Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 Year-End Wrap-Up

2015

2015 is exiting quickly, stage left. The first half of the year felt like it passed in a fever. I seemed to have no time to do anything, even though I really wasn't doing that much. Things kept happening, like my grandfather (who has dementia) wandering off, or thieves driving a Chevy Tahoe through the back of the store where I work. And then there was the fun and frivolity of moving my grandfather into a nursing home and going through/selling all of my grandparents' stuff. We kept a lot of it, but it's still sad to sell off the things they spent their lives collecting, even if logically we know we can't and don't want to keep it all.

But on the plus side I went to Ireland, which was super cool and amazing!

On the reading front, this year was a giant MEH. I read a lot of books that I liked, and some I thought were pretty boring, but none I loved or hated.

I did read more books than last year, so that's good, and I followed through on my New Year's resolution to read more graphic novels. But highlights were few and far between.

That said, here are few standout books and bookish stuff from 2015:

20 feet from stardom
Favorite documentary: 20 Feet from Stardom
I've always wanted to be a backup singer, and this documentary is a fascinating glimpse into their world. It questions the meaning of talent and success, and what it takes to be famous.

Runner-Up: Exit Through the Gift Shop
I love Banksy. Someday I'm going to write a romance novel where the hero is basically Banksy, except he won't have tiny little rat hands because that's creepy.

Favorite comeback novel: Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas
Not a perfect book, but certainly classic Kleypas. I couldn't be happier she's writing historical romances again.

oblivion by kelly creagh
Most disappointing read: Oblivion by Kelly Creagh
I adored the first book in this trilogy, Nevermore, so much I bought the hardcover. But Oblivion was such an awful mess that it completely ruined the entire series for me. I can't even look at the spine of Nevermore on my shelf anymore without feeling resentment. Enough with the unnecessary trilogies already! If your book should just be one book, admit it and move on. Or write different variations of the same book over and over again, like Glenna Finley. Whatever floats your boat.

Favorite romance novel: All For You by Laura Florand
It should come as no surprise that Florand is on this list. All For You is sweet and warm fuzzy-making, I just want to hug it.

the sculptor scott mccloud
Favorite graphic novel: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
It reminded me of Scott Pilgrim, which I loved.

Runner-up: What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga
This made me soooo hunnnnngryyyy.

Favorite mystery: Queenpin by Megan Abbott
It's not precisely a mystery, more of a crime noir. But still very good stuff!

Favorite new-to-me author: KJ Charles
Charles' books are simply fantastic, fun reads.

nimona
Hype that I just don't get: Nimona
I mean, it was okay. The beginning was really fun. But by the end I was ready for it to be over.

Hype I *do* get: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up
I'm still making my way through the "miscellaneous" category, but I'm really glad I decided to buy this book and give it a try. My come to jesus moment was clearing out all the papers I had–they were EVERYWHERE. I was drowning in unnecessary paper and never even realized it! Plus, this book has already helped me realize my dream of setting up a reading nook in my bedroom.

sherlock baker street
Literary obsession of the year: Sherlock Holmes
Of course, I normally think Sherlock Holmes is pretty awesome, but this year in particular seemed to be all about Holmes. I hosted a Sherlock month at Book Bloggers International, wrote posts on Sherlockian tourist destinations and Irene Adler for Book Riot, went to The International Exhibition of Sherlock Holmes, saw the new movie Mr. Holmes, joined a Sherlockian society, and read several books all about the great detective.

Non-literary obsession of the year: Subscription box services
2015 was definitely the year of the subscription boxes. I wrote an article about them for The PULP, and subscribed to more than a few. My favorites are Ipsy–it's affordable and they really do send quality items–and Le Tote. I'm planning to cancel all my boxes besides those two in 2016 to save money, but Rocks Box and Wantable are also good deals I would recommend checking out.

FOODIE SECTION

kitchen confidential
Most delish foodie TV series: Kitchen Confidential
I really got into streaming foodie shows this year–Mind of a Chef, etc.–but Kitchen Confidential is my favorite. Hard to beat an awesome cast channeling Anthony Bourdain.

