Books In Brief

Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza: Alone in the CrowdChuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs and Cocoa PuffsEoin Colfer: And Another Thing…

Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza: Alone in the Crowd. Garcia-Roza’s Espinosa mysteries, of which this is the seventh, need not necessarily be read in sequence. This is a good thing, since that makes this book as good a place to start as any if you’re new to the author. Some series — Armistead Maupin’s beloved Tales of the City books come to mind — tend to rely too heavily on back stories and on the sense of connection that some readers develop with authors’ characters, to a point where the authors seem to skimp on other things that count, like a compelling narrative. It’s to the author’s credit that in this case, as much sense has been paid to crafting a story worth telling, and reading. I won’t spoil the plot (there’s plenty of spoilers available online); suffice it to say, if you’re a fan of Chandleresque detective fiction, with a twist, you’ll find much to enjoy in this book.

Chuck Klosterman: Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. Criticism can be dismal business. I’m reminded of this as I read things that start from the assumption that you can’t say something intellingent about something without a ranking or a handful of stars attached, and some wiseass will likely be reminded of it while reading this. 

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Puerto Rico Diary 4: Caveat Emptor

The Church, by Wilfredo Labiosa In which we come to the final part of the journey, the part where you scour your vacation destination in search of unique swag to bring back for family and friends. If you’ve ever been to Times Square or the Theater District in Manhattan, or anywhere frequented by tourists in nearly any major metropolitan area in the United States, you’ve already got a pretty good idea of what we encountered in Puerto Rico. In San Juan, one smallish hole-in-the-wall purveyor of cheap Chinese-made tchochkes, in fact, had thoughtfully but bluntly been named, “The Tourist Trap.”

As with any other trip — whether around the world, or around the block — a little persistance pays off. If you’d like something unique from your stay in Puerto Rico, there are two places that we’d highly recommend. This will sound like an advertisement, but rest assured we didn’t receive compensation from either place; we were just overjoyed to find somewhere that wasn’t hawking the same chintzy t-shirts, beach towels, and license plates that you could probably get on the NJ Turnpike (though if that’s your bag, you’ll find no shortage, either in San Juan or in Ponce).

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Puerto Rico Diary 3: Seeing the Sights

El Castillo Serralles, Ponce, Puerto Rico The State Department frequently issues travel advisories for various corners of the globe. Since Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, though, you won’t generally see much by way of advisories. This is a bit of a shame, since it would’ve been nice if we’d known before we went that practically the whole island was on strike the day we arrived. The streets of Old San Juan, if not for their distinctive architecture, could easily have been mistaken for a quiet suburb somewhere in Jersey. Both nights we were there, the largest number of people we saw out late at night were a handful of people playing dominoes in the Plaza de Armas. This isn’t to say there wasn’t plenty to do in Puerto Rico. Sure, the museums were mostly shuttered, but once you’ve run the gauntlet of the scores of McDonalds and other chains, there’s plenty to see. A few highlights:

El Morro: This fort is one of a string of fortifications–along with San Cristobal–that defended Old San Juan. If you’re coming to Puerto Rico from the mainland, this can be quite an experience, given that there’s not much on the mainland that’s any older than about three hundred years old, and many of our landmarks are more recent than that. While Puerto Rico has undergone its fair share of development, luckily it hasn’t all been at the expense of a sense of history.

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