Thursday, May 29, 2008

Buncha Books, issue 3 [EDITED BECAUSE I AM A MORON]

It's time for another issue of Buncha Books. In this issue, I'll cover the last 12 books I've read. I've finished one more and am in the middle of another, but they are related so I'm going to wait until the next issue to talk about them.

As I was traveling back and forth to Amazon collecting my book images, I realized that I read so much that I often can't remember enough about a book to review it, however briefly. So I have to refer to the summaries on the back covers or inside the jackets (much less often inside the jackets, since I tend to read paperbacks) to give my brain the tweak it needs to remember. Then I say to myself, "Oh, yeah. I DO remember reading this, but I have NO CLUE what happens." So then I should flip through the book a little to refresh my memory, but I'm too lazy to actually do that. Instead I think about it a little or start to type out the brief review with the little I do remember and the rest will USUALLY come back to me. The downside of this method is that occasionally the part that comes back to me is from a DIFFERENT book. So basically this paragraph is a disclaimer in case you read one of my reviews, think, "Oh, that sounds good. I think I'll read it," read the book and then think, "This has NOTHING to do with what Fiona Picklebottom said. She SUCKS and I'm never believing anything she says EVER again." You've been warned. Now on to the reviews:

Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky was about a white couple who have a baby. The baby looks distinctly African American. [Quick (or not so quick) aside: I knew some white people who were from Africa, who are now American. Are THEY called African Americans as well? If so, wouldn't they be able to falsely benefit from affirmative action type stuff (the white men anyway), since they could legitimately check the "African American" box on forms? If not, what are they called? Oh, and also? I am IN NO WAY asking for anyone's opinions on affirmative action. I'm not giving mine and I'm not asking for yours, this whole aside is just a thought that popped into my head as I was typing. So back to the review...] How could this have happened? The husband is from a prominent family whose ancestry can be traced back to the Mayflower. They are adamant that the "blame" lies with the wife, who does not know anything about her father. The couple begins the quest to find out more about the wife's family history so that they will be able to answer their child's questions as she grows. The husband also begins to learn more about his family. What they find is (supposed to be) shocking, but it isn't, because this book, while interesting, is very very PREDICTABLE. Oh, and did I mention that the next-door neighbor/husband's best friend is African American? AND had been married to a white woman and had a bi-racial child? No? Well, that too. And you can probably figure out the things THAT added to the plot, because like I said - PREDICTABLE. And yet, still interesting.

Next up is The Woods by Harlan Coben. [By the way, these reviews are in NO PARTICULAR ORDER. They are not in the order I read them, they are not in any sort of alphabetical order, whether by title or author, they are not in order by publication date. Nothing. No order at all. Much like my life. As a matter of fact, when I get my cease and desist letter from the producers of "Four Weddings and a Funeral," I may rename my blog, "Crap from my head. In no particular order. Using poor English and punctuation."] Harlan Coben is a relatively new author for me, in that I just discovered him about a year or two ago. I really enjoy his work. He sucks you right in and his novels are fast-paced and enjoyable. This was no exception. The novel is about a widowed prosecutor, Paul (I think), who is planning to run for office. (Which office I don't remember, but it's not important.) His parents were Russian Jews who got out of Russia back when there was that big movement to get persecuted Jews out of Russia. When he was a teen, his sister had been brutally murdered at a summer camp owned by his girlfriend's father. Or HAD she? What HAD happened in those woods? As bits and pieces from his past begin to haunt him, his old girlfriend, now a professor, is also being taunted by someone. They find each other and try to figure out what happened so many years ago. It's an interesting story interwoven with several subplots. Definitely worth a read.

Blood Orange by Drusilla Campbell sounded like an interesting read. I was disappointed. The crux of the story is that a couple's daughter is kidnapped. Could something the wife, Dana, had done be behind the kidnapping? The novel looks back to shortly before the kidnapping, when the wife had gone to Italy to presumably work on her art dissertation. We meet her best friend, a gorgeous woman who became an Episcopal priest and the priest's brother, a tortured yet charming soul. The book has a lot of promise, but it just doesn't deliver. None of the characters are very sympathetic, and I found that I really didn't care about them one way or the other. I don't really recommend this novel.