Favorite Foodie Romance: A Taste of Heaven by Penny Watson
A charming story about trust and family. The cooking competition is like The Great British Baking Show meets Top Chef–my two favorites!

Runner-up: The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain
Not strictly a foodie romance, but so many descriptions of delicious French food, plus a very cute and sweet romance.

packie's restaurant kenmare ireland
Most memorable meal: Packie's, Kenmare, Ireland
This was my birthday dinner and it was AWWWWESOME. The spaghetti was to die for and the service genuine and friendly. Actually, nearly all the restaurants we ate at in Ireland were very, very good. If you're looking for a foodie destination Ireland's your jam.

Cocktail of the year: the Seelbach
At some point in 2015 I decided I cannot live without having one of these every day. It combines some of my favorite things: champagne (actually I use cava, I'm not moneyed enough to drink champagne every day), bourbon, and bitters. Add in some Cointreau and you have a pretty delish, posh cocktail that's the perfect conclusion to a long day of making words.



2015 BY THE NUMBERS


  • 108 books read total (so far–I'm very close to finishing 2 more)
  • Of those, about 30% were written by men and 70% by women.
  • 19 of my books were nonfiction, 42% of which were written by men.
  • I DNF'd 18 books, less than I thought.
  • I read 19 classics, 47% of which were written by men.
  • 30 books were published in 2015, a lot by my standards.
  • As for diversity, that could use some major work on my part–only 8 authors I read this year were POC! (as far as I can tell, at least). I generally don't keep track of this but maybe I should start.



Finally, thanks to all of you for reading, visiting, commenting, and discussing books with me this past year. You guys are the best! Here's to having an amazing 2016.




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Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Snapshot Says Adios to 2015


Currently Reading:

The Valley of Fear by Arthur Conan Doyle: Different from what I was expecting.
My Fair Gentleman by Nancy Campbell Allen: I can never resist a My Fair Lady adaptation.

Posted:

A review of The Conjure Woman by Charles Waddell Chesnutt over at Project Gutenberg Project.

Movies watched:

cinderella
Cinderella, starring Lily James, Richard Madden, and Cate Blanchett

What is up with Disney and the long-ass unnecessary prologues lately? Get your shit together, Disney. Anyway, this movie has a lot of problems, which I may enumerate on in greater detail in the future. For now let's just say I'm happy I didn't drag myself to the theater to see it and leave it at that.

star wars: the force awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, starring Keira Knightley oops Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and Adam Driver

Proposed alternate title: Star Wars, The First Movie Redux

This movie was okay. I've certainly seen worse Star Wars movies *coughthephantommenacecough* and I liked the new main characters–although Kylo Ren or Renlo Kye or whatever the hell his name is was way too chatty and pretty to be taken seriously (actually, now that I think about it, all three were way too pretty for their characters). But come on people, can we not have an original plot idea here? If this story devolves into a YA-novelish love triangle I'm going to be pretty annoyed.

This week in heidenkindom:

I hope you all had a nice Christmas if you celebrate it, or at least a few days of R&R if you don't. It's hard to believe 2015 is almost over. I really need to get started on that yearly wrap up post, but I'm having trouble remembering anything before July. I knew I should have done a mid-year wrap-up.

Anyway, the next time I post one of these snapshots it'll be 2016. Have a fantastic New Year's, everyone!

Bonus:

This is the type of recipe that makes me sad I can't eat chocolate: CHOCOLATE WINE! I want to try it so badly. You all should make it and tell me how it is.



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Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Snapshot Is Almost Ready for Christmas, but Not Really


Currently reading:


Family Plot by Sheri Cobb South: So far, not enough John Pickett/Lady Julia drama!

Posted:

A review of Lisa Kleypas' latest historical novel, Cold-Hearted Rake, plus a Buy Borrow Bypass on four short Christmas books you should read over at Book Riot.

