Sandra Weinhardt, Book Reviews

lg opine logo    Updated 7 September 2002 
  URL is /books/sum02.html

Books Read in Summer 2002

Whoa, I was way too busy to write my thoughts on my books this summer. There is a lull now in mid-August, so let me catch up.

On this page:

NON-FICTION   5 reviewsIsland of the Colorblind, The and Cycad Island………….Oliver Sacks
Sacks is in fine
form with his travel reminiscences of Pingelap, Pohnpei, Guam and Rota. But he isn’t there to sightsee. He’s researching achromatopsia, (colorblindness,)  which was curiously prevalent in certain Pacific islands. Sacks loves people so much it makes your heart sing.  He doesn’t just poke and prod; he brings devices to help overcome the handicap, and he embraces the adaptations made by the color-challenged.  His books are for anyone who has curiosity.   Learn more about achromatopsia at    This book has 57 pages of footnotes, a 17 page index and 19 pages of bibliography and journal references.  I loved all of it. By the way, Sacks fell in love with cycads as a boy.  I think cycads are a fernlike tropical evergreen plant, evolutionarily between tree ferns and palms, but don’t take my word for it.  Sacks was delighted to study them in the Pacific. Every part of the plant is used for food, but the efforts to remove its poison are sometimes incomplete. Researchers try hard to find the link between cycad consumption and the various disabilities of the island natives. 
All this is way better than I am describing. It’s a book you would re-read annually and still find new ideas.
A Borzoi Book from Alfred A. Knopf, New York and Toronto.  Hardback.   Illustrated. 1997Master Pieces……….Chris McCann
Subtitle: The Art History of Jigsaw Puzzles
This could have been a thesis, it’s so thorough.  Wonderful full-color pictures, bios of the artists, puzzle values, bibliography, history, technology… this book couldn’t be better.  I found it at Half Price Books. It’s on eBay.  If you are a puzzle fan you’ll want this book to keep.  Oh, maybe the library has a copy.   And now, excuse me, I have a puzzle to finish.
Collectors Press, Inc.  1998Death Cruise……………..Don Davis
Crime writer Don Davis worked for years on the case of Ohioans Joan Rogers and her daughters Michelle and Christe, murdered on their first vacation.  Joan Rogers worked  here in Bluffton, Indiana, two miles from our home.  My husband worked where she worked, but a few years later.  So weI knew much of this story from the newspapers. The book added immeasurably to our knowledge.  We know that the details most writers would miss are here in the book.  It is one of the saddest cases we will ever hear of. Joan, Criste and Michelle were on their first real vacation ever, and while in Florida were murdered by Oba Chandler aboard his boat on June 1, 1989. He was a stranger who had offered to show them the sunset.  It took a long time to catch him, or even to know that he was the person to question, due to the lack of communication between different law enforcement branches.  One hopes that there has been constant progress on information-sharing between jurisdictions since this debacle.   After I first read “The Boston Strangler” I looked at every man differently for a while.  Oba Chandler should make all of us look again at the seemingly innocent friendly stranger, and that diminishes life for all of us.  A true tragedy, well-told. Would that it never happened.
St, Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996.  Illustrated.Raising A Riot…………….Alfred  Toombs
Tooms returned from WWII to find his wife in a hospital, his children driving his parents batty, and
life too difficult in New York City.  As a single father for a while, he eschews his career for the more rewarding job of riding herd on the cutest kids in Maryland.    The family moves to a cabin in Southern Maryland, handily owned by Toomb’s parents.  There they adjust to one another, only to skedaddle to Florida when the truant officer shows up once too often.  The book is much funnier than any sitcom on TV. The winter in Florida has to be the highlight of all their lives.  When they return to Maryland, the big question is whether they will return to life in New York City, still without the Mother, or choose the life of freedom they have come to know.   Alfred Tooms makes the right choice…. find out for yourselves.Why wasn’t this book snapped up by Hollywood?  It isn’t too late. 
