Tuesday, May 27, 2003

Books Read, May 2003

Out of the Shadows by Kay Hooper; mystery, Bantam; a law enforcement officer with a supernatural gift teams up with a federal agent and former lover to find a serial killer of teenagers.

Given to me in a Bookcrossing trade. I had not heard of Kay Hooper until now, but have since received a number of recommendations. The paranormal angle in this book provides a nice backdrop for what would otherwise be a standard police procedural. It has an X-Files quality, with good dialogue and characterization.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon; fiction, Picador; a Jewish refugee and his American cousin team up to create a popular comic book series, but personal problems force the duo apart.

Pulitzer winner; overall, I liked it, though I thought it was a bit too long. Samual Klayman and Josef Kavalier try to escape their mundane lives through The Escapist, a comic hero creation who takes on the Nazis and their allies in every issue (until after the war, when the focus is shifted to the Communists), yet find trouble has a way of finding them. For Josef, it is the pain of losing his family in Europe; for Sam, it is dealing with his sexuality and the responsibilities of others that he feels obligated to handle.

Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington; fiction; the Adams family matron is obsessed with keeping up appearances for the sake of her daughter, that she may be able to win the heart of a suitor.

Pulitzer winner; a simple story told in a rather difficult way, I think. The premise is by no means gripping, but likely a suitable plot for the day. Alice's family is not rich, her father has been working for the same rich schmuck for years, and when he makes an attempt to strike on his own said schumuck foils him. Alice is looked down up by her peers, and her mother fears she won't get a man. Alice, however, has ideas of her own, and is truly the most admirable character in the book, though she comes off at times as flighty.

A Buried Lie by Roberta Isleib; mystery, Berkeley; the second installment in the Cassie Burdette mystery series, where a golfer and her friend are murdered at a pro-am tournament in Atlantic City.

Reviewed at Blether at the request of the author. This is a great series for cozy lovers.

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg; fiction, Random House; vignettes about the people of Elmwood Springs, Missouri, from "Neighbor Dorothy," the radio personality, to sly Hamm Sparks, enterprising salesman-cum-governor.

I adore Fannie Flagg. Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my all-favorite books, and I only watch Match Game when she's a panelist. Though I admit I wasn't too keen on Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, I did enjoy this book, which centers around the town in which Baby Girl is partly set. There's only a brief reference to Baby Girl in Rainbow; mainly the book is a series of short chapter vignettes of the townsfolks, moving through four decades of gentle, small-town humor. An enjoyable read for fans of southern fiction.

The Bitterest Pill by Howard Robinson; fiction, Booklocker; a young man discovers he is adopted and flies into a rage, which turns deadly. A grieving widower is left to cope with the results, which are made increasingly painful as new secrets are revealed in the aftermath.

Reviewed for Blether at the request of the author.

Violin by Anne Rice; fiction, Ballantine; a widow is tormented by a violin-playing ghost.

I haven't enjoyed Anne Rice since The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned, one of the last books by her that I've read. That said, I did like Violin somewhat. From my Bookcrossing journal: "I found it difficult to like Triana Becker, the recent widow haunted and tormented by Stefan, the violin-playing spirit who takes her back to the time of Beethoven to witness his own pains. I don't know, there was a pompous sense about this duo I just didn't like."

Claws and Effect by Rita Mae Brown; mystery, Bantam; Harry and Mrs. Murphy investigate deaths connected to a local hospital.

This was one of the weaker efforts in the Mrs. Murphy series. Returning characters are as charming as ever, and the reconciliation of Fair and Harry is progressing slowly but nicely. However, it seemed the answers to the crime were given away much too soon; I had an idea of what was going to happen at the end. Also, a recurring character is murdered (not Miranda), and that just brought me down.

Bad Boy by Olivia Goldsmith; fiction, Signet; a computer geek, upset that he's not "getting any," turns to his friend for a personality makeover. When he successfully transforms into a man-slut, she realizes she's loved him all along.

Sometimes you need a nice piece of cheese to in between the glasses of Pinot Noir. This is good for the beach, but the story is just predictable and at times grating. That the heroine's last name is Higgins (as in Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady) was not lost on me, and personally I did not find her very likeable. The notion that women want to be treated poorly, one theme of the book, is appalling, and in the end when Bad Boy and Dirty Girl unite you're almost happy because they deserve each other.

Hollywood Must Be Destroyed! by Daniel Wade Schroder; fiction, 1stBooks; an investment banker is sent to LA to investigate the dealings of a client (a movie studio), only to find himself in a very foreign environment.

A gift from the author, and I reviewed it for Catholic/Christian reviews.

The Cult Around the Corner by Nancy O'Meara and Stan Koehler; non-fiction/sociology, Foundation for Religious Freedom International; a brief guidebook targeted toward people concerned about relatives and loved ones who have become involved in questionable communities.

To be reviewed for Catholic/Christian Reviews.

Alma Mater by Rita Mae Brown; fiction, Ballantine; William and Mary coed linked to BMOC discovers an attraction for female neighbor.

I'll be honest, I haven't enjoyed a non-Mrs. Murphy novel since Riding Shotgun. I lie, I liked Outfoxed, when the animals didn't get in the way, and I picked up Alma Mater mainly because: 1) it was at a library sale for a buck; and 2) it's set in nearby Williamsburg and Surry, so there's local interest. If you've never read Rita Mae before, you really only need to know a few things:

  • All of her young heriones are incredibly beautiful, and everybody else in the book makes mention of it at one time or another

  • Mothers and aunts like to carp at each other, and are often portrayed as having certain habits (usually smoking or drinking or high-falutin' Virginia pride, or all three)

  • There is always at least one really bizarre supporting player, and there is always at least one person who is described as being "two days older than God"

  • Catholic and/or the Church are often the victims of cheap shots

That said, Alma Mater was a disappointment. There are moments of levity, which I enjoyed (I won't spoil Aunt Bunny's driving adventures for you), but the book just read kind of blah to me, like Brown had padded a short story.

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