Movies watched:



the wrecking crew
The Wrecking Crew, directed by Denny Tedesco

"The Wrecking Crew" was the nickname for 15-30 musicians who regularly played the studio recordings of major LA music labels in the 1960s, and who are partially responsible for some of the greatest pop songs in history. This documentary recounts their contributions to songs performed by Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, The Monkees, and more.

Like 20 Feet from Stardom, The Wrecking Crew is a look into the music industry and the people who provide supporting roles for the stars who get most of the public recognition. The Wrecking Crew's not quite as good as 20 Feet from Stardom, but it's still well worth watching. It was their contributions that made a lot of the songs they played on great–they were all fantastic musicians, oftentimes better than the musicians in the band–and yet they didn't even receive a mention in the album liner notes, let alone royalties! But I suppose that's the life of an artist, especially those who work for a corporation. I feel like I understand the "sound" of the '60s and how it came about much better now. Definitely recommend this if you're a fan of 1960s music!

This week in heidenkindom:

I have all the Christmas shopping done, THANK GOD. Unfortunately I've been feeling under the weather the past few days. Hopefully it's just allergies and not an actual sickness.

Bonus:

This infographic from Lone Wolf Librarian does a good job of showing just how much Google knows about you. Even if you're paranoid about privacy online, you'll probably be surprised at just how many tentacles Google has in your life, online and off (incidentally, I tried uploading the infographic here, but Blogger–a Google company–won't allow the resolution to be higher than 100 pixels wide, rendering it basically unreadable. Nice).






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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: COLD-HEARTED RAKE by Lisa Kleypas

cold hearted rake lisa kleypas

Devon Ravenel is not pleased when he inherits the estate of his cousin, the Earl of Trenear. For one thing, the house itself is falling apart, the estate is mired in debt, and it's not producing enough income to keep it afloat. For another thing, Devon and his brother made a pact as children to never take on any responsibility whatsoever. But when Devon goes to the estate to look into selling it off, he comes across his cousin's widow and despite his best intentions finds himself accepting the burdens of the earldom, most especially those of taking care of Trenear's countess.

Lisa Kleypas is the author whose books got me into romances, so when I heard she was releasing her first historical romance since 2010's Love in the Afternoon, I was pretty durned excited. But also anxious, because historical romance hasn't really been doing anything for me lately. I'm happy to report that while Cold-Hearted Rake wasn't a perfect book, it was fun and entertaining and mostly unputdownable–exactly the type of novel I hope for when I pick up something by Kleypas.

The beginning of Cold-Hearted Rake was a bit rough (side note: the title is annoying and inaccurate. Devon hardly came across as a cold-hearted rake; he was way too fiscally responsible. Also, the term "rake" kinda makes me roll my eyes). The romance between Devon and Kathleen felt predictable and forced, and I think it remained the weakest part of the novel even after it improved.

Fortunately, Devon and Kathleen didn't spend that much time together during the course of the novel, which left plenty of time for the more entertaining stories of Devon's brother, Weston, and the three Ravenel sisters, Pandora, Cassandra, and Helen, getting into hijinks. These are awesome characters, and Kleypas can really tell a great story when she puts her mind to it.

I also suspect Kleypas has been binge watching way too much PBS in recent years, because there's definitely a Masterpiece Classic vibe going on with this series. Devon's attitude reminded me of Matthew's in the first season of Downton Abbey, particularly when Grantham says to him (re: the estate), "You don't love it yet, but you will," and Matthew's like, "ERMERGAWD these people are so backward and stuck in the past and this house is wildly impractical WHY."

But even more than that, Winterbourne (Devon's friend who owns a department store in London) is so obviously modeled after Mouret, the owner of The Ladies' Paradise, or maybe Henry Selfridge from Mr. Selfridge. Either way, he's like, *smolder smolder smolder* *issues* I can't wait to find out what historical miniseries Kleypas rips off in the third book!

