Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Golden Egg: a Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery by Donna Leon

The blurb:
In The Golden Egg, as the first leaves of autumn begin to fall, Vice Questore Patta asks Brunetti to look into a minor shop-keeping violation committed by the mayor’s future daughter-in-law. Brunetti has no interest in helping his boss amass political favors, but he has little choice but to comply. Then Brunetti’s wife, Paola, comes to him with a request of her own. The mentally handicapped man who worked at their dry cleaner has just died of a sleeping pill overdose, and Paola loathes the idea that he lived and died without anyone noticing him, or helping him.

Brunetti begins to investigate the death and is surprised when he finds nothing on the man: no birth certificate, no passport, no driver’s license, no credit cards. As far as the Italian government is concerned, he never existed. Stranger still, the dead man’s mother refuses to speak to the police, and assures Brunetti that her son’s identification papers were stolen in a burglary. As secrets unravel, Brunetti suspects that the Lembos, an aristocratic family, might be somehow connected to the death. But why would anyone want this sweet, simple-minded man dead?

I always enjoy Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries but The Golden Egg is a particular favorite of mine.  Leon gives us her characteristic image of Venice - the attitudes, the combination of a glamorous and casual way of living of the Brunetti family, but in Golden Egg we also see another aspect of the Venetian upper classes and just how much Venice is a village of sorts.

As Brunetti looks into the death of the mentally handicapped man, he discovers a life hidden from view.  But in a world of paperwork and pensions, it takes a lot to live completely off the grid.  So, while the dead man's life is hidden, his identity comes to light.  Well done, carefully crafted, The Golden Egg is another wonderful escape by Donna Leon.

ISBN-10: 0802121012 - Hardcover $26
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (March 26, 2013), 256 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author:

A New Yorker of Irish/Spanish descent, Donna Leon first went to Italy in 1965, returning regularly over the next decade or so while pursuing a career as an academic in the States and then later in Iran, China and finally Saudi Arabia. Leon has received both the CWA Macallon Silver Dagger for Fiction and the German Corrine Prize for her novels featuring Commisario Guido Brunetti. She lives in Venice.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Dinner Party Disasters: True Stories of Culinary Catastrophe by Annaliese Soros and Abigail Stokes

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The blurb:
What do you do when the lobsters in your lobster bake pull a crustacean Houdini and escape into the ocean?  When your attempt at cantina cuisine ends with the arrival of the fire department at your door?  When one of your guests drops dead in the doorway?

In Dinner Party Disasters, Annaliese Soros (the ex-wife of financier George Soros and a highly regarded hostess in her own right), collects the funniest, most horrific disaster stories ever to befall people gathered for the seemingly simple purpose of breaking bread together.  In some cases, crisis is converted into triumph; in others, disaster prevails.  In all cases, however, guests and hosts experience an evening they will never forget.

Sidebars offer exceedingly practical solutions to the problems, ranging from the ordinary -- how to create the right ambiance using light and candles, or how to manage a drunken guest - to the somewhat unusual --- how to clean and gut a game bird should you have to shoot your own.

Analiese Soros' Dinner Party Disasters is a small carefully edited volume with 90 short pages of teaching anecdotes.  Soros collected 18 believable stories from hosts and hostesses.  Told with self-depricating humor, we get practical advice on how to keep one's guests at ease even during the most difficult and embarrassing moments.   Grace and humor help to keep disaster, if not at bay, from ruining an evening.  It's a tiny gem of a book with lovely illustrations and an interesting parting gift of a list for an "Anti-Catastrophe Pantry".  

  • ISBN-10: 0810993368 - Hardcover $14.95
  • Publisher: Harry N. Abrams (May 1, 2007), 96 pages. 
  • Review copy courtesy of the authors.

About the Authors:
Analiese Soros moved to New York City from Germany in 1955. Not long after, she became interested in entertaining upon attending a dinner party given by a Brazilian friend who somehow produced an incredible eight course meal from a kitchen the size of a broom closet.  The competitive Analiese immediately hit the cookbooks, and has been entertaining ever since.  Her skills as a hostess have been utilized frequently for evens in support of her musical interests; she is a longterm supporter of Young Concert Artists, the New York City Opera, and the Metropolitan Opera, among others.  She was married to the financier George Soros for eighteen years.

Abigail Stokes is a writer, teacher, and serial entertainer who lives in New York City.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blackout by Robison Wells

Blackout opens with three teenagers executing an attack on the Grand Canyon.   Laura, Alec and Dan are not the usual teenagers - they each have different and superhuman powers.  From the ability to manipulate the minds of others, the power to destroy natural elements to superhuman strength, the three terrorists prove their abilities.  While the reasons behind their attacks are not known, the impact of their actions are clear.  The Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam are flooded with water, homes are pulled down, people drowned, and lives are irrevocably changed.

The government calls on military powers to combat the threat posed by the growing number of teens with superhuman powers.  Scientists attribute these powers to a virus that only affects people in their teen years.  The military and government scientists work together as they isolate teenagers, test them for the virus, and quarantine those who may have mutations.  

Government separations are immediate - and would be unconstitutional in civil society.   Children and teens are removed from their homes and families are torn apart without explanation or warning.    Those with the mutation are subjected to all sorts of physical tests, almost to the point of torture.  

We see the events firsthand from several teenagers.  Laura, Alec and Dan are the young terrorists well aware of their powers that I'd described earlier.  Aubrey and Jack are old friends from the poor part of town.   Though they've grown apart with Aubrey's sudden popularity, they find each other the night that the military troops pick up their classmates and friends during the senior prom.  Aubrey is able to hide in plain sight. Jack seems to be unaffected by the virus.   When Jack is quarantined with the infected teens, Aubrey attempts to free him.   The military authorities call on Jack, Aubrey, and some of their fellow prisoners to help counter the teenage terrorists.  

Jack and Aubrey are the more interesting characters in Blackout.  Unpopular because of their families' poverty, they're both personable and good looking. They're loyal, decent, and willing to risk themselves for each other and to forgo money and power.  Aubrey and Jack aren't particularly suspicious or worldly wise though, so I spent much time wondering when and how they'd suffer betrayal.  Blackout is a fun read but ends with much unresolved - we have to wait for the next installment.

0062026127 - Hardcover 
Publisher: HarperTeen (October 1, 2013), 432 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewer Program.

About the Author:
Robison Wells lives in Holladay, UT.  He is also the author of Variant and Feedback.  Visit him online at and follow him on Twitter @robisonwells