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December 2003
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (12/22) The Return of the Spanish Lady by Val Davis.

    Exciting, entertaining novel about an archaeologist, Nicolette Scott, whose specialty is finding and restoring old aircraft. Shortly after taking a job with the Smithsonian, she is thrilled to be offered a job with the museum's latest project -- an expedition to a remote area of Alaska to dig up a Japanese plane shot down during World War II. It seems like the opportunity of a lifetime, especially since it's being fully and generously funded by a company that is decking them out with the latest and greatest gear.

    Not long after the search begins, the plane is indeed found. But a couple of the people on the expedition team begin acting funny. Nick initially thinks they must be lovers, but then the team's guide is found dead, and she's unconvinced it was accidental. It's soon revealed that the company had a darker reason behind their generosity, a reason that has to do with the Spanish Lady -- the killer flu virus of 1918. Unless Nicolette can defuse their dastardly plan, millions could die, and if she doesn't do something quickly, the deaths will start with the innocent members of her expedition team and Nick herself!

    I do have to say for the record, though, that some of the writing in this novel is just plain awful. For one thing, Nick is prone to non-sequiturs that are clearly dropped into her thoughts because the author was too lazy or too incapable of getting that information to the reader in a way less, uh, non-sequitury. And let's not even talk about the anthropomorphizing of the bears -- completely hokey and unnecessary. And then there's Nick's attitude towards the Native American character (disdainful), and the Native American character's bizarro willingness to put his own life at risk because he suddenly loves her, even though she's spent the entire time dissing his beliefs and acting like a snotty know-it-all about everything Native American. Especially annoying given the fact she keeps talking about Hopis and he's an Inuit! However, the good news is that despite a few eye-roll inducing elements, the plot of this novel is so riveting, you'll hardly notice the baloney. The whole "evil company wants to steal deadly virus" plot has been done a gazillion times before, but the historical airplane and archaeological stuff put a novel spin on it and made this book well worth reading. I will definitely look for others in the series, and recommend this one to any readers who like a good story, especially one featuring a tough science chick (even though she's what Monty Python would call "a stuck-up sticky beak" and what I would call "a stinky poophead").

  • (12/13) Skeleton by Kate Wilhelm.

    Lee Donne has just spent four years in college and still hasn't chosen a major. Without a job or any money in the bank, she's relieved when her grandfather offers to let her housesit for six months while he's overseas. His huge, isolated Oregon home seems like the perfect place for Lee to refocus, to "discover" herself. Indeed, it seems like a dream come true.

    But a few weeks into her stay, a nightmare begins instead. Someone is stalking her -- showing up outside the house at night and throwing something on the roof over and over. The cops think she's making it up -- there's nothing on the roof or the grass below and no sign of any intruders. But though Lee is terrified at first, a visit from her friend Casey emboldens her, and the two conspire to catch the stalker in action. Things don't go quite as planned, however, and before the night is over, the stalker is dead and Lee is no closer to figuring out what the heck he wanted to freak her out for.

    Clearly, they decide, he was trying to get her out of the house -- to scare her away, maybe so that he could get inside himself. But why? Lee and Casey begin to search every square inch of the house, trying to figure out if there is something in the house that someone might want. A treasure, a rare book, something valuable. What they find instead, though, both surprises and horrifies them. Lee's family has a major skeleton in their closet -- one that involves not only her grandfather, but a government official who will stop at nothing to bury that skeleton, and anyone who gets in his way, for good.

    This was a well-developed and engrossing thriller. And though there were a few slow moments and a handful of hokey plot elements, overall, it was a pretty darn entertaining way to spend a couple of days. I'll definitely look for others by this author, who, interestingly, is primarily a sci-fi writer. Recommended!

  • (12/7) amandabright@home by Danielle Crittenden.

    Well-written but ultimately mediocre novel about a modern-day woman who gave up her career to be a stay-home mom. She initially feels bitter about the decision -- like she was forced (by guilt) into giving up her ambition, her "self," for her husband and children. Her behavior in general is pretty obnoxiously self-centered, actually. But, of course, by the end of the novel, she's learned that being a wife and mother doesn't mean giving up everything that makes you you, it's "simply a new ring" in the "core of your tree." "It broadens rather than narrows you. It strengthens rather than weakens."

    Yawn. Nary an original bone in this book's bod, and while Crittenden is a funny, obviously talented writer, it takes more than wit and good sentence construction to carry off a novel. Those other elements? Simply not here. Skip this one.

  • (12/6) Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.

    By now, I'm sure most of you have heard about and/or seen the film based on this book (and a later installment in the series) starring Russell Crowe, so there's probably not much of a need for me to get into the plot too much. Suffice it to say this is a wonderful, funny, action-packed tale and I had a rollicking good time reading it! Sure, there's a lot of technical Naval jargon in it, but there's also a lot of witty banter, exciting battle scenes, and fascinating descriptions of life on a war ship. Even if you've already seen the film, you'll have a great time reading the book. And while it took me a bit longer to read than normal, it was well worth the time it took. Masterful and commanding! (har har)

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