Saturday, April 9, 2011

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero by Stephan Talty

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero
Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero by Stephan Talty

Before reading Escape from the Land of Snows, I had a vague, general understanding of Tibet and the Dalai Lama.  I knew Tibet had been invaded by China, its territory is protected by the mountain ranges above Nepal (and Mt. Everest),  and that it is a nation of Buddhists and pacifists. I'd seen various movies/books that depicted the selection of the Dalai Lama and about Tibet was aware that much poetic license had been taken - James Hilton's Shangri-La, Tintin in Tibet, Little Buddha, Seven Years in Tibet.

Escape from the Land of Snows deftly combines a glimpse into the Dalai Lama's personal history with the historical and political events that have shaped Tibet.  We learn how the Dalai Lama is selected;  from the process of selection to the conditions that must be fulfilled  - and this is explained in its sociocultural and political context.    Stephen Talty makes the Dalai Lama come alive both as the political, religious and cultural figure that he is and on a personal level.

Talty starts in 1935 with the passing of previous Dalai Lama and the search for his successor.  I'd had all sorts of Hollywood misconceptions as to the method of finding the successor and found the detailed description fascinating.  We learn  the details of the Dalai Lama's life from the moment that he was "found"- in Amdo, an obscure village 1,000 miles (2 months' travel) from the capital Lhasa.  I was fascinated by the specific ways in which the monks are able to identify and confirm the identity of the next Dalai Lama.  We learn how the three year old boy was raised, tutored, and shaped to become Tibet's spiritual leader.   Separated from his family with the exception of his younger brothers - one of whom was disciplined when the Dalai Lama misbehaved - the new Dalai Lama is raised in the traditional way by elderly monks.

Talty recounts what it was like for the Dalai Lama  as a lonely young boy raised by monks in the  palace in Lhasa and revered by the Tibetan people.   As I read about his acts of generosity and mercy, such as releasing the inmates from the nearby prison,  it was clear that the Dalai Lama sees the world very differently.   We learn how his trusting and generous nature - his celebration of the good in others - played out in the negotiations with Mao and the People's Republic of China.   Mao's desire to reintegrate Tibet into China and the increasing ruthlessness of China's foreign policy resulted in heartbreaking attacks on Tibetan monks, citizens, and the Tibetan government.

As Talty shares the harrowing details of those last days and of the Dalai Lama's escape from Lhasa during those turbulent days, we see the strength of the Dalai Lama's love for his country and his people and just how much he means to Tibet and the Tibetan people.

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero is more than an engrossing read, it's a story that needs to be shared.

ISBN-10: 9780307460950 - Hardcover
Publisher: Crown; 1 edition (January 18, 2011), 320 pages.
Review copy acquired through the Amazon Vine program.  

About the Author:
Stephan Talty is the New York Times bestselling author of The Illustrious Dead and Empire of Blue Water. 

The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle

I've always loved animals.  When I was in elementary school,  I had hoped to work at a zoo or be a vet.  My mother tried to warn me that a vet's life isn't all that easy and to prove her point, she suggested that I volunteer for the vet near our home in the Philippines.  Though I ended up becoming a lawyer,  I still love animals.

So, when offered the chance to review a book by the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States,  I signed up.

The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them
The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them by Wayne Pacelle
The blurb:
A landmark work, The Bond is the passionate, insightful, and comprehensive examination of our special connection to all creatures, written by one of America's most important champions of animal welfare.  Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, unveils the deep links of the human-animal bond, as well as the conflicting impulses that have led us to betray this bond through widespread and systematic cruelty to animals.

Pacelle begins by exploring the biological and historical underpinnings of the human-animal bond and reveals our new found understanding of animals, including their remarkable emotional and cognitive capabilities.  In the book's second section, Pacelle shows how the bond has been broken.  He takes readers to a slaughter plant shuttered for inhumane practices, as well as the enormous egg factory farms of California.  We visit Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas to speak with NFL star Michael Vick, then serving his sentence for dogfighting.  Pacelle paints a portrait of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and highlights the heroic actions of residents and volunteer to reunited pets with their owners.  Pacelle's narrative also leads the reader to remote locations in which conflicts over the killing of wildlife continue to play out - from the fields of Yellowstone National Park where bison are slaughtered with the encouragement of federal authorities to the ice floe of Atlantic Canada where seal nurseries turn into killing fields.

In its final section, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them takes on the arguments of opponents and critics of animal protection and spotlights the groups and industries standing in the way of progress -- from the National Rifle Association and such agribusiness organizations as the American Farm Bureau, to surprising adversaries like the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club.  Ultimately, Pacelle points the way to a new, humane economy - one not built on extraction, suffering, and killing but on the celebration, stewardship, and care of animals.

