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- (8/27) The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10
Kids on 25 Words or Less by Terry Ryan.
- Memoir about the author's mother, a truly remarkable woman who
supported her alcoholic husband and ten children by entering contests left
and right. Just as one appliance broke or one kid needed $100 in dental
work, the mailman would stroll up to the house with notice of another win.
But these weren't the luck-based sweepstakes of today -- these were
contests requiring a talent for rhyme and word-play, something Mother Ryan
was a natural at.
This book is full not only of dozens of her delightful entries, but of
totally heartwarming tales of how she kept her family alive -- both in
body and in spirit. The sacrifices that she made for the sake of her
kids, and her strength right till the end, truly inspired me. The last
pages of this book made me cry -- not just because the book ends when
Mother Ryan's life does, but because of the love her children so achingly
write about in the final pages and afterword. This is a wonderful book --
a tale of a mid-20th-century American woman with more soul and courage
than I've encountered in a single human being in quite some time. Highly,
(8/23) The Manhattan Hunt Club by John Saul.
It's been a long time since I read a John Saul novel -- I was a fan of his
stuff when I was in high school and pretty much haven't touched it
since. But this one really sounded intriguing. A man, wrongly
convicted of a horrible crime against a woman, is thrown in jail. When
about to be transferred to Rikers for what seemed like an
unfairly-short sentence given the crime, though, he's instead kind of
and then set free in an underground maze of rooms. If he can get
out of the maze, he can go free. But it's not a simple matter of finding
your way -- there are people in there trying to kill him as
well. Why? Cuz the maze has been created by a band of vigilantes, sick and
of criminals getting less than they deserve. Only this time,
they've put the wrong man in there. Bummer for him.
The plot sounded good -- kind of like a modern-day version of
"The Running Man," a movie I kind of like. But Saul mucks it all up by
focusing equally on the quest of the man's father, who thinks
something screwy is definitely going on and wants to know what (they tell
his son is dead, but the body doesn't match up quite right). By
the middle of the book, I was skimming a lot to get to the exciting parts.
the end, I kind of didn't care what happened to anybody anymore.
Skip it unless you worship the ground John Saul walks on.
(8/19) The Wide Window by Lemony Snicket.
Fans of the Beaudelaire series by Snicket are probably
wondering why it took me what looks like 6 days to read this little tiny
book, third in the series. Well, it didn't. It actually took me more
like an hour. But I've been busy with wedding plans lately and haven't
had as much free time. Which makes the reading of another Snicket book
all that much more pleasant, actually. How better to spend an hour on a
sunny afternoon than by reading another totally silly book about the
comically depressing life of those three jinxed orphans, the Beaudelaires.
If you haven't started this series yet, get your butt in gear.
(8/15) House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III.
Tragic story about a former Iranian colonel who moves his
family to America with all the best intentions, then sort of screws up all
their lives trying to create the perfect version of the American Dream for
them all. He starts by spending all their money on a house and
furnishings far too expensive for their bank account balance, in order to
lure a better husband for his daughter. When she finally gets married, he
sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction. But when the
original owner, a self-destructive alcoholic, decides she didn't really
want to sell the house after all, the legal battle that results soon turns
personal, with pretty horrible results. What makes this bummer of a book
worth your time is the way it's written -- through the viewpoints of the
two main adversaries, the colonel and Kathy, the alcoholic. To both of
them, the house represents something much more than just a place of
shelter -- for the colonel, it IS the American Dream. For Kathy, it's a
reminder of her past, which to her contains far greener pasture than her
future. Above all, this is yet another novel debunking the American
Dream, and, as such, it's sort of hard to sympathize too much with either
character (haven't they read all those OTHER novels about the wretchedly
untrue American Dream? It's like when characters in horror movies go down
to the basement without thinking -- haven't they been paying attention?!).
But something about this novel really hooked me anyway. Maybe it was the
author's obvious compassion for the characters. Maybe it was the
characters themselves. Maybe it was just that I sort of think a house is
what I need to be happy these days myself. But why overanalyze? Just
(8/13) Cozy by Parnell Hall.
