Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Fallen by David Baldacci (Book Review)

Title: The Fallen: Memory Man #4
Author: David Baldacci
Publication: Hachette Books, hardcover, April 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: FBI detective, Amos Decker, has survived many challenges – from the football injury that derailed his NFL career, leaving him with the perfect recall that has helped his investigative skills, to the terrible night he came home and found his wife and daughter had been murdered. He uses work to forget his past so is not able to relax when his FBI partner Alex Jamison drags him along on a vacation to visit her sister’s family on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Like any self-respecting hero of a thriller, he senses something wrong in the house next door and breaks down the door, discovering two dead bodies. This is the first but not the last mystery that Amos and Alex find in Baronville, PA, and because Amos is driven to solve murders and he and Alex excel at fitting pieces of crime together like a puzzle, they go full speed ahead even when they learn Alex’s brother-in-law is somehow part of the former mill town’s deadly secrets.  This is another bestseller from a talented and prolific novelist.

Audience: Fans of thrillers, those who like angst-driven protagonists

My Impressions: Why do I enjoy David Baldacci’s books so much? He combines suspense, intricate plots that alternate between plausible and incredible, fast-paced action, quirky characters, and unexpected humor. Here, Alex is both fond of and exasperated by her partner, whose analytical skills are boundless but who doesn’t always remember to keep her in the loop, often plunging into danger alone:

Before they could answer [Baron] simply walked from the room.
Jamison looked over at Decker. “Wow, just walking out like that. Who does that remind you of?”
He looked at her. “Who?”
Her only response was an exaggerated eye roll.

Amos has lost his ability to feel emotions other than revenge so he never gets Alex’s humor but in this book he connects with Alex’s niece, who reminds him of his deceased daughter, and there are some touching scenes with her. I think human contact is helping Amos begin to recover from his tragedy.

I was hoping to get my oldest nephew hooked on Baldacci this summer and got The Camel Club for him from the library but I am not sure he has tried it yet. For new Baldacci fans, I recommend starting with that one or Split Second: The Camel Club begins a series about a motley collection of friends who are determined to investigate a CIA conspiracy while Split Second focuses on two discredited Secret Service agents who turn into a powerful force when they begin working together.

Source: I got this book from the Boston Public Library. The BPL does not usually receive new books quickly so I have been waiting quite a while to get to the top of the reserve list. In addition, Baldacci is very popular. Some libraries (but not this one) pencil in the date the book arrives so occasionally I can tell I am the first or close to the first to receive the book, which is always fun.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Day of the Dead by Nicci French (Book Review)

Title: Day of the Dead
Author: Nicci French
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, July 2018
Genre: Suspense
Plot: For years, dangerous criminal Dean Reeve has been playing mind games with psychologist Frieda Klein (and perhaps vice-versa), and to save her family and friends from further suffering she has gone off the grid.  At the same time, the police try to solve three seemingly unrelated murders, and Lola, a procrastinating university student (is there any other kind?), attempts to write an academic paper on Frieda and also comes into dangerous contact with Reeve.  However, when Frieda realizes Reeve is using murder to send her a deadlymessage, she realizes she must come out of hiding to confront him, regardless of the cost of this showdown to herself. 

Audience: Fans of psychological suspense who enjoy authors such as Tana French, Val McDermid, and Ruth Ware

My Impressions:  This is a compelling read, with vivid characters, unexpected twists, and a thrilling conclusion!   I am not sure why I had never previously read anything by Nicci French but I am glad this was recommended to me.  Frieda Klein is a fascinating protagonist, with layers of complexity only hinted at in this book, and it is quite a change to read about a heroine close to my own age.    I did not realize until I started that this was the eighth and final book in the series (you know I don’t like to read books out of order and I don't like you to do either, gentle reader) so I would suggest going back to start with Blue Monday (which I just placed on hold at the library).  I enjoyed this and look forward to more quality time with Frieda Klein.

Source: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher and TLC Book Tours for review purposes.  Please visit other stops on the tour and read the reviews by clicking below:
Tuesday, July 24th: A Book a Week
Wednesday, July 25th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, July 31st: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, August 1st: The Book Diva’s Reads
Tuesday, August 7th: Into the Hall of Books
Wednesday, August 8th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, August 9th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Thursday, August 9th: A Bookworm’s World
Friday, August 10th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Monday, August 13th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Betsy-Tacy Convention, Day 3

All too soon, it was Sunday morning.  Josephine had allowed us to sleep a little later but everyone had started gathering in the lobby. Beyond Domestic Science: Recipes from Betsy-Tacy, and some were mainlining caffeine.  This was a morning that showcased the NewBetsys, including Barb Fecteau as Mistress of Ceremonies!  were finally picking up their soon-to-be treasured copy of the new Betsy-Tacy cookbook.

