Sandra Weinhardt, Book Reviews, Winter 2002


Dorris, Michael………..A Yellow Raft In Blue Water

Unforgettable book about a daughter, her mother and her grandmother, told sequentially,  each person revealing more about all the mysteries of their lives.  Rayona is the youngest, part black, part American Indian and more put-together than even she knows.  Her complicated mother, Christine, is unable to cope with much. Christine’s mother Ida has the deepest secrets of all.   Ida’s is the last segment of the book. 

The world is much the less without Michael Dorris.  Of all the writers who have passed, I miss him the most.  Please search out Yellow Raft.

The Rockefeller Foundation and Dartmouth College helped fund the author as he wrote this.  ISBN 0-446-38787-8 (pbk) from Warner Brothers in 1988.  Hardback published earlier.

Dahl, Michael………………Ruby Raven

Who is this Dahl?  Is the name a pseudonym? This Finnegan Zwake mystery series is da bomb.    I was rolling on the floor laughing, telling everyone I saw about Ruby Raven, a hilarious take on literary awards.  The setting is Africa, the writers are of course all hoping to win the huge cash prize, the plot boils along and surprises await in every sandstorm and crevice.  I’ll search the internet for information on Michael Dahl. Meantime, learn what happens to Nabi Neez, Zamboni and Nada Kloo.

The two other Finnegan Zwake books listed are The Horizontal Man as well as The Worm Tunnel

An Archway paperback from Pocket Books, 1999, 179pp,pb, ISBN 0-671-03271-2

Piesman, Marissa…………….Unorthodox Practices

My favorite new-to-me  author, Marissa Piesman features a housing court attorney, Nina Fischman.  How can anyone make that interesting?  Don’t doubt it!  In this volume, very old ladies are dying in their rent-controlled apartments.  Nina’s mom gets involved, Nina gets involved, the prosecutor gets involved, lawyers get involved….  If you love New York City or lawyer mysteries or laughing out loud, buy Marissa Piesman and snuggle down for a jolly winter’s read. 

Brown, Rita Mae with Sneaky Pie Brown………….Pawing Through The Past

Whenever I finish  reading any  book, I think "Why can’t Rita Mae and Sneaky Pie Brown write more Mrs. Murphy mysteries? I want to read one NOW."   This one is new to me, because I hid it from myself for a surprise.  No disappointment here.  The dog, two cats, the ‘possum, the neighbors, the settings……….. all our old friends are here.  Based upon an upcoming high school reunion, the plot arabesques through murder, danger, and a shiny new red vehicle for Harry (Mary Minor Harristeen.)  Harry has needed a truck since the first novel in this series.  Three cheers for Mrs. Murphy et al.  Hip hip meow.

Trocheck, Kathy Hogan……………Crash Course

Another winner in the Truman Kicklighter series, where only the bad guys get killed and

people retired in Florida keep their skills honed. Jackleen Canaday’s new used red convertible is a lemon.  Can she do anything about it?  Truman can!    This is a promising new series from the writer of the Callahan Garrity series   where Callahan solves excellent mysteries as a cleaning woman.  Nobody wouldn’t like Trocheck’s books!

Lansdale, Joe………….Mucho Mojo

Outstanding dialog moves this mystery with well-defined characters, unusual people and settings and an all-around feeling that this should be a movie. Four-letter words, be warned if you are sensitive. I’ll read all Lansdale can write. The plot revolves around perpetrators framing innocent people for child murders. The two protagonists risk everything to solve the tragedy and try to prevent more. Hard to put down, hard to forget.

Warner Books, The Mysterious Press, 1994 292 pp., pb

Burke, James Lee…………Heartwood

I can’t remember anything about this one except that it was depressing.  Well written, of course, just depressing.  I probably was in a low mood when I read it.   It’s set in Deaf Smith, Texas where the richest man in town, Earl Deitrich, has made most people’s lives more miserable than they needed to be.  Ex-Texas Ranger Billy Bob Holland intends to find out where Deitrich’s Achilles heel is.  BB once bedded Earl’s wife Peggy Jean, before she married Earl. Small towns don’t have a whole lot of people, you know, and fewer yet who still have all their hormones.    There’s a lot of "who slept with who" in small town mysteries.  Try Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown’s Mrs. Murphy series for bed bingo.

Welty, Eudora…………..The Optimist’s Daughter

Can you believe this is the first Eudora Welty book I’ve read?  She’s so famous.   Well, when I was your age, all they taught us were male writers, believe it or not.   I resented being expected to enthuse over Hemmingway, Fitzgerald, Updike and Bellow.  Wish someone had wanted me to read Eudora Welty. 

