September 2004
Book Reviews by Meg Wood


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  • (9/28) Service of All the Dead by Colin Dexter.

    This is the first Inspector Morse novel I've ever read, though I've been a huge fan for years of the TV series starring John Thaw (who, alas, died before I could make him a Boyfriend). I'm not typically that crazy about British mystery novels -- they usually seem heavy or stuffy to me -- but I'd been meaning to give this series a try because I just so love the characters. And I'm really glad I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed this and now have a new series to devour!

    The story is about a complex conspiracy at a local church that has resulted in the murders of at least three people by the time Morse gets involved. But what's great about this is Morse himself and the brilliant, old-fashioned way he solves crimes. And, my god, you thought he was a sarcastic bastard when he opened his mouth, just wait until you get to hear his thoughts too. Morse is a cranky, cantankerous kinda guy -- oddly, a real joy to be around. Definitely recommended!

  • (9/24) Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest by Stephen E. Ambrose.

    Fans of my Boyfriend site know I saw the terrific HBO production of this incredible story about a year ago and absolutely fell in love with it. The book it was based on, this nonfiction account of the experiences of a company of Army paratroopers, from basic training through the end of World War II, is one many have recommended to me since. But, to be honest, I haven't read much historical nonfiction, and I guess I kind of assumed this book would be pretty boring in comparison to the HBO series.

    Boy, was I wrong (as usual)! After deciding to give the first chapter a try, damned if I didn't discover it was just as fantastic as everybody had been telling me it was. I couldn't put it down! Of course, it's full of tons of stories that didn't make it into the film. And, what's more, it's written so well, I couldn't stop turning page after page until I was done.

    I will say I'm glad I saw the movie first (in fact, I've seen it twice), as it made it easier to envision some of the battle scenes and to keep the characters straight. But you could just as easily go the other way, I think. One thing's for sure, though -- you must experience both the book and the film. Getting to know these characters and what they were willing to sacrifice for themselves, each other, and their country, well, consider it your patriotic duty. Plus, the photo of Captain Nixon (played by Ron Livingston in the movie) the morning of V-E Day is absolutely priceless. Highly, HIGHLY recommended!

  • (9/20) Space Doctor by Lee Correy.

    Entertaining, short sci-fi novel about a huge industrial complex built in space and developed in an attempt to solve Earth's energy crisis by harnessing massive amounts of solar power and beaming it down. The focus of the novel isn't on the science involved in this endeavor, though. Instead, it's on Dr. Tom Noel, the man hired to run the space station's emergency room -- the first-ever space-based medical facility. Take an episode of "ER" and throw in the unique challenges of zero gravity, meteors that act like bullets, or "vac bite" (the frostbite-like condition that develops when a part of the human body, such as a hand, is exposed to the vacuum of space) and you'll have the second half of this novel. It's not the greatest writing of all time, and it starts off a bit slow, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and may look for others by this writer down the line.

  • (9/18) Wake of the Hornet by Val Davis.

    Of the three of Davis's novels I've read so far, this was my least favorite (though I still ripped right through it). The plot, featuring series regular, historical archaeologist Nicolette Scott, has to do with two WWII airplanes on a remote island with a bizarre native culture. A culture that worships cargo and used to trick pilots into landing so they could rob their planes. But, though it's as well-written and fast-paced as usual, I didn't find this one as intriguing or fun as the others. You'd be safe skipping this one, but the others I've read shouldn't be missed!

  • (9/16) A Hole in the Heart by Christopher Marquis.

    Bean Jessup is a 20-something woman whose life hasn't had a direction since, well, since birth. Desperate for a path -- any path -- she takes a job teaching elementary school in the tiny fishing town of Eyak, Alaska. At first, the town keeps its distance from her. But when she meets Mick, a local fisherman and outdoorsman, both Bean and the world finally begin to open up. Bean considers Mick to be the only good thing that ever happened to her and they fall in love and marry.

    Three years later, he climbs to the top of Mt. McKinley and never comes down. In the weeks that follow, Bean is left in limbo, half expecting him to come home. But who comes home instead is Mick's elderly mother, Hanna, who grates on Bean's nerves with her incessant chatter and chain smoking. Finally, Mick's body is found and, left with nothing, Bean and Hanna decide to go home.

    Only, after all that time together, the two women find they've built a bond between each other. A bond they decide they can't live without. So, instead of going their separate ways, Bean and Hanna move together to San Francisco where they struggle with their grief and try to figure out, together, how to move forward without Mick.

    It's not a revolutionary plot concept. But the story here is really secondary. What makes this addictively readable novel great are the wonderful, intensely drawn characters and the unique, delightful writing. Marquis takes images and concepts we've encountered a thousand times and makes them seem completely new. His turns of phrase will make you pause and the emotions of his characters will stick with you even after you've turned the last page. I just loved this novel (though after the chapter about the conditions on the "slime line" at the fishery, I may never eat canned fish again!). Can't wait to see what this new novelist puts out next. Highly recommended!

  • (9/12) A Vow of Chastity by Veronica Black.

    This is the second in the absolutely fantastic mystery series featuring accidental sleuth Sister Joan. The mysteries themselves have really became second to me in terms of what I enjoy about these and, indeed, I'd go so far as to say that some elements of the plots have been a little too convenient to be realistic. But hey, it's got to be hard to figure out how to get a NUN involved in quite so many murder cases, and I love Sister Joan and her fellow Daughters of Compassion so much I'm willing to overlook a few weaknesses of story. Joan is a fantastically complex character and I have truly savored every one of these I've picked up. Can't wait to read the rest of them (this is my third or fourth and there are, thank god, several more).

