Review: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, by David Wroblewski

I read this book for my book club but did not finish it. This is the author’s first and so far only book and it received uniformly glowing reviews from many sources as well as being an Oprah Book Club book. Unfortunately this one was not my cup of tea. Set in remote northern Wisconsin, the book has a plot modeled on Shakespeare’s Hamlet with a lot on dogs, dog training and dog breeding thrown in. Edgar, the main character is mute and uses sign language which one of my book club members thought was an unnecessary plot device. Try it for yourself and see if you think I missed the boat on this one.

RATING: * * OK

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Mission to Paris, by Alan Furst

Set in Paris in late 1938 and early 1939, this novel has the same ominous, foreboding tone as the nonfiction In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson. Furst’s main character is Hollywood leading man Fredric Stahl, originally from Austria but now making films for Warner Brothers in California. Stahl is in Paris because he was lent to Paramount France to make a swashbuckling French film. The German Reich Foreign Ministry has its eye on Stahl and tries to pressure him into participating in their campaign of political warfare against the French to weaken French morale and see eventual conquest by Germany as inevitable. Library Journal calls this author “a master of historical espionage” and compares him to Graham Greene and John Le Carre.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: Quietly in Their Sleep: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery, by Donna Leon

Originally published in 1997, this mystery delves into the role and relationship of church and state in Italy. Brunetti, a police official in Venice, is visited by a young woman who has recently left the convent. She had worked at the nursing home where Brunetti’s mother is a patient and she is convinced that the recent deaths of several patients were not natural. Brunetti and his wife, Paola, are also troubled at home by the difficulties their smart, studious 12 year old daughter is having in her religious instruction class at school, a compulsory subject with an opt-out provision. When Brunetti looks into the background of the teacher, Padre Luciano, he is disturbed by what he finds. As usual in this well written series (this is the sixth installment), this plot probes for answers that are painted not in black and white but in shades of gray.

RATING: * * * * Very, very good

Reviewed by: kh

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Review: A Dead Man in Trieste, by Michael Pearce

Set in pre-World War I Europe, Special Branch officer Sandor Seymour is sent from Whitechapel to Trieste to probe the disappearance of the British consul there. Seymour finds that Trieste, an important port of the Austria-Hungarian Empire bordering Italy and Serbia, is a mass of intrigue. When the consul is found dead in the harbor, Seymour investigates the crime while concealing his true identity as a special investigator of the British government. The city is a hotbed of Serbian, Bosnian and Italian nationalism as well as home to Futurist artists who create their own brand of havoc. Seymour must find out: who wanted the well regarded consul dead? I found the foreshadowing of the events that lead to the First World War most interesting.

RATING: * * * A good read

Reviewed by: kh

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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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