Book Commentary Through July 2008

Updated July 22, 2008    URL is

Book Commentary Through July, 2008

Happy Summer 2008, fellow readers. 

Some of the memorable books I discovered recently:

Star review of this season:

Melba Patillo Beals
, Warriors Don’t Cry

 The true story of Melba Patillo’s grueling year integrating Central High School in Arkansas.  Buy many copies of this re-released book, and give them to young people and to anyone who might not have learned the real truth as the events happened.  The students were not allowed to tell what happened to them, at the time.  Each of them is a hero, but Ms. Patillo tells only her own life story, not theirs, as she felt it wasn’t her place to speak for them.  I hope the others can write their own books.  I didn’t comprehend the enormity of the ferocity of the students, teachers and townspeople that year.  My words can never do this book justice.


Andrews, Donna, Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon

Before gas prices went up, we took a drive into Ohio and puttered around in small towns.  My book radar took me into a general store with book racks, and there was Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon.  To me, still in love with Nibbled To Death By Ducks, this nutty romp was meant to be mine.  Apparently she has penned Murder with Puffins; Murder With Peacocks smothered in awards!) ; Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos, and by now, who knows what else?  The Tomfoolery of Titmice?  The Wretchedness of the Wrens?  I can’t wait to find out.

    I roared while reading this book.  It’s the fourth in the Meg Lanslow series, and I bet you gold to ground turkey that Janet Evanovich reads Donna Andrews when she needs a laugh.  Meg is a bright, resourceful artist/welder currently running her brother’s office, Mutant Wizards, whose " the next BIG computer game" is about to hit the market.   Someone is flinging a spanner in the works, and a body floats around the workspace, even troubling the battling psychotherapists who won’t give up their lease on half the office space.  The buzzard is the office mascot; the loons are most of the people catapulting from Donna Andrews brain.

Bauer, Joan, Backwater

If your whole family practices law, how do you fight them if you don’t want to "take the bar?"  This book seems improbable, but it could be possible, and it was well-written and thought-provoking.  Thumbs up!

Joan Bauer, Rules of the Road

    Prizes won: The 1998 Los Angeles Times Young Adult Fiction Winner; an ALA Notable Book; an ALA Best Read for Young Adults; An ALA Quick Pick.  In other words, hold this book – and read it. Jenna Boller is whisked from her Cinderella job selling shoes in Chicago to become the driver of the owner of the company for one long mind-blowing road trip.  Crusty dowager, bright, polite, self-actualizing  teen….Wonderful combination. With the right casting, it should become a timeless G-rated movie.  I can hope!

Bowen, Peter, Stick Game

I have an advance Proof of this unique Montana mystery featuring Gabriel Du Pre. It was all so new to me, a midwesterner who only recently learned of my Native American ancestry, that I wasn’t put off by the explicit scenes.  Also, as a formerly adopted person, I identified with the between-two-worlds lives of the protagonists.  This is the seventh in the series, so I hope to buy more.  The mystery is ecological, the people are amazing, the customs are new to me, and all in all Bowen deserves every happiness in his life.

Brown, Rita Mae, The Purrfect Murder

    Although I am mentally a member of Evanovich’s Plum family, my literary hometown is Rita Mae Brown’s Crozet, Virginia, where Harry Hairisteen solves several murders a year, assisted by her cat, Mrs. Murphy, her dog, Tee Tucker and various other verbal animals. They can’t talk to her, but they sleuth so well among themselves, it’s like an employee grapevine.  A happy few hours spent in Virginia will brace you for facing the real world.

Campbell, Robert, Sauce For The Goose

Don’t remember the plot but it was a great light read.  Chicago politics, one of a series, not a cookbook!  Highly recommended.

Carr, John Dickson, Papa LaBas

Here you are in 1859 New Orleans among the upper crust with their irrepressible daughters, the British  attaché, servants keeping secrets, derringers, challenges to a duel,  lightning storms,  the daughter of Marie LaVeau, haunted houses by night, lovelorn swains (one with a temper) and possibly the Devil, but more likely someone who fancies himself as an avenging devil.  A real page-turner, pardon the cliché.  Copyright 1968, second edition 1997.  I would probably read the telephone book if it were for New Orleans, but this book stands out like Jackson’s statue.

Dunlap, Susan, The Last Annual Slugfest

No, it’s not about boxing.  A small area of California, ecologically endangered, draws tourist with a festival centered around a certain garden pest.  Why are town Historical Societies such rich mines for light mysteries?  Maybe the history hides many a detail now forgotten, but still relevant.  Quite so! Read only if you have a strong stomach.

Dunne, Katherine, Truck

    The author of Geek Love pulls off a perfect teen runaway road trip, highly praised by The New York Times, Best Sellers and Publishers Weekly.  Publishers Weekly calls it bitter, bawdy, sad and sardonic.  The San Francisco Chronicle compares her to Mary Shelley. Whew! Don’t look for this one on the Disney Channel, but maybe on cable’s IFC. 

