Archive for the Lisa Category

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , on September 9, 2008 by Lisa

Cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Death’s Acre by William Bass and Jon Jefferson

Did you ever read Patricia Cornwell’s The Body Farm? Watch Forensic Files? Bones? Death’s Acre is the non-fiction version of that. Subtitled “Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales ,” this book is about the Body Farm (as you may have guessed by now.) The Body Farm is in Knoxville, TN and is a research facility dedicated to death. The brainchild of Dr. Bass, anthropologists there study every conceivable aspect of death to determine how and when a person died.

The book is a series of chapters about various case studies beginning in 1981 with the opening of the Farm. It tells in great detail about what a person can learn from a dead body and what can and can’t be hidden. For example, it’s hard to burn a body, if a body rests on a coin, the coin will be imprinted on the corpse, maggots appear almost immediately, and the soil under a body will show traces of the body’s decomposition. Both fascinating and a little bit gross, the book held my interest and I flew through it. My only complaint is that at times it was painfully obvious that Dr. Bass was in charge of the writing as it would veer into weirdly self-congratulatory talk. I was unable to read their first fiction novel for the same reason- the writing style- so if the writing bugs you this might not be for you. Otherwise, if you’re at all interesting in the forensic sciences, you should pick it up. This book would be a nice companion to Stiff by Mary Roach as well.

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gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , on July 20, 2008 by Lisa

Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

“THERE ARE GODS in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.”

With a first line like that, how can this NOT be a great book? I first put gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson on my PBS wishlist some time last summer. I wanted to read it for Maggie’s Southern Literature Challenge. Well, I failed the challenge and I never read the book either. I did, however, add it to my list of books I was DEFINITELY going to read in 2008. I started reading it on Sunday, at the tail end of a perfect day spent on the back deck. From start to finish, I felt no urge to dip into any other book.

I’ve been reading Joshilyn Jackson’s blog for a while. I knew she was funny, but I guess I just didn’t expect her humor to carry over to the book so well. She has quite the way with words, and knows just how to turn a phrase to evoke a perfect picture. For example, her blog is called Faster Than Kudzu. Now, if you’re not from the South this will mean nothing to do, but if you are from the South you know, that’s FAST. There are trees under those vines.
Here’s a little snippet from a recent blog post:

“WHAT RADICAL DOOM IS LIKELY TO HAPPEN IF WE PUT UP A PIER IN THE PLACE
WHERE A PIER HAS STOOD FOR HALF A CENTURY?

My patented radical Doom-meter needle barely moved. It didn’t even get
past diddly into SQUAT territory.”

Here’s Publisher’s Weekly summary of the book, stolen from Amazon.com:

From Publishers WeeklyArlene Fleet, the refreshingly imperfect heroine of
Jackson’s frank, appealing debut, launches her story with a list of the title’s
deities: “high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.” The first
god, also a date rapist by the name of Jim Beverly, she left dead in her
hometown of Possett, Ala., but the last she embraces wholeheartedly when high
school graduation allows her to flee the South, the murder and her slutty
reputation for a new life in Chicago. Upon leaving home, Arlene makes a bargain
with God, promising to forgo sex, lies and a return home if he keeps Jim’s body
hidden. After nine years in Chicago as a truth-telling celibate, an unexpected
visitor from home (in search of Jim Beverly) leads her to believe that God is
slipping on his end of the deal. As Arlene heads for the Deep South with her
African-American boyfriend, Burr, in tow, her secrets unfold in unsurprising but
satisfying flashbacks. Jackson brings levity to familiar themes with a spirited
take on the clichés of redneck Southern living: the Wal-Mart culture, the subtle
and overt racism and the indignant religion. The novel concludes with a final,
dramatic disclosure, though the payoff isn’t the plot twist but rather Jackson’s
genuine affection for the people and places of Dixie. Copyright © Reed Business
Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Now doesn’t that sound good? Now imagine you’re from Alabama, lived there for the first 27 years of your life, and have now been living in South Dakota for the past 6 years? Doesn’t it sound great? Well, it is. The story alternates between the present and the past and hits both perfectly. Somehow she manages to tell you what happened and still keep you in suspense about.. what happened. The characters are great including the character of Alabama itself. I loved so many of the scenes with Burr and her family, Jackson totally nails the old home racism. Arlene has promised God she won’t lie and some of the ways she gets around that are amazing. (Yes, I realize the author had plenty of time to think of creative ways of NOT lying. I’m still impressed.)

