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Series Review: Tales of the City

23 Jun

It was a few years ago now that I first met the residents of 28 Barbary Lane. I was instantly enchanted. Each return visit as I read each installment was like catching up with old friends- and growing up with them and even growing apart from some.

As a gay man, this was a wonderful eye opener of what kind of love is possible and how much color variances there are in the LGBTQ rainbow spectrum.

As someone who grew up in San Francisco, I loved how the city was as much of a character as the people who called it home.

These are my reviews of each book in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series.

Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #1)Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin is my 40th favorite book! I had picked this for my World Book Night giveaway this year.

It was a bit risky to ask to give a book out I hadn’t read before but I knew I was going to at least like it a little bit from the chapters I previewed online. I just didn’t realize how much I would love it- the characters, the writing, the format. Originally written as as serial in a San Francisco newspaper, the chapters are short and makes you want to read what happens next. Each one is like getting a piece of puzzle and it’s wonderful when they start to fit together. The fact I grew up in San Francisco added another level of enjoyment.
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More Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #2)More Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Chock-full of surprises and scandalous secrets, this kept me up all night! Seriously, “just one more chapter” is impossible once you know the characters. And, probably even if you didn’t, the sometimes outlandish situations they get themselves into will keep you turning pages!
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Further Tales of the City (Tales of the City, #3)Further Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Apparently I’ve been reading one Armistead Maupin Tales of the City novel a year. I find myself completely engrossed in them every time I pick one up but I haven’t had a desire to binge read them. Book three in the series brings back the characters readers have grown to love and putting them into even more ridiculously good situations. (Depending on which edition you read, the publisher-provided summary is too spoilery considering some of the thing it mentions doesn’t happen until much later in the book.) There was hardly a chapter I didn’t at least laugh out loud or shake my head in disbelief at what was happening.
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Babycakes (Tales of the City, #4)Babycakes by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The gang’s back and as dysfunctional as ever. Times are changing as characters face the lost of a loved one, an uncertain future, and the arrival of the Queen of England.

I listened to this on audio book and its short chapters and soap opera plots makes it great for taking longer walks just to see what happens next.

Not as tight as previous installments- relying too much on coincidences and convenient happenings- but nevertheless enjoyable.
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Significant Others (Tales of the City, #5)Significant Others by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
By far, my least favorite in the Tales of the City series.

Not only has the characters I’ve gotten close to become quite insufferable but there are also new characters I really had no interest in. I understand that they are flawed beings but it’s almost like character assassination the way Armistead Maupin seemed to make them unlikable this go around.

And for some reason, the over the top situations that I delighted in before didn’t work- neither did the “it’s a small world” of it all.

But to be fair, the second half of the book was much better than the first.
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Sure of You (Tales of the City, #6)Sure of You by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
This sixth volume of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City was originally the final one in the series after he revived it about two decades later. It didn’t feel like it ended at all. There’s no problem with ambiguous endings so we can imagine the characters continue living their lives after we close the books but this one felt it needed a few more chapters.

I liked that the problems in this one was more grounded and less scandalous. It gave us a chance to focus on how the characters have changed. Unfortunately, I felt Mary Ann has gone through a character assassination. I’ve made peace with the fact that people do grow into characters we don’t recognize from when we first meet them and I can see how she might have gotten too ambitious for her own good but she was utterly cold-hearted in this one. The fact she was barely in the previous book- after starting to become unlikable in the book before that- didn’t help. I guess it’s understandable the focus of the series will be on Michael Tolliver but to basically sideline and ruin another character seemed unnecessary.

I listened to the audiobook version of this and I’ve got to say Eric McCormick who narrated this did a great job.

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Michael Tolliver Lives (Tales of the City, #7)Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s nice to get back to these familiar characters- although I didn’t have to wait almost twenty years since the last book in the series as the original fans had to.

The characters are older. There’s a stronger sense of nostalgia even as they find themselves in new situations, new predicaments.

Unlike the previous books, this is told in first person and through Michael Tolliver’s eyes.

The audio book was read by the author and includes an interview with him- as well as a short infomercial of sorts about the importance of reading aloud to children and that publisher has a whole array of audio books for kids to choose from. The only thing I didn’t like was the weird musical segues from time to time.
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Mary Ann in Autumn (Tales of the City, #8)Mary Ann in Autumn by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If Michael Tolliver Lives was a return of characters we’ve loved reading, Mary Ann in Autumn is a return to form to this special series. Not only do we get the serialized format that people either love or hate depending on who that chapter’s focus is but we also get the outrageous plotlines (and the it’s a small world mentality) that will keep readers hooked.

Mary Ann faces an uncertain future while the past ends up clawing its way into her present. Mary Ann has become quite unlikable in the later books in the series so I was worried having the focus on her. Will she be redeemed? Or will the series’ heroine complete her downward spiral?
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The Days of Anna Madrigal (Tales of the City, #9)The Days of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From Barbary Lane to Burning Man, from present day dramas to secrets surfacing from the past, this is the final installment in the Tales of the City saga.

With its revolving and evolving cast of characters, this definitely had a goodbye party vibe to it as familiar faces pop up in unexpected ways.

The matriarch of a San Francisco logical family, Anna Madrigal has lived a long life and feels the end is near. And even despite the convenient coincidences that Armistead Maupin likes to use in his books he managed to come to the end in such a way that somehow felt both satisfying and unsatisfying yet the way it should be.

Even after the final page, I’m sure the characters have a few more adventures awaiting them.

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There have been TV mini-series adaptations of the first three novels. While I watched a few clips, it didn’t capture me. Although with talks of reviving it with some of the original actors, I may end up giving it a second chance. Although, I would have loved to see the musical!

What are your thoughts on Tales of the City?

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