November 2002
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


2003 and Before


Book Search


Back to the Boyfriend


E-mail me!

  • (11/30) 2182 kHz by David Masiel.

    Though this novel was a bit bizarre in places, it was also extremely gripping and thoroughly engaging. It's the story of a man, Henry Seine, who has spent his life working on heavy cargo ships in the frozen Arctic waters. He's not very well-liked (too straight-laced) and he probably should've given up ship work a long time ago, before his wife got so lonely and left him. But, still, he hopes if he heads home right away, he might be able to convince her to come back -- or at least get dumped to his face -- so he quits his job loading cargo and takes a job as a first mate on a tug heading south.

    Not long into the run, though, a storm brews. It hits the tug with so much force, the ship capsizes, killing everyone but Henry, who had managed to get into a survival suit in time. But he blames himself and quickly sinks into a heavy depression, giving up on any hope for a happy life and returning north to his old job back in the Arctic Circle. There, he quickly falls back into his old routine of isolated 16-hour shifts on the cargo loader. To keep himself company one day, he turns on the radio, tuning it to 2182kHz, the international distress channel.

    One idle day, a faded call comes over the wire. A scientist is trapped on an ice floe that is steadily melting beneath his feet. And Henry becomes a man with a mission. He quickly enlists the help of three of his mates and the group sets sail for the floe, traveling further north, further into dangerous waters, than they've ever gone before. Yet as the risk increases, so does Henry's determination to save the scientist and maybe exorcise his guilt once and for all.

    The arctic cargo world is a world of bizarre characters and wild extremes, as this book so aptly demonstrates. But, boy, were there ever some white-knuckle moments in this novel, along with plenty of dark humor and deadpan wit. A search-and-rescue mission led by a compelling anti-hero who is desperately seeking redemption, this would make a terrific movie! Recommended!

  • (11/26) A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

    What a great book! This is the hilarious and delightful story of Bill Bryson's attempt to hike all 2000+ miles of the Appalachian Trail (which runs from Georgia to Maine) along with his overweight, out of shape, but tremendously determined friend Katz. They start off in the frigid cold of early spring in the hills of Georgia, two guys with no real camping or hiking experience at all. And, months later, they end in the hot summer days in Maine, two guys with weeks of wilderness behind them, still being continuously humbled by the beauty and challenge of Mother Nature.

    Between that beginning and that end lies page after page of fascinating history, geology, botany, and biology, as well as some of the most hilarious stories about two rookies in the woods you will ever read (still chuckling over the invisible bears scene). I absolutely savored every page of this book and hope some day to give that trail a try myself. Bryson is a wonderful writer, with a terrific sense of humor. I can't wait to get my hands on all his other books. Highly recommended!

  • (11/21) Killjoy by Julie Garwood.

    Okay, so it's not the greatest writing in the world. Actually, to be honest, it's not very well-written at all. There were a lot of sentences and dialogue that made me roll my eyes, in fact, which is never a good quality in a book. Still, this thriller was pretty darn thrilling, and for that reason, also pretty darn hard to put down. It's about a woman, Carrie, who gets an invitation to a fancy resort she thinks was sent by her husband, who is trying to woo her into cancelling her plans for divorce. She decides to treat herself, regardless of her feelings for her hubby, but first invites her niece Avery to join her. Avery agrees, but she misses her flight and doesn't arrive at the resort until a day later than her aunt. Only, once she gets there, her aunt is missing and a mysterious hunk named John Paul is waiting for her, immediately bombarding her with questions.

    Turns out the hunk is an ex-government agent who's been on the trail of a professional hitman for years and has tracked him to the resort. Soon Avery and John Paul know Carrie's been kidnapped by him and is his intended target. The killer has set up an elaborate game for them -- follow the clues and they might see Carrie alive again. The hunt takes them deep into the Colorado wilderness, down rapids, up mountains, over cliffs.

    Clearly, the game suggest this is no ordinary hit -- it's much more personal. And when Avery figures out who is actually behind it all, she is floored. The only person she can trust is John Paul. But can they find Carrie and stop the killer in time? And when is she gonna smooch that hunky John Paul anyway?

    Not literature, but not a bad way to spend an evening, either. Recommended to fans of good stories who aren't too picky about the details.

  • (11/19) Trial By Jury by D. Graham Burnett.

    Once again, I say merely "Wow, what a book." This is a nonfiction work about the time Burnett spent as the foreman of a jury called to determine the fate of a man accused of murder. The book begins with a description of the crime -- a man stabbed another man 27 times and is claiming it was in self defense, as the other man was attempting to rape him at the time. But the crime is really secondary to the actual topic of this book -- how a jury works. And holy cow, is how a jury works a truly scary thing.