If you want a sneak peak, you can follow this link and read the first chapter at Amazon.com. I recommend that you do, and then, buy the book and read the rest. This is such a great debut book, once again I am amazed at what authors seem to have in their heads, just waiting to be written into a book. I have her second book (Between, Georgia ) sitting on my shelves, and I think I might just read it next!

You can see the other TBR Day participants here.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (Lisa’s review)

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags on July 18, 2008 by Lisa


Review cross posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Speak was an excellent book and will definitely be at or near the top of my list for the year. Speak is the story of Melinda Sordino. Mel called the cops at a party last summer and is now a social outcast. Now she has to deal with the fallout of her actions as well as dealing with why she called the cops in the first place.

The plot line of this book is dark. Mel is tormented, her grades are slipping, her parents are unsupported and distant. The only class she enjoys is art where she spends the entire year trying to draw a tree. Her best friend abandons her for the popular crowd and the popular guy. Mel stops talking. Despite all this, there are moments of great humor as well. The high school environment is captured perfectly.

The writing is terrific. The book is written as a series of very short paragraphs, sometimes only a sentence long. Some of the turns of phrase are simply breathtaking. Here’s a few examples:

“Maybe I’ll be an artist if I grow up.” (p. 78)

“Of course I want to be a model. I want to paint my eyelids gold. I saw that on a magazine cover and it looked amazing- turned the model into sexy alien that everyone would look at but nobody dared touch.” (p.82)

It’s hard to say much about this book without giving it away, but if you have an interest in YA fiction you should read this. If you know a teenager or were a teenager, read this. It’s so very good.

Speak has also been reviewed by one of my co-bloggers here on We’d Rather Read. Be warned though, her review does contain a major spoiler. I’d recommend not reading it until after you read the book.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , on July 3, 2008 by Lisa

Also posted at Books. Lists. Life.

Summer Knight is the fourth in the Dresden Files series. After it’s slow take off for me, I think this series is really picking up. It almost seems like the first one or two were warm ups and Butcher has hit his stride. Harry is much less whiny, much less needy, and his need to be a hero has acquired a little common sense.

In this installment we see Harry working for the Winter Queen to find out who killed a rival faerie. The vampires are going to war with the wizard’s White Council because of what happened in book three. Harry has been called before the Council for his part in those events, and if he can’t disarm the coming war with the vampires his career as a wizard is over. Unfortunately, the war between the Faerie is much more imminent and much more dangerous. Like the others, the action is non-stop. I’m pretty sure Harry doesn’t sleep for days.

The recurring characters are mostly good. Murphy isn’t overwhelmingly “you HAVE TO TELL ME, Harry!” The werewolves are back and in good form. Lea is great. Bob isn’t in it nearly enough. The person from Harry’s past was good, but I don’t know that I like the idea of bringing them in just for this storyline. Almost made it TOO easy to make Harry get involved by throwing them into it. Overall, I think this was the best one yet.

On a related note, series books are almost impossibly hard to review. There’s not a lot you can say without giving away the plot to the previous books. I almost hesitate to even mention the plot summary off the back of the book for fear it will spoil something for someone. I find myself reading more and more series books lately, so this is getting to be more of a problem. Off the top of my head, unfinished series waiting on my shelves include: Kim Harrison, Rachel Caine, Laurell Hamilton, J. D. Robb, Charlaine Harris (ok, the last one isn’t on my shelf, yet), and Janet Evanovich (ditto), and the rest of the Dresdens. Soon this blog will turn into: “Yep, it was good.”

Helping Me Help Myself by Beth Lisick

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , on June 29, 2008 by Lisa

Crossposted at Books. Lists. Life.

Helping Me Help Myself: One skeptic, ten self-help gurus, and a year on the brink of the comfort zone has a great premise. On New Year’s Day Beth Lisick wakes up and takes stock of her life. She’s not so happy with where she’s at professionally or personally and she’s looking for a way to get back on track. Initially full of disdain for self-help books, she decides to read one each month and fully commit herself to it’s guidelines. She starts off in January with Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. She’ll eventually work her way through Steven Covey’s Seven Habits, Suze Orman, John Gray, Julie Morgenstern, 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan, Julia Cameron, Deepak Chopra, a cruise with Richard Simmons and a night with Sylvia Browne.

