October 2002
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


2003 and Before


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  • (10/30) Strip City by Lily Burana.

    When guys get engaged, they traditionally spend their bachelor parties with strippers, supposedly so they can live it up with anonymous naked ladies for the last time. When Lily Burana, an ex-stripper-turned-professional-journalist got engaged, she decided she needed to hang out with a few strippers herself. But not just for a single night -- for an entire year. Her plan? To travel across the country, hitting some of the most famous strip clubs around, spending a few nights in each place taking her own clothes off on-stage again. Why? Well, she's not really sure of that herself, but it seems to have something to do with needing to say goodbye to that old part of he life, and maybe finally being able to gain a little insight into why she'd even gotten into the biz in the first place.

    Sounds a bit, uh, naughty, doesn't it? But, as the reader quickly discovers, stripping really isn't about sex. At least, not for the strippers. It's about making money, feeling powerful, and not following anybody else's rules. The book is full of anecdotes and stories from Burana's past as well as descriptions of the clubs she dances in on this trip. There are plenty of fascinating or funny tales about the history of the striptease, the colorful women she's met in various places, and her ground-breaking legal battle for strippers' rights, waged against one of the most notorious strip club owners in the country. Coming away from this book, I have to confess I wish I had the body (or maybe I just need the self-esteem) for stripping myself. It seems like something every gal ought to try at least once. Plus, damn, do they EVER make good money! But alas, I know I don't have the kind of courage you'd need for a job like that. Anyway, this was a highly entertaining, informative, and eye-opening book. Recommended to anybody who's ever been curious!

  • (10/28) Sticks and Scones by Diane Mott Davidson.

    Another in the highly entertaining mystery series featuring professional cook and amateur sleuth Gold Schultz. In this one, Goldy gets a gig cooking up a few big Victorian meals for the guests of Hyde Castle, a job that is going to require a lot of research into traditional fare, not to mention a ton of cooking. But on the morning of the first luncheon, a shotgun blast takes out Goldy's living room window, scaring her to death. Luckily, the owners of the castle offer to let her and her son simply move in for the long weekend while she cooks and the cops investigate. Things go from bad to worse once Goldy arrives at the castle, though. First, she finds a dead body in the water by the castle's chapel. Then, just as her husband Tom, a homicide detective, pulls up at the scene, another shot rings out, wounding Tom in the shoulder.

    The suspects abound. First, there's the castle decorators, who've had it in for Goldy ever since she reported them for child abuse. Then there's Goldy's ex-husband, who is just a violent jerk in general. His new girlfriend is a woman linked to the dead guy. And the dead guy is linked to a theft Tom had been investigating. So, was the bullet meant for Tom or Goldy? And if everybody has a motive, how do you figure out whodunit? AND still have time leftover for all the cooking?

    Funny, fast-paced, and extremely entertaining, this was a great way to spend a weekend. I definitely gotta read more Diane Mott Davidson novels ASAP. Recommended!

  • (10/26) Cancer Schmancer by Fran Drescher.

    Memoir about Drescher's battle against uterine cancer -- a battle waged over a period of two years, as she went from doctor to doctor refusing their diagnoses of "premenopause" until she finally found a doctor who LISTENED to her, did a biopsy, and found a stage-two tumor. Within two weeks, Fran was in the hospital for a radical hysterectomy. But throughout it all -- the frustration, pain, fear, and sadness -- she never gave up. She fought for herself, listened to her body, and kept the sense of humor for which she is so widely known.

    To be honest, before I read this book, I was not a fan of Fran's. But after this, I have to say I think she is, as the kids say, "da bomb." A total inspiration. Recommended to any woman facing a similar diagnosis, or just to any woman wondering what that might be like.

  • (10/24) Civil Blood by Ann McMillan.

