Category Archives: Books

EXCLUSIVE Travel Memoir Excerpt: Careening Around Cairo

It is not every day that we get an exclusive look at a future best-selling travel book! I am delighted and privileged to re-introduce A Traveler’s Library contributor, Edie Jarolim, who shares with you excerpts of a chapter from her work-in-progress, a travel memoir you won’t want to miss–Getting Naked for Money.

EXCLUSIVE to A Traveler’s Library

The following is an excerpt from Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.  Please contribute to the Kickstarter campaign that will allow the book to be finished and published (see badge at the end)

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I am a terrible Jew. This I knew from an early age. At Passover seders as far back as I can remember, I would recite the story of the Israelites’ enslavement while harboring a secret love for the land of the pharaohs. “Let my people go,” I intoned, while longing to visit Egypt.

I don’t blame the Jewish holiday for my disloyalty, although, like most kids, I found the Haggadah reading interminable. I was also a bit dubious about parts of the story that it told. My favorite food on the seder plate was charosets, a mixture of apples, walnuts, and grape juice meant to represent the mortar used at forced construction sites. If you can eat the building materials, I thought, how bad could the work be?

Nor do I blame Hollywood for my Egyptophilia, even though Cecil B. DeMille cast sexy Yul Brenner as Ramses against Charlton Heston’s buff-but-boring Moses in “The Ten Commandments.” My childhood friend Sharon and I would cross our arms and mimic the bald hunk intoning, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters. Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund.
Brooklyn Museum: Relief of Queen Nefertiti Kissing One of Her Daughters

No, I blame my mother—which maybe makes me a typical Jew after all. Every few weeks, before I was old enough to go on my own, my mother would walk with me from our apartment on Lincoln Road down Empire Boulevard to Grand Army Plaza and the Brooklyn Museum. There I came to adore the hushed, high-ceiling Egyptian halls.

I’m sure the serenity of the setting and the shared time with my busy parent, sister free, were part of the appeal. But the alternate universe showcased in those rooms, the grand kingdoms, dynasties, and mysterious hieroglyphs, also grabbed my imagination. I loved the busts with elegant headdresses and exotic names like Hatshepsut–a female pharaoh!—and the clean lines of the towering statues, representing powerful beings who transcended the messiness of everyday life. I was especially drawn to the Wilbour plaque shown above of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, a rare artist’s slab, the label said. I devoured all the books I could find about the Eighteenth Dynasty couple, and about Akhetaten, the city Akhenaten devoted to his revolutionary new religion.

All this is to say, my assignment to update Frommer’s Egypt didn’t come from out of the blue.

My interest in Egypt, always on the back burner, had returned with a mummy-like vengeance when I started working at Prentice Hall Travel (PHT). I regularly tried to convince Marilyn Wood, PHT’s editorial director, that the company needed a new, more in-depth book to supplement Frommer’s Egypt—and that I was the ideal person to write it. As far as I was concerned, there could never be too many Egypt guides.

My persistence paid off. When, in the spring of 1989, about a month after I parted ways with Rough Guides, Marilyn learned that the author of Frommer’s Egypt wanted to take a break from updating her book, she asked me if I wanted to fill in. Naturally I said yes.

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Maybe the most memorable part of my Cairo research [for Frommer’s Egypt] was visiting the great pyramid complex at Giza.

Pictures make the necropolis look like it’s in the middle of the desert—and of course it was, at one point. Now, however, Giza is a suburb of Cairo, with the pyramids fringing its outskirts. Picture the Seventh Wonder of the Ancient World at the edge of Queens.

That didn’t detract from the impact of viewing it in the direction of the limestone bluff on which the pyramids sit–or from my excitement at seeing camels, wearing colorful, ornate saddles, clustered around the imposing structures.

I am a sucker for camels. The moment I first looked into their mischievous long-lashed eyes in a crowded Tunis market, I was hooked. There was something about the unlikeliness of their shape, the contrast between their ungainly gait and their innate dignity, that spoke to me. After years of ogling these creatures at zoos, I was excited to learn that camel rides were available at the pyramids.

