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Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Novels)
Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead (Claire DeWitt Novels)
by Sara Gran
Edition: Hardcover
97 used & new from $0.01

54 of 63 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Katrina and the Kitchen Sink, June 4, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Claire DeWitt is The World's Greatest Private Eye. How do I know? Because she and Sara Gran tell me so. Unfortunately, nothing else DeWitt does or that Gran has written about her in this muddled, meandering mystery supports such a grandiose claim. As a character, DeWitt certainly has potential: she's a tough, tattooed PI who uses her drug-induced dreams to lead her towards clarity and insight where her cases are concerned. But is she more than a jumble of characteristics and neuroses? Is she an actual person I care about or would want to follow through a new mystery series? Not at the moment. She's far too self-involved and smug. Being a private eye "will bleed you dry," she tells us at the end of her tale. "No one ever says, Hey, maybe the PI needs a break. Hey let's buy the PI a drink. No thank-you cards, no flowers, no singing telegrams, and half the time you don't even get paid." Can you imagine Kinsey Milhone or Tess Monaghan sharing (or even feeling) such self-pity? At least if they did it would be with some humor; perhaps a wink to say "Okay, just kidding." Because DeWitt's done nothing prior to engender our respect or good will, in her mouth it comes across as dead serious whining.

What author Sara Gran does well is paint a picture of the blighted nightmare that post-Katrina New Orleans has become. We get a chillingly detailed vision of the hopelessness, indifference and rage with which the underclass wakes up every day. Atmospherically, the book is on very solid ground. But Gran takes what could be a straight-forward tale of a society in turmoil and complicates it unnecessarily with DeWitt's convoluted back-story; one that includes the murder of her mentor; her fixation on Silette, an enigmatic French detective with a missing daughter (a detective whose seminal volume on detection is DeWitt's bible); her unresolved guilt about another missing child, this one a friend from her past and -- well, in the end, I stopped caring. The book's presumed plot -- a case involving a missing lawyer and a young, sensitive street kid -- is ultimately swamped by too many incidental characters, tangents and absurd coincidences. (What on Earth is that street kid doing with a copy of Silette's book?) Gran tries to tie everything together, but it's a high wire act she can't quite pull off.

The blurb on the back of "Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead" (talk about grandiose) describes Claire as -- yes, indeed -- "the world's greatest private eye, heir to Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and Nancy Drew." Uh...Sam Spade, Sherlock Holmes and...Nancy Drew? This completely mismatched group of fictional detectives is a perfect indication of, and metaphor for, the ambitious, misguided, unsatisfying confusion that this book actually delivers.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 20, 2015 3:08 PM PDT


Showstopper (Kindle Single)
Showstopper (Kindle Single)
Price: $1.99

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keep An Eye On Your Dreams..., June 3, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
As an original cast member, I can attest to the fact that everything here is true. Being in the show was a formative experience, to say the least: thrilling and heartbreaking in equal measure. With clarity, eloquence and tremendous insight, Abby has captured what the "Merrily" adventure was like, and how it's impacted all of us who were lucky enough to have been there. For those who were not, this is absolutely, positively the next best thing. Thanks, Abby, it's a great read.


The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series)
The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.49
248 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Simplicity Itself, May 30, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
At one point in this, the newest entry in Alexander McCall Smith's delightful No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Mma Romatswe (the No. 1 lady detective herself) reflects on how the simplest solution to a mystery is often the most correct. And simplicity is what this series is all about. Each book is as much (if not more) a rumination on Life and how best to live it as it is a "mystery." In fact, the actual cases that Mma Romatswe and her intrepid colleague Mma Makutsi solve are secondary to the local color and personal stories of the series' characters. But then, if you're already a fan, you don't me telling you this. And if you're not -- and there are those who deride McCall Smith's tales as simple minded and condescending -- this entry won't change your mind. If you haven't yet discovered the series, I would suggest that you, by all means, start at the beginning. For the initiated, "The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party" will confirm why the series has such wide appeal: it is warm, humorous, wise and insightful, much like its main character. Reading the book is like sitting down and enjoying a cup of red bush tea and a slice of fruit cake with old, dear friends.


