Best Books I Read in 2017

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The Last Bookstore – Los Angeles, CA

My favorite genres in non-fiction are mostly science and history, and in fiction – Science Fiction, Scandinavian Noir, Japanese Thrillers to mention a few – but I read whatever I can get my hands on and books that someone recommends to me.


In 2017, I read about 50 books (down from 62 books in 2015), here are some of my favorites of the year.

1.  Homo  Deus – Yuval Noah Hariri

His first book Sapiens was very enlightening, this is just as great. A stimulating read and also provocative! This isn’t about predicting the future, but a broad and intelligent look at the past of humanity and the abundance of possibilities for the future – discussing areas such as such as automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, bioengineering, algorithms, etc..and how they may affect our future. Nothing is guaranteed, but many of the ideas discussed in this book are certainly possible. This should be a must read for anyone pondering the future of humanity.

2. Artemis – Andy Weir

If you loved The Martian – you will absolutely love “Artemis”. It’s not a sequel, but still a really great, different and well written science fiction thriller.

Mankind has a colony, Artemis, on the moon in the distant future. Our heroine is Jazz (Jasmine) Bashara, a Saudi woman, extremely courageous, fierce, intelligent but sometimes makes poor choices, somewhat of a female Han Solo, a smuggler. She gets caught up in a dangerous situation and has to use her wits, talent and fitness to deal with corruption, murder, crime syndicates and more. A complex but truly satisfying story. It moves very fast and is addictive, you won’t be able to put the book down. Sure to become a movie but I don’t always trust Hollywood to do justice to the book.

3. The Wandering Falcon – Jamil Ahmad

This is a beautiful book, in the future it will be regarded as a classic and one that I recommend everyone should read. It’s a story set in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas about a boy who later gets named Toz Baz (Black Falcon). He loses his parents and goes wondering from place to place, and each place has a story to it. Sometimes the story is very raw, sad, brutal and sometimes humanizing. The stories are moving and reveal the tribal culture of a remote region that most of the world still know nothing about.

4. Exit West – Mohsin Hamid

Best book of 2017, it was the winner of the LA Times Fiction Book of 2018 and the Aspen Words Literary Prize. An amazing story of two young people living in an unnamed land, fall in love in the midst of a war and decide to migrate to flee the violence, first to a Greek island, then to the UK, and then America. Each place they go to, they face challenges, backlash and the violence they were fleeing from is following them everywhere. A fascinating book and  extremely relevant in today’s world of wars, violence, refugee crises, etc. Mohsin Hamid writes very beautifully, takes you on a moving and emotional journey with his words. He’ll sure to be considered one of the greatest writers of the 21st century.

5. The Course of Love – Alain de Botton

In today’s day and age, too many people believe that love should be like a fairy tale, that everything should be how they envision it, like and want it to be. This book is a tale of Rabih and Kirsten, a story of a marriage and the everyday joys, pains, duty, betrayal and sacrifice. However, the story happens in a mundane sort of way that is more like reality. This book is really a teaching tool. The story reflects the life, turmoil and love that is part of every marriage. For those that believe there may be a perfect person for you or some sort of fairy tale partnership; this author opens your eyes to the reality that this does not happen, but that one can have hope and be content in what is.

6. Snowblind – Ragnar Jonasson

This is the first book of a brilliant new Scandinavian thriller crime series – The Dark Iceland series. The setting is an old fishing village  of Siglufjördur in Northern Iceland, it has only one mountain pass to get into, during the winter avalanches occur and no one can get in or out of the town. Also, in this part of Iceland, they live in 24 hours of darkness due to the mountains hiding the sun until summer approaches. The protagonist is Ari Thor who has just graduated from police academy and takes a job in the isolated village after the retirement of one of their officers. His first adventure is a murder mystery in the town where nothing ever happens. The story is full of twists, suspense and mystery with interesting characters. The rights for a TV series have already been acquired by a British company.

