August 31, 2003
The Trials of Tiffany Trott by Isabel Wolff

The Trials of Tiffany Trott by Isabel Wolff: another British chick lit book that I found to be occasionally uneven and ultimately a bit disappointing.

We first find Tiffany Trott on the even of her thirty-seventh birthday getting ready for her party. She’s in a good mood since she’s got a wonderful boyfriend and she’s convinced that he’s going to be asking her to marry him any minute now. Unfortunately for Tiffany, by the end of the party she receives the dreaded “we need to talk” call and Alex dumps her.

The rest of the novel is about Tiffany trying to find the right guy. She uses lonely hearts ads. She tries dating agencies. She even tries Eat 'N Greet single matches. She does find one eligible guy, but the fact that he’s married and looking for a part-time girlfriend, really isn’t what Tiffany is looking for.

For the most part I enjoyed the book, but I never found myself dying to get back to it and find out what was going to happen next. I definitely found the ending annoying, but I do wonder what Tiffany’s going to do about the events that unfold in the last ten pages or so.

All in all, not the worst chick lit book that I’ve ever read, but definitely not the best. It does have some good, dry British humor, though, so that’s always a plus.

August 28, 2003
Fluke Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore

Fluke Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore: another wonderful book by the author of Island of the Sequined Love Nun and Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story.

In Christopher Moore’s newest book, Nate Quinn, a marine behavioral biologist is consumed with the question of why whales sing. Until the day, that is, that while out observing the whales he sees one with “Bite Me” written on its tail.

So begins Nate quest to find out exactly what the hell is going on. During this adventure, we meet characters that only Moore could bring to life this well - Clay, Nate’s partner in Maui Whale; Amy, the luscious, brilliant research assistant that Nate has a thing for; Kona, the dreadlock-wearing, pot smoking white boy from New Jersey who speaks Rastafarian; Elizabeth (AKA The Old Broad) who supports the researchers. There are also the assorted people - like Nate’s ex-wife and other biologists - that lets you know that you are definitely reading a Christopher Moore novel.

I always love reading one of Moore’s books. No where else can you find a sentence like “Quinn felt like he’d just smacked a bag of kittens against a truck bumper” or learn a phrase like “action nerd.” A hell of a funny book with a really interesting premise that’s well worth reading.

August 25, 2003
House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III

House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III: one of Oprah’s Book Club picks (though I didn’t know if when at the time) and one of the most captivating books I’ve read all year.

The story centers around two main characters - Colonel Massoud Amir Behrani and Kathy Nicolo. Kathy is a former cocaine addict trying to recover from her husband leaving her eight months earlier. Due to a bureaucratic error, Kathy’s house, left to her by her father, is seized and put up for auction. Behrani, who fled Iran four years earlier and is having a tough time finding a good job, takes the last of his family’s money and purchases the house for a very low price. This is when the real trouble begins.

Kathy, naturally, wants her house back. Behrani sees this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get his family’s fortunes back on track and refuses to sale without at least tripling his money. Meanwhile, Kathy has become involved with a married police officer, Les Burdon, complicating both her life and his.

Immediately, this book grabbed me and wouldn’t let me go. I felt sympathy for both sides in this struggle and couldn’t imagine any way that this would work out well for anyone. I wanted everyone to get what they wanted, though that obviously couldn’t be. I worried about all involved- epsecially Mrs. Behrani and Kathy - and feared what would happen to these wonderfully vivid characters.

Not giving anything away, I totally felt that the book had an inevitable conclusion once it began moving. I was completely drawn in and recommended this book heartily.

August 23, 2003
The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice

The Snow Garden by Christopher Rice: one of the most boring books that I’ve had the displeasure of reading in quite some time.

Set at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country, the book revolves around two freshmen, their friend, and the college professor that one of them is sleeping with. Since the college professor is married, the fact that he’s sleeping with a student isn’t a good thing, especially since it’s a male student. The professor’s wife ends up dead causing all kinds of suspicion to fall on him. The college was also the scene of a young woman’s drowning twenty years earlier causing one to wonder what the parallels may be.

The Snow Garden is supposed to be this great psychological thriller and horror story, but I couldn’t ever get into it. I found all of the characters either downright unlikable or uninteresting. Also found the way that people’s past secrets were hinted about for over half the novel very annoying. By about page three hundred or so, the novel started picking up, but since the book is only four hundred pages long, that’s quite a lot of pages to have to slosh through to get to any kind of interesting material.

