Sandra Weinhardt, book reviews page 3

Updated 5 February 2002   URL is

Books I Read Late November, 2001 and later

Benson, Ann……………..The Plague Tales

Why isn’t this book a movie by now? It’s a terrific read with great characters and action. It cries out for a camera crew, a director and fame. My favorite way to learn history is through fiction like this, yet this book gives us even more. The chapters alternate between a Spanish physician in 1348 and  Janie, a United States surgeon in 2005. Janie has been ordered to change occupations by the government, since disease has killed so many people that far fewer doctors are needed. She goes to London to do research for her forensic anthropology degree. There she digs up more than she bargained for. Words can’t do The Plague Tales justice. I literally couldn’t put this book down. Visit Ann Benson’s website at and learn more.

Smith, Mary-Ann Tirone…………….Masters of Illusion

Historical fiction about the huge circus tent fire in Hartford, Connecticut in 1944. This is an astounding read, fascinating and almost unbearably suspenseful. Smith has also written The Book of Phoebe. This book is as good as a Max Allan Collins. Look for it in your library or book store.

Elkins, Aaron…………..Dead Men’s Hearts

Another fine Gideon Oliver mystery, this one involving ruins in the Valley of the Nile. This anthropological mystery gives new meaning to the word skullduggery. Creepy fun.

Bell, Madison Smartt…………….All Souls’ Rising

How much do you know about the slave rebellion in Haiti in the 1790s? Sure, we all studied it in school, but what can you remember now, besides perhaps Toussaint? This book is the perfect background for the best book Anne Rice ever wrote, All Souls’ Day. 500 pages of meticulous research, an extensive chronology, glossary, and a vocabulary that treats us as competent adults for a change. The suspense raises your blood pressure, and the violence will make you stop reading a few times, but you will go back. You will go back. Bell had written seven previous novels, but one blurb claims he will never write a betterbook than this. (I find that comment challenging.)

Crumley, James……………The Wrong Case

Here we have either the story of a Professor who hires Milo because she doesn’t believe her brother committed suicide, or we have a manual of how to get drunk and throw up and get drunk and sober up and stay sober a couple of days and get drunk and throw up some more. It’s hard to decide when you read Crumley, but he’s such a good writer you can’t stop reading. This is only his second novel, dated 1975, so I recommend you start out with The Mexican Tree Duck or one of the other later volumes. Develop your Crumley taste, then work backward.

Paretsky, Sara………………Total Recall

Recovered memory? Con game? This was exceedingly complex. Who steals the show? An adorable cranky moppet of five, who disapproves of the adults’ behaviour. Read this book if you have quite a bit of time. Read this book if you are a Paretsky fan, but you don’t need me to tell you that!

Dunbar, Sophie……………….Behind Eclaire’s Doors

A real women’s book about beauty parlors, hairdressers, reconciled divorced people, old scores, new scores, high society in New Orleans, a great mystery and terrific dialogue and characters. I’m on a reading kick about New Orleans most of the time, so that’s how I found this author. Fun, scary, clever.

MacAlister, V.A.………………..The Mosquito War

Not just one, but an armload of mad scientists, a host of innocents, really interesting explanation of how we in the U.S. don’t care enough about the diseases of the rest of the world, non-stop excitement. Read this book and anything else she writes. Very timely.

Christofferson, April…………….Clinical Trial

Mad Scientist vs. widowed doctor, on a Blackfeet Reservation. Hantavirus and more. An excellent read with stunning suspense and a great deal of information on reservation mores and life. Author is an attorney trained in biotechnology and veterinary medicine, out west.

Reichs, Kathy……………………..Deja Dead

Another wonderful Reichs book set in Montreal. I got half-way through and had to return it to the library, but the first half was wonderful. Serial killer plot. Tempe Brennan has the usual problems with her social life. If only we could get her together with Alex Cross, it would solve both their problems. Hmmm, there’s a movie idea there somewhere.          

Mosley, Walter…………………Walkin’ The Dog

You’d think the latest Mosley books would be depressing, but if the main characters can cope, by golly we can too. Socrates Fortlow, from Always Outnumbered, Always Outgunned, has severe housing problems. He knows the most interesting characters in Los Angeles, and involves them in the 12 chapters which address 12 different concepts. I loved this book.  (I’m reading my copy of Always Outnumbered now. It doesn’t hold my attention the way Walkin’ The Dog did.)

Gillman, Dorothy………………Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled

What a babe! Emily Pollifax saves the day again in one of her tensest stories yet. I challenge any reader to imagine him/herself in Syria, posing as the aunt of a kidnapped American, breaking laws right and left. This was almost too much suspense for me, and I’ve never said that before. Wow.