In  The Bond, Wayne Pacelle delivers a systematic analysis of our treatment of animals from those that we keep as pets, those that are raised for food, service animals, and those that live in the wild. 

Pacelle touches on the disturbingly cruel behavior of Michael Vicks and his dog fighting friends.  Pacelle interviews Vicks and we learn how the athlete became so deeply involved in dog fighting and the manner and nature of his "conversion" to an advocate for animal rights.   The sincerity of his conversion is hard to evaluate but Pacelle testified to the power of Vicks' influence especially on young men.   Vicks makes a difference each time he speaks to a room full of children and teens about how much he regrets the pain that he'd caused and his advocacy for a kind and humane way to treat animals.

I expected to be upset by the descriptions of dog fighting, cockfighting, animal blood sports and hunting but I was particularly disturbed by the description of puppy mills.   I never liked how pet stores keep for puppies in small cages, but Pacelle's account of the breeders' premises was worse than anything that I'd imagined.  Pacelle systematically attacks many of the myths that I'd believed about purebred dogs and their breeders and sellers.   While the genetic defects and vulnerabilities of purebred dogs are well recognized, it's hard to imagine that dogs are kept in such close confinement without exercise, fresh air or proper socialization.  The breeding dogs and their offspring are often kept in cramped, unsanitary, and dangerous conditions.

Pacelle examines the raising and slaughtering of animals. His account of the "agro-industrial complex" is much like that described by Jonathan Safran Foer in Eating Animals.  Reading both books within months of each other makes me think twice about my consumption of meat and dairy products.

If you have wondered about how we treat the animals around us, The Bond will give you a comprehensive and detailed account.  It has led me to examine my behavior more carefully.  I'm grateful for the work that activists have done to draw attention to animal suffering.

ISBN-10: 0061969788 - Hardcover $26.99
Publisher: William Morrow (April 5, 2011), 448 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
During his seventeen years with the Humane Society of the United States, including seven years as president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle has played a leading role in making HSUS, the nation's largest animal protection charity, into a dynamic public force and voice for animals.  Taking a special interest in law reform, he has been the leading strategist in getting animal protection laws enacted by direct action of the electorate , designing winning campaigns in a dozen states for ballot initiatives that outlawed cockfighting, factory farming practices, bear baiting, and a host of other inhumane practices.  He has become the voice and face of the humane movement in this country.  Pacelle was named one of Non Profit Time's "Executives of the Year" for his leadership in responding to the Hurricane Katrina crisis.  A graduate of Yale University, Pacelle lives in Washington, D.C.

Founded in 1954,  The Humane Society of the United States is dedicated to confronting cruelty through public education, enforcement of humane laws, support of local humane organizations, investigations and litigation, and reform of public and corporate policies.  The HSUS and its affiliates also provide veterinary services to remote areas, come to the aid of animals in natural disasters and incidents of large-scale cruelty, and operate a network of sanctuaries and rescue centers that directly care for thousands of animals each year.  Learn more at

Chinatown NYC - some of my favorite spots for cheap eats & peking duck

I always enjoy visiting Chinatown. There's always something fun to see. I've been wanting one of these dragon marionettes.

 This is our favorite Peking Duck spot in Manhattan.  Peking Duck House on 28 Mott Street. They have another branch in Midtown at 236 E. 53rd St. (53rd St. between 2nd & 3rd Aves). 

Also on Mott Street: If you like "hopia," the flaky pastries with sweet paste (mung bean, black bean, etc.) they make fresh hopia here.  Tasty!  And if you want soy milk, fresh tofu, sweet tofu (taho), you can find it across the street.

If you prefer the steamed buns (pork, chicken, sausage, or the "special" sort with all three & salted egg), head over to Century Cafe.   : ) 

Century Cafe on Bowery, right near Grand St.  in this building.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Friendship Bread by Darien Gee

 Friendship Bread: A Novel

I admit that I'm biased. I've read Darien Gee's earlier works (those that she'd written under her pen name Mia King) and I'd thoroughly enjoyed them. Darien creates characters that draw you in - the women are genuinely interesting, good people often caught up in highly competitive or politicized worlds.

In Friendship Bread, Darien has several very different women lead characters that converge in this cafe and somehow become friends. They're linked together through "friendship bread" - somehow the story combines baking, friendship, self discovery, and solidarity.  It's hard to describe just how everything comes together so well.  Each of the characters are very different. There's a beautiful and world class musician who is devoted to her craft who relocates to the area. She discovers this bakery - run by a warm and generous older woman.  The baker/entrepreneur opened the bakeshop recently - she too is a transplant to the neighborhood - and it represents a new beginning for her as well.  And the third friend - somehow makes the circle complete. 