We, the Drowned
We, the Drowned
by Carsten Jensen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $28.00
96 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Epic and Spellbinding, March 24, 2011
This review is from: We, the Drowned (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Like others here, I found Carsten Jensen's "We, the Drowned" to be a big, bold, beautiful read. Personally, I'm not a fan of short stories and novellas, and this is little more than a string of them put together. But there are unifying themes and/or characters, and the writing is superb. I did feel that tonally, Jensen's mix of stark brutality and magic realism didn't always work; and there are lulls, times when I grew impatient and wanted Jensen to just "get on with it." But this is a powerful, engrossing novel, a potent reminder of why we as readers are drawn to great fiction as inexorably as Jensen's characters are drawn to the sea.


How Shakespeare Changed Everything
How Shakespeare Changed Everything
by Stephen Marche
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $21.99
60 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Glib, Facile, Mildly Entertaining, March 18, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
"How Shakespeare Changed Everything" is unlikely to change anything, particularly Shakespeare scholarship. It's a short, pleasant series of essays, thoughtful and informative at times, not unintelligent (Marche knows his Bard), but it has the glib, jokey tone one would expect from a columnist at Esquire Magazine. This can get tiresome pretty quickly, as do Marche's dubious attempts to show how Shakespeare has influenced present day society. As an excellent review here has noted, the Shakespeare connection to the 1890 release of starlings into Central Park is erroneous; and Marche's contortions to relate Shakespeare to everything from fashion design to baby-naming to politics are over-stated, tenuous and/or specious, when not slightly offensive (Othello, Obama and OJ...really?). Marche is on far more solid (and successful) ground when telling us why Shakespeare matters as a writer and observer of the human condition. If you're into Shakespeare, this slim volume may hold some interest; if you're not, it may send you to the plays to find out what all the fuss is about. That, ultimately, would be a better use of time and brain power than reading "How Shakespeare Changed Everything."


A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
A Lesson in Secrets: A Maisie Dobbs Novel
by Jacqueline Winspear
Edition: Hardcover
143 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars "Secrets" Worth Sharing, March 18, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I'd heard somewhere that the Maisie Dobbs series was long on atmosphere and short on good mystery plotting, and from the evidence of "A Lesson in Secrets," the eighth in the series - but the first I've read - I can't say I disagree. But what atmosphere! Jacqueline Winspear, a superb writer, has done a remarkable job of creating the look (in the mind's eye) and feel of 1930s England. The book is so authentic, one can hardly believe that it wasn't written nearly 100 years ago. And the character of Maisie herself is awfully good company: a quick, no-nonsense, quintessentially British woman who's ridden the wave of expanding women's rights and opportunity to make a place for herself as a private investigator. Along the way she's become a role model for other women and attracted the attentions - both professional and romantic - of any number of policemen and landed gentry. It's a marvelous setup, one that well accounts for the series' popularity. I just wish that the mystery element had been stronger. There is a corpse, of course, and much political and personal intrigue to sort out, but it doesn't add up to much. First and foremost, I didn't buy the book's conceit (Maisie becoming a philosophy professor), without which the plot could not happen; it seemed forced and rather random to me. (Perhaps if I knew the character and past books better...) I found the supporting characters uninteresting, and the book got bogged down and dragged at times under the weight of its numerous subplots. (Maisie seemed to do a heck of a lot of running around and very little teaching!) All that said, I enjoyed "A Lesson in Secrets," and, more to the point, it piqued my interest in the earlier books, which I intend to start reading.


Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer
by Wesley Stace
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.27
119 used & new from $0.01

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder Most Musical (In Shades of "Dorian Gray"), February 19, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I cannot remember the last time I was as enthralled with a novel as I've been with "Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer." Superbly written and expertly plotted, author Wesley Stace has blessed us with the kind of book they don't make anymore: a literate, thinking man's mystery. Combining the wit of Oscar Wilde with the execution and skill of Dorothy L. Sayers, it's a brilliant, erudite delight that echoes past classics. The first person narrative moves forward with the steady, relentless suspense of DeMaurier's "Rebecca;" and the milieu draws clear parallels to the homoerotically charged drawing rooms of Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray." Or does it? Like Agatha Christie at her best, Stace is a master of misdirection, devilishly toying with our grasp of just what story he's telling - and whose; I was happily surprised on more than one occasion.

