Monday, December 30, 2013

Welcome Back Bernie!

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

After an absence of nearly ten years, Bernie Rhodenbarr, burglar and bookstore owner, returns in The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. For those who haven't yet made his acquaintance, Bernie is the creation of Lawrence Block, who is also known for his hit man series featuring John Keller, and his brilliant P.I. series that features Matthew Scudder.

The Rhodenbarr books are much more light-hearted that the Scudder books, and Bernie is blessedly free of the demons that have haunted his stable mate through the years. Bernie thinks of himself as the last of the Gentlemen Burglars and he's much quicker with his wit than with his fists or with any other sort of weapon.

These books generally follow a formula in which Bernie is burgling a house or an apartment, almost always belonging to someone who can well-afford to lose whatever it might be that Bernie is about to relieve them of. Then, in the course of things, a body inconveniently appears, though never as a part of Bernie's handiwork.

The case will be investigated by Bernie's nemesis, the fumbling police detective, Ray Kirschmann. Ray always assumes that Bernie is responsible for the homicide and Bernie then has to solve the crime in order to save his own skin. Almost always this involves gathering all the potential subjects together at the end, in the style of Agatha Christie, so that Bernie can explain the logic of the crime and finally point the finger at the Real Killer.

It's always a lot of fun to watch the story unfold and while this book deviates slightly from the traditional formula, it's certain to entertain anyone who's enjoyed the series through the years.

In this case, a man named "Smith" hires Bernie to commit a series of burglaries to retrieve objects of value to the client which he cannot obtain legally. Meanwhile, Ray Kirschmann is investigating a puzzling homicide and no one will be surprised when the two cases intersect. As always, along the way there's a good deal of banter between Bernie and his best friend, Carolyn, who is a lesbian dog groomer.

Readers who have enjoyed the earlier books will certainly like this one as well. Readers who find the concept intriguing but who haven't read the earlier books might want to start at the beginning of the series with Burglars Can't Be Choosers. While neophytes would probably enjoy this new entry, there's a fair amount going on that would be better appreciated by those who have watched Bernie's career and his relationships develop through the years. We can only hope that Bernie is not now in for another ten-year vacation.

Be Still My Heart!

Memoirs of a GeishaMemoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Cinderella romance that unexpectedly swept me away! Memoirs of a Geisha is a very picturesque and dramatic tale of a young village girl taken from her family and raised in Kyoto as a geisha.

Usually I don't go in for romance. Don't get me wrong, I love love. But I prefer my love stories to be true. There is something immensely powerful about real love. As far as I've been able to discover, much of this story is based on the actual events of the life of former geisha Mineko Iwasaki. Why do I think so? She sued Golden for defamation of character. Apparently he included details she'd told him during their interviews that were not meant for print. Well, that's good enough for me!

I was dazzled by the details and enchanted by the well-paced plot. It's not for everyone, but if you liked the movie version you shouldn't be disappointed by the book, being that the two are identical in most ways.

Around the time I read Memoirs... I got the chance to visit Kyoto and made a point, as many tourists do, of seeking out the Gion District. The preservation of the area makes it worth the effort and cost of traveling in Japan. Almost medieval in its narrowness, the main historical road is a delight to behold, with its architecture and decor stuck in time as it is and the occasional geisha shuffling to and from buildings. I highly encourage a visit. Go when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. Go see a tea ceremony. Just go. You'll be glad you did.

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Oh Mother, Where Art Thou?

The Secret Life of BeesThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Read it. Enjoyed it. Any day now I expect to be entirely swallowed up by my own home-grown vagina.

If you've read The Help, you don't need to read this. One contemporary coming of age book about a white southern girl amongst black women discovering life in 1960s is plenty.

Sue Monk Kidd's explosively popular (I'm going to go out on a very sturdy limb and guess that this was an Oprah book) The Secret Life of Bees is a perfectly enjoyable read that any mother would love. Oh the imagery, the ambiance, the estrogen! Halfway through I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my cardy on the couch with a cuppa herbal something-or-other and sip the sweet nectar of these succulent words. They flowed like honey: sweet, warm, and slow…

Oh so slow at times. There are only two or three moments in the 300+ pages that woke me from the pleasant droning (get it? the bees?) that entrances, captivating the reader's mind and attention. The soft ideas about religion, love and the mother-daughter bond hum against your ears, the buzz of thought never going beyond a distant whirring zzzzzzzz.