Reading History                                        V - W - X - Y - Z 
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Vernon, John. A Book of Reasons. 1999. Fascinating true story. After the death of his reclusive brother, the author must clean out the squalid home filled with trash while determining how his brother's life became so troubled. Debris and repairs lead to digressions on the nature of tools or the science of embalming. 
Vine, Barbara (the pseudonym of Ruth Rendell). The Chimney Sweeper's Boy, 1998. The daughter of an author investigates her father's past, while planning to write his biography, and discovers that he changed his name to escape a scandal. Excellent character development with complex relationships and motivations. Grasshopper, 2000, follows a young woman from an accident that kills her high school boyfriend through adventures in roof climbing, a communal living arrangement, and attempts to help a couple save their foster child. 
Walker, Alice. The Same River Twice: Honoring The Difficult. 1996. The author reflects on the film version of The Color Purple ten years later. Personal reflection on the transition from reclusive poet to controversial public figure. 
Walters, Minette. The Echo, 1997.  Intellectual mystery about a homeless man's death in a wealthy woman's garage. A journalist and a runaway teen decipher clues from coincidences. Well written with justified social commentary. Sculptress, 1993, focuses on an obese woman in prison for killing her mother and sister and the journalist who discovers the surprising truth. I saw the excellent public television mystery based on the novel, but the book is even better. The Breaker, 1999, begins when a nude female body -- with every finger broken -- washes up on the beach. Investigating suspects involves a pharmaceutical company, illegal drug sales, infidelity, the pornography industry, and a mute toddler. The romantic hopes of Inspector Nick Ingram provide charming relief from the dark world of criminal behavior. The Dark Room, 1996, involves an amnesia victim, the daughter of a millionaire, whose first husband was murdered with a sledgehammer a decade before and fiance was recently also found slaughtered. As she struggles to reclaim her memory at a private clinic, the police investigate her own history, her relatives, and her circle of friends. In The Shape of Snakes, 2001, a determined woman spends twenty years investigating who killed her former neighbor, known as "Mad Annie" because of her tardive dyskinesia. The Scold's Bride, 1994: When a universally disliked, elderly woman is murdered, suspicion falls on her addicted daughter, rebellious granddaughter, and the female doctor who was suprisingly bequeathed the estate. Brilliant investigation of family secrets and personality flaws. The Ice House, 1992, includes a fascinating set of three witty female friends banding together when one is suspected of murdering her husband. Plot twists involve a tramp wearing pink pants and accusations of lesbians, but the best part is witnessing a heart-weary detective fall in love. Fox Evil, 2002, is a complex mystery of a wealthy family and the band of traveler-gypies that disrupt a village. 
Wambaugh, Joseph. Fire Lover: A True Story, 2002. Nonfiction about an arson investigator who sets serial fires and the task force that gathers evidence to convict him. Fascinating insider information with complex personalities and evocative Southern California locations. 
Well, Rebecca. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, 1996. Amusing novel of Southern womanhood and the relationship between mothers and daughters. Difficult scenes about an abusive mother are balanced by the wit and eccentricity of Cajun lifestyles.
Wells, H.G. Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story, 1909. A surprise that Wells tackled the turn-of-the-century women's movement with a female protagonist. Privileged Ann Veronica attempts to find fulfillment beyond her father's home, stumbles into London political circles, and then finds unconventional romance with a biologist. Perfect description of a pretty girl's battle with respectable innocence and awakening sensuality. 
West, Dorothy. The Wedding. 1995. The first novel in 47 years from a legendary Harlem Renaissance writer. About romatic choices in a black middle class community on Martha's Vineyard. 
Welty, Eudora. The Robber Bridegroom, 1942. I read an essay by contemporary author who loves this tale. But I hated it. Dark fairytale with ugly roughly-sketched characters. 
West, Jessamyn. The State of Stoney Lonesome, 1984. Lovely tale of a 12-year-old girl growing up in Orange County, California, in 1915. Explores family bonds and the nature of love, while weaving in humorous scenes. The parade of Charlie Chaplin impersonators is especially charming. (I confess that I chose this book because of a high school sweetheart named Stoney Connor.)
West, Thomas G. In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People with Learning Disabilities, Computer Images, and the Ironies of Creativity. 1991. Interesting look at how brain deficits are often paired with extraordinary talents. 
White, Bailey. Quite a Year for Plums, 1998. Surrounded by eccentric Georgia characters, the novel follows the haphazard romance of a plant pathologist and a wildlife artist.
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web, 1952. Classic children's tale about Wilbur the Pig and his protective spider friend. Worth rereading as an adult. 
Whitney, Phyllis A. Daughter of the Stars, 1994. Classic tale of romantic suspense from the Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America. A violent act from the Civil War era continues to shape a family in historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Amethyst Dreams, 1997. I'm suspicious that someone other than the author ghostwrote this dull novel of passive, melancholy characters. On a North Carolina island, friends and family hunt for a mystery woman -- or rather wait for unsolicited clues to fall in their lap, followed by unprovoked confessions. Woman Without a Past, 1991: Woman discovers an unknown twin sister and mysterious threats at the ancestral home in Charleston -- sense of place is effective. 
