Books Read in 2008

new.jpg (11513 bytes)The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
There's more than one way to skin a cat.  Just because I can't see to read is no reason not to read, right?  This was an audio book that took us to and from Santa Barbara (8 hrs each way), and kept us awake and riveted to the story. 

I first encountered Connelly's hero, Harry Bosch on a different trip to Santa Barbara, "Overlook," which happened to be the last (so far) in the Bosch series.  "The Black Echo" is the first in the series and now I want to see/hear the rest of them.  In this story, Bosch is investigating a dead body found in one of the underground water pipes that apparenlty form a whole underground city in Los Angeles.  The investigation takes him into a complementary FBI investigation, a sexual encounter, and memories of the tunnels of Vietnam.  The story takes as many twists and turns as the underground tunnels, but I was pleased to discover that I had guessed a big chunk of the story early on. 

Whether reading or listening, the book will keep you going until you finish because it's that kind of gripping story.

Keeper of the Bride by Tess Gerritsen
I didn't think I was going to be able to finish this book, because of my cataracts making it very difficult to read, but it's hard to put down a Tess Gerritsen, so with the assistance of a magnifying glass I stuck with it.

This is an earlier work (published in 1996), and, though shorter than her later works, still packs a punch.  Nina Cormier is left at the altar by her fiance, Robert Bledsoe, for reasons she doesn't understand.   Then, as she stands outside the church, contemplating these change in her life, the church blows up.  Someone tries to run Nine off the road, and Bledsoe himself gets blown up.

It's up to Detective Nick Navarrro to figure out what's going on, despite the instant attraction between hiself and Nina.  It's one of those cases where  they fall instantly in love ... instantly ... and have a committed long-term relationshiop going by the end of the second day.  OK--so suspend disbelief and just enjoy the roller coaster ride, as they search for the elusive Spectre before he succeeds in blowing Nina to smithereens.

Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond
How could I possibly enjoy this book so much?  There is no murder, no mayhem, no mystery.  Just a terrific book with a great plot about an elephant (Hannah) in a little zoo who needs to be moved to an elephant sanctuary. and what the people who love her go through getting her there. 

You'll fall in love with Sam, her caretaker for 42 years, and his wife Corrine, who loves Hannah almost as much as she loves Sam.   You'll love Max Biedelman of whom the word "lesbian" is never spoken, though her love for her beloved "Miss Effie" is a beautiful thing to see.   When Max died, she left a trust for Hannah, but lawyers somehow kind of forgot to tell Sam that he was the trustee.

You'll meet Neva, the woman who comes to work in the zoo and changes Hannah's life; a pig named Milton; his people Truman and his son Milton; and Harriet. the new owner of the zoo who, unwillingly, becomes Hannah's saviour.  

This is a wonderfully uplifting book, based on the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which I have been supporting for many years.  It ranks up there with "Water for Elephants," and I highly recommend it.

I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
Ephron, now in her 60s, presents a delightful collection of essays about women who are getting older.  I hate reading books like this because it reminds me of how inadequate my writing often is!  Clever writing always inspires me and this one was no exception.  I got ideas for several journal entries out of it (though none was nearly as clever as the essays which inspired them!)  I particularly liked her essay on Bill Clinton ("Me and Bill, the End of Love").  I'd love to see a PS to it, following the Obama-Hillary battle for the presidential nomination.

Fatal by Michael Palmer
I decided to  take a break from medical thrillers by Tess Gerritsen, so what do I read?  A medical thriller by Michael Palmer, a new author to me.  This was perhaps not the best book to be read by a new grandmother whose grandchild is in the process of going through all those baby vaccinations.

The country is about to release an "omnivirus," which will protect everyone against some 30 diseases.  Ellen Kroft, a grandmother whose granddaughter suddenly because autistic after receiving one of the baby vaccines, is the lone voice on the committee given the task of approving this vaccine for widespread release--and after extensive research, she has doubts about its readiness, but abstains from voting with the rest of her committee with thugs threaten the life of her granddaughter.

Meanwhile Dr. Matt Rutledge, in the town of Belinda, W.Va. has had several patients turn up dead, with suspicious lesions on their face.  Attempts to tie the lesions to toxic waste from a local plant nearly gets Rutledge killed.  Medical Examiner Nikki Solari attends the funeral of her friend, who also died with lesions on her face and, after a conversation with the local sheriff finds her life threatened.