Anyway, it was nice to read a historical romance that was a well-told story with fun characters, that didn't bore me to death and I didn't want to set on fire. So the bar's set pretty high over here! Seriously, though, Cold-Hearted Rake isn't Kleypas' best book, but it stands up on its own pretty well. I've already preordered Marrying Winterbourne. CANNOT WAIT.



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Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Snapshot Is Waiting for Santa


Currently reading:


  • The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane by Elizabeth Boyle: Technically, he doesn't live "down the lane," he's right next door. I feel the need to point this out.
  • Sinatra's Century by David Lehman: A part of me wonders how much one can actually say about Sinatra. But I'm enjoying the essays so far anyway.
  • Master Flea by ETA Hoffmann: A very strange book. I have no idea what's going on, but I like it.


Posted:

My semi-annual Not-Holiday Movies list, which this year focuses on TV series for you to binge-watch away your holidays.

Movies watched:

ex machina
Ex Machina, starring Alicia Vikander, Domhnall Gleeson, and Oscar Isaac

Caleb is thrilled when he wins a week-long visit to the remote home of Nathan, the founder of Google Bluebook, and Caleb's idol. However, Caleb quickly discovers he's not there merely to hang out, but to administer the Turing Test to Nathan's latest AI model, "Ava." Which seems like a really cool project at first, but quickly turns into something of a moral quagmire for our hapless hero.

Anachronist from Portable Pieces of Thought recommended this one, and it was much better than I expected. Caleb was kind of clueless–the helicopter stranding him on a jungle island should have been a giant NOPE; has he never seen Jurassic Park?–and I found it difficult to believe he would fall in love with a computer that quickly. But Ex Machina does tell a good story propelled by ideas on science and technology, and Isaac is pitch-perfect as Nathan. At first I was annoyed with the conclusion of the film, but upon further consideration I think they weren't so much going for the femme fatale angle as showing how "human" Ava had become, and that a machine with high-functioning intelligence can no longer be bound by the Three Laws of Robotics. And just the fact that I spent time thinking about the ending after it was over should tell you a lot about this movie.

the grand seduction
The Grand Seduction, starring Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch

The tiny fishing village of Tickle Head, Newfoundland, was once working class proud, but now the aging and diminishing populace survives on welfare. Their only chance at revival lies in attracting a job-creating factory, but to get the factory the town has to have a doctor. Enter Dr. Paul Lewis, who agrees to stay for a month. Will the citizens of Tickle Head be able to seduce him into staying forever?

This movie was okay. Gleeson did a great job as the town's mayor, Murray, and there were some really funny scenes. My favorite was when Paul "caught" a frozen fish. HILARIOUS. I also liked how, in trying to seduce the doctor by being the perfect town, the citizens fell back in love with Tickle Head. But this movie had one big weakness: the doctor in question. He started off as a douchebag, and his character didn't develop significantly over the course of the film. The fact that he remained completely oblivious to Murray's machinations also didn't help: it made him seem like an idiot with his head so far up his own ass he couldn't be bothered to wonder at other people's feelings and decisions. As a result, I found it difficult to believe that Paul would happily settle in Tickle Head, and honestly one would hope the town doctor would have better people skills.

the man from uncle
The Man from U.N.C.L.E., starring Alicia Vikander, Henry Cavill, and Armie Hammer

Another movie starring Alicia Vikander! Strange. Anyway, the 1960 spy versions of The Hulk and Batman team up to stop an evil person from launching a nuclear weapon. A girl tags along to yell at them and necessitate rescuing.

Meh. I was expecting this movie to be lighthearted and fun, but it was more like a forgettable Bond film with ADHD. The plot was ridiculous and the characters took everything way too seriously. I can see where Guy Ritchie was going for a style somewhere between The Italian Job and the films of 1960s Italian directors like Sergio Leone and Michelangelo Antonioni, but it came across like Ritchie was trying to make a Steven Soderbergh movie rather than a Guy Ritchie movie. The whole thing was kind of devoid of energy and joy, really, despite all the "antics." When it was over I wanted to rewatch Spy with Melissa McCarthy as an antidote.

