December 2006
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(12/21) North of Nowhere by Steve Hamilton. (read me!)

In this mystery, another in Hamilton's series about ex-private-investigator Alex McKnight, summer has finally come to Paradise, Michigan, but instead of cheering Alex up with its bright sunshine and warm weather, he's been sinking deeper and deeper into a funk. Fed up with his moodiness, Alex's friend Jackie gives him an ultimatum -- Alex either joins him for a poker night at his friend Vargas's house, or he's sending him to the Yukon where he won't have to put up with him anymore! Reluctantly, Alex agrees to the poker night, and at first, it seems like just the cheering up he needed -- until the group of masked burglars breaks in and holds them all at gunpoint for an hour while they clean Vargas's house out.

The next day, Alex is astonished to find that all his friends have been arrested for conspiring to rob Vargas -- including Jackie! And Vargas himself has taken Alex aside and told him he knows Alex was behind the whole thing and he'd better watch his back. It soon becomes clear that someone has set them all up -- but who? And, more importantly, WHY? This is another extremely entertaining mystery in the McKnight series. Can't wait to read the others as soon as possible! Very highly recommended!

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(12/15) The Cold Moon by Jeffrey Deaver. (read me!)

Another terrific installment in Deaver's consistently-wonderful series about quadriplegic forensics expert Lincoln Rhyme and his partner (both professionally and personally), NYPD officer Amelia Sachs. This one opens with a serial killer running loose in New York who kills his victims using a variety of horrific torture methods he appears to be learning from a book on brutal interrogation methods. At every scene, he leaves an expensive, loud-ticking clock, leading Rhyme and his team to dub him “The Watchmaker.” But as the investigation proceeds, the team begins to realize that nothing is as it seems. It begins with the discovery that one of the Watchmaker's victims was already dead when he was “killed,” and rapidly moves into a series of so many twists and turns I was worried I might start getting car sick. As Rhyme tries to find and stop the serial killer before he strikes again, Amelia is pulled into a case involving dirty cops -- a case that, to her astonishment, leads her right to the Watchmaker's front door (so to speak, anyway).

This is another excellent mystery -- just complex enough to keep me guessing, but not so convoluted it became hard to follow or tediously overdone. Deaver is a terrific writer, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every one of the Rhyme novels (as well as the movie based on the first book in the series, The Bone Collector, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie). This novel also brings in a new character, Kathryn Dance, an expert in kinesics, which, we learn, is the study of body language and verbal behavior. I found all the kinesics stuff particularly interesting and by the end of the novel, really wanted to learn more about it. Definitely recommended to all fans of the series, though if you're a newcomer to the Rhyme novels, I'd encourage you to start at the beginning (with The Bone Collector). Be forewarned, though: these novels tend to be pretty graphically violent, and this one is probably the worst of the bunch in terms of ick-factor. But if you can stomach a typical episode of CSI, you can handle Deaver! Recommended!

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(12/8) Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. (read me!)

Another wonderful memoir from McCourt, famed author of Angela's Ashes, about his childhood in Ireland. McCourt wrote Angela's when he was in his 60's, and this book takes us back to the thirty years before he became an author, when he was a decidedly less-famous high school English teacher in New York City. As the book opens, McCourt is a brand new teacher struggling to get his footing in a difficult career. Unable to get his students interested in the actual curricula, McCourt instead spends most of his class periods telling his kids the stories of his youth -- stories that eventually became Angela's Ashes and its sequel, 'Tis. In the middle of his tales, he'd often slip in some lesson about grammar or literature, sneaking every bit of education into his students' brains that he could. Though he was sure he'd get fired any day for his unorthodox teaching methods. Instead, he is mostly embraced by his peers and superiors, and, over time, grows to love his job intensely.

This book made me both wish I were a teacher and feel glad that I wasn't, which, I think, means it perfectly describes both the experience and profession (I'm the only non-teacher in a family full of teachers, so I know somewhat of what I speak). Another masterfully-written and thoroughly engaging book by one of today's most talented memoirists. Not to be missed!

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(12/4) The Wall by Jeff Long. (read me!)

Thirty-five years ago, best friends Hugh and Lewis made rock-climbing history when they navigated the first successful route up El Capitan in Yosemite. Now, decades later, they've decided to reunite at the base of El Cap and tackle it again. Mid-life crisis? Last-ditch attempt to prove to themselves and the world they've still got it? Who knows. All they know is that they've been dying to climb that rock again for years, and it's about time they got around to doing it.

Unfortunately, their trip this year seems cursed. It begins with Lewis's wife leaving him at base camp, and that's soon followed by Hugh watching a young woman fall to her death from the summit right in front of him. As Hugh and Lewis begin their own climb, a rescue mission is underway for the woman's friend who is dangling from a rope near the top herself and doesn't appear to be moving. Some think she's dead already, but her boyfriend, an ace climber named Augustine, just can't accept it. The next thing he knows, Hugh's been talked into joining the rescue mission with Augustine, as Lewis heads back down to base camp. Augustine is a man possessed, though, and that's leading him to dangerous decisions and foolish climbing feats. After a few hours at Augustine's back, Hugh's not convinced he'll ever make it to the top alive, let alone the bottom again.

But make it they do, and at the top they find a woman, half-starved and gone mad, clinging like crazy to the rope that holds her dead friend sixty feet below her. She's become convinced the mountain requires one more sacrifice, and after all he's been through, Hugh's not so sure she's wrong. Will any of them make it off the face of El Cap alive? Or will all the various ghosts from their pasts send them toppling off to their deaths as well?

This novel was pretty entertaining, but it had a lot of problems that ultimately hampered my ability to enjoy it much. For one thing, the ending totally blows. But before we even get there, I was frustrated by the fact the author clearly thinks everybody knows just as much about rock climbing as he does, and thus doesn't make much of an attempt to explain his jargon when he uses it. The result was that I didn't always understand everything that was going on, which was not a plus in my book. Additionally, there were some sections that were a bit slow and repetitive -- it could've benefited from some tightening-up, in other words. However, I will say I read the whole thing and up until the end, was entertained enough to forgive some of its problems. I'm not quite sure why, but I will be looking for others by this author. I may regret it, but I have to try.

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