    The jury on this case consisted mostly of a bunch of people too stupid to understand the laws involved or too annoyed about being there at all to give a rip about the outcome. Oh, and there was also the one guy who was literally completely insane and was thus totally incapable of contributing to the process whatsoever. While it's true that MOST of the people on the jury were really trying to do a good job and make what they thought was the right decision, the vast majority of them were intellectually incapable of doing just that, and that, my friends, is something I found rather alarming. In fact, I'm pretty sure my jaw was hanging open during most of the time I spent with this book -- I just couldn't believe what I was reading (and having never had the opportunity to serve on a jury myself, I have no first-hand knowledge of the process, so I was surprised by many things, like the fact the jury wasn't allowed to take notes during the trial, which lasted several weeks and was fairly complex -- how can that be possible? How does that make sense?).

    Part true crime, part political treatise, part contemplation of right versus wrong and justice versus law, this is an absolutely mesmerizing narrative of one man's encounter with crime and punishment, American style. You'll never think about our legal system in the same way after you read this -- and while you might suspect, based on my description of the jurors, that it will leave you feeling like the whole jury thing is just a huge mistake, that isn't actually the way I left this book myself. Because despite the fact that Burnett has really horrifying stories to tell about the people who served with him, he also talks a fair amount about the terrifying ultimate power of the state, and why it is absolutely vital that there is a jury process in place to keep it from raging out of control. Every adult who might one day serve on a jury should read this book. Heck, every teenager in civics class should read this book. No, wait, EVERYBODY IN THE U.S. should read this book. And this means you, Uncle Sam.


  • (11/16) The Moth Diaries by Rachel Klein.

    Wow, what a book. I honestly could not set this novel down -- I just spent the last two nights staying up WAY too late because this book was so gripping I literally couldn't bear to leave it once I picked it up. It's the diary of a young woman who lives at an exclusive all-girls boarding school during the late sixties. Nothing seems to exist outside the walls of the school -- not the social upheaval of the time, not the war in Vietnam, not the families of the girls who live there. As a result of this isolation, these girls form hard and fast friendships with each other. And the narrator's relationship with her best friend, Lucy, is particularly intense.

    So, when a new girl, Ernessa, comes to the school, the girls don't make much of an effort to try to befriend her. She's an outsider, and, what's worse, she's strange. She's extremely smart, but also extremely mysterious -- she never eats, she avoids the sun, she rarely leaves her room. And when Lucy starts to spend a lot of time with Ernessa, ostensibly to get help with her homework, the narrator begins to become suspicious. She and a few of the other girls start to spy on Ernessa, sure that something weird is going on in her room when the door is closed. They spend most of their time whispering about their theories, until one of them dies from a fall -- a fall she took right outside Ernessa's window. And then other strange things start to happen -- a dog is brutally murdered, and Lucy becomes extremely ill. From ANEMIA.

    The narrator, who is currently taking a class on the supernatural in literature, begins to believe the only thing that makes sense -- that Ernessa is a vampire who is sucking the very life out of her best friend Lucy. She becomes obsessed with protecting Lucy and trying to expose Ernessa. In short, she constructs her own gothic nightmare.

    The diary format of this book makes it extremely readable -- it's so private and so honest and real that you feel almost guilty for reading it. As if you've broken into the narrator's room and stolen her journal out from under her mattress. You are allowed inside her head -- you witness her dangerous inventions and are there when she starts to spiral out of control. It's a closeness you could never have gotten from a third-person narrative, and it's intense. I also loved the setting of the all-girls boarding school, with all its funny girlfriend stories and adventures. Reading this novel was sheer pleasure -- I can't WAIT for Kleins next novel to come out. Highly recommended!

  • (11/14) Welcome to Higby by Mark Dunn.

    Novel about the strange and funny goings-on in a small town in Mississippi over Labor Day weekend. Most of those goings-on have to do with the complexities of the heart -- there are characters falling in love, a father afraid he's losing his son, a sister worried about her brother -- and the rest of the goings-on have to do with the various humorous and bizarre situations everybody gets into while trying to sort OUT those complexities of the heart.

    Though I enjoyed reading this novel -- it's pretty entertaining and amusing -- I have to admit I was a bit surprised by how kinda mediocre the writing actually was. Mark Dunn's first novel, "Ella Minnow Pea" (which I haven't read yet), got terrific reviews and won several awards, so I was expecting. . . well, I'm not sure what I was expecting. But, unlike with really great novels I've read, the characters in Higby never seemed to come alive. Something about Dunn's writing kept them trapped in the realm of fiction to me -- they never seemed real or three-dimensional. The just seemed like forcibly-quirky Southern caricatures. Maybe that was intentional -- what do I know? But its effect on me was to make this a book I finished, but never had trouble putting down. Faint praise at best. I'll still give "Ella Minnow Pea" a try, but probably not in the near future.

  • (11/10) Last Scene Alive by Charlaine Harries.

    The latest in the Aurora ("Roe") Teagarden mystery series, this one is sort of a follow-up of the very first Teagarden novel, "Real Murders." In that one, Roe had teamed up with true-crime writer Robin Crusoe to solve a series of horrific murders, both of them ultimately catching the killer and becoming instant local celebrities. Robin and Roe had a brief fling that ended on kind of a sour note, though, and after they called it quits, Robin left town and never came back.

