V - W - X - Y - Z
listed by Elizabeth Brunner
Other Book List Pages: ABC
|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.
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
|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,
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
|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,
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
|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.