Out of Our Heads

The Mentalist

The Mentalist: The Complete Sixth Season – Warner Brothers Entertainment, Inc. ($59.98)

“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Bette Davis, All About Eve

In this case the viewer is prepping for 22 nights – a full season of action and emotion-packed episodes. That’s if you’re able to limit yourself to watching one per day. Just the prospect of advertisement-free programming alone would prompt a fan to opt for the DVD version of this enduring television show.

Such was the situation for this reviewer. The prior year’s boxed set of episodes had been purchased for viewing with excellent results. The nature of the series, typically involving subtle dialogue and mood lighting when called for by the story line, is best enjoyed without interruption, viewed on equipment that produces crisp images and flawless sound quality. Alas, a cable feed to a good, but not great, television set produces a compromised viewing experience. Even TIVO or a similar recording device requires fast forwarding, which interrupts the flow of the story.

When the sixth season of The Mentalist starring Simon Baker as Patrick Jane was offered for review, I was quick to respond. The package arrived almost immediately and I set about the task with my idea of optimal viewing via a 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro, Apple USB SuperDrive and Apple EarPods with Remote and Mic. The five DVD edition features tremendous, headphone-worthy, sound.

The sixth season commences, as have many others, with Patrick solving a baffling crime in short order. This satisfying gambit is followed by the real business at hand, identifying and capturing Red John. While there are some really dumb moves on the part of the ongoing cast, yes, you Teresa Lisbon, for the most part the viewer is brought back into the rhythm of the past years’ story line.

The Mentalist 2

Several of the episodes are truly awesome standouts complete with suspense, deep mystery, and emotionally satisfying interactions among the characters. Along the way Patrick Jane and the California Bureau of Intelligence (CBI) team eliminate possible Red John candidates. Justice is served because each in his or her own way is a despicable person.

Viewers familiar with California’s scenic coastline may be confused by the rapidity with which the CBI team travels up and down the state. Although it is possible to traverse from Sacramento to Malibu Beach in part of a day, the trip in Patrick’s vintage Citroen felt suspiciously short! At other times the locations labeled are clearly nowhere close to being accurate. Yes, this has always been a shortcoming of the series but one can nevertheless hope for improvements in the future. One improvement is that actual skyline scenes of Sacramento are shown.

Perhaps it was the fact that I took on the review assignment, that led me to read the episode pamphlet in detail; something I’ve never before done. I found it fascinating that the tone and pace of the episodes varied significantly with the writers and directors. There were stand-alone episodes and multi-episode story lines, along with more than adequate emotional hemming and hawing on the part of several of the characters (no spoilers here).

Lastly, the nature of the series remained intact regardless of shifts in locale and the addition of several new ongoing plot threads. Purists will surely appreciate the payoff associated with the delayed gratification required while they waited to purchase the complete sixth season boxed set. It takes just 15 hours and 27 minutes of viewing for satisfaction to fully set in.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was received from Warner Brothers Entertainment. This box set was released on September 30, 2014.

This review first appeared on the Blogcritics site:

http://blogcritics.org/dvd-review-the-mentalist-the-complete-sixth-season/

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The Mentalist

A look at The Mentalist: The Complete Sixth Season on five DVDs.

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For a Dancer

Five Days Left (nook book)

Five Days Left

Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer (Putnam, $26.95, 352 pages)

At first, it wasn’t a conscious decision, keeping her illness from them. She was in denial in the beginning, as loathe to admit to herself that everything was wrong as she was to admit it to them. But then, after her diagnosis, everyone around her became so overly concerned, so insufferably attentive that she started to regret anyone knew… (I)t was infuriating to watch herself deteriorate in the eyes of the people around her. Use the word “disease” and suddenly everyone will instantly treat you like you’re ill, Mara learned, even on days you feel fine.

Five Days Left is a close to perfect debut novel from Julie Lawson Timmer, whose background is in law. This is the story of Mara Nichols, a successful lawyer, wife and mother whose life is put on hold by a diagnosis of Huntington’s Disease. Mara fights to hide her symptoms from her co-workers and family members for months and years, but eventually realizes that her body is breaking down and out-of-control; the disease is going to take her life. So Mara decides that she will commit suicide on her next birthday. The narrative begins five days before the birthday on which Mara will end it all. Or will she?

(Her death by suicide) was a dreadful thing to do to a child, a husband, to such caring parents and friends, but really, who were any of them to judge? How could they ever truly know what she had gone through? Who were any of them to say they wouldn’t have at least considered the same thing?

Timmer does an excellent job of portraying how infirmity can make a coward out of the strongest individual. Mara goes from being a life-long workaholic to becoming a virtual invalid. Once proud, she eventually simply wants everything to be over with and no longer cares about how she’ll be judged upon her self-inflicted demise. It’s a timely, unique look at the mindset of a suicidal person.

Five Days Left (kindle edition)

There’s a secondary character and story that’s not as strong, and that story is a touch unrealistic. But all in all, this is a stunning work from Timmer.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. This book was released on September 9, 2014.

“…this impressive debut novel heralds the arrival of an extremely talented writer.” Jodi Picoult

Five Days Left is a heart-wrenching drama about a world in which there are no easy answers… This novel feels as true as life.” Christina Baker Kline

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Five Days Left (Timmer)

A review of Five Days Left: A Novel by Julie Lawson Timmer.

