Books Read in 2006

Tender at the Bone by Ruth Reichl
I finally finished this book, which I started months ago and then misplaced.  This is Reichl's autobiography and, while it is interesting, I found her "Comfort Me with Apples" more to my liking.  Perhaps because the second book was concerned more about the experience of being a food critic, and I could sort of relate, as a (faux) theatre critic.  Reichl has had a fascinating life, however, and her food experiences are delightful.  She paints a beautiful picture of places and foods and ambience.  I think that my problem with it was that I can't relate to the types of foods that she is eating.  I am not a very adventurous food experimenter.  My biggest adventure was trying escargot, which I discovered I loved...but somehow I don't think I'd order again.  So her tales of organ meats and things I've never heard of before don't inspire me to become a more adventurous cook, thought I do love her way  of turning a descriptive phrase.

Predator by Patricia Cornwell
I've been a Cornwell fan since I read her first book.  I've had some complaints about her recent books ("Blow Fly" was probably the worst).  This is getting back to her roots, but still the magic of her earlier books isn't there.  I hate what she has done with the character of Marino.  In earlier works, I kind of pictured Marino as an Ed Asner type, but now he's buff and bald and riding motorcycles and I've lost my picture of him.  I also loved the working relationship they had, and now it seems non-existent.  I also don't like the way she has taken her niece Lucy.  The thing I've enjoyed in previous Cornwell books was the weay that these three and Scarpetta's male friend,  Benton Wesley worked together to solve crimes.  Now...I don't know.  The story was so convoluted and there was such a dark undertone to everything.  Lucy hates herself, Kay isn't speaking to Benton because he kept Lucy's confidence about a health problem, Marino is whoring after anything with tits and have a love-hate relationship with both Kay and Lucy.  The story held my interest, but it just wasn't her best.  Also the evil Basil Jenrette, on whom the story appears to hang, has an almost non-existent role that fizzles out in the end.  He can't even try to kill Kay and make it gripping.  For Cornwell fans, this is a good read.  If it's your first Cornwell book, go back and start at the beginning, when they seem to have had more substance.

For One More Day by Mitch Albom
Mitch Albom has done it again.  The author of "Tuesdays with Morrie" and "Five People You Meet in Heaven" has written a book which explores the changes that can happen in a person's life if given one more day with a loved one who has died.  Charlie is on a downward spiral and has decided to end his life.  His plans are interrupted unexpectedly when he encounters his mother, who died five years before.  He spends one last day with her and gets a new outlook on his past and his future.  At 197 pages, this is a fast, easy read, but packs a wallop.

Gemma by Meg Tilly
After reading her "Singing Songs," I wanted to read "Gemma," which was the book which first introduced Meg Tilly as author to me.   Like "Singing Songs," this is both an ugly book and a beautiful book.  Gemma, a 12 year old child, has been sexually molested by her mother's boyfriend since she was 8.  At 12, she is sold for an evening to Hazen Wood, who assaults her all night long and then becomes so obsessed with her that he kidnaps her.  Thus Gemma's hell intensifies and life seems to be one long molestation and physical abuse.  Yet Gemma has her own way of "escape" and the story, told in her child-like voice, always looking for the good things in her life is a beautiful story of how this child survives.  The second half of the  book focuses on Hazen's capture and how Gemma adjusts to a new life, realizing that her mother really doesn't want her and finding a happiness she only dreamed about with an adoptive family.  This is a gripping story of survival.

Singing Songs by Meg Tilly
I saw Tilly interviewed on The View regarding her second book, "Gemma" (which I have just started).  These are not pretty stories, but so well executed that they keep you reading.  "Singing Songs" is the story of Anna, a young girl who lives with her mother and abusive stepfather in a serious of squalid locations.  She struggles unsuccessfully to protect her siblings from her stepfather's brutality and lechery, fiercely tries to protect herself from a number of sexual assaults and tries, unsuccessfully, to get some help from her mother.  She finds solace in the natural world: in a pet fawn who briefly lives in the bathroom and in baby owls who ride her shoulders. She revels in having her own room (a pantry closet) and proudly learns to shoplift.  The interesting thing about this book is seeing this terrible world through a child's eyes and how she accepts as normal things like 5 year olds cooking dinner each night, brothers forced to sleep outside in a tool shed, etc..  Tilly says that both books are based on her own childhood.

The Cat Who Sang for the Birds by Lilian Jackson Braun
For a brief time in Santa Barbara, I lost my new Patricia Cornwell, but having just finished the first "Cat Who..." book in the car, I was delighted to find that Dick and Gerry had some Braun books and I started reading this one, about the murder of an old woman in a complicated scheme to get her land.  There is something about the quaint village of Pickax and its eccentric residents and the gentility of the way of life, despite the terrible things that are happening, that becomes very engaging.

