Books Read in 2011

new.jpg (1359 bytes)The Drop by Michael Connelly
Hot off the presses is Connelly's latest Harry Bosch novel.  As "The Fifth Witness" taught the reader about how an attorney builds a case, the style of this one was an in-depth look at how a detective builds a case.  Harry is looking at retirement and is eager to solve lots of cases.  He now works in the OU unit (Open Unsolved) and though this seems to be a slow season, he suddenly has two cases to solved, one open unsolved case of the rape and murder of a young girl 17 years ago, the other getting to the bottom of the death of the son of his old nemesis Irvin Irving.  It appears to be a suicide, but was it really? 

As for the OU case, DNA points to a killer who was 8 years old at the time.  If the DNA is not correct, it could compromise all the cases that have been solved using DNA in the past 2 decades.  As Harry begins to probe, he finds the tip of a very deep iceburg. 

This was an audio book that made the miles fly and took our entire round trip to Santa Barbara.  Thanks, Connelly!

The Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks
Bill Clinton says that Hillary's mother was reading this book at the time of her death so I decided to see if I could through it alive!  This book, by the author of "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat" is a fascinating look at various visual anomalies and how the body copes with them.  I devoured the first two chapters.  The first was about people who lose the ability to read, whose brains take letters and turn them into undecipherable scribbles.  This is a condition Paul had before he died and it was somehow comforting to discover it was a real condition.  Sad to realize that it was untreatable and progressive.

The second chapter dealt with the loss of  speech after events, such as a stroke.  This has intrigued me for years, wondering what goes in inside the mind of a person who is unable to communicate.  Again, fascinating to learn that variations, especially from people who had regained their speech following such an event and were able to recount what it had been like during their aphasic period.

I was less fascinated by the last chapters of the book, which did not answer any questions I had, but were still interesting to read.  I could have gone without Sacks' journal of his own bout of a tumor on his eye and the struggle to save the eye. 

All in all this is a recommended book, but not as enthusiastically as it would be if I had quit after 3 chapters!

A Dog's Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron
This is kind of an odd little book, the story of a dog, from the dog's perspective, as he tries to figure out what his purpose is in each of his successive lives.  He first lives as Toby, who is euthanized because his first owner is a dog hoarder.  He is reborn as Bailey, a Golden Retriever rescued from a hot car by a woman who takes him home for her son, Ethan.  Bailey lives out a good life with Ethan and when the dog dies of old age, he is reborn as Ellie, a female German Shepherd who becomes a police rescue dog, and finally Buddy, a black lab who escapes a brutal environment and finds his ultimate purpose.

I "read" this as an audio book and the way it is read, as well as the "dog voice" of the simple narrative that it seems to be written for children, though the adult language is a bit too complicated for children.  Listening to the dog trying to make sense out of each of his or her incarnations makes you think about what your own dog is thinking when she cocks her head and looks at you quizzically.

There were points in the book when I thought I would just quit and not finish it.  I'm glad I kept going to the end.

Chasing the Dime by Michael Connelly
I thought I had finally found the impossible--a Michael Connelly book that I did not like, but I kept reading and the man can definitely spin a gripping yarn.  This is a stand-alone book that has no connection to either of Connelly's popular heroes, Harry Bosch or Micky Haller.  The hero of this book is Henry Pierce, a scientist whose company is about to patent an invention that is going to change the world.  But the new phone number he got when he moved to his new apartment turns out to have belonged, formerly, to a female "escort" who seems to have disappeared under suspicious circumstances.

Like the Cary Grant character in North by Northwest, Pierce is an innocent man caught in the wrong place at the wrong time and everything he does seems to implicate him in the murder of this call girl.  There's a lot of science and technical stuff but the unraveling mystery of what happened to Lilly Quinlan and why people seem to be setting him up kept me reading all afternoon until I finished it!

A Loving Approach to Dementia Care by Laura Wayman
We went to a worshop by this woman and bought her book.  I wanted to get more information about what I might be facing with my mother.  One of the comforting things was learning that she's not nearly as bad as I thought she was.  But should her memory loss progress further, this is a wonderful guidebook for how best to deal with a loved one who is suffering from dementia or Alzheimers dementia. 

Split Second by David Baldacci
Secret Service Agent Sean King's career as a secret service agent ended the day his attention wandered for a split second and it caused the death of a presidential candidate. The fact that the candidate was as beloved as and had as much chance of getting the nomination as Rick Perry was irrelevant.  King's career was over.

Secret Service Agent Michelle Maxwell's career ended the day a presidential candidate convinced her to let him have a private meeting with the widow of an old friend...and then disappeared without a trace.

