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Graceann Macleod "Books Fuel My Life" (London, UK)
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A Thousand Country Roads
A Thousand Country Roads
by Robert James Waller
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars White Moths are Once More on the Wing, 8 Nov 2009
I am one of the people who adored BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, both book and film, and am not ashamed to say so. Many years after reading the first lyrical novel, I remember staying up all night to finish it and how I sobbed over the love of Francesca and Robert. I did then wonder what happened to Robert in those "missing years," and filled in the blanks with my own imagination. Robert James Waller topped me, of course.

The author indicates in his preface that this book will not likely stand on its own for those who have not read BRIDGES, and I agree. For those who have, however, it provides a lovely coda to those four days in 1965, with some surprises along the way. More is shared about Robert Kincaid's life both before and after his time with Francesca. Waller has that unique gift of being able to describe a place in such a way that you feel you're sitting there next to him, and this gift does not fail him in COUNTRY ROADS. Big Sur, Mendocino, and even a small town in South Dakota come to life for the reader. He also shares with us the realities of growing older; our bodies begin to betray us, and we often lose ourselves in memories.

My intention was to take my time reading A THOUSAND COUNTRY ROADS. I knew that this would be the last time I'd get to hear anything new from these characters, and I was loath to rush through that experience. When it came down to it, however, I couldn't read the pages fast enough. I just had to know what happened next and though all who read BRIDGES know how it ends, I wanted to know what came in between. I stayed up all night. Again. I cried. Again. I loved it. Again.


Moon's Crossing
Moon's Crossing
by Barbara Croft
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.73

3.0 out of 5 stars The 1893 Chicago World's Fair as a Backdrop, 7 Nov 2009
This review is from: Moon's Crossing (Paperback)
Jim Moon is a wanderer. He's fascinated with the Chicago World's Fair and will not be satisfied until he gets a chance to see it for himself; so much so that he's willing to leave his wife and infant son in Iowa in order to get there.

That's not where MOON'S CROSSING begins, however. The story begins with Moon's suicide in 1914, and goes backward and forward from that point. Reaching back to the American Civil War and forward to the start of the Great War, with stops at the Chicago Pullman strike and the 1893 World's Fair, among other things. A shifty police officer tries to solve the mystery of Moon's life, using letters, diaries and other ephemera in his possession.

The prose is beautifully written and pulls you along in a way that is admirable. The story, however, is slight and, in the end, rather unsatisfying, and that's a shame. Characters aren't very well defined and some are simply caricatures. It's clear that Barbara Croft is a talented author, and goodness knows she had a rich source of material with which to work. For some reason, sadly, it just didn't gel here.


The Wreck of the Titan
The Wreck of the Titan
by Morgan Robertson
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Eerie Coincidences, 4 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Wreck of the Titan (Paperback)
Written in 1898, The Wreck of the Titan (or "Futility," as it was originally published) contains some creepy similarities to what happened in April 1912. The Titan is described as the largest ship created, and unsinkable. She has watertight compartments and only enough lifeboats to satisfy the law, but of course they won't be needed because nothing can sink this vessel.

The book is very much a product of the Victorian era, from language to scenario. The publisher's foreword and introduction were extremely useful in explaining the discovery and reprinting of this story, and preparing me for the step back in time that I would be taking by reading it. There is an appalling, though not surprising, plot point using a negative Jewish character. There are other things that mark the story as being from 1898, but for all that it's a compelling read, and those who study the Titanic disaster should have this one on their shelves simply for its historic interest.


An Ex to Grind
An Ex to Grind
by Jane Heller
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Wanting it Both Ways, 3 Nov 2009
This review is from: An Ex to Grind (Hardcover)
I don't know what happened to the witty novelist who wrote INFERNAL AFFAIRS and THE SECRET INGREDIENT. AN EX TO GRIND was a clear departure for Ms. Heller, and a truly disappointing one at that.

Melanie Banks, a most unsympathetic character, is a financial analyst who is griping that, since she was the breadwinner in their marriage, she has to pay her husband maintenance in their divorce. She hits upon a clause in their divorce agreement that gives her a light at the end of the tunnel and she single-mindedly pursues a mean-spirited course of action to get a bit closer to that light. She doesn't care who gets hurt in the process.