The camels were all standing placidly, chewing, looking bored, as I approached. The camel drivers next to them were not nearly as placid. A tourist actually seeking out a camel ride must have been a rarity, so a group of men descended on me, pleading, “Lady, you ride my camel, she is the most beautiful and gentle. For you, not expensive.”

Overwhelmed, I finally just chose a guy with a camel that didn’t look depressed and who didn’t have a whip in his hand (the guy, not the camel).

Camels are very tall and even a kneeling one is difficult to mount; the large saddle adds to the height and is awkward to negotiate. When my chosen camel driver—I’ll call him CD—helped me up, his hand grazed my breasts, not a part of the body generally required for leverage. I told myself it was an accident and tried to focus on the fact that I was at the pyramids, about to ride a camel.

After we plodded along for about two minutes, we came to a halt, my camel having decided it was time for a bathroom break and CD having decided it was time for a sales pitch. He said, “I have authentic antiquities, not expensive for you.” I nodded and smiled blandly. “You buy?” he asked. “No, thank you,” I said.

But CD was persistent and I suspected that I would be forced to sit in the midday sun, listening to his spiel and smelling camel poop until I gave in. I looked at the statuettes he had wrapped in a cloth, and finally chose a small one for a large price. “Do not let them see it at customs,” CD warned, explaining that it was illegal to take antiquities out of the country.

“Only if they’re authentic,” I wanted to say. But CD was holding the reigns to my camel, and I really wanted to get out of there. For a change, I kept quiet.

No surprise: as CD helped me off the camel, his hand grazed my breasts again. Maybe he was trying to authenticate them.

I can’t vouch for the antiquities, but this book is the REAL DEAL–travel around the world with Edie who shares adventures from camels to insider info on the travel writing business (including the getting naked part).  If you want to hear more about Edie’s adventures as a travel writer, how about becoming a publisher by helping to finance the book? Join Edie’s KickStarter campaign.
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A Japanese WHY Dunnit and an Amazon Mystery

Destination: Japan

Book: Malice by Keigo Higashino, Shown: MacMillan Audio Book CD, Published in U.S. October, 2014; in Japan in 1996

Kego Higashino, an Edgar award winner, and super-star mystery writer in Japan, writes books that are complex intellectual puzzles with unusual structure. Readers of A Traveler’s Library –lovers of books and writing–will particularly relate to this mystery, because it involves two writers and hinges on  complexities of writing and publishing.

UNRAVELING AMAZON’s MALICE

Amazon decided to present me with more mysteries when I tried to find the Amazon page for the MacMillan Audio edition of Malice. In fact, they nearly make the CD audio book disappear.

If you are a consumer of audio books on CD , you need to know how to solve the shopping mystery that Amazon presents you with.  Since Amazon now has their own audio book program–Audible–their index of books leads with their own Kindle edition, followed by the hardback and paperback versions, then Audible. Not so incidentally, (you might think “with malice”) that leaves no space for the audio books on CD. The largest producer of audio book CDs– MacMillan Audiobooks– must be rather unhappy with this treatment.

When you go to the book’s page, you’ll see the list mentioned above and then a “see other versions” link, as though the CD versions rank right up there with the used books sold by outside vendors. This is certainly a not-so-subtle ploy for Amazon to direct audio book customers to their own Audible version.  If you prefer the digital audio book to play on some electronic device rather than a CD, you won’t even notice. But if you want a CD, and aren’t looking carefully, you may be led to assume that there is no CD for the particular book.

So–either be sure to click the “other versions” link, or start your search by typing in the book title plus Audio CD. (i.e. Malice Audio CD) You’ll find it in Books, rather than in CDs, by the way.

BACK TO MALICE, the BOOK

That little mystery out of the way, lets move on to the Japanese mystery, the twelfth in a series of Detective Kaga mysteries. (However few if any of this series have been translated into English in the U.S.)  A little-known writer of children’s books visits a friend who is a famous novelist who has assisted him in his career. In the detailed account he writes out for the police later, the little-known writer, Osamu Nonoguchi says he received a phone call from the novelist, Kunihiko Hidaka, but when he returned to the house all is dark and eventually he found his friend dead.

