February 2009
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(2/25) Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell. (read me! )

I've long loved Sarah Vowell and yet, oddly, this is the first book of hers I've ever picked up. She's on The Daily Show often, though, and is so funny and clever in person I can hardly stand it. And, of course, she was the voice of Violet in the animated film, The Incredibles. Needless to say, this terrific book did not disappoint. It's hilarious, fascinating, and just utterly bizarre in concept.

Said concept? Vowell, who is a history buff, decides to go on a pilgrimage of three presidential assassinations (Lincoln's, McKinley's, and Garfield's), taking us to the sites of their deaths, the monuments of their lives, and everywhere in between, as she regales us with factual stories about the figures involved in the assassinations, as well as the cultural and political circumstances that led to the murders to begin with.

What I loved about this book was not only that it was extremely educational (I knew a lot about Lincoln's history, of course, but not much at all about McKinley's and Garfield's), but that it was quirky, witty, snarky, and just plain fun to read. Vowell is brilliant -- sharp-witted and sharp-tongued -- and the stories of these three men and the motivations of the various men who wanted them dead are just as riveting as any work of crime fiction. Highly, HIGHLY recommended, and I'm looking forward to reading more by Vowell as soon as possible! [comment on this book review]

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(2/15) The Haunting of Cambria by Richard Taylor. (read me! )

I picked this book up off a local used-bookstore's 50-cent paperback shelf, primarily because I am now, and always have been, a total sucker for ghost stories. I wasn't really expecting it to be any good, though, so I was pleasantly surprised when it started off a lot stronger than I'd anticipated.

Annnnd then the end came along and ruined the whole thing. But I'll get to that in a minute. . .

The story is about a guy named Theo Parker, who was on his way to the new bed-and-breakfast ("Monroe House") he'd just purchased with his adoring wife Lily when they were involved in a terrible car crash that resulted in her death. Devastated, Theo was in and out of hospitals for a few months recovering from his own injuries and then finally decided it was time to get on with things. Wanting to stay connected to Lily, he decided to return to Monroe House, fix it up, and try to make a go of it. For her.

When Theo arrives at the B&B, though, he finds a woman living there already -- a woman named Eleanor Gacy. She says she's the building's property manager and that she's been tending to the place while it was vacant to try to keep it in good shape for him. She's a bit twitchy at first, though, and finally admits she's been living there because she has nowhere else to go. Unwilling to battle her on the issue, Theo agrees to let her stay there as long as she'll help him clean the place up. As it turns out, though, Eleanor's been through some rough times in that house, something Theo gets a taste of his very first night there himself when he's attacked by something he can't see. Soon he and Eleanor are working together to try to figure out what's haunting Monroe House and why.

And that's where it went from pretty decent fun to The Ruins, which is all I'll say about how this book turns out.

In any case, if you can stomach stupid endings that make no sense whatsoever (not that ghosts make a whole lot of sense either, I suppose, but I'm much more willing to go along with ghost stories than evil-plant stories), you might find this book a decent read. It would be perfect for a long flight or an afternoon on the couch, definitely. I'll probably look for other books by this author, if only because the character of Theo reminded me a bit of Spenser from the Robert B. Parker series. And I loves me some Spenser.

Sorta recommended, with caveats! [comment on this book review]

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(2/5) The Widow of the South by Robert Hicks. (read me! )

I really wanted to like this novel, about a Southern woman whose house is commandeered by the Confederate Army during the battle of Franklin in 1864 and turned into a hospital. I was surprised to read the description of it when I stumbled across the book a few weeks ago because for NaNoWriMo this year, I wrote a Civil War novel myself that involved a house being turned into a hospital (it's a minor aspect of my story, but I was still surprised and intrigued to find a novel about something somewhat similar!).

Unfortunately, though this book starts out really wonderfully, with the woman, Carrie, suddenly finding herself nursing the near-dead in a house haunted by enough death already as it is, things spiral way, way out of control around the middle, when Hicks tries to throw in a love story that just made me absolutely bananas with its complete lack of sense. One of the patients at the hospital is Zachariah Cashwell, and Zach and Carrie get off to a particularly bad start when he wants to be left to die and she instead sends him upstairs to surgery where his leg is promptly amputated. As she nurses him back to health, they fall in love. You know how you know they fall in love? When she beats him nearly to death and then spends the night outside with his corpse (she thinks he's a corpse, anyway). And then the author says it was all because she loved him so much.

This is where I blinked twice and said, "I'm sorry -- what??"

I'm sure there was supposed to be something deeply symbolic about Carrie and her erratic, insane behavior, which only gets more bizarre from there. But to be honest, whatever it was completely eluded me. I ended up finishing this book as quickly as I could just to see how it was going to come out, skimming huge portions at the end just to get it over with. And tossed the book aside in frustration when I was done -- there's just nothing I hate more than a great idea wasted on a bad novel (Carrie was actually a real person and this novel is based to some extent on things that really happened). Though this book has impressive historical detail and is written relatively well in general, too many important things are omitted (what happened with Carrie and her husband and her kids? I'm so confused!) and then replaced with too many other things that make no sense. Feel free to skip this one, unless you are a masochist. [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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