User Profile


Joined 1 year ago

A Canadian expat ESL teacher in Taiwan. Interested in books, coffee, movies, straight razors, fountain pens, medieval history, rum...and rain!

My favorite writers are John le Carré, Graham Greene, Martin Cruz Smith, & Alan Furst.

My favorite books are:

  • A Perfect Spy, John le Carré
  • The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson
  • The Heart of the Matter, Graham Greene
  • Smiley's People, John le Carré
  • Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
  • Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  • The Little Drummer Girl, John le Carré
  • The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood
  • The Human Stain, Philip Roth

This link opens in a pop-up window

User Activity

Review of 'City of broken promises' on Goodreads

4 stars

The love story of Martha da Silva--a Chinese orphan and house prostitute--and Thomas Kuyck Van Mierop--a British trader for the East India Company--set in late 18th-century Macao, and her eventual rise to becoming a successful trader in her own right, the richest woman in Macao, and someone with her own name.They don't publish novels or make movies like this anymore. This story hearkens back to movies like Casablanca and to the novels of Graham Greene. The main difference, though, is that it's more Martha's story than it is Thomas's. And what a story it is. If it had been published now, it would've been politicized and plucked for more pity. As it stands, however, this is a beautiful, beautiful novel--in the narrative, in the characters, in the setting, and in the subtlety. And, perhaps most importantly, it treats the reader in a dignified, intelligent manner.Three things stuck out to me, …
Desolation Island (Aubrey Maturin Series) (1991, W. W. Norton & Company) 3 stars

Review of 'Desolation Island (Aubrey Maturin Series)' on Goodreads

3 stars

In this installment of the Aubrey-Maturin series, Captain Aubrey is tasked with carrying a load of convicts to New Holland (Australia) and assisting Captain Bligh (yes, that Captain Bligh, of HMS Bounty infamy) with his troubles with the locals there.Patrick O'Brian is a seal: a most graceful creature in the water. His ability to fully immerse the reader in the early 19th-century British naval experience is unparalleled. He is, hands-down, the greatest historical novelist I've ever read. Seldom has a writer been able to create such a fully realized atmosphere as this. Certainly, this series is at its highest point when they are out at sea, doing what sailors do, talking how sailors talk. Even if you don't fully understand everything, you just go with it. It's surprising how much you pick up just by the way it's presented.Unfortunately, seals aren't very graceful on land, and neither is PO'B--both just …
Wolf Hall (2010, Picador) 4 stars

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble …

Review of 'Wolf Hall' on Goodreads

3 stars

The easiest way to sum up this book is to say it's the comings and goings and conversations of Thomas Cromwell on his way to becoming the second-most powerful man in 16th-century England.On an historical level, this book gets praised for its accurate portrayal of the events under discussion, even if it paints Cromwell more sympathetically than his portrayal in textbooks. Certainly, he's no angel, but his motivations are relatable, and we understand him quite well. His character is well defined, as are King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, and a handful of Cromwell's right-hand men. The narrative is quite witty, and there were moments I was glad it was written by a woman given these #MeToo times. I also thought the pace of the novel was nigh on perfect.Unfortunately, though, that's where the praise must stop. The narrative, for the most part, is pretty choppy. The closing pages …
Venice (2000, Konemann) 4 stars

Review of 'Venice' on Goodreads

4 stars

This is a succinct little book. Physically, it's a bit thick, but it's not tall at all. What it does is take (what I assume is) a large majority of Venice's most important buildings and give a 2- or 3-paragraph write-up on them. It's loaded with pictures, but you can also go to the internet to research more regarding their history or their interior and exterior architecture. It also does something similar with Venice's art, but that's of lesser interest to me. I actually started to skip the write-ups on the art at about the halfway point.I can't recommend this book highly enough as a companion to any beginner's reading about Venice. It's an absolutely great jumping-off point for Venetian architecture for amateurs.
Walking Macao Reading The Baroque (2009, Hong Kong University Press) 3 stars

Review of 'Walking Macao Reading The Baroque' on Goodreads

3 stars

I have long found Macao to be a fascinating city (I use "Macao" for the colonial period, and "Macau" for the modern period). Its colonial history is quite interesting, and visiting it was a joy--that is, before the modern casino-building ruined it. Still, I like to get my hands on anything that details what life used to be like there. Not an easy task if you only read English.Unfortunately, this book was a bit of a slog. Not that it's long, but because the writer goes to great lengths to attach some sort of allegorical or symbolic meaning to absolutely everything. That in itself isn't wrong because, no doubt, there was meaning put into things like this. However, a lot of the so-called meaning he attaches to things seems really forced, and his reasoning is often tenuous at best. There was just way too much philosophizing and pontificating, and I …

You'll love this drawing book if: You want to learn urban sketching techniques You like …

