January 2005
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (1/30) Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie.

    Excellent mystery featuring one of Christie's famous detectives, Miss Jane Marple. In this one, Miss Marple meets a young woman having terrible nightmares about her new house. As it turns out, what she's seeing in her dreams is actually real -- when she was a little girl, she had lived in that very house for a short time and witnessed a murder. Now Miss Marple is trying to help her find out what actually happened, despite everyone's admonishments to "let sleeping murders lie." But how can Miss Marple even begin to solve a crime when the only clues lie within one woman's dreams? Answer: it ain't easy, but Miss Marple is one savvy chick and she's not going to let a little obstacle like that stand in the way of the truth! Another great mystery by the Queen of Crime! Recommended!

  • (1/24) The Disapparation of James by Anne Ursu.

    It's eight year-old Greta's birthday and her parents have gotten the whole family tickets to the circus. The show is lively and exciting and wonderful and then the most amazing thing happens -- Mike the Clown asks for an audience volunteer and Greta's little brother James actually raises his hand. James, who is pathologically shy and barely ever speaks. His parents are so proud when Mike chooses him and takes him up on stage, and James himself just shines! The audience loves him, Mike loves him, and everything is going perfectly. And then Mike picks up the chair James is sitting in and is about to perform the miraculous feat of balancing the chair, and James, on his nose when. . . POOF!

    James disappears.

    At first, everybody cheers, thinking it's part of the act. But after the show, James doesn't come back. His parents become frantic and suddenly the police are there, arresting Mike the Clown and organizing search parties. But as the days pass and James still doesn't reappear, James's mother starts to believe she alone knows the truth about what happened -- the world has just opened up and swallowed her little boy.

    This mesmerizing, strange, and powerful novel takes us on one of the wildest rides of all literary time. Chapters made up of dreams are alternated with chapters of grief, chapters of mystery, chapters of guilt, anger, sadness, and desperation. The language is so wonderful, so vivid and creative, that this book becomes almost magical itself, taking you into a world that has a sort of "unreality" feel to it. Yet at the same time, the way Ursu describes the parents' grief is just incredibly, intensely real. One scene that sticks out for me is the one in which the mother looks down at her own hands and finds that they've become completely alien to her -- everything she knew about the world and herself has become utterly foreign now that her boy is gone. The aching, guilt-ridden horror of it all. And yet at the same time, this is not really what I'd describe as a "sad" book. I can't explain quite how that is -- I think it must have something to do with the magical feeling the book exudes. But you'll have to read it to truly understand what I mean. All I can really say for sure is that I LOVED this book and can't recommend it highly enough. Definitely, definitely add this one to your list, and watch for a review of Ursu's earlier novel, "Spilling Clarence," soon.

  • (1/19) Third Girl by Agatha Christie.

    In this Hercule Poirot novel, a woman comes to the great detective and says she needs him to solve a murder -- a murder she thinks SHE committed. But there's no body, and before Hercule can find out more, the woman herself just disappears. The next thing he knows, she's discovered in a daze standing next to the dead body of her boyfriend. Everybody thinks she killed him -- everybody, that is, except for Hercule Poirot!

    A great little thriller, though it starts out a bit slow. Definitely recommended to all fans of good mysteries!

  • (1/16) The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys.

    Pleasant little novel about a group of women in England during WWII who join the "Women's Land Army" and are assigned to revive the once-lush gardens of a country estate. Nearby, a group of soldiers are being housed, awaiting deployment to the war. The Land Army is led by an awkward woman named Gwen Davis. She's an expert from the Royal Horticultural Society, but her social skills are so underdeveloped she is almost immediately dismissed by the girls serving under her (who are much more interested in the young soldiers than in working the land). Yet, as Gwen begins to develop the gardens, so too does she begin to develop two key relationships -- one with a tough local woman named Jane, who becomes her first close friend, and the other with the officer in charge of the soldiers, a relationship that isn't exactly a steamy love affair, but which helps to release Jane from the binds of loneliness, self-consciousness, and longing that have held her back for so long.

