Thursday, April 14, 2016

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

Death at La Fenice, published 1992, is the first book in Donna Leon's internationally acclaimed and bestselling Guido Brunetti mystery series. Commissario Brunetti is a Venetian Detective and all of the novels in the series are set in present day Venice where he lives and works.  As my friend Iris who recommended Death at La Fenice said to me, the city of Venice becomes a character itself.  I value Iris' opinion and she is right.  Venice, the people, the politics, the food, the culture, makes this novel worth reading.

But ultimately any mystery series rises and falls on the lead detective. If we bond with the detective, private investigator etc we are going to want to follow him or her into book two, three, four in the series.  People keep coming back to Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels because of Hercule Poirot and since there are currently twenty five Guido Brunetti novels in the series and fans have yet to tire of him I would say Ms Leon has done her job well.

As to why I became smitten with Commissario Brunetti it's hard to pinpoint.  Above all Donna Leon is a talented writer.  But also, too many sleuths in mystery novels these days are loners, alcoholics, fighting with their ex wives or their supervisors and the actual mystery can play second fiddle.  Not so in Death at La Fenice. The mystery of who poisoned the famous conductor Helmut Wellauer during a concert at the Venice opera house remains front and center.

But as Commissario Brunetti walks around the city (Venice is a city designed for walking) interviewing witnesses and suspects we get to learn a bit about him. Brunetti is happily married for seventeen years to his wife Paola, a university professor. They have two teenage children.  Brunetti is thoughtful, intelligent.  He knows about philosophy, music, books.  He has a cynical side partly due to his job as a police officer but also as Leon seems to say its a trait he shares with everyone in Venice a cynicism about the government, the church, the newspapers.  He cares about his job, and though he deals with crime and murder his home life is a happy one but he is not boring.  And Ms Leon takes care in creating the other characters who populate Death at LaFenice as well.

It's a great thing to find a new author who keeps you turning the pages.  And even better to find a great new mystery series so that you will have books in reserve to look forward to when life gets stressful or you are feeling down.  I suspect Detective Brunetti, the city of Venice and I will be spending alot of time together in the years to come.  Thank you Iris!  I highly recommend Death at La Fenice.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Joys of Blogging

I must say I am having alot of fun reviewing books here at Reading Matters and I so appreciate the nice comments I have received from my friends. Some reviews I am prouder of than others but regardless every time I finish a book and review it I have a real sense of accomplishment.

I recommend blogging for everyone.  Create a blog devoted to whatever your passion is, cooking, animals, music, faith, blog about your life or about the current state the world is in etc.  The internet is a wonderful thing and I marvel at how many websites, are out there..  In doing a little research I understand that there were a little over 800 million websites on the net with new ones being added and old ones deleted all the time.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

"My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born.  Instead they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother Malachy three, the twins Oliver and Eugene, barely one and my sister Margaret dead and gone".

And so begins Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt's extraordinary memoir of his poverty stricken childhood from age four when his family moved to Limerick in the 1930's ending at age nineteen when he moved back to America.  Angela's Ashes was a literary sensation when it was published in 1996, an international bestseller that went on to win the Pulitzer Prize and now having read it I can certainly see why.

Some might say, well, do I really want to read a memoir about an author's impoverished childhood?  Oh but you do want to read this book.  You want to read it because it's very funny as Frank McCourt tells us about his family, the neighbors, the goings on in the pubs, Catholic schools etc.  It's also tragic and very moving when you learn what the McCourt family endured.  I was shocked about what poverty is really like and Frank McCourt is a gifted writer who tells his story from the mindset of how young Frank age four, seven, thirteen experienced what was going on around him.

Angela's Ashes caused a scandal in Limerick when it was published.  Some felt the book presented an unfair portrait of Limerick.  I can see their point because every city and town particularly in the Great Depression had neighborhoods where people were living a hand to mouth existance.  John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath is one such example and of course there is widespread poverty today.

As for why the McCourt's were so poor? Alcoholism.  Frank's father could not hold a job and if he did have a job he'd be drinking away his wages at the pubs. Frank McCourt said that he waited so long to publish his memoir because he couldn't do it while his mother was alive and as I continued to read the book I had an evolving opinion about Angela McCourt, Frank's mother.  She isn't the warmest of mothers. Their father drinking away is a much more amiable sort.  Angela understandably is frazzled, worried and angry and very often in tears about the situation her family is in.  However by the time the novel ended and I realized by hook or by crook Angela kept the family together despite all the heartache she experienced herself I really admired her.

Frank McCourt would go on to write two more memoirs, Tis about what happened at nineteen when he got to America and Teacher Man which recounts his thirty years as a schoolteacher in New York City.  He passed away a few years ago but his masterpiece Angela Ashes will be read and marveled at one hundred years from now.