November 2005
Book Reviews by Meg Wood



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  • (11/30) Long Time Gone by J.A. Jance (read me!)

    This is the latest in Jance's long-running series about Seattle police detective Jonas Beaumont. In this one, Beau has just started working for the Washington State Attorney's Special Homicide Investigation Team (the "SHIT squad," as he calls it) when he gets roped into two very complicated cases. An eyewitness (now a nun) to a 50 year old murder has just come forward after remembering the details of the crime while under hypnosis. Beau is assigned to the case, which ends up taking him deep into the roots of a half-century-old political conspiracy. Meanwhile, he's also entrenched in a case far more personal -- his best friend, a fellow cop, has just been accused of murdering his ex-wife over a custody battle. But Beau doesn't believe it for a minute, and when his friend suddenly confesses, Beau comes to a devastating conclusion. Is his friend confessing to protect his 16 year old daughter? Could Heather, still a little girl in Beau's eyes, be a killer?

    As with all the others in this series, this is a well-written, well-plotted mystery with a great story and engaging characters. Jance is definitely one of my favorites -- fans of the mystery genre should not miss her stuff! Recommended!

  • (11/19) The Truth by Terry Pratchett. (read me!)

    My brother has been raving about Terry Pratchett's comic fantasy novels for years now. So, the last time I saw him, I finally let him talk me into taking a stack of his favorites home with me for a few months. This novel marks my introduction to the series, and after only a few pages, I couldn't believe it had taken me so long to get around to checking Pratchett out. These are SO my kind of thing -- hilarious, clever, and inventive. Once I picked this one up, I couldn't put it down! It transported me to a very, very entertaining new world. That world? Discworld -- a disk-shaped, dwarf- and vampire-filled magical place that's carried around in space on the back of a gigantic turtle (yeah, I know -- weird but oddly funny). Since this is the 25th book in the Discworld series, I will confess there were a few plot elements I didn't quite understand -- the result of gaps in my knowledge about the local culture and citizens. But the main story was easy enough to track with, and man oh man, was it ever entertaining.

    The plot focuses on a struggling scribe named William de Worde. As the story opens, he's got a pretty good gig going. He's got his own little newsletter, with five subscribers, and each month he writes up a small news item and pays someone to carve the text into a woodblock so he can make five prints of it. Things are going reasonably well for William. So, he's understandably a bit nervous when a group of dwarves show up with a newfangled contraption -- a printing press. But soon, he and the head dwarf have teamed up to start a real paper together, and it's not much longer before the Ankh-Morpork Times hits the streets. Though William's investigative journalism starts making a few people nervous right off the bat, the head honcho of the region, Lord Vetinari, publicly supports the rag. But when a typo changes the subheader of the paper from "The Truth Shall Make Ye Free" to "The Truth Shall Make Ye Fret," all heck breaks loose, and soon two shady creatures are hired to take out Lord Vetinari -- by framing him for murder. Can William set Vetinari free with the truth? Or will he end up eating his words? Read it and find out!

    This was one of the most consistently funny novels I've ever read. It's exactly the style of writing I aspire to myself, to be honest. I never got tired of it and it never felt like "schtick," which is pretty rare with me and comic stories. Definitely recommended to all fans of the world of fantasy, and I can't wait to read the others in my borrowed stack soon!

  • (11/17) Don't Kiss Them Goodbye by Allison DuBois. (read me!)

    Allison DuBois is the real-life psychic whose life inspired the hit TV show "Medium," and this memoir is clearly DuBois's attempt to cash in even more on the connection. I really wanted to like it, actually, because I love the show and really like HER. But this book was too obviously thrown together quickly in an attempt to hurry up and make money off the show's success. The result is a choppy, repetitive book that never gives us any real depth at all. It's primarily made up of little two-to-three page vignettes, sometimes about DuBois's youth, sometimes a rumination on her "gift," and sometimes some very vague and not terribly exciting details about a case she was involved with. It's not badly written -- DuBois is articulate and intelligent -- but it's just kind of. . . fluffy. In terms of offering insight into the world of a real psychic, I have to say I've gotten more from the fictional Allison than I did from the real one, which is pretty disappointing to say the least.

    Anyway, diehard fans of the show may enjoy flipping through this -- you'll definitely recognize things in the book that you've seen on the show (I was pleased to discover that Joe is as much a sweetie in real life as he is on TV). But don't expect too much from this -- it's pretty much a marketing tool, and that's it.

  • (11/15) Advent of Dying by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie. (read me!)

    This is another, earlier installment in the Sister Mary Helen mystery series I discovered this month. In this one, septuagenarian nun Mary Helen agrees to go out to a club one night to see her shy secretary Suzanne break out of her shell and sing. It's a whole new Suzanne, and both Sister Mary Helen and her pal Sister Eileen have a surprisingly good time. Their joy comes crashing down the next day, though, when Suzanne is found brutally murdered. As usual, the two old biddies get mixed up in the case, eventually discovering that Suzanne had been hiding more than just her musical talents from them. Did someone sinister from her past track her down and kill her? If so, who are they and why did they want her dead?

    This novel was just as much fun as the other one I read, though neither one is perfect (ridiculously, all the nuns in this one kept incessantly quoting Shakespeare -- even a nun from a different order was doing it. Is memorizing Shakespeare some kind of nun thing? Or did the author just want to show off how well-read she was? Somehow, methinks the latter more than the former). Still, these are great, light reads with solid mystery plots and entertaining characters. I'll be devouring this whole series over the next month or two for sure. Recommended!

  • (11/10) Velocity by Dean Koontz. (don't read me!)