In this novel, the Optimist, Judge McKelva,  has died without a will, so the "wicked stepmother" claims eveything the daughter should have had.  None of   the contents of the Mississippi house, many from Laurel’s mother, will  go to Laurel.  Laurel has a few days to go over her mother’s heirlooms before she has to part with them.  If you have done this yourself, you will be completely absorbed in The Optimist’s Daughter.  If this heirloom sorting is in your future, you’ll be glad you read the book. 

One main theme in this novel is the relationships between all the people in the town in Mississippi.  More interesting to me than Faulkner was.  I’m so glad that women demanded Women’s Literature courses.  Probably I can find out what they read in those classes, searching on the Internet. 

Cook, Robin…………..Invasion

Halfway through Invasion, I decided to give up on it.  Everything had gone to Hades in a handbasket, and there was no way anything could be made better.  But all his other books are so readable, I argued with myself.  I picked Invasion back up, and was rewarded with all sorts of new ideas.  I’m not telling you what happens when a fleet of miniature space ships invade earth and like, you know, people get all changed around and evil….  Sounds too trite, but it isn’t.  Could humankind survive attacks from an  advanced species?  Read it and see. 

Smith, David………………Timbuktu

David Smith, a Harvard Law grad, spent many years in Africa as a consultant to governments there.  His first book, The Leo Conversion met with wide acclaim for its kind wit and fine plot.  Timbuktu doesn’t disappoint!  The plot sounds and is serious, about young girls being sold into sex-trade slavery, but the sub-plots and characters make to book zing.  I guarantee you’ll stay up long after bedtime trying to figure out what will happen next.  The book jacket says Smith is Vice-dean of Harvard Law School now, (as of 1983.)  It’s 2003 now. I wonder what he’s been upto, these past 20 years!

Dodd Mead, 1983, 270 pp, HB, ISBN 0-396-08232-7

Case, John………………The First Horseman

A fine technothriller featuring a reporter who misses the boat going to exhume frozen miners in the Kopervic area of the Artic.  (This sounds like the one sentence movie reviews on my cable TV.) But how can he be so lucky?  Digging up the dead is an unhealthy pastime.  Meanwhile, one North Korean man survives a strange attack on his village, while a couple in upstate New York is murdered by strangers.   Find the connections when you read The First Horseman.  Excellent writing by Case, who wrote The Genesis Code, a New York Times Best Seller.  He’s also written at least two non-fiction books about the U.S. intelligence community. 

Lanier, Virginia………………..Blind Bloodhound Justice

Lanier won an Anthony for Ten Little Bloodhounds, one of this series about Beth Sidden and her bloodhound university. Forgive me, Sneaky Pie Brown, but I want to read all of Lanier’s books. I learned a lot about bloodhounds, about caring for each animal as if it were an individual person, about the Okefenokee Swamp, about running an unusual business, about empathetically dealing well with employees. And besides that, I just enjoyed the heck out of it.

Harper Paperbacks, 1999, 325 pp, pb. Hardcover published in 1998.

Kahn, Sharon…………………….Fax Me A Bagel

Ruby, The Rabbi’s wife, is a computer consultant and widow of the head of the Temple she still attends in Eternal, Texas. She’s on the board to select a new Rabbi.

Meanwhile, her good friend and local bagel shop owner, a Lebanese who knows Yiddish, is framed for a muder-by-bagel. The book is a riot. Kahn is an arbitrator, attorney and writer from Austin, Texas. She was married to a Rabbi for 31 years. This is her first adult novel, although she has published children’s books. Funny, funny, funny. She should do stand-up!

Scribner, 1998, 255 pp hardcover.

McKinney, Megan…………..Still of the Night

Can’t remember any of this.  Bought it because it has a Louisiana setting.

Even paging though it, I can’t recall any of it.  I did read it.

Parker, T. Jefferson……………Red Light

This is THE perfect TV movie, or regular movie.  Police procedural,  great cast, taut psychology.  Red Light is the sequel to The Blue Hour in which Merci Rayborn loses her husband.  Two years later, Merci is seeing another policeman and wondering if she should settle for security rather than passion.  This is not a romance novel!   Reviews call Red Light "insanely imaginative" (New York Times) and "ingenious, intricate, complicated yet credible" (Los Angeles Times.) 

Evanovich, Janet……………….Hot Six

Stephanie Plum, Bounty Hunter, is up against the man who taught her almost all she knows.   While one nut is trying to kill her, her other problems rumble on, including Grandma moving in with her.  Lighthearted murder mysteries are a special genre, and Evanovich holds a blue ribbon with her Plum series.

Shannon, Dell……….Destiny of Death

This is a 1984 Luis Mendoza series mystery.  Wonderful police procedural.

