Friday, July 30, 2010

Quiz Time

Heyer fans, someone forwarded me this Georgette Heyer quiz - and even I who have read all of her books several times each managed to miss a question! Can you do better?

And what is your favorite Heyer? Mine are Devil's Cub, The Grand Sophy, Frederica, and Venetia. I am so pleased that Sourcebooks is reissuing them with lovely new covers (although there is no room for any more duplicates on my shelves).

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Bird in Hand (Review)

Alison and Claire grew up together in the South but their friendship has become strained even before Claire writes a tell-all novel, a loosely disguised memoir in which Alison is portrayed as an afterthought to the flamboyant heroine. Alison now lives in New Jersey with her husband Charlie and their two children, while Claire married Ben, and stayed in Manhattan. Driving home in the dark from Claire’s launch party, after several blue martinis, Alison hesitates and takes a wrong turn, ending up in a terrible car accident. The ripple effects of the accident and how it changes all four and their marriages form the basis of this novel.
The description made the book sound like a Jodi Picoult, now almost a brand of trauma/angst related fiction, but it was much more subtle than her writing, which is both a plus and a minus. Author Christina Baker Kline writes fluidly and carefully chooses every word – but at times the pace was too slow for me (and I am a patient reader) and I was frustrated by Alison’s passive personality. I thought novel was most effective in the flashbacks to the past, providing insight to the characters, particularly Charlie, who came across as very unsympathetic but at least the reader finally understood some of his motivation. I liked how the author provided a glimpse from each character’s point of view, and provided detailed minor characters too. I enjoyed the depiction of Alison’s parents, anxious to help in a crisis but doing so in their own inimitable way.

Of the four main characters, only Ben (an architect whose devotion to his work was very convincing) was really appealing, and it was therefore difficult to understand how anyone could fall out of love with him (although obviously I know this happens all the time). Similarly, because I didn’t much care for the other characters, I wasn’t invested in the outcome of the story.

There are a lot of themes in this novel that would lend themselves to good discussion at a book group (friendship, betrayal, city living vs. suburbia, how staying home with the children changes one, how one’s life can change in an instant, how different people deal with tragedy, etc.). However, while I liked it, I am not sure I would recommend it to people who only read one book a month (not that I approve of such people!). It took such a long time to get really into it, and I worry that some might get discouraged and not finish, which defeats the purpose of a book group. Those who wanted to see a lot of character development in Alison as she deals with the lingering effects of tragedy would be disappointed: she spends more time coping with her marriage (which may be more realistic short term, if not long term). This review was part of the TLC Book Tour, and I encourage you to check out other stops on the Bird in Hand tour. Thank you to Trish for including me and to Harper Collins for providing a copy of the book. I enjoy going back and forth between older books (this month I have been reading a lot of Patricia Wentworth, an English mystery writer from the early 20th century) and new releases such as this one.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Fellow Collector

Just came across this item that appeared in Shelf Awareness via BBC News back in December about former Harvard football player Pat McInally, who graduated in '74 and went on to a great career with the Bengals (I could add that his presence would elevate the current tone of the team but that might be unfair). I have always admired him from afar but never knew he also collected children's books! I would really like to know what inspired his collection. Although the Friends of Harvard Football needs money, I must say I sympathize with his desire to add to his Winnie the Pooh collection (and wonder if he dislikes the Disney version as my family does). I hope he comes to Cambridge some time so we can discuss our collections - although I can imagine the looks we would get. But how many former NFL players do you think read for pleasure, let alone collect rare books? Perhaps more than one would think . . .

Former Cincinnati Bengals football player and children's book collector Pat McInally will put several rare early editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland up for auction. The books, including a copy that once belonged to 10-year-old Alice Liddell herself, are "expected to fetch up to £90,000 (US$147,416)," BBC News reported.

