Weekend Reads: “Ghosts of Gold Mountain”

Hi, everyone. My Facebook memories told me that, 10 years ago today, I accepted a publishing contract for In The Eye of The Beholder with Turner Maxwell Books UK. I’ve been celebrating 10 years in print, but I truly didn’t remember the date of the contract. That was kind of fun!

Anyway, here is this week’s review. It’s a non-fiction piece from which I learned a great deal. You might want to check it out yourself!

Ghosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental RailroadGhosts of Gold Mountain: The Epic Story of the Chinese Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad by Gordon H. Chang

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Stanford University Sinologist Gordon H. Chang has taken a bit of history that most of us probably never learned and made it come alive.

Chinese immigrants to the United States were the major construction force of the Central Pacific Railroad, which connected with the Union Pacific at Promontory Summit. Hired at sub-market wages, which were still more than they might have imagined earning at home, thousands of Chinese men risked their lives to make the Transcontinental Railroad a reality.

Chang gives us a look at the region in China from which most of the men hailed, as well as a look at the racism that they faced upon arrival … and even after their triumphant accomplishments. While there are few primary source documents available from the Railway Chinese themselves, the archaeological record and letters from Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, et al., provide the gateway to learn more about the struggles and celebrations experienced by the men who worked so hard.

This was not a leisurely beach read, by any stretch of the imagination. The lengthy bibliography and endnotes bear testimony that this is a scholarly work. Still, I think it’s an important read that teaches a lot about prejudice … and demonstrates to today’s reader how much work there remains to be done.

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Weekend Reads: “Tradition”

Hi, everyone! I’m writing to you from Red Wolf Lodge at Squaw Valley, where fellow authors Dover Whitecliff, T.E. MacArthur, and I have created a mini writing retreat. We’re staying mere steps away from the former Olympic Village. It’s quiet and peaceful, and we have a great view (as long as you overlook the ski lift equipment). I woke up this morning with a wee bit of altitude sickness, which is not too surprising. I’ve taken something for it and will be lying back down for a bit.

Here’s this week’s book review.

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved MusicalTradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World’s Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Isenberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I was in high school, I was active in the drama department. Straight drama, mime, you name it. My favorites were the musicals. During my senior year, I played Grandma Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof.

Still, I didn’t know the amazing history of the play, other than it being based on Sholem Aleichem’s tales of Tevye the Milkman. This book didn’t exist then.

Journalist Barbara Isenberg takes us deep into the world of theatre, from the creation of the play through its many revivals up until 2012 (the year the book was published). Many producers had low expectations and didn’t think that a musical about a Jewish family on a shtetl would return their investment. So, the composers and librettist gathered up donations from friends and family … and mounted what has become one of the most enduring musicals of all time.

The book also looks at the many actors who have played the lead role, from Zero Mostel to Chaim Topol and beyond, and shows us some of the other then-unknowns who were in the cast (Bette Midler’s first role on Broadway was Tzeitel, in the 1960s). We also get a look into international productions, audience reactions, and more.

If you love musical theatre in general, and Fiddler in particular, you really must read this book.

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Sample Saturday: “His Beloved Infidel”

31432511As most of you know, my dad passed away in February. Today would have been my parents’ 56th wedding anniversary. So, I started thinking about which of my titles could most honor that. I immediately thought of the scene in His Beloved Infidel where some older women are talking about their weddings. Enjoy!


“Tell us about your wedding,” Catherine said to Yasmin.

“Well, I think I have told you before that my parents wanted someone more traditional for me. They would rather I married the farmer down the road, like the matchmaker said, than a Western-stricken shazdeh like Mahmoud. They wanted someone who would stick to the old ways. But I knew I did not want a life behind the chador, hidden away; I was educated in the West, and wanted something more. It was hard; my mami and I are both stubborn people. In the end, they approved of Mahmoud, but it took a great many gifts to my family — better gifts than cows and goats, I can tell you — to make it happen. We had a traditional Persian wedding; I think there were three or four hundred people there. I remember saying the words, and dancing — and not much else!”

“I look back on my wedding day and think the same thing,” Mae put in. “It all went by in a blur and suddenly we were married.”

“Your grandpa and I stood up in front of the church after services one Sunday,” Helen said. “I wore my best dress, and Grandpa wore his good suit. It was during the Depression, and no one had much. I think one of the neighbors gave us a ham he’d put up, and my folks gave us five dollars.”


Want your own copy of His Beloved Infidel? Here are the back cover copy and purchase links.

Farukh and Catherine are colleagues at Paris’ World Language Institute. He is Persian; she is American. Can their newly-discovered love survive the strain of Iran’s Islamic Revolution?

Author Sharon E. Cathcart (In The Eye of The Beholder, Through the Opera Glass) presents her first tale of inter-ethnic romance. Set against the backdrop of real-world events, Cathcart tells the story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events.

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Weekend Reads: “How to Be an American Housewife”

I went into the Wayback Machine for this week’s review. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

How to Be an American HousewifeHow to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“How to Be An American Housewife” is based in large part on stories told to author Margaret Dilloway by her Japanese mother.

Shoko is a young Japanese woman who comes to the United States after marrying an American GI at the end of World War II. Her part of the tale talks about her life in Japan and how different everything is in America. She frequently discusses how much she misses her brother, Taro, from whom she has been estranged since marrying Charlie.

Sue (Suiko) is Shoko and Charlie’s daughter. She feels as though she is a failure in her mother’s eyes, and so is surprised when Shoko asks that Sue and her daughter Helena go to Japan to find Taro. As Shoko is facing some severe health problems, Sue reluctantly agrees.

This book talks about a number of issues: prejudice, tradition, the immigrant experience, and mother/daughter friendships. These are filtered through both harsh and gentle experiences by both protagonists.

Highly recommended.

(Review based on uncorrected advance proof.)

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Weekend Reads: “Die on Your Feet”

I had the pleasure of meeting author S.G. Wong at Left Coast Crime earlier this year. She participated in an excellent panel on noir fiction, and I decided to grab one of her books. I’m glad I did!

Die on Your Feet (Lola Starke, #1)Die on Your Feet by S.G. Wong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Overall rating: 4.5/5 stars

Private investigator Lola Starke has more problems than should be allowed: her Ghost, Aubrey, is always in a huff about something. One client has hired her to find a missing person, and another has hired her to tail the first client. Everyone is up to no good, including her mother’s ghostly lover, the Mayor of Crescent City.

Set in an alternate 1930s, S.G. Wong’s noir detective tale is unlike anything else I’ve read. Her Crescent City is a setting where people of Chinese descent are in the majority, being Haunted is the norm (some people can see the ghosts, other can’t), and everyone seems to have their finger in the pot of organized crime.

I enjoyed the book, and found the characters well-rounded. There were some editorial issues that cost the book half a star for me, as they sometimes affected continuity and I had to double-check that I had the sense of the action.

And there is action aplenty. Those who like their “whodunnits” on the gritty side are sure to enjoy this book.

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