Little ever seems to happen in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books that can't be resolved in the time it takes the irrepressable Mma Ramotswe to brew and consume a pot of bush tea. Mysteries are solved, quips exchanged, and long passages recited that may (or may not) be quotes from Sir Seretse Khama.
On the flip side, there's something refreshing about Mma Ramotswe and crew - these are books to listen to when you're having a bad day. Lisette Lecat breathes life into the series in a way that's almost magical (and you get to find out how to properly pronounce all the Setswana words, too).
Blue Shoes and Happiness continues in the same vein as the previous books: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni isn't happy with his apprentices, Mma Makutsi (who has developed the strange ability to hold conversations with shoes) faces her own insecurities and bandages them with her 97% mark from the Botswana Secretarial College, Mma Ramotswe contemplates the appropriateness of her own traditional build, and much bush tea is consumed.
Parts of this book are downright funny (wait until you meet Aunt Imong), and others are sad and contemplative. By this point, the little office next to Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors is familiar territory, and it's a little bit like coming home ... and Mma Ramotswe has the tea on.
Amelia and the rest of the sprawling Peabody-Emerson clan are back for yet another adventure featuring ... well, as Abdullah would have put it, "Every year, another dead body."
It's the fall of 1922 in Luxor, Egypt, and Howard Carter is digging one last season in the Valley of the Kings in the hopes of finding anything buried under the sands before his benefactor, Lord Canarvon, pulls the funding away after several fruitless years. Amelia's archaeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, is fairly certain that at least one tomb remains - that of the little known 18th Dynasty Pharaoh Tutankhamun, and he thinks he knows where to find it. The fun begins when Carter stumbles across a step in the rock, and Emerson fails to remember that the find is Carter's and not his own. Soon, the Emersons are banned from the Valley, and old friends and foes start popping out of the woodwork to make life complicated.
The focus of this book is somewhat different than others in the series and those who've been wishing for a change of pace wll be pleasantly surprised to find that the focus of this book isn't the crime of the season, but the interactions of the Emersons themselves.
If you've never read one of the Amelia Peabody books, you'll be completely lost (start with Crocodile on the Sandbank and go from there) - after 18 books in the series, the backstory would take a volume of its own. I loved the story - my carpool pals were a bit lost, though, as I kept stopping the audio to explain who each character was.
If you've been with the series from the beginning, you might find yourself wishing the story were just a little longer. Elizabeth Peters has hinted that this will be the last book chronologically in the series, and that subsequent books will fill in the "holes" left in the 40 year span between our first encounter with Amelia and this latest tale. (I'm keeping my fingers crossed, though.)
The Tomb of the Golden Bird is Amelia at her best.
A Dirty Job is vintage Christopher Moore. For those familiar with his writing style, you will be unsurprised to find Death taking the form of a neurotic second-hand shop owner (in Moore-speak, a classic "beta male"). Add to this: a Goth-girl assistant who can't decide if she's jealous or repulsed that her dorky boss is a "Death Merchant"; a designer-men's-suit-wearing lesbian sister whose ultimate goal is to get her widowed brother laid (for the good of humanity); a seven foot tall record shop owner slash compatriot Death Merchant named (and I'm not making this up) Minty Fresh; a trio of Celtic dealth goddess avatars with a penchant for torture and kinky sex (but not dogs); and, just for good measure, a toddler whose sidekicks are two four hundred pound Hell Hounds whose favorite snacks include toasters and hubcabs, and you pretty much get the picture. Like I said, classic Moore.
Fisher Stevens does a fantastic read - it sounds like he's having a blast, which definitely moves the story right along, even during the slow bits. The weird disco-music that separates the chapters is annoying, particularly when whoever did the sound editing forgot to turn it down so that the narration would be more audible. Fortunately, it doesn't last very long.
If you're a Moore fan, you'll find all the classic bits here (and even a return character from some of the previous books, but I won't ruin it for you). If this is your first experience with Chris Moore's writing you'll find that this is a lighthearted book that doesn't take itself too seriously when it doesn't need to, and knows enough to end before it all gets to be too much. Sit back, relax, and be prepared to giggle. A lot.