"I think it is the most important children's book ever written... so finding a book given to Alice by Lewis Carroll was really exciting," said McInally, who is parting with his copies to make room for the real focus of his collecting--Winnie-the-Pooh books.

"I'm hoping to use some of the money I get from this sale on more books by A.A. Milne at a sale coming up soon in London," he added.

McInally is also renowned, in certain circles, for having achieved a perfect score on the Wonderlic test, which is given to NFL prospects.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Walk With Care (Book Review)

Walk with Care by Patricia Wentworth (Benbow Smith #3)

Rosalind Denny is a sorrowful young widow, still in mourning for her husband, Gilbert, formerly Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs with a promising career ahead of him. Eighteen months ago Gilbert committed suicide and Rosalind does not know why but she is certain he was blackmailed. She is unaware that other young men in similar political positions have been disgraced in similar ways, but when Gilbert’s former assistant, Jeremy Ware, is targeted by an unknown enemy Rosalind is forced out of her depression to help him clear his name.

Patricia Wentworth is best known for her elderly sleuth, Miss Silver, a retired governess turned private detective, and her standalone mysteries were reprinted less frequently so I had never come across this one. Because Rosalind still depressed from the loss of her husband she is not a fun or lively heroine, which casts a cloud over the novel. As it turns out, the plot is fairly predictable but enjoyable as are all Wentworth's books. In addition, this book is notable because of two recurring characters.

Mr. Smith (Benbow Collingwood Horatio Smith) is an eccentric older gentleman who lives in London at 11b Caradoc Mansions with his outspoken parrot, Ananias. Ostensibly, he is the author of a book called The European Problem, and he is renowned for his expertise on the issues facing post WWI Europe.* In reality, he is connected to the Foreign Office and is often consulted on issues related to Britain’s national security. He appears in several Wentworth titles, including Rolling Stone, which I read earlier this month, and Danger Calling#. Both Mr. Smith and his parrot are astute judges of character, luckily, in this instance, for Jeremy.

There is also a recurring villainess, Maud Simpson. She has two very useful talents for a criminal – an ability to mimic voices so well that even their nearest and dearest are fooled and an incredible ability to disguise herself. She also appears in Rolling Stone and others.

This extremely rare Patricia Wentworth title, published in 1933 by J.B. Lippincott, came from the library and is really too fragile and valuable to be in circulation, although I was delighted to read it for the first time and recommend it to fans of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

# Copies available range from $60 to $500.
*As Encyclopedia Brown would remind you, there had only been one World War when this book was written, so naturally references are to “the war” not to WWI.

Edit from May 2017 - the entire Benbow Smith series is now available from Dean Street Press.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Legacy Place

There is a beautiful new Borders in Dedham called Legacy Place, where I went recently for an Anita Shreve reading. Although I have enjoyed her books for years, I had not known she attended Dedham High School (followed by Tufts) and lives in Massachusetts. She looked much more glamorous now (due to Oprah-related success, no doubt), reading from her new book, A Change in Altitude, than when I had first met her in 1992, when she was the relatively unknown author of Eden Close. At that time NAL hosted a lunch for her to which I was invited as the New York sales rep and she signed Strange Fits of Passion, then new, for me. Later, I became a huge fan of Where or When, and included it as one of my top ten in an article for Romantic Times. Anita was very pleasant and gracious to the large group of fans who lined up to have their books signed. She recommended some favorite authors and books, including The Transit of Venus, which several in the audience tried to buy in the store without success, and I have now recommended to my book group.
In fact, I was eager to use some 40% off coupons Borders had sent me for the store opening but this lovely new store did not have any of the books I wanted to buy! No Betsy-Tacy (horrors), which I wanted for my dentist's daughter; nothing by Lauren Snyder, although Any Which Wall was newly out in paperback, very appropriate for summer reading; nothing by Mitali Perkins although her new book, Bamboo People, is garnering great reviews and word of mouth. The store's computer purported to have one copy of The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages but no one could find it. So much for a book that won an armful of awards! While a pleasant young woman duly offered to order any of these books for me from, she explained that she could not honor my coupons, and while I understand that Borders is in great financial difficulty it should not allow a customer to leave empty handed. Even a token 10% off an order for these books at would have been a good customer service move because of course I did end up ordering them elsewhere. I wish I were still in touch with the children's buyers for Borders because they are missing out on some viable titles.
I tried to think of something else to buy and certainly the store was full of lovely books (especially the history and cookbook sections) but as I am hoping to move this summer it did not really make sense to buy a nonessential that I would simply have to pack.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dryads but no Naiads

