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review 2018-06-15 18:14
Book Review: The Devil in the White City
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America - Erik Larson

Book: The Devil in the White City

 

Author: Erik Larson

 

Genre: Non-Fiction/Historical/True Crime

 

Summary: Bringing Chicago circa 1893 to vivid life, Erik Larson's spellbinding bestseller intertwines the true tale of two men - the brilliant architect behind the legendary 1893 World's Fair, striving to secure America's place in the world; and the cunning serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death. Combining meticulous research with nail-biting storytelling, Erik Larson has crafted a narrative with all the wonder of newly discovered history and the thrills of the best fiction. - Vintage Books, 2003.

 

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review 2018-06-12 21:19
Venetian Blood by Christine Volker
Venetian Blood: Murder in a Sensuous City - Christine Evelyn Volker

Venetian Blood does the setting justice. I really felt transported to modern Venice and it was done so well. There were no large info dumps but rather small little things scattered throughout the tale showing me what an average day was like in Venice for Anna and her friends.

I also really like Anna’s character. She’s smart, loves her job, and also has some life behind her. She’s 40, heading into a divorce, no kids, and perhaps wondering if she wants a change in her life or not. While I like that she has a degree in astrophysics, I never quite figured out how she ended up working in an office crunching numbers for the US Treasury. Numbers are neat but analyzing radio waves from distant stars sounds awesome! So, yeah, that was a quirk about Anna that I didn’t quite get but then I also know people who got degrees in one area and ended up working in a totally different field. So perhaps that just makes her more human.

Anna has a few friends in Venice, which is good because she has at least one enemy. I did find Margo a little annoying, especially how loose lipped she was about Anna’s business. Then there was Angela, Margo’s pregnant cousin. Angela doesn’t really appreciate the beauty and history she’s surrounded by in Venice.

Even though Detective Biondi is a bit hard on Anna I still liked him. After all, Anna starts off by lying to him and that can tick anyone off in the best of situations. Biondi suspects Anna of murdering a philandering Count Sergio. He’s well known in the art world and also well known for his wandering eye. Unfortunately Anna didn’t check him out before getting to know him and now she regrets that.

I did find Anna’s part in the mystery to be rather sloppy. She lies to Biondi about things that are easy enough for him to check up on and she’s honest with others about her whereabouts that night, which leaves yet another route for Biondi to check up on her. So, yeah, Anna – what were you thinking? No wonder Biondi wants you for this murder.

There’s a little romance in the tale and some action. Considering Anna’s latest fail in having a fling, I was surprised that she was letting herself wander into another one. Again, it seems that Anna isn’t using all her brain cells. Sometimes, I liked this about her because it made her human. Sometimes, I wanted to give her a little smack upside the head.

In the end, it’s the setting that really shines through. Venice herself is the true star of this story. The murder mystery was decent, Anna was likable and approachable, and the side characters were a colorful bunch. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Gabrielle de Cuir gave us a most excellent performance with this narration. There is plenty of Italian throughout this story and it was all well pronounced along with plenty of characters with Italian accents. Her male characters sounded masculine and all the characters were distinct. I also appreciated her various US and UK accents, South American accent, etc. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Christine Evelyn Volker. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

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text 2018-06-12 05:46
Have you considered South Africa for your honeymoon?

Couples are always on the lookout for unusual honeymoon destinations. The most common honeymoon destinations are crowded throughout the year and have usual experiences to offer. However, South Africa is a honeymoon destination that has recently gained a lot of prominences. Known as the land of cultural diversity, South Africa offers something for every traveler personality. Air Organisers can help you plan your South Africa honeymoon. They offer customized packages that meet your needs and travel requirements. Based on the destinations you want to cover and the number of days of your travel, they will help build a package for you. Having successfully catered to a number of consumers in the past, they ensure complete safety and comfort of every traveler.

