Books Read in 2009

new.jpg (11513 bytes)South of Broad  by Pat Conroy
This is a story of lifelong friendships and the ups and downs involved.  I mean REAL ups and downs including child abuse, hurricanes, murder, suicide, terminal illness, infidelity, religious vocations, fortunes made and lost, Hollywood fame, and all sorts of fun things, but told in a way that story teller Conroy has mastered. 

My one complaint about this book is that part of it takes place in San Francisco, a house around the corner from where I spent the first 18 years of my life. Conroy paints such vivid pictures of locations in his books that it made me angry that he got it so terribly WRONG.  He talks about the steep slope up Union Street to North Beach when, in fact, from where he is supposed to be starting it's a gentle slope DOWN Union Street to North Beach.  It's a minor point in the story, but I kept fussing about it all the time he was writing about San Francisco!

The Copper Bracelet by Jeffery Deaver, Gayle Lynds, David Hewson, Jim Fusilli and a bunch of other guys
"I think something else is going on here," a character says before the end of the book.  Never was a truer word written.

This book proves that not only do too many cooks spoil the broth, but too many authors does not a great book make.  This was a free download from (and does not, apparently have a print version).  Each chapter is written by a different author, consequently there are so many plot lines and so many characters it's like trying to follow a Russian novel.  Just when you think you know who is the bad guy, there is a badder guy.  Just when you know who is the hero, s/he is killed.  The travel and convenient meetings are also as implausible as a Dan Brown novel.  It seems that everybody is tailing everybody and will the bad guy (whoever it really is) succeed in throwing the world into total chaos?  The addition of the innocent daughter of one of the characters is reminiscent of the first three seasons of "24."

Yeah, I stuck through to the end but I wouldn't do it again.

Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
I've been reading this book for a very long time.  Gabaldon does not write short books (this one is 1059 pages long!)  But I couldn't put it down.  This is Book 3 in the 6-book Outlander series.  In this book Claire takes her daughter Brianna (a lovely name) to Scotland to break it to her that her real father was the 18th century Jamie Frasier, a fact Bree finds impossible to believe until research proves it for her beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Claire's 20th century husband Frank has died by the start of this book, and Claire has been working as a physician while raising the child she and Jamie conceived in the 18th century.  When Claire discovers that Jamie did not die in the battle of Culloden, she makes the decision to go back through the standing stones and see if she can find him.

She does, of course (or there wouldn't be 3 more books!) and the couple has many adventures that perhaps aren't quite as compelling as those in Book 2, but nonetheless engrossing.   Twenty-years later their passion seems more intense (I think Gabaldon writes with more explicit passion with each passing book), and their various sesparations and reunions make for mad passionate sexual romps, in addition to all the history woven into the story, which climaxes (literally and figuratively) running from pirates in the West Indes.  Claire seems to have more perils than Pauline.

But of course the closer I got to the end of the book, the more compelled I was to order Book 4, so I think my reading for the start of 2010 is already decided!

Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
I read the first of the "Outlander" series years and years ago and when it finished, started this, the second book, but could never get into it.  However, when had a sale I was able to get it pretty cheap and have been listening to it in the car for weeks now, finally finishing the last two hours this morning.  This continuation of the story of Claire Randall, the woman who slipped through some standing stones in the late 1940s and finds herself in the Scottish highlands of the 1700s, and the Scottish chieftan, Jamie Frasier, whom she meets and marries, carries the couple to France and intimacy with "Bonnie Prince Charlie," who is trying to recapture England for the Scots.  There is a lot of history about the Jacobite rebellion and the slaughter at Culloden field all interwoven with the love and passion between Claire and Jamie. 

Without giving away any of the plot, let me just say that when you get to the last sentence, you will be very happy if you already have Book 3 of the series, "Voyager" on your shelf!  Fortunately I have it both on my shelf--and in my Kindle.

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
Gilbert & Sullivan operettas always have "or" titles..."HMS Pinafore, or The Lass Who Loved a Sailor," "Pirates of Penzance or The Slave of Duty," etc.  If "The Lost Symbol" were to have an "or" title, it would have to be "things are seldom what they seem."

