Friday, August 27, 2010

Miss Manners

Dear Miss Manners:

What is the proper response to someone who asks, "What do you do every day? What do you do with your time?"

This is an unfortunate attempt to start a conversation, as it implies that the person being queried might be useless. Should you not be willing to overlook this, Miss Manners recommends, "I lie on the couch and read trashy novels and eat bonbons."

I love Miss Manners - like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, she always knows!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'd Know You Anywhere (review)

I was a fan of Laura Lippman even before I read her books. How can that be, you ask. She had written a delightful article for a Baltimore newspaper (which I saved but cannot find at the moment) some time around 1995, about her favorite children’s books, among which were the beloved Betsy-Tacy series. I had shared the article with the New York Chapter of the Betsy-Tacy Society. I was working at Avon Books at the time, and sitting in a monthly new title meeting when gifted editor Carrie Feron described a first mystery called Baltimore Blues. I recognized Laura’s name instantly and knew she must be the same person who had written the article because of the Baltimore connection. After the meeting, Carrie told me how much I would like Laura’s book and, as I tucked a manuscript under my arm, I persuaded Carrie, who had a toddler at the time, to read the first Betsy-Tacy book. It was my job to introduce Laura's books to Barnes & Noble. Baltimore Blues was the beginning of a great series, and my sister prefers the books about Tess Monaghan. I like Tess but also enjoy the bigger, standalone suspense that Laura has been writing most recently. I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura's brand new book, moves back and forth from the present, where Eliza is a competent mother of two, to 1985 when as a teen she was kidnapped by Walter Bowman. Now Walter is on death row for the death of another girl he kidnapped and when he contacts Eliza her carefully rebuilt world threatens to fall apart. This book has a has a different feel than other Lippman books because it is more of a psychological novel than an suspenseful thriller. It is primarily about Eliza’s recollections of the summer she spent with Walter, and at times one can’t help thinking she almost enjoyed the adventure despite her constant fear and obviously before the violent acts that ultimately result in Walter’s arrest. Eliza becomes haunted by the girls who did not escape from Walter and years later she cannot stop wondering why she alone survived. It is not just the serial killer in this novel who is unnerving: Lippman creates minor and major characters that are memorable and somewhat creepy. In particular, the mother of one of the murdered girls is heartbreaking. However, the intended suspenseful conclusion did not quite deliver.

I recommend I’d Know You Anywhere, which I read for the TLC Book Tour, but you should also go back to the Baltimore Blues and become acquainted with feisty Tess Monaghan. Here is a fun link to a Washington Post interview that my friend KC Summers did with Laura several years ago, exploring Baltimore. I also liked this link from Laura's website which describes some of Laura’s favorite children’s books (I love Edward Eager too and am glad my college remembers him with an annual creative writing prize). Laura usually mentions a kidlit favorite in her books, and here it is the Oz books.

Laura also wrote the introduction to the new 2-in-1 edition of Heaven to Betsy-Betsy in Spite of Herself. If you are an adult who has never read Betsy-Tacy, this is where you should start.
Late breaking news: congratulations to Laura - I'd Know You Anywhere debuts at #16 on the 8/27 New York Times list.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Anne Belinda (review)

In 1917, John Waveney, recently released from the hospital and headed back to the trenches in France, goes to visit the part of England his ancestors came from. He encounters a girl of 15, and when she learns he is all alone in the world, she tells him she would be sorry if anything happened to him.

Somehow John survives the war, and some years later he learns he has inherited the ancestral home. Wondering about the girl he met long ago, he learns she is a cousin but is mysteriously missing: no one will mention her name and he is warned not to discuss her. Even her own twin sister refuses to do anything but sob when Anne Belinda is discussed. John feels a strange sense of loyalty to the one person who sent him off to war with a kind word, and he becomes determined to find out what kind of trouble she is in and find a way to assist her. Of course, once he meets her he falls in love with her courage and the humor she is nearly always able to maintain, despite great trials. Not the least part of Anne’s appeal is her determination not to be rescued.

While the actual plot of this book is extremely improbable and unconvincing, I found it very moving so it was easy to ignore the flaws. John and Anne are convincingly and sympathetically drawn that the reader looks past the unlikeliness of Anne’s fall from grace and focuses rather on the way these two lonely but steadfast people are drawn to each other. It is appealing but dark, only occasionally relieved by humor, so is not the usual drawing room mystery made popular by authors like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Margery Allingham. Nor does it feature Wentworth's well-known sleuth, Miss Silver, so I can see why it is one of the Patricia Wentworths that was never reprinted. My copy was so old it was falling apart, and I returned it very reluctantly to the Dover Library, even calling to warn them it was too rare to circulate, although I was extremely glad to have the opportunity to read it. Highly recommended to those who like British mysteries – but you are unlikely to find a copy to read!

Anne Belinda by Patricia Wentworth was published in the US by J.B. Lippincott Company in 1928.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Murderer’s Daughters (Review)

Lulu’s and Merry’s childhood is destroyed when Lulu, warned not to let her father into the apartment, responds to his drunken entreaties by opening the door. In a drunken rage, he murders her mother and nearly kills her little sister. From that day on, Lulu and Merry have only each other, as the remaining family members are either too frail or too indifferent to care for them. The Murderer’s Daughters follows the girls from ages 9 and 5 in 1971, through trials and tribulations to 2003.
What a compelling yet painful story! From the first page Lulu and Merry have distinctive voices, but Lulu has the added burden of knowing she is the sensible sister, and, moreover, at a very young age she knows she is responsible for Merry. Not only does she have to cope with guilt about the death of her mother and injury to Merry but she can never stop worrying about Merry’s well-being. It is no wonder that she copes by focusing on her immediate problems, refusing to visit her father in prison or even acknowledge that at some point in the future he may be released; instead coming up with a plan that will get both her and Merry out of a violent group home to a facsimile of a normal life.

Fans of Jodi Picoult, in particular, will enjoy this talented new author, who has vividly created memorable and complicated sisters who cope with their pain differently but cannot cope alone. You know you care about characters when you start talking to them, and begging them not to make certain mistakes! There were so many interesting, although at times disturbing, elements that I stayed up late two nights in a row to finish. In particular, I liked that the girls squabbled like normal sisters, rather than having some idealized relationship. It was a unique relationship but with its own unwritten rules – for example, that Merry will visit her father and try to talk about him to Lulu and Lulu will pretend he doesn’t exist and refuse to listen. I was also fascinated by the fact that once Lulu wangled a new home for her and Merry she was unable to relax and try to enjoy the situation, although she knew it would have been more comfortable for her, Merry, and the family that had taken them in, were she able to ingratiate herself a little bit, or at least, not antagonize her benefactors. Whether it is worry about her father that she bottles up inside or bitterness at feeling forced to be grateful, Lulu never takes the predictable route. Then, just when I hoped Lulu was taken care of, I had to start worrying about Merry, getting entangled with very inappropriate men, chain smoking! Couldn’t these sisters get a break? And that’s before the not-very-repentant father is released from prison . . . Meyers makes it clear there are no easy happy-ever-afters for survivors of domestic abuse. She does so in a way that is very convincing.

Without giving away any more of the plot, I urge you to find a copy of this book yourself. Prepare to cry when two little girls lose both parents, prepare to worry as Lulu and Merry grow up and deal with the scars of their childhood, and prepare to stay up late until you finish. . .
This is a first novel by Boston’s Randy Sue Meyers, and I hope there are more to come. I enjoyed the fact that part of the book was set in Boston, not far from where I live. My review was part of the TLC Book Tour, and I encourage you to check out other stops on The Murderer’s Daughters tour.