7. 1Q84 – Haruki Murakami

This is the first book I read by Haruki Murakami. It was long but fantastic. He’s indeed a brilliant writer and tells very unique stories. This novel is very well crafted, the story flows incredibly well taking the reader into a mildly dystopic alternative world, an endlessly engaging one, giving the reader in turn an alternate view of his or her own world. It will keep you thinking about it long after you have put it down. I will definitely be reading more books by him.

8. Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi – Elif Shafak

This came highly recommended by my friend Umi, an avid reader, and indeed became the best book I read that year and one of my all-time favorites, one you want to read again. When I finished reading it, I wanted everyone to read it too. There are two parallel stories weaving in and out. One is set today about a middle aged American woman and Aziz, the author of the book she is reading to write a review on. The other story is of the great 13th century scholar Rumi and his relationship to Shams, the Sufi mystic that inspired Rumi to become one of the greatest poets, scholars and Sufi figures of the world today. Although it is a novel,  it is rich in history and philosophy as well as literature. It will have a deeply profound effect on you as it did to me. The “Forty Rules” provide reflections that offer insight into the foundations of Sufi philosophy.

9. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – Vaseem Khan

Another Umi recommendation that was delightful. Set in Mumbai, Inspector Ashwin Chopra is a police officer with strong morals, principles and values. Due to a heart attack, he is forced into early retirement. On his last day, a boy is found dead, his superior decides to call it a drowning/suicide and closes the investigation. However, even though Inspector Chopra is retired he follows up secretly on the investigation on his own while in retirement. At the same time, he is gifted a baby elephant by an uncle that becomes his sidekick. The story is full of humor as well as suspense, thrills and adventure. The first in the series but definitely worth the read – light, simple writing and an uncomplicated story that goes down very well.

10. Whispering Shadows: A Novel – Jan-Philipp Sendker

An Umi recommendation that introduced me to a fantastic new author. This story takes place in Hong Kong and mainland China. Paul is a retired expat journalist in contemporary China who tries to crack a murder case as he battles his own personal demons. Both a murder mystery and an account of a father’s attempt to come to terms with his young son’s death. There are some observations about contemporary China that are deftly woven into the story…politics, corruption, history, and culture that make it interesting as well.

 

Other highly notable ones I recommend:

The Book of Yunus Emre – Paul Smith

The life and poetry of one of the most important Turkish poets has had a tremendous influence on Turkish literature. He was a Sufi mystic and a contemporary of Rumi but wrote in Turkish instead of Persian, which was the dominant language of the time and region. His poetry expresses a deep personal mysticism, humanism and his love of God.

In the Bazaar of Love – Paul E. Losensky/Sunil Sharma

This is the translated poetry of the immortal legend…Amir Khusrau. He was one of the greatest poets of the India, his poetry, songs and verses are found everywhere today…from people singing his songs in villages in India, to Qawwals like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, to present day Bollywood and Pakistani films featuring his songs. His contribution to Northern Indian Classical music is seen everywhere also…he is the inventor of Qawwali, the Sitar and the Tabla as well.

A Couplet of Khusrau: 

oh Khusrau, the river of love runs in strange directions.
the one who jumps into it drowns, and one who drowns is the one who gets across…

 

And another one: 

I have become you, and you have become me

I am the body, you the soul

so that no one can say, hereafter,

that you are someone else and I am someone else…

 

The Silent Dead – Tetsuya Honda

The first in a new Japanese thriller series, this one features a female detective.

Police – Jo Nesbo

10th book in the “Harry Hole” series and doesn’t disappoint. A densely plotted thriller with twists, turns, thrills, tense moments with some new characters and some of the old memorable ones. The way the characters have changed throughout the series is brilliant and entertaining. If you like Scandinavian thrillers, this is a must read best to start from the first Harry Hole book in the series.

The Stranger – Camilla Lackberg

The 4th book in the series, the vivid narration is really great and will take to Fjallabacka, where you become familiar with all the characters, the drama and feel like you are living in that town. I heard there is a TV series made as well.

