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Saxton Reads! & Reviews

We invite the public to post reviews to our catalog by logging into our online catalog. Reviews will then be posted to this blog. Comments can be added to existing posts or may be added as separate reviews on our catalog
JANUARY 29, 2009
Scarpetta ~ Patricia Cornwell

*bas bleu ~ give this one a miss!


I would like to preface this review by stating that I love books, and I have seldom failed to complete reading a book that I had started. Books, to me, are like good friends. Closing a book before it is finished would be a rudeness, similar to hanging up the phone or walking away from a friend in the middle of a conversation. And yet, this is exactly what I wanted to do with Scarpetta; I wanted to just walk away.

There was a time when I eagerly awaited each new Patricia Cornwell release. However, I took a break from her last several books when I found myself becoming increasingly unsatisfied upon their completion.

Reading several positive reviews of Scarpetta, I decided to give Cornwell another try. The opening lines were an auspicious beginning:

“Brain tissue clung like wet, gray lint to the sleeves of Dr. Kay Scarpetta’s surgical gown, and the front of it was splashed with blood. Stryker saws whined, running water drummed, and bone dust sifted through the air like flour. Three tables were full. More bodies were on the way.”

Sadly, a gripping story failed to materialize. Instead, the plot degenerated into disjointed descriptions: a phobic, buff dwarf who was the primary suspect in a series of murders; Benton Wesley’s counseling sessions with his therapist where he explored the sexual issues he was experiencing in his marriage to Scarpetta. Even Marino was not immune to his turn under the microscope. The reader is treated to a view of his “new and improved” life -- a squalid apartment, AA meetings, and recollections of his sexual assault of Scarpetta.

And let’s not forget the change of setting: all of the main characters have moved from Virginia, and the action now centers on Boston and New York City. I am a New York and New England native, and some books really work in this setting; for example, can you imagine Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series set anywhere but Boston? But Scarpetta is definitely a Southern girl, and the new setting is jarring to say the least. The characters seem out of place in their new environment, and this sense of discomfort carries over to the readers as well.

Cornwell has also used this book as a bully pulpit for what appear to be her current “causes”: animal rights, gay relationships, puppy mills, and breast implants, to name a few. The result is a confusing, rambling “plot” that fails to deliver the impact of Cornwell’s earliest works in this series. In fact, it bears almost no similarity to her first gripping novels. Do yourself a favor and give this one a miss.


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JANUARY 27, 2009
Cordelia Underwood ~ Van Reid

Meet Andrew Smith, Readers Services Librarian, Williamsburg Regional Library, Williamsburg,  our guest reviewer. Andrew and other staff of WRL, host an entertaining, informative blog called Blogging For A Good Book.    I so enjoyed Andrew's review of Cordelia Underwood, that I convinced him to share it with Columbia readers.

Cordelia Underwood (click to find it in our catalog)

cordeliaCall a book “sweet” and I’m almost guaranteed not to read it.  Call it “charming” and I’ll politely demur.  Call it “gentle” and, although I know many people I will suggest it to, but I’m not very likely to pick it up for myself.  I prefer my fiction darker, that’s all.  So how do I describe a sweet, charming, and gentle book that I thoroughly enjoyed?  And how do I include the darker elements without discrediting the gentility of the story?

The title that creates the horns of this dilemma is Cordelia Underwood by Van Reid.  Subtitled The Marvelous Beginnings of The Moosepath League, it is the story of four Maine gentlemen who accidentally encounter one another, find each other sympathetic, and form a social club that itself accidentally becomes involved in a series of adventures. The setting informs the tone of the story - Maine at the end of the 19th century, when manners matter more than status, where trust is inherent in every meeting of strangers, and and where people are gifted with the ability to tell stories at the drop of a hat.

Tobias Walton, who becomes the chair of the Moosepath League, is a man of the world whose very presence encourages people to open up to him.  He is elected to his position by Messrs.  Ephraim, Eagleton, and Thump, a painfully shy trio who admire Mr. Walton’s courage in the face of their own indecision.  (The three are so tongue-tied that when flustered by events they fall back on pronouncements concerning the tides, weather forecasts, and the exact time.)  Mr. Walton also hires a commonsensical young Mainer by the name of Sundry Moss, who brings an air of competence to his duties as Mr. Walton’s valet, and the quintet becomes The Moosepath League.

The young woman of the title, having just inherited a plot of land, attracts the attention of mysterious criminals who believe that it holds buried treasure.  Far from being a helpless heroine, Cordelia is active, brave, and willing to take risks to uncover the source of the threats.  She comes to trust Mr. Walton implicitly, and he willingly joins in her adventures with the bumbling but well-meaning assistance of the Moosepathians.