These three are thrown together in a thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  I must read more from this author.

Mephisto Club by Tess Gerritsen
Just can't get away from those Tess Gerritsen books!  This is Book 6 in the Jane Rizzoli series and I'm wondering where she is going with this, since Medical Examiner Maura Isles seems to be leading a very weird life that is definitely taking her somewhere, but it is for some future book for us to know, I guess.

This one deals with satanic cults and even more bizarre murders and a chase which take the victim across Europe in the hope of evading her would-be killer.  While there is lots of suspense, I don't think it rises to the level of "Vanish," but still enough to keep those pages turning once you pass a certain point.

My Stroke of Luck by Kirk Douglas
I bought this book after Douglas' audio book, "Let's Face It:  90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning."  I was impressed with what an engaging writer he is and when I realized he had written a book about what it was like to recover from his stroke, I wanted to read it.  This is a short, easy book (few pages, big print!) but filled with interesting obsevations on his symptoms and what he went through during recovery.  I wouldn't say this was the best , most informative book I've ever read, but it was interesting. 

Gravity by Tess Gerritsen
Tess Gerritson is such a skillful, knowledgeable writer of medical thrillers that this book surprised me with what appears to be a similarly knowledgeable book about space travel. Astronauts trapped on the space station while a strange virus runs rampant. They are running out of time. The government has decided to let them die rather than attempt a rescue because of the danger if the disease--whatever it is--should get loose on earth.

Only Dr. Jack McCallum, about-to-be ex-husband of Emma Watson, the space station doctor, cares about rescue, but can he do it and will he be in time?

Probably isn't a 5-star, but definitely a 4-1/2 star. Gerritson is that kind of writer.

America, the Book: The Audio Book by Jon Stewart
I have long been tempted to buy this book, but hadn't; then it came on sale at and I bought it to listen to on  a trip to Santa Barbara.  I strongly suspect that the audio book is better than the regular book because it has the added advantage of the talents of The Daily Show cast, including Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Rob Cordrey, and Ed Helms, .

It's kind of the latter day answer to our very favorite recording:  Stan Freberg presents The United States of America.   Stewart's book even has French horns.

As is to be expected, this is a sardonic yet cerebral look at the history of the United States, and of the world.  Funny, kinda sorta instructive, and decidedly entertaining!

The Overlook by Michael Connelly
This is apparenty the 13th in the Harry Bosch series, and my introduction to the Hollywood detective.  I bought the audio book from as something to listen to while driving home from the 4th of July weekend in Santa Barbara.  I put my iPod in as I was leaving the house and, except for lunch in San Luis Obispo, I didn't need to stop all the way home.

In this story, there is a murder on a cliff overlooking Los Angeles.  It quickly becomes a question of who has jurisdiction--the LA homicide division or the FBI, since there are strong ties to terrorism in the murder.   I found it quite interesting the animosity and the one-upsmanship that went on between law enforcement agencies, who, rather than work together, hide information from each other so they can be the one to solve the case.  But as the case unfolds, the clues lead in more and more bizarre directions and the discovery of a body with severe radiation burns begins to point Bosch in the direction of the answer to all the questions that have come up.

I think I'd like to read more about Harry Bosch, especially the "Echo Park Incident," since it is referred to so often in this book!

My Trip Down the Pink Carpet by Leslie Jordan
Even if you don't recognize Leslie Jordan's name, you've probably seen him as Karen's diminutive nemesis, Beverly Leslie, on Will and Grace or any one of hundreds of unforgettable characters he's created.  I saw him in a production of Southern Baptist Sissies in Los Angeles several years ago and thoroughly enjoyed seeing him "up close and personal" (literally, since I bumped into him in the lobby after the show!)

Jordan's collection of stories entertains and yet fills me with a great sadness for him and for the thousands and thousands of gay children growing up in fundamentalist Christian homes.  He is quite candid about his years of alcoholism and drug-addiction (he's sober now and working his recovery beautifully) and I was left with wondering how many gay people are driven to substance abuse by the attitude of parents and religions. 