Wilhelm, Kate. The Dark Door, 1993. Part suspense and part science fiction with my favorite sleuth couple Constance and Charlie. The tenderness of their relationship is always half the pleasure of the mysteries. Desperate Measures, 2001, is an excellent legal mystery with attorney Barbara Holloway defending a disfigured young man accused of murdering an ultra-conservative farmer. Also read Wilhelm's collection of short stories, A Flush of Shadows. Defense for the Devil, 1999, is much weaker than the other Barbara Holloway mysteries because no reason to care about the cruel troublemaker who was murdered or the flatly-drawn characters who are accused. Sometimes difficult to even follow the plot. The Deepest Water, 2000, involves a novelist handling her father's estate after his murder and fearing that the violence will continue. Skeletons, 2002, involves a young woman's discovery of racial violence in her family's New Orleans past and the threat those secrets pose to a rising politician. In Clear and Convincing Proof, 2003, Barbara Holloway investigates a case involving a rehabilitation facility and a physical therapist with the magic touch. 
Willis, Connie. Passage, 2001. Fascinating blend of medical speculation, philosophical exploration, and science fiction. A cognitive psychologist and neurologist use high-tech brain scans to induce and study Near Death Experiences then try to decipher the meanings. Interesting characters with touches of humor and a surprising plot twist. Doomsday Book, 1992, won both a Hugo and a Nebula award for the time-travel tale of a history who travels back to the Middle Ages, accidentally arriving as the Plague reached England. The focus on medieval families coping with an epidemic that they don't understand is told with empathy. Character development is first-rate. To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1997, involves some of the same characters in time travel to the Victorian era to track a cathedral artifact and incorrect a dangerous historical incongruity. Lincoln's Dreams, 1987: a historian tries to help a young woman tormented by realistic dreams of the civil war. Fascinating; brings historical sites and biographical details to life. 
Wilson, A.N. Dream Children, 1998. Disturbing story of an academic who takes advantage of a bohemian family to abuse their adolescent daughter. Literary but unpleasant. 
Wilson, Edward O. The Future of Life, 2002. Compelling scientific testimony to the importance of saving biological diversity. Fascinating analysis of the conservation movement and the opportunities for preserving endangered natural resources. 
Wilson, Robert. A Small Death in Lisbon, 1999. Brilliantly written and plotted. Begins with the Nazi's 1941 quest to monopolize the metal wolfram (tungsten) from mines in Portugal. A parallel plot begins in modern-day Lisbon with the corpse of a promiscuous teenage girl from a prominent family. With enormous complexity, the two storylines begin to intertwine. One of the most gifted authors that I've read this year. The Blind Man of Seville, 2003, is almost too cryptic for a reader too follow but perseverance pays off. A Spanish detective's investigation of a murder parallels his exploration of his late father's life as a celebrity artist. The Company of Strangers, 2001, has compelling emotional drama and a tense central love story set atop a spy drama that spans the World War II through the break-up of the Soviet Union. 
Wilson, Robert Charles. Mysterium, 1994. Intriguing science fiction with well-developed characters and realistic responses to fantastic events. A small town suddenly moves to a parallel universe after an explosion at a near-by, top-secret military installation. The repressive theocracy that now surrounds the town sends a female ethnologist to investigate while racing to create a nuclear bomb. 
Wiltz, Christine. The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld, 2000. Biography of Norma Wallace, who ran two legendary houses of prostitution in the French Quarter from the 1920s through the 1960s. Less provocative than the subject would indicate.
Winchester, Simon. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, 1998. Perfect for word lovers. Explores the creation of the twenty-volume OED. Although written in a somewhat dry and pedantic style, the portrait of a massive scholarly undertaking will appeal to anyone who would gladly spend a full day inside a library. Strangely, my favorite parts were the addendums -- the postscript, author's note, acknowledgments, and suggestions for further reading.
Winner, Ellen. Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, 1996. Research and case studies on high IQ children, their education, and their adult lives. 
Wittlinger, Ellen. Hard Love, 2001. Teen fiction about a young Zine-writer seeking romance, self-knowledge, and attention from his divorced parents. Complex emotions and interesting context of young self-publishers. 
Wolitzer, Meg. Surrender, Dorothy, 1999. Beautifully written novel about how a mother and a group of friends cope with the sudden death of a young woman. Unexpected friendships are formed in a delapidated summer house. Both the language and the character development are admirable. 
Wright, Lawrence. God's Favorite, 2000. Written by journalist with The New Yorker. Very, very funny but dark historical novel about Panama's dictator Manuel Antonio Noriega and a face-off in the Vatican embassy as the Americans prepare to invade. Twisted look at the dictator's sexual obsessions, marital problems, all-encompassing ego, and religious quest. But also the unspeakable violence that comes from total power. 
Zane, J. Peder, editor. Remarkable Reads: 34 Writers and Their Adventures in Reading, 2004. Authors reflect on their favorite books, in a series first published in the Raleigh News and Observer
Zigman, Laura. Animal Husbandry, 2001. A heart-broken woman studies the mating patterns of animal to understand why men dump women, developing an old cow-new cow theory that causes a media splash. Less funny than the bestselling status would indicate. 
Zimler, Richard. The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon, 1998. International bestseller about the Jewish Kabbalah community during an Inquisition massacre in Portugal during the early 1500s. A young manuscript illuminator tracks the killer of his uncle, a famous Kabbalist, while trying to survive through violence and religious persecution. Dense, scholarly, and fascinating. 

Other Book List Pages:  ABC - DEF - GHI - JKL - MNO - PQRSTU - VWXYZ
Updated January 17, 2007
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