    Very entertaining historical mystery set during the Civil War. As the story opens, a man lies dying of smallpox, quarantined in an old building across the street from a hospital, just as the people of Richmond around him begin to celebrate their victory against the Union battleship Galena. The patient's nurse, Narcissa Powers, crosses the street to check in on him and discovers he is very near death. His final words to her are something about tainted money and cats. She can only assume he thinks he saw (or he hallucinated) a cat creeping into his room and leaving with the money from his coat pocket -- money that has come into contact with the smallpox germs. Money that might carry the infection out of the quarantined sickhouse and right into the town itself.

    But when she is contacted by a freed slave, Judah Daniel, who is herself a nurse, and is told that another freed slave saw some kids stealing the money, it all begins to make sense. The kids are members of a gang of scruffy no-gooders who call themselves the "Cats." And if they truly did take the money, that means they've also taken smallpox with them -- into their families, their neighborhoods, their schools.

    Before the two women know what's happened, the disease has spread to a Union encampment, leading to accusations of germ warfare. But the cruelest blow comes to the town's most vulnerable population -- its children. Somehow, Narcissa and Judah need to work together to stop the flow of tainted money. But by this point, the money has fallen into the hands of some very dangerous people. It's a LOT of money, and by trying to track it down, the two nurses begin digging around in a world that really dislikes the attention. If they aren't careful, they're going to get hurt. But if they don't get that money, dozens more might die.

    This was an intricately plotted novel, with tons of history woven through a pretty entertaining detective story. I loved the two main characters, and greatly enjoyed the historical elements as well. I'll definitely be looking for the other books in this series. Recommended!

  • (10/20) Coldheart Canyon by Clive Barker.

    I think this is my first Clive Barker novel ever, though there's a chance (a good one, actually) that I read some of his other books back when I was in high school and more seriously into the horror genre.

    But either way, I have to admit I was pretty impressed by the author's imagination here. The story is about a famous Hollywood actor (fictitious, of course) named Todd Pickett. He's not a great actor, but is so gorgeous most movie fans don't seem to mind (think Keanu Reeves doing Shakespeare). But when a director refuses to hire him because he's starting to get a few wrinkles, Todd's thrown into a panic. If all he's really got to keep himself famous is his face, and his face is starting to go. . . Well. . .

    So, he decides to try a face life. Only it goes horribly awry. To avoid being seen as the scars heal (so no one will know he's stooped to cosmetic surgery), he rents a huge, old mansion, deserted and deep in the woods away from the city, nestled in an area known as "Coldheart Canyon."

    What Todd doesn't know is that the Canyon house used to be the home of another glamorous star named Katya. Katya used to host huge A-list parties there back in the 30's -- well, orgies, really. Although, as Todd is soon to learn, what really kept the people coming back to Katya's wasn't the sex -- it was the room in her basement. The room with the magical tile mural. The room that somehow rejuvenated all who entered. Keeping them young forever.

    When Katya tired of her friends and cut them off from trips to the room, they began to age rapidly. Some of them died from age-related diseases only a few weeks after being exiled from Katya's room. Others, panicked that their aging faces would lead to a collapse of their Hollywood careers, committed suicide. But all of them returned to Coldheart Canyon after they crossed over to the other side. And they've been waiting outside the house ever since -- waiting for someone to let them back in.

    Sort of a ghost story, sort of a freak show, sort of soft-core porn, and also a bit of a cautionary tale about the hazards of vanity. This book was about 200 pages too long, but hard to put down nonetheless. Imaginative, original, and pretty exciting -- I'll definitely be looking for other Barker books soon. After all, October IS a great month for creepy. Mua ha ha ha!

  • (10/15) Shrink Rap by Robert B. Parker.

    This is the latest Sunny Randall novel and for anyone unfamiliar with the series, that means it's about a female PI in Boston. As I've said before, Sunny is essentially just Spenser in a dress, right down to the witty banter and big, intimidating sidekick. But that's certainly NOT a complaint, as there is no greater fan of Spenser out there than I. And thus, no greater fan of Sunny Randall.

