June 2005
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (6/17) Eight of Swords by David Skibbins.

    Warren Ritter is a fifty year old guy on the lam. When he was a teenager, he was involved in a protest that resulted in the accidental murder of an innocent bystander. To avoid going to prison, he staged his own death and went underground. After bouncing around for a few decades, he finally settled in Berkeley, California. One day while walking in the park, he saw a tarot card reader doing a steady business. When he learned that guy was about to move away himself, Warren offered to buy his table, cards, and sign from him. He spent a week studying up on the tarot, which he absolutely didn't believe in himself, and was soon making a living reading the cards.

    One day, a young girl approaches him in the park to have her future told. When he begins to lay the cards out, he is astonished to find they are all dark cards. The final card? Death. He doesn't tell her the full truth about the reading, and she leaves none the wiser. He figures that's the end of it -- after all, he doesn't really believe the cards tell the future. But that night he sees her again -- when her face is flashed on the news as the victim of a kidnapping. The next thing he knows, the girl's mother has tracked him down, desperate to find out what the cards had said about her daughter's future. And then she too vanishes. The cops are immediately suspicious that Warren had something to do with it -- after all, he was the last to see each of the women before they disappeared. But if they fingerprint him, they'll find out who he is and he'll be a goner. So, Warren has only two options: go on the lam again, which he's loathe to do because he loves his life in Berkeley, or solve the case himself. Guess which one he picks? Yep.

    This very entertaining mystery is fast-paced and well-written. Skibbins has a very funny and witty writing style, and his characters are lively and authentic. The only problem I had with it was with the ultimate resolution of the case. I won't blow the ending for you with any details, but suffice it to say that the way the bad guys are dealt with was completely unacceptable to me, and considering the fact Warren is an ex-hippie, it ought to have been more unacceptable to him than it was as well. However, I'm willing to forgive Skibbins for taking the unethical way out, and am looking forward to the next installment of this series. Recommended to all mystery lovers, especially if you also enjoy a good card reading (which, according to Skibbin's bio on the back of the book jacket, he'll give you for free at his web site!).

  • (6/12) Just a Geek: Unflinchingly Honest Tales of the Search for Life, Love, and Fulfillment Beyond the Starship Enterprise by Wil Wheaton.

    A few months ago, I discovered that Wil Wheaton, an actor I've liked ever since "Star Trek: The Next Generation" was still on TV, had a personal web site. I went to it (http://wilwheaton.net) expecting to find the typical celebrity web site -- one actually managed by someone else and full of flashy graphics and shameless self-promotion (not that there's anything wrong with that). Instead, I was surprised to discover that Wil's site is actually WIL'S SITE. He's done all the work himself, learning HTML and CSS as he goes, and his site is more about him as a person than it is about him as an actor.

    At the heart of it is Wil's blog, which is delightfully open and honest. He talks about everything, from his successes and failures as an actor, to the latest geeky thing he's discovered or learned, to what it's like to be a husband and step-father. And he's a wonderful writer, with a great conversational and hilarious style. His site has become one of the handful of sites I check nearly every day. I love it!

    This book is, essentially, about what drove Wil to become a blogger -- something he started as a way to silence a ghost he calls "Prove To Everyone That Quitting Star Trek Wasn't A Mistake." He writes about how frustrating and demoralizing it was (and still is) to be passed over for part after part -- how he'd be told over and over that he was the best actor for the role, but wasn't handsome or "edgy" enough. The blog started as a way for him to stick himself back out into public view and say, "Hey! I'm still here!" But after reading this and a lot of the entries on the site, I can tell it's grown into something a lot bigger than that for him now. Which, quite frankly, is a pretty cool thing to see. Recommended! And I look forward to reading his other book, a collection of short stories called "Dancing Barefoot."

  • (6/9) Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld.

    Lee Fiora is a smart, shy, fourteen year old from the Midwest who sort of impulsively decides she wants to go to a private prep school, Ault, in Massachusetts. Her middle-class parents can't possibly afford it, but when Lee is granted a near-full scholarship, they reluctantly agree to let her go. Lee has dreams that Ault will change everything for her -- that there she'll be accepted and fit in. Boy, is she in for a surprise!

    Because, instead, Ault is a cloistered world of perfect rich kids and Lee sticks out like a sore thumb. Or, actually, just the opposite -- she's practically invisible. But what this does is turn her into a shrewd observer -- she studies her classmates and their social interactions intently, eventually learning how to manipulate those interactions so that she'll be included in them herself. By the time she's a senior, she's created a place for herself at Ault, even finally getting to consummate a crush she's had since day one on one of the most popular boys in school. But when Lee realizes that relationship is as fake as her entire personality has become, she has a meltdown in which the truth about her and her feelings is revealed in one of the most public ways imaginable. And with that, the facade she's cultivated for four years comes crashing down around her.

    This novel is incredibly engaging -- it was nearly impossible to put down. And part of that, for me, was because I realized only a few pages in that Lee and I (when I was her age) were almost eerily similar. Our personalities and reactions were identical -- and for Sittenfeld to know those thoughts, she must have been the same way herself. Who knew there were so many people like me out there! But even if you don't relate to Lee, you'll find a lot to be entertained by here. This is a very witty and wonderfully written novel that is so honest it'll probably take everyone who reads it right back to high school themselves. Even the sad parts made me smile a little with nostalgia. Let's just hope they don't ruin the whole thing by turning it into a movie starring Lindsey Lohan!

  • (6/1) How I Paid for College: A Novel of Sex, Theft, Friendship, and Musical Talent by Marc Acito.

    This novel, set in a small town in New Joisey in the early 1980's, is absolutely hilarious. It's about a seventeen year old theater geek named Edward Zanni whose dream is to study drama at Julliard after high school. The only problem is that his father, dismayed by his son's "artistic" tendencies, refuses to pay for anything but a business degree. Frantic, Edward turns to his friends and together, the team hatches up a series of outlandish plans to raise money for his first year of school.

    Meanwhile, Edward's also having another problem. He's just beginning to realize and admit to himself (and a few others) that he's bisexual. And, as if that weren't complicated enough, he also begins to develops a major crush on the biggest jock in school -- a football player named Doug.

    I really enjoyed this novel, which is laugh-out-loud funny at times and was the perfect book to be reading in small bits and snatches during the last two weeks, when I've been busy moving into a new home. I will admit, though, that the schtick got a little tired by the end, and I was ready for the book to be over when I turned that final page. I also confess to being just a tad uncomfortable about the rather explicit sexual stuff -- not because I'm a prude so much as because reading about 17 year olds having casual three-way sex was just sort of. . .ick. However, if you're looking for something light, funny, and engaging, this would be a good choice. A great book for the beach or that long plane trip you'll be taking to get to your summer vacation spot this year!

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