There's nothing funny in this novel. There's nothing even mildly witty in the dialogue. Melanie uses her friends, shirks her real responsiblities and wastes everyone's time, not least the reader's. I kept reading because I wanted Melanie to receive her inevitable comeuppance, and while the sequence when that arrives is indeed sweet, I thought she deserved worse than she actually got. Given that she's the "heroine" of the story, I suppose that was too much to ask.

I hope that this author returns to form in future novels. I miss the crackling dialogue, intelligent styling and interesting heroines that made me a Heller fan many moons ago.


I Was Amelia Earhart
I Was Amelia Earhart
by Jane Mendelsohn
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Choosing a Perspective Would Be a Good Thing, 31 Oct 2009
This review is from: I Was Amelia Earhart (Hardcover)
I WAS AMELIA EARHART has as its intriguing premise the idea that Earhart and Noonan being lost over Howland Island is not the end of the story. In this slight but earnest volume, that makes for a great start. It's only 145 pages, but it has the potential for packing a wallop.

Unfortunately, the author is unable or unwilling to choose a narrator for her story, and it suffers as a result. At times it is in first person with Amelia speaking; at times it is a third person overview. The juxtaposition is jarring and, as a result, unsatisfying. If one speaker or the other had been chosen and committed to, this might have been a five star read, because the emotions and behaviors that are a part of the story are compelling indeed.


Nothing But a Smile
Nothing But a Smile
by Steve Amick
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Doin' What You've Gotta Do to Get By, 30 Oct 2009
This review is from: Nothing But a Smile (Hardcover)
Wink Dutton, an artist sidelined by wartime injury, finds himself in Chicago with very little money and even less in the way of prospects. He reaches out to Sal Chesterton, the wife of his buddy still in the Pacific, and together they try to keep her Chicago camera shop going. The idea Sal comes up with, before Wink even enters the picture is a bawdy one - she's going to give boys a peek at what they're fighting for, and make a few bucks at the same time.

The era is beautifully evoked by Amick, and I especially loved the discussions of what makes a photograph eye-catching and thought-provoking. There were several interesting characters who moved the plot forward and the decisions that each character made were believable and understandable. I loved the natural writing about sexual themes and behavior - so many writers discussing this era seem to think that people were found under cabbage leaves. Make no mistake, this is a novel written by an adult for adults, so the frank dialog may bother more sensitive readers.

The premise is brilliant and the writing is fast-paced. I only had one minor complaint with the execution. It's painfully clear that a man is writing dialogue for the women present here, and not only does he not have a good grasp on how women actually speak, but he also hasn't done a lot of thinking about how they spoke in the 1940s. There are a lot of cliched "now listen here, buster[s]" and in those instances, the dialogue sounded like it came out of a B-movie. In an otherwise tightly-written, intelligent novel, that was a disappointment.


Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival
Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters and Survival
by Anderson Cooper
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Their Stories Are Remembered, Their Spirits Embraced, 26 Oct 2009
DISPATCHES FROM THE EDGE is a testament to the fact that money does not protect you from heartache; you have your sadnesses in prettier surroundings. Cooper's father, Wyatt Cooper, died when Anderson was ten years of age; his brother Carter committed suicide when Anderson was still in college. Anderson Cooper could have grown into a spoiled, posh brat - famous for having rich parents and nothing more. We've all seen more than enough of those people, clutching tiny dogs and falling out of limousines. Instead of being a rich jerk, he faked a press pass and went into some of the most dangerous parts of the world. Then he reported what he saw.

Anderson Cooper is a phenomenally gifted writer. His ability not only to educate, but to make one feel (be that feeling sympathy, interest or rage) is something I truly did not expect. There are little jolts of reality that startled me as I read this slim volume. Upon his return from a war-torn area, he gets into clean clothes and goes for his first real meal in ages. He's having a lovely time and breathes deep, only to breathe in the scent of death that he thought he'd left behind. The odor has clung to his unchanged boots, and is inescapable. There are more than 200 pages of just such moments, each more beautifully written than the one that precedes it.