This is a quick, fun read that is filled with wonderful lessons about learning to accept yourself, and our responsibility to be kind to others.  "I found that happiness is a habit.  Happiness is a choice.   And happiness is something you have to really work hard at.  I found that love is not a noun.  Love is a verb.  And it is in the action of offering loving service to others that we receive our self-love.  I have found that the greatest healing is laughter, and I have been blessed to have the gift, as my daddy told me, of being able to make people laugh.   I treasure that gift."

Let's Face It:  90 Years of Living, Loving and Learning by Kirk Douglas
This was the perfect audio book for my trip from Mendocino back home.  Just about the right length and an easy listening book of actor/author Douglas on his life, his kids, his grand kids, and lots of political observations that can only be that honest from someone 90 years old.  He devotes an entire chapter to Mel Gibson, for example.   Something that hadn't occurred to me before was that the Passion Play was originally designed as a way to incide Christians to rise up against Jews (is that why the most famous one is in Germany?) and that Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was just one long Passion Play, designed to incite violence against Jews...he juxtaposed that against Gibson's antisemetic remarks following an arrest for drunk driving.

Everyone comes in for his or her share of chastisement, yet he makes perfect sense...a good reason why he'd make a lousy politician.

I have to admit that Kirk Douglas was never one of my favorites and that I bought this book simply because was having a sale and the length of the book was right, but I'm very glad that I did.  In fact, I actually went to Amazon and bought his book about his stroke.

Vanish by Tess Gerritsen
It's been a long time since I've been as engrossed in a book like I was in this one.   I bought it because I needed something to read while I waited to get my hair cut.   I became so engrossed with it the next day that I was up until past 1 a.m. reading.    I finally had to put it down and then got up in the morning and read straight for about 2 hours until I finished it.

It's the story of trafficking in young girls from Eastern European countries, bringing them to this country as sex slaves and holding them as prisoner....who is doing the trafficking, what very public figures are involved, etc., etc.  It is very definitely a book that grabs you very early on and doesn't let go.  One of the best Gerritsens I've read.

I think I need to take a break and read another author for awhile, though!

The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen
This actually comes in between "The Apprentice" and "Body Double."   Explains some stuff that happens in "Body Double," but reading it out of sequence didn't matter.  Still a page turner.  The crime in this one is the murder of a young nun in the convent of a cloistered order and the near murder of an older nun, who remained in a coma.  What is the connection between the nuns' murder and that of a faceless, hand-less and foot-less body found in an alley?

Jane Rizoli has just discovered she's pregnant; Maura Isles is toying with getting back with her ex-husband, until his behavior makes her wonder why exactly he came to see her after 3 years anyway.

Lots to keep your interest, even with three dogs fighting over who gets to sit in your lap.

Body Double by Tess Gerritsen
While this is classified as another Jane Rizzoli book, it really centers more on Medical Examiner Maura Isles, who returns from a trip to France to discover a rather unpleasant thing--someone who looks like her twin has been murdered in her driveway.   This sets off a search for a mass murderer who appears to have been leaving a trail of blood all across the United States for some 30 years or more.  Less blood and gore than previous Gerritsen books, but another page turner.  I finished this book on a drive between Santa Barbara and San Jose (fortunately, I was not the one behind the wheel).

The Apprentice by Tess Gerritsen
Poor Jane Rizzoli.  Here she thought she had "The Surgeon" all safely behind bars and then people start showing up murdered in the same way he committed his crimes.  And then the unthinkable happens -- he manages to escape from his maximum security prison and there are blood trails all over the place.

I don't know why a mild-mannered person like myself likes these books, but I do.  I was glued to the pages from start to finish.

Dead and Doggone by Susan Conant
I bought this book and several others after finishing Conant's "A New Leash on Death."  As a story, I didn't like it as much as the first one, but I'll say that the author manages to weave an awful lot of information about dogs, dog care, training, dog behavior and, in this book, animals used to research.  No dog lover can really, in good conscience, continue to use products which require the torture (and yes it is torture) of animals in the name of research.

As for the story, maybe I was distracted because I read it on a trip and there were lots of things to think about, but it didn't actually grip me until the final couple of chapters.  In this book, a woman who participates in obedience trials is found murdered with her (very expensive) grooming shears.   Also, Holly's father loses his wolf-dog, a new man and his Irish setter come into Holly's life, her newly-acquired dog Rowdy (she got him in book 1) disappears, and eventually she solves the mystery of the missing dogs and the two murders (oh yeah--the woman's husband is also found murdered a few days later). 