Once again poor Robert Langdon has many very long hours ahead of him which will involve a great conflagration, death, chases--many, many chases, torture, and enough hidden mysteries to make your head spin.  I predict an influx of visitors to Washington, D.C., each clasping copies of this latest page-turner.

Did I like it?  Let me say that it was at my doorstep when I got home from a meeting at 6:30 on Tuesday night and I finished the last page at 3 p.m. Thursday afternoon.  I forgot to eat.  I sat up much too late reading.  It is definitely a page-turner and you won't be able to put it down once you get to the last quarter of it.

Along the way you will learn more about the Freemasons and Ancient Mysteries than you can possibly absorb (what incredible research this man does!) and you will learn how crucial to understanding the book this work from the dome of the U.S. Capitol is:

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If you enjoyed "DaVinci Code" and "Angels and Demons," don't read reviews.  Just buy the book and prepare yourself for another Dan Brown roller coaster ride!  If you hated the earlier two books, don't bother; you won't like this one either.

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer last finished.  I have finished the "Twilight" series.  Book 4 wasn't as bad as people had told me, and "vampire sex," which had been the brass ring people held in front of me to keep me reading, was downright boring.  However, that said, the resolution of the Jacob-Bella-Edward triangle, about which I had really bad feelings, resolved in a way that made me very, very happy.     And Bella's dad, Charlie, wins the prize for the "la-la-la I can't hear you with my fingers in my ears" parent of the century.  I know more about vampire powers than I ever wanted to know, but even with all their powers, they still need to hire a gangster from time to time.

This whole series was pretty silly but, as I keep saying, it was written not for 66 year old women, but for 14 year old girls.

A Good Year by Peter Mayle
After getting back from Europe, I really wanted to read Mayle's "A Year in Provence," but it wasn't available for the Kindle, so I ended up picking up this fictional story of Max Skinner, who thinks he's got it made at a financial office in London, but who unexpectedly loses his job and finds himself out of work, out of a car, out of money and out of hope.  In the nick of time comes a letter from the attorney handling his uncle's estate that he has inherited a vineyard in the south of France, and the house that is attached.  His friend loans him the money to travel to Provence to check things out. 

This was a delightful voyage of discovery peppered with unforgettable characters, some nefarious, some not.  It gives a good picture of the life in a small French town, and takes the reader into the world of French wines.  A review I read said "It is a light, funny and charming novel to be read between two heavy, serious and demanding books," which is precisely what I was looking for--and it filled the bill nicely.

The Watchers by Dean Koontz
In the "Afterword" to this book, Koontz says that he feels this is his best book and that he may some day write another book as good, he'll never write one better.  I haven't read a lot of Koontz, but I have to admit this one stands head and shoulders among the ones I have read.

Travis Cornell encounters a dog while walking in the woods.  The dog attaches itself to Travis and it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary dog.  In fact, it is an escapee from a government lab which has created this highly intelligent animal which can think and communicate with humans.  But the problem is that the dog (and its evil counterpart, "The Outsider," developed as a killing animal) are being hunted by both the government and a vicious hit man.  And The Outsider is also out to kill the dog, whom he hates.  Travis names the dog Einstein and the two of them befriend a shy, lonely woman and, having learned Einstein's background (the dog learns to read and spell) they find a place they feel is a safe place to hide out.

The story keeps the reader on the edge of her seat.  The ending doesn't quite match the build up and I felt there was a completely wasted subplot line, but the finale was quite satisfying.