Hardback, Peoples Book Club, Chicago, 1949. Illustrated endpaper.Ever since “Cheaper By The Dozen,” “Please Don’t Eat The Daisies” and Terry Ryan’s memorable “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” subtitled “How My Mother Raised 10 Children on 25 Words or Less,” I have loved books about families.   I suspect Toombs of combining a few escapes into one, for effect here, but this was the perfect book to raise my spirits after reading “Death Cruise.”
Eye of Evil…….Joseph Harringtonn and Robert Burger
These fine writers devoted their time to writing a book that tells us nothing more than we already knew about the two men in California suspected of luring people to their remote cabin and killing them.  I guess the real shock is that the surviving suspect was neither extradited from Canada nor tried.  Both writers are capable of, and have written, better books.  Our Goodwill store had a huge display of new true crime paperbacks at  fifty cents each. I bought one of everything, and by golly, if I am going to read them, you have to read my opinions! St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1993.FICTION 20 booksThe Glory…………….Herman Wouk
The Hope…………….Herman Wouk
Two incredibly fine books on the history of Israel following the same people and events through many years At the same time I read
Mitla Pass……………Leon Uris  and
The Haj……………….Leon Uris
More history of the Palestinian/Israeli area of the middle east. Most interesting books I’ve read this year. You can read readers’ views of The Haj at Of The Truth………..Richard Parrish
Joshua Rabb, widowed Jewish ex-military officer takes his son and daughter to live on the Papago Indian Reservation in Arizona.  He’s their new Bureau of Indian Affairs lawyer. The characters were clear-cut, memorable, vivid.  The flora and fauna got their due in the desert setting. I learned so much from this book, learned about civil engineering, politics, contractor fraud, the lengths people go to to protect their interests, life in Arizona right after WW II, loneliness, racial arrogance and more.  For some unfathomable reason, this book was a discard at our public library.  It’s worth seeking out. 
Parrish has also written “Our Choice Of Gods” as well as “The Dividing Line.”
A Dutton book, 1994. Hardback.Criminal Appeal, A…….D.R. Schanker
I knew him when………  The delightful Mr. Schanker, an Indiana lawyer,   has been a regular asset to Magna cum Murder at Ball State each year.  (URL is    ) At last I have his 1999 Edgar Award Nominee mystery, A Criminal Appeal, in hand.  In this whale of a good first novel, Nora Lumsey is launched on her legal career with an appeal on behalf of a deaf ten-year-old boy sentenced to 55 years for a drive-by shooting.  She is surprised to find she lives only three doors down from the boy’s grandfather, whom she befriends.  But, you say, where is the catch?  She’s required by the Indiana Appelate Cout judge she works for to write the brief to deny the grandfather’s appeal.  He doesn’t know she’s involved in the case, and she knows full well what will happen to her if she doesn’t do as the judge orders. This isn’t a cozy.  It’s hard-hitting and worth every minute of your time. You will always want Nora Lumsey in your corner.  Google just found  “Schanker, D. R., Natural Law (MInotaur Books, 2001). Features Nora Lumsey, a public defender; the corpse is a disagreeable law professor.”  So there’s a second Lumsey available to us!
Dell, paperback, 1998.
Bright Shark………..Robert Ballard and Tony Chiu
I just learned that I love, love, love technothrillers.  Not the old spy stories; my spys have to have laboratories.  Bright Shark involves Russia, Israel, the United States, England, Greece and Turkey, extreme-depth undersea exploration,  smuggling nuclear material and humans,  international politics, bumbling politicians and brilliant underlings, guts and glory….  Ballard is the oceanographer who found the Titanic, and Chiu has written “Realm 7” and “Port Arthur Chicken.”   They lived aboard an ocean exploration boat for two months getting each detail down pat.  It shows. Wonderful read. It will stay in our Submarine Collection.   
Delacorte Press (Bantam-Doubleday-Dell)  hardback, 1992. 