What brings King and Maxwell together, and the intricate plot that connects both events is the stuff of another gripping Baldacci novel. There are parts that make your eyes roll at the unlikeliness of some events, but who cares?  It's the stuff of great reading and I loved it.

A Horse's Tale by Mark Twain
I recently picked up a bunch of free Mark Twain stories for my Kindle and decided to read this one first.  It's an odd little book, being narrated by Buffalo Bill's favorite horse, Soldier Boy, some dogs, and by members of the Cavalry.  I was certain this had to have been a movie starring Shirley Temple, but apparently it was not.  The young girl is a spunky thing who is soon running the Cavalry and, having charmed Buffalo Bill, is given his horse.   This may seem like a story for children, but it gets black too quickly and there is very graphic depiction of what happens at a bull fight.  I nearly didn't finish it, but it's short, so I did. I wouldn't read it again.

What the Dogs Have Taught Me by Merrill Markoe
Merrill Markoe is my new hero.  Years ago I wanted to write like Erma Bombeck; now I want to write like Markoe 

This book is a collection of essays on subjects such as "Showering with your Dog," "Dominatrix 101," "My Romantic Dinner with Fabio," "My Career in Stun Guns," "Zen and the Art of Multiple Dog Walking,"  "Pets and the Single Girl" and "Things to Do While Waiting for the World to End," among many other topics.

Her conversations with her dogs are particularly wonderful, and every single one of them is a conversation I wish I had had with MY dogs.  I devoured this book as eagerly as my dogs devour their dinner and treats.  I can hardly wait to read more of her stuff.

a big little life by Dean Koontz
I seem to be drawn to stories about dogs.  You know going in if you're reading a story about a dog, chances are pretty good that there is going to be a sad ending.   Some of these books become terribly maudlin and you wonder why you wasted your time ("Rescuing Sprite" by Mark Levin is a good case in point), but then you come across a brilliant gem like this story of Dean Koontz dog, Trixie and you understand why you keep reading them.

In his book, "Darkest Evening of the Year" (which I haven't read, but which is quoted in this book), Koontz sums up the the of the book beautifully. "Dogs' lives are too short, but you know that going in.   You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion.  There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions."

The fact that I sat up until 2 a.m. finishing this book tells you how much I loved it. 

Betty and Friends by Betty White
This isn't so much a reading book as a browsing book, as the indomitable Betty White talks about her work with the LA Zoo and visits to other zoos.  She is unabashedly a zoo fan, realizing the work they do in helping to preserve endangered species.  The book is filled with wonderful photos of animals, Betty with animals, baby animals.  It's a wonderful coffee table book that you will want to look through many times.

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen
In this book, Gerritsen explores  her Chinese roots as the story begins with a murder in Boston's Chinatown, where Jane Rizzoli finds a woman murdered on top of a building, the victim's hand having been cut off, falling to the street below. The investigation will introduce two mysterious Chinese women, one very old and one young (the older woman narrating some of the chapters), a lot of Chinese mythology, a lecture on the making of ancient swords by the Chinese and the usual amount of blood and gore.  It will also keep you reading to find out how it all turns out, as all Gerritsen novels do!

A Plague of Secrets by John Lescroat
Dylan Vogler, the manager of a coffee shop in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco is found murdered. Through the investigation, we discover that Vogler was actually growing marijuana and managing a very profitable marajuana business out of the coffee shop, presumably without the knowledge of the shop owner, socialite Maya Townshend.  The incestuousness of San Francisco politics comes in to play with Maya as the sister of a city supervisor and niece of the mayor.  When another body turns up, also connected to Vogler's drug ring and, coincidentally to Maya, she is arrested and it is up to Attorney Dismas Hardy to find a way to prove her innocence.  Or is she?  What secret is she hiding that she would risk life in prison for rather than reveal?

This book spends a lot of time on courtroom drama and interrogation.  It is apparently not the first in the Dismas Hardy series and I may have to go read the earlier books to catch up!

Suspension of disbelief elements:   Why would a woman who is richer than King Midas and related to such high ranking city officials not be released on bail, but spend 6 months in jail while her trial is being prepared?  Why is there no cross-examination of a key witness toward the end of the book (other than it would slow the momentum of the story). 

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
deRosnay tells a fictionalized account of the roundup of thousands of Jewish families by the French police in Paris in 1942 and their eventual deportation to and death at Auschwitz.  It actually follows two plot lines, the story of 10 year old Sarah, who hides her brother in a cabinet to keep him from being found by the police, not realizing that she would never be back to the apartment to let him out again. Sarah keeps the key to the cabinet with her in her attempt to escape from the camp and return to Paris.  The second story is of modern day American journalist Julia Jarmond, married to a Frenchman and living in Paris, whose research into the Velodrome d'Hiver affair and obsession with finding what happened to Sarah uncovers Jarmond family secrets, long hidden.  Very good book!