As the subtitle would suggest, she’s pretty skeptical that all this will help her solve her problems. She disdains the idea of a life coach like Canfield. She spends (literally) the last of her money on a two-week trip to Italy. She sees Chopra as “spirituality lite.” She is funny and sarcastic and makes fun of just the right things. She goes on a Richard Simmons cruise and falls in love with the man himself. (Honestly, the Richard Simmons chapter makes the whole books awesome. I find myself a little in love with him now as well!) At the end of the year, Lisick feels a bit smarter, but watching her journey I’m not convinced that she really learned anything. I am also not totally convinced she was completely honest with us- she continues to tells us again and again how very broke she is, but still manages to spend money on things like a trip to Italy. It seems like some aspects of her life are a bit exaggerated to make for a better story. Despite this, I still found the book to be enjoyable, and would recommend it to anyone looking for a very light memoir.

1 Dead in Attic by Chris Rose

Posted in Lisa, Non-Fiction with tags , , , on June 1, 2008 by Lisa
Review also posted at Books. Lists. Life.
One of the books that I read while on maternity leave was 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose. As you can probably tell by the title, this was about Hurricane Katrina.  Rose is a writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune and chronicled the aftermath of the hurricane in it’s pages. This book is a collection of his columns spanning the next 18 months or so. He addresses the death, the smell, the expectations, the mayor, the New Orleans Saints, Mardi Gras and, near the end, depression and PTSD.

I feel odd saying this was a great book. It seems a little cruel to enjoy a book about such a tragedy. However, it’s a very readable book. Since it began life as a series of newspaper columns, it’s written in a very conversational way. You can imagine Rose sitting there and telling you these things over coffee. Rose is very open about his own life and how he was directly impacted. His family evacuated and his house was not lost and he doesn’t pretend otherwise. He does, however, take you on a tour of the areas that were devastated.

Rose addresses the topic of how people can go on over and over. Why have Mardi Gras? Why celebrate the return of the N.O. Saints? Why spend money to rehabilitate small businesses instead of building homes and streets? All of these things are directly tied to the morale of the city. New Orleans is a city people love. It has a personality and a character all it’s own and those who live there are invested in recovering that feeling. At times it seems an uphill battle and near the very end of the book Rose includes this editorial about his depression following the hurricane. I found this particular one, and the one that immediately followed it in the book to be very powerful. I highly recommend that anyone who loves New Orleans pick this one up.

This is the second book I’ve read about New Orleans post- Katrina lately. The first was fiction (The Tin Roof Blowdown) and this is non-fiction.  I have a soft spot in my heart for Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. Does anyone have any suggestions for other New Orleans flavored reading, fiction or non-fiction?

Grave Surprise by Charlaine Harris

Posted in Fiction, Lisa with tags , on May 25, 2008 by Lisa

This review is also posted at Books. Lists. Life. I am copying it here because a certain someone else from this blog also recently read it and I’d like to spur her review.

Grave Surprise is the second book in the Harper Connelly series. Since being struck by lightning as a teen, Harper has had the ability to find bodies, and to tell what killed them. In this book, Harper and her brother/keeper Tolliver have come to Memphis to demonstrate her talent when Harper discovers a grave that contains not one, but two bodies. Through coincidence (or not) they become suspects in the murder of the unexpected body.

When I read the first in the series, Grave Sight, I liked it but didn’t love it. I had the same response to this one. While I enjoy Charlaine Harris, I definitely prefer the Sookie Stackhouse books to these. Harper is a good character and has a lot of potential. She has flaws (sometimes contradictory- her leg is weak to the point of needing help walking at times as a result of the lightning, but she enjoys jogging?), she isn’t sociable and doesn’t feel the need to apologize for herself. Tolliver is a bit of a cliche- not traditionally good looking but has a woman in every town clamoring for his attention. While I like the idea of a brother-sister team, this isn’t one that I enjoy. I find the relationship between the two of them incredibly creepy. This is somewhat addressed in the book, but before I got to that point I almost put the book aside for good.

The plot itself was ok. The mystery had plenty of clues and I’m sure the average reader could figure it out. I really like the “senses dead people” idea and will certainly continue to read the books, but they won’t be at the top of my wish list.