March 24, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips
  • Mariana, Susanna Kearsley
  • Would-Be Witch, Kimberly Frost
  • Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire

Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell is the fictional version of a real event, the murder of a family and certainly at least one single woman by the would-be Lothario Harry Powers. Powers, who used several names in his pursuit of lonely widows and divorcees in 1930-1931, must have had some charisma or source of mesmerism unconnected to his appearance. Asta Eicher and her three children (Grethe, Hart, and Annabel) were murdered by Powers, but the case for which he was tried was the death of Dorothy Lemke, whose remains were also found on land owned by Powers. Phillips’s central character, a woman reporter, is richly invented to convey the pathos of the women victimized by Powers. Emily Thornhill acquires an entire family from the beginning of the book to the ending, and if none of them is truly related to her, they become a family nonetheless. Using the language and social norms of the thirties, Phillips manages to make Emily come alive.

Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana is the story of Julia Beckett, illustrator of children’s books, who is compelled to buy a house she’s come across three times at moments in her life. Julia meets two men in the vicinity who seem also to have been drawn there, Iain Sumner, and Geoff, descendant of the lords of the manor. They’re both attractive men, and Julia feels she may have moved to the right place. But she begins to have flashes of the past, in which she’s wearing clothes that are not made any longer, and she opens the door to rooms which suddenly have old-fashioned furniture in them. Julia is seeing her past life as Mariana, and as she begins to find out more and more about Mariana, she learns more and more about herself. This is a lovely time-travel book.

Would-Be Witch is more of a romp. Kimberly Frost writes about Tammy Jo Trask, a Texan with flaming hair and a temper to match. Tammy Jo is half in love with her ex, and more than a little in lust with the very sexy magician Bryn Lyons. She feels she has never developed her “witch” genes (her absent mother and aunt are both practitioners), but she is a magnet for trouble. When the family locket holding the family ghost is stolen at a home-invasion robbery, Tammy Jo must go through hell and high water to retrieve it.

Half-Off Ragnarok is Seanan McGuire’s latest InCryptid novel, and it’s just as much fun as the first two. The main character in H-O R is Alexander Price, brother of Verity, who “starred” in the first two. Alex seems to be quieter, but his life is just as interesting as Verity’s. While he works at a Midwest zoo, Alex is actually studying the local incryptid population and taking an interest in another zookeeper, Australian Shelby Tanner, who is not what she seems. So many people aren’t, in a Seanan McGuire book! Even Alex’s assistant Dee has snakes instead of hair, and the child who sneaks into the zoo so often is actually a wadjet, there to cuddle with her boyfriend, a male wadjet who retains the form of a snake. This is as delightful as McGuire’s books usually are, and I had a great time reading it.

 

Blog

I might as well call this blog “What the hell?” or “I Throw up my Hands” because these are both things I said this past week. You know that feeling? When you decide the deck is stacked against you, and then one more thing happens to push you over the edge?

I had a little surgery, which was no big deal to anybody but me. And it turned out fine. But I was pretty nervous, and I walked out with a big bandage on my arm, and after a week, when I went back, the site was still sore and unpleasant. Finally, the surgeon was able to close it, which was an immense relief, and then . . . I turned out be allergic to the bandage his nurse put on.

This seemed to me to be adding insult to injury. Either I developed this allergy (presumably to Latex) because of the previous bandaging, or the new bandage had more of whatever I’m allergic to in it, because everywhere it touched my skin, I had swelling and redness and those little itchy bumps in a spectacular display.

Hardly life-threatening or disfiguring or even very serious, right? But while I was worried about other things to begin with, just enough to push me over the edge into paranoia.

Does it sometimes seem that Life, with a capital L, is taunting you? Or is this just a series of random events, a piling of misfortune upon misfortune? I’m reminded (in a more serious vein) of families who return from an interment to find that the house has been burgled. In a way, you can see that coming (lawbreakers can read the obituaries, too, just the same way that you can’t discover you’re allergic to Latex until you put some next to your skin and find out you are).

In another way, the tragi-comedic viewpoint of life has to kick in when the bad things start stacking up. Minor or major, it requires a great attitude adjustment to find the ridiculousness of it all, and to laugh at it.

So let’s pretend we’re at a bar together, and let’s belly up and have a drink, and laugh at life. There’s more to enjoy than not, and laughter is the best defense against misfortune pile-ups.

Of course, it can take good long while to get to the point where you can laugh.

Charlaine Harris