I enjoyed Break No Bones by Kathy Reichs. This is one of her Temperance Brennan novels, Tempe Brennan being the character on which the television series Bones is based. I've enjoyed the Temperance Brennan novels that I have read, and I've read a few. This one was no different, with the added bonus of taking place in the South Carolina Lowcountry, where I grew up. In this novel, Tempe has taken on the assignment of overseeing students on an archaeological dig on one of the Lowcountry islands that is slated for development. They uncover a skeleton, but it is not very old. The archaeological site becomes a crime scene, which pisses off the developer. Another victim is discovered in a barrel in the marsh. The identity of the second (and maybe the first, I don't recall) leads to a medical clinic where the indigent population is cared for. Corruption is suspected, but what kind and who is behind it? An enjoyable read.

Sleep No More by Greg Iles is not your typical Isles work, though Penn Cage, one of Isles' likable regular characters, makes a peripheral appearance. I love Greg Isles' novels. This one, however, I did not find as good as his others. This is the only one of his novels that has a supernatural aspect. Since I don't expect this in his work like I do in, say, Dean Koontz's, it distracted me a bit and I didn't enjoy the novel as much as I might have otherwise. Though I'm not sure how he could have approached writing this novel WITHOUT including the supernatural. Anyway, this work isn't what I want from Isles. It wasn't as compelling as I think the same storyline would have been in Koontz's hands (I know some of you are wondering why I'm only mentioning Dean Koontz and not Stephen King, but *fun fact* I've NEVER read a Stephen King novel. *gasp* The only experience I have with a Stephen King is a kid named Stephen King I babysat when I was in high school. So I have no frame of reference there.) and it lacked whatever it is that I like so much about Isles' other novels that I've read. So, while it was a decent read, it wasn't of the caliber I had gotten used to from Isles. I'll still recommend it, but not as highly as his other books. [EDITED: Okay, so then what is this novel ABOUT? It seems I was so busy telling you what I thought was wrong that I didn't tell you ANYTHING about the basic plot. There's this geologist guy who is watching his daughter's soccer game one day when a new woman in town makes a pass at him. She has an uncanny resemblance to a past obsessive girlfriend who is dead. She tells him that she IS his girlfriend. It goes from there. Remembering that his girlfriend was a crazy obsessive WACKO that can now apparently POSSESS people and that he is married (to a wife who he loves but who is withdrawn sexually because of a miscarriage) and has a child, you can kind of guess how things will go. Really, it was pretty good, just not in my top Isles recommendations.]

Sweetwater Creek by Anne Rivers Siddons is another novel I've included in this issue that takes place in the South Carolina Lowcountry. In this case, the story takes place mainly at a plantation that raises and trains Boykin Spaniels, the state dog of South Carolina, a breed with which I am familiar because I had two of them growing up, one of which I raised and trained myself. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel because I could relate to so many of the descriptions of the people and places. The main character in the story is Emily, a 12-year-old girl whose oldest brother suffered from a degenerative disease but who instilled in Emily a love of poetry and literature before killing himself with an heirloom shotgun, whose mother left when she was very young, leaving Emily and her older twin brothers with her father, who is emotionally distant. A troubled young woman from an old Lowcountry family comes to stay with Emily's family, and the novel centers on the effects this young woman and Emily have on one another, both positive and negative. While I liked this novel, I did feel that Emily was written as a much older character. I found it difficult to believe that she was supposed to be only twelve. It would have been more realistic had she been about fifteen, I think. Overall, though, it's definitely worth a read, especially if you enjoy southern fiction. [Which, if you do, Beach Music by Pat Conroy is the best ever written.]

Whew! Well, I lied back at the beginning when I said I was going to cover 12 books. I've been typing off and on all morning and now it's 2:15pm. I have OTHER THINGS I NEED TO DO. So you get only six today. I'll give you another issue next week with the other six originally slated for this issue plus the two I mentioned that were slated for the next issue.

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