The $80 Champion by Elizabeth Letts
Elizabeth Letts just keeps getting better and better.  This book #3 is the best of the lot.  Though biographical, it reads like a novel and you'll fall in love with Snowman, the old plow horse rescued from the glue factory at the last minute by Dutch immigrant, Harry De Leyer and trained to become a champion jumper, beating out all the high priced thoroughbreds.  Along with following Snowman's story, Letts tells the history of competitive equine sporting events and how her hero horse helped make what was once a rich man's sport a favorite of the working people.

As a kid who loved and devoured horse books, this one was a real delight and made me want to do Google searches on De Leyer and on Snowman.

The Collectors by David Baldacci
After finishing "The Camel Club," I was eager to read another in this series of Baldacci books, so I chose the second book in the Camel Club series.  Like the first in the series, this is another which follows several disparate groups for several chapters.  Perhaps more disparate than in the first book, since while the book starts with the murder of the Speaker of the house, it then jumps to a scam perpetrated on an Atlantic City casino.  Seemed difficult to figure out how the two plot lines would eventually intersect, but they do...somewhere in the Library of Congress' rare books reading room.  (The title refers to collectors of rare books)  The members of the Camel Club are trying to stop the sale of government secrets and the ingenious cast of characters involved in the scheme.

This was a terrific book during which we learn a lot about the mild mannered Caleb Shaw, the librarian.  I pictured Rene Auberjonois in the role were this to ever be made into a movie. 

Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
This is the book Walt and I listened to driving home from Santa Barbara.  There was one hour left to go when we got home, so we sat here for an hour and listened to it.   It was that gripping.  This is the book that the popular TV series, Dexter is based on.

Dexter, a psychopathic killer, is the good guy in the story.  Rescued and adopted at age 4 by a policeman when he was found during an un-described tragedy, his stepfather realizes early on that Dexter has a need to kill and he teaches him to use his compulsion to rid the world of bad people.  He trains him well in how to choose a target and how to kill without being caught.  He has many kills to his credit when a new serial killer begins killing prostitutes in the Miami area.   Dexter and his wannabe-homicide-detective step-sister, Deborah team up to try to find this new killer.  During the investigation Dexter begins to suspect that the killer may actually be himself, committing the violent crimes in his sleep.  Only when Deborah herself is the target of the killer does Dexter have to face some truths about himself...and make some difficult decisions.

The Camel Club by David Baldacci
This is the first of a series of books featuring the members of The Camel Club, a group of Washington D.C. misfits, each of whom has a back story.  This is one of those books which follows several groups, and the first 11 chapters are involved with introducing us to each of those groups.  But they begin to come together in Chapter 11 and by Chapter 25, you are hooked (yeah--it takes longer than most, but stick with it...the end will have you sitting at the edge of yoiur seats!).  The plot concerns terroris who are about to commit the biggest attack in the history of the country, but it takes a long time to figure out what exactly that plot will entail.  Fabulous execution of plot, though at the end of the book I realized there were a couple of really glaring plot points that never got resolved.  But--who cares. I loved this book.

On Toby's Terms by Charmaine Hammond
Charmaine Hammond and her husband Chris decided to adopt an older dog to avoid the problems of breaking in a puppy.  They chose Toby, a 5 year old Chesapeak Bay Retriever, who came with glowing recommendations, but who turned out to be a holy terror, whose insecurities caused him to routinely tear apart their home when they were out.   He routinely opened and emptied the hall closet, turned on water taps, pulled and ate things from the bookshelves, sat for hours on end in the sink, and spent his days rampaging through the house.  Oddest of all was his penchant for locking himself in the bathroom, and then pushing the lid of the toilet off the tank, smashing it to pieces.  Yet the Hammonds were determined not to give up on him.  In the years-long process both the dog, and the Hammonds were changed in ways they could never have imagined.  Did Toby become a model dog?  No.  But in the end, everybody, 2- and 4-legged learned to make important compromises.  This was really a surprisingly delightful little book and I couldn't put it down until I finished it.

Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
This is a book I had no desire to read, but it came highly recommended...and it was recommended that I listen to the audio book instead of reading the real book.   Dugard reads the story herself and, though now 31, she still has the voice of a little girl and it added to the sense of fear and terror that little 11 year old felt when abducted by Phillip Garrido.  This is a project that was a cleansing for Jaycee.   I suspect there was little editing.  She writes well and with brutal honesty, but writes like a child using adult language.  It makes it all the more poignant.  Yes, in parts it's graphic.  She doesn't shy away from the awful things because she wants it known what it really was like, but that is not the main focus of the book.  What comes across is that this is a strong little girl--now woman--who did whatever was necessary to survive, while still hanging on to her past.  So much of the story involves how lonely she is and how much she misses her family, especially her Mom. 

