Review of “Waiting for Wednesday” by Nicci French

This is book three in the detective/psychological thriller series featuring psychotherapist Dr. Frieda Klein, who is the occasional collaborator of London Detective Chief Inspector Malcolm Karlsson. There is no romantic involvement between the two, although not for want of enthusiasm among readers for the match-up.

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The inexplicable and brutal murder of a seemingly normal happy woman with 3 kids that begins the story cries out for the services of a criminal psychologist, but Karlsson now has to work without the valuable services of Frieda, who has been replaced by the pompous, incompetent, albeit well-connected Dr. Hal Bradshaw. By a series of coincidences, Frieda gets in a position to help anyway, in spite of the demands of her family, her would-be lover Sandy, a serial killer we met in Book One who is still stalking her, and the unexpected quest for a series of missing young women with which she gets involved.

Discussion: Who Frieda is and what she wants continues to elude us. Frieda resists uncovering herself even to her close friends and to her boyfriend Sandy, a surgeon in America with infinite patience. Sandy does understand that remaining invisible is, for some reason, the most important thing to Frieda; that being “exposed” upsets her even more than threats of professional or bodily harm. Frieda knows that she is a mess:

She had good friends, but she hadn’t turned to them, not even to Sandy. She could listen, but she couldn’t talk give help but not ask for it.”

Ironically, Frieda realizes that the man who seems to know her the best is the killer who is pursuing her.

Karlsson has his own problems. His demanding career resulted in the estrangement from, and ultimately loss of, his wife and two children, and now he is paying the emotional price. He misses them dearly, especially little Bella and Mikey, who are about to move with his ex-wife and her new husband to faraway Spain.

He also has to put up with the frustrating and enervating demands of his Commissioner, who keeps reminding him that the job is not about “solving crimes” but rather:

A police force is about political influence, and it always has been. If I can’t get up the home secretary’s arse and get you the funding that you’re pissing away, you won’t be in a position to solve your crimes, any of you.”

(…a quote that could have come with only a slight change right from “Law and Order.”)

Evaluation: I think this series is getting better, or maybe I have reconciled myself to the fact that Frieda wants to remain a cipher, and the authors (Nicci French is the pseudonym for the writing team of husband and wife Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) have decided to accede to her wishes. There is plenty of suspense balanced with character development, and the pacing is good. Not all the background from previous books is fully explained, but I don’t think it impedes the overall flow of the story for first-time readers of the series.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA), 2014

Review of “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty” by Dave Barry

This hilarious monologue by Dave Barry touches on a number of topics including parenting, airplanes, aging, Viagra, Fifty Shades of Gray, a family trip to Israel, how to become a published writer, and the necessary elements for plots in successful books.

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I listened to the audio version of this book, read by the author, and his narration was perfect.

Evaluation: Even when Dave Barry is not being funny (and no one can be funny every single second), he never fails to be interesting and entertaining. And listening to the book gives you the added bonus of having everyone in the cars around you wondering what kind of weirdo laughs out loud to herself while in the car alone.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published unabridged on 3 compact discs (3 1/2 listening hours) by Random House Audio, an imprint of the Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group, 2014

Review of “The Red Lily Crown: A Novel of Medici Florence” by Elizabeth Loupas

I was very impressed with this historical fiction novel set in 16th Century Medici-ruled Florence.

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The story begins in 1574 and centers around the violent and cruel ruling Medici family – in particular, Prince Francesco, who was known to be an aficionado of alchemy. The author creates two fictional assistants for Francesco, Chiara Nerini, daughter of a poor bookseller and an aspiring alchemist herself, and the mysterious and handsome Ruan Pencarrow, a metallurgist who supplied the Prince with his raw materials and helped him in his experiments. Together, the three of them work to find the elusive Philosopher’s Stone, or Lapis Philosophorum, a legendary substance that putatively could turn base metals into gold, and perhaps even confer immortality to its discover.

(Some of the world’s greatest geniuses believed in the Philosopher’s Stone, including Sir Isaac Newton and the famed British chemist Robert Boyle.)

Over the next fifteen years, the book follows the stories of Chiara and Ruan and the parallel developments in Francesco’s Court. Each of the main characters is forged by life’s experiences into another being entirely, much as they all sought to do with the metals with which they worked.

Evaluation: This story has romance, danger, intrigue, and excellent “bones” in the twinned themes of the ruling class of late 1500’s Florence and the fascinating quest for the Lapis Philosophorum. The author’s adherence to what is known both about the Medici and alchemy is excellent. I chose this for a five hour plane trip, and was totally absorbed the whole way.

Rating: 4/5

Published by New American Library, a division of Penguin Group, 2014

Review of “The Island of Doves” by Kelly O’Connor McNees

This is an inspiring story about the rebirth of two damaged women that begins in 1835.