Anderson Cooper's travels are an attempt to find his own inner compass, he discovers, given the early losses of his father and brother. How those experiences are tied together within his emotions makes for fascinating reading.


Ahab's Wife: Or the Star Gazer
Ahab's Wife: Or the Star Gazer
by Sena Jetter Naslund
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Chasing One's Enemies, and One's Dreams, 25 Oct 2009
In this sometimes overwhelming take on the Ahab story, using a few characters from the classic novel, Sena Jeter Naslund visits the life of Una, the wife of Captain Ahab, and the time she spends with her Captain is surprisingly gentle and romantic. The two of them don't truly find one another until about halfway through the novel, however. The beginning of Una's life is just as interesting, though in different ways. She is born in Kentucky, lives for several years with a lighthouse-keeping family, and then, most excitingly, goes to sea. Some of the things that happen to her during her time on the waves haunt her for the remainder of the novel.

The beauty of AHAB'S WIFE is in the supporting characters. David Poland, Susan, Frannie, the Judge, Mary Starbuck; these are interesting and beautifully drawn people, and I loved reading about (and from) them. Some characters were unnecessary and only removed focus from the story at hand. The subplot concerning Margaret Fuller could have been dropped entirely and it would have only tightened up the narrative (much to the benefit of the book as a whole).

All in all, this is a rewarding read, if it does require an investment of time and energy. Ms. Naslund does not "write down" to her audience - she writes in a style that requires the reader to pay attention and engage themselves. For those who have the time, energy and interest to delve into the pages, AHAB'S WIFE can offer many gifts.


Tell Me Your Dreams
Tell Me Your Dreams
by Sidney Sheldon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.17

2.0 out of 5 stars The Last Paragraph Saves It From Complete Failure, 10 Oct 2009
This review is from: Tell Me Your Dreams (Paperback)
I love Sidney Sheldon. I say that knowing that he doesn't write "challenging" prose, but that's precisely why I love him. I choose his books when I want enjoyable, dishy reading. Unfortunately, TELL ME YOUR DREAMS doesn't even reach that plateau.

It is a murder mystery with a twist (unfortunately given away by other reviewers on Amazon). In actuality, however, I determined by page 20 what that twist would be, and thus was annoyed at how badly it was hidden. The trial scenes were laughable. I spent more than twenty years working in the legal field, and these sorts of Perry Mason courtroom scenes always crack me up. To be fair, legal proceedings, even in a murder trial, are so boring as to be soporific, so I can understand an author's wish to jazz things up a bit just to make it readable, but there is a way to do it believeably, and this isn't it. What did strike true was the defense attorney's firm's reaction (the bottom line is the only thing that matters; integrity doesn't make money and thus is to be avoided).

The characters aren't terribly interesting, the situations are too pat, and the dialog is trite. This isn't the crackling, snazzy stuff that I've come to expect from my favorite popular author.

What saved this book was the final page. It was the only interesting, twisty segment of the book. It's a shame that I had to read more than 330 pages in order to get to it.


Shattered
Shattered
by Dean Koontz
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars I'm Glad He's Gotten Better With Age, 8 Oct 2009
This review is from: Shattered (Mass Market Paperback)
SHATTERED was first published in the very early 70s, under a pseudonym. Glimmers of what was to become the Koontz style are present: The ever-ratcheting tension; the taut phrasing. Unfortunately, as others have stated, the book has become terribly dated in the almost 40 years since its publication. The tensions over Vietnam, who fought and who didn't, and the evils of "the establishment" are offered. Those of us who were small during this era will have to take Koontz's word for it.

There are, however, extremely timely themes here. Road rage, stalking and prejudice have not only remained, but gotten worse since the early 70s. Prejudice has changed its form, but it's still around and just as ugly. Then it was long hair and loud shirts, now it's other things that stir up the bigots. As to stalking, imagine what Koontz could have done if the internet were around when he was writing this novel.

It all feels padded, however, and even though it's padded, the ending is so abrupt and unsatisfying that it mars the entire project. Dean Koontz can do much better and, thankfully for us, he has.


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