December 2004
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (12/28) Good Harbor by Anita Diamant.

    This novel, set in the small seaside town of Gloucester, MA, is about two women who meet by chance and become best friends almost instantly. Kathleen Levine is a fifty-nine year-old children's librarian (woo!) who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, the disease that killed her sister several years ago. Forty-two year-old Joyce Tabachnik is a one-hit-wonder romance novelist struggling to write something with more substance, keep her teenaged daughter from hating her, and do something -- anything -- about her stagnant marriage.

    The two women begin taking walks together along the beach at Good Harbor, slowly opening up to each other about the secrets, feelings, and scars they've kept hidden for decades. And together, they manage to shore up their fragile lives and get back the excitement for living they thought they'd lost so long ago.

    This was a well-written novel, and I look forward to reading "The Red Tent" which has been recommended to me a number of times, but I confess I found this novel a bit trite, predictable, or repetitive at times. Still, it held my attention and I particularly enjoyed the story's vivid seaside setting (I miss New England!). If you're in the mood for a chick flick in novel format, this would be a good choice! But otherwise, I think you'll find this somewhat disappointing, as I did.

  • (12/21) A Vow of Compassion by Veronica Black.

    Whelp, this is it! The last Sister Joan mystery! And the one and only one, I happily noticed, in which Sister Joan doesn't actually tamper with evidence or withhold information from the cops! Way to go, Sister Joan!

    The plot involves a series of seemingly unrelated murders at the local hospital -- Joan becomes involved when Mother Dorothy's godmother becomes one of the victims. And while I confess I found the actual resolution (and justification by the killer) of this mystery somewhat unrealistic, it's still, as usual, an absolute delight from start to finish. I will definitely miss this series and look forward to the day when I've forgotten all the plots and can start over. And for those of you who like "cozy" type mysteries set in small English countrysides, this is a series I highly recommend. Rock on, Sister Joan, wherever you are! You will be missed!

  • (12/12) Hell House by Richard Matheson.

    Despite what the title suggests, this book is NOT actually about my apartment during the holiday season. Though, frankly, I do feel somewhat haunted by the amazing piles of crap that are accumulating while I'm too busy wrapping gifts, baking cookies, and making shopping lists to keep on top of chores. However, lucky for me, that haunting doesn't involve evil ghost thingies that zoom around and rip my limbs off. The people in this novel? Ehhhh, not so fortunate.

    Those of you who saw the 1973 movie "The Legend of Hell House" already know the plot of this novel (because the film was based on it). Those of you who saw "The Haunting" starring Owen Wilson, Liam Neeson, and Lily Taylor, or "House on Haunted Hill" starring Geoffrey Rush, also know the plot of this novel, even though "The Haunting" was actually based on a Shirley Jackson story and "House on Haunted Hill" was based on, uh, who knows what. The thing is, you read one haunted house novel or watch one haunted house movie, you read or watch them all. This book has nothing interesting or original to give to us, at least not anymore (who knows, in 1971, when it first was published, it may have been really fab). And, what's worse, it's not even scary, though it tries very, very hard to be.

    The story is about a group of paranormal researchers and psychics who decide a really entertaining way to spend a week would be to go to the Belasco house (AKA "Hell House") and hang out. Yes, this despite the fact the previous two groups of yahoos who tried this very experiment all ended up dead. Eh, nobody said psychics were smart. Of course, they show up, the ghosts go bananas, most of them end up six feet under. Big surprise. La la la. Yawn. I confess, I've seen all three of the movies I just mentioned, and many of them more than once. And I did that for the same reason I read this book all the way through. I'm a sucker for ghost stories. But don't be like me. It can only cause you great amounts of pain, misery, and many, many good hours wasted on unoriginal crappola. Read something better. Like, say, the phone book. Recommended! But only if you are TOTALLY INSANE.

  • (12/9) A Vow of Adoration by Veronica Black.

    Second to last (no!) in this consistently enjoyable mystery series featuring nun/sleuth Sister Joan. In this installment, Sister Joan is out exercising Lilith, the convent horse, when she comes across an old, abandoned chapel in the moors. She goes inside to take a closer look and there finds the dead body of what appears to be a homeless man.

    A clue she finds at the scene (and withholds from the police, of course -- will Sister Joan never learn?) leads her to Michael Peter, a local antiques dealer with a bizarre hobby and a bit of a snobbish attitude. Right about this same time, a young woman who had read an article about Sister Joan's involvement with the police on a past case comes to Joan for help -- her sister Crystal has disappeared and she is too afraid of her brother-in-law to confront him and find out where she is. When it turns out that the brother-in-law is Michael Peter, the plot thickens!

    Again, well-written, charming, and just all around entertaining. I can't wait until I forget the plots of these novels so I can start all over at the beginning again (eh, give me about three years -- they'll be like new!). Recommended!

  • (12/5) The Night Country by Stewart O'Nan.

    Depressing, haunting story told by ghosts about life for the ones who survive. It all started Halloween night in a small New England suburb. A group of friends -- teenagers -- are out driving around, partying, when they take a curve too fast, lose control, and smash into a tree. Three die instantly, one is left severely brain-damaged with the mind of a child, and the fifth escapes completely unscathed. It's an accident so horrifying that the first cop on the scene, Brooks, never fully recovers from the sight. Now, a year later, the ghosts of the three dead come back to tell their story and watch as the unscathed survivor, Tim, starts to spiral into helpless despair, unable to cope with the loss, the guilt, and the crushing sadness.

    This is an awful story -- one of the bleakest I've read. Yet it's absolutely mesmerizing. The writing is darkly funny and lyrical and the story so unsettling and desperate that it actually starts to hurt to read it. Why would
    I recommend this? I don't know. I didn't exactly "enjoy" it, but I also won't be forgetting it any time soon. Do with this information what you will, just don't blame me if you end up in therapy and on Prozac by the time you're through.

  • (12/2) Election by Tom Perrotta.

    I was reading a book review about Tom Perrotta's novel "Little Children" when it occurred to me that while I loved the movie based on his earlier novel "Election," I had never read the book. Or, for that matter, anything else by Perrotta. The book review was a rave one, so I jotted both titles down and promptly put them both on hold at the library.

    And wow, have I been missing out on a great writer! This is a really wonderful book -- funny and dark and clever. It's about a group of high school students running for class president and a teacher who becomes obsessed with smacking one of them DOWN. It's crazy and fun, as well as poignant and tragic, and it's so well written you practically fly right through it. If you liked the movie, you'll definitely want to check the book out. And if you haven't experienced either one, get hot! Recommended!

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