The Ice Beneath Her – Camilla Grebe

For fans of Scandinavian thrillers, a dynamic thriller.

The Complete Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi

A masterpiece of graphic novels. An exceptionally charming, funny and real account of the Iranian revolution and its aftermath, through the eyes of a young woman who lived through much of it.

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GOP Congressman Wants to Deport Every Iranian

Another bigot and xenophobic leader goes berserk again…

http://rawstory.com/2010/01/gop-congressman-deport-iranian/

Here on the Los Angeles Area – we have the largest Iranian (Persian) population in the USA. Beverly Hills and Westwood will never be the same again as these areas are dominated by filthy rich Iranians – my lawyer is an Iranian and so is my doctor, my dentist and my mechanic. They are the ones who drive the economy of Los Angeles. Who shops at the expensive stores in LA and who buys homes during this recession? Certainly not the US congress representatives who steal our money and send our children to fight in wars for the profit of themselves.

Many Persians (Iranians) have kept their Passport and retained heir Iranian Citizenship for the sole reason that they can go back to Iran whenever they want to visit families. There are thousands of Jews, Christians, Bahai’s in addition to Muslims who are citizens of Iran in LA alone. During the elections Westwood and Beverly Hills had election booths set up and on the last Iranian election day last year thousands had shown up to vote.

Now this racist congressman wants to deport them. Make sure you voice your distaste for this bill to your Congress representative.

Obama Urges Bailout For Auto Industry

Now that banking, insurance, airline, retail (in the form of “stimulus”), housing, and many other industries are getting bailouts – the US auto industry is also looking for its own bailout of taxpayer money. And Obama is supporting this. This is such a terrible idea. Socialism gone wild. Las Vegas casinos are not doing well either – what next President Obama? Another bailout for them too?

The US auto industry has been in trouble for a long time now – this is due to their failure to change their business model that has seen sales plummet. Consumers no longer want cars that are gas guzzlers and clunky, outdated, unreliable vehicles. This is survival of the fittest – either you make better vehicles or fizzle out and die.

The taxpayers should not have to bailout the auto industry’s losses because they can’t make good cars, cannot run their companies profitably.

Once you start giving bailouts to companies that can’t run successfully – they will keep asking for more. We are only prolonging the inevitable while hurting the only ones who are helping to keep the economy alive – the taxpayers. This is theft – shame on Obama for proposing it.


Obama asks Bush to help auto industry: NY Times

WASHINGTON (AFP) — President-elect Barack Obama asked President George W. Bush during a White House meeting for immediate aid for the struggling US auto industry, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

During their private meeting, Bush said he could support some aid in exchange for approval of a free-trade agreement with Colombia, the Times said, citing unnamed people familiar with the discussion.

However, neither Obama nor Democrats in Congress — who been blocking the trade pact — seem willing to bend on Colombia, the Times wrote.

UK Police State Stories – Mobile Users Need to Register

In the UK now – mobile users will have to register into a DB – this is a violation of a person’s privacy. They will need a passport or ID to purchase a cell phone – every move they make will be monitored. Every word they say in the cell phone will be monitored. 24/7 you will be tracked….All Brits are terrorists now.

Passports will be needed to buy mobile phones

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.

Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

A compulsory national register for the owners of all 72m mobile phones in Britain would be part of a much bigger database to combat terrorism and crime.

England – A Police State

This is the stupidity of the UK Government.

Apparently Security officials at Heathrow Airport prevented a thirty year old man from flying and threatened him of arrest unless he removed a t-shirt he was wearing with an image of an armed robot – Megatron – from Transformers.