I came away with an appreciation for her strength and so happy that she is finally back where she belongs, even though there was an 18 year gap in her life that she can never get back.

I'm Not a Tourist, I Live Here by Elizabeth Boardman
This is a book written by a woman here in Davis, not yet available to the general public.   She gave it to me to read when we met to discuss my (and another woman's) thoughts about how best to get it distributed.  She feels that this would be a book to appeal to tourists to San Francisco, since it deals with the "other" side of San Francisco, the SF that tourists aren't likely to see.  I offered to get together with her and do a story on her along with a book review.

Then I read the book.  This is a well written, interesting book which I feel will appeal most to people who have lived or are living in San Francisco.  I can't see that tourists are going to want to know the names and histories of some of the homeless people she knows, or which neighborhood groceries sell what stuff, or a host of other very esoteric (and not always very pretty) things about San Francisco.

I liked it and I didn't like it.  She obviously spent most of her time in the southern and western parts of the city while I grew up in the northern and eastern parts and I kept waiting to hear something about the San Francisco I knew.  North Beach.  Russian Hill. We are also from different eras.  I left SF in 1961, which was before she moved there.  She lived there longer, 20 years vs. 18 years (and presumably I wasn't really much aware of things for the first couple of years of my life!)

But her biggest sin, IMO was in referring to the area between Market St. and the freeway.  I listen carefully to what people call it.  If they refer to it as "SoMa," they are newcomers. If they call it "South of Market" (3 distinct words), they have been here longer, and if they run those three words together as "Southomarket" they are my people.   She calls it THE South of Market and I've never heard it called that.

Trace by Patricia Cornwell
I'm trying to get caught up on the two books before "Scarpetta," since I read that book out of sequence and obivously missed a lot.  And now I have finished one of them.  This one was fairly good--Scarpetta called back to Richmond to assist on the investigation into the death of a young girl which, of course, turns out to be more complicated than it seems at first.  I listened to this as an audio book to see how I liked the narrator, and I didn't at all.  I didn't like the voice she used for Marino, specifically, so I won't try that again.

Cornwell used an odd writing style that was different from whet I remembered from any of her previous books.  Much more dramatic, and not really to my liking, though the plot was good enough that I was able to overlook it.  Still, all the dramatic repetitions did get tedious.

As for the continuing character development, I'm so sorry Cornwell lost sight of what made all of her close knit family appealling to begin with.  Marino, who always reminded me of the kind of sidekick Ed Asner would have been, has become just weird, and his sudden infatuation with Scarpetta totally out of the character he has been for me.  As for Scarpetta's niece Lucy, I loved her when she was growing up, but with this hard edge she has developed and her penchant for choosing bad people in her life, I just don't like her any more.

Why do I keep reading Cornwell?  Because I remember what drew me to her books in the first place, and the hope that I will find that magic again...some day.

Comeback by Dick Francis
I haven't read a Dick Francis book in such a long time.  This is apparently his 30th novel and this one centers more around insurance fraud than the actual racing venues.  The protagonist is a British diplomat on his way from his post in Japan back to the home office and on his way makes the acquaintance of a middle-aged couple and agree to accompany them to what turns out to have been his childhood home town.  There he meets their daughter's fiance, a veterinarian, on the night of a suspicious clinic fire which sets off a series of unexplainable tragedies that threaten the vet's business.   More clinical than tense, except for the last chapter.  But still, as always, a fun read.

Without Fail by Lee Child
This is another winner by Lee Child.  Threats have been made against vice president elect Brook Armstrong and it's up to Reacher and Secret Service agent  (and Reacher's late brother's former girlfriend!) M.E. Froelich to figure out who is making the threats and how to keep the VP alive.  Interestingly, we never hear  about the president elect, only the vice president, but his office is an important plot point, so he must be the vice president.  Still, I thought it odd that there was all this fuss around the vice president without even knowing what the newly elected president's name is!

Walt and I listened to this book on a round trip to Santa Barbara and it kept us (mostly) awake and on the edge of our seats. 

A Little Bit Wicked by Kristen Chenoweth
I am a sucker for celebrity bios and this one by Kristen Chenoweth is one of the most delightful I have read in a long time.  Well...let me ammend that.  I didn't read it per se.  This was an audio book and let me tell anybody thinking of getting this book be sure you buy the audio book!!!!  Chenoweth reads it herself, singing passages here and there (not all the lyrics printed in the book, but many), she giggles at memories she finds funny, there are passages read by her best friend, Denny Downs, and her significant other, Aaron Sorkin.  These are things you just don't get in a reading book and they add so much to the story.