WHO, WHY, HOW

In a departure from familiar mystery format, we know  the WHO and HOW very early. Despite his initial pretense of being extremely helpful to the police by writing his thoughts out,  in very short order, Nonoguchi confesses to the murder. The rest of the book shows a detective, Kyochiro Kaga, looking for WHY (motive) by painstakingly searching through every detail of the confessed murderer’s life. Kaga becomes a forensic psychologist, thoroughly dissecting the psyche of murderer and murdered.

The structure of the book–always looking back at the past lives of the characters to try to find out what happened the night of the murder–means long stretches of monologue by Nonoguchi or by Kaga.  This makes the book a challenge to those who like intellectual puzzles, but a barrier to those who want action.

Many of the things I said about a previous book by Higashino apply to this one as well. You can read my review of Salvation of a Saint (released in the U.S. in 2012). In that book, we also know the killer quite early, but the question is HOW.

About the pace, I said,

…to a person used to the crowded and busy plot of an American thriller or police procedural, the novel seems as repetitive and sometimes as dull as actual police work instead of the action on steroids that we’re used to.

Also, you may have been thinking about all those names like Nonoguchi and Hidaka and Kaga and wondering how you could keep them straight if you were listening to an audio book. (My spell checker is having seizures dealing with the unfamiliar names.)  I found that the author once again (as in Salvation of a Saint) uses enough repetition to help keep the names of at least the major characters straight.  And although the reader is not the same as the earlier CD, Jeff Woodman does an excellent job of presenting a wide array of voices for both men and women.  I particularly admired his work when the detective began to interview people from the school days of the two writers. It seemed he somehow found a way to differentiate a dozen characters.

TRAVELING TO JAPAN?

peach blossoms
Peach blossoms

Is this a book for travelers? It shows you the real, contemporary Japan–which seems very much like life in America.  As I said in my former review:

The characters are … people who could be… listening to the same popular music as in the United States or Britain. So if you are looking for some exotic life form, these are not kimono-wearing women tittering behind coy fans. Instead, you get a taste of real life in present day Japan.

In Malice, we have some Cherry Trees and drinking of tea and a mention of a trip to Okinawa and another reference to a Japanese martial arts class –but not much else in the way of the images we imagine of Japan.  The author purposely strips out descriptive details of setting in order to focus on the fine points of character’s behavior.

It is unfortunate that this popular Japanese writer’s work does not get published in the United States more quickly.  Because the book is ten years old, references to electronics are dated.  Wired phones and fax machines are common instead of cell phones and someone is using a PDA.  There are other clues to its year of origin which could have been fixed if the author had worked with the translator to update it–but apparently that did not seem important.

I was excited by the first half to two-thirds of the book, but  got weary of what seemed merely to be repetitive in the middle of the book. However, a good detective keeps paying attention and does not jump to conclusions, right? Whenever I got impatient with the narrative, I reminded myself that Higashino is a tricky writer and he could be providing me clues or setting me up to believe a thoroughly unreliable narrator.

Early in the book,  I did have an inkling of what was going on and I figured it out before the detective did, but then he had to pile up a lot of proof, whereas I could just say–“Oh! Yeah! That’s it.”

So–I challenge you. Read or listen to Malice and let me know if you suspect the solution before the end.

Disclaimers

The CD illustration links to Amazon, so you won’t have to go through an investigation to find it, should you want to buy it. Although it costs you no more, I make a few cents when you buy things through my Amazon links. Thanks.

MacMillan Audio provided me with the CD for review.  While I appreciate their interest in what A Traveler’s Library has to say, a review copy  does not guarantee good reviews. I give you my honest opinion.

 

Brigid Quinn is Back and in Serious Trouble


Destination: Tucson, Arizona

Book: Fear the Darkness by Becky Masterman

 

 

Becky Masterman, a Tucson resident, created a female character who stands out in the crowd of female detectives.  Fans who read her first novel,Rage Against the Dying, have been eagerly waiting for the second in what they hope will be a lengthy series  featuring Brigid Quinn. A retired FBI agent, married to a retired Episcopal priest, she has recently settled (not that Brigid actually settles) in Tucson.