    Note: this review contains a few things that are probably spoilers. But, since this novel totally sucks, you can safely read on -- you sure aren't likely to pick the book up once I'm done telling you how crappy it is, right?

    When I was in high school, I looooved Dean Koontz novels. They were scary and exciting and I could never put them down. But, after I grew up, I quit reading them. No real reason why -- just moved on. When I read a positive review of this one somewhere on the web, though, it piqued my interest. Did Koontz still have the power to keep me turning pages way past my bedtime?

    Short answer: no. As evidenced by the fact this book took me over a week to complete. The long answer begins with the description of this novel as "utterly awful," which was a serious disappointment because the premise sounded extremely promising, if a bit twisted. It's about a young bartender, Billy Wiles, who leaves work one night to find a note on his windshield. In essence, the note says that if he goes to the police, an old lady will die. And if he doesn't, an young schoolteacher will. Sure it's a hoax, Billy does nothing, and the next day, the body of a young teacher is found beaten to death.

    The notes keep coming and far more awful (and frankly, pretty sick) things begin to happen. And Billy -- oh, Billy. I definitely got the impression that Koontz intended for us to feel bad for Billy. To feel empathy for the truly awful position he gets put in. But instead, Billy started to make me extremely cranky. He won't go to the police to try to stop the brutal killings. Why? Because what if they think he's the killer? Gosh, better a mother of two be killed than he spend a night in lockup while they investigate, right? And then there's the end, which I think we were supposed to find relatively heroic, but which instead I found equally distasteful. A bunch of innocent people end up dying, their bodies lost forever, and we're supposed to feel proud of Billy for being a cowboy in the final moments? Yeah. I think not, thank you very much. What an arsehole, pardon my French. Billy's all about covering his own butt, everyone else and their families be damned. And I just don't have a lot of patience for that kind of personality.

    In between? Page after page of bad writing and borrrrrring prose. At first, I kept reading because even though it was BAD, it was actually keeping me somewhat in suspense. But by the halfway mark, I was reading it more out of disbelief than anything else. I particularly couldn't believe my eyes when at one point, Billy starts running through his own list of potential suspects and their relative motives, some of which actually seemed like fairly interesting premises -- only to have the actual bad guy turn out to be the most boring choice of all, a complete stranger. And the worst thing about that was that I knew in the opening chapter that that was most likely going to be the ending. Koontz couldn't possibly have made that more obvious in the opening scene. I hoped it would be more complicated than that -- but, alas, it was just predictable, badly written, and boring boring boring. This is hands-down one of the worst novels I've ever read. I wonder if Koontz was this awful all along and I was just a poor judge of good storytelling when I was in high school? Yeesh. Don't read this! Save yourself!

  • (11/2) Death of an Angel by Sister Carol Anne O'Marie. (read me!)

    Whoo whee, did this mystery novel make my week. Remember last year when I was tearing through a mystery series by Veronica Black featuring a crime-solving nun? And how bummed I was when I finally read the last one? Well, last week while browsing at the library, the title of this one caught my eye and I was astonished to discover it was number seven in ANOTHER series featuring an armchair detective nun (in this case, two of them, actually). And, not only that, it's actually written by a woman who is a nun herself. A nun who writes murder mysteries! Can't pass that up!

    The even better news is that it was pretty darn good. There are two storylines in this installment -- one is about a serial rapist and the other is about an obese young woman who finally snaps under the pressure and begins to plot the murder of her controlling mother. The two nuns, Sister Mary Helen and Sister Eileen, are in their 70's but are avid mystery fans, reading Dick Francis novels and watching episodes of "Murder, She Wrote" in their spare time. When they catch wind of another murder in their small town, one one involving the horrific rapes and slayings of elderly women, they can't leave well enough alone, despite all the usual discouragements from the local police department. The stories were decently suspenseful, especially the one about the young woman, and I loved the two old ladies. I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of the first two in the series (just put 'em on hold at the library), so watch for more reviews soon! And in the meantime, if you too enjoyed the Veronica Black series, definitely put this one on your to-do list! It was a quick read -- it's pretty short and definitely not much of a brain bender -- but that just made it all the more fun. The perfect novel for a stormy night. Recommended!

  • (11/1) Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. (read me!)

    Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old evil genius -- the last in his family's long line of criminal masterminds. In this novel, Artemis, along with his sidekick and bodyguard, "Butler," travels to Vietnam on the quest to get his hands on a volume of fairy secrets. Because he's so smart, he's easily able to decipher the book's complex and intricate code, and as soon as he's figured out the mysteries of the fairy world, he puts his latest dastardly plan in motion. You see, he wants the famous "pot of gold" from the leprechaun, and he has no intention of trying tracking it down via rainbow. Instead, he aims to get it the easy way -- by kidnapping a fairy and demanding the gold in exchange for her life.

    What he didn't count on was that fairy's spunk. He makes the mistake of kidnapping Captain Holly Short, officer of the LEPrecon, and she's not your usual cute little elf. She's a savvy badass, and so is her boss, Root, who is determined to rescue Holly and stop Artemis in his tracks.

    I've heard this book compared to "Harry Potter" more than once, which is why I picked it up when I saw it at the library recently. But I have to confess, I was kind of disappointed by it. It's not nearly as imaginative as the Potter series, nor was it as funny as I expected it to be. I loved Holly and her fellow elves and magic people, but Artemis himself -- eh, not so much. I enjoyed this one for the most part, but definitely am not intrigued enough to pick up any others in the series. Definitely recommended to kids, but I'm not sure adults will get as much out of this series as we have out of the Potter or Lemony Snickett books (which are much better written and far more magically delicious, in my humble human opinion).

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