Subscription boxes received:

instapour


Because it was on sale, I decided to try a new subscription service called Instapour, which promises to send "8 - 16 'ready to pour' gourmet cocktails delivered to your door" monthly. Given that and the product photo, I was expecting ingredients for 8-16 *different* cocktails. What I got instead were the ingredients for many servings of one cocktail, which was something of a disappointment (actually, I wonder if they didn't send me the wrong thing, since this is basically their "Office Happy Hour" box). The cocktail itself–Spiced Apple Sour with Caliche Rum–tasted okay, but it was too sweet, the garnish was gross, and there were a ton of things about it that didn't make sense. Why would you shake this with ice? Just to feel like you're making a cocktail? It would make more sense to serve it hot, or pour over rocks and stir. Less work, too.

Idk, I think Instapour needs to really think about their potential customer. Right now they seem to be going for people who don't enjoy or know how to mix cocktails, but why would you order something like this if you didn't like cocktails already?

This week in heidenkindom:

There was so much stuff going on this week. My car was in the shop, I was pet sitting, holiday things needed to be done, I had two articles due and was completely indecisive about what write about, and the credit card processing went mysteriously awry on the website I manage, so we couldn't charge or ship to any customers until Friday. But! I made it. Whew!

Bonus:

File this one under things-I-definitely-do-not-need-but-wouldn't-say-no-to: an "easy" method for making clear ice at home, developed by Camper English of Alcademics.

Unfortunately, the Kickstarter campaign was short by about $25,000. I am SHOCKED people didn't want to pledge $90 for this when really you could just use a small cooler.



Still. Would not say no to it.


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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Virtual Advent: Favorite Not-Holiday Movies, TV Binge Watch Edition

It's that time of the year again, where I talk about my latest and mostest Favorite Not-Holiday Movies. For those of you who are new here, favorite not-holiday movies are movies I like watching during the holidays, but which aren't really "holiday movies." You can find more of my favorite not-holiday movies here, here, here, and here.

This year I decided to do something a little different and highlight series or miniseries you can stream through services like Netflix and Amazon Prime, and which you'll want to watch all once like a really long movie. Because sometimes you just need to settle on the couch in your pajamas and binge out.

the hour bbc drama
The Hour, starring Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, and Dominic West

This series is super hip. It's set in 1960s London, and the locations and costumes are to die for. Freddie, an idealistic young journalist, and his bestie, Bel, are hired to create the newest, cutting-edgiest news program on the BBC, The Hour. The only problem is The Hour's host, Hector, knows nothing about journalism and is a terrible interviewer. In between tutoring Hector, Freddie starts digging into government conspiracies and suspects there are people watching his every move.

The Hour perfectly crosses spies, murder, and danger with the personal lives of Hector, Bel, and Freddie. It works because the characters are brilliant. I ADORE Ben Whishaw as Freddie, he is too lovable, but really all the characters are interesting and sympathetic.

And I'm pretty sure there are Christmas scenes in the series. I distinctly remember seeing a Christmas tree of some sort. 20% sure.

Also, like all the series on this list, you can watch The Hour more than once and enjoy it just as much, if not more so, than the first time! The first time I saw The Hour I binged it in one night right before Christmas, or maybe it was Thanksgiving... ANYWAY, I enjoy rewatching it during the holidays.

mozart in the jungle
Mozart in the Jungle, starring Lola Kirke, Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, Bernadette Peters, and Malcolm McDowell

This series is based on a memoir, but it has the feeling of a new adult serial novel brought to life. Hailey's dream is to play for the New York Symphony Orchestra. When she gets the chance to audition for the Symphony's temperamental and unconventional new conductor, she improbably lands a chair in the oboe section. But it soon turns out her dreams are not so swiftly achieved...

Mozart in the Jungle is a series about following your dreams and being true to yourself that gives us a peek into the unique world of a classical musician. It's hilarious and awesome and, as with all the best NA serials, you CANNOT. STOP. WATCHING. Every person I've talked to who has watched this series finished it in one to two days. Not to mention how fantastic it is to see Bernadette Peters on TV again–LOVE HER.

