Monday, March 2, 2015

Magical Venice Via Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet Venice & The Veneto: City GuideLonely Planet Venice & The Veneto: City Guide by Damien Simonis
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Venice...yeah, it's pretty damn magical. Not only that, but it's also hard to encapsulate in a book. Lonely Planet tried, and did yeoman's work, but pages of words pale in comparison to the reality.


Venice & the Veneto was going to be my gateway to the city. I was going to read this prior to a trip me and my wife took there back in 2010. With this book, I would discover and map out the Venice portion of our trip. What I ended up getting out of it was that you really just have to be there. Go and let the place create your adventure.

My favorite part of Venice is the "streets". Those are ironic quotes, because many Venice streets are about the size of narrow back alleys in most other places. Frequently I was able to reach out my arms and touch the walls on either sides of the street. The buildings are usually two to three stories high. Sunlight comes at a premium. Ah, but when you find one of those little bridges over a canal or perhaps where a couple streets meet at a relatively open square, and the light shines in upon the water and ancient architecture, for me that right there is what Venice is all about.

The history here is long and impressive. So very much to see and do, what with the cathedrals, palaces and museums. Of course the glass blowing industry on the island of Murano should not to be missed. We were only visiting Venice for three days. It was barely enough. We missed quite a few things that I'd like to go back to see some day.

Perhaps the most important lesson I learned from Lonely Planet's guidebook was that when traipsing around Venice you can't expect to find what you are looking for and it's a fool's errand to try. Yes, do put together a list of things you'd like to see within the city, find them on a map (definitely don't forget to bring the map or reliable gps!) and then hope that you might stumble upon a few of them within the fantastical labyrinth that is Venice!

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is a gripping thriller with a "ripped-from-the-headlines" plot that focuses on international terrorism. At the heart of the story are two longtime friends--virtually brothers--named Valentine Pescatore and Raymond Mercer. The two grew up together in Chicago, and Raymond, who loves the glamorous, high-risk life he sees in movies like "Carlito's Way," leads his younger friend into some increasingly dangerous situations. Finally one night, Raymond asks Valentine to back him up as he attempts to rip off a drug dealer. For Valentine, that's one step too far and he walks away.

The two do not see each other again for years. Valentine goes to work for the Border Patrol and later winds up working for a private investigator in Argentina. Then, out of the blue one afternoon as Valentine is at the airport, he suddenly encounters his old friend Raymond. Is this by accident, or has Raymond contrived to engineer the meeting?

The two catch up over a meal and Valentine discovers that Raymond has converted to Islam. But what he's doing these days isn't exactly clear. The two exchange phone numbers and go on their separate ways. Only a few days later, there's a horrific terrorist attack at a Buenos Aires shopping center.

Almost immediately, the evidence points to Valentine's buddy Raymond as a possible mastermind of the attack and of others that are yet in the planning stages. With that the book is off and running as Valentine races around the globe attempting to find Raymond and head off the future attacks he may be planning. Along the way, Valentine hooks up with a sexy French agent and the chase takes them from Latin America to France to Bagdad and beyond.

It's a compelling story, mostly because it has the ring of truth about it--or at least the terrorist plots seem scarily realistic. One might debate whether a lone agent like Valentine could realistically play such a leading role in trying to break up the plots, but that's a minor point, and the story will leave readers glued to their chairs watching the action unfold. This is another solid effort from the author of Triple Crossing.

Cheerleading By The Cheerless

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer WithinWriting Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Natalie Goldberg's whiny drone sapped the life out of anything of value she had to say. And what did she have to say? Nothing beyond what other books of this kind say and say with more clarity.

This is just your bog-standard cheerleader-style writing advice, but delivered in a cheerless voice.


Yeah, that sort of stuff can be inspiring, but a whole book's worth will take the punch out of any pep talk. Plus, when Goldberg says it, it sounds like, " *sigh* You it?"

Clearly it was a mistake to listen to this one on tape. Hey, I had an old car with a cassette deck and 30 minutes to and from work to kill. Roadrage can be quelled with a good audiobook. Unfortunately. Writing Down the Bones made me want to play pinball with my Hyundai, using the other cars on the highway as the bumpers.

Frankly I found a great deal more worth in Stephen King's On Writing and I'm not even a King fan. Writing Down the Bones won't steer you wrong, hell you might even learn a thing or two, but it nearly had me steering for the nearest bridge abutment.


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