Empty Chair, The………………Jeffery Deaver
You saw “The Bone Collector,” I know you did.  This book stars the same quadraplegic, Lincoln Rhyme.  He goes to the University of North Carolina Medical Center for an experimental surgery that might give him a bit more movement, or kill him.  Before the operation though, there is a murder and a double-hostage situation that only he can solve.   (By the way, the Empty Chair is a psychological technique.  Or does it mean that Rhyme dies in that operation?)  I lost so much sleep reading The Empty Chair that I yawned around the house for a week.   Thank goodness no one pays me a salary; they wouldn’t have gotten much for their money that week.  Deaver has written 12 other novels.  Go to or wherever and buy a bunch, if you dare ;pse that much sleep.
Simon & Schuster hardback, 2000.
The Florabama Ladies’ Auxilliary & Sewing Circle
…………Lois Battle

I love Lois Battle’s books and the way she writes about the South.  Who else (except Fanny Flagg) could make a rolicking comedy our of the shut-down of a lingerie factory in a one-factory town in rural Alabama?  Hilly Pruitt is the perfect challenge for Bonnie Duke Cullman who rolls into town to become the new advisor in the Displaced Homemakes Program at the Community College. Yes, the factory women were homemakers too.  There is so much laughter, self-discovery, problem solving, family dynamics, hard reality and love loose in Alabama the stars fell just to be part of it.  Top choice reading for anyone who has lost a job or wished they would. 
Viking hardback, 2001
Pumpkin Seed Massacre, The……….Susan Slater
Tony Hillerman and Barb D’Amato loved this Ben Pecos mystery, and so did I.   On an Indian reservation, a mysterious virus is killing people.  This is in addition to the deaths caused by pollution and limited health care.  We have the possibility of gene-splicing.  We have a possibility of biochemical terrorism or biological terrorism. And it’s all as tasty as a perfect club sandwich.  We’ll all keep on loving Susan Slater’s Ben Pecos.
(Yes I went on a Western-locale book buying spree  in Milwaukee one weekend. I had already bought all the New Orleans books.)
Worldwide paperback, 1999.
Carriers………………Patrick Lynch
You will be plunged into the Indonesian rain forests with no survival skills. Be brave, like two missing young girls (or are they dead, along with their father’s research team?) Try to figure out what’s killing people before it kills you Lots of science, lots of interesting people.    I doubt I will forget this biohazard thriller.   My teeth are still chattering.  Enjoy.
Berkley Books paperback, 1995.
The Criminal C.O.D……………Phoebe Atwood Taylor
This was my first exposure to the  Asey Mayo Cape Cod mysteries.  I needed a calm mystery to read after I finished a most upsetting book.  I loved all this mannerly skullduggery.  I’d characterize it as Nancy Drew in the real world.   Asey is a tough old bird, but the ingenue, Jane Lennox, could have been Nancy.   The perfect beach reading, the perfect antidote after a spate of hardboiled tough-talkin’ mysteries.  Seek out Phoebe Atwood Taylor and keep her books nearby. Better than Prozac for making the world look good again.
The Countryman Press, A Foul Play  Press book, Woodstock. Vermont.  Copyright 1940, republished  1988. Paperback.Dead Moon On The Rise……………..Susan Rogers Cooper
In this Milt Kovak adventure, Milt marries Jean before she gives birth, and that’s about the only thing that goes right.  His little sister Jewel decorates his house while he’s on his honeymoon, to Jean’s horror. Then  Wade Moon, a face from the past, returns to Prophecy County to run for Sheriff against Milt, and he’ll stop at nothing to win.  To know Milt is to love him, except for the interloper. When he’s murdered, Milt is under suspicion.  And Jean is still totally honked off at Jewel.   Give Milt a chance. You’ll love him too.
St. Martin’s Press, 1994
Trials of Nikki Hill, The
……………Christopher Darden and Dick Lochte
This is the book Darden and Lochte  wrote before they wrote “In Contempt,” reviewed on /books/……………………………….