For plot purposes, I rank this one just OK.

The Surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
What is it that they sing in Hello Dolly ?   "It's so nice to see you back where you belong?"  After a bit of a stray into dog mysteries and (auto)biographies, I was back in the blood and gore of a medical mystery.  This is apparently book 1 of 5 (so far) featuring Detective Jane Rizzoli of the Boston P.D., hot on the trail of "The Surgeon," a killer who strips his victims, ties them spread eagle to the bed and then proceeds to surgically remove their uteruses, all while they are awake. 

His principal target seems to be Dr. Catherine Cordell, who escaped "The Surgeon's" predecessor two years ago.  That man has now been executed and it appears that there is a copy cat who knows just a bit too much about how the previous murders were committed.  He is intent on finishing the job on Dr. Cordell which his predecessor did not.

Lots and lots of blood and gore in this one, and enough suspenseful and chilling incidents to satisfy the most ardent of thriller devotees.

A New Leash on Death by Susan Conant
When I discovered that Laurien Berenson was not the author my friend had recommended, I picked up this book by Susan Conant, the first of the "Dog Lovers' Mystery" series.  We meet columnist Holly Winter, see how she acquires her malamute Rowdy (Conant raises malamutes).  This follows the investigation (it's like Nancy Drew on hormones) following the death of a retired doctor (and Rowdy's previous owner).  This is the canine equivalent of the "Cat Who..." books, and I find Conant's style significantly more sophisticated than Berenson's, though I will probably continue to read both authors until I finish their respective series.

Hush Puppy by Laurien Berenson
Another Melanie Travis mystery.  For some reason the cover leads you to think it's about pugs because that's the breed shown, but actually this one is more about the people, a murder in a private school and all the complications that come about because of it.  We see more of Melanie's dog, Faith, in this one, and there is also a love triangle among Melanie, her now-fiance Sam, and his ex-wife. The plot thickens.  Actually, I enjoyed "Hush Puppy" as a mystery more than I did "Dog Eat Dog," so I guess now I'll run the gamut thru the Berenson books!

Here's Johnny by Ed McMahon
I bought this book several years ago, probably when it first came out, but I was never in the mood to read Ed McMahon's reminiscences about Johnny Carson.  Then it showed up on as an audio book, read by McMahon, and it was on sale.  I bought it and listened to it during car rides.  For someone who has made his whole life in radio and television, McMahon is a TERRIBLE reader.  However, the audio book has more fun stuff like music, and McMahon's unmistakable "Heeeeeer'e Johnny," which you can only imagine in the book.  There is lots of fun stuff in it, but I just wish McMahon were talented enough to make it SOUND fun instead of stilted. However, his love for his friend Johnny is unmistakable and you do get a bit more intimate portrait of this very private man.

Dog Eat Dog by Laurien Berenson
Someone recommended a series of mystery books by an author who raised dogs and wrote about dogs.  I found myself without a book to read and near Borders, so went through their mystery section, starting at "Z," trying to find the name of the author.  When I came to the section that started with "A" I began going through and came across these books by Laurien Berenson, who apparently raises standard poodles.  I bought one of her Melanie Travis mysteries to see what it was like.  It turned out to be kind of the dog equivalent of the "Cat Who..." books, with more emphasis on the social world than on the actual crime until quite a ways into the book. 

I rolled my eyes a bit at this early paragraph, for example:  Tall and curvy, Bertie was dressed in a clinging blue silk jumpsuit whose low v-neck accentuated two of her best features.  Her shoulder length auburn hair was layered becomingly arounda face that Botticelli could have painted--porcelain skin, full red lips, and luminous green eyes.  God had given this woman a plenitude of assets and when she pressed herself against Louis's arm as she leaned across him to take her wrap from the coat check, I realized she wasn't wasting any of them.

That said, while I would have wished for a bit more sleuthing and a bit less rubbing elbows with the local elite, the book eventually grabbed me and held my attention to the end.

(I later heard from the person who had recommended the dog books to me and the author she was recommending was actually Susan Conant, who raises Malamutes!)

Rescuing Sprite by Mark R. Levin
Call me a curmudgeon, but I didn't like this book. I mean--what's not to like? It's about an abandoned dog who is rescued and adopted and the dog eventually dies. It has all the elements I would normally love - animals, pathos, tear-jerking finales.

