Book Reviews

by Tom Crowley

Koehler Books, 2021, 190 pages. www.amazon.com[email protected]

           I am more disheartened as of late at the inhumanity of most people around the world. The “Me first, you last – Just take your silly little problem down the hall and Get it away from me” attitudes are both grating and depressing. Especially during these dark days when charity, a helping hand, altruistic motives, understanding, and humanitarian gestures are needed the most. The supply of all the above appears to be rapidly evaporating everywhere you look.

           Then comes along a real gem of a book, Mercy’s Heroes. Although it contains some vignettes of heart wrenching, gut punching (or actually soul punching) inhumanity, it also contains many snippets of real hope, authentic caring and genuine selflessness. Tom Crowley has done a real service to us all in bringing the plight of the Klong Toey slum denizens to a wider audience and, hopefully, more open wallets and donations. He should be highly commended for his literary skills and his noble service to the less fortunate.

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A British Tragedy in Old Siam, by Simon Landy

River Books, 248 pages, [email protected]

Every country has historic dates that prominently stand out. These will forever be remembered as important turning points in the nation’s future. In the UK it is The Glorious First of June (1794); in the U.S. it is 4th July 1776; and in Thailand it is 17-18th May 1688.

We can add 18th April 1855 to that list. This was when the Bowring Treaty was signed between the UK and Thailand. The pact initiated an explosive increase in trade, cemented Thailand’s rise as an independent nation equal to any and brought in modernisation.

Simon Landy’s new book is a riveting, can’t out-it-down, detailed look at the events and people surrounding the treaty. A very important contribution to Thai and UK history; it is also professionally crafted, highly detailed and well researched look at events and personages surrounding it. It is remarkably even handed and insightful. The book is highly readable, most erudite, and very enjoyable. 

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Wood Horse Press, 597 pages, 2016. http:www.amazon.com

Leonard H. Le Blanc III

It is fascinating to note the eerie parallels between the current situation in the U.S. and Germany’s Weimar Republic during the 1920s. Overt racism, street thugs who brawl against opponents, law and order breakdown, the polarization of all political parties, financial turmoil, frequent social strife, the rise of demagogues, intolerance and intolerance and, in general, a whole society that is visibly disintegrating and rapidly sliding into chaos. That horrible situation allowed the rise of Adolph Hitler in the 1930s and Donald Trump, for four years, most recently. We know how Nazi Germany turned out.

Karen Schur-Narula has done us all a real, even important, service by revising Hitler’s Germany through the eyes of a young woman who was enraptured, even dazzled, by Adolph Hitler and blinded by her own unbreakable ambition. This grand literary effort is both a most impressive, sprawling historical tale and a close, intimate portrait of a very determined, extremely talented, headstrong young woman and her wrenching journey to enlightenment and truth. A very highly recommended read for all.

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by L. A. Naylor

Roots Books, 329 pages, 2019. https://lanaylor.com/

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

I had a troubled childhood. To escape, I buried my face in books. The page turners I liked most effortlessly whisked me away to places I’d never been to and plunked me into situations I had never been in. These books grabbed me and took me right along for the free ride to a whole other, fascinating, undiscovered world. The narratives riveted my attention and held it to the end. I loved the journey. My woes, if temporarily, melted.

A. Naylor’s ‘The Land of Trees’ most definitely qualifies as one of those thrilling rides of grand imagination and inventive creativity. You can feel yourself as part of the conversation, or at least as a willing bystander. The prose is razor sharp, shamelessly witty, and remarkably perceptive. At its heart, it is a gritty detective story. A grand tale of determination, perseverance, and resiliency. The plot pacing never flags. It is easy to see the author knows their subject, so the book rings with perfect authenticity.  Enjoy!

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by Steve Rosse

Independently published, 246 pages, 2020. https:amazon.com

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

When any writer reaches national, even international, stature they name a geographic area, genre or whole subject after them. Examples are sufficient. Southwestern U.S. Navajo Lands are simply known as “Tony Hillerman Country.” Parts of England are known as “Jane Austin County.” The Cold War spy genre has been called “John Le Carre Land” for decades. Len Deighton, Frederick Forsyth and Joseph Conrad all have their names tagged in showing ownership of something major in the print world.

Now we will have to call Phuket Island “Steve Rosse Land.” (Not sure how the Thai government will react to that redesignation, hopefully they won’t mind.) Steve has penned another classic page turner with his latest work of written art, “Leaving Thailand – A Memoir.” It is a wistfully nostalgic, heartfelt, hilariously funny, and deeply insightful take of Steve’s untimely departure from the LOS 24 years ago. However, as no good deed goes unpunished, Steve will grace us with his presence shortly. Welcome back Steve! (About darn time!) Break a leg!

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by Zhou Daguan, edited and translated by Michael Smithies.