Angels Flight by Michael Connelly
This is the sixth Harry Bosch book.  Harry is assigned to investigate the murder of high profile black attorney Howard Elias, who is murdered along with a local house cleaner, while riding the Angels Flight funicular railway in downtown Los Angeles, just as Elias was about to start trying a case that was certain to shake up the Los Angeles police department.  While Bosch is dealing with old and new enemies, a failing marriage, a high profile case with the attendant media attention, secrets of the deceased, additional murders, a memorable Dominatrix, and the ongoing tension between various branches of law enforcement, he gradually begins to unravel the threads which may help him solve this case.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer
Book 3 of the "Twilight" series, which has as long a life as a vampire.  The plot of this book can easily be summed up as:   Overly long chat about werewolf history, animosity between vampires and werewolves, Edward is so gorgeous, Jake is my friend so why is he attacking me?, Overly long chat about vampire history, Edward is so gorgeous, but I miss Jake, uneasy vampire-werewolf truce because everybody wants to kill Bella, Edward is so gorgeous so I must do whatever he says, everybody still wants to kill Bella, except Edward, who wants to marry her and Jake who wants to make love to her.  Still no sex.

Can I really take another book in this interminable series?  Do I want to quit after investing time to read three whole books?

Your Heart Belongs to Me by Dean Koontz
At 35 Ryan Perry has it all--he's wealthy beyond imagination through and Internet social networking site he created (hmmm...facebook?), he has a gorgeous girlfriend and the world is his oyster.  They he learns he's suffering from cardiomyopathy and must undergo a heart transplant--but will he live long enough to find a donor.  As one of the richest men in the world, he can afford just about anything, so by pulling a few strings, he is able to make it to the top of the donor list and receive a new heart.  However, things rapidly spiral out of control and seem to enter the world of mysticism, but in the end all, with one strange exception, seems to have been logically explained.  I've heard Dean Koontz books are either very bad or very good.  This was was pretty good.   I haven't read one of his books in a very long time, so I enjoyed it.

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer
I have to keep reminding myself that I need to read this book with the eye and emotions of a 14 year old girl.  The vampires have left the Pacific Northwest because Edward was afraid he was putting Bella at risk, but her heart is broken and she sinks into a deep depression.  Now the thing that most of us, I'm sure, would do when our vampire boyfriend dumps us is to take up with the nearest werewolf family.  What is it about the Pacific Northwest?  Anyway, the bulk of this second in the Twilight series concerns her growing friendship with the werewolves and then a misunderstanding brings the vampires back into her life again. 

14 year old girl...I need to be a 14 year old girl.....  Two more books to go in the series.

Master of the Game by Sidney Shelton
I picked this book up off the shelf of the hotel in Siena because I was too lazy to go upstairs to get my iTouch.  It's the sort of book I used to read all the time and haven't read in a while, all about rich people and power and sex and betrayal and all that sort of stuff.  I doubt I'd read anything else by Shelton, but this one was pretty good and I managed to finish it in a day and a half.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer
Everyone is talking about this series of vampire books for adolescents and several on our France/Italy trip had read it.  In fact, Jeri was reading it when we arrived in Paris.  I had to find out what all the fuss is about.

It helps to read this as a 14 year old girl, if you can put yourself in that mindset.  There are parts which are pretty simplistic and formulaic and make you want to roll your eyes, but the thing really hangs together and becomes a damn good tale.  So good that I immediately came home from the trip and ordered the next three books for my iTouch.  (They tell me the sex doesn't come until the 4th book!)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
I picked this book up to read on our trip to France and Italy and discovered that many in our group either had read it or were reading it.   What a charming little book.   It is the correspondence (started in 1946) among writer Juliet Ashton and her friends, publisher, and various members of the aforementioned society on Guernsey.   The friendships which develop and the investigation that Juliet does uncover a chapter of World War II that few, I'm sure, had any idea about.  In due course, Juliet travels to Guernsey to interview the residents personally and the trip will change her life in ways she never dreamed. 

This is a short book, and a quick read, but highly recommended.

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
It's kind of scary to think that I have read the just-released Connelly book.  Am I going to run out of thrillers by Michael Connelly soon? 

Jack McEvoy, last seen in "The Poet," has been downsized from The Los Angeles Times but he decides that he wants to go out in style and wants to investigate one last crime and make it his definitive murdere story.  He gets more than he bargained for when he investigates the brutal rape and murder of an exotic dancer and ends up wondering if the kid who confessed to the crime is guilty after all.  The investigation teams him up again with FBI agent Rachel Walling and sparks fly once again for the pair as they work to unravel the crime.  Another great book by Connelly.