As Chenoweth admits this is not a "tell all" book, but a "tell a little" book and every story is such fun.   The chapter on hair extensions is worth the price of the book alone.

I recommend this very highly for people who like Chenoweth or who just like good celebrity bios.

Faith by Jennifer Haigh
This is a rather odd little novel.  It is about the sex scandal in the Boston Catholic church but it's so much more than that.  I haven't figured out if I liked it or not, but it was like stepping into my own childhood and upbringing in that this centers around an Irish Catholic family and all the dysfunction that goes along with that as well as all the dysfunction within the church itself.  I guess I finished it on compulsion, but I don't know if I would recommend it highly.  I felt comfortable in the world about which Ms. Haigh writes.

Persuader by Lee Child
This is Lee Child the way I like him.  Child is master of minutae.  His descriptions make John Steinbeck look terse.  He's the only guy who can take 3 pages to describe the options available to a guy who has someone holding a gun on him, ready to shoot in the next second.  Not only does he describe his options, but also, in depth, a description of how exactly the gun operates--the shape of the barrel of the gun, how fast the bullet leaves the gun, how accurate its aim is, etc.  All, presumably while the shooter is about to pull the trigger.   I have seen him do that in several books, and some such descriptions just make the book seem to drag on and on and on (as did   "Worth Dying For," which I read earlier this year).  However, in this book they serve to heighten tension.  Any book now, I'm sure Reacher is going to leave behind a silver bullet as he fades into the distance. 

Who was that masked man anyway?

It's An Ill Will, Indeed by Joan Callaway
The full title of this book is "It's an Ill Will, Indeed,...that blows no good."   Joan is a friend of mine and describes her book this way:  This memoir is the story of one woman’s climb out of the abyss after the sudden death and loss of her husband and young son through a fire in their home – a story of survival, coping, and eventual healing. Many have said they don’t know how one stays sane in the face of such tragedy. That’s the reason I wrote the book. I’m here to tell you that one can stay mostly sane most of the time, survive and eventually come out the other side. Although death ends a life, it never ends a relationship.  Joan lost her husband and 13 year old son in a tragic house fire, leaving her a widow with four children.   I have lost two children and was able to identify with much of her grief work, the flash-backs, the "little deaths" (as I described them), but also with the need to move forward and to pull yourself back into life, while not letting go of the memories of those we have lost.  This will be a message of hope for anyone trying to work through grief (there is a reason why it's called "work").  "It's an Ill Will, Indeed," will also be a delightful read for anyone who has lived in Davis, California for a certain period of time and remembers the people and places about which she writes.

The Confession by John Grisham
With Michael Connelly's "The Fifth Witness," we got an idea of what it was like to build a defense case and follow it through to the end of the trial.  With Grisham's "The Confession" we find out what happens when your defendant is found guilty, when he really is innocent, and the frenzy that goes on trying to keep him out of the death chamber....especially when the real guilty party comes forward voluntarily and agrees to confess to the crime, because he is dying and wants to die with a clear conscience.

But the killer is 3 states away and on parole, so can't leave the state.  A kindly minister agrees to drive him to Texas to tell his story, even though it is against the law.  Half of this book tells the story of the minister trying to get the killer to Texas in time to stop the execution, the other half what the effect of that journey ultimately has on all the parties involveld, from the cop whose brutality got a false confession from the guy about to be executed, to all of the attorneys on both side of the case and how it affects them, the judges, and the governor, to the town where the execution is to take place and the effect it has on the pastor himself.

This is such a page turner that I turned off the TV and sat in the chair reading until I'd finished it.  Basically this is a thinly veiled argument for the abolition of the death penalty.

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen
Medical examiner Maura Isles is the heroine of this Gerritsen thriller.  Maura goes to a pathologists' convention in Wyoming, meets an old university acquaintance, goes off for a weekend with him, his 13 year old daughter, and two other friends.  When their SUV goes off the side of the road in deep snow they take refuge in an abandoned village, Kingdom Come, the home of a religious sect led by a Jim Jones-like charismatic prophet.   But why did they abandon the village, presumably in the middle of their lives, food still on the tables, toys and pets left behind.  And who left the footprints in the snow they discovered the second day?  The book was such a gripper that I did nothing all day but read until I finished it, after 1 a.m. 

The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly
Oh, Michael Connelly, you've done it to me again.  Sucked me in and then gave it the old whammy.  For the first third of this book, I thought I had finally found a Connelly book that bored me.  If you want to find out how to built a defense case for murder, this is your book.  Painstaking step by step instructions narrated by the hero, Mickey Haller ("the Lincoln Lawyer"), so seemingly thorough that I posted a message on Connelly's page on Facebook asking if he had any legal training (he doesn't).   But it was all a ruse, of course.  In the end the story of Lisa Tramel and the murder of the banker Mitchell Bondurant was one I could not put down.  As with all Connelly books, it goes to places you never expect, but to say anything would ruin someone else's voyage of discovery.  All I can say is that this is a terrific read. 