Siam Society, 2001, (4th revised edition). www.siamsociety.com

The Khmer Empire and Angkor Wat still holds a remarkable fascination for many people even today. After almost a millennium of the height of its power and glory its retains its influence on our imaginations. Thais borrowed some of the Khmer Empire’s cultural artifacts that can still be seen today, like classical Thai dance, dress. and some of the Thai alphabet. This book is a fascinating look at the great empire and how it operated. The Customs of Cambodia is a book written by Zhou Daguan, the Yuan dynasty Chinese official, who resided in Angkor between 1296 and 1297. His account has great historical significance as it is the only surviving first person written record of daily life in the Khmer Empire. The only other available written information is from temple wall inscriptions. The Chinese author was part of a diplomatic mission sent by Timur Khan, grandson of Kublai Khan in 1297 to the court of Indravarman III (reigned 1295–1308). A very enjoyable read..

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Sumalee Books, 202 pages, 2021. https://sumaleeboxinggym.com/

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

There is an old U.S. saying about New York City, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” We can add Phuket to that pithy phrase. Lynne Miller has done the business equivalent here by starting a Muay Thai (MT) gym, the same as climbing up Mount Everest by crawling backwards, upside down, without any equipment or oxygen and finally succeeding against impossible odds. MT is easily the most male dominated business in Thailand.

‘Fighting for Success’ is a completely riveting, mesmerising, cannot-put-it-down, Arnold-the-Terminator-delivered gut-punch exposé on how to do (or not do) business in Thailand. The book (and doing business here) is not for the faint of heart or the most cowardly lion. She immediately brings the whole MT business down to bare metal from paragraph one. I am reminded what Daniel Craig just told prospective aspirants about becoming actors: “Don’t do it!” ‘Fighting for Success’ sends the same message (or lesson) for would be expat MT entrepreneurs. The book is must read. As the British always say, “Not bad.”

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Next Chapter, 2021, 200 pages.  www.amazon.com

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

I once read ‘Henderson the Rain King,’ a Pulitzer Prize nominated effort by Saul Bellow. The story’s protagonist was visiting my old hometown of Danbury, Connecticut, USA, so I could easily visualise his geographical movements. But I quickly discarded it. First, it was death-by-boring. Second, I wanted the bitch slap the protagonist for being a silly, empty headed, clueless ninny. Third, if this was selected as one of the best books of the 20th century then there was something extremely wrong with the damn selection committee. No bloody way. I can write a better book than this.

Then along comes ‘Angkor Away’ by Steven Palmer. It immediately straps you in for a wild triple corkscrew rollercoaster ride of pure fun, grand adventure and spirited high jinks. I loved the witty, inventive narrative, lightning quick plot pace and sheer readability. A perfect example of why people walk into a book store and want something entertaining to high dive right into. This is that book. Enjoy. Five stars. Cannot wait for the sequels. As the British blandly say: “Not bad.”

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by Steve Rosse

Kindle edition, 191 pages, 2020. https:www.amazon.com

by Leonard H. Le Blanc III

Some people completely shun life. We call them hermits. Almost everyone else deals with life as best they can. But a few rare people are just like King Kong. They furiously beat their chests, loudly wailing about all the many indignities, injustices and incivilities that life afflicts upon them. That’s Steve Rosse. But just like King Kong, Steve frequently scales the literary Empire State Building for all to see, fighting off critics (or airplanes) and holding forth in print for his many fans on his take about (his) life.

Steve has done it once again. In climbing the Bangkok-based literary fictional heights with his latest effort, ‘Bangkok Buckaroo.’ A yippy-ki-yo-kai-yay, slap-leather-pard’ner-at-high-noon-on-main-street, rollicking detective noir page turner set in Bangkok’s famous Soi Cowboy with the usually attendant black hats, cattle rustlers, card sharps, faro dealers, stagecoach hold up desperadoes, pistoleros, and no-good-nicks. All done to his finely tuned ear for the richly endowed local expat dialogue with heavy doses of wit, simile and colour. Another winner here Steve. Now you can happily ride off into the sunset.

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From the curious and controversial to the heroic and hardy by Duncan Stern.

DCO Books, 2019, 179 pages. www.dco.co.th

For any serious expat who decides to stay long term, they quickly discover the country has an immensely rich history, a vibrant culture, diverse geography, delicious (if spicy) cuisine, an endless selection of social activities plus things to keep you constantly amused or engaged – from bar hopping, diving, hiking, parasailing, visiting ancient monuments and temples to tramping on jungle treks, riding an elephant, touring or just relaxing in serene tranquility. Thailand is a delight for most.

The late Duncan Stern, a noteworthy local prolific author and long time resident, had added to the reading enjoyment of those with an interesting recital of Thailand’s long history. Through a summary of interesting historical events both inside and outside the Kingdom, he has penned a book of historical vignettes that is sure to delight anyone interested in the fascinating history of Thailand. He draws on a wide variety of historical sources to glean the most interesting small slices of Thai history. A most fascinating read. 5 stars. 

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