If you indulge in one top-ten bestseller title that's been over-publicized, this is the one to choose. Ignore any snide references in popular media to "The Dracula Code." For once, the hype is well-deserved.
This isn't a vampire novel in the traditional sense. There are vampires in the story, but it would be more accurately described as a novel featuring a fictional character based on the real life inspiration for Dracula, Count Vlad Dracula. You'll get lost in medieval Eastern European history, and get a sense for the turbulent times that brought the legend forth.
I've seen The Historian labelled as a thinking person's thriller, and that's a good description. The story meanders from Boston to Amsterdam to Istanbul to ... well, I won't give it away. I enjoyed the way the story unfolded - the clues are there, but you'll appreciate the way they are put together.
There are a few flaws. The writing gets trite - try not to count the number of times things are described as "beautiful" and the repetitions of the phrase "he/she said." The story isn't perfect, either. You may well have guessed the ending before you reach it (although I didn't), but The Historian is as much about the journey to get to the ending as the ending itself.
The characters are haunting. The two narrators do a fine job, although I associated the character of Helen with the male narration (it'll make sense when you go through the story).
All in all, this is a fine read. I found myself wearing my iPod around the house to finish the book, and that's something I never do. Ironically, for a book this long I was sad to finish it.
Months later, the story is still with me, and I'm looking for a reason to drive across the country so that I can listen to it again. How many audio books can you say that about?
Unless you were living under a rock for the first few months of 2006, you're probably aware that there's a bit of a debate about whether James Frey was telling the truth when he wrote "A Million Little Pieces" and this book, its sequel. They're both supposed to be memoirs, and he's pretty much admitted that he made some of it up.
On the truth issue, "My Friend Leonard" is such an over the top tale that it doesn't really matter if it's true. If you read A Million Little Pieces, and you want to see how it all works out, you'll enjoy My Friend Leonard.
More accurately, you'll enjoy the second two-thirds of it. The beginning is overdone, with Frey discussing his did-he-or-didn't-he jail time, followed by a cinematic race to reach his girlfriend Lily that is both hard to believe and utterly unsuspensful to anyone who read the footnote at the conclusion of the last book.
My Friend Leonard never really gets out of melodrama mode, and that's OK. It is what it is - if it were straight-up fiction, it would still be hard to swallow some of it. I went with the assumption that it was all fiction, and I found it worked better for me.
The relationship at the center of the book, between Frey and the titular Leonard, is what drives the book forward. Enjoy the host of other characters who come into play, and especially enjoy the way the reader characterizes them with his voice. There's something just so darn likable about all of them that you genuinely feel bad when they have to go carry out some nasty business necessitated by organized crime.
As to whether it's all worth it, I'll say this: no matter how many times you read The Smoking Gun report on Frey, or replayed your TiVo'ed copy of Oprah, you won't see the end coming. It's a sad, poignant tale that has a message to pass along, and whether it's fact or fiction it's still a message worth hearing.
I enjoyed the listen. Call him a fraud if you must, but Frey knows how to spin a good yarn.
Despite the 'exotic' setting, this is not a high adventure novel, but rather a grim tale about desperately unhappy and self-delusional people. The writing is as dry as the desert and the action slow paced and methodical.
Part of the difficulty with this book is that it's hard to like either of the two main narrators. One is an unbelievably pompous amateur scholar who seems to be blissfully oblivious to everything and everyone around him; the other is a hard boiled detective attempting to relive his glory days by writing long self-promotional missives to an unseen acquaintance on the other side of the world. While annoying at first, it is the author's attention to too much detail that adds humor to the story. From Professor Trilipush's exaggerated autobiography and over-analyzed conversations with the likes of Howard Carter, to Farrell's impressions of potential clients and projected feelings for the wrong woman (not to give too much away), it becomes apparent that the reader should not be sympathizing with the characters so much as ridiculing them even as they narrative their own stories.
One thing is certain, however. Those expecting a quick, fun, adventurous read will be sorely disappointed. The humor - and there's a lot of it - is more in the style of Dorothy Parker than Elizabeth Peters. The book is challenging, but if you're up to it, you'll find it rewarding in the end.
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