Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews

Posted 11 October, 2016 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

Probably the last batch of mini book reviews for this year? I read most of the following books months ago, but anyway…Included in this batch are:


Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti #1)
By: Donna Leon
Format/Source: Mass market paperback; my purchase

There is little violent crime in Venice, a serenely beautiful floating city of mystery and magic, history and decay. But the evil that does occasionally rear its head is the jurisdiction of Guido Brunetti, the suave, urbane vice-commissario of police and a genius at detection. Now all of his admirable abilities must come into play in the deadly affair of Maestro Helmut Wellauer, a world-renowned conductor who died painfully from cyanide poisoning during an intermission at La Fenice.

But as the investigation unfolds, a chilling picture slowly begins to take shape–a detailed portrait of revenge painted with vivid strokes of hatred and shocking depravity. And the dilemma for Guido Brunetti will not be finding a murder suspect, but rather narrowing the choices down to one. . .

I had been eyeing this series for such a long time, it always crops up whenever I’m looking up crime mystery series to check out. Well I finally picked it up as a book to read whenever I was on break at work and it certainly didn’t disappoint: Guido Brunetti is an interesting character, smart and good at what he does. A different side to Venice comes to life in this novel as Brunetti investigates the death of a well-known conductor, plunging the commissario into the world of music and art and the shadows of the Second World War. It was interesting to follow Brunetti in the case as he navigates through an intricate cast of characters from Wellauer’s life and work, figuring out who had the motive to kill the maestro. I don’t know if I’ll get around to read the rest of the books in this series (as it’s a bit of a long one), but this book was an excellent introduction to Guido Brunetti, his life, his Venice, and his mode of case-solving. Definitely worth checking out if you’re into this the crime mystery genre and you like your mysteries set in Italy.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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The Law and the Lady
By: Wilkie Collins
Format/Source: eBook

Valeria Valerie Woodville’s first act as a married woman is to sign her name incorrectly in the marriage register; this slip is followed by a gradual disclosure of secrets about her husband’s earlier life, each of which leads to another set of questions and enigmas.

I’ve been meaning to get around to the rest of Wilkie Collins’ rather extensive bibliography and ended up picking this one up first as it’s one of his shorter titles. Unfortunately it didn’t quite interest me as much as I thought it would; there was certainly a mystery surrounding her husband’s actions and earlier life and why things weren’t adding up to his story, but it dragged considerably, and to be honest I didn’t see why Valeria stuck around with him, he was quite a spineless character whose love for Valeria wasn’t as sturdy as it ought to have been. So that turned me off. I honestly just stuck around just to see where things turned out but otherwise ehhh, it was an o-kay read for me.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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Karate Chop
By: Dorthe Nors, Martin Aitken (Translation)
Format/Source: eBook; my purchase

Karate Chop, Dorthe Nors’s acclaimed story collection, is the debut book in the collaboration between Graywolf Press and A Public Space. These fifteen compact stories are meticulously observed glimpses of everyday life that expose the ominous lurking under the ordinary. While his wife sleeps, a husband prowls the Internet, obsessed with female serial killers; a bureaucrat tries to reinvent himself, exposing goodness as artifice when he converts to Buddhism in search of power; a woman sits on the edge of the bed where her lover lies, attempting to locate a motive for his violence within her own self-doubt. Shifting between moments of violence (real and imagined) and mundane contemporary life, these stories encompass the complexity of human emotions, our capacity for cruelty as well as compassion. Not so much minimalist as stealthy, Karate Chop delivers its blows with an understatement that shows a master at work.

I picked this book up on a whim after seeing the author mentioned by Julianne @ Outlandish Lit. Aside from Soren Kierkegaard I don’t really read any books written by Danish authors so I was keen to check out this author, not to mention I seem to be on a roll when it comes to short stories this year. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading this compilation of short stories; the characters that grace these short stories lead ordinary, everyday lives punctured with doubts and questions and personal realisations. I’m typing this review pretty late so I can’t really say now what my favourite story was from this collection, but I was overall impressed by it, there wasn’t a story here that didn’t engage me on some level. Highly recommended!

Rating: ★★★★☆

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Walden
By: Henry David Thoreau
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Inspiring, brilliantly written, cantankerous and funny – Walden is both a very specific story about one man’s attempt to live the simple life in the wilderness, and the great, founding text both for the environmental movement and the entire counter-culture.