Backwards to Oregon by Jae
The year is 1851.  Luke Hamilton, a decorated war veteran, is keeping a dark secret that, if revealed, would change life forever.  Nora Macauley, thrown out of her family for being pregnant with an out of wedlock child is trying to raise her daughter while working in a brothel.   Luke wants to join a wagon train to Oregon and raise horses.  Luke and Nora enter into a marriage of convenience and set off across the country in a wagon train, while Luke works to keep the dark secret and Nora tries to understand this strange person she has married.  Along the way, Luke teaches Nora about self respect and Nora teaches Luke about love.

This is not the best written book in the world, but the story kept me reading and you definitely gain an appreciation for the hardships encountered in trying to move 2000 miles by wagon's amazing this country ever got settled at all.

A Darkness More than Night by Michael Connelly
You can really zip through these books when you can "read" them electronically while you're doing something else.  The hero of this book is, again, former FBI agent Terry McCaleb, who recovered from his heart surgery and living a quiet life on Catalina Island with his wife and new baby.   But he's asked to help analyze some photos of a crime scene on which the police had come to a dead end.   McCaleb discovers some inconsistencies and can't help himself from getting involved.

His inquiries bring him in contact with Harry Bosch, working the trial of his own case on the murder of a Hollywood starlet.  As the two men compare notes, McCaleb begins to get a terrible sinking feeling that Bosch just may be the killer in his own case. 

Before the book ends, I guarantee you will have checked out the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch.  And, as with all of Connelly's books, you won't be able to put it down (or, in my case, turn it off!)

The Quickie by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge
I've read a lot of James Patterson books and, other than his "fantasy" books, this is by far the most implausible.  And yet I didn't do anything for two days until I'd finished it.

NY police officer Lauren Stillwell decides to surprise her husband by meeting him in town for a special lunch.  The surprise is hers, however, when she finds him walking into a swanky hotel with a lovely blonde on his arm.  Her imagination works overtime as she imagines his affair with the blonde and, in revenge, she decides to flirt with a fellow police officer.  They have an innocent "no strings attached" fling and on the night when Lauren decides to let things go to the next level, she watches him leave the apartment to get a special snack for both of them after their liaison and, in horror, sees him brutally attacked. 

You won't believe where this already unbelievable beginning takes Lauren or where it ends up.  You'll roll your eyes a lot while reading the book, because nothing happens logically, but, as I said, you won't be able to put it down.

Blood Work by Michael Connelly
I've found a new thing to do during the day, rather than watch TV reruns of shows I know by heart...listening to an audio book.  I'd started this in the car, but got so engrossed, I used it to keep myself on the treadmill and then just transferred it to a speaker in the family room.  Amazing how much cleaning I got done! 

Anyway, another Connelly gripper.  Former top man at the FBI, Terry McCaleb retired because of heart problems necessitating a heart transplant.  Turns out the heart came from a murder victim, Terry Rivers, killed during a grocery store robbery.  Graciela Rivers, tracks him down and asks him to help find her sister's killer.  Naturally during investigation he uncovers more than a simple grocery store robbery, the police and the feds are angry with him for butting in, his doctor fires him as a patient and after everything is solved, it's never really solved.  All typical Connelly, but it never grows tiresome!

The First Family by David Baldacci
Well, I have beel absolutely glued to this book since I started it.  What a gripper!  The niece of the First Lady is kidnapped and her mother killed.  At times it almost seems like a keystone cops operation (an unfunny version), with the FBI, police and Secret Service all holding turf wars over who gets to know what.  Sean King and Michele Maxwell, two former Secret Service agents get involved because Sean is an old friend of the first Lady, having gotten her husband out of an embarrassing scrape before, and she asks him to investigate privately.  Somewhere in the middle, Michele's mother is murdered in a side story that has nothing to do with the main plot, but is one of the many twists and turns this story takes.  I have to admit that the final chapters had me wondering what really went on in the Clinton White House.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
I came to this book via the excellent HBO Series.  Mma Precious Ramotswe was left a lot of cattle when her father died.  He intended for her to sell them and set herself up in a little shop.  But this intelligent, always inquisitive woman has other plans:   She wants to become a detective and sets herself up in a little town in Botswana, a country she dearly loves.  This first book in the series consists of several cases Mma Ramotswe solves and in the process we learn a lot about the country of Botswana.   It is a gentle, good-humored book, an easy read, and a delightful companion to the TV series.