Enjoyable mystery featuring Hall's regular, PI Stanley
Hastings. This is the 14th in the Hastings series, but it's my first, so
I can't tell you much about him. I'm definitely intrigued, though, and it
would be safe to bet that you'll be seeing more reviews of his books over
the next few months, unless this one turns out to be an enigma and the
others all stink.
In "Cozy," Hastings and his wife Alice go on a vacation in New England,
staying at a B&B (or maybe it's an inn) called "The Blue Frog Ponds."
While there, they do a little hiking and get to know some of the other
people staying at the B&B with them. And, of course, they become involved
in a murder investigation. The scary part is that guests of the B&B are
getting bumped off one by one. The even scarier part is that the cop in
charge is a complete moron getting nowhere fast on the case. Good thing
Great novel for when you're out sick or at the beach for a weekend. I
read it in a day. It's not literature, and I was a little disappointed in
the ending (too obvious!) but if you're looking for a charming little
mystery, this one will do the trick quite nicely. Recommended!
(8/10) Fatal Voyage by Kathy Reichs.
Fourth novel in the Temperance Brennan series, this one has
Tempe (a forensic anthropologist) called in to help identify the
dismembered victims of a terrible airplane crash in the woods of a small
New England town. When she finds a foot that doesn't seem to match up
with any of the passengers on the flight, she begins to explore the woods
for another body and the town for some clues, and eventually ends up
getting sucked into a gigantic and totally bizarre series of events which
almost get her killed (or worse!).
Once again, the plot is thrilling, the characters wonderful and real, and
the science totally fascinating. Reichs is as good as Patricia Cornwell
used to be (if you're a faithful reader, you know I think Cornwell's
novels have gotten sloppy over the last 3 years or so). The only problem
I had with this novel, which I could hardly stand to put down, was that
Tempe kept feeding her dog all kinds of people food that dogs just should
not eat. Dogs do not eat french fries, Tempe! It's just not good for
them! So, next time, feed the dog some Alpo, and then you'll get an A+
instead of just an A. Highly recommended!
(8/7) Gunman's Rhapsody by Robert B. Parker.
Disappointing novel by one of my all-time favorite authors
about one of my all-time favorite subjects, Wyatt Earp and the wild West.
It's not unreadable -- I read the whole thing and enjoyed it, for the most
part. But it doesn't have anything new to say and most of it seemed
slapped together quickly and without much concern for detail. The
characters, most of whom I already know and love, were very
two-dimensional and dull. Even the great, exciting Doc Holliday made me
yawn. As a HUGE fan of Parker's Spenser series, I was pretty bummed by
this novel. I wanted Wyatt Earp and Doc to be like an old-time Spenser
and Hawk, but instead, they were just the same guys you've encountered in
every single movie or book you've read about them. And with about half as
much character as you've experienced before. A very big waste of your
time, much as it pains me to say so.
(8/2) Duplicate Keys by Jane Smiley.
Extremely good thriller about a group of friends who have been
together for decades, eventually settling in New York. A group of them
are in a band together and over the years have given out a number of spare
keys to their apartment so that various people can come over and crash
whenever they need to. This seems pretty harmless, until Alice goes to
visit one day and finds two of her best friends dead at the kitchen table
-- shot through the head, maybe over some cocaine. The girlfriend of one
of the victims, Alice's best friend Susan, rushes home from her vacation,
and the two of them spend several weeks trying to make sense of the
killings. But the killer is still on the loose and since neither one
knows what the motive was, neither one can really be safe until the killer
is found. Who the killer actually turns out to be will surprise you (it
even surprised me and I usually can guess these things!). The motive for
the killings will surprise you even more. But what's even more
astonishing is that this isn't your typical mystery. Instead of focusing
on the victims or the murderer or even the investigation, the focus is on
Alice and Susan and how they are coping with the tragedy. How it changes
their relationship. How it affects their world-view. It's a much more
emotional look at murder -- and this creates an even deeper feeling of
suspense, I think. I great enjoyed this novel and highly, highly
recommend it to mystery fans as well as to fans of good drama and good
writing. Jane Smiley isn't really a favorite author of mine, but I have
yet to read anything she's written that hasn't impressed me -- this is no
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