Worth Dying For by Lee Child
This is the most recent Child book, which I bought in China when I ran out of something to read.  I don't like to read books out of sequence and clearly I need to read the previous book, "61 Hours" to understand parts of this one.  This book gets 4 stars on Amazon and I have to admit that I didn't like it all that much.  Much of the tension seems to involve various people driving along the straight highways of Nebraska, with no greenery to hide them.  There were spots that were tense, but I sure got tired of trying to determine whose car was coming and how far away it was and how many minutes it was going to be before it got to a certain place.  This book also contains more car theft than any other book I've read, with people just hot-wiring the most convenient car to use.  Sorry, but this gets a thumbs down from me.

Tears of the Giraffe:  More of the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Mma Ramotswe is now engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni but his maid is not happy about it and plots against the detective.  In the meantime, a woman from the United States is trying to learn what happened to her son, who disappeared 10 years ago on the Kalahari and a lovely man wants to find out if his wife is cheating on him.  The stories all weave together with all of the deightful characters from Smith's first book and the rich descriptions of her beloved Botswana.

Scarpetta by Patricia Cornwell
The trip to China was obviously my period of reading books out of sequence.  If you have not read "Book of the Dead," the book which precedes "Scarpetta," by all means read that book first, as something that happens in that book permeats "Scarpetta."  Unfortunately, I could not get a copy of the previous book in China, so I had to read the sequel and hope to read "Book of the Dead" soon.   I had been disappointed in Cornwell's last few books that I read, but "Scarpetta" shows the thing that made me like her in the first place.  Kay is now married to Benton and living in Belmont, Mass.  She is called to Manhattan to help with a case involving Oscar Bane, a dwarf, whose dwarf girlfriend has just been killed, with Oscar the prime suspect.  Scarpetta's interview of Oscar was very weird, but began to make sense in context toward the end of the book.  Kay's niece Lucy is more 'normal" than she has been in previous books and I like her again. 

This is readable, but be sure to read "Book of the Dead" first!

Deliver Us From Evil by David Baldacci
After reading Baldacci's "Absolute Power," I was eager to read something else by this author, so I chose this book to take on the plane with me to China.  It takes a longer time to get to the "gripping" part of the book, but it eventually got there.   In reading reviews on Amazon, I discover that this is actually a sequel to a book called "The Whole Truth," which may explain why it lacked the punch of previous books--perhaps having some background information would have helped.  Still, the story of the hunt for Evan Waller, a respected businessman who secretly deals in human trafficking...and is also a Nazi war criminal...has its moments!

His Dog by Albert Payson Terhune
I was a huge fan of Terhune books growing up, and I started collecting them in my adulthood.  This one I found as a free book for Kindle, so naturally I got it.    Terhune was writing in the 20s, and most of his stories are set in the country of New Jersey.  My favorite are the books about his own dogs ("Lad a Dog") but I also enjoyed the other stories as well.  "His Dog" is the story of a young 20s something farmer living alone on his farm after the death of his father.  He's a drinker and the highlight of his week is going to the pub and getting drunk.  His farm is a study in disrepair.  One night staggering home from the pub, he finds a collie lying by the side of the road with a broken leg.  The theme is a familiar one in Terhune stories but it doesn't make it any  less enjoyable.   The dog is, of course, a champion stock.  The man has no idea about dogs and thinks he just has a really good bird dog.  Through love of the dog, he cleans up his act, stops drinking, makes his farm a good working farm, finds a woman (who hates dog), learns who the dog really belongs to, etc., etc., etc.  Stories told countless times by Terhune, but each time it is just as enjoyable, if predictable.  It's free.   If you love dogs and have a kindle, try it.  You'll enjoy it.

Kiss the Girls by James Patterson
I thought I'd read this book a long time ago, but someone recently told me she had to stop reading after "the snake scene" and I didn't remember any snake scene (and she told me that I definitely would--and now I do), so I had to see if it was as bad as she made it seem.  Didn't strike me as any more graphic than any other Patterson book, and it was definitely Patterson before he became a corporation, so much better than that last awful book of his I read.

It was an interesting situation because this is an early book and later books talk about something that I kept remembering all the time I was reading this one, which made me know who the killer, "Casanova" was.  I was not fooled once, but twice.  And in the end, I was surprised just like everyone else.

