Book Review: The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

The Girl and the Grove
Eric Smith
Flux, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63583-018-7
Trade Paperback

Once in a while, a book means so much to me that I need my metaphorical sandwich-board and bell to adequately express my adoration. It is entirely in that spirit that I introduce The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith. Immediately irresistible, the anomalous story of amateur arborist, Leila, branches out and grows faster than her rescued sapling, Major Willow.

Since Leila has basically bounced around Philadelphia, popping in and out of the group home, she and her best bud bonded by creating their own constant. After all, Leila’s connection with nature is certainly undeniable, somewhat surreal. It’s an interest she shares with Jon that may make this adopted-as-an-adolescent adjustment easier.

He is great, in an awkwardly adorable, always affable way. And Lisbeth, well, it would take a cold heart and hard head to ignore the quiet strength, patience and abundance of love within her. If it doesn’t work out, Leila will have only herself to blame. Being the perfect daughter will have to take a backseat though, something bigger is about to go down.

A gorgeous grove with a trio of trees that have, thus far, stood the test of time, is about to be destroyed. Leila’s new nature-loving friends will fight for the trees, the history and the elusive, endangered field mouse, but there is something more valuable—vital that must be saved, while being kept secret.

Social issues surrounding prejudices and racism are addressed alongside examples of ignorant questions that can be uncomfortable and awkward for an adoptee. A casual, conversational tone, dotted with diabolical dialogue and spot-on samples of sharp-tongued teens ensures an easy read. Laid out in a linear, fluid fashion; lean without being bare, the quest moves quickly. A splash of suspense, mixed with maybe a bit of magic and myth, makes a magnificent tale.

I dig The Girl and the Grove as a Not-So-Young-Adult; but teen-aged-me would have carried this book like a teddy bear and copied quotes all over my kicks.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2018.

Book Reviews: The Memory of Trees by F.G. Cottam and Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham

The Memory of TreesThe Memory of Trees
F.G. Cottam
Severn House, October 2013
ISBN 978-0-7278-8315-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Billionaire Saul Abercrombie owns a vast tract of land on the Pembrokeshire coast.  His plan is to restore the ancient forest that covered the area before medieval times, and he employs young arboreal expert Tom Curtis to oversee this massively ambitious project.

Saul believes that restoring the land to its original state will rekindle those spirits that folklore insists once inhabited his domain. But the re-planting of the forest will revive an altogether darker and more dangerous entity – and Saul’s employee Tom will find himself engaging in an epic, ancient battle between good and evil.  A battle in which there can be only one survivor.

We have a collective unease when it comes to deep forests and that unease has pervaded our storytelling world for a long time. From Hansel and Gretel abandoned in the woods to Dorothy’s trek with her companions to the simple stories of British highwaymen, we’ve been preconditioned to prefer open space. With that mindset, I anticipated a good scary tale in The Memory of Trees. Alas, it didn’t quite pan out that way.

The idea of megalomaniacal men trying to manipulate sorcery to obtain good health or immortality is not a new idea and it’s a serviceable motive for Saul Abercrombie’s desire to rebuild a vast forest on his land but I found his total disregard for what might happen to his daughter rather unlikely. Even more so was everyone’s lack of serious alarm when confronted with abnormal and threatening situations. As an example, Tom Curtis and Sam Freemantle go to a location called Gibbet Mourning where they observe something that is undeniably menacing and actually begins to “rustle and shiver” and make sighing noises when Sam approaches it. Should I find myself in such a scenario, I’d run for the nearest collection of people and hide in a dark corner but Sam and Tom calmly talk about hauntings and agree that they don’t like the place. That’s it. That’s also pretty unbelievable.

The growing malevolence is made very obvious but, somehow, it didn’t really make much of an impact on me, possibly because the cast of characters is too big and too widespread, making it a little difficult to remember exactly who they are. If you can’t connect with a character, it’s hard to really care about what happens to them.  When very strange things begin to occur with the plantings, there’s little reaction beyond noting the strange things.