I’ve often heard of Walden in passing but I wasn’t really compelled on picking it up until I read The Readers at Broken Wheel Recommend (review) and one of the characters was citing passages from the book. So here I am, picking up the book 😛

Walden had its interesting moments, namely when it came to an overview of life and what we make of it, as well as Thoreau’s thoughts on reading and writing. I had to read up on him a bit afterwards but that additional reading definitely confirmed some thoughts I had about him, that there was definitely an anarchic streak to some of his thoughts. There were also some ideas that he presented that I did not agree with, but that of course is part of the discourse. But while the book had its interesting moments, a lot of it was pretty dull, especially when he went on and on about the ponds or the breakdown of his spendings. So while I’m gald tohave finally read it, it was a mixed bag for me.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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Love Stories
Format/Source: Hardback; my purchase

An anthology of literary love stories—in a beautiful hardcover Pocket Classics edition—perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Here are nineteen stories from a rich array of writers, and here is every kind of romantic entanglement: from the raw, erotic passion of D. H. Lawrence and Colette to the wickedly cynical comedy of Dorothy Parker and Roald Dahl, from the yearning of unrequited romantic illusions in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” to the agonizing madness of jealousy in Vladimir Nabokov’s “That in Aleppo Once . . .” The objects of passion in these stories range from a glamorous silent-movie starlet in Elizabeth Bowen’s haunting “Dead Mabelle” and a faithful ghost in Yasunari Kawabata’s “Immortality” to a heart surgeon in Margaret Atwood’s “Bluebeard’s Egg” who spends his days penetrating the mysteries of the human heart but who seems oddly emotionally opaque himself. Jhumpa Lahiri plumbs the despair of a husband and wife sundered by tragedy while Lorrie Moore movingly portrays a couple brought together by it. Katherine Mansfield, Tobias Wolff, and William Trevor explore the intricacies of long-term relationships, while Guy de Maupassant, Italo Calvino, and T. C. Boyle portray the elemental force of love in extremely different ways.

As alluring, moving, and intoxicating as its timeless theme, this collection makes an enticing gift for lovers at any stage of life.

Picked this book up on a whim at the bookstore as it was on sale and hello! pretty hardback 🙂 It was an interesting mix of stories, but don’t let the title fool you: though it’s called Love Stories, not all of these stories end happily. Some of them are haunting, some of them are sad, their resolutions bleak as life. I think my favourite stories from this collection were F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams” and Yasunari Kawabata’s “Immortality” (probably the reason why I picked up the volume to begin with). Do I recommend this collection? Ehh, it’s a mixed bag, I’m not sure to be honest. The presentation sure is pretty though 😀

Rating: ★★★☆☆

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On Trails
By: Robert Moor
Format/Source: Hardback courtesy of Simon & Schuster CA

In 2009, while thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Robert Moor began to wonder about the paths that lie beneath our feet: How do they form? Why do some improve over time while others fade? What makes us follow or strike off on our own?

Over the course of the next seven years, Moor traveled the globe, exploring trails of all kinds, from the miniscule to the massive. He learned the tricks of master trail-builders, hunted down long-lost Cherokee trails, and traced the origins of our road networks and the Internet. In each chapter, Moor interweaves his adventures with findings from science, history, philosophy, and nature writing—combining the nomadic joys of Peter Matthiessen with the eclectic wisdom of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift.

Throughout, Moor reveals how this single topic—the oft-overlooked trail—sheds new light on a wealth of age-old questions: How does order emerge out of chaos? How did animals first crawl forth from the seas and spread across continents? How has humanity’s relationship with nature and technology shaped world around us? And, ultimately, how does each of us pick a path through life?

Moor has the essayist’s gift for making new connections, the adventurer’s love for paths untaken, and the philosopher’s knack for asking big questions. With a breathtaking arc that spans from the dawn of animal life to the digital era, On Trails is a book that makes us see our world, our history, our species, and our ways of life anew.

I had been seeing this book around online and was rather surprised to receive the book in the post courtesy of the publishers. It’s certainly different from the nonfiction titles I’m used to reading so I welcomed the change.

Unfortunately it was clear by the first chapter that this book just wasn’t for me. It’s an odd book to be sure; the author in the prologue talks about his experiences hiking and how it became a formative part of his life, leading into the premise of the book and what he hoped to examine over the course of it (which, it took a while to get to that point; I spent most of the prologue wondering exactly what this book was going to be about–despite of the description above). But it just didn’t seem to grab my attention, the points seem to run all over the place for me, and ultimately I realised I’d rather walk the trails than read about it.

This book may interest those more into nature writing, but this ultimately wasn’t for me.

Rating: DNF

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And those are the mini book reviews! Have you read any of these titles? Would you read any of them at some point in the future?

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2 Responses to “Books: A Batch of Mini-Reviews”

  1. Aiii, Walden has been on my TBR since before I got Goodreads (I ‘officially’ added in in June 2012) but I’ve never been able to bring myself to read it. I dunno, one day I’ll probably finally get to it and have the same reaction as you 😛

    • Walden is definitely one of those books one feels like one should read at one point or another. I feel as though I should revisit it at some point as I feel like some points really went over my head or I didn’t quite appreciate where he was coming from, but I don’t think I’d revisit it for some years…or a decade or so, lol xD

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