April 2009
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(4/18) Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane. (read me!)

This is the first Dennis Lehane novel I ever read -- way back in May of 2003. I remembered being really entertained by it, so I recommended it to my husband recently when he got hooked on Lehane's Patrick Kenzie series and ran out of installments to read. He loved this one too, so I decided it was about time I reread it, having mostly forgotten all its intricacies. After I was done, I went back to reread my original review of this novel, though, and was pretty surprised to find I had been really pissed about its ending back then in 2003. In my defense, that was right about the time I saw the movie Identity, I think, and the two have somewhat similar denouements, which was not a plus when it came to Shutter Island. I was already irritated by that conceit, and I'm sure stumbling into it AGAIN at the end of this otherwise-fantastic novel was pretty infuriating.

This time around, oddly enough, I was still sort of disappointed when I realized anew where Lehane was taking his characters, but it didn't seem to bother me as much as it had originally. Go figure.

The story, by the way, is about two cops who have been sent to Shutter Island, the location of an asylum for the criminally insane, to investigate the disappearance of one of the institution's patients. Only, once they get to the island, they start to discover there's a whole lotta crazy stuff going on there, and it's not all the work of the inmates.

The ending is a bit cheeseorama, if you ask me. But at the same time, it sort of works too. In even better news, I recently learned this book is being turned into a film that will be directed by Martin Scorsese and star Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, and Leonardo DiCaprio. With a crew like that, I have a feeling it's going to be a pretty entertaining ride. Looking forward to it! And if you've never read a Lehane novel, this might not be a bad one to start with. He's hands-down one of the best dialogue writers I've seen in a long time, and for that skill alone, he's worth a read. [comment on this book review]

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(4/13) A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane. (read me! )

After having recently read our first-ever book in Lehane's Patrick Kenzie series, Prayers for Rain, both my husband and I are totally hooked on his stuff (we were already fans of his episodes of the terrific cop series The Wire, and also of the films Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone). This novel is actually the first in the series and while Mr. Meg loved it, I have to confess Mrs. Meg was actually just a tiny bit underwhelmed. That is, the story and characters are great -- brilliant, even. But it really felt like a "first novel" to me, a concept Mr. Meg seemed confused by. Possibly because he doesn't read very many novels to begin with (he's a non-fiction guy, mostly) (nerd).

That said, a "first novelish" Lehane novel is still worlds above most of the other crime fiction you'll stumble across out there, so definitely put this one, and the entire Kenzie series for that matter, in your to-read pile. This installment introduces us to the characters of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, two long-time South Boston buddies who have opened up a private investigator's office in a local church belfry. When this book begins, Angela is actually married to someone else (an abusive jerk, as a matter of fact), so the two are not dating yet (like in later books). But they have great sexual tension, which is almost as much fun, and are both really vividly-drawn characters with loads of personality (I also confess to a moderate crush on their sidekick, Bubba, for reasons I don't quite understand).

Their first case is brought to them by a local politician, who wants to hire them to find a cleaning lady who has stolen some "documents" and then disappeared. Only, once Patrick and Angela find her, they discover all is not quite what it seems. Their continued investigation leads them deep into the worlds of political corruption and child pornography, and ultimately ends in a massive gang war that takes out dozens of people city-wide. Lots of rough and tumble action, snappy dialogue, and intensity abounds. The one flaw I'd say it had is that it could've used some serious tightening up in a few places -- places where I started to feel bogged down in conversations between some of the characters that had no real direct application to the storyline or even to their own development. That's where the book started to feel a little n00bish to me. Other than that, though, this is a gripping read, and definitely one I highly recommend to fans of gritty crime fiction. [comment on this book review]

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(4/7) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. (read me!)

I'm actually jumping ahead a bit in book reviews, because I read the novel The Reader (Bernhard Schlink) before I read this novel and I haven't reviewed it yet. Actually, let's just review it in a nutshell and get it out of the way: Man, I'm glad I wasn't a young, single, illiterate woman living in Germany during the 1940's. The Reader is a bummer of massive proportions. [FICTION]  Annnnnd, done!

Now, here's the thing: I would've taken more time with that review, but I was just alerted this morning to a news story about a New Orleans man who is recovering in the hospital after a stranger came up to him in his yard, ranted and raved a bit, and then bit a chunk of flesh out of the poor guy's arm and swallowed it.

If you've seen as many zombie movies as I have, you know this means one thing and one thing only: the zombie apocalypse is nigh! This is how it always starts, after all -- with a random news story that at first glance just looks like an isolated incident of crazy. But soon we'll see a similar report. And then another. And the next thing you know, we'll be surrounded by the walking dead. I don't know about you guys, but I'm heading to WalMart this afternoon to buy a shotgun and some Power Bars. I plan on being ready.

And, thanks to this BRILLIANT work of literary fiction, I'm more prepared than ever for World War Z. Fans of the original Austen novel should consider this a must-read -- if only because it's almost exactly the original Austen novel, but way more fun. Instead of sitting around writing angsty letters and taking leisurely walks in the countryside, Elizabeth and her sisters periodically get to wield axes and kick some mean zombie butt. Genius! I've long said that almost every story could be made better with the addition of zombies, and Grahame-Smith has finally proven me correct. This book is absolutely hilarious and perfect -- I couldn't have written it better myself.

But even more important than its entertainment value is its EDUCATIONAL value. And in light of today's news report, I think it's more important than ever that we all take some time to learn whatever we can about the undead. The zombies are coming, people.  They may already be here. 

Read it, learn it, live it.

And remember: AIM FOR THE HEAD. [comment on this book review]


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All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
Email -- meg@megwood.com
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