The plot involves two serial killers, "The Gentleman Caller" on the West coast and "Casanova" on the east.  As bodies turn up and methods are compared, they finally decide that the two killers are working together.  Alex Cross gets drawn in investigating the abduction of his beloved niece.  In the meantime he finds love, sorta.  And he works with local law enforcement and the FBI to get the bad guy(s).  Plot points include a disappearing house, the underground railroad, and a bunch of other things that all come together, eventually.  As they always do in Patterson books.

Except for the murder victims, of course!

(Oh...and if you're squeamish, you might want to skip any scene that includes a snake.)

Absolute Power by David Baldacci
I think this is the third book by Baldacci that I've read in the past 10 years and again I ask myself why I haven't been devouring them.  This was his first, written in the late 1990s, as he was determined to become a writer instead of a lawyer.  He wrote to would-be agents that if they read the first page, they wouldn't stop until the end.   He was right.  We listened to it as an audio book, but oh man, the action starts at the beginning and doesnt let up.

Basically a career thief breaks into a mansion with the intent to empty its hidden walk-in wall safe of its contents.  The safe is in the bedroom and as he's putting stuff into his bag, he hears people arriving.  He closes the mirrored door to the safe and is shocked when the safe is flooded with light--the mirror is a one-way mirror and people have entered the bedroom.  The bigger shock is that it is the president of the United States walking in with the woman of the house, obviously intent on a little hanky panky.  The thief is forced to sit there for an hour watching what happens, a drunken president and this little bimbo.   Things get rough.  He gets angry with her and starts to strangle her.   She grabs a letter opener and stabs him in the arm and tries to kill him.  He yells, the Secret Service agents run in, see what's going on, and shoot the woman.

From there on it is cover up, intended cover up, blackmail a string of additional murders and you are kept on the edge of your seat until the very end.    This is a fantastic book!

Sheba's Song by J.A. Harbison
This is a fictionalized account of the relationship between a man in the United States and his sponsored child from the slums of India, what his money helped her get and how his moral support helped her to better her life as an adult.  The book is one long letter to her sponsor, written by the adult Sheba, telling him the things that was unable to write to him when she was a child.  It is interspersed with letters written by the sponsor talking about the life of himself and his family.  Really a very good thing to read when you sponsor a child, especially if you sponsor one in India, because you learn a lot about the life these children lead and how such a seemingly small thing from a caring person on the other side of the world can literally change a life.

Untied by Meredith Baxter
Meredith Baxter's easy-reading autobiography was so reminiscent of so many things in my life that I devoured it.  It's always nice to find out that someone who appears to have it all together is just as much of an insecure marshmallow as you are.  There are no extremes here, but disappointing information about David Birney, who seemed quite likeable during the Bridget Loves Bernie season, but was really a narcissistic, mysogynistic, rageaholic with flashes of physical violence.  So much for America's perfect couple.

Nice backstage stuff and good to learn that the most of the good guys we know from television really are good guys.

I really enjoyed this book, for all sorts of reasons.

Cross Country by James Patterson
A quote from the book best describes "Cross Country." "It was baffling, it was incomprehensible. Just wrong on so many levels."

The only reason I can think of that MIGHT have inspired James Patterson to write this awful book is that he might recently have become aware of the plight of millions of people in various African countries and thought he could use his popular character, Alex Cross, to shed light on a truly appalling situation.

However, that said, it was a terrible book with a totally unbelievable plot.

For one thing, what city cop goes hunting a killer in a foreign country...and if he finds him, what is he going to do with him? He has zero authority beyond his own city. And should Alex Cross execute him, it goes against all of his principles which we admire so much. It was a lose-lose situation from the get go.

The brutality toward Cross himself was boggling...and silly at the same time, since one day he is stripped of all of his papers, including passport and money, beaten brutally and next thing you know he is dining with friends,
with little explanation of how he got out of prison, only to be captured and beaten again, and be released again.

There was no rhyme or reason to anything in this book.  The violence against both Cross and against the people of the various countries he visited was gratuitous, just the sort of thing I hate. I don't mind reading about violence if it seems integral to the plot, but not violence to add more violence to an already violent book.

There are so many things wrong with this book.
I was very disappointed in this big stumble by Patterson. In apparently trying to write a propaganda piece, he truly did a disservice to Alex Cross.  It will be a long while before I pick up another Alex Cross book.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
The story is set in Jackson, Miss., in 1962, just as the Civil Rights Movement is beginning.  It is a time when black women were trusted to raise white children but not to polish the household silver. Eugenia Skeeter Phelan is just home from college, determined to become a writer.  An editor at Harper & Rowe advises her to get some experience writing about something that disturbs her. She begins to collect the stories of the black women on whom her friends both rely and mistrust, enlisting the help of Aibileen, a maid who's raised 17 children, and Aibileen's best friend Minny, whose bad temper has gotten her fired from many jobs. The maids gradually come to trust Skeeter, and begin to tell her their experiences, good and bad, working for white families. The book begins to change both Skeeter and the women who tell their stories.

