May 17, 2008

The Why This Book? Review posted by Doranna Durgin Nope, don't bother to check your calendar--it's actually Leann's Friday blogday. And nope, you haven't seen my phosphors for a while. 8) But Leann is feverishly writing, and although I'm still hanging out on a recovery sabbatical, I thought it was time to dig my fingers into the fertile Writers Plot garden dirt again...remind myself what it feels like. The two moments came together, and here I am! And with so many of us releasing books this spring, a book review seemed just about the right place to start. ============== Okay, so it's not exactly a book review, because I'm not exactly objective, am I? Not with a book written by one of my blog pals. So nope, this is a Why This Book review...that is, the reasons I liked this book and the reasons I think you'll like this book. Because let's face it...I think you'll like this book. Here’s the set-up: Murder is Binding, by Lorna Barrett (AKA Lorraine Bartlett!) Stoneham, New Hampshire, was a dying town until community leaders invited booksellers to open shop. Now, its streets are lined with bookstores--and paved with murder… When newcomer Tricia Miles finds Doris Gleason dead in her own cookbook store, killed by a carving knife, the atmosphere seems more cutthroat than cordial. Someone wanted to get their hands on the rare cookbook that Doris had recently purchased--and the locals think that someone is Tricia. To clear her name, Tricia will have to take a page out of one of her own mysteries--and hunt down someone who isn't killing by the book… And here are the things I liked, because these are the things that are important to me as a reader (and writer): The characters are complete, three-dimension people who aren’t always perfect--and yet they’re likeable. Even in their flaws, they’re people with whom I can identify, and whom I can understand. As a bonus, the supporting characters--Mr. Everett in particular--are far from cardboard, and they add significantly to the feel of the story. The book’s voice is real. It’s a comfortable voice to read, yet personable and unique. It’s the voice of a writer comfortable in her own craft-skin. The pace is crackin' fast. It took me right along--without making me feel rushed. The setting is so cool--and it feels very real. The bookstore isn’t just a token background; it’s a living, breathing place, and it needs (and gets) attention, without taking away from the pacing. Meanwhile, all the pieces are there, but they aren't daring you to sort them out. I'm not one of those who treats mysteries as a puzzle; I do this plotting thing for a living. I want events to unfold before me, and to discover the stories and characters along the way--it's actually disappointing to me when the pieces fall into place in spite of my desire to go along for the ride. Speaking as someone who figured out the Big Secret of The Crying Game in the first five minutes of the movie, it is a joy to me when I don't anticipate the big plot pieces--as long as the foundation is properly laid. It's no good if you get to the end and the author goes, "Look, see?" and you respond to yourself, "Say what?" Well, happily, that doesn't happen here. Happily, I went "Oh, right!" because the book kept just the right balance of putting the pieces out where they ought to be, but not making them so obvious that I put them together even though I really try to avoid doing that. So there it is, all the reasons why I liked this book, and why I think everyone else will like it, too! And look, here's the cover: I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!
NUALA O'FAOLAIN Posted by Sheila Connolly No, it's not an Irish greeting. Nuala O'Faolain was an Irish writer who died this month. A broadcaster, a former newspaper columnist, a feminist; offspring of a father who wrote a society column and a mother who didn't want children (yet had quite a few), she turned her luckless life into widely popular fiction. I first heard of O'Faolain on a television talk show–Oprah or something similar–probably more than ten years ago. In 1996 she published a book Are You Somebody? which, according to her Boston Globe obituary, brought her "fame and fortune." I was intrigued by the title, and overjoyed to hear her actually pronounce her name. After all, how could I walk into a bookstore and ask for a book by someone whose name I couldn't pronounce? She spoke with wit and laughter, and afterwards, I bought the book and enjoyed it. I also bought her first novel, My Dream of You, which is said to be largely autobiographical. She wrote with humor and lyrical grace. So why do I care about her? Not so much for her life, but for her death, and her manner of dying. Her life was, so the obituaries say, unhappy. She lived with the "love of her life" (their term, not mine) for 13 years, but that relationship ended "in acrimony" (Paddy Clancy in Irish Abroad), or "in recrimination" (Kevin Cullen in the Boston Globe). Are You Somebody "transformed its author...into a bona fide celebrity despite her own sense of personal failure" (William Grimes in The New York Times). Hold on–what is going on here? The obituaries uniformly cite her failed relationships, her misery, her insecurities. Cullen states that she "tried and failed in love with so many people." This was a successful and respected writer, yet her eulogists dwell on what she did wrong. How sad is that? But what intrigued me was her death. A few months ago she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She tried radiation, but she chose not to undergo chemotherapy. Lung cancer is particularly nasty, and once it is advanced enough to diagnose, it's often not even treatable. [My mother, a lifelong smoker, was diagnosed with lung cancer and was told she had four to six months to live. She lasted five months, and they weren't happy ones.] What's more, she announced her decision publicly, in an interview on Ireland's most popular radio program in April. Here was a woman who lived her life in the public's eye, who made and acknowledged mistakes, who was talented and unlucky, successful and depressed. She could have gained a little time with additional treatment, but as she said in her radio interview, "What do I want to win time for? What is the quality left in life?" so she picked herself up and went to Paris instead. And later in the same interview she said, "I thought there would be me and the world, but the world turned its back on me, the world said to me that's enough of you now." And she accepted that. I'd like to think that dying was one thing she wanted to handle her way–the last choice she would be able to make. It may not have been a pretty end, but it was her own.

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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