Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An Engaging Story Well Told

I Still Dream About You, by Fannie Flagg

It surely must be one of those universal experiences to look in the mirror one day and realize that you probably are not going to have the life you imagined for yourself. That is what has happened to Maggie Fortenberrry. Because she grew up above a movie theater her father managed, she expected generally happy endings. Because she is a former Miss Alabama, she expected great great opportunities for herself.

At 60 something, she has come to terms with the simple fact that most of what she wanted from life was lost because of her own poor decisions.  With not much to look forward to except more loss and the inevitable physical decline, Maggie decides to exit this world in her own way at her own time.  And how to do the deed turns out to be more complicated that she expected.

Maggie is a very proper Southern woman, so she concocts a complex plan that guarantees success without mess or fuss, without leaving a body to be found, and without loose ends for someone else to untangle.  Just when she is ready to execute the plan, her life interupts. 

First, it's the whirling diverishes and accommodating a friend who wants to see them. Then, it's a hair appointment she forgot to cancel and she doesn't wnat to stiff the hair dresser.  Then, it's too much goat cheese (don't ask!).  Finally, it's Crestview, a lovely old mansion just up for sale and about to fall into the clutches of Babs Bingington, her archrival in the real estate business who scoops up the elegant old homes and sells them to developers.

That draws her into a mystery that must be resolved.

Along the way, Maggie saves the house and herself.  Although it does require a bit of unexpected good luck to bring some of the old dreams into her life, it is good luck Maggie has earned and along the way, she learns to let go of some of her perfectionism and enjoy her life a bit more.

As always with Fannie Flagg's books, the plot is moved by unique characters in bizarre situations responding in interesting ways.  I Still Dream About You was released in 2011 and it was very popular with book groups.  If you missed it, go back and check it out.  It is not Fried Green Tomatoes, but it is an engaging story well told.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Love, Murder, Intrigue, and Penicillin

A Fierce Radiance, by Lauren Belfer

This story opens in New York City just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The main character is Claire Shipley, a photographer for Life magazine and a single mother.  She is doing a story about a young man who is dying from an infection and the attempt to save his life with penicillin.
It is one of the first times penicillin is being tried on a person and the process is fraught with perils.  The doctors do not know how much penicillin should be used or how it should be administered.  In fact, they are not even sure how the medication should be produced.
Claire does not realize that this project will become a major turning point of her life.  She meets and eventually falls in love with James Stanton, a young doctor working on penicillin research.  When a promising young researcher is murdered, Claire is drawn into the investigations.  When penicillin becomes a major focus of the war effort, Claire is drawn into the politics and intrigues of war.
At the same time, Claire is building a new relationship with her estranged father who is a self-made millionaire.  He is eager to establish a relationship with her and his grandson.  He also recognizes the potential value of the penicillin research and that brings him into surprising conflict with his daughter.
This is a satisfyingly complex story full for unexpected twists, danger, and resolution.  On top of all that, it is more or less historically accurate with the history presented in a way that is well integrated into the story and generally unobtrusive.
A Fierce Radiance, published in March, 2011, is Belfer’s first book since City of Light, published in August, 2003.  The new story shows that Belfer’s command of her craft is growing.  The story line is seamless and she more skillfully encompasses the history within the context of the story in this second novel.
This is a good read and I highly recommend it.