Ghosh, Amitav………………….The Calcutta Chromosome

                Well written, clever, absorbing.  Computers are like Hal, only smarter. The settings are exotic, the people amazing and the plot mysterious.  Set in the near future, you will incidentally learn a lot about the history of malaria research.  Or will you?  Weirdness galore!

Hoffman, Alice………………………..At Risk

                What if your daughter had an emergency appendectomy which necessitated a blood transfusion?No problem?  Not if it happened in the early 1980s.  In this book the emphasis is on Charlie, the eight-year-old brother, and how he is left out of everything, as well as shunned by the community.  Amanda and Charlie’s  parents have to fight the other   parents who want Amanda our of school, where she had been the leading gymnast in middle school.  The parents’ marriage is extremely stressed.  This is no Ryan White autobiography, but it’s an interesting psychological study.

Braun, Lillian Jackson………………The Cat Who Wasn’t There

                I won this book so I wanted to re-read it.  I never can remember the Cat Who books anyway, so they are just as much fun to reread as they were to discover.  This one included a group tour to Scotland and an amateur production of MacBeth, so we learn new tidbits as we read along.  Great fun. Love those cats!  Oh, the title……    a death occurs in Scotland, but Koko "wasn’t there."  His peculiar actions after Qwilleran returns to Pickax City help us zero in on the true murderer. 


More Young Adult Books

I went back to the Young Adult section of our public library, but all the books I read in the summer were gone, replaced by many new books. This is cool, since I had read all the other books. Here are some YAs from the new collection.

Christman, Elizabeth…………..Ruined For Life

Associate Professor Christman of the University of Notre Dame tells a coming-of-age tale of five young college graduates who live a life of poverty and service in Chicago for one year, together. They are in the Society of Barnabas. I guess it’s a lot like the America Corps, and it requires tremendous dedication. The "ruined for life" title refers to Corneilia O’Connors wealthy father’s worry that her experience will ruin her for "real life" and law school. Read the book and find out.

Cohen, Barbara …………………..The Innkeepers Daughter

Part of a series about this family of a widowed mother and her three helpful children who run an inn bought by the father just before he died. An excellent Young Adult book that cries out for a sequel. Setting is New Jersey in 1949. YA

Isaacs, Anne…………………….Torn Thread

One of the best YA books I’ve found, Anne Isaacs has written her mother-in-law’s life story of the years from June 1943 through the summer of 1945 in Czechoslovakia and then in a German labor camp in Poland. This is a very valuable record that should be required reading in all schools. It should be made into a play or movie. The world mustn’t forget.

Bat-Ami, Miriam………………Two Suns in the Sky

                   I hadn’t even realized that the U.S. took in a thousand refugees during WWII, housing them behind barbed wire in Oswego, New York.  This was also the only camp in the U.S. for war refugees.  There should have been hundreds, but there was only one.

The title refers to the Serbo-Croatian legend that If you see two suns in the sky at once, you will never be the same person once you see that.  (It’s the moon   rising while the sun is setting. )  Adam sees this effect on the refugee boat headed to America from Italy, after Italy is liberated in WW II.  In Oswego is Chris, an unhappy  14 year-old girl spending a boring summer.  When she defies her quite prejudiced father and befriends Adam and his friends at the camp, Chris grows up, but we also live inside Adam’s mind, learning a new viewpoint. The story is told alternatingly by Chris and Adam.

Currently, there is a drive on to raise money to make the Oswego camp into a museum.   The author did extensive, meticulous research among survivors from the camp, and makes a this cause exciting and relevant.  No one should forget.  This is another fine historical YA by Bat-Ami, an Associate Professor of English at Western Michigan University.  You might want to read her award winning book, Dear Elijah

Coleman, Evelyn………………………born in sin

            Did you ever stop and think about how litle USA team ethnic diversity you see in Olympic swimming events?  This book explores the feelings of an "at-risk" high schooler who discovers she has championship swimming potential.  Keisha Wright was accepted into a summer-school pre-med program at Emory University  after her sophomore year in high school, until a do-gooder organization pronounces her "at-risk."  That makes the high school  take her out of college prep courses, where she had been getting all As, preventing her from attending Emory.  In the summer program she is forced into, she ends up swimming for a fine coach, maturing, coping with more than probably any of us have coped with, and emerging with promise.  This book has won awards, and the author, Evelyn Coleman, has won very prestigeous awards for her other books too.  Don’t be put off by the title.


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