It's been almost two years since I read the 3rd installment of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series. On finishing that book, I wavered on continui...more It's been almost two years since I read the 3rd installment of Donna Leon's Commissario Brunetti series. On finishing that book, I wavered on continuing on with the series and ended my review that it was a "definite maybe." So I was true to that promise. The time span certainly suggests there was not a strong pull to continue on, but alas when I was looking (needing!) a quick knock-off read, Death and Judgment did pop to mind.
While pretty formulaic from the get-go it was enjoyable enough, it was the diversion I was looking for, and I have always liked protagonist Guido. But before too long, my initial burst of enthusiasm flagged and things got a bit repetitive and I found myself not really caring about how the mystery was resolved. Much like Venice itself, it's all a bit too circuitous, wrong turns, etc. -- but then you turn an abrupt turn of a corner and you unexpectedly (and conveniently) arrive at the destination.
My final quibble is that didn't seem to be nearly enough of Venice, which is a big appeal/selling point to read these books. I am likely being too hard on this book/series, but alas feel even more unlikely to continue on with the series than last time -- but never say never, the appeal of Venice is never to be underestimated, nor Commissario Brunetti.
Continuing on with my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City series... and I recalled at some point there was a drop-off in the series, and I think thi...moreContinuing on with my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City series... and I recalled at some point there was a drop-off in the series, and I think this may be the start. Now this is not to say, that I am still not thoroughly enjoying the Maupin's stories and characters, just that things are shifting a bit.
I think part of it is that we have moved on to the 80s and with the AIDS crisis fully in swing, it is hard to have the same carefree and breezy feel of the earlier books, particularly with the "off-screen" event that puts a bit of a dark cloud of Michael's storyline. And alas, the core cast of characters have started going their separate ways (or dying), so the camaraderie of the earlier books are quite not there as well. I also recalled Mary Ann "turning" and this came here. I didn't really buy Brian's paternal biological clock, nor did I think it was in character for Mary Ann to do what she does to/and about Brian with regards to that. I know folks change, but it didn't feel right the first time and still holding on to that a bit on this go-round.
Also, I forgot when these books turned more into "book form" vs. the serialized newspaper original. But this volume, marked the first where it didn't seem like you were reading chapters as if you were uncontrollably pulling potato chips out of the bag.
So while it sounds like I am ragging a lot on Babycakes, it's really not the case. Yes, a bit of loss of steam but still thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to continuing on in the series. But trying to draw a line in the proverbial sand, I will knock off a star vs. the 4 stars I've gave the first half of the series -- but unofficially, log it at 3.5 stars.
[While having no affect on my rating, I should note the Kindle edition of the book was riddled with spelling -- or more likely scanning -- errors. Would say there were at least a few dozen instances where T's where made into L's.](less)
I haven't been overly impressed with the Guido Brunetti series, so that may beg the question of why I am on Book #3 of the series? Well, while the wri...moreI haven't been overly impressed with the Guido Brunetti series, so that may beg the question of why I am on Book #3 of the series? Well, while the writing and plots have not done much for me, I do have an affection for the Commissario, and even more so for Venice which I have been fortunate enough to visit twice in past few years.
One thing that Leon has done in these books is nicely capture the spirit of Venice and the Italian people. And there in lies one of the problems with this installment, as not a whole lot the action takes place in Venice (though I got a wee bit more excited than I should have when Leon took Brunetti through a campo we regularly frequented).
Additionally, and perhaps through no fault of Leon's, this one shows it's age. Published in the early/mid-90's, needless to say folks are still using lire vs. the Euro, but is the subject matter of this mystery, the gay/transvestite sub-culture - and seemingly making little distinction between the two - that seems to most not stand the test of time.
Overall, a nice, quick, light diversion and while I still hold onto a "like" for Brunetti and a LOVE of Venice, this one left me wavering on whether or not to continue on with the series. But I need my Italy fix, so let's call it a definite maybe.(less)
I have rather questionable timing when it comes to reading these Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon novels. Last time, and prior to a trip to Italy (including...moreI have rather questionable timing when it comes to reading these Daniel Silva Gabriel Allon novels. Last time, and prior to a trip to Italy (including Rome), I read about the Vatican getting blown-up and here, with The Secret Servant, I found myself delving into a book about a London terror attack just days before the start of the 2012 Olympics. While it is a world of fiction, Silva always has it based enough in reality -- and potential reality -- to be unsettling.