I read Friendship Bread straight in one sitting because I had to know what was happening to these women that I'd come to care about. It's a book that I plan to share with family and friends.  Highly recommended!

ISBN-10: 0345525345 - Hardcover
Publisher: Ballantine Books (April 5, 2011), 400 pages.
Review copy provided by the author and publisher.

About the Author:
Darien Gee (a.ka. MIA KING) is a national bestselling author of women’s fiction. She is the author of several novels, published under the name Mia King: GOOD THINGS (Berkley Books, 2007), SWEET LIFE (Berkley Books, 2008), TABLE MANNERS, (Berkley Books, 2009). 

Darien and her husband (author and mental golf expert Darrin Gee) moved to Hawaii in 2000, where they currently live and raise their three children: Maya, Eric and Luke.  Darien used the pen name Mia King for her earlier books to prevent any confusion between her works and those of her husband Darrin Gee. : )

Darien attended Miss Porter’s School and Wellesley College, graduating from Rice University with a degree in Political Science. She was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and has lived in Texas, Colorado, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Hawaii, Hong Kong, and Beijing, China. Her career portfolio includes previous lives as a tax manager with a Big Six accounting firm, website content copy chief for a major LVMH luxury-branded website, brand manager, life coach, cross-cultural trainer, director for a 2,000 acre retreat center, business owner, and now, author and homeschooling parent.

Darien turned 40 in 2008. She is a sought-after speaker and workshop leader on midlife transitions as well as work and parenting. She has been teaching writing and publication workshops on the West Coast and in Hawaii for over 15 years. She’s an alum of Squaw Valley Community of Writers and has served on the boards of ZYZZYVA and the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library, among others. Her ongoing appearances include the annual Hawaii Book and Music Festival on the island of Oahu.  Learn more about Darien Gee at her websites Friendship Bread Kitchen and

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Baby Planner by Josie Brown

The Baby Planner

The Baby Planner by Josie Brown

Josie Brown's latest novel, The Baby Planner, is set in an idyllic San Fransisco.  Katie Johnson is married to Alex, a money manager of a venture capital firm that specializes in tech start-ups.   They're both successful in their own right, gorgeous, and passionate.  There's only one thing Katie wants to change about her life - to have a child with Alex.

Alex has a son from his earlier marriage and was heartbroken after losing the custody battle. Alex doesn't want his son to feel abandoned and refuses to have any more children - at least for the moment.  Katie figures that things will change when he gets promoted and hen things are more stable; she's willing to wait.  In the meantime, she enjoys close friendships with her twin sisters and her many nieces and nephews.  And she gets a particular charge from knowing that even her job helps her protect children:  she works for  SafeCalifornia, the state agency empowered to investigate consumer safety complaints and Katie focuses her investigations on child safety issues.

SafeCalifornia loses its funding and everyone loses their jobs.  But Katie recovers quickly - she takes stock of her life and throws herself into her top priority: a child of her own.  But this baby goal is a secret and in public, her energy is focused on her new business - as a baby planner. 

While most people would avoid surrounding themselves with babies if they can't have one, Katie's much more of an optimist than the rest of us.  She dives into the new role, moved by her love for kids and her natural desire to do things right.   Confident that her husband will succumb and finally find himself ready to be a father.   Her husband Alex is proud of her, supports her efforts,  and her practice blossoms.    As she comes across all types of moms-to-be,  Katie draws them in. 

In the tradition of the best women's fiction, Katie draws us in as well.  Just as she befriends the soon-to-be parents, she endears herself to us.  She's the sort of person that we'd love to know and to welcome into our lives.  Her optimism and energy  make Katie Johnson such a compelling and sympathetic lead character - just the sort to propel the novel forward.  When Katie faces the worst possible day of her life -- her worst nightmares all come true -- she still doesn't sink into an annoying caricature of herself.  Instead, she behaves with integrity and humor. 

The Baby Planner is a fun, engaging read - and a book to share with friends.

ISBN-10: 9781439197127 - Paperback  $15
Publisher: Gallery; Original edition (April 5, 2011), 352 pages.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

About the Author:
Josie Brown is the author of Secret Lives of Husbands and Wives, Impossibly Tongue-Tied, True Hollywood Lies, and Last Night I Dreamt of Cosmopolitans, and the coauthor of The Complete Guide to Finding Mr. Right.  She lives in Marin County, California, with her family.  Visit her website at