T-shirt to dangerous to fly

Seriously, this is not a joke. The Evening Standard reported:

An airline passenger claimed that a security guard threatened to arrest him because he was wearing a T-shirt showing a cartoon robot with a gun. Brad Jayakody, 30, from London, said he was stopped from passing through security at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 after his Transformers T-shirt was deemed ‘offensive.’ …Mr Jayakody said the first guard started joking with him about the Transformers character depicted on his French Connection T-shirt. ‘”Then he explains that since Megatron is holding a gun, I’m not allowed to fly,’ he said. ‘It’s a 40ft tall cartoon robot with a gun as an arm. There is no way this shirt is offensive in any way, and what I’m going to use the shirt to pretend I have a gun?

In the USA – it is no better – recently my 73 year old mother was suspected of being a terrorist when four keystone cops from the Transportation Security Administration went though her luggage three times because she tried to take a bottle of water (to drink on the long flight to London) along with her in her purse. They also confiscated her perfumes and hand lotion bottles – God forbid, she just might take the the whole plane hostage with her tiny bottle of Aveeno. “Everybody on the floor!”

How stupid and paranoid do you have to be to believe that 73 year old women pose a significant threat to the country that they have to be patted down like criminals and subject to humiliating searches by illiterate government thugs?

If we want to stop terrorism in this country – let’s start by stopping wars on Arabs, Afghanis, our support to Israel and threatening Iran with “obliteration“. Then they won’t have a reason to attack us. Primary reason for suicide terrorists is occupation of their lands by a foreign power says Robert Pape, the world’s foremost authority on suicide terrorism.

The Flavors of Malaysia

(Click on the photos to see them in full view)

Kuala Lumpur at Night
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Malaysia is a very colorful, diverse and multicultural country. Malaysia is roughly comprised of 65% Malay and other indigenous tribes, 25% Chinese and 7% Indians. The people are very friendly and warm.

Eid, Diwali and Christmas along with Buddhist holidays are observed there. Their cuisine is also just as colorful – a fusion of spices and ethnic styles. This diverse cultural mix has creates a wonderful Malaysian cuisine. Indian dishes like curry prepared Indian and Chinese style, Chinese noodles made Malay and Indian style, and so on.

Here’s a menu I put together (from starters to dessert) with the most popular Malaysian dishes that will make a “Malaysian Night” at home.

Satay (Imran Virani’s favorite)
Roti Canai

Mee Goreng

Malaysian Chicken Curry
Nasi Lemak

Cendol

Kopi (coffee)

During my last visit to Kuala Lumpur (KL is the capital), Malaysia, I became friends with the Hotel Istana staff (where we were staying) – especially the chefs and cooks. I was able to fool around in their kitchen learn some tricks and tips in Malaysian cooking too.

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With the kitchen staff of Taman Sari Brasserie at the Hotel Istana

I’ll post these recipes in the upcoming days, but if you’re interested in making good and authentic Malaysian food then you should get this recipe book:

Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia by James Oseland.

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It was in the list of the ten “Best Asian Books of 2006” by Time Magazine.

The author lived in the Spice Islands of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore for two decades. He’s American but doesn’t try to change or “westernize” the recipes to suit American taste buds so if you want the real thing then this is a great book for authentic Malaysian cuisine.

Here are a few pictures of our trip to Malaysia (Click on the photos to see them in full view):

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Having an extra helping of Satay for Imran

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We had the entire pool to ourselves

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Birjees, Darin and Safeona -Darin’s babysitter (yeah – I know she’s cute – even I wanted one) at the Istana Lobby.

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“Beauty and the Beast” – Hitting the clubs

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Birjees helping me work on about a dozen different Malaysian desserts after dinner

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Birjees, Darin and me at the magnificent Thean Hou Buddhist Temple situated on top of a hill overlooking the city

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The sleek and stylish Negara Mosque with its 73 ft. minaret. Capacity of 15,000 – it is one of the largest mosques in East Asia.

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Prayer hall at Thean Hou Buddhist Temple – it is a great place to visit

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On the way to Bukit Bintang

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Shopping at Bukit Bintang

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Darin with Thomas at the Taman Sari Brasserie (Hotel Istana)

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Darin and Birjees