    The plot of this one focuses on Sunny's latest gig -- playing bodyguard to famous novelist Melanie Joan Hall, whose ex-husband has been stalking her. The ex is no typical stalker, though. He's a psychiatrist and is a master of psychological manipulation. As such, all he needs to do to strike terror in the heart of his ex-wife Melanie is stand across the room from her and stare. Melanie knows he wants to kill her and his sinister calmness is more torturous to her than outright violence might have been. And he knows it.

    Luckily, what he doesn't know is that Sunny's not just protecting Melanie, she's actively looking for a way to stop the bad guy before he can hurt anyone else. After a little digging, she finds out that he's not only guilty of stalking, but of murder and rape as well. And she decides the way to get Melanie out of this situation is to have the ex put behind bars. To do this, however, she's got to have more proof. And the only way to get proof is to get closer. How she manages to pull this off was slightly unbelievable, but hey, the rest of the book is so damn much fun, I can hardly complain.

    Recommended to fans of Spenser, Parker, or Randall. Or to anybody who just loves a good mystery and a lot of laughs.

  • (10/12) Songs From a Lead-Lined Room by Suzanne Strempek Shea.

    SSS seemed to have it all -- she was healthy, walked daily, ate right, had a wonderful marriage and was a successful fiction writer -- when suddenly life stuck its foot out and tripped her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer.

    Luckily, surgery managed to get the entire tumor, so Shea was spared the torture of chemo. Unluckily, she still had to undergo weeks of radiation therapy. As she herself points out, there just aren't many books out there that really tell you what radiation is like. And though Shea decided to publish this, the journal she kept during her treatment, in part to fill that void, she started the journal in the first place for purely selfish reasons: to try to stay sane throughout the most indescribably hard time of her life.

    I've read several memoirs about cancer. I'm not sure why, but I'm drawn to them. And more so now than ever before, as I've been going through a bit of a cancer scare myself lately. This one really stands out, however, because it's personal in a very different way. Most of the others read like play-by-plays: this happened today and here is how it made me feel. Shea's is a lot more like my own journal, though. Lots of play-by-play, of course, (making this an incredible resource anyone facing radiation therapy ought to check out), but also even more personal stuff -- from confessions of selfishness to seething anger about a friend's unhelpful response to a little bit about a magazine article she read recently. This is one smart, tough lady, folks, and her honesty and most especially her occasional confessions of self-pity made this seem much more real, true, and intense than many of the others I've read. I'll definitely be looking for some of Shea's fiction now as well -- she's a truly gifted writer with a quirky sense of humor. My kinda gal. Recommended.

  • (10/10) The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara.

    How is it possible I've gotten this far along in my life without ever having read this novel? For the fact that I finally stumbled into it, I wish to thank Ken Burns and Joss Whedon, both of whom cited that book as a major inspiration to them in interviews I came across in the same week (for Burns, it inspired his documentary on the Civil War, for Whedon, his desire to create something "real" and intense in his new show "Firefly"). Well, heck, if it had anything to do with those two guys' works of absolute genius, then obviously, it must be pretty darn good.

    Understatement of the year, actually. I finished it exactly an hour ago and I'm still so stunned by the whole experience that I hardly know what to say. This book is INCREDIBLE. Not just the story, though as it's a fictionalized retelling of the Battle of Gettysburg, the story is completely engrossing -- but the writing, the characters, the descriptions of the setting or the look on a man's face or the way General Lee sits in his saddle. This book totally blew my mind. I think it might actually even be one of the most perfect novels I've ever read.

    Anybody out there who hasn't read this yet and who is interested in either the Civil War or life-changing literary experiences absolutely MUST run right out this very minute and get their hands on a copy. You won't be sorry, I guarantee it. If you pick one book I've liked so far to read -- make it this one.

  • (10/6) Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King.

