about it.
Shukert's exploits include landing an unpaid gig in an acting troupe that specializes in nontraditional performance pieces.  The show, seemingly forever in rehearsal, finally gets lined up for a small tour in Europe.  Fickle actors and an even more sensitive director plague the performances but they are the least of Shukert's worries.  She tries on different boyfriends, as if they were a favorite new pair of jeans that slowly shrunk in the dryer, or faded too fast.  None are what is was really looking for and she teaches herself this the hard way. 

The author, Rachel Shukert
But do not think this is a self-pitying memoir.  It is one part cathartic, one part dinner party story.  For most of us, I think we would be embarrassed to share our mistakes so readily with the rest of the world.  But perhaps Shukert sees her readers as members of group therapy.  If she gets it out there, the baggage is lighter and she knows she will never repeat her mistakes.
This chapter in Shukert's life is wrapped up nicely, but let's hope she keeps having adventures, and keeps writing about them.  She reminds us that to err is human, and to read about someone else's growing pains can be hysterical. 

Many thanks to Erica at Harper Perennial for the review copy.  Check out her blog, The Olive Reader.

Follow Rachel Shukert ( or visit her site.

ISBN: 9780061782350; ISBN10: 0061782351; Imprint: Harper Perennial ; On Sale: 7/27/2010; Format: Trade PB; Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8; Pages: 336; $13.99; Ages: 18 and Up