As I say in most reviews here that are from a series, this book is review-proof. Here we are at Book 7 (confession: I "started" with Book 3) and I can not imagine that there is anything to say that will encourage/discourage anyone from reading this particular installment (tho I hate that kind of "power"/pressure anyhow!). But kudos to Silva for maintaining a high quality and being consistently interesting in a continuing series such as this, let alone the repetitive nature of the spy/thriller genre (i.e. Do you ever really wonder if Gabriel will survive? I didn't think so).
I would have likely lost if someone bet me that one day I would read a scholarly/highly analytical critique of the career and music of Celine Dion. I...moreI would have likely lost if someone bet me that one day I would read a scholarly/highly analytical critique of the career and music of Celine Dion. I had seen this book around, but only got a bit more curious when I saw it listed on a "Best of the Decade" book list as well as its "hall-of-fame" retirement from the literary website, The Millions. This volume certainly is the breakaway star of the 33 1/3 music critique series as Wilson attempts to turn his hate/disdain for the Canadian diva to understanding and appreciation.
Wilson walks a tightrope here. For Celine fans, she is surprisingly not as much of the focus as one would think as Wilson heavily detours in philosophical and psychological aspects of human behavior (i.e. What is good or bad taste?). For those intellectuals enjoying this type of material, frustration may arise as everything does eventually find its way back to Celine. I find myself in the middle. I wouldn't consider myself a serious Celine fan as I don't take her very seriously. I think she's an incredible singer, but I often more amused and charmed by the "character" of Celine Dion from her Fren-glish to childlike nature/naivete to the melodramatic vocals and fist pumping.
Ultimately, I am torn about the book. I "get" the Celine hate so was not offended by it (again, likely disqualifying me as a die-hard fan-dom). Perhaps it was my expectation (which is not faulting Wilson) that it would be a more tongue-in-cheek approach, but repeated instances of my glazed-over eyes and brain way proved it to be far too serious and intellectual for my taste. There were plenty of parts that I enjoyed (even educational stuff about the political and socio-economic climate in Canada!), but given my opinion of Celine is some shade of grey or a bit more complex than the options Wilson offers, it was a book that I didn't quite "get." (less)
As I continue my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City series, I am guessing I will have to say less and less about it. Obviously I enjoy it very much...moreAs I continue my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City series, I am guessing I will have to say less and less about it. Obviously I enjoy it very much, and while I recall the series "tail"-ing off at some point -- and thought it may have started here with the 3rd installment -- Further Tales of the City -- such was not the case. Although I had some trepidation at the start as I did not recall having fond memories of the emergence of Prue Giroux and the whole Guyana subplot, but alas it all charmed me in the end (even if it seemed to be at the expense of Mrs. Madrigal taking a bit of a backseat in this one).
So while the story has moved into the 1980s, it is still zipping right along. Very easy breeze-y reading as I read this one at the fastest clip yet, ~70-pages a day (tho my fellow Tales fans realize that is not that hard to do!). I feel a change a'coming and as I said I am not sure it is for the good, but I look forward to reading the next book in August. (less)
I am in a Catch-22 with these Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels and the TV series TRUE BLOOD. I am a big fan of the latter and have only read...moreI am in a Catch-22 with these Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels and the TV series TRUE BLOOD. I am a big fan of the latter and have only read the first two books after watching each season that each were loosely based on. While there are differences between the two, there are enough similarities to kill the suspense/anticipation of the books... and "Living Dead in Dallas" has only confirmed my initial thought that the books pale in comparison to the TV series. Part of this is by necessity as the TV series must go beyond Sookie as the lone narrator, but to be honest, I am not sure Harris' writing stacks up to much beyond cheesy romance novel material compared to the style/edge/satire/humor of the TV series. I know it's unfair to keep comparing the two, but I can't put my thoughts about the show in a box. I give Harris credit for providing the inspiration and did find this a quick and entertaining read, but I am leaning towards not continuing on with the books. I certainly do not want to spoil upcoming seasons and have plenty of other literary guilty pleasure go-to books on my reading list.(less)
If you find yourself at Book #3 in an ongoing series, there's a good chance you (a) know what you are getting and (b) you like it. Alexander McCall Sm...moreIf you find yourself at Book #3 in an ongoing series, there's a good chance you (a) know what you are getting and (b) you like it. Alexander McCall Smith is my go-to author. He cleanses the literary palette after a particularly difficult read or, in this instance, during the Vancouver Winter Olympics, he can keep me reading while in the midst of a distraction and when it's difficult to concentrate and/or maintain momentum or steady reading schedule. His books are always easy reading and entertaining.
