Mambo Diablo aims to be an authoritative history of Tito Puente and the era of Latin music that he played a large role in developing and maintaining. Mambo Diablo aims to be an authoritative history of Tito Puente and the era of Latin music that he played a large role in developing and maintaining. It covers the full swath of Puente's life, from his childhood in El Barrio/Spanish Harlem to his death in 2000, and traces the evolution of the music over that time. But while the book's goal may be grand, the extent to which it succeeds on any level at all is utterly coincidental.
It is simply a terribly badly written book, full stop. There is no narrative thread whatsoever -- and 435 pages is an awfully long way to travel without a coherent narrative. There is no consistency to it, no pacing -- it is completely uneven. It appears to have never so much as crossed an editor's desk, because I find it impossible to believe that even a lazy editor could have taken a look at this and have it come out the way it did. Typos abound. Lopped off clauses, fragments. Trainwrecks of sentences lacking basic subject-verb agreement or missing predicates. Inconsistent spelling, punctuation, and formatting. Flat-out verbatim repetitions from page to page, to say nothing of whole chunks of text written in glaringly different style and tone (not to mention reading level) that would send your average college professor straight to the plagiarsim-checker software.
It is a powerful tribute to the personality of Tito Puente that any sort of portrait still manages to emerge at all out of this catastrophe of a manuscript. The chapters are dense with details, which, given the disastrous writing, makes some sections especially hard to read, filled with laundry lists of who played with whom, or who played on what album. Nevertheless, the reader who perseveres will get a decent picture -- albeit an impressionistic one -- of the heyday of the Latin big band era, with the rich variety of music and dance on offer every night in the New York clubs. It's almost impossible not to wish you could click your heels three times and transport yourself to that time and place. And even writing this dreadful is unable to totally obscure Puente's status as a musical powerhouse. He was an exceptionally gifted artist, with a deep, thorough knowledge of music, theory, and history. He was also a demanding band leader, fanatically precise, and devoted to preserving and honoring the integrity of the Afro-Cuban roots of the music. And he was a complete performer, with an innate sense of how to play off the crowds, and how to work publicity to his advantage.
The single best part of this book is a small section of verbatim transcriptions of conversations among Tito Puente and some of his musicians and contemporaries. The recordings transcribed here, which apparently form the basis for a good part of the main text, were among many taken (with Puente's permission and encouragement) of countless informal gatherings at the musicians' long-standing hangout spot at a restaurant near Puente's New York office. It is in these conversations where Puente's personality shines through most clearly. Tito Puente was a character in all respects, with a love for pulling pranks on his musicians and a wicked sense of humor. For example, he had little regard for Damaso Perez Prado, who became known as El Rey del Mambo (the King of the Mambo) for popular arrangements that helped fuel the mambo craze of the early 1950s. In these conversations, it quickly becomes clear that Puente cannot let a mention of Perez Prado's name go by without interjecting his own imitation of the signature "Augh!" exclamation with which Perez Prado embellished his songs (for just one typical example, search the web for a recording of Perez Prado's Caballo Negro). This transcribed section is a nugget of pure gold in the midst of the mess, and it is shame the verbatim conversations aren't used more throughout the book. As it is, the section doesn't appear until two-thirds of the way through the book -- a welcome reward to any readers who have lasted that long, but surely to be missed by those who have given up by then.
With a subject this appealing, one can't help but contemplate what could have been. The book was written ("written" may be more accurate) by Puente's close friend and colleague Joe Conzo, who was privy to innumerable events, conversations, and private reflections of the Tito Puente himself. As such, the book had all the raw material to become a compelling, insightful biography. The result falls so far short of the mark, it's hard to recommend it at all. Serious fans of the man, the music, or the era may be able to look past the book's significant flaws, and draw from the raw materials presented. But anyone wanting a serious, informative, and readable general biography of Tito Puente will have to keep looking. ...more
Well, this was a disappointment. I confess I didn't know any more about the book than what was written in the back blurb, which included this little cWell, this was a disappointment. I confess I didn't know any more about the book than what was written in the back blurb, which included this little characterization: "Melissa Bank's fiction is the spirited marriage of Helen Fielding and Lorrie Moore". Perhaps I leapt to conclusions, having never read anything by Lorrie Moore, but Helen Fielding it certainly was not, and as for "spirited", well, all I can say is, kudos to the marketing team for that bit of puffery. The only redeeming bit of the entire book is the final chapter, which is really so unlike the rest of the book I have to wonder if that was the single successful short story around which Banks built the rest of the book, with the other chapters existing only to make up the road to get you there.