It’s restful to read the short paragraphs and brisk dialog in Nikki Hill, and the plot, characters and tension are all fine. I just didn’t feel as involved as I did in their second book.  One keeps looking for parallels with Marcia Clark.  It sort of kept me from losing myself in Nikki Hill.  For the courtroom buffs, yes, buy this book.  For avid Simpson trial  students, enjoy this book.  It’s good.
Warner Books paperback, 1999.
Age Of Terror, The…………..David Plante
I say I want to be challenged, and then here I go, underappreciating this novel.   Plante is loaded with titles and encomiums, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, but this book didn’t go anywhere.  A 22 year old man goes to Russia, trying to experience things he can’t imagine.  I’m not sure that he accomplishes this.  Over my head.   The library dumped this, so I got it for a quarter. Seems really rude of me to pan a 25 cent book.  
St. Martin’s Press, hardback, 1999.
Death At The Isthmus………George Harmon Coxe
Lawyer Jim Darrow owed a favor to the Army buddy who saved his life in Luzon in 1945. 
The friend, Max Darrow, calls in the favor from his night club headquarters in Panama City.  As I read the mystery, I felt I was watching a classic film noir.   Atmosphere, credible characters, intrigue, double-crossing double-crossers, daring death to appear…. Print large enough to read without getting a headache. Couldn’t ask for more. 
“Death At The Isthmus” first appeared as a serial in the Chicago Tribune!
I found this classic mystery in a waterfront antiques mall in Peoria, Illinois.   Coxe, from New York, spent a year at Purdue (Go, Boilermakers!) and one at Cornell. He went into newspapers for five years, then into advertising. He turned free-lance after screen-writing for MGM for two years.  He served a term as president of the Mystery Writers of America.  His books endure.  He should be re-discovered.
Alfred A. Knopf, Borzoi Book hardback, 1954
Desert Blues…………..Bill Albert
You’re a 14 year-old boy in 1956. Your folks fight all the time. You aren’t popular.   Your one friend is a blind man in the apartment below you, who has taught you everything about blues music for years on end. 
During one marital fight, your Dad makes a U-turn on the Pasadena freeway. You wake up in the hospital.  You have only one living relative, an aunt in Palm Springs.   Guess where you end up?
Aunt Enid, 33, is mistress to a rather boring salesman who comes to see her a few times a year.  He has set her up in a small house with a swimming pool, out a way from the town. 
She has no background for dealing with children, especially a quiet teen, but she wants very much to make it work. 
The boy on the ranch next door accepts Harold like a younger brother.  He and his buddies have no use for the blues, though. Will Harold adjust?
What happens when Harold’s long lost grandfather appears on the doorstep?
When  I bought Desert Blues, I thought it was written by Susan Wittig Albert’s husband Bill Albert. It seems instead to be written by another Bill Albert, one who has lived in England since 1954.  Yet this Bill Albert caught every nuance of the teenagers and Aunt Enid, the grandfather and the Palm Springers.    Here is a charming book to make you feel good about the world again.
The Permanent Press, hardback, 1994
Kindness of Strangers, The……………….Julie Smith
A Skip Langdon mystery with Skip on leave from the police department. To fill her time she gets involved in politics, and in New Orlleans that can be dicey.  When the Bad Guy has the rest of the town thinking he’s a saint, Landon’s work is no picnic.    Try surviving a hurricane in a bayou. Wonderful dialog, atmosphere, tension.
Fawcett Columbine hardback, 1996
Diamond Before You Die, A……Chris Wiltz
From  my New Orleans mystery collection, we find two private eyes. Neal Rafferty’s tailing the woman who hired dazzling  P.I. Lee Diamond  to follow her husband, Richard Cotton.  What snake rears its head in this mystery? Politics. Such a natural for New Orleans!  Kirkus Reviews calls this book “A lean, smart, warm-hearted mystery debut.”  It is that and more.  Well worth the time to read. You can rest assured Chris Wiltz will entertain you.