    Until now. Turns out, while he was away, he was writing a book about his experiences with Roe on the "Real Murders" case and now that book is set to become a highly anticipated television miniseries. So, Robin's back to serve as a consultant on the set. But no sooner does the shooting begin, but the murders start up again as well. The bad news is, though it seems likely the killer is an outsider, not a local, the town is packed with gawkers, celebrities, and wannabe-actors. So, it's impossible to get an idea of who might be around who doesn't really belong. The good news, though, is that Robin and Roe both don their old amateur sleuth caps again and, as we already know, that means this killer is as good as caught.

    Though I enjoyed this novel, I didn't think it was quite as good as some of the earlier ones. It's fun seeing Robin and Roe back together again, but the writing was weak in places and the plot was extremely predictable. No big complaint, though -- this was still a highly entertaining way to spend a rainy weekend! Recommend to fans of light mysteries.

  • (11/7) Things Unspoken by Anitra Sheen.

    Written in the style of a memoir, this novel tells the story of life in the Mackinnon family, as told by the youngest member, Marjorie ("Jorie"). The story begins with her mother's death, when Jorie was about four years old. Her father, a doctor, took on the task of raising Jorie and her two older brothers Jimmy and Alex (the eldest), but his approach to parenting was very laissez-faire, so to speak. As Jorie grows up, she is at times overwhelmed by her responsibilities as the only real mother figure in the family. Her father is rarely home and often critical and her brothers need far more guidance than they actually get. And Jorie herself struggles constantly with low self-esteem and an almost desperate need to be loved and cared for.

    By the end of the novel, Jorie has hit age 18 and has grown into a pretty remarkable woman, all things considering. To say much more about the things that happen to her between the ages of 4 and 18 would be to give away some of the wonderful stories that really kept me reading this book. Suffice it to say this is a truly remarkable novel about three incredible kids trying to find their place in a world they don't really understand. And while it is at times almost unbearably sad, it is at its heart pretty inspiring.

    Recommended especially to fans of memoirs and coming-of-age stories about women. This novel seemed so real -- so right-on -- I had to continually remind myself it was fiction and the narrator was Jorie Mackinnon, not Anitra Sheen. I will definitely be looking for other books by this author soon.

  • (11/4) A Finer End by Deborah Crombie.

    Entertaining mystery about a Scotland Yard detective, Duncan Kincaid, who (along with partner Gemma Jones) is called to Glastonbury to help out a cousin with a rather unusual matter. The two agree to assist, thinking at the very least they'll be getting a quiet weekend outside London. Instead, they discover an ancient chronicle describing a terrible and bloody horror that supposedly took place at an old abbey in the town -- about a thousand years ago. The abbey is the mythical burial place of King Arthur and Guinevere, and is said to be a source of strong Druid power. But something terrible happened there long ago -- and as Duncan and Gemma dig deeper into the past, they soon discover someone in the present has a very strong desire for them to stop. Someone who isn't afraid to use violence to keep the truth from being revealed.

    This is a really great novel, full of history and suspense. It just has a really good mood to it, you know what I mean? And, even better, it's part of a series! I love it when that happens. Recommended to all fans of classy British mysteries.

  • (11/2) My Forbidden Face -- Growing Up Under the Taliban: A Young Woman's Story by "Latifa."

    In 1997, the Taliban seized control of Kabul, Afghanistan, and immediately took over the government. A week after she had passed her entrance exams for journalism school, 16-year-old Latifa (not her real name) suddenly found herself a prisoner in her own home. Not only was she forbidden to return to school or work, she also could not leave the house without completely covering her face and being escorted by a male relative. Women under Taliban rule were objects not to be seen or heard. They could not read books, listen to music, go to school, talk to men outside the family, have their hair done, or, most amazingly, see a doctor for medical care. Taliban soldiers raped and beat women regularly, under no penalty. And any woman who dared complain could expect to be executed in public.

    At first, Latifa reacted to this horror with fear, rarely leaving her house, perpetually afraid to answer the door. But the more she endured, the more that fear turned to anger. By the time she turned 20, after nearly 4 years under Taliban control, she was running a secret, underground school for children. In 2001, Elle Magazine helped her and her family travel to Paris where they could speak freely about life under Taliban control. When the Taliban found out, they issued a fatwa against the women in the family -- if they returned home, they would be killed. Latifa and her family were now refugees.

    Though this was a crushing blow -- despite their feelings about the Taliban, they still loved their home and their country -- there was one positive outcome: this book. This book educated me in a way news reports never can -- it turned the Afghan people into REAL people, and really brought home the fact that the average Muslum person is NOT a violent crazy, the way so many Americans believe them to be. But is instead intelligent, gentle, wise, and absolutely dedicated to the true words of the Koran -- words of peace and acceptance. I wish every American would read this book. I think we all have a lot to learn from it, especially in these times of war. HIGHLY recommended.

    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
    Email --
    Web --

    back to top