As for why you should watch it during the holidays, I remember there being a lot of scarves. So I guess it takes place during winter? The second season goes up on Amazon December 30th!

jessica jones
Jessica Jones, starring Krysten Ritter, Rachael Taylor, and David Tennant

While this series is based on a Marvel comic, it couldn't be more different from shows like The Avengers, Agents of SHIELD, and Super Girl. AND THANK GOD FOR THAT. Jessica Jones used to be a superhero, until something terrible happened to her. Now she barely scrapes by as a hard-drinking PI–that is until one case involving a missing girl blows her world apart, again.

Jessica Jones is a neo-noir that hits all the right notes of grittiness, sex, violence, mystery, redemption (or the lack thereof), and dark humor. Krysten Ritter is perfect as the shell-shocked Jess, and David Tennant...! I mean, I love Kilgrave. Tennant is just soooo good at making him charmingly evil.

There's something about noir and Christmas that just goes together for me; that's why my absolute favorite not-holiday movie is LA Confidential. Jessica Jones is a definitely a worthy entry into that genre.

north & south
North & South, starring Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage

If you haven't watched North & South yet... um, you should get to doing that. Margaret Hale's pleasant life in the south of England is ripped apart when her father abruptly decides his calling is in the northern factory town of Milton. Margaret does not like Milton AT ALL, and she especially doesn't like the rude factory owner, John Thornton. Even though he is SUPER HOT. Anyway, the longer she hangs around the more both start to grow on her.

Sometimes you just need something cozy and historical and romantic to watch, and North & South is the perfect remedy. Yes, the plot is basically ripped from Pride & Prejudice, but idk. I don't mind it. And Richard Armitage... rawr. No one stares after a girl like he does, let me tell ya. The man has a gift.

As for why you should watch this at Christmas, it's really good any time of the year. But Milton is cold. Wintry! My favorite line is when Margaret says, "I believe I have seen hell and it's white, it's snow white." Dontcha just want to sip on a hot cocoa and watch this now?

And last but not least...

scandal
Scandal, starring Kerry Washington

When I got a Roku Player for Christmas a few years ago, Scandal was the first series I binge watched on it, so I feel like it needs to be mentioned even if it's not that Christmasy. It's about a Washington DC fixer named Olivia Pope who's a total badass, but it's really a love story between Olivia and the President, Fitz. If you haven't watched the series, I know you're rolling your eyes and thinking, "The President? Really?" because that's what I thought. But this is one of my favorite romantic TV pairings of all time, trust me.

I actually stopped watching Scandal a few seasons back because I felt like it lost the thread of its original plot, but the first two seasons are definitely binge-worthy and must-see. Like you'll watch it, and then you'll find yourself randomly cornering people and demanding to know if they've watched Scandal yet. YOU'LL BECOME OBSESSED. It's the perfect recipe to take your mind off of holiday stress for a few hours.


Check out all the other Virtual Advent 2015 posts at Sprite Writes!




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Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sunday Snapshot for the First Weekend in December

Sofie modeling her latest bling from Le Tote.

Currently reading:

I'm kinda in between books at the moment. I started one last night but nodded off a few paragraphs in, so I wouldn't say I'm "currently reading" it yet.

Posted:

My review of The Kill Artist by Daniel Silva, the first book in the Gabriel Allon series.

Movies watched:

a very murray christmas
A Very Murray Christmas, starring Bill Murray

A traditional Christmas special in which Bill Murray is bummed because a wicked snowstorm has stopped anyone from coming to his Christmas show. But through random strangers, singing, and the power of tequila, he discovers the true meaning of Christmas. This movie was delightful! Tons of celebrity cameos, great music (including the only version of "Baby It's Cold Outside" that didn't make me want to curse), and awesome locations. My favorite scene was when Murray forced Chris Rock to sing "Do You Hear What I Hear?" HI.LAR.IOUS. George Clooney hiding behind a tree was also pretty funny.