The Poet by Michael Connelly
Reporter Jack McEvoy's twin brother Sean, a police officer, has committed suicide.   Or at least that what his death has been ruled.  But Jack isn't convinced and as he begins to investigate he discovers a series of disturbing similarities between his brother's "suicide" and the deaths of many other police offers, supposedly depressed about cases they were working.  Jack brings his findings to the FBI and gradually the search for "The Poet," who leaves quotes from Edgar Allen Poe at the scene of the crime begins to steamroll forward.  As with all Connelly books, just when you think everything is worked out, you realize there is still a lot of "closure" work to be done and then the plot takes you places you never anticipated.  I will admit that I was in possession of knowledge which helped me figure out the book's last twist before Connelly intended.  But this was another winner by Connelly.

Echo Park by Michael Connelly
Harry Bosch has been trying to solve the Marie Gesto case for fifteen years.  It haunts him and causes him to come out of retirement to see if he can't find something new about the case.  Then a random traffic stop brings Raynard Waits to attention.   Waits is carrying a sack full of body parts in his truck.  When a hitherto piece of unnoticed evidence in the Gesto file begins to connect Waits to the Gesto case, Bosch begins to investigate Waits further.  The twists and turns in this book will keep you on the edge of your seat until Bosch finally puts all the pieces together and discovers the secret of what happened to Marie Gesto, and where her body was buried.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Kaled Hosseini
The second book by the author of the wonderful "Kite Runner."  Where the first book centered on two boys, this one follows the lives of two girls, thrown together by tragedy.  It also follows the history of Afghanistan from the fall of the monarchy in 1973 through the turbulent years that followed, including the oppressive regime of the Taliban (boy, you sure don't want to be a woman living under Taliban rule!).  Though I sometiems compared this to reading a Russian novel, with so many tribes and rulers instead of so many names for different characters, the simple story line held throughout and, like "Kite Runner," it gave a look into a culture that we rarely have a chance to know.

Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Michael was Jane's special friend.  They went everywhere together and it was great especially for a lonely little 8 year old.  Michael was her grown-up friend.  Her imaginary friend.  Nobody could see him but Jane, but that's how it is with imaginary friends.  He told her that at some point he would have to leave her, and that she would not remember him when she grew up.  And so, one day, he did leave her to become some other child's imaginary friend.   But Jane never forgot.  Her memory of her relationship with Michael was so strong that she even won a Tony for the play she wrote about the little girl and her imaginary friend.

And then one day the adult Jane saw Michael again.  And they became friends again.  But now everybody could see him.  Even Michael couldn't explain it.  What happens when your childhood imaginary friend becomes your grown up real `friend?  That's the story this non-traditional Patterson book explores.  There may be no killing or mayhem or anything else in it (perhaps the co-author's influence), but it's a beautiful story.

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly
If you're going to read this book and "The Brass Verdict," start with this one, not the way I did it.  This is the first book that introduces attorney Mickey Halley, an attorney who runs his office out of the back seat of his car.  Halley is hired by the wealthy [... Roulet, pronounced "roo-LAY"] to defend him in a charge of assault and attempted rape on a prostitute.  Roulet steadfastly maintains his innocence but as Halley begins to collect evidence for the defense he begins to have his doubts.  Things dissolve very quickly, his good friend is murdered and the police thing Halley did it.  Then there is Jose Menendez, whom Halley unsuccessfully defended on a murder charge, sitting in San Quentin on a life sentence.  Are the two cases connected?  This is another book that will keep you on the edge of your seat from start to finish.  I "read" it as an audio book and the last 40 minutes kept me awake on a drive from midnight to 1 a.m.  Who needs coffee when you have a Connelly book to grip you?