Leonard, Elmore………….Maximum Bob

Could this be my first Elmore Leonard? I’ve seen movies made from his books, but I hadn’t read one before, I guess. Excellent plot, interesting people, but after I read it I felt I had wasted my time. I didn’t learn anything, except maybe how to survive in a men’s prison, which I don’t intend to try. Plot involves a womanizing Judge with an unusual wife, and the young probation officer who catches his eye. I’ll try other Leonards because I know he’s top-notch.

Daheim, Mary…………..The Alpine Legacy

This one is an Emma Lord, one of twelve in the series (as of 1999.) I tried to like it, but I couldn’t work up any interest in any of the characters. I didn’t care who did what to whom, or why. I rarely give up on a book. I quit this one half-way through. This doesn’t mean much, because obviously everyone else loves the Emma Lord books. Emma is the publisher of the Alpine Advocate, the newspaper in Alpine, Washington. I’m glad I don’t live there.

Schanker, D.R…………………..Criminal Appeal

Schanker’s first book was a 1999 Edgar Award nominee. We know this Hoosier lawyer/author via the Magna cum Murder mystery writers’ conference, so we were especially interested to see what he had produced here. Wonderful story, absolutely unique, written by a lawyer about a lawyer who has to bend the law severely to try to right a fierce injustice. The protagonist, Nora Lumsey, refers to herself as a "big-boned woman" which lends whimsey to her view of the world. Clerking for an Indiana judge, Lumsey is ordered to write the judge’s denial of an appeal filed on behalf of a ten-year-old boy accused of murder in a drive-by. She is surprised to learn that she lives next-door to the boy’s grandfather, who has befriended her. Do read Schanker. This is an excellent novel.

Patterson, James……………Cat And Mouse

Every once in a while I swear off Patterson and Dick Francis because of all the violence.   Cat and Mouse, however, lured me back.  I love the Alex Cross books.  In this one, Gary Soneji is killing again in America, and a Mr. Smith has Interpol baffled in Europe.  Alex is pressured to work on the European case but he insists he has to catch Soneji first.  He may not get his wish.  You’ll like this frantic race to stop the killings.

Grice, Julia……………….Pretty Babies

Upsetting story about a compulsive liar adopted by a family with a dark secret.  No one believes her when she tries to protect her baby sister from the father, so she kidnaps the baby and tries to hide with her.  I know I read this but I don’t remember it.


Ennes, James M. Jr…………………Assault On The Liberty

Ennes helped offload the bodies of U.S. Navy sailors killed in an attack on the USS Liberty off the coast of Israel.  I had heard the story from a vet I met in an antiques mall, so I had special interest in this book.  Although the story was never given the publicity of other attacks on U.S. ships, Ennes knows what he’s talking about.   People who had been sworn to secrecy by the brass would talk to him, many years later.  This is the kind of despair that makes you sorry to be a human being on this planet.  Are we ever, ever going to just get along?

Random House, New York, 1979.  ISBN 0-394-50512-3.  288 pages Hardback.

Jones, Thomas Henry…………….Fear No Evil

In 1989, three male high school students in the county west of mine plotted to kill a local man whom they thought was gay.  Of course it was more complicated than that.   The book shows how peer pressure and the desperate need to belong, mixed with rabid adult pulpit-preaching against homosexuals can combine to create tragedy. 

One of the boys involved lived near the county prosecutor and was a guest at his house.   Author Tom Jones  is the brother-in-law of that prosecutor, John Branham, so Tom had a long close involvement wth the denoument of this crime.  The book is excellent, but the answers are elusive.  I don’t believe the book tells how to prevent such crimes, nor does it have to.  But it’s sad, and so real.

St Martin’s True Crime Library, 2002.  259pp (pb)   ISBN 0-312-98367-0


Pardini, Priscilla………….On Her Own, The Life of Betty Brinn

If you buy only one book this year for your public library, let it be this heart-rending life of Elizabeth Brinn of Wisconsin.  Evocative illustrations by Joanne Scholler Bowring bring to life an orphanage in the late 1940s where Betty and her siblings endured a harsh childhood.  Betty overcame all her "at-risk" factors and worked hard as a teen and an adult.

Betty Brinn held many jobs, found a wonderful husband and became a benefactor to the area she came from. She founded a successful managed-care company for welfare recipients which gainfully employed those same recipients.

This is  not just any story.  It’s close to a miracle.   Betty Brinn loved children and did all she could to help them and their parents find ways to cope.  The book is in hardback as well as paperback at the Milwaukee Children’s Museum gift shop.  (Paperback was $4.50.)  The Foundation bearing her name sells this biography:  Contact

Elizabeth A. Brinn Foundation

890 Elm Grove Road  Suite 213

Elm Grove WI 53122

I bought a copy for our local library.  You could do the same.  It is well worth it!  Wisconsin author Priscilla Pardini is a noted writer on educational issues.  Her latest publication is "Making the Most of Middle School, A Field Guide for Parents and Others," to be published by Teachers College Press in May 2004.

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