Inexplicably, there were dryads wandering around the lobby of my building today, and one posed for a picture with me:
Mr. Tumnus told her about the midnight dances and how the Nymphs who lived in the wells and the Dryads who lived in the trees came out to dance with the Fauns; about long hunting parties after the milk-white stag who could give you wishes if you caught him . . .

Monday, July 5, 2010

June 2010

June was a good month for suspense fiction but less memorable in terms of the children's books I read. I recommend Robert Goddard and Linwood Barclay, and I always suggest Patricia Wentworth as a comfort read for mystery fans. Here are my June reads, and a look below at the beautiful bookplate used by the Concord Public Library many years ago. I had been there a couple times before but it is always a pleasure to be in such a historic library. Concord is a delightful town even apart from the thrill one gets from being near the homes of Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Jane Langton. I drove by the Diamond in the Window House on my way home...
Adult Fiction
House Rules, Jodi Picoult - I nearly always enjoy Picoult and thought this was better than her last few books (having worked for many publishers, I am always suspicious that the pressure to make authors produce books on a regular basis and/or annually results in poor quality) although several of the plot elements were way too obvious.
Name to a Face, Robert Goddard - Perhaps not his best but still impossible to put down, with nonstop twists and turns. Many of the characters were very unlikeable, however, which definitely changes one's attitude when they are murdered!
Never Look Away, Linwood Barclay - This author is a great new talent in suspense fiction, edited until recently by my gifted friend Danielle Perez.
Touch and Go, Patricia Wentworth - Having recently participated in the Golden Age of Detection Fiction tour, and been disappointed by Margery Allingham, I picked up a Wentworth I had never read before at the Concord Library and it immediately made me want to do a complete reread of all her books.
Two for Joy, Patricia Scanlan - ordinary chick lit I picked up at the library for $.50 several months ago.
Savor the Moment, Nora Roberts (third in a series) - Pretty much anything by Roberts is entertaining and this series is pleasant but no new ground for her.
Nothing but Trouble, Rachel Gibson - I have enjoyed this author of contemporary romance since Avon first started publishing her, especially those books with a hockey theme. This was improbable and not one of her best but still a fun read.
Time of Wonder, Maisie Hampstead - This was a complete waste of time; a very poorly written regency with a dreary and predictable plot.

My Life in France, Julia Child - I liked this very much, even the description of food I would never willingly eat! I wish I had made an effort to meet her while she was alive, as she was living nearby and apparently very friendly to fans she encountered while shopping, etc.

Sunnycove, Amelia Elizabeth Walden - this was part of my loosely conceived plan to give Walden a little overdue attention. She was a trailblazer in YA fiction in the 50s and 60s but is mostly forgotten now.
Sisters Red, Jackson Pearce - A first novel from a talented new author, although I suffered from a little fantasy overload when reading it.
The View from the Top, Hillary Frank - this bored me and reminded me not to pick a book by its cover.

The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet, Erin Dionne - while pleasant enough, my sister and I both found it completely improbable. In addition, the target audience was hard to figure out. It seemed too unsophisticated for YA and perhaps is best suited to a 5th grade audience. I have lent my copy to the nieces.
Palace Beautiful, Sarah Williams - I probably would have liked this as a child but found it dull as an adult.