 The Cat Who Came to Breakfast by Lilian Jackson Braun
This was my first encounter with the "Cat Who..." books and it was one that I downloaded from to listen to on my drive down to Santa Barbara.  Now fellow journaler Jim says that his wife reads these books to put herself to sleep, so he wasn't quite sure how it was going to work for me as a way to keep awake during a long drive.  But it did.  I found the book charming and decided I wanted to read more of the adventures of James Mackintosh Qwilleran and his remarkable cats, YumYum and KoKo. 

Comfort Me with Apples by Ruth Reichl
I had actually started her first book, "Tender to the Bone," but when I went to the gym the other day, I accidentally grabbed this one and by the time I'd walked 30 minutes on the treadmill, I was hooked, so I ended up finishing this one and I'm still working on "Tender to the Bone."  "Apples" covers Reichl's time living in Berkeley, and her becoming food editor of the L.A. Times.  It covers her difficulties with the men in her life and her struggles to become a mother.   Interspersed among all these stories there are the foods, the chefs (she was there when Wolfgang Puck opened his restaurant; she dined in Danny Kaye's kitchen), and the recipes which she always includes.  A thoroughly charming and engrossing and...dare I say it?...delicious read!

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you love writing, eating, cooking, and humor, this is the book for you!  Ruth Reichl, now the editor of Gourmet magazine, was the food critic for the New York Times for several years and this is her account of what it's like to be a food critic in the food capitol of the United States.  The lengths she goes to to hide her identity, her "anonymous" experiences in some of the city's most famous restaurants (believe you me, I will never feel left out because I've never eaten at Tavern on the Green!) as well as her experiences when her identity was known.   It's all a great read, though I have to admit that the descriptions of esoteric foods and their effect on the palate is reminiscent of the same sort of rhapsody from wine conoisseurs.  I'm afraid the "woodsy essences" and the perfumy overtones will always escape me, which is probably why I' most at home at McDonald's!

The Dogs of Bedlam Farm by Jon Katz
Jon Katz is an author who sets out to see if he can train dogs to herd sheep and survive a year on a sheep farm in upstate New York.  It's a fascinating book of discovery for man and dog(s), at time a bit draggy, but always held my interest (though I admit to skipping quickly through some parts of it).  He talks of the lessons he learns from getting away from the city, getting back to nature and bonding with his dogs.  And it made me want to do better by Sheila.

Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock
Someone on Senior Net talked about this book and how gripping it was and how she never expected the ending.  She made it sound so good that I ordered it and found that it lived up to promise.  It is written in the voice of 8 year old Carrie, who, along with her 6 year old sister Emma, is living with an abusive stepfather who physically, mentally, and sexually abuses them.   In many ways this is an ugly story of child abuse and the inability of the mother to protect the children.  In other ways, there is an innocence to it, since it is told through the child's voice.  And in the end, yes, I never expected the ending.  I thought I had it figured out, but it takes a turn that I did not see coming.  

As it got closer to the end, I had to just sit and read.  I can't remember the last time that happened.  It is definitely a page-turner.

Marked by Robin Cook
Medical thrillers are always great fun for me and I bought this at the airport in Burbank, since I had finished the book I brought with me.  This is longer than Cook's usual books, but it doesn't disappoint.  Apparently it follows up on two characters (both Medical Examiners) from earlier books, but I haven't encountered them before.  The story deals with a serial killer on the loose in one of the local hospitals and naturally the female doctor nearly gets killed before the thing ends and naturally her (ex?) boyfriend saves her at the last minute.  I don't think I'm giving away anything--Cook's books are formulaic, but that doesn't spoil the plot at all.

The only odd thing about this book is that there is a prologue and I still can't figure out the relevance of the prologue, even though I've now finished the book!

Marley and Me by John Grogan
I didn't actually read this book, but had it as a book on CD, read by the author.   This is the story of every puppy and dog we've ever had...only bigger.  Marley was into everything from puppy to old dog but he was everything that everybody ever wants from a dog, a loyal, loving companion.  Grogan reads the story as if you were there...because he was.  Walt and I listend to it while driving up into the mountains, with Sheila in the back seat, and the antics of Marley kept us laughing all the way.  I finished this book driving home from Sacramento, a times sobbing so hard I couldn't see the freeway because, of course, Marley, who lived until 16, eventually dies, as all dogs do.  This is the perfect book for the dog lover in your life.