Ehrenreich, Barbara, Nickle and Dimed

Ehrenreich, Barbara, This Land Is Their Land

Ehrenreich, Barbara, The Worst Years Of Our Lives  (haven’t read it yet but I own it

We’re fighting over these here at home.  I love the books, my husband says Ehrenreich picks and chooses her statistics.  I say she’s one of the few voices for everyone below CEO status in America.  I’m still accumulating her books and will report more, eventually.  Meanwhile, read Nickle and Dimed in which she tries to live on minimum wage for a year, moving about the country and doing minimum wage jobs.  You can’t live on minimum wage without a well-employed spouse, a settled family to live with, or an astounding constitution.  Read this book, and if you don’t become a kinder, gentler person and a better tipper, your heart is stone. 

Evanovich, Janet, Twelve Sharp

    I also got the Thirteenth book from the library, and now Fourteen is out there somewhere…. calling to me.   I was astounded in July at Book Club to learn that no one else likes Evanovich.  I roll on the floor and fall out of bed laughing.  Now I question whether I should ever have written a single book review.  I should just call this a book blog, and I’d be trendy  and geek-chic.  Ah well, I don’t like the dreary books my book club reads so much.  If you haven’t read her, why not?  Yes, Stephanie Plum  has a healthy sex drive, but she seldom does anything about it. She’s too busy.  I thought in one book she got married, but in the next she hadn’t.  I guess there isn’t a middle Evanovich ground. Just try her. 

Fink, John, The Leaf Boats

Maybe it’s the water in Chicago, but John Fink is right up there with Hugh Holton and Robert Campbell in the suspense department.  The Leaf Boats is an intense study of a largish well-to-do suburban Chicago family with a string of misfortunes.  Why?  That’s what we all wait to find out. Excellent first book from the former editor of Chicago magazine.  It will stay with you long after you finish it, longer even than my home cooking. 

Gilman, Dorothy, Mrs. Pollifax And The Second Thief

Gilman, Dorothy, Mrs. Pollifax Pursued

    Mrs. Pollifax takes off without Henry this time.  Gilman never runs out of new surprises, and this charmer includes three generations endangered by a repressive government  far away from home.  Tense, timely, enlightening, well worth your time.  New to Mrs. Pollifax? She’s the unlikeliest CIA operative, and I am always amazed that she survives each book.  OK, I forget which book was which in this pair.

Hamilton, Steve, Blood Is The Sky

    Alex McKnight again in the U.P. of Michigan.  I love this series.  Vinnie LeBlanc’s brother Tom has disappeared in the woods of Ontario, where he was supposed to be guiding a party of business executives.  Tom was unqualified for the job but determined to take the chance.  Alex goes up with his friend and neighbor Vinnie where they encounter a strange lodge about to fail, little trace of Vinnie, and more danger than you could expect without bears underfoot.  Okay, maybe there was one bear.  Great study of friendship along with the mystery.  Vivid graphic memories of the float plane friskiness, and possibly a romance for the next book, with a "lady mounty."  Alex could do with some true love after all these years. 

Pineiro, R.J., Shutdown

One of my utmost favorite tech mystery writers has done it again.  I first read his 01-01-00 and Y2K, heart-stoppingly tense, and now he’s done it again. Erika Conklin is forced to work for the CIA. or go to jail for her outstanding hacking talent.  Reined in, she is the only person smart enough to solve the computer problems that starts killing large numbers of people in supposed "accidents."  You’ll hold your breath when you aren’t cheering her on.  I hope Pineiro is writing madly as we read this!  He has also written Retribution, Ultimatum, and Breakthrough.  I hope these can become movies, but I hope I find them to read, first.

Rosetti, Sara, Staying Home Is A Killer

 I didn’t care. It was a waste of time.  Many people have liked this book. 

Sebestyan, Ouida, Out of Nowhere

    It’s not that I’m easy to please with books, but here is another gem from the children’s room; I think it could be a Young Adult or adult fiction. 

If you were a twelve-year old, dumped by your mother in a desert, could you come out with a new family and live happily ever after?  Me either, but this book gives us all hope for the human race.  If only, if only life could be like this.  Resilience rules, and we don’t foster it in our kids, even in schools.  So give them books like this.

Taylor, Erika, The Sun Maiden

As odd coincidences go, this was the novel I read right before I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed , both dealing with waitressing.  I hated for Sun Maiden to end; J.O. kept finding more adventures than any other 20 year-old in Los Angeles.  She was also trying to nerve herself up to introduce herself to her long-vanished father.  She grows up being her roommate’s shoulder to cry on; fortunately the roommate is a stunning soap star.  The landlord is in a world of trouble.  Her boss, a mysterious Israeli, takes her to heart and J.O. muddles through.  How I hope to read more by Erika Taylor.  This would have been a good TV series. 

Temple, Lou Jane, Bread On Arrival

Not another cutesy vapid mystery/cookbook, Bread On Arrival pulls off the challenge of making a mystery out of wheat in Kansas!  Chef Heaven Lee finds a body "face down in the bread dough" and the tension, er, ah, rises from there.  (See my notes on the Face Down In…. series by Kathy Lynn Emerson.)  Delightful yet informative, witty yet progressing along the plot line like a professional tightrope-walker.  I’ll read all she writes.  Extra bonus: I got this one in Large Print!

