June 2004
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (6/30) Morons and Madmen by Earl Emerson.

    When four members of Ladder 3 enter the fourth floor of a burning apartment building and only one comes out alive, people are bound to point fingers. Make the sole survivor a woman, though, and the whole thing can turn vicious, fast. Diane Cooper, the survivor, has been officially exonerated of any blame, but almost everybody in the department thinks she got her partners killed. Sick of the gossip, she hires Staircase fire chief Mac Fontana to help her find out the truth about what happened. The investigation takes us not only through the fire itself, but into the characters of some of the most respected firemen in Seattle, one of whom really does not want the truth about what happened to get out and will do anything to keep Mac and Diane from getting any closer.

    This is another in the wonderful Fontana series and, as with all the others, its plot absolutely sizzles. The fire scenes are so well written you'll be biting your nails down to the quick from the thrills. And Mac himself -- well, not since Robert B. Parker's "Spenser" have I had such a crush on a character from a book. No need to start from the beginning of this series -- just grab one and jump in. Highly recommended!

  • (6/27) Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation by Lynne Truss.

    Wow, I'm actually kinda speechless. Oh, okay, not really. This book, supposedly a guide to the correct usage of punctuation, had so many grammatical errors in it, I started to wonder if they were actually intentional. Some kind of joke? Because surely no author would dare write a book about "zero tolerance" and not bother to check, check, and double-check all her commas, hyphens, quotation marks, etc.

    Sadly, I don't think Truss really did it on purpose. And coupled with the fact there was no revision of this book for American readers (our grammar is quite different from British grammar), that makes this book, well, kinda useless. However, Truss is an amusing and engaging writer and some of her personal anecdotes and commentary on the history of punctuation were entertaining. But, man, you really shouldn't be all uppity about grammar unless you're also all ANAL about grammar. And while the majority of Truss's punctuation IS correct and you can't argue with most of the rules she lays out, I just can't help but snort and roll my eyes at this one. Is my grammar flawless? Hell, no. But you won't catch me writing a book that bitches about the sorry state of grammar these days while simultaneously committing the same crimes itself. Snort, eye roll. If what you're looking for is a reference book, steer clear of "Eats, Shoots and Leaves" unless you learn best by bad example.

  • (6/26) Toujours Provence by Peter Mayle.

    A sequel of sorts to Mayle's terrific "A Year in Provence," this book consists of a set of essays telling more stories about life in rural France. All the same great people from the original are back, and so is Mayle's eye for the absurd and talent for making us laugh ourselves silly. The first book was better -- this one's a bit disjointed because it's essays instead of a narrative, but it's still thoroughly enjoyable. I read it in two sittings, unable to put it down for long, and look forward to reading more by Mayle soon! Recommended!

  • (6/24) Cold Hunter's Moon by K.C. Greenlief.

    This book started out relatively well, but didn't even make it to the halfway mark before deteriorating into poorly written dreck. The story is about two murdered University of Wisconsin girls, whose frozen corpses are found in the snowy wilderness behind the house of a local couple, the Ransons. Sheriff Lark Swenson and State Detective Lacey Smith are brought in to work the case, and as they begin collecting clues, they also begin falling for each other (L.S. + L.S. 4-eva!).

    But while the story was intriguing for awhile, the writing was just. . .clumsy. Right away, I felt like Greenlief's dialogue was off somehow. But about halfway through, it started to get a lot worse -- as if the editor had given up reading around page 150. The characters don't talk or act like normal people. Their behavior is inconsistent and never feels "real." They "burst" out laughing at awkward, inappropriate times, and are constantly overreacting with defensive anger whenever another character makes any kind of gentle teasing comment (eyes always "flashing" as they whirl around to snarl at the offender). It just didn't make any sense. The characters never settle into themselves -- instead feeling like paper actors in a poorly written puppet show the entire time.

    As if that weren't bad enough, the book is also about 50 pages too long. There's FAR too much time spent telling us when the characters go to bed, wake up, eat breakfast, take a shower, pop more Tylenol with codeine (which just about every character was taking for some problem or another by the end of the book). Clunky and unnecessary. It was like Greenlief just didn't know how to transition from day to day without covering every single step. Borrrrrring.

    Bah. I'm still not sure why I read this one all the way through. I think it's because Greenlief did have a knack for making the snowy, woodsy setting come to life. But, ultimately, time spent slogging through this book was time wasted. Take my advice and look somewhere else if you're in the mood for a good winter thriller.

  • (6/20) Rowing to Latitude: Journeys Along the Arctic's Edge by Jill Fredston.