I split my McCall time between this Isabel Dalhousie series and the No. 1 Ladies (up to book #7 there). Neither series is rocket science or, for that matter, even the "mysteries" as they are so often labeled, but charming slice-of-life tales that charm you for hours and typically are wrapped up in nice and tidy bow.
I was surprised by a couple of this that transpired in this installment, which typically is not something a hallmark of this author... and a bit risque too, though still firmly on the chaste end of the scale. My only problem is reconciling that Isabel is written as a frumpy, over-the-hill biddy... and age 42 (a year younger than myself!). While I have always been challenged in this series to consider her a peer of mine, especially in this book, I had trouble getting that mental picture of what she looks like.
Due to the non-challenging/leisurely nature of these books, I am stuck on giving them 3 stars, though typically consider them 4 star entertainment. Perhaps, McCall Smith just makes it look all too easy.(less)
It seems a bit silly to even attempt a review of Alexander McCall Smith's "Blue Shoes and Happiness." If you have got to the 7th volume in his No. 1 L...moreIt seems a bit silly to even attempt a review of Alexander McCall Smith's "Blue Shoes and Happiness." If you have got to the 7th volume in his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency collection, there's a pretty good chance you know what you are getting yourself into and you are going to like it. This is one reason I return to McCall Smith over and over again (I've also dabbled in his Sunday Philosophy Club series), he is a known quantity. These are charming and pleasant tales that are my literary equivalent of cleansing the palette after a difficult or not particularly enjoyable read. That is exactly what I needed and probably a sign of a good reading year that it took me until December to get to my first McCall Smith book.
There is nothing new to report here. I find the appeal of these books is never the 'detective' aspect, which typically end up being wrapped up all too quickly and conveniently, but the interaction between the main characters and the often unusual circumstances they find themselves in (though perhaps not too unusual, as I can not be sure what a typical day in Botswana is like). These books are wrapping yourself in the proverbial warm blanket or perhaps cozying up with a cup of bush tea that Precious Ramotswe so looks forward to each day. Not GREAT or terribly thought-provoking literature, but short, sweet and entertaining.(less)
As a fun reading "project" for 2013, I have decided to go back and re-read Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series. The plan is to read a new inst...moreAs a fun reading "project" for 2013, I have decided to go back and re-read Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series. The plan is to read a new installment of the six-book series approximately every 2 months. Expect a good deal of bias and ratings inflation here, as I have a great deal of affection for these books and characters. I discovered them shortly after making my own solo move cross-country in my early 20s, so much like Mary Ann Singleton -- tho Phoenix in the early 90s was not quite the free-spirited culture shock of San Francisco in the mid 70s. But these books -- and later the mini-series -- were important touchstones in my own coming-of-age story.
Despite a built-in love of it, I still had a bit of trepidation going back. Some 20 years later, would it still be the same. Yes and no. Of course, it loses some of its freshness. It's almost like opening up and old scrapbook or diary, already know the paths that many of these "friends" will go down years later. But it was still kind of cool, to vividly remember some of the good times and lines of dialogue that have remained stuck in my head over the years. The 70s setting might seem a bit tacky and stale, but at this distance in time it is almost transforming itself into historical fiction (eek!).
I simply devoured this book (I've dubbed it "potato-chipping" or "tortilla-chipping" it) again -- which is easy to do with its original newspaper serial installment brief chapters that have you flying thru scenes, characters, and social strata.
While I am tempted to pull out the 5 stars already, I will temper it a bit and go with 4-stars. But still found it to be wildly entertaining and Maupin's prose to be fun and utterly effortless. While I recall the series tapering off (overstaying its welcome), I look forward to the upcoming year with Mary Ann, Michael (Mouse!), Mona, Brian, DeDe, and Beauchamp and of course, Mrs. Madrigal.