 

There are a number of Sun City honeymoon packages to choose from. South Africa is a land of adventures and will give you an opportunity to bond with your partner over their favorite adventure sport. Air Organisers works with travel agencies in South Africa in order to maintain your security. They will also help you with the passport and visa documentation. There are a number of tours for South Africa you can choose from. Enjoy the local cuisine and be a part of the local culture while traveling across South Africa. If you are looking to visit an unusual honeymoon destination, South Africa will be everything you seek from the holiday. It is extremely safe to travel to South Africa with your partner.

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review 2018-06-09 18:00
"Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead - Claire Dewitt Mysteries #1" by Sara Gran - highly recommended
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead - Sara Gran

"Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead" is an extraordinary book: fascinating, rewarding, often upsetting but really hard to describe.

 

It's a book that invites the reader to look beyond the narrative and ask themselves questions about mysteries: our ability to see them, our willingness to solve them and how we continue on day by day while the truth of our own lives constantly slips through our fingers.

 

I entered it expecting a whodunnit mystery with some local New Orleans colour and a clever plot. Two hours into it, I had no idea what it was about. I knew what was happening but I'd started to understand that that was the answer to a different question. 

 

This was Noire but not as I know it. I was reading something that seemed to be the lovechild of Raymond Chandler and Jean-Paul Satre.

 

Claire Dewitt, a PI who makes Philip Marlowe seem like a romantic softy with a tendency to take things too literally, solves cases, sorry, mysteries, by using a kind of muscular mysticism that is stretched tight over a skeleton of existential panic with grief as its marrow.

 

More than a year after Katrina, Claire is investigating the disappearance and possible death of a wealthy District Attorney in New Orleans during the storm. She is guided in this by a book called "Détection" by Cillette, a French criminologist who has a very out-there view of what detection is.

 

For Cillette, detection is about following clues to find the truth. By following he seems to mean: giving yourself up to the flow so you can see the bigger picture. By clues, he seems to mean all the things that we don't let ourselves see but which, once seen, will change our understanding fundamentally. By truth he seems to mean... well, actually that's something he wants us to work for ourselves.

 

In "Détection" he tells us that a detective can most quickly solve a mystery by looking in all the places she is certain do not contain the answers:

"...because this for better or worse is exactly where the truth lies at the intersection of the forgotten and the ignored, in the neighbourhood of all we have tried to forget."

At the start of the novel, there is little action. There are a lot of mundane frustrations and a lot of waiting and slowly dawning awareness that Claire Dewitt is a very driven and very damaged person who is following her own agenda to hunt down the truth using methods taught to her by her now deceased mentor, Constance.

 

Despite the inaction, I found myself carried along by the absolute authority of the writing and the vivid descriptions of the desolation of much of post-Katrina New Orleans.

 

This is not the New Orleans the tourist office would like to sell and that many crime novels dress themselves in. This New Orleans is a city that has been broken and abandoned and is now being cynically abused. A city with the highest murder rate in the country and a legal system so corrupt in under-resourced that even the few people arrested for murder are mostly released after sixty days because there is no capacity to process them. This is city populated by people who have survived the equivalent of a war but a war in which their own government gave them no support. Sara Gran captures it with the precision of a documentary maker and Claire Dewitt sees it with the slow but constant anger of one who has long ago ceased to believe in happy endings.

 

It seems to me that one of the clues to this book is in the title (well duh!) in that it is primarily about Claire Dewitt, her history, who she is now, who she may become and about a New Orleans haunted by the dead from Claire's past, from the mystery she is investigating and from the storm and its aftermath. There is a clever and convincing plot but it provides the framework for understanding Claire in the context of this city of ghosts.

 

Sara Gran brings the city to life through the people Claire meets, the lost, the broken, the violent and the traumatised. One of these is an ex-colleague or hers. They had the same mentor but are no longer following the same path. He lost everything in the storm and is now trying to redeem himself and restore his faith in the possibility of goodness by volunteering to work with kids in trouble with the law. After a meeting in Claire's motel room to discuss the disappearance of the DA we get a description of him that gives a flavour of this book:

"I remembered what he used to smell like: woodsy and sweaty. I rolled over on the bed to the spot where he'd lay. He didn't smell like that any more. Now he smelled like pot and plaster dust and smoke and mould. Like sadness. Like New Orleans."