Every Living Thing by James Herriot
Herriot books are each like reading a book of wonderful animal related short stories.   After a decade-long break following his first few books, Herriot returned in 1993 with more tales of the life of a veterinarian in the Yorkshire Dales in the days when farmers were just beginning to trust electronic gadgets, when TV was something new that wasn't to be trusted.  As always this is populated by a bunch of unique characters.   If you enjoy reading about groping around inside a cow's vagina, this is the book for you!  A gentle, warm, funny read, as are all of Herriot's books.

The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly
This is an audio book that I got totally engrossed in while driving to Santa Barbara, so much so that I spent 2 hrs the next day just sitting and listening.  Basically it's a murder case.  The wife and lover of Hollywood producer, Walter Elliot have been murdered and Elliot is the prime suspect.  Enter attorney Mickey Halley, who "inherits" the case when his colleague Jerry Vincent is murdered.  Somewhere along the line Connelly's detective Harry Bosch gets involved with the case too.  There are so many twists and turns in this plot that it will keep you glued to your seat right till the very end.  Just when you think it's over, it isn't and then it isn't again and even when it seems that everyone has had his or her commuppence, there is still more to be revealed.  This was better than I thought it was going to be.

Run for Your Life by James Patterson
My first Kindle book...for my iTouch Kindle.  I was surprised at how easy it was to read electronically.  And, like all Patterson books, this was a gripper.    NYPD officer Mike Bennett is on the hunt for a serial killer, "The Teacher," who seems to kill at random, but a pattern gradually begins to form.   Can recently widowed Bennett find the killer and take care of his 8 children who all have the stomach flu and seem to be vomiting throughout the entire book, before The Teacher reaches the peak of his killing spree.  Of course he can--but how is left to the reader to discover.  Good book.  If you like Patterson, you'll like this one.

Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
I don't know why it took me so long to get around to finishing this book.  I love Bill Bryson, I am a child of the 50s, what I'd read so far I was enjoying, yet it took over a year before I finally read it.  What a delight.  I remembered just about everything he talked about (and I'm 5-10 years older than he is).  It's a great nostalgic (and funny) look back at growing up in the 50s.  Who knew that 1957 was considered the "happiest" time in America, if you were white.  I very definitely recommend this book, especially if you are "of a certain age."   Or if you're a younger person who wants know what it was like when your parents were growing up!

You've Been Warned by James Patterson and Howard Roughan
The thing about Patterson's books is that just when you assume you know that kind of book he writes, he turns around and surprises you.  I've read so many of his detective/thriller type novels that I assumed this was another one.  The story of a photographer, Kristen, in an affair with her married boss, while working as a nanny for his children.  One morning she comes across a terrible murder at a hotel she passes on her way to work and, since her main interest is photography and she's never without her camera, she snaps photos.  The weirdness occurs when she develops the film and it just keeps getting more and more weird as the story progresses.  It's the weirdness that keeps you reading.  I couldn't put the book down and finished it in a day.

Lost by Michael Robotham
You hear about books that "grow on you" the more you read. This was a book that shrunk on me the more I read. Robotham has great descriptions, but about midway through the book, I was tired of the endless descriptions, especially of grimy, disgusting locations. We get it! Still, it was the story that held my attention. Detective Inspector Victor Ruiz wakes up in the hospital after being dragged out of the Thames with a bullet in his leg and no memory of what happened. Through the assistance of his friend, psychologist Joe O'Loughlin, he gradually begins to put the pieces back together. It all concerns the kidnapping of 7 year old Mickey Carlyle three years ago and a ransom demand which was made for her return three years later.  Memories return in bits and pieces as Ruiz chases clues throughout the city and through the sewers of London. All in all a good story, but I may not be rushing out to buy more Robotham books in the near future.

Books read in 2008
Books read in 2007
Books read in 2006