June 2006
Book Reviews by Meg Wood

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(6/30) Assassin's Apprentice: The Farseer Trilogy, Book One by Robin Hobb. (read me!)

Everyone I know who has read this book has started their description of it off like this: "I don't usually read fantasy, but. . ." And so, to go along with the crowd, I'm starting my description off the same way. Because, truly, I don't usually read fantasy, but THIS BOOK TOTALLY KICKED MY ASS WITH ITS AWESOMENESS.

It's the wonderfully written and imaginative story of a little six year old boy, the bastard son of a self-exiled prince named Chivalry. One day, his mother decides she's had enough of him and decides it's about time the royal family starts chipping in with the childcare, so she essentially ditches the little boy, leaving the king and his sons to figure out what to do with him. Because he's a bastard, he doesn't really fit into the family, yet, he IS family, and cannot, then, truly be ignored.

So, at first the little boy lives in a kind of limbo. He moves in with the stablemaster, Burrich, who takes him under his wing and names him "Fitz." But after he's gotten a bit older, the king decides it's time to give him a real job in the family. So, he moves Fitz into a dark room in the castle, and, that first night, a shadowy figure wakes him up. It's the king's poisoner -- his assassin -- and he's there to teach Fitz the ropes.

Meanwhile, the kingdom is under constant and brutal attack by a group of meanies called the Outislanders. Desperate to protect their land, the king decides it's time to start training more young people in the Skill -- a sort of ESP-ish power that allows people to get inside other people's heads and plant ideas or thoughts there (or simply communicate with them). Fitz is enlisted as one of the trainees, but the group's professor, Galen, hates him with a passion and soon has teamed up with one of the other princes, Royal, who is likewise a big jerk, to sabotage first Fitz's Skill training -- and then to go after his very life. Eventually, things come to a head when Fitz discovers Royal actually has it out for his own brother, Prince Verity (who has been nothing but kind to Fitz and who is also slated to inherit the throne). Fitz is forced to use the Skill, his assassin's training, the riddles of the court's fool, and another talent called "the Wit" (which allows him to communicate with animals), to try to save the kingdom. But can our young lad actually pull it off? And survive?

This book was an absolute delight from start to finish. I was immediately sucked into the story, and it just never let me go until I was done (and even then, I lost no time in putting book two on hold at the library). It's wonderfully well-written and is one of the most creative fantasy stories I've read since The Lord of the Rings. Adult fans of the Harry Potter books might also enjoy this one -- there were some similarities there as well, I noticed. In any case, even if you don't usually read fantasy, but. . . you should really consider giving this one a try. Highly, HIGHLY recommended. Can't stress that enough!
[FANTASY]

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(6/21) Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta. (read me!)

The premise of this novel is extremely intriguing -- because of a snowstorm in Tokyo, a flight is cancelled, and though the airline is able to find hotel rooms for nearly all the displaced passengers, thirteen are left roomless, forced to spend the night at the airport waiting for the next flight out. Unable to sleep, they decide to hang out and tell stories to each other. Sort of a modern-day Canterbury Tales, I was figuring. Alas, this is not the case.

The first story in the book was great and it only fueled my excitement for the rest of it -- it's called "The Tailor," and is a classic-style story about a good tailor and an evil prince that reminded me of the stories from The Arabian Nights. Unfortunately, for this concept to work, what needed to happen next was a series of twelve other stories that were all radically different from each other, and that's not what happens. We can deduce from the novel that each storyteller is from a different country or place, yet they all tell roughly the same exact type of story. And not only that, they all use the same exact narrative style. Never once did I find myself sinking into this novel, actually able to picture this eclectic group of characters sitting around in a circle swapping tales. Instead, the stories are clearly all Rana Dasgupta's, and the framing of them around this airport delay is just an attempt to do something more interesting than simply publish a book of short stories -- it's nothing deeper than that. Dang. I hate it when a good premise is squandered like this. A modern-day version of The Canterbury Tales could've been so great! Instead, while the writing is strong, the stories themselves become pat and repetitive, and, by the end, I was bored beyond belief. Skip this one, though I'll definitely be keeping my eye on Dasgupta to see what he puts out next.
[FICTION]

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(6/17) Tell Them I Didn't Cry: A Young Journalist's Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq by Jackie Spinner. (read me!)