    I enjoyed this novel, though the prose was a little heavy-handed and flowery at times (more showing instead of telling would've helped too -- I didn't need quite so much spelled out for me). I keep coming back to the word "pleasant" when I think about this book, though. If you're looking for a light, short read about gardening and love, this would be a good choice. It would go quite nicely with a cup of tea and a rainy afternoon, actually -- always a good thing.

  • (1/14) The Brothers K by David James Duncan.

    Man, this is one long-ass book -- 716 pages in the paperback edition I read. And ordinarily, when I read a book this long, by the half-way point, I start muttering about bad editors and skipping through the dozens of superfluous passages most super-long books these days seem packed with. This novel, though, I read every word of -- and sometimes even read sets of words more than once simply because they were just SO funny or SO poignant (in totally non-cheesy ways) or SO freakin' wonderful.

    The story, narrated by an eight year-old named Kade, follows the life of the Chance family over the 1960's and 70's. Kade has three brothers and two sisters who are, put simply, the most crazy and unique characters of all time. His mother is a bit crazy too, but in a more literal way. She's a very strong Christian who used religion as a child to protect herself from the horrors of an abusive father. But as she grows older, she becomes slightly unstable and obsessive about her beliefs -- though through it all, she remains a wonderful, though complicated, mother to all of her children.

    It's Kade's father who is really the central figure of this story, however. He's a mill worker who used to be a pro ballplayer before an injury sidelined him for good. And, actually, now that I think about it, it might be more accurate to say that BASEBALL is the central figure of this novel -- in so many intensely literal and metaphorical ways. Saying anything more than that about the plot will just take away from its magic, though, I think. This is a book to be discovered and savored -- a book to take your time with.

    Anyway, if it's not obvious already, I loved every word of this novel -- it's one not to be missed. The writing is just terrific and it's so funny I could barely contain myself at times. But it's not all fun and games -- no family ever is. At times, this novel can be almost unbearably heavy with sadness and tragedy. It makes you laugh out loud on one page, and then absolutely crash on the next. At its heart, it's a story about finding your own way -- something I think everybody can relate to even if the baseball talk isn't really your thing. I won't be surprised if, in eleven months, I'm still saying this is the best book I've read all year. RECOMMENDED!!

  • (1/2) The Witness for the Prosecution and Other Stories by Agatha Christie.

    I haven't actually read that much Agatha Christie, oddly enough, but have lately been watching a lot of the A&E and PBS Hercule Poirot movies, so thought reading some of the source material might be a good way to kill some time on a recent train trip. And after this book, I'm totally hooked! Most of the stories in this collection have to do with psychics, ghosts, and other "other-worldly" phenomena, and almost every one had a fabulous twist at the end. The best twist came at the conclusion of the title story, and after reading that one, I'm eager to track down the film that was based on it. Anyway, every story was so addictively readable it was virtually impossible to put this book down once I'd picked it up. Can't wait to read more soon! Can't believe it took me this long to discover what the rest of the world has known for decades -- the lady was a genius!

  • (1/1) A Not Entirely Benign Procedure: Four Years as a Medical Student by Perri Klass.

    This non-fiction book is a collection of short essays Klass wrote for various publications about her years as a student at Harvard Medical School. What I liked about this book was its honesty -- sometimes it feels like med school memoirists are a bit afraid to actually "tell all," and the reasons for that became clear to Klass after this book came out, when she experienced a bit of a backlash from the profession. She not only talks openly about her own fears and insecurities, but berates the arrogance and almost fraudulent behavior she experienced as the person on the lowest level of the hospital totem pole. Add to that her very different experiences as a pregnant medical student (she got pregnant just as her class began to learn about the gazillions of horrible things that can go wrong with birth -- oy!), and what you have is a unique, direct account of four incredibly challenging and life-changing years. Recommended to all fans of the genre!

    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
    Email -- meg@megwood.com
    Web -- http://www.megwood.com

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