Sunday, December 27, 2009

Book 6 ~ Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass

Carved in Bone ~ Jefferson Bass

This is the first novel from the writing team of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson. Dr. Bass is one of the world's leading forensic anthropologists and the founder of "The Body Farm" in Tennessee, a leading tool in forensic anthropology. Jon Jefferson is a veteran filmmaker and journalist. I've known of Dr. Bass for years, even before reading about The Body Farm and watching C.S.I, ever since I took forensic anthropology in university, and his book Human Osteology was our textbook. So when I was digging through the library shelves a few weeks ago, I stumbled across a novel by Jefferson Bass. I immediately took it home when I realized who it was. It was NOT this book though, it was their third novel, The Devil's Bones. So because I read them out of order, I knew some of the story already.

This book has such a soft spot to me though. At two points in the book they mention Patricia Cornwell/Kay Scarpetta. Once at the beginning when they are talking about how the Anthropology Research Facility has been coined 'The Body Farm' thanks to Patricia Cornwell's novel, and the second time they mention Kay Scarpetta as one of the coroners they can call in on their case. Both instances made me smile.

Plot-wise, it's a pretty standard murder mystery. What makes this book (and the later novels by them) so interesting is the in-depth Body Farm details and all the little behind-the-scenes activity that happen while working on a case. It may be more interesting to me because of courses I've taken in the past (and my inappropriate love of forensic type books, tv shows and movies) but anyone who is a fan of forensics would enjoy it. The writing is sharp and snappy too and I found myself fully involved in the main character, who is loosely based on Dr. Bass himself.

All three of their novels that I've read have been great. The writing and plots got stronger in the later books, and I have some of the non-fiction they've written on my list for later this year. A good strong mystery novel and one I'd probably pick up again to read. That soft spot can't be denied.

Book 5 - Cruel and Unusual by Patricia D. Cornwell

Cruel and Unusual ~ Patricia D. Cornwell

After my disastrous experience reading Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell, I decided to go back and re-read the older Kay Scarpetta series to see if my memories of the books were accurate. Cruel and Unusual was the book I was ready to start when Cannonball Read started, so it was the next Scarpetta book I read. It also introduces the antagonist that Kay Scarpetta runs up against in future book and sets the stage for Lucy, Kay's niece to begin playing a larger role in the books.

Cruel and Unusual starts with Scarpetta doing a routine autopsy on an executed prisoner but quickly discovers that not all is as it appears. Someone is also hacking into her computer files at work and she enlists the help of her niece Lucy, who is now 17. Evidence is found that the executed prisoner isn't who they think he was and fingerprints and other evidence shows up after he's dead at fresh crime scenes. Kay, Pete and Benton, along with Lucy's computer skills work on trying to figure out who was actually executed and who the new serial killer is. Lucy's genius behind the computer screen is delved into a little bit more and her character is setup stronger for future books in this one. The actual plot involving Kay and her investigation isn't much different from the plots in other books, but she comes up against some internal roadblocks within the coroners' office and the state government that was nice in adding depth to the story.

There's not too many plot twists or surprises, but it's a decently fun, quick read. The most enjoyable part was the greater role Lucy has and the introduction of Kay's nemesis for the next few books. It's a good book to pop into a bag when catching a flight and if you leave it behind, it won't be a loss. It's not Cornwell's strongest work, but it's also not her worst either.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book 4 ~ Jane of Lantern Hill by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Jane of Lantern Hill by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Growing up as a young, Canadian girl, Anne of Green Gables was almost considered required reading, and in some instances, was required reading in schools; Lucy Maud Montgomery considered a national treasure. Although I read the Anne series, I never was drawn to read them again and I preferred the mini-series over the books; a very very rare occurrence for me as most movies from books are horrible in my view. That is not the case with Jane of Lantern Hill. This book has been my favourite book since I was a small child. I honestly can't count how many times over the years I've read it. Parts of it stick with me, which has never happened with any other book, any other character, any other author. There's a depth of character and story here that isn't seen in L.M. Montgomery's other works and it's a beautiful novel.

Jane of Lantern Hill  is about Jane Victoria, a young girl, living in Toronto with her beautiful but sad mother, disapproving grandmother and aunt.
 Gay Street, so Jane always thought, did not live up to its name. It was, she felt certain, the most melancholy street in Toronto...though, to be sure, she had not seen a great many of the Toronto streets in her circumscribed comings and goings of eleven years.

Gay Street should be a gay street, thought Jane, with gay, friendly houses, set amid flowers, that cried out "How do you do?" to you as you passed them, with trees that waved hands at you and windows that winked at you in the twilights. Instead of that, Gay Street was dark and dingy, lined with forbidding, old-fashioned brick houses, grimy with age, whose tall, shuttered, blinded windows could never have thought of winking at anybody.
So starts the book.  Jane is lonely and doesn't fit in with her family and is constantly coming under fire from her grandmother for even imaginary infractions. Her only friend is a little orphan servant girl who lives next door, who Jane's grandmother despises. Jane desperately wants to do something, anything to make her life less dreary. One of the things she does is to imagine these trips to the moon, where with the help of imaginary little creatures, she polishes it to make it as shiny as possible. This is one of the parts that sticks with me. Every time I see the moon, I think of Jane, polishing the moon.
Jane was never lonely in bed now except on nights when there was no moon. The dearest sight Jane knew was the thin crescent in the western sky that told her her friend was back. She was supported through many a dreary day by the hope of going on a moon spree at night.
A nasty, mean schoolmate of Jane's breaks the news to her that her father isn't dead, and in with a spark of defiance, she confronts her mother about it who admits that yes, her father is alive and living on Prince Edward Island. The next year, the family receives a letter from her father with a request that Jane come and visit him for the summer. After much angry discussion from her grandmother, aunt and other family, she is sent off to her father for the summer.

