Back to Bologna–Michael Dibdin

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This is a book from near the end of the series, so if you’re new to this series, consider going back to the beginning. The first book in this series is “Ratking.”

These books were recommended to me by a friend who winters in Italy each year and is getting a house there when he retires, which is pretty much the dream of almost everyone I know, so good on him.

He recommended them because he felt they really represented Italy to him, and were true to life regarding his experience in the country.

They always make me feel dumb. I can never see what’s happening. Given that I read a lot of mysteries, I have to assume that’s the author’s intention.

The exception to the dumb feeling rule for these books is this one, Back to Bologna. There’s only one more after this in the series and apparently he decided to give me a bit of a break because this one was easy to understand and the entire plot was open to the reader.

That might not sound like a rousing recommendation but it really is. I was so relieved to have a book I could follow and feel on top of that I was happy, and the entire tone of the book was much lighter and more comic than the earlier books.

The basic story is this: Aurelio Zen is the main character, a detective for the Italian police. He’s on extended medical leave following several seriously unpleasant things. First a bombing by the mob, then some medical issue that required surgery, and his plan is to gracefully extend his medical leave until he can take slightly early retirement and be done. His girlfriend is getting annoyed with his whining and complaints and that relationship is going badly.

Unfortunately for him, someone didn’t get the memo that he’s supposed to be on medical leave and they called him back to manage an ugly case. The coach of the local soccer team was murdered in his car and they want to make sure that the central police department gets the heads up before anything potentially detrimental is released to the press by the local cops. It’s a babysitting job.

He has a friend in this department, a driver he had recommended a transfer for before, and the driver, now a regular policeman in Bologna, gives him the inside story.

There’s a rumor on the street that a rich spoiled kid is bragging about killing the coach because he wasn’t happy about the state of the team.

So they start to follow him. The kid’s dad has hired the worst private detective of all time to follow him and let the dad know what he’s doing.

We see some of the private detective’s point of view, some of the spoiled kid, some of his roommate’s, some of his roommate’s girlfriend. Then there’s some interaction between the roommate’s professor, a popular TV chef, and the Zen.

It’s adorable and fun and clever. I recommend it. You don’t actually need to read the other books in the series to understand this one, so you can skip ahead if you’re not the same level of insane completist that I am.

The Lure of the Moonflower–Lauren Willig

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NEW BOOK REVIEW ALERT!!!

This book is new. It’s been out less than two weeks. Usually I review books that have been out for a long time but not this time, baby. I’m on the new book train today.

This is the last book in the Pink Carnation series. If you are unaware of the Pink Carnation series, then…I’m sorry. They’re so much fun it’s ridiculous.

The basic premise of the books is that during the Napoleonic Wars, there is a series of spies modeled after the Scarlet Pimpernel. These books are mostly romances, but with mystery and adventure mixed in.

There’s also an ongoing story line set in modern times, where the main character is looking for the documents proving the spies existed.

Fun bonus: most of the spies are the women.

The Pink Carnation is Jane Wooliston, and she runs a spy network that encompasses a wide variety of people who by now, at the end of the series, are mostly related via a series of marriages with friends and relatives.

This last book concerns her own romance.

She’s in Portugal, working on the theory that the Portuguese Queen, Maria–who is most definitely not entirely sane–did not, in fact, flee to Brazil when the French invaded Portugal. It would not be a great thing for the French to get their hands on the Portuguese monarch. Her mission is to find the Queen and get her out of Portugal and ideally, to Brazil where she’s supposed to be anyway and would be safe.

Due to the aforementioned series of marriages and the unfortunate discovery of her role in British espionage by her French counterpart (a charming yet completely unethical man named Nicholas) she’s mostly on her own with almost no knowledge of Portuguese and a minimum of money. Her only ally is a contact that has already changed sides at least twice during these wars and is considered untrustworthy at best.

This man has the code name Moonflower, and is the half-British, half-Indian product of a British officer stationed in India. His ancestry bans him from service in his own country on either side, and he has a major chip on his shoulder.

But they work well together. They travel briefly with the French army until they encounter Nicholas and after that, they go by foot and donkey through the wilds of wintry Portugal until they locate the Queen. Who is, unfortunately, in the hands of the dastardly Nicholas.

There are twists. This is a bare summary. I’m trying to avoid spoilers. Work with me, people.

These books are fun, charming, and remarkably well researched. As a history buff myself, I appreciate the solid research and the list of recommended reading on the period that follow each book.

Dune-Frank Herbert

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This is a classic of science fiction, and I think I read it when I was in middle school, but I couldn’t remember any of it.

There is a reason that this book is considered a classic of science fiction.

The basic story, in case you’ve missed the book or any of the zillions of adaptions of it, is that the Atreides family, a noble family in the empire, is reassigned from their home planet to the planet commonly referred to as Dune. It’s called that because it is a desert planet with practically no rain.

They’re jumpy, believing this to be a trick by their enemy, and they are right to be concerned. Almost as soon as they get there, the head of the family is dead and his consort and son are on the run in the desert.

Mystical abilities and zen monk-like training is essential to the plot, and I really wish I could develop either of those skills.

The story focuses in on the development of the son, Paul, and his growth into the savior of the local people of the planet and their quest to overthrow the empire.

I highly recommend this book. It’s a beautiful book, perfectly executed.