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Books

The Risks of Political Suicide


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The Wife of Reilly (Kensington, $12.95): San Diegan Jennifer Coburn’s humorous first novel is the tale of Prudence Malone—also the book’s chatty narrator—a young woman who accepts a marriage proposal from an old flame after reconnecting at their college reunion. Problem is, Prudence is already married. To solve that dilemma, she resolves to find husband Reilly a replacement wife, then discovers it’s not as easy as it seems.

The Gourmet Slow Cooker (Ten Speed Press, $18.95): I liked this book so much I bought a slow cooker and tried four of the recipes. Three turned out great. San Diego food and wine writer Lynn Alley has organized these simple but sophisticated recipes by country of origin. They aren’t the quickest to prepare—many ingredients require sautéing and browning before you throw them into the cooker—but the results are worth the effort.

Secret San Diego: The Unique Guidebook to San Diego’s Hidden Sites, Sounds and Tastes (ECW Press, $14.95): There’s almost nothing secret about the entries in this guidebook put together by San Diego writer Frank Sabatini Jr., which promises to take you off the beaten path. Most of the sights included will be familiar to everyone. Under “Secret Jazz,” for example, we find Croce’s Jazz Bar; under “Secret Pizza” is Bronx Pizza; under “Secret Nudity”—what else?—Black’s Beach.
Will Travis is a West Point dropout who makes a living working undercover for hotels and restaurants, critiquing the service and staff. Travis is only 35 but is already so loaded down with guilt and sadness he’s given up any hope of happiness. His life changes when he unwittingly prevents the murder of a congressman’s daughter and winds up ensnared in a complicated, dangerous case of political corruption.

The woman he saves is smart, beautiful Claire Harrington, on a mission to prove her father’s death—ruled a suicide—was actually murder. Travis decides to try to help, risking his own life more than once. Political Suicide (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $24.95), by Cardiff writer Alan Russell, is also the story of a run for the presidency gone terribly wrong: A candidate is murdering those who might stand in his way.

Russell keeps the name of the murderer a secret until the end—and the tension by then is almost unbearable—but that secrecy also hurts the book. The chapters devoted to the corrupt candidate are wooden and vague: “The Candidate waved to the enthusiastic gathering,” or “The Candidate thought about the skeleton in his closet.” It’s a lackluster juxtaposition to the other chapters, where Travis and Harrington are on the run.

Page-turner would usually be an understatement in describing Russell’s thrillers, yet Political Suicide has a lot of slow-moving passages, and its beginning feels forced. The prologue contains five pages of General MacArthur’s 1962 West Point address; within the book are nearly three pages of rhyming army cadences, too much information about a duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr and pages of detail about lazy bartenders, dirty saltshakers and impolite wait staffs. Yet despite its weaknesses, Political Suicide picks up speed as it moves along and, in the end, is a rocket ride of action, political intrigue and suspense.

Debra Ginsberg’s favorite subjects appear to be Debra Ginsberg and Debra Ginsberg’s eccentric family. The San Diego writer’s first book was a memoir of her years spent waiting tables; her second focused on her experience raising a child with disabilities. Her latest, About My Sisters (HarperCollins, $23.95), is a combination memoir/running commentary about Ginsberg’s parents and siblings—specifically her three sisters, Deja, Lavander and Maya. The book unfolds over the course of a year and uses events like birthdays, family dinners and holidays to examine the history of the family and the relationship between the four sisters. Although the writing is heartfelt and, in parts, funny and interesting, it’s far less fascinating to an outsider than it is to Ginsberg.

Her talent is wasted on a book that often reads like a telephone conversation, one that goes on and on with details such as the intricacies of Blaze’s (Ginsberg’s son) relationship with each aunt, or how the members of the family feel about sister Maya’s cooking. A condensed version of About My Sisters would have made a great essay about the quirks of family, but 300 pages is more than we need. It’s also self-important. According to the press materials, the book is supposed to give readers a glimpse of a family that’s “much like the one we all wish we had.”
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