    I've been reading this collection of short stories for about six weeks now, one story at a time, every now and then. And it's timely I should finish it just as the hoopla about King's "retirement" is coming to a head. At first I felt kinda sad for King himself -- it must be hard to admit you don't feel like you have anything original left in you. But after reading this, I feel unabashedly bummed for my own sake. Because I'd forgotten how GOOD King's writing can be. Though some of the stories in this collection are pretty stock thriller stuff, a few of them are damn good. And every now and then, King can turn a phrase in a way that really makes me sit up and take notice. He's a phenomenal storyteller -- I don't think anybody can argue against that -- but he's also, every now and then, a writer of pretty great literary merit.

    So, if you're a fan of good stories and solid writing, this, unlike most of King's latest novels, is an excellent choice. A fine finale to an extraordinary career (yes, I do know that "Buick 8" is really his last book, but I've heard it's awful so I'm trying to pretend it doesn't really exist). And even though I'm still pretty bitter about the whole "The Plant" thing, I did want to say this to King: good luck with your retirement; you will be missed.

  • (10/3) Wise Girl by Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

    "Sopranos" fans will recognize Sigler as the actress who plays Meadow Soprano, Tony's daughter. On the show, she is a pretty, confident, intelligent, strong young woman. And, as this book reveals, she is all those things in real life as well -- only that "confident" one has been a recent edition, something she's struggled with her entire life. As a teenager, she acquired an eating disorder and at the height of her instability, was only eating 400 calories a day and exercised constantly, growing more and more obsessive in all areas of her day-to-day life as well (OCD is a common affliction for people with eating disorders -- it's all about control).

    Even worse, she had only just begun to realize she had a problem when she landed the role that made her famous, and made everything that much harder for her. As if that weren't challenging enough, right when she finally got her eating disorder under control, she went out into the woods of New Jersey to film a movie and was bitten by a tick carrying Lyme Disease. By the time she got medical care, she was paralyzed from the waist down from the illness, and terrified her life was about to be taken from her.

    Yet throughout all these hardships, Jamie-Lynn has maintained a sense of humor, a kind heart, and a thoughtful approach to her stardom. She is also, I might add, a surprisingly good writer. Her memoir is written in a light, friendly style and is full of humor and honesty. There are also some pretty great stories about her co-stars and the way the group of them have become a family off-screen as well as on. This is a really short book -- it will only take you a few hours to read it -- but it's well worth your time. Any fan of Sigler's should definitely pick it up. Recommended!

  • (10/2) Mrs. Mike by Benedict and Nancy Freedman.

    I read this novel for the first time when I was about thirteen -- fifteen years ago -- and I LOVED it. It's the book that first made me love adventure stories, snow, Canada, and MOUNTIES. Now, as an adult, reading it was a completely different experience. When I saw this new paperback version in the store a few weeks ago, I had to have it. And then I saved it for the perfect weekend, the weekend of my first wedding anniversary spent in, where else? Canada. How cheesy is that? I'm so rad.

    Anyway, this is the wonderful story of a young woman, Katherine Mary, who suffers from pleurisy and is sent to live with her uncle in the Yukon, where the climate is supposed to help her lungs get better. After only a short while, she begins to feel stronger, no doubt aided by her growing affection for Sgt. Mike Flannagan, a Mountie friend of her uncle. Much to her surprise and delight, Mike confesses to loving her right back and the two of them are married. Before she even really knows what's happened, Mike has packed her up and taken her even further north, into the wilderness, to a small town where he serves as local policeman, mailman, fireman, lawyer, doctor, and just about anything and everything else.

    At first, life seems impossibly hard for Katherine. She is shocked by the Native people and their ways, and unsure she will ever be strong enough to live a life full of so many hardships. But as time goes on, she adapts. And her love for Mike, and his love in return, eventually turns her into the strongest woman I have ever known. The things she survives -- well, I tell you this: I would not have survived them.

    This is an absolute TREASURE of a book. And one good for people of all ages. I loved it at 13 and I loved it again at 28. And I'm sure I'll love it at 35, 45, 55, and on and on forever. If you haven't read this book, do yourself a favor -- borrow it from me. Highly HIGHLY recommended!

    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
    Email -- meg@megwood.com
    Web -- http://www.megwood.com

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