Van Gieson, Judith,  Parrot Blues   

When life crashes around me and I can’t focus, I need to laugh out loud while I read.  This didn’t do it, but it kept me up late and depressed me about bird smuggling and the deaths of so many innocent birds.  Well written, well researched, a fine mystery.  Now if I can only remember where that hilarious parrot mystery got to…..

Van Gieson, Judith, North Of The Border

Albuquerque lawyer Neil Hamel becomes involved in a sordid adoption racket while working for a client.  She barely escapes alive, getting herself into situations no one but Van Gieson could imagine.  A fine read.

Van Gieson, Judith, Confidence Woman

 Claire Reynier, a rare book expert, becomes the only suspect in the murder of her long-lost college sorority sister. Ok, it’s far-fetched but it works, and you’ll keep reading. Excellent plot and characters and dialog and scenery….  No wonder Tony Hillerman calls Van Gieson "better than ever."  She’s an author’s author and a public hit too.

Wildwind, Sharon, Soldier On The Porch

    An ex-Army nurse, in-country, now works at a VA hospital on the east coast.  Again, depressing facts about the state of health care availability, but a whiz of a plot with old Vietnamese murders rising from the grave.  Excellent book. 

Yumoto, Kazumi, The Letters

After the death of her father, six-year-old Chiaki and her mother room with an elderly woman who lets three apartments.  Chiaki grieves so much that she falls ill and can’t attend school.  Her mother must work, so the landlady grudgingly offers to baby-sit.  When Chiaki learns the secret about writing letters to the dead, she begins to heal and return to a more normal life. An older child comes to live in this building  with his uncle, so he and Chiaki become loyal friends.  Don’t even think about this "review" when you read the book.  It is so well written that you become Chiaki, and I still cry when I think about reading it.  Kazumi Yumoto has written The Spring Tone and won the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction with her book, Friends.  I won’t sell this book.


Rovina, Nesta, Tree Barking

Nesta Rovina, an Occupational Therapist, grew up in South Africa and traveled about, ending up in Northern California.  She worked for a California  governmental  organization that sent various helpers to people’s homes after they left hospitals.  Tree barking, a serious skin condition, is one of many tribulations her patients dealt with, with cheer and fortitude in most cases.  Rovina’s main job was to request the walkers, wheelchairs, bath transfer seats and other apparatus (apparati?) to enable to people to live at home rather than in nursing homes or board and care facilities.  I’ve known people with this job, but no one told me about the extremes of poverty and the harshness of the system.  The more you request for your patients, the less you are tolerated, no matter how important it is, in the falling economy.  The economics are gloomy. The people are mostly strongly coping, right up until they die.  My illusions about health care were shattered, but I’m glad Rovina fought to stay within the system to carry on.

Stone, NancyThe Wooden River

    My husband loved Stone’s first book about the Traverse Bay area of Michigan, Whistle Up The Bay.  I loved this one more, about lumbering and lumber camps with children underfoot.  Betty Beebs again adds myriad illustrations that instruct and pull heartstrings.  This goes way beyond entertainment.  If you have any interest in life in the northern forests, or plucky children, of ecology even back then, try to find this gem. With great luck, you might find it in a library.

1973, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Woititz, Janet, Adult Children of Alcoholics

    An updated edition of a ground-breaking book. Woititz led the field as she uncovered the common links in those of us who did not have a normal childhood because of a parental alcohol problem.   A must read for the Adult Children of Alcoholics, and interesting for anyone who knows such a skewed person.  Of course I include myself – I knew I didn’t think like other people, but it took ACOA to explain me to me. Long live Janet Woititz.

At the moment we are wrapped up in Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, Sham by Steve Salerno, and It’s All Too Much by Peter Walsh.   

Sham is a review of the current medical and self-help quackery published by the ton, in print, on the web and in personal appearances.  We’ll buy our own copy of this library book. 

It’s All Too Much is a fine self-help book (!) on uncluttering one’s life. It is the best I have read. Check it out!

Super Crunchers  is rated groundbreaking and fun by Steven D. Levitt, the author of that great book, Freakonomics.   Ian Ayres is an econometrician (my new word for the week, say it thrice) who is the William K. Townsend Professor at Yale Law School and a professor in Yale’s School of Management.  How does he manage all that, and write his books and over a hundred articles?   I think because he isn’t married so he doesn’t have to cook and clean, do laundry and run errands. But that’s just my theory, my excuse for underachieving.

    I’ll just buy this book because it is due back in 8 days and my husband is still reading it.  Yes, it is worth it.

Since I can’t keep up with what I read, I’m going to report on what stands out in my mind. 

Too many of my books come from the library and get returned promptly.  I can’t find time to write about them, but I have a few brief notes.  I also had to sell a great many books this year which I won’t be able to write about.  We are left for July’s report with about 35 books I read thoroughly.  If I have forgotten a book after reading it, I won’t say anything about it.

We have also started buying courses on CDs and DVDs from The Learning Company.  They sent us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  That might cut down on my future reading time. 

Here’s a link to the beginnings of my tiny book "reviews."    now in about nine long sections

Here’s a link back to my e-zine magazines