The storylines themselves are not linear, so the book maintains a relaxed pace until heading into the denouement of Cordelia’s story.  The characters make side journeys, take time to get to know one another, and immerse themselves in the charm of rural Maine.  (A communal 4th of July picnic and the balloon ascension by a lady of indeterminate character is a terrific set piece.)  The real charm of those side trips, though, is the rich variety of people the characters encounter, and the stories they hear - Maine folklore, shaggy dog tales, and a ghost story that is both scary and tragic.  Any lover of oral storytelling, or anyone who wonders what life was like before movies, radio, and TV, shoul

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JANUARY 20, 2009
Night Watch: A Novel of Discworld ~ Terry Pratchett

I may have said this when I finished the last Discworld book but this was by far the best Discworld book yet. Perhaps the best Pratchett book I've read. I loved it. It was not laugh out loud funny the way many of Pratchett's books are but it was so good. It was darker, delving into the history of Ankh-Morpork (Discworld's largest city) and allowing us glimpses into the past of several repeat characters, primarily Sam Vimes, Commander of the Night Watch, but also Lord Vetinari, Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, and several others. Pratchett has an amazing talent at looking at universal themes from a fresh perspective, poking fun at our preconceived notions, and simply making us think. This book looked into the black hearts of men but rather than having to go into gory detail, Pratchett knows we can imagine more horrors than he could write and so he leaves us to our own minds. This book has such merit I would recommend anyone to read it but you can't fully appreciate its complexities or the heartbreak and challenges of the characters without having read the other books that pertain particularly to the Night Watch. Sam Vimes has come such a long way. In the first book he's featured in, he's a drunk with a horrible outlook on life, merely a captain, no family, no life except for the Watch. Now, several books and years later, he is a Duke, the Commander of the Watch, sober, married and about to have a child. I have never seen such redemption in a character and have to wonder if Vimes isn't Pratchett's favorite character. Rather than let him stew in his own miserableness (as typical cop movies, books, shows do) Vimes rises above his own demons to know another, better world (and he doesn't sacrifice any of his character to do so). I was very much looking forward to reading this book and was never let down.

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JANUARY 16, 2009
City of Thieves ~ David Benioff

Darn Good  Debut!

In the opening chapter of City of Thieves we meet David, who lives in Los Angeles and writes screenplays about superheroes. Realizing his life and writing career borders on dull, he decides to write a story about his grandfather's experiences living during the Siege of Leningrad in World War II. He flies off to Florida to interview his grandfather and here the story begins.

David Benioff’s debut novel takes us on quite an adventure. The story's main focus is on two young men, Lev (David's grandfather) and Koyla, doing their darnedest to survive the coming siege. On New Year's Eve, Lev and his friends loot the dead body of a German paratrooper. Caught in the act by soldiers, only Lev is actually captured and imprisoned. Here he meets the wise-cracking Koyla. Both are certain their fate will be death. Enter The Colonel, the only one who can pardon them. He offers a reprieve if they can supply a dozen eggs which will be used to bake his daughter’s wedding cake. If they bring the eggs within the week, they will get back their ration cards. Without these, death is certain to follow. The quest for eggs is no easy task in Piter, where little food is available and the hungry are forced to boil the glue from books (library candy) or even worse, resort to cannibalism for sustenance. Koyla and Lev’s quest to procure the eggs is reminiscent of many a boyhood adventure. Think Tom Sawyer, Huck Finn or the young men in Richard Bachman's The Body. It even reminds me a bit of Street Boys by Carcaterra, in it’s depiction of the common people just trying to stay alive during war. Benioff’s writing is stronger, and the overall story is superior. It does not give the a detailed view of the siege but a fairly good picture of what it would be like to live in the future Saint Petersburg. Some of the violence made me cringe but this was redeemed by the humor and love in the story.

I'm certain some readers will think parts of the plot improbable but that doesn't bother me; it's fiction, right? In fact, just that, the improbability, makes the story for me. David, while interviewing his grandfather,notes "A couple of things still don't make sense to me.” His grandfather's answer, "David," he said. "You're a writer. Make it up.”

I had the pleasure to visit Russia this past June and recognized many of the places that were part of Lev's and Koyla's journey. The bitter cold of Benioff’s story reminded me why I didn’t visit in January.

It always fun to read a debut novel. You get a hint of a promise of a writer’s worth and if the story’s good you eagerly await the next outing. I’m hoping David Benioff doesn’t keep me waiting too long.

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JANUARY 12, 2009
Dewey: a small town library cat who touched the world ~ Vicki Myron

****bas bleu ~ Heartwarming!

During this past year, books about animals have achieved literary prominence: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, Marley & Me, and Dewey: The Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, to name a few. Dewey, abandoned in a library drop box in the dead of an Iowa winter, touched the lives of people not only from his hometown of Spencer, but throughout the world. In addition to telling the story of a cat, this book also provides insight into the lives and values of the librarian and other residents of the small, Midwestern town. This easy-to-read selection is a perfect distraction from the trials and tribulations of our New England winter. Enjoy it with a hot cup of tea by a crackling fire.

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