May 2005
Book Reviews by Meg Wood

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  • (5/24) Fat Girl: A True Story by Judith Moore.

    Um, well, I hate to say anything bad about this book, a memoir of Moore's life as an extremely "fat" and unhappy person, because it's not like she hasn't already suffered enough negativity in her life. But I've read a few books like this one in the past, and Moore's addition to the genre, in my opinion, really pales by comparison. I felt this way primarily because I felt like Moore wasn't being honest with us. She writes like she's talking about someone else -- like she's trying to be an objective reporter of a history. But there's nothing courageous in that. There isn't any real depth of emotion in this book -- it all felt one step removed to me. When I closed this book, I didn't feel like I understood or knew Judith Moore in any way. I took nothing away from it at all. That by itself may actually say more about Moore's psyche than any real baring of her soul might have, but it doesn't make for very intriguing reading. This book, in my opinion, is just completely hollow.
    [NON-FICTION]

  • (5/19) Grave's End: A True Ghost Story by Elaine Mercado, R.N.

    I'm a real sucker for ghost stories and even though I think 99% of these "true" ghost stories are complete bunk, I still love to read them. It's that 1% that sucks me in, I think -- and the fact that, I swear to Pete, I have seen a ghost myself.

    Anyway, this is the story of Mercado's several decades living in a house haunted by several entities. According to her, multiple people witnessed various apparitions there -- not just her husband and two daughters, but neighbors and friends as well. And I think I believe her story. Or, more accurately, I'm happy to believe her story, and as long as I don't think too hard about it, it's easy enough to do.

    Additionally, Mercado is a very engaging author and this book is suspenseful and well-written. If you like these kinds of things, it's definitely one to add to your list. I found the "experts" at the end a little hokey (especially when the woman who is trying to cleanse the house contradicts herself rather suspiciously), but the rest of it was juuuust wild enough to feel true to me. At the very least, Mercado truly believes it, and sometimes that's all it really takes.
    [NON-FICTION (probably)]

  • (5/18) 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.

    I saw the movie that was based on this book, starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, several years ago and really enjoyed it. I've been meaning to read the book ever since, but forgot all about it, of course, until I happened to notice it on the shelf at the local library the other day. I was surprised by two things about it -- first, I hadn't realized it was non-fiction; and second, the movie was a romance, and the book is really not. It's a collection of letters written by Helene Hanff (an American writer in the 1940's and 50's) to a small secondhand bookstore in England. The letters start out as book orders and invoices, but gradually, Helene begins to form a friendship with the man doing all the store's correspondence, Frank Doel. As it's the post-war age, Helene also begins sending food gifts to the store -- stuff like meat and eggs, which were heavily rationed at the time -- and, in doing so, endears herself to all the staff. Frank's letters are reserved and serious, for the most part, but you can tell he is quite fond of his new pen pal. And Helene's letters are crazy and funny and full of attitude and vinegar. Though the movie sets this relationship up as a love story, in real life, Frank is happily married with several daughters, and his relationship with Helene never crosses any of those sorts of lines (in fact, Frank's wife Nora also becomes a pen pal of Helene's). It's just a very entertaining collection of letters about books, and one I pretty much devoured in a single sitting. I'll have to go back and watch the movie again, now that I know the real Frank and Helene, and see what I think of it in retrospect. But if you haven't experienced either the book or the film, I'd highly recommend them both.
    [NON-FICTION]

  • (5/15) Cold Service by Robert B. Parker.

    Of course, as you all know, there is nothing that makes my day quite like a new Spenser novel. But, despite the fact this one is as wonderfully written as usual, and as suspenseful and entertaining, I have to confess it really disappointed me. Here's the plot: as the novel starts, Hawk is shot in the back while trying to protect a guy named Luther Gillespie. When he wakes up in the hospital and learns Luther is dead, along with several members of the Gillespie family, Hawk swears he will get even. This quest for revenge becomes quite a bit more complicated than simply tracking down the guys responsible and shooting them, though, because it ultimately ends up involving two separate crime organizations who are already on the cusp of a war. And one of those organizations is led by Tony Marcus, a crime lord both Hawk and Spenser have a lot of respect for.

    Revenge is Hawk's way, and I would've expected nothing different from him. But what bothered me was Spenser's reaction to this. A good portion of the novel consists of Spenser arguing with himself, with Hawk, or with Susan, in an attempt to convince himself (and, of course, us readers) that he has to help Hawk kill twenty people because loyalty to a friend is more important than loyalty to yourself and your ethics. But despite the fact Spenser doesn't actually end up killing anyone, I have to confess I was pretty disturbed by the idea that if your pal wants to kill someone, you're just not a good friend if you don't help them do it.

    And then, of course, there was the sheer unbelievability of parts of the story. Two law enforcement agencies, the local PD and the Feds, are made aware of Hawk's plan, and neither one seems particularly bothered by the idea he's planning to walk up to several people and shoot them point-blank in the head. In fact, the Feds actually encourage him to do it. Sure, Spenser and Hawk may be respected guys in their town -- but I just kind of felt like Parker himself thought Hawk's plan was acceptable, and, in fact, that it was actually the right thing to do. And I disagreed wholeheartedly with that. For the first time ever, I thought about closing a Spenser and not finishing it. I didn't really want to watch my favorite mystery hero be taken down to the same level of the criminals he's been fighting for decades. And his argument that he had to do it for Hawk -- well, it's the argument of someone who doesn't have the brains or the courage to actually stand up for what's right. Not the Spenser I have long admired. Not the Spenser I know at all.

