Sunday, March 23, 2008

Robert Murphy

To the outside world we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other's hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time. ~Carla Ortega

Robert Murphy, my brother and my friend
October 13, 1938 - March 20, 2008

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Alice Hoffman

April 8 will bring us Alice Hoffman's new book, The Third Angel. Her website has been completely redesigned and is exquisite--just as the author herself. I am looking forward to this new addition to the many hours of reading bliss Ms. Hoffman's other books have brought to me.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Garden Spells

There are reading times that nothing will do except a full fledged romance novel. You know the kind--pulls at your heartstrings, gives you a hero and heroine that you root for to beat the odds, guarantees that signature HEA (Happily Ever After ending). Then there are reading times that call for a serious look at characters, their families and friends, and how they cope and resolve what life is handing HEA on the story's horizon. What bothers me is when the former is marketed as the latter, and that (IMHO) was the case with Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.

From Publishers Weekly
Two gifted sisters draw on their talents to belatedly forge a bond and find their ways in life in Allen's easygoing debut novel. Thirty-four-year-old Claire Waverley manifests her talent in cooking; using edible flowers, Claire creates dishes that "affect the eater in curious ways." But not all Waverley women embrace their gifts; some, including Claire's mother, escape the family's eccentric reputation by running away. She abandoned Claire and her sister when they were young. Consequently, Claire has remained close to home, unwilling to open up to new people or experiences. Claire's younger sister, Sydney, however, followed in their mother's footsteps 10 years ago and left for New York, and after a string of abusive, roustabout boyfriends, returns to Bascom, N.C., with her five-year-old daughter, Bay. As Sydney reacquaints herself with old friends and rivals, she discovers her own Waverley magic. Claire, in turn, begins to open up to her sister and in the process learns how to welcome other possibilities.

Garden Spells was a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection touted as "unputdownable." While the story was interesting and the characters somewhat captivating, I certainly had no problem setting it aside for other reading fare. My recollection of the Garden Spells display, prominent on the first table when entering my local B&N, is that there was no mention of this being a romance nor does that dreaded category imprint appear on the dust cover spine. It all makes me wonder about who decides and how the decision is made to publish a $7.99 paperback with the genre clear to all comers on the spine vs. a $20 hardcover eagerly shelved with Fiction/General Literature. Was Garden Spells intended to be a lite version of Alice Hoffman's The Probable Future? Was Garden Spells intended to ride the wave of the Three Sisters Island trilogy (Dance Upon the Air, Heaven and Earth, & Face the Fire) of Nora Roberts?

Despite my ambivalence about the marketing of Garden Spells, I did enjoy the story and found the characters charming. I'll also pick up her next book,
The Sugar Queen, due out in May--if for nothing more than to see how Addison Allen handles the color red (a favorite Hoffman allusion).

2.5/5 (General Fiction scale)
3.5/5 (Romance scale)
Bantam (September 2007)
Hard Cover; 286 pages

Dedication: For my mam. I love you.

The Secret Between Us

Most of us have done it--jumped in and created a free pass for one of our children. Please excuse Brian because...; please excuse Linda because.... What would the reaction be if our urge to protect spun out of control as it did for Deborah Monroe and her daughter Grace in Barbara Delinsky's The Secret Between Us?

From Publishers Weekly
Relationships are brought to the limit in Delinsky's splendid latest exploration of family dynamics. On a rainy night, Deborah Monroe and her teenage daughter, Grace, are driving home when their car hits a man. The victim, who turns out to be Grace's history teacher, is unconscious but alive. Although Grace was driving, Deborah sends her home and takes responsibility for the accident when the cops show up. Deborah is juggling a lot: as a family doctor, she is in private practice with her ├╝ber-demanding widower father, who is trying to hide a drinking problem; her son, Dylan, is vision impaired; her mother's death continues to affect the family; Deborah is still dealing with her ex-husband's new, separate life; and her unmarried sister, Jill, has just announced she's pregnant. Grace's guilt about not taking responsibility for the accident makes her withdraw from friends and family, and the accident victim turns out to have a more complex private life than anyone imagined. The author seamlessly resolves relationship issues without sentiment, throws in a promising romance for Deborah and offers a redemptive scene between Grace and her grandfather. Delinsky combines her understanding of human nature with absorbing, unpredictable storytelling—a winning combination.

After my disappointment with Family Tree, I was happy to find that this favorite author had once again grabbed my attention and pulled me immediately in to the time and place of Deborah and her family.

4/5 (General Fiction scale)
Doubleday (January 2008)
352 pages

Christmas in March

The last of our Christmas presents was opened last night as Pink Martini took the stage at the Opera House in Boston.

My daughter and I traveled through a downpour that made the highway disappear in rivers and lakes of water. The walk to the Orange Line train at Oak Grove was through ankle deep puddles. The trek from the T station up Washington Street to the Opera House was accompanied by windblown rain--in our faces no matter which way we turned. But all was forgotten two bars into the first offering by Pink Martini. For almost two and a half hours we were wisked away by warm, inviting rumbas and sambas; carried back to a golden age of sultry and sassy Hollywood noir songs; and, with great humor, reminded about the Abba Dabba Honeymoon of the monkey and the chimp. Eugene was there as was the little Hunts tomato being urged to hang on.

The musical talent and diversity of each member of the ensemble was amazing. The percussionsts were a delight to the ear. Cello solos, violin solos, a crowd pleasing drum solo, wah-wah trumpet mutes, a slide trombone that made you long for a fondly remembered smokey jazz bar--all highlighted by the piano of Thomas Lauderdale and vocals of China Forbes. And did you know? The harpest, Maureen Love, is sister of Mike and cousin of Brian Wilson!

We traveled home with snipets of tunes playing in our heads, knowing that we had shared a very joyful musical experience...and the rain had stopped!