When I married my husband, a reporter, I told him I'd follow him anywhere his career took him, as long as he promised never to be the kind of reporter who went into war zones to cover battles. He agreed, and we got married, and thankfully, he's never gone back on that promise. So, it was with some trepidation that I picked up Spinner's book, which had been recommended to me by a friend of mine -- do I really want to read about a reporter doing exactly what I've always worried my husband might want to do someday? But boy, am I glad I did. This is a wonderfully written and extremely personable book, detailing Spinner's ten month experience as a reporter covering the Iraq war for the Washington Post. And I don't know if it's the woman's eye, or what, but more than anything else I've read about Iraq, this is the book that really gave the whole thing some life for me, turning numbers into people, and bringing home some of the enormous problems people on all sides are facing right now in that messed up country.

Highly recommended to anybody who is interested in A) journalism, B) current events, or C) understanding what the hell is going on in Iraq. And then after that, highly recommended to the rest of you. Read this book!
[NON-FICTION]

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(6/14) The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen. (read me!)

Looking for a good beach book for the summer? This one'll do ya if you enjoy a good mystery. It begins with the murder of a young nun, and the attempted murder of an elderly nun, at a convent called Our Lady of Divine Light. Called in to investigate are Boston medical examiner Dr. Maura Isles and detective Jane Rizzoli. At first, it looks like some kind of hate crime, but things get far more complicated when Dr. Isles makes a surprising discovery: the young nun was pregnant.

Right about this time, Dr. Isles is called in to check out another murder, this time of an indigent young women left in a rat-infested bathroom in the middle of the city. Her hands, feet, and face have been removed, and her skin is covered in sores and welts. From here, things only get more complicated for our intrepid heroines, as it gradually becomes clear to Maura and Jane that this woman has a connection to the convent. And that they've been working off the wrong assumptions all along.

This was a very engrossing and entertaining mystery, with a good plot and excellent (if a bit drippily female) characters. Plus, I love a good nun novel, even if it does involve dead nuns more than live ones. Wait, that sounds awful, doesn't it? That's not exactly what I meant. Anyway, this book came at the perfect time for me, as I was in the mood for something kind of fluffy. If you're heading out for a vacation soon and you like mysteries, this wouldn't be a bad one to toss into your suitcase. Recommended!
[MYSTERY]

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(6/8) Viva la Repartee: Clever Combacks & Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits & Wordsmiths by Dr. Mardy Grothe. (read me!)

Entertaining little book packed full of examples of great comebacks and wit from a variety of different times, different people, and different circumstances. The book is broken down into chapters focusing on a specific type of repartee, such as "Classic Quips," "Laconic Repartee," "Stage & Screen Repartee," and "Inadvertent Repartee" (as well as many others). Some of them made me laugh out loud, and usually those were coming from the same three people: Oscar Wilde, Winston Churchill, and Dorothy Parker. But there were a gazillion I'd never heard of that were pretty hilarious as well. This is an engaging, funny, and educational (really, it is!) book that I enjoyed reading quite a bit. Great for when you only have time for short snatches of reading. I've learned a lot of slammin' comebacks I hope to have a chance to use soon!

My one complaint about the book, though, is that it was missing the best witty laconic (extremely brief) response of all time. During the Battle of the Bulge in WWII, the Germans sent a message to the American army demanding our unconditional surrender, or else we'd be annihilated. General McAuliffe's one word response? "Nuts!" Damn, I just love that one. Recommended!
[NON-FICTION]

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(6/5) New Mercies by Sandra Dallas. (read me!)

I read a couple of Sandra Dallas's novels several years ago and really enjoyed them, so I have no idea why it took me so long to pick up another one. I stumbled across this one in the library the other day and, as usual, I just loved it!

Dallas often sets her novels in the early 1900's, and she gets the feel of those times so right somehow. This one is set in 1933 and it begins in the small town of Natchez , Mississippi , with a young lady from the North pulling up to a decrepit mansion. Nora Bondurant, normally a big city girl, recently received a telegraph that said her aunt, Miss Amalia Bondurant, has died and left her everything, including her house. This wouldn't raise much interest in Nora, most likely, except for two facts -- first of all, Nora had no idea she HAD an aunt in Mississippi . And secondly, said aunt, locally known as “The Goat Lady,” has been murdered.

Nora arrives in Natchez to find the house falling down and two former slaves still trying to stay on top of the place. She immediately befriends the two, Ezra and his mother Aunt Polly, who, it turns out, were extremely dedicated to Miss Amalia. As she begins to explore the house and ask Ezra and Polly questions about her aunt, she also begins to meet the locals, many of whom can also shed some light on Miss Amalia. Soon she's learned a bit more about her aunt than she bargained for, however, and out of the past comes a truth that ultimately became the motive for her murder.

This is a really entertaining novel, with great characters and a wonderful sense of place and time. I will be looking for more by her soon! And this time I mean that! Recommended!
[FICTION]

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