August 20, 2003
Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies by Robert Bloch

Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies by Robert Bloch: the first posthumous collection of his work since Bloch died in 1994. These stories are from the late 1930s through the early 1960s. Many of them have not been anthologized before, so this is a chance to see one of the masters of the genre from his early days.

I’ve always enjoyed Robert Bloch’s work (he’s probably best well-known for being the author of Psycho and the story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper) and was delighted to get this anthology of his early work. For the most part, I enjoyed the stories, though some of them seemed fairly obvious in their ending. Seventy years ago, though, I bet they really packed a punch.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good short story both for the excellent writing and the novelty of seeing older stories that influenced many of today’s writers.

My particular favorites from this collection included Death is an Elephant, Question of Identity, Death Has Five Guesses, The Bottomless Pool, Flowers From the Moon, He Waits Beneath the Sea, Be Yourself, Black Bargain, A Bottle of Gin, Soul Proprietor, Satan’s Phonograph, The Man Who Told the Truth, and The Night They Crashed the Party.

August 18, 2003
Splintered Bones by Carolyn Haines

Splintered Bones by Carolyn Haines: the third book in the Mystery from the Mississippi Delta series and the best one yet.

We find ourselves again in Zinnia, Mississippi at Dahlia House, home of Sarah Booth Delaney, falled Daddy’s Girl. Sarah Booth doesn’t have a husband (the horror!). However, she does have a thriving private investigator business and a red tic hound called Sweetie Pie and a ghost from her great-great-grandmother’s time to keep her company along with quite a cast of friends.

In this book, Sarah Booth needs to find out who really killed the husband of one of her old friends, Lee McBride. Was it Lee’s daughter, Kip? Was it Lee herself (after all, she did confess)? Was it the handsome trainer Bud? The suspects are many since Kemper, the husband, was a real bastard and deserved to die.

I just love these books and devour them as soon as I get them. The people are so wonderful (how could you not love Jitty, Tinkie, Cece, and Harold?) and the book just so Southern. It makes me wish that I liked Jack Daniels and had a porch to sit on while sipping it. I really do highly recommend these books to lovers of both mysteries and the South. I just can’t wait for the next one to come out in paperback.

August 15, 2003
To the Nines by Janet Evanovich

To the Nines by Janet Evanovich: the tenth in the Stephanie Plum series (you have to count Visions of Sugar Plums as part of the series).

If you’re not familiar with who Stephanie Plum is, the answer is that she’s probably New Jersey’s least inept bounty hunter. She regularly blows up cars, her captures always include some element of mayhem, and she has some serious man issues in her life. She’s also endearing, funny, tough, and a delight to read every time.

To the Nines finds Stephanie on the trail of Samuel Singh who’s skipped out on a work visa. The clues to where he might be are few and far between and usually end up with someone getting killed. Stephanie’s manged to pick up another psycho stalker as well. She’s got to try and figure out how all these strange clues add up before this becomes her last job.

After I finished this book, I thought how “typically Plum” it was. I also thought how typical is not a bad thing when it comes to a Plum book. There was lots of love and sex with Joe. Ranger made quite a few appearances, so the sexual tension was pretty heavy throughout the book. Lula, a ho in a former life, was there in spandex and sequins, loud and lovable as always. Stephanie’s family even managed to get more unbalanced.

These books are always good fun and the characters are wonderful. If you haven’t read this series, I would recommend them as a great way to pass some time.

August 14, 2003
Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman

Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman: when I was in high school I read the most amazing short story ever that was about a murdered angel. It was in this great little anthology that I somehow misplaced and was never able to find again. About five years ago I came across the short story again in one of the ever-excellent Years Best Fantasy and Horror collections. Over the years the story has stayed with me, though never the name or the author. Imagine my delight when, while coming to the end of this amazing collection, I find it contained within.

Neil Gaiman has always been a favorite of mine through both his short stories and his novels (especially American Gods), so I can’t describe how happy it made me that he wrote one of the best short stories that I have ever read (the title, by the way, is Murder Mysteries).

I simply can not recommend Gaiman, especially this collection, highly enough. Everything that he writes is pure magic. There’s heartbreak, there’s happiness, there’s sorrow, and there’s joy, but the most important this is that his stories always ring true.

Pick this up as soon as you can. It is not to be missed. Forgive me if this review seems a bit disjointed, but I am so excited that the title of that missing anthology was mentioned and I have been able to find it again.

