Review: The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice, by Polly Coles

The author writes about the year she spent living in Venice with her husband and four young children. She loves Venice, its beauty, and its unique position as a 21st century functioning city of some 60,000 people but one without cars or trucks. There are however, problems with no easy solutions. On many days, except in the winter, there are as many or more tourists as there are residents in Venice, with thousands of these arriving on cruise ships for the day. The vaporetti (water buses which are a daily necessity for residents) are hopelessly crowded and real estate prices are soaring due to foreign buyers which makes it difficult for the native Venetians to buy or rent apartments. The food stores, pharmacies and other local establishments give way to shops catering to tourists since the latter can afford to pay higher rents. Still, Coles remains hopeful that solutions can be found so that Venice can be “not a mere monument, but a living city.”

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin

This book was not a favorite of mine. I normally like books about books, libraries and in this case a bookstore and its owner. We meet A.J. some eighteen months after his wife has been killed in a car accident. He is bad tempered, nasty and drinking too much while running his bookstore on an island like Martha’s Vineyard. A toddler girl is left in his store and he adopts the baby. I found this plot development unrealistic but it is the point about which the story turns and it does make A.J. into a nicer person. I did like the short story reviews that precede each chapter and I might read some of these. Zevin has written a half dozen teen novels and in some ways this was more like a teen book. I listened to the book on CD read by Scott Brick.

RATING: * * OK

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: The Silkworm, by Robert Galbraith

Set in present day London and vicinity, this is the second mystery featuring private investigator and Afghanistan war veteran Cormoran Strike. His assistant, Robin Ellacott, has a larger role in this book and we learn more about Robin’s back story and her relationship with fiance, Matthew. The murder victim this time has written a disturbing novel titled “Bombyx Mori,” which is the scientific name for the silkworm. The book is a Roman a clef of his friends and business associates in the publishing industry and it is filled with poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knew, so the suspects are numerous. Galbraith is the pen name of one of the most successful authors alive today so he must know many of the faults, backstabbing and petty behaviors portrayed here. Cormoran is again helped by friends and relatives, especially his half-brother Al, from the wealthy side of the family. I listened to the excellent book on CD narrated by Robert Glenister.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Grand Forks: A History of American Dining in 128 Reviews, by Marilyn Hagerty

This book was published after Marilyn’s “infamously guileless” review of her local Olive Garden restaurant went viral in March 2012 and according to Anthony Bourdain in the forward to this volume, “caused a wave of snarky derision, followed by an even stronger antisnark backlash.” Marilyn, at 88, has been a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald since 1957. Her “Eatbeat” restaurant reviews started in 1987 and continue today. You do get a sense of how the restaurant industry (many more chains) and eating habits (less lutefisk, more sushi) have changed over the last 25 years. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to Grand Forks, but if I do, I’ll know where to go for a good meal.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Third Rail: An Eddy Harkness Novel, by Rory Flynn

Set in Boston and what seems to be Concord or Lincoln, Third Rail is Flynn’s debut novel under that pen name. His other novels are published as Stona Fitch. The author is hoping to make this a series with the subtitle “An Eddy Harkness Novel.” The Boston setting, the Red Sox, local politics and typical characters for our area figure into the plot, including some digs at the good people of Concord. Eddy is a policeman with a unique ability to find hidden objects at a crime scene; drugs, guns, cash. But after a night of heavy drinking he is horrified to wake up the next day to find his police-issued Glock missing from its holster. Fast paced and not too long or overly gruesome, this book kept me turning the pages. If published, maybe I’ll read the next one in the series.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue

This novel is totally different from the other novel, Room, which I read by this author. Frog Music is set in 1876 San Francisco during an extended heat wave and smallpox epidemic. The events are based on the real life unsolved murder of Jenny Bonnet. The story is told from the viewpoint of Blanche Beunon, a young exotic dancer who came with her lover Arthur Deneve from France, where they had both been circus performers. Jenny, the murder victim, dresses in men’s clothing at a time when this was a crime and rides around on a high wheel bicycle. She catches frogs for restaurants for a living and befriends Blanche after knocking her down with her bicycle. This accident sets the plot in motion leading to Jenny’s murder and Blanche’s efforts to find the culprit. I listened to the book on CD and the narrator, Khristine Hvam was excellent.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Robert B. Parker’s Cheap Shot: A Spenser Novel, by Ace Atkins

This is the third Spenser novel by Atkins, who was chosen by the Parker estate to continue writing about the Boston-based tough guy detective. This time Spenser is called upon to solve the kidnapping of nine year old Akira, son of Kinjo Heywood, one of the New England Patriots’ marquee players and his divorced wife, Nicole. Spenser again relies on strong and silent types Hawk and Z as the team to watch his back and his girlfriend–Cambridge based shrink, Susan–for insight into Heywood’s family and entourage. Part of the fun for us locals is the Boston location. Heywood’s McMansion is on Heath Street in Chestnut Hill and Spenser is all over our area to find the bad guys.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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