If the world of England's musical literati in the first half of the 20th century means nothing to you (if, for instance, you have no knowledge of or interest in composers like Vaughan Williams or Benjamin Britten), "Charles Jessold..." may seem a tad pretentious and refined in its sensibilities. But if the time and place, as well as the aforementioned authors, get you salivating, I think you'll devour this book with the same relish and pleasure as have I.


No Title Available

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Remastered My You-Know-What, February 8, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I generally do not use the space provided for product reviews to comment on the condition of a particular piece of merchandise, or draw attention to a less than reputable buyer. In this case, however, I'll make an exception. The DVD I received today, being sold through Amazon LLC, the one listed as "Passport to Pimlico" (Remastered Edition), is obviously a homemade job. The outside label is a color photocopy, the one on the DVD itself is black & white, for goodness sake. Flip the DVD over and you can clearly see the band that home recording makes on a recordable DVD. The manufacturer, A2ZCDs, seems to be a professional outfit, with a significant catalogue, nice-looking web site etc. But I'm not sure why this sale wasn't listed as coming through a third-party vendor. (At least its coming from Amazon makes it easier to return.) But more significantly, isn't the home manufacture of DVDs simply, well, illegal? Doesn't that constitute piracy? My assumption when I read the word "remastered" is that the print is made from an existing negative, or significantly cleaned up; I certainly expect that the studio, filmmakers or at least film historians have some hand in producing the disc. Perhaps whoever runs A2ZCDs has done some work of this kind on home equipment, but this doesn't excuse misleading the general public.

It could be that I'm way off base and that the copyright on "Passport to Pimlico" ran out years ago. Perhaps no-one owns the film and we all have as much right to photocopy and sell it as the next guy. If so, my (guarded) apologies to A2ZCDs. I do think, however, that buyers should be aware that they are not receiving merchandise that in any way reflects what most of us who collect films have come to think of as "remastered" or even professionally produced. I have a Panasonic DVD recorder and make my own DVDs of films I've videotaped off of TMC. In my wildest dreams, however, it would never occur to me to sell them. Maybe that makes me an idiot. If so, at least I'm an honest one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 19, 2012 4:10 AM PST


Klipsch Image ONE Premium On-Ear Earphones with Mic and 3-Button Apple Control - Black/Gloss (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Klipsch Image ONE Premium On-Ear Earphones with Mic and 3-Button Apple Control - Black/Gloss (Discontinued by Manufacturer)
Offered by Click and Save
6 used & new from $65.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Lightweight, Functional, Comfortable, February 3, 2011
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
There's not much more I can add to the positive reviews of these lightweight, comfortable headphones. The sound is excellent, the remote works well once you get the hang of it. I do find it (the remote) a tad sensitive: when I reach into my coat pocket or brush it even slightly, the volume can suddenly go up or down, or the track pause or skip ahead. Perhaps if the remote were lower, even at waist level, closer to my coat/pants pocket...It's also a bummer that the remote doesn't work at all with my iPod 160. Not a tragedy given that I have lots of music on my iPhone, with which it works just fine. But be sure to check out the specifics of this set so that you'll know if it's compatible with your device; if not, what the point?

I'm not a fan of earbuds, which never seem to stay in for me, so I'm using these as my primary bopping around town earphones. For that kind of thing they're probably a little pricey and impractical and they don't completely block out the many New York City noises. (Actually, they'd be pretty dangerous to wear if they did.) For listening to music at home or on an airplane, they'd be absolutely ideal.

Haven't used the mic yet, frankly, not sure if that's my style.

All in all, for me a great set.


Mr. Chartwell: A Novel
Mr. Chartwell: A Novel
by Rebecca Hunt
Edition: Hardcover
87 used & new from $0.01

16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If Life's a Bitch, Depression's a Dog, February 3, 2011
This review is from: Mr. Chartwell: A Novel (Hardcover)
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Give Rebecca Hunt a solid B+ for her vivid imagination. She's created a full length novel using, as the simplest of starting points, Sir Winston Churchill's description of his depression as a "black dog." It's a whimsical tale, short on plot, long on character, the most dynamic of which is the titular "Mr. Chartwell," Churchill's dark companion made actual. He's six foot seven, a "strikingly hideous Labrador" with dense black fur and a "broad face split by a vulgar mouth." Mr. Chartwell comes into the lives of the novel's characters (including the former British PM), causing anguish, destruction and anxiety. Lassie he ain't.