That lack of reaction to practically everything that goes on in this story is essentially why it didn’t work for me because it meant there was no real tension. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for The Memory of Trees, I enjoyed Mr. Cottam‘s style and obvious ability to write and will try something else by him. I do think other readers would enjoy this book more if they take logic and normal human behavior out of it and just read it as a tale of ancient evil come to life.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Anne Perry and the Murder of the CenturyAnne Perry and the Murder of the Century
Peter Graham
Skyhorse Publishing/W.W. Norton & Company, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-62087-630-5
Hardcover
Originally published in 2011 in New Zealand under the title
So Brilliantly Clever: Parker, Hulme and the Murder That Shocked the World

From the publisher—

The spellbinding true story of Anne Perry, her friend Pauline Parker, and the brutal crime they committed in the name of friendship.

On June 22, 1954, teenage friends Juliet Hulme—better known as bestselling mystery writer Anne Perry—and Pauline Parker went for a walk in a New Zealand park with Pauline’s mother, Honora. Half an hour later, the girls returned alone, claiming that Pauline’s mother had had an accident. But when Honora Parker was found in a pool of blood with the brick used to bludgeon her to death close at hand, Juliet and Pauline were quickly arrested, and later confessed to the killing. Their motive? A plan to escape to the United States to become writers, and Honora’s determination to keep them apart. Their incredible story made shocking headlines around the world and would provide the subject for Peter Jackson’s Academy Award–nominated film, Heavenly Creatures.

A sensational trial followed, with speculations about the nature of the girls’ relationship and possible insanity playing a key role. Among other things, Parker and Hulme were suspected of lesbianism, which was widely considered to be a mental illness at the time. This mesmerizing book offers a brilliant account of the crime and ensuing trial and shares dramatic revelations about the fates of the young women after their release from prison. With penetrating insight, this thorough analysis applies modern psychology to analyze the shocking murder that remains one of the most interesting cases of all time.

We never like to think our children are capable of doing horrific things and it’s even more difficult to understand when two individuals predisposed to such acts find each other. When that happens, behavior that may never have gone beyond thoughts can become reality and this seems to have been the case with Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker. The interesting thing to me is that Juliet was considered the dominant personality and, yet, it was Pauline’s desire to kill her mother that they carried out.

Both girls thought they were “geniuses far above the common herd of mankind”, a personality trait frequently found in anti-social personality disorders. They had developed their own sort of religion in which sin could be a good thing although they didn’t appear to take it seriously; it was mostly a form of self-entertainment. Both were very narcissistic and showed no remorse when they were found out. In many ways, they mirror the 1924 case of Leopold and Loeb. As intelligent as they may have been, especially Juliet, they were really clumsy with their attack on Pauline’s mother and their ineptitude was probably due to lack of knowledge about such things but there is no doubt that impulse control was not a factor as they planned the murder in detail.

Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century is a fascinating account of a sensational case. Modern-day readers from  the US and other more “sophisticated” countries won’t recognize this as the murder of the century but it certainly was in 1950’s New Zealand. There are recognizable contributing elements such as the girls’ self-imposed isolation and their obsessive dependence on each other and it’s interesting that Juliet received much rougher treatment in prison for no apparent reason.

Overall, the accounting of Juliet’s and Pauline’s lives after prison takes a harsher approach to Juliet, who took the name of Anne Perry in an attempt at anonymity. In particular, she is painted as an icy woman even in her 70’s and, with this, I must take some exception. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Perry in 2002 at a book event and spent a few moments chatting with her over my display of her books. She was nothing but charming and friendly and I suspect that her demeanor towards readers is quite different from how she reacts to those who pry into her life. At the time that I met her, I had not heard her story but, when I did a year or two later, it did not change my opinion that she is a likeable person. I believe Anne Perry is a prime example of the young person who commits a terrible act but is able to redeem herself in later life and would never pose a threat to anyone again. I have no reason to doubt the veracity of Mr. Graham‘s account of this crime and its aftermath but it’s time to let it rest. Anne Perry’s private life is hers to protect and I’m content to just enjoy her books.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.