May 2008
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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(5/25) Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell. (don't read me!)

I know -- I KNOW! The last few times I've picked up one of Cornwell's lame-ass Scarpetta novels, I've panned it mercilessly and sworn I would never read another one again. And yet, argh! The thing is, this series used to be so great, you guys! I'm obviously totally in denial that the magic is really and truly gone. After giving this latest one a try, however, I think I can officially say with 100% certainty that this series is toast. Cornwell has lost her touch, and I'm done for real this time!

I'd tell you what this installment was about, except that it was so scatter-brained and incoherent, I can't really say for sure. I got about 250 pages in and then actually QUIT READING IT, which tells you right there how bad it was. Once I get that far into a novel, I will almost always keep going regardless of quality because of the time investment I've already made. But I kept getting more and more confused, bored, and annoyed with every passing chapter and when I hit the half-way mark, I could tell there was no going any further. (And besides, how can you title your novel Book of the Dead and NOT include any references to Bruce Campbell? Have we forgotten our Evil Dead references, Patty? You could've at least had a character named Ash, yo!)

Anyway, blah blah blah, the plot has something to do with a crazy psychiatrist lady and a dead kid, blah blah blah. But it hardly matters -- the problem wasn't just that the plot made no sense, it was that Cornwell's usual cast of characters have become terrible stereotypes of themselves, with nothing even remotely interesting or endearing left about any of them. Not only could I just not care about them anymore, I barely recognized them as the same people I used to know from the early books in the series. Save yourselves! If you're in the mood for a great forensic mystery series, go with Kathy Reichs's stuff instead, because this series has turned to absolute crap! [comment on this book review. . .]

(5/17) Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli. (read me!)

First things first: LOVED IT! And huge thanks to reader (and friend!) Kathleen who recommended this book to me not once but twice (at least!)! Yay, Kathleen! Sorry it took me for-freakin'-ever to actually get around to reading it, by the way. I am dumb.

This utterly delightful young adult novel is set in a small Arizona high school and focuses on a teenaged boy named Leo Borlock. Life for Leo is pretty good -- he and his best friend Kevin are pretty popular in school, in part because of a highly successful cable access show they started called "The Hot Seat," in which they interview their fellow students and any question goes. But things are about to get a lot more interesting for both Leo and his entire school -- a new girl, previously home schooled, has just joined their class and she's. . . well, she's a bit of a weird one. She goes by the name "Stargirl," and definitely marches to the beat of her own drummer. She plays the ukulele and sings to people at lunch. She gives people surprise gifts. She wears odd clothes and decorates her desk before every class. She shows up uninvited at events. She cheers for both sides during basketball games. The list goes on and on.

At first, Stargirl is sort of a curiosity. Then she's a hit. But it's not long after that that she spirals from most popular to most loathed, in part because of her penchant for rooting for the visiting teams during sports games. And the next Stargirl knows, she's not only an outcast, she's practically invisible.

From day one, though, Leo has been fascinated by her personality and pretty soon, he and Stargirl are dating. But as Stargirl begins to be ostracized by the same peers who once adored her, Leo is torn about how to react. He loves Stargirl just the way she is, but he's being ostracized too, and that's turning out to be really hard for him to handle. So, Leo begins to encourage Stargirl to be more like the other girls in school -- and at first, she manages to pull it off. But nothing changes for her -- it doesn't lead to her immediate acceptance -- and eventually, both she and Leo come to realize it's better to be yourself and embrace your uniqueness than to try to be someone else. A good lesson for kids AND adults, and one I think almost anybody who's ever been to high school can totally relate to.

This is a thoroughly entertaining, well-written, and good-hearted novel, and I'm really looking forward to reading the next one in the series. Highly recommended! [comment on this book review]

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(5/12) Life Support by Tess Gerritsen. (read me!)

After two Cormac McCarthy novels in a row (pretty much all the reading I've done in the last six weeks -- whew), I figured it was time for something mindless and fun. Gerritsen to the rescue! This medical thriller opens with a somewhat frazzled night-shift ER doc, Toby Harper, startled by her latest patient's behavior. He's an elderly man, found wandering the streets buck naked and mumbling incoherently. He's clearly disoriented and confused, and exhibiting signs of seizure as well. Unsure what's wrong with him, Dr. Harper admits him and then returns to her office to shuffle some paperwork and wait for the CT machine to be free. But it's not long before she goes to check on her patient and finds him. . . GONE!

Frantically trying to locate him before something terrible happens, she heads out to the posh retirement village where he lived. He's not there, but she befriends one of the doctors on staff at the community's clinic and the two of them team up to investigate a series of similar incidents and deaths in the upscale retirement community. When another elderly man turns up dead and this time an autopsy is completed, Dr. Harper is astonished to learn the cause of death: Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a brain disease caused by prions that typically can only be contracted through the eating of contaminated meats ("mad cow disease," e.g.), exposure to contaminated brains, transplants of contaminated tissues, etc. None of the men who have disappeared or died at the retirement village have been exposed, as near as Dr. Harper can tell. Nevertheless, something is infecting the men with a deadly disease -- something Dr. Harper soon comes to discover was originally intended to help them.

Gerritsen's novels aren't great literature, but they sure are a blast to read. I also appreciate the fact she typically adds a section at the end of each book that has references to medical literature she used to research her storylines -- makes her plots all the more interesting to think that they are based on real, or at least potentially real, science. Another very entertaining book from Gerritsen, and a reminder that I really need to read more of her stuff soon. Recommended! [comment on this book review]

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