The final chapter is the only one that lives up to any hint of what I expected given the promise of Helen-Fielding-esquery. It's quick-witted, self-deprecatingly funny, and moves at a decent pace. The rest of the chapters are morose, depressing, and self-indulgent. I found the protagonist, Jane, hard to understand throughout those chapters. I couldn't relate to her largely self-imposed unhappiness in love. I even found her hard to like in the first chapter, where she is introduced as an absurdly literate 14-year-old who's too sardonic by half and, I'll say it, unsettlingly jealous when her older brother brings home a new girlfriend. I kept waiting for the book to get better, but it really didn't until the end -- and that after some inexplicable narrative shifts and a sticking-out-like-a-sore-thumb chapter where the first-person protagonist is suddenly someone completely different, accompanied by characters who do not appear before or since, and the erstwhile main character is forgotten entirely, just barely making an appearance in an offhand mention by a stranger. I rarely give a book this low a rating without seriously hating it, but it was so unsatisfying. It felt cobbled together and not ready for primetime. ...more
I didn't hate it; some sweet anecdotes about a very special cat with a definite personality, but not much else worth reI did want to like this book...
I didn't hate it; some sweet anecdotes about a very special cat with a definite personality, but not much else worth recommending it. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting much substance out of a the story of a "small-town library cat", but even so, this might have made a nice Reader's Digest feature, at best.
And don't even get me started on the incessant harping on how these tiny nowhere towns are the "real America" and people who live in these communities are just "different" (read: better) than other people, and they love each other and care about each other and about their communities more than anyone else does anywhere --- oh, please....more
This book earns a good chunk of its rating just by simply existing. Accessible, concise histories such as these, aimed at a general readership, are neThis book earns a good chunk of its rating just by simply existing. Accessible, concise histories such as these, aimed at a general readership, are nearly impossible to come by. And it mostly achieves its modest goals. The first half of the book is especially good -- the authors take care to deconstruct the Costa Rican myth of a history of benign conquest and colonialism leading directly to an egalitarian paradise in the 20th century. The reality is somewhat harsher, as the authors explain, and substantially more complex.
The book is seriously unbalanced, though, as it deals with a few centuries of history, form pre-Columbian times to about 1930 in about half of its 200-or-so pages, then spends the entire second half of the book focused on the period from about 1930 to around 2005. In the ensuing chapters, the narrative devolves into a mind-numbing alphabet soup of acronyms, statistics, and dollar figures -- it’s a level of specificity that doesn’t really suit this type of survey history. The reader quickly becomes mired in details and loses her orientation to the broader sweep of history. The authors would have done better to dispense with a purely chronological orientation and instead organize the book -- or at least the half dealing with the 20th century -- thematically. It would have been much easier to understand the flow of movements and tendencies in that way, and the book would have been a far more interesting read.
One especially nice feature of the book worth noting is that literally every page is illustrated with an image and/or sidebar quote. The images include maps, charts, drawings/paintings, and photographs, that provide meaningful context and visual resonance for the text presented. And the sidebar quotes run the gamut from colonial era primary sources, to ordinary-person observations of modern era events, adding perspective and amplifying the breadth of the narrative coverage. ...more
When it comes to celebrities we admire from afar, there's nothing quite like the feeling of discovering that that person who seems so cool on TV turnsWhen it comes to celebrities we admire from afar, there's nothing quite like the feeling of discovering that that person who seems so cool on TV turns out to be a vapid, self-centered asshole in real life. Now imagine that feeling, and flip it entirely on its head. That's what reading Bossypants is like. If you're a Tina Fey fan, reading this means discovering that the person you've always been sure was amazingly sharp and cool is actually about a hundred times sharper and cooler than you even imagined.
I've always enjoyed Tina Fey's wickedly intelligent, woman-affirming humor, and the most delightful thing about this book was finding out just how deep her feminism runs. Critiques of all the demeaning, paternalistic messages that women must contend with from childhood on appear throughout her narrative. She never fails to mine it for humor, but she does not hesitate to call bullshit when she sees it.