At one point, early in the book, Claire talks about the first time she and her teenage friends read "Détection". Her experience of it is eerily similar to what Sara Gran put me through.

"'Détection' was a door to another world.  A world where, even if we didn’t understand things, we were sure they could be understood. A world where people paid attention, where they listened, where they looked for clues. A world where mysteries could be solved or so we thought.

By the time we realised we were wrong, that we had misunderstood everything, it was too late, Cillette had already branded us. For better or worse, we were not the same girls any more."

I realise that I often retreat to crime books and mystery books because they create a mythical world where cause and effect are not only understood but result in some kind of accountability. Real life, mine at least, is rarely like that. In "Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead" I'm invited to think about why that is.

 

This is a book about finding the truth and I found myself fascinated by the insights that appeared like nuggets of gold as I sifted through the narrative.  I liked Constance's advice to a young Claire:

 

"Never be afraid to learn from the ether," Constance told me. "That's where knowledge lives before someone hunts it, kills it and mounts it in a book."

Or Frank, an ex-soldier who, when Claire shares with him what really happened to the missing DA, says:

"The thing about the truth", Frank said after a while, "It's never just what you want it to be is it?"

The dialogue in this book is beautifully done, capturing patterns of speech without patronising them. The passage below, in which a young, uneducated boy describes his experience of reading "Détection", is a great example of this and also reflects how I felt about "Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead" after finishing it:

 

"I mean, honest, it don't make no sense to me", he said "And it's hard but I, I don't know, I kinda like it anyway. Like there's this one little thing he says, it's kinda like my favourite, he says something like, if you hold on to a mystery you're never gonna to succeed. You gotta let it go through your fingers and then it come to ya and it tell you everything. I don't know I like it."

 

sara gran 1

Sara Gran is now on my Must-Read-Everything-They-Write list. There are two more Claire Dewitt novels and a number of standalone books waiting for me.

You can learn more about her and her books here

 

Carol MondaMy enjoyment of "Claire Dewitt and the City of the Dead" was greatly enhanced by the nuanced narration delivered by Carol Monda. I'll be looking out for books she has narrated. You can hear a sample of her work by clicking on the SoundCloud link below.

 

[soundcloud url="https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/259124128" params="color=#ff5500&auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&show_teaser=true&visual=true" width="100%" height="300" iframe="true" /]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-06-05 18:33
Reading progress update: I've read 22%. Whatever this is, it's messing with my head.
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead - Sara Gran

I'm two hours into this book and I have no idea what it's about. I know what's happening but I'm not sure that that's answering the same question (actually, that's the book talking).

 

This is Noire but not as I know it.

 

This is the lovechild of Raymond Chandler and Jean-Paul Satre.

 

Claire Dewitt, who makes Philip Marlowe seem like a romantic softy with a tendency to take things too literally, solves cases, sorry, mysteries, by using a kind of muscular mysticism that is stretched tight over a skeleton of existential panic with grief as its marrow.

 

More than a year after Katrina, Claire, a PI, is investigating the disappearance and possible death of a wealthy man in New Orleans during the storm. She is guided in this by a book called "Détection" by Cillette, a French criminologist who has a very out-there view of what detection is.

 

There is little action and what there is involves many mundane frustrations and a lot of waiting.

 

Yet I'm carried along by the absolute authority of the writing and the vivid descriptions of the desolation of much of post-Katrina New Orleans.

 

At one point Claire talks about the first time she and her teenage friends read "Détection". Her experience of it is eerily similar to what Sara Gran is putting me through.

 

"'Détection' was a door to another world.  A world where, even if we didn’t understand things, we were sure they could be understood. A world where people paid attention, where they listened, where they looked for clues. A world where mysteries could be solved or so we thought.

 

By the time we realised we were wrong, that we had misunderstood everything, it was too late, Cillette had already branded us. For better or worse, we were not the same girls any more."

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