    However, despite that, I still read the whole thing, and had as hard a time putting it down as ever. Parker is the master of sharp, living dialogue, and his novels always read like a witty conversation. I'm two hours past turning the last page, though, and I'm still not quite sure how to feel about it. If you're a Spenser fan, you won't be able to just skip it. But I sure hope I don't end up being the only one who feels this conflicted about it. Revenge is a weak, cowardly response. And those are two adjectives I never would've thought I'd be applying to characters from a Robert B. Parker novel.
    [MYSTERY]

  • (5/10) Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

    Last month, I mentioned that after having seen the recent "Little House" movie on television (and after making "Pa" from that series a Boyfriend of the Week -- see the Cameron Bancroft write-up), I had been inspired to pick the books up for the first time in about 17 years. I started with "Little House on the Prairie," even though it wasn't the first one, just because I was curious to see how faithful the movie had been to the book (answer: very faithful). But, after that, I was ready to start over from the beginning. This is the first book in the series, and it's just as wonderful as I remembered. It's about the Ingalls family before they head West to the prairie, and it's full of great stories about family holidays and adventures and all the wonderful historical details about daily life in those days that make these books so fascinating and engrossing. If you somehow got through life without ever having picked these up, you have really missed out. Remedy that, pronto! Don't make me have to call your mother!
    [FICTION]

  • (5/7) Meg and the Disappearing Diamonds by Holly Beth Walker.

    When I was a kid, I was really into reading mysteries. Some things never change, huh? Anyway, the "Meg Mysteries" series was hands-down my favorite, for reasons that ought to be obvious. But great name aside, they were also really well-written, with clever and entertaining plots, and characters I always wished were MY best friends. So, over the last few years, I've been trying to get my hands on a complete set. And here's one of the ones I found recently.

    In this one, a local elderly woman's house is broken into but nothing is taken. The next day, at a tea with her friends, she is showing off her famous diamond jewelry when a newcomer, a rich actress from the city, crashes the party with her three toy poodles. When the party breaks up, the diamonds are gone. Of course, everyone suspects the actress, except it just doesn't make sense. First of all, she had no pockets and no handbag, so how would she have hidden the diamonds? And secondly, why would she need them? Isn't she a rich actress from the city, after all?

    Another great one, and if you have daughters who are into Trixie Belden (my other favorite) or Nancy Drew, this is a series they will undoubtedly enjoy as well. Recommended!
    [MYSTERY]

  • (5/4) Almost French by Sarah Turnbull.

    When Australian TV reporter Sarah Turnbull goes on assignment in Bucharest, the last thing she expects is to fall for a cute Frenchman named Frederick. But fall she does, and the next thing she knows, she's quit her job, left her country, and moved into his Paris apartment. Let the crazy adventures begin!

    This non-fiction book is about the massive culture-shock that ensues, and Turnbull's funny and light writing style make it hard to put down. I did have two complaints, though. One is that it's about fifty pages too long (one too many dinner parties and that whole section about her dog should've been axed by an editor). And the other is that she really never talks about her new relationship with Frederick. This book is all about the icy, inaccessible snobs of Paris, and how to find a job as an international freelance reporter, instead of about the challenges of starting a relationship with someone you barely know by moving to their foreign country and cohabitating immediately. Yet you know this must have been just as tumultuous and difficult, and I for one would've been curious to hear some of those stories as well.

    Nevertheless, this is an engaging and entertaining book and one I'd definitely recommend to anybody who is a fan of this genre. I still think Peter Mayle's "A Year in Provence" is better, but this one certainly holds its own. If Turnbull ever writes a sequel, I'll be first in line to check it out. Recommended!
    [NON-FICTION]

  • (5/2) Remember Me by Mary Higgins Clark.

    My branch of the local public library is currently closed for renovations, and as a result I've had to start going through stacks of old paperbacks I've never gotten around to reading and actually reading them. In just such a stack is where I found this novel, and it was put there by me primarily because, while I have enjoyed the occasional Clark novel in the past, she's not really an author I seek out. There's usually not much substance to her novels -- they're like candy. But, frankly, I've been really stressed out lately, and this week, candy sounded really darn good.

    And it's actually pretty entertaining, as most of Clark 's novels are. In this one, a young couple with an infant have just rented a huge house on Cape Cod called “The Remember House.” The wife, Menley, is a children's book author, and her husband, Adam, a lawyer. A few years ago, they suffered a terrible tragedy when their toddler son Bobby was killed in a car accident (car v. train). Their marriage nearly fell apart, but the birth of their daughter Hannah saved them. The problem is that Menley has suffered from terrible PTSD ever since, occasionally even hallucinating. But both of them are hoping a summer at the Cape in a gorgeous mansion will be just the thing they need to finally recover.

    Just as the summer gets started, though, Adam is coerced by an old friend to take on the defense of a Cape Cod man who was suspected of murdering his wife. So, there goes their quiet vacation. Meanwhile, Menley decides to start working on a book about the Remember House, which has a great story behind it about a ship's captain and the murder of HIS wife as punishment for her infidelity. But the more Menley digs into the house's past, the more her OWN past starts to haunt her again. Soon she's hearing things, seeing things, and wondering if the house isn't actually haunted.

    Eventually, the two stories intersect, with Adam's murder case overlapping with Menley's haunting. And while this book could've used a stricter editing job, overall, it was enough to keep my mind off the things that have been stressing me out lately. When I was reading it, I got completely sucked into the story and the night I finally finished it, I stayed up WAY past my bedtime so I could get to the resolution and find out what was really going on (although, I had started to suspect the truth around the halfway point and ended up being right -- I still couldn't be SURE I was right until the final pages). Anyway, if you're in the mood for something light, I'd definitely recommend it, as well as any of the other Clark novels I've reviewed in the past.
    [FLUFF]

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    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
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