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Susannah Fraser, 23, is a woman living in wealthy circumstances in Buffalo, New York with a cruel husband who beats her. After the fingers in her hand are broken, a nun in the area, Sister Mary Genevieve, offers to help her escape. The sister knows of a refuge on Mackinac Island in the Michigan Territory, and arranges for Susannah to sneak out and be transported there.

Once in Mackinac, Susannah, going by the pseudonym “Miss Dove,” is taken in by the widowed Magdelaine Fonteneau, 46, who runs a successful business and lives alone in a large house with her son, Jean-Henri, and Esmee, her talented and resourceful housekeeper.

Adjustment is difficult for Susannah. She loves it on the island, but she has never experienced making her own decisions or taking her own life in her hands: first she was a daughter, directed by her father, and then she was a wife, with a husband who controlled each minute of her day. Independence is terrifying for her.

Magdelaine has her own demons to overcome; she lost most of her family, and steadfastly refuses to get close to anyone again, even her own son. The two women unexpectedly find they have much in common, but each must be willing to let go of her defenses to be become truly free.

Discussion: The author based her story on two historical figures. One was Magdelaine LaFramboise, who, like the fictional Magdelaine, took over her husband’s fur-trading business after his death and became very successful. The second was Benjamin Rathbun who was a notorious and corrupt builder in Buffalo in the same time period.

It is especially interesting to read about what life for the real Magdelaine may have been like from the author’s reconstruction of her circumstances.

Evaluation: The plot elements are fairly predictable and the characters sometimes a bit too caricatured or given to clichéd dialogue, but that doesn’t detract from the basic charm of this warm-hearted story.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by The Berkley Publishing Group, a Penguin Random House Company, 2014

Sunday Treat – National Poetry Month – What Is Poetry?

sundae2F. Isabel Campoy is a poet, playwright, songwriter, and storyteller. She has written numerous children’s books (many in collaboration with Alma Flor Ada) both in English and in Spanish in the areas of poetry, theatre, folktales, biographies, and art.

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Recently, she wrote:

Poetry is the chisel of language. It carves meaning until beauty appears, dancing with the rhythm of form.”

Beautiful and apt thoughts for National Poetry Month!

At the beginning of this year’s poetry month, I mentioned that Michael Chabon, no slouch himself in creating “surprising and beautiful utterances” (as he characterizes the work of James Joyce) points to “the joy and sensuous appeal of alliteration, assonance, and consonance” in poetry. He credits one of his college poetry teachers for helping him define poetry:

He emphasized accuracy and precision in language, the sadness of cliché, the need to find newness in the way one wrote about the world, and, unconsciously I think, the supreme importance of exuberance.…”

Here is Chabon clarifying what he means by discussing the poetry of “the most exuberant poet who ever lived, Frank O’Hara”:

The voice of O’Hara was the voice of a friend, a best friend. It was intimate and casual. And yet at the same time it was also refined, literary, erudite, capable of hopping like a sparrow down a sidewalk from densely imagistic to dishy and familiar in the space of a single line.”

Chabon, like those he admires, also has “gifts of sensory perception and the figuration thereof.” And this is the beauty of poetry.

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Finally, a little poem on what is poetry, by Charles Ghigna, also known as “Father Goose”:

A Poem Is A Little Path

A poem is a little path
That leads you through the trees.
It takes you to the cliffs and shores,
To anywhere you please.

Follow it and trust your way
With mind and heart as one,
And when the journey’s over,
You’ll find you’ve just begun.”

To celebrate National Poetry Month, Serena from Savvy Verse and Wit has called on fellow bloggers to participate by profiling a poet or poem. Be sure to stop by Serena’s blog every day this month to see more profiles of poets and poetry by participants from around the blogisphere!

National Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “It’s A Firefly Night” by Dianne Ochiltree

This beautiful book will thrill all the little kids who love sparkly things and/or fireflies. I of course used to love both. And with poetry in the mix, you can’t lose!

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Simple verses tell the story of a little girl who can’t wait for firefly nights, “when the moon is high and the stars are bright.” She collects them in a jar and then races to show her dad “their dancing-light show.”

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But she doesn’t keep them for long:

Flickering quicker,
they sparkle and shine.
I love catching fireflies,
but they are not mine.”

She gently releases them and watches them blink off into the night.

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At the end of the book the author has collected some facts about fireflies that she arranges inside glowing balls on a two-page spread. Best of all, both the front and back covers have real glitter surrounding the fireflies!

The colorful collages by Betsy Snyder are vibrant and magical.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Blue Apple Books, 2013

April 4, 1968 – Death of Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this date in 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr., American civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate was assassinated at the age of 39. In January of 1965, he was asked in an interview reprinted here about plots on his life. He replied:

If I were constantly worried about death, I couldn’t function. After a while, if your life is more or less constantly in peril, you come to a point where you accept the possibility philosophically. I must face the fact, as all others in positions of leadership must do, that America today is an extremely sick nation, and that something could well happen to me at any time. I feel, though, that my cause is so right, so moral, that if I should lose my life, in some way it would aid the cause.”

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