Friday, August 20, 2010

Fragile (Lisa Unger)

Fragile is a mystery in the best sense of the word, with well-developed characters and slow-building suspense. It is the story of missing teenage girls, decades apart, and the connections between their disappearances.

Maggie Cooper is a well-respected psychologist living in "The Hollows", a small town outside of New York City. While juggling a busy practice, she tries desperately to keep her relationships with her detective husband, Jones, and sullen teenage son, Ricky, going strong. When Ricky's girlfriend, Charlene, goes missing, the Coopers and Charlene's mother, Melody, do everything they can to locate her. But is this a recurrence of their worst nightmare from their high school days...when Maggie, Melody, Jones, and the rest of The Hollows' parents and children had to contend with another missing who was found murdered? Only time will tell.

Unger does a fine job of connecting all of her characters and both of her plots (the disappearances of both Charlene in the present and Sarah in the past) to make one gripping novel. She is a masterful storyteller; however, as she states in the "author's note", she has had a personal experience with this. This novel is not to be missed.


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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Red Hook Road (Ayelet Waldman)

In literary history, what are most remembered are the characters and their inner turmoils. Even to those unfamiliar with To Kill a Mockingbird's plot, they know Atticus Finch and Scout. A reader may not remember how Alice met The Mad Hatter, but they know the characters. Red Hook Road excels in character study. If the entire novel stayed true to this, it would be Waldman's tour de force. Alas, it does not.

The novel begins at the Red Hook, Maine, summer wedding of Becca Copaken and John Tetherly....young, vivacious, with their whole lives in front of them. While their families and guests wait for them at their reception, they are given the tragic news that the couple has died in a limousine accident. Two families, of very different social classes, have become unwittingly united in their grief in the succeeding summers in Red Hook. Broken apart at times, but forever together, Red Hook Road is the story of the Copakens...Iris, Daniel, Ruthie, and Mr. Kimmelbrod, and the Tetherlys...Jane, Matt, and Mr. Kimmelbrod's protege', Samantha.

I found myself engrossed in these characters until the last few chapters, when Waldman no longer focuses on them. Somehow a microburst (a tornado-like storm) pops up right over the Copakens' annual Fourth of July gathering (how convenient). The Tetherlys and Copakens must work together to survive this out-of-nowhere storm. And lo and behold, they do, and they are not separated anymore! Waldman's coda then comes out of nowhere.

I couldn't wait to finish this book to rush to my blog and give it a 5! Why, oh why, did Waldman have to go and write a cliched plot device at the end? Focus on characters, Ms Waldman, and you'll have a winner every time!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Girl in a Blue Dress (Gaynor Arnold)

As I have stated before, historical fiction is above and beyond my favorite genre, especially those that take place in old Victorian England. There is something about the elegance and etiquette of this time period that is second to none. Could you imagine having to present your "card" to a friend's maid to be "announced" to her? When was the last time you wrote a "letter" to your friend instead of a text or e-mail?

Girl in a Blue Dress has fictional characters; however, Arnold states that she drew her inspiration from the family life of Mr. Charles Dickens himself. There seems to be no greater Dickens scholar than she; yet, by her own admission, she took many liberties in extending the truth and filling-in-the-blanks. The novel begins with the end - the funeral of England's most admirable author, Alfred Gibson. He has long been separated from his "widow", Dorothea, the narrator of the story. Dorothea's flashbacks to her happy beginnings with Alfred, the births of many, many children with him, and finally, their painful separation, make up the gist of the novel. However, it is the inner torture of Alfred (as it is with many creative souls) that Gaynor seems to want to make the heart of Girl in a Blue Dress.

It is interesting that I immediately made a comparison in my mind with this novel to The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. Both authors should be highly commended for their efforts and incomparable research. However, as with Whicher, I found myself looking at the clock, wanting this to end. It is just too long and wordy, with endless meetings upon meetings between the characters. Dorothea meets with one person for twenty pages to bare her soul, then she meets with another person for twenty pages. If you like novels with great character development, then this is the book for you. However, if you want some sort of plot to go with those characters, I would advise you to look elsewhere.

MY RATING - 4 for effort, 3 for readability