This week in heidenkindom:

December is upon us, and I have to admit I'm starting to get stressed out about finding presents for everyone. As for decorating, the glass Christmas tree I got in Murano is out of the closet. That's as far as I've gotten, and likely will get.

Anyway. Holiday cheer! Elves! Cookies! Alcohol! At least the dogs have adorable Christmas sweaters, that's something.

Bonus:

tutankhamun's tomb color photograph


Chances are you've already seen photos of King Tutankhamun's tomb. But recently they've been colorized, and now they're amazing. What a difference color makes!


Have a great week, everyone!




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Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Review: THE KILL ARTIST by Daniel Silva


the kill artist

I've been a fan of Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series ever since reading The English Girl, and since then I've been making my way–backwards, mind–through the series. I kind of stalled out on The Messenger, but I did really want to read the first Gabriel Allon book, The Kill Artist, out of sheer curiosity. It was a unique experience.

If you've read any of the more recent Allon novels, you know there's a kind of formula to how these stories work: Gabriel Allon, superstar art restorer and retired Israeli assassin, is approached by a spy organization–sometimes Mossad, sometimes not–to take care of a situation ONLY HE can resolve. Reluctantly, Allon agrees. Relying on his vast international network of friends and frenemies, Allon eventually saves the girl and the day.

The Kill Artist is not like that. Oh, Allon is an art restorer dragged into hunting down a terrorist and assassin by his old boss and father figure, Ari Shamron, but that's about where the similarities end.

First of all, the book feels a little dated. The Kill Artist was published in 2000, before September 11th, and it shows. I wouldn't say the terrorists seem quaint, but they're definitely old school, and the attitudes of the spy organizations and the world are completely different. Little things like what we would consider extremely lax airport security, or open borders, really underscores how long ago this book was written. The US is generally dismissive of the possibility of terrorist attacks, and interagency cooperation? You must be kidding.

Secondly, The Kill Artist isn't really about Gabriel Allon at all, it's about the Jewish diaspora in Europe and how it forms its own unique intelligence network. Silva's point seems to be that Israel may be a country, but it's one that represents an entire people of many different nationalities, a huge advantage on the intelligence front.

Finally, Allon is not a hero in The Kill Artist. He doesn't save the girl, he doesn't find the terrorist OR kill him, and his character is not admirable. He's really kind of a useless jerk, actually.

What surprised me most in The Kill Artist were revelations concerning Allon and his first wife, Leah. In every Allon book we learn that Allon's car was bombed in Vienna many years ago, in retaliation for his assassination of members of Black September. Allon was not in the car at the time, but his son and Leah were, and afterward his son died while his wife went mad with grief.

spoilers
Yeah, the rest of this review is going to have a ton of spoilers.

What we learn in The Kill Artist is that shortly before the explosion, Allon slept with one of his field agents, and the reason only Leah and his son were in the car was because she'd stormed out after she found out about it. She was leaving him, in other words (good for her).

A Gabriel Allon who sleeps with another woman he's in love with while his wife is in a mental hospital and can't even remember him is one thing; ishy, but you can't blame the guy. Having casual sex with his coworker in exotic locales while his wife is at home with their kid is whole different deal, one I would not have expected from his character.

As for The Other Woman herself, Sarah Halevy, I found her purpose in the book to be pretty annoying. It makes no sense that she's a famous supermodel because if she is, WOULDN'T PEOPLE RECOGNIZE HER? The only reason for it I could see was to make us feel less bad about Allon sleeping with her. She's the most beautiful supermodel in the world! How could he be expected to pass that up? Riiiiiiiiiight.

Usually by the end of a Gabriel Allon novel, I like and respect his character, but that was impossible to do by the end of The Kill Artist. It's quite a cynical novel, and doesn't exactly sync up with what I've come to know of the main characters. I'm not sure I would recommend it to newbies of the series, but I'm glad I read it.


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