Saguaro National Park
Saguaro National Park, Tucson

You might guess by the “retired” that comes before FBI agent, Brigid Quinn is somewhere north of 55, but age is just a number, and she’s not counting.  She is insatiably drawn to mysterious situations with a dangerous edge, to the despair of her peace-loving husband.  Brigid still knows how to handle bad guys–and gals–both physically and through meticulous analysis of evidence and application of street smarts.

The new book, Fear the Darkness, shows Brigid trying to fit in to a ‘normal’ life.  She has followed through on a promise to her brother’s dying wife and brought the couples college-age daughter to Tucson to live so that the girl can establish residency for college.  As we learn more about Brigid’s former job as an undercover agent–adapting to roles of prostitute, drug runner, or other lowdown vermin– it is easy to see how she can have doubts about this normal-family-surrogate-mother thing.

I could do this.  I was tough.  I may be small and have prematurely white hair, but I’m as psychologically and physically fit as you can be at my age.  And as I’ve explained, I can disarm a grown man before he could say..anything….Next to somebody like me, Chuck Norris is just a wuss.  How hard could it be to be a good aunt.

To add to her angst, Gemma Kate, the neice, shows some odd quirks of her own.  In fact her behavior is so odd that Brigid begins to wonder if the clever girl is a psychopath. Bad things start happening all around, and Brigid herself becomes  a target of some sort of evil that she can’t quite identify.

The plot is complex–peopled with the sort of friends and neighbors you can recognize without thinking “stock characters.”  This complexity takes a lot of time to set up–the mysterious teenage suicide; the devotion of a friend (the only one Brigid has ever had) to her paralyzed husband; the appearance of an appealing man at church one day; even the rather unenthusiastic minister. Then there’s an arrogant doctor with a wife who seems unhinged; a cop who may be hiding family secrets.  Readers who want their thrillers to leap right in to the action are going to have to cool their heels while they meet these characters and experience how “normal” can slide into a horror show so gradually that you hardly notice.

The climax is frightening not just because of the violent action, presented in proper thriller fashion in a breath-taking sequence, but also because the “I never saw that coming” ending has you wondering about the assumptions you make in your own life. It’s not as though the author didn’t try to warn you.

I admit from the start it’s at least embarrassing to not recognize the devil, but I can understand because I’ve been there…During my time with the Bureau, I lived among killers who cheerfully attended their daughters’ ballet recitals, and men who trafficked in human flesh whole baby-talking their parakeets.

Although I was impatient with the slow setup of this book, I still am a big fan of Brigid Quinn and her smart-ass wisecracks and derring-do. The first book was a nominee for best first novel in the Edgars (mystery writing) and no doubt this one will garner some of the same recognition. Brigid’s dialogue is not the only smart thing about the writing.

Sunset and rain, Tucson
Sunset and rain, Tucson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re wondering what Tucson is like–not just the mountain paths and the wildlife, but also the culture–Masterman weaves that kind of information into the story.  Just one thing threw me, and I’m probably petty for mentioning it, but I can’t resist.

Night Blooming Cactus
Night Blooming Cereus

Gemma Kate and her boy friend  take off for Sabino Canyon and tell Brigid that they are going to look at the “night-blooming cactus and the wildlife”.  Sabino Canyon does have moonlight walks. Except this scene takes place in March. The night-blooming cereus–the night-bloomer that makes the best show doesn’t bloom until late June or early July. Until then, all there is to see is a pathetic plant lying on the ground imitating a dead stick.  I know–picky, picky, picky.

Where you can absolutely depend on Masterman’s research, of course, is in forensic details.  She has worked for years as an editor of forensic medicine books or law enforcement officials, and has a wide array of experts to call on. These nitty gritty details make the novel come to life. And nothing is livelier than the terrific creation, Brigid Quinn.

Disclaimers

The publisher sent me the book for review.  I have met Masterman personally, and interviewed her after her first book was published (you can read that interview here.) Neither of these things affects my giving you my honest appraisal of the book.

There are links to Amazon here, for your convenience. You need to know that I am an Amazon affiliate, so anything you buy through a link on this site makes a few cents to help keep A Traveler’s Library alive. Thank you.