Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Way I See It (Melissa Anderson)

I am going to start this with a disclaimer that I am a HUGE Little House on the Prairie fan...both the books by Laura Ingalls Wilder and the television show. The Way I See It: A Look Back at My Life on Little House is by Melissa Anderson (known as Melissa Sue Anderson on the show), who played Mary Ingalls. The fact that I am a huge fan plays heavily into my review. I strongly suggest that if you have never seen or never cared for the show, then you should skip this book.

The book begins with Anderson's audition for the part of Mary, especially focusing on her meeting with Michael Landon. She was told, as a sixth grader, that she should lose five pounds (self-esteem, anyone?). Each few chapters focus on a specific season of the show, with Anderson's insight and gossip interspersed with a description of each episode. I found it slightly odd that she did not discuss more her relationship with Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura, but she definitely provided some dirt on Landon (you'll have to read the book to find it out). Along the way, she discusses her other acting work, including guest starring on The Love Boat.

Anderson is no Jane Austen, but I enjoyed the book. Again, I need to stress that you will probably not enjoy this book if you had no interest in Little House. I never thought we would be reading a tell-all by Melissa Sue Anderson, of all people, but I suppose she needed to get some things off her chest. Good for her!


This review can also be found at

So Cold the River (Michael Koryta)

So Cold the River's book jacket uses words such as "irresistible suspense" and "spellbinding". I wouldn't go that far, but if you are looking for an original, well-written tale very reminiscent of Stephen King's The Shining, then this book might be for you.

Eric Shaw is a down-on-his-luck, back-from-LA, Chicago filmmaker who is now "reduced" to designing "video life portraits" at funerals to make ends meet. To make matters worse, he is also on his way to divorce from his wife, Claire. When he is approached by Alyssa Bradford to spend a few weeks in French Lick and West Baden to document her dying father-in-law, Campbell's, mysterious past, he can't say no. Both are small towns with deep histories in their extraordinary hotels (I told you to expect The Shining). Shaw meets many people along the way who are willing to help him, but becomes addicted to the towns' water. The water shows him visions of Campbell's life in the early 1900s. The story takes a sinister turn when Eric's visions become stronger.

The story begins strong with a penchant for pageturning. Midway through, it loses some steam, but everything is nicely pulled together in the end. I did not find it an "icy, terrifying winner", as Dennis Lehane's blurb on the cover suggests, but if you are looking for some mindless entertainment, you can find it here.


This review can also be found at

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Back to the Garden (Pete Fornatale)

I have always had a fascination with the legend that is Woodstock (the music festival, not Snoopy's little friend). How could all of the pieces fit together so magically as to make the perfect puzzle? How could a curly-haired, baby-faced, basically unknown producer get acts like the Who, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix to perform on Max Yasgur's farm in New York? How did a for-profit festival suddenly turn free?

Woodstock...just the name conjures mixed reviews. Many people claim to be there who were not. Even the people who WERE there have very different memories of what happened. This is probably not surprising at all with all the "smoke" in the air. Back to the Garden is a collection of remembrances by musicians, managers, producers, and attendees who sometimes completely contradict each other. Fornatale goes through each day and act in chronological order, from Richie Havens after 5:00 PM on Friday (He was not supposed to be the first.) to Hendrix's legendary rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" very early Monday morning (Most people had left already.).

Back to the Garden provides one of the best retellings of Woodstock yet. His interviews come together to create an extremely thorough picture. This is must reading for everyone, including the people who were there but do not "remember" everything.


This review can also be found on

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Keep (Jennifer Egan)

I was drawn to this novel by the cover and description...a suspenseful, psychological, gothic atmosphere...exactly my cup of tea. When I hear words like castle, baroness, and twins, I know that I will be taken for a ride. When this book was good, it was very, very good, and when it was bad, well, you know the rest.

The Keep intersects two stories, one set in a castle in Europe, the other in a prison. The castle was recently bought by Howie, who wants to turn it in to a hotel. He asks his cousin, Danny, to come to Europe to help him with the renovation. The cousins share a long-lost secret from the past, and it does not take Egan very long to share this secret with her readers. Danny immediately knows that something is not quite right, especially when he meets the old baroness, who refuses to leave the "keep" of the castle. The jail story is not as interesting as the castle story, but they do eventually intersect in a creative way.

It is interesting that The Keep tells dual stories, because I felt different ways reading it. It tells its stories very succinctly, but then has abstract, open-ended parts, where the reader has no idea what just happened. I felt the same way about The Glister as I do about The Keep. If I am going to spend a few days of my life reading a novel, I want to have definitive answers about what happens to the characters. Instead, I was left scratching my head.