Paper Money by Ken Follett
In this introduction to this 1977 book, Follett says that this was one of the first books he published under a nom de plum (Zachary Stone).  The book shows how crime, high finance and journalism are all interconnected.  Follett feels that this is one of the cleverest plots he's ever devised.  And it is.  The scheme is brilliant--incredibly complicated, but brilliant.  In this day of computers and cell phones and all the technological conveniences we are accustomed to, some of the situations (particularly with reporters filing stories) seem "quaint" and old fashioned, but this keeps your interest and the twists and turns provide delightful surprises.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
I read about this in a discussion group in Senior Net and it sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy.  What a beautiful little book about two girls in 19th century China, who become each others soul mates at age 7, a relationship which lasted their whole lives.  Not only do you get a good feel for the culture of Hunan China, but you also learn more about footbinding than you ever wanted to know!

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fanny Flagg
I remember seeing the movie years ago and I also remember being told that the book was much better.  So when I saw it on the "3 for the price of 2" table a Borders, I picked it up.  What a fun book.  Written all over the place with respect to time, but it kind of blends nicely with "Five People You Meet in Heaven" because it follows the life of two women who run a cafe at a little southern whistlestop during the Depression and the effect they have on the lives, not only of those around them, but of a total stranger, hearing their story some 50 years later.  Great read.  Now I want to rent the movie again so I can find out why it's not as good as the book!

Five People you Meet in Heaven by Mich Albom
Peggy recommended this book, and she was right--it really gets you to thinking about our interconnectedness and what impact we may have on those around us, without our even being aware of it.  It's a simple story of a man who dies, and then the five people he meets in Heaven who help him make sense of his life.  Highly recommended.

Whiteout by Ken Follett
I picked this up at the Boston airport while waiting for our flight to Sacramento and finished it shortly before we landed in Sacramento.  This is not Follett's best, but, like London Bridges, it held my interest.  The problem was that it reached a point where it began to read like a French bedroom farce and I had to wonder if he hadn't written it at least partially tongue in cheek.

London Bridges by James Patterson
My problem is that I don't read James Patterson in order soI can never remember where in his life I meet him.  In London Bridges he's chasing "The Wolf" and "The Weasel" and the problem is that I can't remember if he actually gets them or if they turn up again in a later novel.  This one was a bit more bloody and convoluted than I like--too many disasters right on top of the other and not enough psychological insight going on.  Still, like any Patterson novel, it held my interest.

Family Planning by Elizabeth Letts
Elizabeth's second book, which she considers better than the first.  I have to admit I didn't like it as much as the first.  This is more a character examination sort of book, but I felt that getting to know so many characters so intimately interfered with the plot and I found it distracting.

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
My fellow-reviewer tells me that I read this book a year late and that "everyone" was reading it when it first came out.  This easy reading novel gives a good feel for what life was like in pre-Taliban Afghanistan and how things changed when hostilities began, how the life as everyone knew it in the country ended.  The hero makes a new life in the United States, but returns to his native Afghanistan to right a wrong he caused many years before.  Very powerful book.

Quality of Care by Elizabeth Letts
I read this book because I know Elizabeth, who was a midwife in the clinic I managed for a couple of years.  The book is about a nurse midwife who goes back to re-examine her past, but it was fun trying to pick out who each character might represent.  It was a good story.  Not a great story, but it held my interest.  An easy-reading book.

The Further Adventures of Lad by Albert Peyson Terhune
This was one of my very favorite books as a kid.  I loved Terhune's collies and Lad was my favorite.  Though he wrote these short stories with an adult audience in mind, they strike a cord with animal-crazy young people.  I liked this one the best because it contains both "the coming of Lad," and also the last chapter, where Lad's big heart finally gives out.  I collect Terhune books and was thrilled when I finally got this one--and enjoyed re-reading it.

Mary, Mary by James Patterson
Alex Cross is like one of those Godfather characters--"just when he thinks he's out, they pull him back in again."  This time he's vacationing with his family in So. California and gets consulted when high profile women start being murdered under bizarre circumstances.  Naturally Alex is the only investigator in the country who can figure out the mystery and find the perpetrator, no matter what toll it takes on his family.

Fears of Your Life by Michael Bernard Loggins
This little book was one I read because I was going to be reviewing the dance which was created, based on the words.  It's a simple little book, with a list of all the things that Michael (who is developmentally disabled) is afraid of.  It is simple--and profound at the same time, and will strike a cord with anybody who picks it up.

Third Degree by James Patterson
I'm a big James Patterson fan (as this reading list will show).  This is the third in the  "Women's Murder Club" series.  There are those who feel that this series isn't as good as his Alex Cross books, but I like them just as much--and this one has a real shocker that will turn the whole series on its ear.

Night by Eli Weisel
OK--I bought this book because it was on Oprah's Book club--and because I'm a sucker for any book about the Holocaust, and this is the grandaddy is them all.  I read the comments on Amazon and people seem to have been blown away by it.  It is, indeed, a powerful book, but if you've read as many books about concentration camps as I have, I didn't find it as "shocking" as most people did.  Just a very well written book which brings you in emotionally and perhaps for people who have not thought much about concentration camps, it will be a real eye-opener.