    Nonfiction book full of stories about Fredston and her husband Doug's numerous trips rowing in small shells along the coasts of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Spitsbergen, and Norway. On these trips, they've battled rough seas, jumbles of ice, bears, and exhaustion. But balancing the hard spots out were far more glorious things -- whales, the feel of a strong body that's worked hard, their growing relationship, a personal victory hard won, and some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world.

    Fredston's simple style made me feel like I was listening to her tell these stories over dinner somewhere. She writes with a conversational, accessible tone using clean descriptions unfettered by flowery "literary" language or metaphor. I ate this book up and wished I could join her on her next expedition!

    Recommended to all fans of adventurous "armchair travel," the outdoors, and the Arctic's edge!

  • (6/17) Thread of the Spider by Val Davis.

    Another in the terrific mystery series featuring Nicolette Scott, an archaeologist specializing in 20th century artifacts (particularly cars and planes). In this one, Nick, recently laid-off from her job at the Smithsonian, has agreed to join her father, himself a famous archaeologist, on a dig in Utah, where he's heard stories of a series of hidden caves containing Anasazi paintings.

    While exploring one of the caves on her own, Nick comes across something amazing -- a huge buried crate in which she finds a 1937 Packard convertible. The discovery becomes even more thrilling when she learns it was the getaway car for the infamous bank robbers Knute and Nora (think Bonnie and Clyde). Just when she thinks the find can't get any better, she finds an enveloped tucked under the front seat. And when she sees what's inside, she knows she's made the discovery of a lifetime.

    Nick goes into town to copy the documents and look a few names up on the computer. But when she returns to the dig site several hours later, her father, his entire team, all their gear, and the Packard have vanished. Somebody with a lot of power doesn't want those documents getting out. And pretty soon, Nick is on the run from government agents authorized to kill her to keep her quiet. They've done it before -- and it all started with Knute and Nora.

    This was a total thrill-ride that had me up waaaay past my bedtime several nights in a row. It's the second Nick Scott novel I've read and both were excellent. I'll definitely get hot on tracking down more from this fascinating, suspenseful series! Recommended!

  • (6/13) Book Lust by Nancy Pearl.

    I have to say, while everybody seems to be loving this book, I was somewhat disappointed by it. A long-time fan of Pearl's book reviews both at KUOW and in "Booklist," I was hoping this book would be, essentially, a compilation of reviews of her favorites. Instead, Pearl has come up with about 200 random categories ("Cat Crazy," "Czech It Out," "First Novels," and "Sea Stories," e.g.) and suggested a handful of titles and authors for each. Sounds great in theory, but she barely describes most of the books, and I usually need more than a sentence, half of which is the title and author, before I'm convinced a book will hold my interest.

    So, while I scribbled down a few of her suggestions, I didn't find this a useful reference tool at all. Pearl seems to have sacrificed content for the gimmicky organizational structure, and I'm not sure that's really a plus for serious readers who were hoping to get some intriguing recommendations. For those of you who, like me, are always on the lookout for a great book to add to the pile, you'll do better to stick to Pearl's real reviews, or, hey, (warning: shameless self-promotion ahead), to stick to this web site right here! Yeah, baby, yeah!

  • (6/11) Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right by Al Franken.

    Read this book. Get mad. Chuckle a lot while feeling simultaneously horrified. Vote Democrat.

  • (6/8) A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle.

    Oh boy, if you haven't read this book yet, you're in for a real treat. This nonfiction account of Mayle and his wife's first year in Provence, where they buy a 200 year old stone farmhouse, is an absolute delight. From January's freezing temperatures to the truffles of spring, tourists of summer, and wild goat races of fall, Mayle not only takes us into the small French village he lives in, but he makes us laugh our arses off all the way. It's terrifically written, utterly engaging, and delightfully witty. The perfect summer read. Recommended!

  • (6/4) Help Wanted: Orphans Preferred by Earl Emerson.

    Another in Emerson's terrific mystery series featuring fire chief Mac Fontana. In this one, Mac's been named acting sheriff of the small town of Staircase, WA. His first case crosses over both his jobs -- someone is trying to kill several of his firefighters, seemingly at random. First, a poisoned ham at the station house kills Pete, then potshots are taken at a few others. What's going on? Is someone mad at the entire department? Or is there actually some connection between the killer and the 4-5 firefighters that have been attacked?

    As usual, this is a witty, well-written thriller with a terrific cast and a gorgeous small town setting. I love all the fire-fighting stuff and the mysteries are always solid as well. You can pick up any book in the series to start with -- no need to start from the beginning. This series never fails to satisfy! Recommended!

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

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