Favorite stories of mine from this collection are Chivalry, The Price, Don’t Ask Jack, The Goldfish Pool and Other Stories, Queen of Knives, Shoggoth’s Old Peculiar, Bay Wolf, Mouse, Desert Wind, Babycakes, the aforementioned Murder Mysteries, and Snow, Glass, Apples.

August 12, 2003
How to be Good by Nick Hornby

How to be Good by Nick Hornby: Hornby is one of my friend’s favorite writers, so when I found this at a half price book store I picked it up. I’m certainly glad I did.

Apparently, this is one of Hornby’s more depressing and less fun books, but I found myself enthralled nonetheless. Katie, a GP who likes to think of herself as a good person despite having an affair, is married to David, the Angriest Man in Holloway (that’s actually the title of the column he writes).

Pretty soon into the book, David has a spiritual experience and decides to live his life the right way, the good way. He talks his neighbors into housing homeless children, he plans on how to redistribute wealth to those in need, he even talks his children into giving their toys away to those less fortunate.

The real story is Katie’s struggle with how this makes her feel. Sure, she’s against homelessness and for helping others, but why do all these good works make her hate David even more than she did? What he’s doing is good - why’s it driving her insane?

I was fascinated with how this book was going to end and what was going to happen to the people involved. It’s definitely not a cheery, light-hearted book at all, but I enjoyed it anyway. Hornby’s got a very easy to read style and his characters are very much real. Good book and highly recommended.

August 07, 2003
Red by Jack Ketchum

Red by Jack Ketchum: justice is meted out by a wronged pet owner in this novel.

Jack Ketchum is know for his graphic and disturbing novels. I’ve only read one other of his novels - The Lost - and I definitely found it to be disturbing. Nothing positive happened in that book at all. With Red, however, I found it not to be nearly as heavy and really enjoyed reading it.

The Red in the title is Av Ludlow’s old dog. While out fishing with Red, three boys come along and try to rob Av. When he doesn’t have any money on him, they kill Red. The rest of the novel is about Av’s quest for justice for Red’s murder and the escalating violence that this leads to.

I certainly couldn’t recommed this for all readers. It’s definitely not a light book and the subject matter could be upsetting to a lot of readers. If you like horror novels, though, it’s a damn good one. There’s also a novella included called “The Passenger”, about a kidnapped defense attorney, that I really enjoyed as well.

August 05, 2003
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel: what a wonderful book this was! It was very short (I read it in one day), but absolutely engrossing from the start. A fabulous mixture of love, romance, fairy tale, and recipes.

The book tells the story of Mama Elena and her three daughters - Rosaura, Gertrudis, and Tita, the youngest. When Tita turns fifteen she wishes to be married, but family tradition dictates that the youngest daughter must never marry and look after her mother until the day she dies. Pedro, the boy in love with Tita, in turn marries Rosaura so he can be near the woman he loves. This leads to all sorts of complications and events that no one could predict.

The novel has the same sort of feel as Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic. For example, the sadness of that Tita feels while cooking causes an entire wedding party to experience longing and unhappiness simply by eating her food.

I also enjoyed that included in each chapter was a recipe for the dish that was being prepared. I’m not a cook, but I found it fascinating nonetheless.

Simply put, this is a fairy tale of life in Mexico that anyone can relate to. It’s simply delicious and should be read by all.

August 04, 2003
How to Murder a Millionaire by Nancy Martin

How to Murder a Millionaire by Nancy Martin: the first book in a new detective series featuring the BlackBird sisters.

When this novel starts out, we find that the Blackbird sisters - Nora (our heroine), Emma, and Libby - have been left the family estate, art, and furniture collections, respectively, by their parents who have skipped off to a nice sunny land to avoid paying back money they’ve borrowed.

This has left Nora with a $2 million estate tax (though why her parents didn’t just let her live there while they were on “vacation” bothered me from the get-go), so the solicialite is forced to take a job at the local paper as a society column writer. Unfortunately, the family friend who owns the paper and got her the job, ends up dead pretty quickly. Nora decides to do some investigating of her own along with the handsome reputed mobster who bought some of her land.

For the most part I found the book a little far-fetched, but I still enjoyed it. I never really got into the characters as much as I would have like to, but I could see how over another book or two I could probably get into them more.

The book’s definitely not as good as one of Janet Evanovich’s or Carolyn Haines’s female mystery series, but it was a pretty fun read. If you’re looking for a breezy beach book that has the potential to work itself into a good series, this is perfect for you.