    Oh, the story? I almost forgot. It's about a young Romany (gypsy) boy who disappears right about the time people around town start acting pretty odd. The adults start talking about "evil" and the kids in Joan's school suddenly become, well, "good." Joan's first clue that something big is up is when things start disappearing from the convent chapel. But what at first seems like petty theft quickly expands into something far, FAR more sinister. Highly recommended, as usual! I do recommend reading these in order, by the way, as plots of earlier installments are often referenced in later ones.

  • (9/8) Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris.

    This book is a collection of Sedaris's stories about growing up. What's bizarre about it is that when I first started reading, I kept thinking to myself, "These stories aren't all that great. I mean, they're not particularly funny. Not, like, laugh-out-loud funny. And, really, they're not particularly all that different from my own childhood stories." And yet, for some reason, I absolutely could not put this book down. Maybe it's because the stories were so familiar, actually. Because they so deftly point out the bizarre, ordinary, and absurd things that we all go through growing up. It's funny, of course, because Sedaris is always funny. But it's not the kind of funny that makes you laugh so hard your sides ache. It's more like the kind of funny that makes you snort and go, "been there!" Anyway, as usual, deftly written and totally wonderful. You just can't go wrong with a Sedaris collection. Recommended!

  • (9/6) Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix.


    Shyamalan has been accused of ripping this young adult novel off and turning it into his latest thriller "The Village." Having seen the movie, I wanted to read the book and see if I too thought the movie was a big plagiarism party. The book is about a young woman named Jessie living in a village in the 1800's. When an epidemic of diphtheria starts up, infecting several of the village children, Jessie's mother sends her on a journey -- to find a man named Neeley who will supposedly help them.

    Jessie gets out of the village only to discover it's not really the 1800's. And here's where the comparison between the book and the movie ends. The vast majority of this novel is about Jessie's experiences in the real world, and about the conspiracy and medical experimentation that resulted in the creation of her fake village to begin with. By the end, she's running for her life from the man who wants the truth about the village to stay a secret. The movie, however, has a completely different focus. In fact, in my opinion, the twist at the end where it's revealed that the whole village was a sociology experiment was pretty unnecessary. It's actually more of a love story, and a story about fear. And I have a hard time believing that only Haddix could ever have thought up such a twist. Frankly, it's just not that original or impressive.

    The real problem here, as I see it, is that now that Shyamalan's movie has come out, a movie based on this novel wouldn't really work in quite the way it might have before. However, the novel tells a completely different story, and it's a great story and one well worth telling on film someday. I hope that instead of pursuing a suit against Shyamalan, Haddix will instead focus on a screenplay. Give it a few years and "The Village" will be forgotten (primarily because, frankly, it's not that great of a movie). And then a movie about Jessie will be able to score at the box office. Recommended to young readers and to anybody else curious about the plagiarism accusations.

  • (9/4) Pyro by Earl Emerson.

    This is Emerson's latest firefighting novel, and while it's not actually a Mac Fontana one, it pretty much really is. This go-around, the firefighter's name is Paul Wollf, the lieutenant of Station Six's ladder truck. Instead of setting the story in Fontana's small town Staircase, Emerson moves us about forty miles west, to Seattle. But Wollf could just as easily have been named Fontana -- I didn't really notice any differences in the way they walk or talk, so to speak. And the rest of the squad -- well, it seems firefighters are pretty much the same wherever you go.

    NOT that I'm complaining, mind you. I love all the Mac Fontana novels and I enjoyed this one as well. The story is about an arsonist who likes to irritate the firefighters by setting off a half dozen little blazes a night. But then the fires start to increase in size and frequency. And they start to form a noticeable pattern. The fires are moving, and where they seem to be headed is closer and closer to Station Six. Or, more specifically, closer and closer to Lt. Paul Wollf.

    Like with the Fontana series, this novel is full of great action and fascinating firefighting details. It's a fast-paced thriller that will keep you riveted. I still prefer Mac Fontana to Paul Wollf, if only because I like Staircase better than Seattle. But if you're cravin' a good firefightin' thrill, this one will do quite nicely.

  • (9/1) Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger.

    Hands-down, without a doubt, this is one of the most hilarious novels I've read in a very long time. It had me laughing out loud in all kinds of inappropriate places, god bless it. I love books like that! It's a story told in letters and newspaper clippings, set in the late 1930's and early 1940's. It starts out with 12 year old smartass Joey Margolis trying to score his fifteen minutes of fame by attempting to con Giants 3rd baseman Charlie Banks into hitting a home run for him (and saying he did so on the radio). Charlie, of course, catches on to the trick when Joey writes claiming to have a different fatal disease just about every week. But try as he might, Charlie cannot shake this persistent, obnoxious kid. And before either of them really know what's hit them, they have tripped right into the greatest relationship of their lives. By the end, Charlie has become the father Joey never really had. And Joey, well, he's become the smartmouthed son Charlie never even knew he wanted.

    This novel was just absolutely wonderful and it's one I know I will be rereading many times -- whenever I need a pick-me-up and a barrel of good guffaws. My only complaint has to do with the ending, which was too obvious and felt to me like an extremely cheap shot. But I forgive the author, because he made me love these two characters and, what's more, he made me laugh my tuchus off at the same time. A real treasure. Find it. Read it. Love it. This one's gonna make your whole day. (And thanks again to the reader who suggested this one to me -- I never would've found it if it hadn't been for you!)

    All web content written by Meg Wood, sooooper genius.
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