I had so many favorite lines from this book, I realize I need to go out and buy my own copy (I listed to the audiobook borrowed from the library). Here's one great tidbit, for instance:
“So, my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism, or ageism, or lookism, or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
This one also goes on my list of books you must listen to, not read, because the author's own reading of the work is something that should not be missed. I don't read a lot of audiobooks, so as I write this, the only other book on that list is Angela's Ashes, because having Frank McCourt's voice telling his own story (and giving melody to his father's rebel songs) adds something utterly incalculable to the experience. I noticed a few complaints in Goodreads reviews that Fey's book was "not as funny as expected". The thing is, Bossypants is a book of humor by a comedy writer, and no one understands pace, timing, and rhythm in comedy like an improv-trained comedian. Comedy is all in the delivery. So if you really want the the full flavor of the book, then hearing it in Tina Fey's own voice is really indispensable....more
OK, I confess: One of the reasons I love reading the books in Lisa Scottoline's "Rosato and Associates" series is that the protagonists are all womenOK, I confess: One of the reasons I love reading the books in Lisa Scottoline's "Rosato and Associates" series is that the protagonists are all women lawyers. So I have to say I especially liked the fact that this particular story brought together several of her memorable legal women characters working together in more or less equal measure to solve the mystery. I just get so tired of male-dominated action plots in books and movies -- for instance, the same weekend as I was reading this book, I watched the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which included one somewhat "primary" female character who was as there just as much for eye candy as anything else. (I know. Shocking, right?) So it's an awfully nice change of pace to have the male characters be marginal once in a while.
Rough Justice takes off from an unexpected premise. Rather than building the suspense on whether the lawyer is going to win the case, Scottoline starts us off with a case that is all but in the bag. Marta Richter, a skilled criminal defender, has delivered her case to a jury that is primed to a acquit. But in the blink of an eye, she realizes she has less than 24 hours to make sure they do the exact opposite. This sets off a frantic effort involving four different lawyers from the firm, each simultaneously working toward the same conclusion by different paths and through their own set of obstacles and dangers. And, cranking up the tension, the resolution comes to a head with minutes to spare.
One of my favorite qualities of Scottoline's novels, a deep sense of the main character's backstory, does get lost in this one, but trade-off is getting to see these women work together. The fast-moving plot and the ratcheting tension keep things cranking forward, and it's a good, fun read. ...more
Down the Darkest Road, another solid Tami Hoag offering, brings us back to the Oak Knoll setting of Deeper Than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave. LauDown the Darkest Road, another solid Tami Hoag offering, brings us back to the Oak Knoll setting of Deeper Than the Dead and Secrets to the Grave. Lauren Lawton has just moved to Oak Knoll with her daughter Leah, intending to exorcise the ghost of their past. Four years prior, Lawton's elder daughter Leslie was abducted and is still missing, and two years after the abduction, Lawton's husband died as well. However, Lauren and Leah's new life in Oak Knoll provides no relief -- on the contrary, it seems the prime suspect in Leslie's abduction has followed them, and their lives continue to intersect in threatening ways.
I always enjoy a Tami Hoag thriller, and this one is no exception. In addition to the newcomers, we revisit some of the characters we've come to know from earlier in this series, with detective Tony Mendez playing a central role this time, and it's nice to get a bit more into his history and personality. Lauren Lawton turns out to be a difficult character for the Sheriff's office to deal with, impeding as much as cooperating in their efforts to help her, and raising doubt in the guilt of the prime suspect. Lauren is one of the more intriguing characters I've seen in a Tami Hoag book -- the reader's sympathies, which would automatically lie with the victim, are tested by Lauren's behavior, as her own efforts to keep her daughter's case alive sometimes sabotage the work of the police on her behalf.
It's a few years after our first visit to Oak Knoll, but we're still in the world of the past (late 80s/early 90s) especially in the realm of law enforcement. The author seems to delight in bringing in the period details, and as an artifact from that period myself, I certainly appreciate a lot of the cultural references throughout the story. However, Hoag still hasn't managed to fully get over that annoying habit of placing impossible foreknowledge in the mouths of her law enforcement characters: Someday, DNA technology will advance to the point where testing a sample doesn't destroy it, but we're not there yet. It's much better here than in the first installment of the series, but it's still annoying.
Overall, it rates a solid "I liked it". Entertaining, a quick read, plausible-enough characters, a good way to spend a long holiday weekend. ...more