January 2009
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(1/27) Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction by David Sheff and Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff (Buy Beautiful Boy | Buy Tweak )

These two memoirs, the first written by the father of the author of the second, offer a unique look inside the world of methamphetamine addiction. When his son Nic became a meth addict, David's primary mechanism for coping was gathering information. As a non-fiction writer/journalist, it was only natural that that information, along with stories of his experiences as the father of an addict, would be woven together into a book.

Beautiful Boy doesn't just offer up stories from the parents' perspective, though. It is also packed with information about both methamphetamine and addiction in general. As David sends Nic to rehab and back again, over and over, we also get a taste of the various philosophies of treatment (12-step, rational recovery, etc.), as well as advice and research information from some of today's top addiction experts (Richard Rawson, Nora Volkow, e.g.).

The informational aspects of this book will expand your mind; the personal stories will break your heart. Not a bad way to spend a weekend on the couch, all told.

While David was working on BB, his publishers came calling for Nic's story as well. Tweak tells the same tale, but from the addict's point of view. It gives us some insight into just what drives an addict to keep returning to their drug of choice, no matter how much they might desperately want to quit, and also offers up the perspective of a troubled teenager trying to contend with parents who keep forcing him into rehab before he's ready.

Tweak is, however, written by a kid (well, he's in his early 20's, anyway), and it pretty much reads like you'd imagine. Nic occasionally turns a profound phrase, but this book by itself would probably have gone relatively unnoticed. In combination with his father's extremely well-written book, however, Tweak takes on added significance. It's a unique pairing, and one nobody who is interested in methamphetamine or other types of addiction should miss. All in all, a fascinating, educational, and emotional pairing. Highly recommended! [comment on this book review]

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(1/20) The Black Tower by Louis Bayard. (read me!)

This incredibly gripping and brilliantly-written historical mystery gives us a new spin on the old story of Louis Charles, the son of Marie Antoinette, who was imprisoned as a boy when his parents were executed as part of the republican takeover of France in the 1790's. The boy, only 8 at the time his father was killed, was tortured, forced into labor, and eventually locked in a dark prison cell with virtually no human contact for months. He became ill and died. And the moment his death was announced to the people of France, the rumors of his daring escape came to life.

Bayard's novel, inspired by those rumors, tells us the story of what might have happened to Louis Charles, both while he was in prison and after his (fictitious?) escape. It begins with the murder of a man with a secret, killed in a dark alley with the name of a young doctor scribbled on a piece of paper in his pocket. The infamous Vidocq, the real-life founding director of France's Sûreté Nationale, tracks the doctor down -- Hector Carpentier -- and quickly manages to convince him to help with his investigation. The two men begin to follow the clues, eventually uncovering an incredible tale of Hector's father, also a doctor, and his attempts to save the life of the famous Louis Charles himself.

Did he succeed? Did Louis Charles live? Damned if I'm tellin'. But man, this book was just REALLY entertaining and extremely well done. Hands-down one of the best mystery/thrillers I've read in recent memory, and highly, highly recommended! (p.s. Louis Bayard's other historical mystery, The Pale Blue Eye , was one of my top ten favorite books of 2006, so if you haven't read that one either, check it out!) [comment on this book review]

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(1/10) Going Solo by Roald Dahl. (read me! )

A friend of mine got me this wonderful book for Christmas, after we'd discussed it a few times and I'd expressed interest in reading it but never seemed to get around to it. See, people? That's what friends are for! She even got Nancy Pearl to autograph it for me! Sweet!

This is Dahl's second memoir (his first, Boy, is apparently about his childhood) and it features two sections. The first part details Dahl's time spent working for Shell in Africa in the late 1930's/early 1940's, and this part of the book is full of wonderful detail about the land and its people, as well as an insane number of utterly harrowing stories about his encounters with mamba snakes of all colors (black, green, puce) (okay, I made up puce). Damn, those snakes is nasty! Avoid!

At the tail end of that section, the war has just begun to come to Africa (that would be WWII, by the way), and Roald decides to enlist with the Royal Air Force and become a pilot. After his training, he's sent to Greece, where he's one of only a handful of RAF pilots defending the entire country with a somewhat-decrepit fleet of Hurricanes. And if you thought the snake stories were suspenseful, just wait until you start reading about Dahl's experiences as a Hurricane pilot! Man, I could barely put this book down once I started it, and will definitely be passing it along to my dad, who was a pilot himself in the Marine Corps and I'm sure will be able to relate to a number of Dahl's wild tales of flight!

I definitely recommend this book to anybody who loves a good yarn or two, as well as fans in general of Roald Dahl (better known for his authorship of such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches), and I'm greatly looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Boy soon. [comment on this book review]

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(1/2) Rough Weather by Robert B. Parker. (read me! )

As I've said no fewer than 86 gazillion times on this web site, I looooves me some Spenser mysteries. This one, the latest installment in the series, is even more fun, as it combines two of my favorite story elements: Spenser and weather disasters. In this one, Spenser is hired by a wealthy woman to attend her daughter's wedding way out on an isolated island. He's not just sure WHY she wants him to attend, since it clearly isn't for security purposes (she's got her own security team). But it certainly makes him a bit suspicious when, thirty minutes into the wedding, a group of gunmen barge into the ceremony, led by The Gray Man (a bad guy from one of the earlier books who nearly killed Spenser last time he saw him). The Gray Man walks up to the bride and groom, shoots both the priest and the groom in the head, then grabs the bride and takes off with her. The Gray Man had clearly been planning to whisk her off the island immediately, but that plan is delayed by two factors. The first is the hurricane. The second is Spenser.

How the story unfolds from there is fairly predictable -- I've never claimed these were brilliantly plotted, after all. And, as with the last several I've read, I again left this one feeling like Parker had gotten bored by the end of it and just wanted to wrap it up quickly and be done with it. The ending is sort of sudden and. . . well. . . uninspired, we'll say. Nevertheless, there's plenty of witty banter to be had, and I'll put up with a lot for witty banter. If you've never read a Spenser, I'd strongly recommend you start from the beginning (The Godwulf Manuscript is the first one -- Rough Weather is the 36th!) -- this is definitely a series you should attempt to read in order, as the relationships between the recurring characters (Spenser, Hawk, Susan, Pearl) grow and change from book to book. Recommended! (And by the way -- fans of Parker's Jesse Stone series, and of Tom Selleck, will be pleased to learn there are two more JS/TS movies coming to network television in the next year. Hurrah!) [comment on this book review]

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