But Mark R. Levin (radio talk show host and author of the best-selling book, "Men in Black: How the Supreme Court is Destroying America") gives it all the warmth of a book about the Supreme Court. "Marley" tells the same story, but John Grogan does it with such style that we love Marley and we weep at his demise.

Levin gives us nothing to love. It's a dog, everybody worshipped him, and he died. We don't get a feel for his quirks, for his personality. We get an overly long gut-wrenching treatise on the decision to end his suffering, and an overblown period of guilt that they didn't do more to save him.

I'm certainly not a heartless person. I've loved, and lost dogs (and a cat or two). I have buried children. I know the pain of loss, but Levin's problem is not making us care about Sprite the way we did about Marley. In the end the book seems overly maudlin and, quite frankly, self-serving. I'm not sure why it was a best seller except, perhaps, that people like me who gobble up books like this thought we might be discovering another "Marley."

We weren't.

Don't waste your time on this book.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
Jacob Jankowsky is 90...or 93.  He can never remember.  As the book begins, he is a "resident" in an assisted living facility, so I related to it right off, having just spent 2 days with my mother-in-law at an assisted living facility.  As Jacob begins to look backward, we discover that he was "orphaned" as he was getting ready to take his exams for his veterinary license and join his father's practice.  When his parents are killed in an auto accident, he is left with no money and, through an accidental twist of fate, he joins a circus, where he becomes the resident veterinarian.  Over the next four months he learns the good and the bad about circus life, falls in love, discovers the secret of the newly acquired "stupid" elephant, and witnesses the one of the worst circus disasters in history. 

Gruen is a wonderful writer, with a rich use of language which paints vivid pictures of a world most of us have never experienced.  This is a riveting story with a couple of surprising twists at the end that I didn't see coming.

I highly recommend this book.

Inside Inside by James Lipton
I decided I have to review this book in three sections.  I found it a little difficult to get into because the erudite Lipton can be rather pompously pedantic and I could not proceed at my usual lickety-split pace.  But once I slowed down and began to savor the writing and immerse myself in Lipton's own incredibly varied story, and learn about Stanislavsky, "The Method," and the foundation of The Actors' Studio, I was hooked and could not put the book down.  My journal entries reflect a delight in this rich narrative.

It takes about 2/3 of the book before Lipton gets into the stories behind the appearance of many of the guests on Inside the Actors Studio, which is what I thought I really wanted to read.  Surprisingly, I found his reverence for his guests, bordering on the cloying, to be tedious.  There is no doubt that these are people of remarkable talent and skill, there is no doubt that they have generously shared themselves to the current students of the Actors Studio, but they are not royalty and I find that there is an overly reverential attitude which made me able to put the book down for a bit, when before I only took a break with great reluctance.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who is interested in theatre or who enjoys wonderful writing (it also helps to have a background in French, Latin, and history).  But the ending of it was definitely not my favorite part.

Schuyler's Monster by Rob Rummel-Hudson
A lot of people have been waiting for this book for a long time, and thank goodness it was well worth the wait.  Many of us first encountered Schuyler either just before or shortly after her birth, through reading Rob's web site, then called "Darn Tootin'" (now called "My Beloved Monster andMe").  We watched as Rob and Julie struggled with growing awareness that Schuyler's slowness to talk was more than just slowness.  We cried with them as they learned of her "monster," Congenital Bilateral Perisylvian Syndrome (CBPS), we cheered as Schuyler got and began to master her "big box o'words," a machine which gives her a voice, and surpassed all predictions for what she would be able to accomplish.

Now Rob has put the whole story in book form, a well-written saga which is as easy to follow as a novel, with (for those who are coming cold to Schuyler's story) all the elements of suspense that you would find in a mystery story.  Through it all you watch two ordinary individuals interact with an extraordinary child and learn how the experience changes all of them.

No one looking at Schuyler can fail to fall in love with this beautiful little girl who prefers King Kong to Barbie, who loves dinosaurs and butterflies. It is unfortunate that we don't know how the story ends, as this is a work in progress. But the story thus far is a gripping one and I suspect we'll all be around for the sequel, whenever that comes.

Books read in 2006
Books read in 2007