The Mysterious Press hardback, 1987.
Rough Draft………………James W. Hall
I can’t remember this one.  I read it about 9 weeks ago.  Hall’s books are a favorite of Michael Connolly, Sue Grafton, Elmore Leonard and James Patterson.  But this plot was so contrived it just didn’t stay with me.  I’m not worthy.
St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2000.

YOUNG ADULT3 reviews
Indian Captive…………..Lois LenskiA Newberry Honor Book, “Indian Captive”  is a sanitized version of the capture of Mary Jemison in 1758 in eastern Pennsylvania. (Ms. Lenski, my favorite children’s author, explains that she had to leave out some pertinent details when she wrote this book in 1949.)  Raised by the Seneca, Mary became the legendary “White Woman of the Genesee.” 
When our son and daughter-in-law married in Letchworth State Park, I hadn’t realized that this was the final resting place of Mary Jemison.  (See    )The general information page for Letchworth Park  includes this History: The William Pryor Letchworth Museum in the Middle Falls Area features displays about early regional settlement and Native American Artifacts. On a ridge behind the Glen Iris Inn is a restored Seneca Indian Council House, the grave of Mary Jemison, and the cabin of Nancy Jemison, all of which were preserved by Mr. Letchworth.  This may be the most interesting park in New York!   As if I had seen them all. Anyway, you can learn a lot about Mary Jemison from the web, and please do buy this book for any young person in your purview.  I’m part Shawnee and part Cherokee, but I didn’t learn anything about Native Americans until I was an adult. Harper Trophy Paperback, @1941, 1969. In print, I believe
Family note: Photos of the Bickham-Weinhardt  wedding at the Glen Iris Inn are available here: Over Skygak……..Kenneth Gilbert  
Maybe life was a whole lot better in the 1940s for Americans.  At least it was less complicated.  Mark Landon had just turned 15 when his parents moved to the Alaskan wilderness, with little money.  An Alaskan State  Forest Ranger befriended Mark who suffered enough anxiety and adventure to turn my hair white.  This book was a discard from a religious school, making me wonder if no one is any longer as innocent as this appealing child was. Pluck, luck and skill brought Mark through his first year in Alaska and proved he was an assett to the state.  I’m holding on to this book forever.Hardback, Henry Holt and Co. Illustrations by Clifford N. Geary.  Published in 1951.Where I Want To Be……………Cara DeVitoKristie, 14,  lives with her older half-brothers Kyle and Derrin in Show Low, Arizona. Yes, I bought this book because of the setting. The forest fires were threatening Show Low as I read this story.  Kristie’s mother deserted when she was six, and her father has just died. Summer vacation has just started.   Kristie takes action – she takes off to stay with her cousin Roy and family  in Lake Havasu City, but they didn’t find her too helpful, so she came back home.Suddenly Kristie’s mother reappears in Show Low.  Kristie gets “the rest of the story” and has to make up her mind about who she will live with.  Kristie is one of a kind, an appealing character perfect for the YA readers. And yes, Show Low was saved from the fires, in real life.Cara DeVito is a lawyer, Brooklyn-born, educated at UCLA and Southwestern University School of Law.  I hope she writes more books. A Google search today indicates she has made a movie and also appears in legal references.    Maybe there is more than one famous Cara DeVito.  Alibris link is Mifflin, 1993.  Hardback.*************************************************************Here’s a link back to the book index. Thanks for visiting, and keep reading every day. There are so many books….There is also an awesome list of Louisiana mystery writers and their books on the website of  CHRISTINE ALICE CORCOS of Louisiana State University Law Center. See it at or more specifically at book reviews are simply the opinions of Sandra Weinhardt, email editor@tentativetimes.netPlease go to the index of my book review pages at /books/or to the cover of Our Tentative Times at