Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tigerlily's Orchids

It can be argued, and many people do, that British author Ruth Rendell is one of the most influential writers of mysteries and police procedurals of the past 30 years. She is the creator of the iconic Inspector Wexford, featured in more than 25 novels. Ms. Rendell is famous for her elegant prose, her social conscience, and most importantly, her keen insight into people. It’s been said that she and her friend P.D. James “upgraded the genre of the whodunit into the whydunit”. As a result of her unique blend of skills, she is the recipient of the most coveted awards for mystery writers. She has also been awarded the C.B.E. or Commander of the British Empire for her work.

Tigerlily’s Orchids is a splendid example of Ms. Rendell’s work. The story takes place in a London apartment building. I was reminded a little of Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Rear Window, with the reader as L.B. Jeffries observing his neighbors as their eccentricities are revealed.

This is a story of secrets, as most stories are. Some are heartbreaking: One is Olwen, whose only goal in life is to be able to drink as much gin as she wants until she dies. Some are perverse: the caretaker who desperately hides his unholy longing. Some are mysterious: who is the beautiful Asian girl hidden in the house across the street? We have old lovers who may or may not remember each other, a not-so-secret affair, a young thief, and the sighing of unrequited love. Finally, we have a murder.

Rendell offers us a fascinating, and sometimes humorous glimpse into the minds of her characters. Of course, each thinks that his or her actions, no matter how rotten, are completely justifiable, and the process by which they absolve themselves can be amusing. One example is Sophia, who goes from buying gin for Olwen at a carrying charge of ₤10.00 per trip to steadily emptying her pension account. She begins by blaming Olwen for being out of touch and ends by blaming her roommates for having boyfriends.

Complex, darkly ironic, and elegantly plotted, Tigerlily’s Orchids proves that at 81, Ruth Rendell continues to ensnare us in her spell.

Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell (Scribner $26.00 Hardcover,
9780385668880, June 14, 2011)

Published with permission of Shelf Awareness

Sunday, March 13, 2011

MEET EINSTEIN by Mariela Kleiner and Illus. by Viviana Garofoli

Special Children's Edition:  I don't often review children's books, but our friends at JKS Communications were kind enough to send me a copy of MEET EINSTEIN, and I had to share my comments.  Since I'm fortunate to have adorable nieces who enjoy bedtime stories,  I have been stunned at the craftsmanship of a good children's book. And there are a lot of good ones out there.   The breezy wit, the humour, and  the ability to enchant in just a few short pages is a skill I so envy , and it's accompanied by incredible art.  It's a slim little gift every time.  And people like to think children's book writing is easy. Tut tut.

Now I'm the one demanding a new story at bedtime when I visit my girls.

hThis book is a success on so many levels; it’s hard to list them all. First, it’s difficult to imagine that the age group targeted (2-4 years) would care who Einstein is, much less want to meet him. But the book explains that everyone is really a scientist. Everyone who asks questions, that is. And have you ever met a child, who, as soon as they could speak, did not begin to ask questions?  "Why” has to be the favorite word in any toddler’s vocabulary.

The story behind this book is charming. This is the debut children’s book publication for the author, Mariela Kleiner. She allowed her 2-year old daughter to choose a “grown up book” for a bedtime story, and Hailey chose Einstein’s Relativity. (Um, wow.) To make the book a little more accessible to her daughter, Ms. Kleiner wrote Meet Einstein.

Mercifully, Meet Einstein stays away from the Theory of Relativity, and focuses on light and gravity. (I can't believe I just wrote that sentence.)  The author talks about the different colors of light, and why things fall to the ground every time. The book ends with some cool questions for parents to ask their budding scientists, which is a great conversation starter. Plus, there are some interesting things to know about Einstein, and ends with some fascinating scientific facts. It’s almost like a baby book club reader’s guide.

And the illustrations are a delight! The illustrator, Viviana Garofoli, has illustrated over 20 children’s books in addition to other projects. And she brings such a sense of fun to the topic of science. Of course, the curiously- coifed Einstein contributes a lot, but Ms. Garofoli adds an adorable dog as a sidekick, and some very helpful frogs. And of course, we see the children all over the world who are learning about light and gravity along with us. I liked the end papers that defined all of the scientific tools and how they are used.

I hope this is the beginning of a series (“Meet Leonardo”, “Meet Madame Curie”, etc.). This is the perfect introduction to science. Not only does it introduce science before it becomes a scary topic, it makes science easy to understand, makes it fun, and makes it accessible. Also, it may present a good point for us grown-ups to keep in mind:  children aren’t really trying to drive us mad with their questions. They are just scientists in training.

Author: Mariela Kleiner
Illustrator: Viviana Garofoli
Reading level: Ages 4-8
Hardcover: 32 pages
Publisher: Meet Books, LLC (March 1, 2011)
ISBN-13: 978-0615389738