She arrives to PEI and is confronted with her Aunt Irene, her father's sister who, it becomes obvious, wasn't a big fan of her mother. Her father arrives the next day and Jane and her father begin to get to know each other and look for a place to live and make their home. Montgomery's prose brings the search for home to life:
Jane said nothing at first. She could only look. She had never been there before but it seemed as if she had known it all her life. The song the sea-wind was singing was music native to her ears. She had always wanted to “belong” somewhere and she belonged here. At last she had a feeling of home.
Jane and her father begin to set up their house together, and Jane is in heaven. Finally she has something to do and she shines at what she does and blossoms. She's still just an average girl, but she's finally at home and at peace and accepted for being "just Jane".  There's many escapades over the summer that always make me laugh and smile and feel all warm inside, too many to share here. There's even an escaped circus lion in the mix!

I love this book. The descriptions of life on the Island are so full of feeling that you feel like you can see the red sands, smell the sea air and taste the salt. And see a little girl named Jane find out what it means to be to feel like you have a home where you're loved unconditionally by everyone in it. I've bought this book 3 times because I keep wearing them out. It's the one book I recommend to anyone. Just don't watch the mini-series. It sucks.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book 3 - Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

Bet Me ~ Jennifer Crusie

Bet Me opens on a breakup between Minerva Dobbs and the guy she's been dating for two months, David. He's telling her that it's over between them, and her inner monologue while he's going on and on about why it's over is all about kicking his ass and watching him drop dead in various ways. She won't sleep with him and he's tired of waiting for her to make their relationship work. She realizes as he's speaking, that she really doesn't care, other than the fact he was supposed to be her date next month to her sister's wedding and now she's going to be stuck looking for a date.

Later that night she is dared by one of her two best friends to go talk to this tall, gorgeous man in the bar and she overhears him and her just-broken up ex making a bet about whether tall, dark and handsome can get her into bed within a month. She goes to storm off but instead decides to give him a run for his money, so to speak. That starts the book off down its path.

The path it takes is a very fun path. Yes, it's sort of formulaic; girl meets boy, girl hates boy, boy tries to charm girl, girl falls for boy, boy falls for girl, exes tries to break them up, parents hate both, etc, but it was such a fun read and the formula was tossed on its head a couple of times. Minerva is a chubby woman and desperate to lose weight to fit into her bridesmaid's dress and her mother harasses her all the time about it, but that story line isn't heavy-handed or hokey. It's really sweet and funny throughout the whole book.

I breezed through the book, and was actually disappointed when it ended, and it was really enjoyable. I was able to read it in one sitting of about an hour and a half (which really says something with 5 kids running around) so it's not a heavy or deep book, but it's a very fun read and one I'd grab again in a pinch. I'm curious to see if her writing holds up in other books and realized that I grabbed another book of hers out of the library  at the same time without realizing it so now I'm really curious about her other works. It would be the perfect stuck-in-an-airport or beach read. Fluffy but fun, romantic but not over the top cheeseball.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book 2 - Book of the Dead by Patricia Cornwell

Book of the Dead ~ Patricia Cornwell

I'm not sure I can make this review stretch out enough, because I hated this book. I've been a big fan of Patricia Cornwell's Scarpetta series, and even though the last few novels prior to this one have dropped the ball somewhat, I still enjoyed them enough to read them in one sitting. Not so with Book of the Dead. Oh how I hated this book. A few books back, Cornwell changed her writing style and although I didn't like it as much as her former style, the books still held my interest. Maybe it was because I was comfortable and familiar with Kay Scarpetta and her fellow characters, or because I'm a sucker for a book series. I'm not sure which it is, but I read Blowfly and Trace and liked them well enough. Not enough to read again, but not enough to hate passionately or really care either way. 

I wanted to burn Book of the Dead. Light it on fire and dance around it celebrating its demise. It was choppy, the characters were horrible, even the old familiar characters, or at least the characters that should be old and familiar, were completely different. It was set in South Carolina and Lucy, Marino, Rose and Benton are back, but the characters are so one dimensional and flat that it's hard to believe they ever had depth. The story rambles and stutters and at times shoots off into side tangents that were completely pointless. I had no problem when Cornwell moved the characters from Virginia and changed to a third-person writing style, although I felt the books weren't as strong because of it, but something really went drastically wrong in this book.

I can usually breeze through a decent novel in an hour or so. It took DAYS to finish this one, because it was almost physically painful to try to read it. Every minute or so I kept having the urge to beat myself in the head with it because maybe a concussion would improve it. Then I started blanking out on full pages and found I had to go back several pages and re-read them which just added to the agony. I couldn't read more than a few pages at a time before I was pissed off. I kept muttering for days how much I hated this book. I almost got to a point where I was going to completely write off the book and not finish it and I never ever do that. I'm not sure if it speaks to my perseverance or insanity that I finished it. Probably both. What a waste of time I spent trying to get through it and to have it be so unsatisfactory at the end. I kept holding out hope that there'd be SOMETHING redeeming about it and there was nothing.

This stupid book made me doubt my feelings for her older novels so I've gone back to the start of the Scarpetta series and although the books are dated, I'm still enjoying them. I've also read the book she wrote since Book of the Dead. Scarpetta is a much better novel and closer in tone and character development to the older novels, but Book of the Dead is just plain horrible. I can't state just how much I hated this book.

Just don't read it. If you want a good firestarter or something with which to knock yourself into unconsciousness, it's perfect. Other than that, not good at all. So very, very not good.