Josephine Wolff and her mother, Perri Klass (both NewBetsys currently living in New York State), began the morning with a presentation entitled: “Stories About Girls Who Want Curly Hair for Girls Who Want Straight Hair.” This was based on the premise that they, both curly-haired, had been afflicted their whole lives (I started to say they had suffered in silence but I suspect they'd agree neither one is – exactly – silent). They moved on to share both the history of curling appurtenances, incidents we all know well (think: Jo/Meg/sizzle), and the many (mostly hilarious) quotes surrounding Betsy and her hair. Laughter and applause accompanied their delivery. I am still thinking about some of those old-fashioned curling irons which look like something a medieval dentist would use. As my mother has been known to say, “Don’t yearn for time travel: in books the heroine may end up as a member of the aristocracy but it’s more likely you’d be a scullery maid living in an era without Novocain!”
Heather described her "recruitment"

Next up was Heather Vogel Frederick, author of The Mother-Daughter Book Club series and other books, who grew up in Massachusetts, attended college in the Midwest, and lived in Oregon for years before we NewBetsys reclaimed her. Heather told the story about how she became a Betsy-Tacy fan, which gets funnier every time I hear it. As many good stories begin, she was minding her own business, busy promoting her book when Things Started Happening. First, a former listren in the Midwest urged her to read BT and BTT. Then, Heather happened to be speaking at a librarian conference in Portland where she was dangerously close to several of our more spontaneous Betsy-Fans. They accosted the unsuspecting Heather, anxious to persuade her to have her Mother-Daughter Book Club characters read Betsy-Tacy! This was obviously a good idea but might never have come to pass if Heather’s enlightened husband hadn’t urged her to accept an invitation to dinner from our own Radhika. I believe they withheld dessert until Heather agreed to read the whole series. She began to like the crazy women who were holding her hostage (Heather, this is known as the Stockholm Syndrome) although if she really liked them as much as she claimed, I don’t think she would have moved East, do you? Now she is a real member of what my sisters call “your cult” and we are delighted to have her (especially because she has more dignity than the average NewBetsy, and it might rub off on us, or not – see below, reading Forever in the hot tub). Heather interspersed her presentation with letters she has received from fans, some of whom now love Maud Hart Lovelace as well as Dear Mrs. Frederick.
Left, Gretchen, right, Kathy
We had all been waiting to hear more about Kathy Baxter’s Betsy-Tacy Miracle, her first trip to Mankato with her college roommate, Gretchen Hintz Wronka (I had heard about Gretchen for years and wish I had been able to spend more time with her – can you imagine these two ladies when they took New York by storm as new librarians in the late 60s?). They were properly dressed in wool skirts and white gloves, but (and who can blame them?) they decided to climb the Big Hill so were tired and grubby by the time the turned up on Cab Lloyd’s doorstep. Luckily, he clearly got a kick out of being part of a literary pilgrimage for Betsy-Tacy fans. (I remember meeting some of his relatives at Murmuring Lake in, I think, 1997; perhaps his nephews?) Kathy and Gretchen were as hilarious as old friends can be, correcting each other on details, remembering things they had not shared before (which I cannot repeat because I don’t want our Kathy to go to jail), and proudly pointing out things about each other we didn't know. I was fascinated to hear that Gretchen’s father, a fighter pilot in WWII, died on a mission in April 1945, but his remains were not discovered until 2016. Gretchen and her family traveled to Italy to see the area where her father’s last mission took place and met those who helped locate him.