Dragon Bones:  A Novel by Lisa See
This book was recommended (among others) as a good book to read before going on the Viking Cruise to China.  It seems to have been a perfect recommendation.  The book is set in 2003, in the days before the massive Three Gorges dam on the Yangzi River is completed.  Detective Liu Hulan and her husband David are sent to investigate a murder which has taken place on a site where they are excavating antiquities prior to the flooding of the area, and theft of some of those antiquities.  Not only is it a good story, but I learned a lot about Chinese culture, art, politics, language, and what the area was like before it was flooded.  It will be interesting to see the area now, realizing how much was lost to the water in the dam.

Leaving Home by Jodi Picoult
I guess strictly speaking this isn't a "book."  Amazon has started publish what they call "Kindle singles," and this is three short stories by Picoult all written around the theme of leaving home.  The first is the parents' response to the death of their daughter; the second is a mother's letter to her son as he leaves for college; and the third is a mother who takes a vacation from her family (father and two children) and what results from that.  The first story was a little weird, the second good material for things to send in letters to my sponsored kids, and the third was just kind of ultimately a feel-good story, and a lesson about how we learn what are the important things in life.  A short read, but I enjoyed it.

April Fools Day by Bryce Courtenay
Damon is dead.  The book starts with his death, so there is no surprise at the outcome.  This is the story of Damon Courtenay, a hemopheliac who contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion and died at age 24.  It is beautifully and sensitively told by his father, one of Australia's best known writers; his girlfriend Crystal; and his mother.   I learned more about hemophelia and AIDS than I ever knew and at the end I was sobbing at Damon's death. 

This isn't a book you actually "enjoy" but it is an important book.  It is the book Damon asked his father to write, to instruct people about AIDS and, he hoped, reduce some of the stigma attached to AIDS victims.   (Damon died in a time when you were expected to wear gowns, gloves and masks when entering the room of someone with AIDS) You will laugh, you will cry and you will scream at too many in the medical community who made things terrible for Damon at various points in his life, from babyhood all the way up to his death.

Damon died in 1991.  My friend Steve nearly died in 1996, but then new drugs came along and now Steve and countless others are living with AIDS rather than dying from it.  It is no longer the automatic death sentence it once was.  Which makes me sad that The Mighty Damon died too soon.

Listening to Van Gogh by James Stevens
I don't have a clue why I continued to read this terribly written book to the end.  I picked it up because it was about retired people taking a ship cruise to the south of France.  The ship was like our Russia cruise and the places where we visited in the south of France.  But the characters were wooden, the dialog abominable (the worst I can say about it is that it's the kind of dialog I write, which is why I don't write fiction).  Mildly interesting plot points evaporated, conversations among the travelers made me want to scream.  But, dumb me, I finished the book.  And I never, ever have to read it again.  Ever.

Favorite Dog Stories by James Harriot
I won this little book as a door prize at an SPCA Christmas party.  It's a charming little (169 pages) book of stories of dogs of his veterinary practice in the Yorkshire, accompanied by lovely watercolors by Leslie Holmes.  There are 10 different stories of the dogs and the characters of Darrowberry, in a more simple time.  A quick, but lovely read.

Double Cross by James Patterson
I haven't read an Alex Cross book in awhile so it was nice to get back to the DC Psychiatrist/Detective.  Alex is called out of retirement when his girlfriend, Det. Brianna Stone is called in on a murder that is eerily reminiscent of the murders of The Mastermind, Kyle Craig, Cross's former FBI colleague now on death row in a maximum security prison in Colorado.  The copy cat is soon nicknamed "DCAK" (DC Audience Killer for his need to have an audience for each of his murders).  But then Craig does the impossible--he escapes from prison, in a most ingenious fashion, and is on the loose again.  What, if anything, is the connection between the two men and how can Cross catch them before they murder people he cares about?  Patterson at his best.

I Remember Nothing by Nora Ephron
Nora Ephron is old.  She's 2 years old than I am, so that's very old.  She won me over in this book with her opening chapter on memory loss, the things she's forgotten, the things she remembers.  The value of friendships, and the love of meat loaf.  The story of her profession as a journalist.   Her friendship with Lillian Hellman and how it fell apart.  How death changes long-standing holiday traditions.  She's going through many of the things I'm going through (minus Lillian Hellman), and presumably every other old person who is realizing that we are well past the halfway point in our lives.  This short book (160 pages) is fully of witty essays encompassing a lot of the things that we face growing older.  I loved it.

Books read in 2010
Books read in 2009
Books read in 2008
Books read in 2007
Books read in 2006