Although I should know this, the book was inspired by a real event... the 126-day Japanese embassy crisis that took place in Lima, Peru from December...moreAlthough I should know this, the book was inspired by a real event... the 126-day Japanese embassy crisis that took place in Lima, Peru from December 1996 thru April 1997. I feel less guilty not "getting" the title of the book, which to the best of my memory is not mentioned in the novel. I guessed it was opera-related and it is... "bel canto" translates to "sing beautifully" in Italian and is also an operatic vocal technique (according to Wikipedia, a light upper register, "sweet" timbre).
It is certainly an interesting scenario. Given the length of the crisis, things relax and surprising relationships and alliances develop over time amongst the large cast of characters, many who do not speak/understand each other's languages. Fortunately enough, Horokawa's assistant and translator (Gen Watanabe) is on hand and conveniently (almost far too conveniently) fluent in more than a handful of languages.
Ultimately, I felt something was just missing... what exactly... I was not sure. It was entertaining, enjoyable, well-written. Ironically enough, it didn't hit me until, ironically enough, I read a Q&A with Patchett on her website. In a question about her literary influences she says of Nabokov, Garcia-Marquez, and Munro that "I don't see any of their brilliance in my work, and I wish I did" and furthermore went on to say about Chekhov, Welty, and Updike "I only wish they would hurry up and influence me some more."
So my "light bulb moment" on that missing intangible was the detection of this lack of confidence / self-esteem. I sensed Patchett wanted Bel Canto to be "great" ... and while it was nominated (and won) many literary awards... I think it missed that very lofty mark of greatness... certainly a struggle that I, and I am sure a lot of us, can relate to. (less)
Continuing on with my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City...
After two on-a-personal-level literary clunkers in a row, it was pure bliss to get back...more Continuing on with my 2013 re-read of the Tales of the City...
After two on-a-personal-level literary clunkers in a row, it was pure bliss to get back to the inhabitants of Barbary Lane. Sure the sparkle of the first books isn't quite there -- Mary Ann is not much fun, Mrs. Madgrigal is still on the sidelines, new characters (Booter, Wren, and Thack) aren't quite replacements for those who are gone, and heck even San Francisco takes the backseat in this installment -- but it just felt good to get back into a comfortable place.
I won't go on, as it is pretty review proof. Why would one be at the 5th book in a series, if you didn't like it? Again, not quite as gun-blazing as the first installments, but it still felt like a bounce back after Babycakes.
3.5 stars for being literary equivalent of potato chips, but a Goodreads round-up to 4 stars for sheer entertainment and restoring my faith in what it feels like to curl up with a good book.
My 2013 re-read of the original Tales of the City series comes to end with Sure of You and for majority of the time, I felt it was going to end with t...moreMy 2013 re-read of the original Tales of the City series comes to end with Sure of You and for majority of the time, I felt it was going to end with the proverbial whimper and not a bang. And while it was bang-less -- in the figurative and literal sense (the characters are getting older!) -- it still left me with a wistful feeling of having spent time with good friends.
That said, it did feel like they overstayed their welcome or that Maupin was getting a bit fatigued with it all as well. I never was a big fan of the Mary Ann/Brian relationship and this volume it continued to be painful to watch what marriage did to these two characters. Likewise, while in this re-read I did not have as much dreamboat/soul-mate feelings about Jon, it took me to the very end to get close to warming up to Thack as a partner for Michael, who if anything along with Mrs. Madrigal were the only characters that maintained their likeability and personality from the start of the series to the end, well this end. And just to round out the cast, was not a big fan of Mrs. Madrigal/Mona trip to Greece. Not as much fun when all the characters were interacting at the beginning of the series. But alas, Maupin faced the reality that friends move on, again both literally and figuratively.
So while I love, love, love the series, well... a bit not so "sure of you" about this volume. While it did have a nice full-circle moment with a core member leaving San Francisco, I am not sure if this would have been a totally satisfying end to the series. But alas, I know now that this was NOT the end as Maupin revived (and quite successfully in my opinion/memory) the series 8 years later -- with a rumored final-final installment (Book 9) to be published in 2014. Overall, very glad to have re-read the series. I am sure I will do it again.(less)