Barb Fecteau awarded the Essay Contest prizes, reading some choice excerpts that made us tearful. The winner was former Greater New York Betsy-Tacy Society Harshi Hettige (we overlapped briefly at the Violent Study Club, and it was so nice to see her again) who described growing up with Betsy-Tacy. Runner up was Nancy Bilezikian, who had found Betsy-Tacy as an adult while visiting her sister-in-law as she looked for a book to read to her daughters.   Nancy, becoming a NewBetsy may be in your future but don't be afraid, we are not as overwhelming as we seem at first and there will be much dessert.
Harshi (left, with Barb) wins the Essay Contest!
There is nothing like a group of kindred spirits, to mix metaphors:

• Where you can spend 15 minutes thoughtfully discussing your favorite Louisa May Alcott and everyone has an opinion (don’t tell Perri that most prefer An Old-Fashioned Girl to Little Women!)
• When you meet two girls on the hotel shuttle bus who attend your old school and who give you faith that the next generation will love Betsy-Tacy as much as we do
• When news of the remains of US soldiers killed in the Korean War automatically turns into a conversation about Don’t Cry Little Girl and someone in the group knows that Ken died in a hospital (alleviating the need for a DNA hunt)
• When most of the table can self-identify as a Mop Squeezer or a More-Thanner (and the former suspect being a Perfectly Awful Girl would be more fun but are mostly resigned to their fate). As the dimwitted principal of Harkness High once said, “Boys don’t respect a girl unless she has high standards.”
• When a first-time convention attendee mentions The Mousehole Cat is a favorite and learns about an amazing book, The Ghosts, by the same author (what a treat in store for her)
• When your whole table agrees that Edward Eager’s Major or Not and The Well Wishers are weaker than his others but then someone switches sides and says she likes them best
• Where we all sang Everything Pudding so many times that everyone has a tune in her head
Left to right, Perri Klass, Josephine Wolff, and Martha Gershun
Farewell!  “I call on the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in Minnesota!” It is true that we need more youth in this movement, but that is an issue for another day.  In the meantime, Amy Dolnick Rechner was signing her book, Barb was selling cookbooks, while Kathy Baxter and Gretchen held court and signed Kathy’s book (why had I left mine in Boston?). There were many goodbyes and exchanged emails before Mary Koger and I detoured to the Mall of America. One of my favorite moments was meeting Donna Meen who loves some of the same obscure books as I but she was at the other end of the table so our discussion of Lorna Hill’s Sadler’s Wells books and Hilda Lewis’s Ship That Flew will have to wait until I visit Edmonton. Or Minnesota 2022!
Thank you to Josephine and all her helpers, and to Andrea and Michelle for their willingness to plan the next convention.
After the Convention attendees departed, Barb hit the hot tub with Judy Blume (of course, a BT fan).  But is this book as much fun if you can't pass it around with dogeared corners to your friends?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Betsy-Tacy Convention, Day 2

Early Saturday morning the amazing and uncomplaining (but perhaps wondering if herding cats would be easier) Josephine stewarded her charges onto buses for the motherland, Mankato!   Note that no one suggested we sing going either direction – perhaps the listren are not known for their melodious voices?   Or maybe no one wanted to be pelted by extra breakfast sandwiches? If NewBetsy Deb Holland had been with us, I suspect we would have been singing pleasingly.
Betsy's House
Carney's House, sleeping porch on 2nd floor right
Applause burst out on the illustrious second bus as we reached Mankato and started to see treasured sights in the distance (the train station – location of many goodbyes and much fudge, the Presbyterian Church where Betsy went to Christian Endeavor – which made me wonder for the first time if a 1910 mother would have let Catholic me join that group  but how else to socialize with cute boys?). 
Sara and Susie
I was pleased for formally meet Sara Collins, brilliant archeologist from Hawaii, for the first time.  She was sitting behind me with Susie Welsh, equally brilliant educator from Milwaukee.
 