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Come On Down To My Boat

The Gondola Maker

The Gondola Maker: A Novel by Laura Morelli (Laura Morelli, $29.99, 296 pages; also available in trade paper and as an e-book download)

Get ready for a real change of pace. Author Laura Morelli holds a PhD in art history from Yale University and has numerous writing credits to her name. The Gondola Maker is her first work of fiction. Ever the historian, Ms. Morelli spent significant time and effort in crafting an historical novel. She has achieved a fascinating balance between facts and fiction.

The narrator of this sometimes-stark tale is Luca Vianello, a twenty-something son of a prominent gondola builder, who lives in 16th century Venice, Italy. The opening scene is riveting. At the time of the story, Venice is a republic with harsh punishments for lawbreakers whose crimes range from public swearing to murder. The reader is immersed in this militant culture via Luca’s recollections of the punishments he has witnessed in the public square. As in other cultures and eras, crowds gather to witness the offenders pay for their deeds.

All of it was meant to uphold the just and civilized society of Our Great Republic of Venice, so it was explained to me.

Luca makes it clear that there is a double standard in place as graft and corruption thrive in his republic. Life in those times – governed by superstition (sinister left-handedness), seems both similar and alien compared to the 21st century. There are defined social classes, guilds/unions and artists. However, the 16th century guilds and unions are stronger even than the unions of 50 years ago in the USA. On the brighter side, women of today are able to live lives independent of their husbands and family. Luca’s beloved mother is but a possession of his despotic father.

The tale is infused with an ominous tone of foreboding as Luca’s life unravels due to his outburst of temper. The reader is brought along through his efforts to create a new life. Along the way there are fascinating episodes as Luca moves within the workshops of boat makers, fine artists, costumers and the rowdy millieu of the republic’s essential gondola operators.

Ms. Morelli’s writing style is literate and yet she does not overwhelm the reader. Her characters are believable and in Luca’s case, likeable.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was received from a publicist.

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From London to France

Maise Dobbs

Maise Dobbs: Tenth Anniversary Edition by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Crime, $14.95, 304 pages)

Maise felt a chill as the stillness of the cemetery seeped through her clothing and touched her skin. Yet the shiver was familiar to Maisie, who had felt the sensation even in warm weather when there was no cooling breeze. She had come to recognize this spark of energy passing across her skin as a warning.

The re-release of Maisie Dobbs proved a delightful introduction to Jacqueline Winspear’s British mystery series. Maisie is a top-notch spunky lady who has enjoyed the patronage of a wealthy benefactor, Lady Rowan Compton. Rather than a lucky happenstance, Maisie’s elevation from a lowly household servant to brilliant psychologist/detective is the result of her hard work and dedication to learning.

The time period is World War I, a favorite of many English mystery writers. What sets this one apart is the easy dialogue and charming characters. Maisie is going out on her own as an investigator after apprenticing with Maurice Blanche, a seasoned investigator. Her first case is a referral from Lady Compton’s attorney. A gentleman suspects his wife of being unfaithful and Maisie’s task is to determine whether the wife’s clandestine activities are a signal of marital trouble.

Maisie Dobbs is likeable without being too sweet or snarky. The book is a satisfying read. The trade paper book includes background on the author’s series and a list of reader study questions for book clubs.

Highly recommended.

Murder on the Ile Sordou (nook book)

Murder on the Ile Sordou: A Verlaque & Bonner Provencal Mystery by M. L. Longworth (Penguin, $15.00, 303 pages)

Verlaque said, “It’s a good idea, Clement. This is a beautiful place, from what I’ve seen so far. You’ll make back your investment.” Verlaque took another sip of wiskey; he knew all to well how risky the hotel and restaurant business was. And this one was on a remote island.

Now, there’s a change of scenery from London to France. The time is present day and the sleuths are two well-educated and highly placed legal professionals. Chief Magistrate Antoine Verlaque and his paramour law professor Marine Bonnet are embarking on their fourth adventure in Ms. Longworth’s series featuring the couple. Fans of Agatha Christie will notice her familiar style immediately. Longworth fashions her mystery using the gracious, unhurried approach and meticulous attention to detail that Christie readers expect.

Verlaque and Bonnet are on a summer vacation at a newly constructed/recreated 1960’s destination hotel situated on an island off the coast of Marseille. Their fellow vacationers include an old school chum of Verlaque and his wife, Ms. Bonnet’s best friend, a retired schoolteacher, a has-been French actor, his wife and stepson, and an American couple. Each of these characters, along with the hotel owners and staff are revealed with in-depth background information that the reader needs to use to solve the mystery.

The crime is committed well into the book, which highlights the nature of the tale – one that requires patience and careful attention to achieve a full enjoyment of the read. Ms. Longworth has a background that includes knowledge of French food and wine. She blends in her favorites in a way that feels charming rather than ostentatious. Although the Ile Sordou is fiction, the rest of the atmosphere is real.

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

Review copies were received from the publishers.

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A review of Murder on the Ile Sordou: A Verlaque & Bonnet Provencal Mystery by M. L. Longworth.

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