Review of 'The urban sketcher' on Goodreads

3 stars

From a complete novice's point of view, this is a pretty decent book for beginners. It focuses on three main aspects: pencil, ink, and watercolor. The first two sections are done well but, despite being the most difficult and the author's preference, I found the section on watercolor to be the least well-explained. That's fine with me because it's something I'm unlikely to get into, but other readers may want to take that into account.I'd probably give it more than 3 stars, maybe 3.5, but I know it's not 4 stars. It is a good book, it's informative, and the art is nice. What holds me back from being more effusive is the above mentioned simplification of the watercolor process, his ink pictures are somewhat busy for my tastes, and the book needed more proofreading and copy editing.
A Snake Lies Waiting (2020, St. Martin's Griffin) 4 stars

Review of 'A Snake Lies Waiting' on Goodreads

2 stars

Pretty much everything I said about the first two books in the series applies to this one: Charles Dickens lite...with kung fu fighting, excellent introduction to Chinese culture and geography, insightful look at Chinese values and norms, wonderful world-building around the different martial-arts schools and fighting techniques.However, there are two glaring deficiencies with this novel when compared to the previous two. Number one, the setting is just too limited. The first 150 pages or so is spent on a ship--and not in the Patrick O'Brian way--and another 100 pages or so is spent in the great room of an inn. Number two, coincidences and contrivances abound, making this what I feel to be the novel with the most overheard conversations in the history of all literature. It's also interesting how, with China being such a vast country and the cast of characters being so large, almost all of them manage …
The Visiting Professor (2006, Overlook Hardcover) 3 stars

Review of 'The Visiting Professor' on Goodreads

3 stars

At its most basic level, the story is about a professor from the former Soviet Union being a guest lecturer at an American college. Along the way, he meets a beautiful hairdresser half his age, gets caught up in an environmental protest, is courted by espionage agencies from around the world, and works with the police on a serial-killer case.Although primarily known as an espionage novelist, here Robert Littell gives us a satire about America in the early '90s. His sentences are interesting, his characters are engaging, his wit is keen. However, the narrative is a bit unfocused as it switches back and forth between the third-person to the first-person perspectives of the two main characters. It also doesn't handle the professor's transition to America in enough detail to be entirely convincing.What it does do, though, is spend a great deal of time talking about chaos theory, randomness, God, redemption, …
Drawing for the Absolute Beginner (2006, North Light Books) 3 stars

Review of 'Drawing for the Absolute Beginner' on Goodreads

3 stars

While I wouldn't call it for the "absolute" beginner, it is quite good for beginners. The focus is exclusively on pencil drawings, so that is a limiting factor. However, the pictures are very good, and it does cover a wide variety of subjects. Perhaps the steps to the drawings don't have as much detail as beginners would, but I think most people will be able to extrapolate where needed. I'd recommend it.

To Calais, In Ordinary Time (2020, Canongate Books) 3 stars

Review of 'To Calais, In Ordinary Time' on Goodreads

3 stars

Set in 1348, England, the story features four (not three, like the blurb says) people who join up with a company of archers on their way to fight in Calais, France: a farmhand-cum-archer named Will, a Scottish proctor named Thomas on his way to Avignon, a knight's daughter named Bernadine fleeing her arranged marriage to a much older man, and a fourth person who will remain nameless so as not to spoil the story.The narrative is by far the most intriguing aspect of the novel. It is written in a made-up form of English which is designed to sound archaic but still be accessible to modern readers. It is much easier to read than, say, Shakespeare, but it does take a little while to get the hang of. I found Wiktionary ( to be the best resource for understanding the meaning of the words, but it is possible to just …
Keys to Drawing (1990, North Light Books) 2 stars

Review of 'Keys to Drawing' on Goodreads

2 stars

I bought this book online based on others' recommendations. It didn't really meet my needs, but perhaps it will yours, so let me explain.My goal is to draw in a way that communicates effectively the thing I'm trying to convey to the viewer--more practical than it is artistic self-expression. I'm not the least bit interested in portraiture, texture, or light. There was some useful information in the chapters The Drawing Process, Proportions: Taking the Measure of Things, and The Illusion of Depth. However, I'd say I need a beginners book that is one step before this one because his lessons assume you already have at least more drawing experience than the average person.Another problem is that I'm interested in pen and ink drawing, as well as marker on whiteboard. Very basic stuff with hard edges. This book goes into pencil and charcoal as well, neither of which were very relevant …
Venice (2010, Vintage Books) 3 stars

Review of 'Venice' on Goodreads

3 stars

Ah, Venice! The most serene city.Readers looking for a detailed history of Venice won't find it here. While it's impossible not to glean an overall understanding of the city's history, this book is mainly about the personality of the city and its inhabitants. It focuses more on the culture than on the events that make up its character. And character it is, for the book treats the city as if it were a person.Another thing to be aware of is the writing is not the typical matter-of-fact style of non-fiction. There is a flair and abstractness that some may find irritating. And it is steeped in the author's personal opinion. While he seems to appreciate Venice, he doesn't hold back when he is describing something he doesn't like. And the quotations. Oh, the quotations. I'm sure the writer scoured absolutely every written work that mentioned Venice and pulled something out …