Meant to be "enchanting...charismatic, sinister, yet seductive" (all according to the folks at Random House), Mr. Chartwell is instead thuggish, vulgar, manipulative and remarkably unpleasant company. In other words, depression personafied. So, at the same time that Hunt is successful in giving corporeal weight to an emotion, she hasn't created a character I want to spend much time with. Nor does anyone else in the story, for that matter. And I can't say I warmed to the book's theoretical heroine, Esther, a mousy, damaged young widow whose conflicts with Mr. Chartwell form the novel's core.

Personally, I just don't think Hunt is a good enough writer to pull off the sleight of hand she's attempting here. Chief among her faults is complete and utter adoration of her own style, with which she continually pummels the reader. Take the book's first page, which contains a staggering five --count `em, five -- metaphors in as many lines: "Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill's mouth was pursed as if he had a slice of lemon hidden in there...Grey dawn appeared in a crack between the curtains, amassing the strength to invade. Churchill prepared himself for the day ahead, his mind putting out analytical fingers and then coming at the day in a fist, ready for it. A view of the Weald of Kent stretched beyond the window, lying under an animal skin of mist." Perhaps not everyone will find this over-written, but I find it dreadfully so. Moving forward, it often seems as if Ms. Hunt has written with a thesaurus at hand for the sole purpose of expressing her thoughts in the most arcane, awkward way possible.

Some examples:

"Thoughts of Mr. Chartwell...were a wound which wanted its bandages quietly lifted to assess, stomach in flight, what lay underneath." Stomach in what? Whose stomach? The thought was a wound and the wound has a stomach?

"For a long time the weeks of her life had drifted past as ghosts. There was a rare bump of pleasure, perhaps from a meal out or a visit to the cinema, but it was brittle and shattered under the lonely monotony of the ghost days." A brittle bump of pleasure? What does that mean, isn't there a simpler way of expressing this?

"The dresser was more than a storage place for holiday trophies; it was a strategic device for forcing good memories to the lid of the mind, a raft in a sea of empty grief." Metaphor piled upon metaphor, each one more labored than the next.

"[Mr. Chantwell's] instincts sent out frequencies and recorded specks of phosphorescence in the blank screen of Esther's deliberation." Come on now, is that even English?

"Beth rolled her eyes, used to [Dennis-John's] insults. They came in a salad of venom and mad exaggeration..." Salad, really? Meaning what exactly? If there's a clearer way of saying this, why doesn't Hunt do so?

"Thoughts of Michael tunneled through the rubble burial of the past two years. They emerged at a better time, at the times before, at one particular time not far before..." The woman's remembering her dead husband, can't Hunt simply say this?

"She slowed to skim her coffee to a manageable level, then sped up, heading to a table in the...staff canteen." Skim her coffee? With what? Of what? What does skimming coffee mean, actually? Is this something lost in trans-Atlantic translation?

"A feeling in Esther rocked on its base and threatened to spill." Does Hunt mean spill over? And if the feeling is solid enough to have a base, what part of it is liquid enough to spill over?

I know I'm sounding remarkably picayune, but page after page finds Hunt mangling the English language, twisting her words and ideas into poetical nonsense; as she might say, a salad of bad metaphors and obtuse expressions.

And are we really to believe that Esther, a librarian in the House of Commons, for goodness sake, has never heard of "Tess of the D'Urbervilles?" Hiring standards in Parliament must be very low, indeed.

Ultimately -- as is abundantly clear -- "Mr. Chartwell" failed to engage me on most levels. I liked the idea of the novel, but felt that Hunt undermined the emotions of her story by constantly drawing attention to the presumed cleverness of the writing. For a book that deals with the deepest of emotions, I felt only cold disinterest.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 25, 2014 7:10 AM PDT


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