It is hard to reproduce the BRASS BOWL through its glass case.  I once held this in my hands at Merian's apartment in Brooklyn.
The buses brought us up Centre Street, past Maud’s birthplace, to the two iconic houses – Betsy’s home and Tacy’s home at the top of what is known in the books as Hill Street.   For those who don’t know, Lois Lenski grew up in the Midwest like Maud and also wound up living in the NYC area.   When she was commissioned to illustrate the first four books, she visited Mankato and really got the lay of the land and the interior of Betsy’s house (while I believe the stove inside is not original, it is authentic to the period and it is identical to the one Lenski drew).  Lois herself is an interesting person, and I recommend the recentbiography, although BTers will agree there is not enough about Maud and their collaboration).
I spent too long chatting in Tacy’s house with hostess Kathryn Hanscom (sp?) who had known Maud (and missed my chance to visit Betsy’s house – luckily, I had been there before) and buying gifts, but those more purposeful were able to tour Tacy’s house, Betsy’s house, and stroll down the street to examine Tib’s chocolate-colored house from outside. I also admired the pavers outside Betsy's house, particularly those for absent friends. 
Then we went to Highland Park for a picnic with box lunches (some of you know my first word was “cookie” and I was happy to find one inside) and then to the Blue Earth Library, which is not the library Betsy used, but is extremely nice, with a used books shop (the woman on duty looked slightly dazed at the onslaught of BTers) and the children’s room is the Maud Hart Lovelace wing.   I believe on my first trip to Mankato (this was my fourth) I met Shirley Lieske, the long-time Mankato librarian, who provided a map of MHL sites to pilgrims for years before the Betsy-Tacy Society got organized.  Near the entrance to the library was a free paperback exchange shelf where I found Laura Lippman scrutinizing the books.   I wondered if she was checking to see if any of her own paperbacks had been discarded or just checking to see if there was anything good to read on the plane home!  I introduced myself and told her I had been the Barnes & Noble sales rep on her very first book, Baltimore Blues, and that I had brought the ARC with me to be autographed (some authors do not like to sign advance reading copies but I consider this copy a treasured artifact from my years at Avon/Morrow)!
Next, we visited what is now the Carnegie Art Center, which was then the Carnegie Library so beloved by Betsy/Maud.   Nearly everyone wanted to pose as Miss Sparrow behind the Circulation Desk.  (Somehow we left Mary Koger behind - this was my fault because she was my roommate and bus partner!) Then we drove around a little while Jen Davis-Kay pointed out a few places we had missed, including Tony Markham’s house, Winona’s house, and the locations of Tacy’s and Betsy’s churches (since torn down and rebuilt), and Emily’s slough (which is not really recognizable as such).  We had a great bus driver yesterday and today named Dale and he had one of the quotes of the day, as he let us off on the last stop and watched us begin climbing: “What’s up with this Big Hill, anyway?”
 
Constance as Miss Sparrow
We drove back to Minneapolis (or should I say Bloomington?) by a more scenic route with many green fields and corn growing, then changed for dinner with a keynote by New York Times bestselling author Laura Lippman, a long time Betsy-Tacy fan.   I had been following Laura’s work since she published an article about her love of Betsy-Tacy in the Baltimore Sun in 1996, and then I worked at Avon Books when she published Baltimore Blues, her first Tess Monaghan book, which I recommend.   In fact, my niece, who is a rising senior at Johns Hopkins, received a copy to read before her freshman year.  She was introduced by Perri Klass, obviously a talented writer (not to mention physician and knitter) in her own right, and a former NewBetsy before she abandoned us to move to NYC.
Laura Lippman
  Laura spoke eloquently about Maud’s message about inclusiveness, about her own experience with sororities at Northwestern vis-à-vis Betsy Was a Junior, and how she still thinks about that scene in BWAJ when Hazel is about to join Betsy at the football game but realizes Betsy is with the Okto Deltas and slips away.   She wonders if the glorification of mean girls has merely created more mean girls than nice girls.   “What is the opposite of mean girls?” she asked  someone called out, “Victims!”   Hmmm).   She is probably right but luckily there are no mean girls at this convention.    I am happy to report that Laura autographed the two books I had brought to the convention, completely justifying how heavy my luggage was as I juggled it on public transportation to the airport.
There were, however, many competitive girls!   After Laura’s speech, it was time for the trivia contest!   Josephine Wolff had come up with some diabolical questions, including the identities of the triumvirate in Heaven to Betsy – not the girls but the actual Romans!   You’d think after four years of Latin, I would have gotten this one but I was only 2/3rds correct.  The shame!    As always, Jennifer Davis-Kay was the trivia queen, bringing glory to the NewBetsys.   Josephine tried to tell her the prize was that she would have to organize the next convention and for a second Jen's exuberant grin turned to fear...
Maud's Birthplace
After the trivia contest, we adjourned to the bar.  I was reminded of my brother-in-law in 1997 as my mother, sister Andrea, and I were heading to a convention, saying "The saloon keepers of Mankato are rubbing their hands together with glee as your group converges," and I said, "Maybe the tea drinkers..."   Since then, however, the BTers have learned how to take over a bar!   Tonight, I am sorry to say, we lasted only until about 11:30 before being driven away by a rowdy wedding party.
Amy Dolnick and Kathy Baxter autograph their books