October 2004
Book Reviews by Meg Wood

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  • (10/25) Fruit by Brian Francis.

    Wonderful and strange novel about an overweight teenaged boy whose nipples talk to him. Sounds weird, right? And it is, but it's also gut-wrenchingly honest and open, and any kid who's ever struggled with a weight problem (or with a sexual identity crisis, for that matter), will completely relate to thirteen year-old Peter Paddington. Horrified by his huge nipples (or, as they'd call them on Seinfeld, "man boobs"), which he's sure all the kids can see through his tee-shirt, Peter starts by wrapping his chest in loops of masking tape. But as his nipples start to become raw and sore, he begins imagining that they are making fun of him for being so ashamed of himself, and yearning to be set free. Just about this same time, Peter starts to realize he's not like the other boys -- that he's just not attracted to girls. But he doesn't have any concept of what that means. Does that mean he's a freak? He sure feels like a freak. A fat, stupid freak. As time passes and his nipples keep voicing the thoughts that are deep down in his head, Peter slowly begins to come to terms with himself, and to learn how to overcome the things he can beat (like his weight problem) and embrace the things that just make him HIM. This novel is totally sweet and funny and gentle. I loved every word and can't wait for more from this new Canadian author.
    [FICTION]

  • (10/23) Trace by Patricia Cornwell.

    The best thing I can say about this book is that it wasn't as unbearably awful as the last several in this series. But boy, do I sure miss the days when Kay Scarpetta, medical examiner extraordinaire, was cool. Or even the days when she just seemed like an actual three-dimensional person. The plot of this one has Kay back in Richmond (she was fired from her job there in the last installment), called in as a consultant on a complicated case involving a little girl. Meanwhile, Benton and Lucy are working on a stalker/attempted murder hundreds of miles away. Lo and behold, the two cases end up connected. But I never quite figured out why, or, for that matter, why I should care. Where this series had previously been accused by moi as becoming overly-emotional and soap operatic, this novel is cold, distant, and dull, dull, dull. The characters have been seeming more and more like one-dimensional caricatures of themselves, and they're just getting flatter and flatter the more the series progresses. You know what? This one was the one. The one that finally made me stop caring about this series. This is officially it for me and Patricia Cornwell. The magic's gone.
    [MYSTERY]

  • (10/14) A Vow of Fidelity by Veronica Black.

    Here we go again! In this, the seventh in the terrific Sister Joan series, Joan receives a mysterious, anonymous letter in the mail that kickstarts yet another intriguing murder case. The letter contains an old photo of herself and nine of her friends from art school and is clearly intended to serve as a reminder of a promise they all made that day so many years ago -- that twenty years later, now, in fact, they'd reunite in London and catch up.

    Only seven of the ten old friends show up at the reunion and Joan is shocked to discover the three missing pals are actually dead -- each one a victim of various freak accidents. But the rest of them have such a good time together they decide to follow Joan back to the convent and have an extended reunion retreat in the peaceful religious setting.

    Only, of course, things don't stay peaceful for long. A young gypsy boy is murdered soon after the gang arrives and the case very much resembles the murder of another little boy ten years earlier -- a boy that several of Joan's friends had a connection to. As the odd behaviors and coincidences pile up, Joan starts to realize someone wanted the group to reunite for a very sinister reason. And that that person has murdered at least six people to cover up a terrible secret.

    These books aren't flawless -- just about every one has contained a plot element that I found unrealistically convenient (plus, Joan is constantly obstructing justice by keeping things from the police and, oddly, they never seem to mind -- this has never made any sense to me!). But the characters and setting are just so enjoyable, I'm very willing to overlook the few problems. I love these and it'll truly be a sad day when I finally turn the last page of the last one. Highly recommended!
    [MYSTERY]

  • (10/12) Degunking Windows by Jodi Ballew and Jeff Dunteman.

    Very readable and accessible guide to cleaning up your Windows-based computer and keeping it running as quickly and smoothly as possible. The book is primarily for Windows rookies and as someone who does a lot of work with computers, I didn't get much out of it. But if you're a newbie, this book will really help you get the most out of your PC. It includes information and step-by-step instructions on how best to organize files, stop spam, protect yourself against spyware, defragment your hard drive, and a variety of other things every user should know about. If you're a more advanced user, I'd recommend the latest edition of O'Reilly's "Windows Annoyances" instead. But if every Windows user read this book, it would sure make life a lot easier for those of us who do tech support for coworkers, friends, and family! On top of it all, the writing is very conversational and entertaining, making this a book I think most will find enjoyable as well as educational. Can't go wrong with that. Recommended!
    [NON-FICTION]

  • (10/9) Vow of Penance by Veronica Black.

    Another in the totally kick-arse Sister Joan mystery series, this one has Joan wrapped up in the most suspenseful storyline yet. It all starts when a new nun and priest show up in the area, both of whom are cold, closed-off, and pretty odd. At first, it seems like a coincidence they both came to town at the same time people started being slashed to bits by an axe and shoved off moving trains. After all, who would suspect a nun or a priest of such heinous crimes? But after the coincidences start piling up, it becomes next to impossible for Sister Joan to suspect anyone else. And yet what could the killer's motive possibly be?

    Again, just extremely well-written, thrilling, and funny, and Sister Joan herself only gets better and better with each book. She's a wonderfully complex and intelligent woman and at present, there's just no other character I'd rather spend any time with. Watch for me to rip through all the others in this series in the coming weeks. Highly, HIGHLY recommended (though, again, read these in order, starting with "A Vow of Silence").
    [MYSTERY]

  • (10/4) Fields of Fire by James Webb.

    After my Dad saw me reading "Band of Brothers," he loaned me this novel, saying it was one of his favorite books about Vietnam (my Dad was an A-4 pilot for the Marines during the war). And, wow, I have to say this book had a profound effect on me. I thought the "Battered Bastards of the Bastion of Bastogne" had it rough, I was just amazed and horrified by the conditions these Marines suffered through (Webb was a Marine in Vietnam himself and therefore knows of what he speaks). Not only that, but one of the plotlines of this novel was very disturbing, primarily because no matter how much thought I gave it, I honestly could understand both sides of the issue (a group of Marines are accused of murdering two Vietnamese civilians). Which is not to say I would have excused or condoned the Marines' behavior, but holy crap was that a horrific, confusing disaster of a war. I had a hard time blaming them for what happened, even while I knew it was wrong. But as one character pointed out, the line between combat and murder was just impossibly vague at times -- he says something like "You kill a man at 5:30 and it's murder; you kill him at 6, it's combat."

    What a nightmare. This is a tremendous novel -- one I'd recommend to anyone who has ever been curious about what it was really like in Vietnam. It brings to life so many of the psychological complexities soldiers encountered in the jungle. It'll be a long time before I've shaken this one off.
    [FICTION]


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