Seen/Heard/Read

Mary Higgins Clark, a True Writer

I saw the news that Mary Higgins Clark had peacefully passed away at age 92, with her friends and family near her. At first, of course, you don’t quite believe it, seeing as how this author has been around for so long and for so many readers. Decades of reading memories in my own family are attached to her unforgettable suspense thrillers, and my bookshelves are full of her novels that I pick up again and again and again.

Reading was and continues to be an enormous part of my life. As a child I was always curious about what the rest of the family was reading and I vividly remember my mother being immersed in the newest Mary Higgins Clark, a sight that I continued to enjoy year after year. I would ask her what she enjoyed so much about the novels and we would talk about different points as I grew up. Later on I’d see my father and my sisters with a new thriller in their hands. Once begun, the book was impossible to put down and I’ve been known to read some of her novels in one day. We would talk about whether we had guessed “who did it” and which bits scared us so much that we didn’t want to turn the lights out.

Some volumes from the family library made their way to my own after I moved away from home. Others I collected by myself since my university years, browsing second-hand bookstores for older novels, regularly checking international sections in bookstores across Europe after the release date for a new book was announced. It was so exciting. One of my favourite gifts ever was a beautiful autographed copy of The Shadow of Your Smile from my mother.

Mary Higgins Clark was not only a truly gifted writer and creator of suspense in her stories, but she also brought to life so many memorable characters. Menley in Remember Me, Celia in No Place Like Home, Maggie in Moonlight Becomes You, Ellie in Daddy’s Little Girl, Laurie in the Under Suspicion series, written with the talented Alafair Burke. How lovely and poignant that Laurie got her happy ending. The list of characters we grow attached to goes on and on. It includes both men and women, children, older characters. The people our characters have lost remain just as vivid through recollections of past actions, things said that contributed to where our heroines and heroes find themselves when we open the book.

While suspense thrillers build the bulk of fiction written by Mary Higgins Clark, she is also the author of many gripping short stories, an autobiography of her amazing life titled Kitchen Privileges, and she has co-authored several lovely books with her daughter Carol Higgins Clark, a successful and gifted writer in her own right.

You start to create and image of what your favourite author is like as you read more and more of their works, then actually find out about their life. Mary Higgins Clark was amazingly prolific and successful as a writer, but her life story is truly an example of not only a gifted storyteller, but a woman of exceptional strength and depth. All the hardships she experienced didn’t take away any of her vivacious joy of living, the drive to overcome.

A full life well lived, no unfinished business, a treasure trove of stories to keep forever, a true grande dame in more ways than one. Simply and from the heart, thank you, Mary Higgins Clark.

 

 

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Seen/Heard/Read

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

I switched off the light, and lay there thinking how all my sisters teased me about being the spiritual snowflake of the family. I couldn’t really blame them, because when I was young I didn’t understand that I was ‘different’, so I’d just speak about the things that I saw or felt.

I don’t remember exactly how I discovered The Seven Sisters books by Lucinda Riley – the cover of the first one might have been popping up in various social media feeds until I read about it and got curious, but a few months later here I am, finished reading book five, The Moon Sister, in this absorbing, detailed series with a myriad of stories about six sisters separately adopted and lovingly raised by a mysterious man in a beautiful Swiss mansion. The women are all named after the the Seven Sisters constellation and The Moon Sister is about the second youngest, Taygete, or Tiggy d’Aplièse.

It’s Christmas shortly into the novel, and it was also Christmas when I opened the book, which strengthened the feeling of being immersed in Tiggy’s experiences early on. The story sweeps between rural Scotland in the winter and sun-drenched Spain (both past and present), two contrasting countries, but with common themes of second sight and intuition coming alive through the characters living there. Tiggy is open to what comes her way, all the while listening to her instincts with quiet acceptance. She’s calmly assured in her introversion, yet she’s sociable and empathetic at the same time.

Like her other sisters, Tiggy is not only discovering the (as always mesmerizing and rooted in exciting history) truth of her parentage and heritage, but also learning to be truly independent while remaining connected to the people she grew up with as a family. She has a distinctive voice and it’s easy to hear. Tiggy’s book is satisfyingly thick, like the other novels in the series, and I asked myself why it reads so quickly, besides obviously being a very engaging and well written story. The answer is, perhaps, that the novel is not overdone with length in individual scenes, even when we think there could be more said – this works with packing in multiple storylines and timelines in one book. The history in the novel is not heavy, while based on fact and clearly excellent research, it conveys what it was, namely a real life lived by Tiggy’s ancestor at the time.

The landscapes in Scotland and the views from Granada in Spain, as we see the city through Tiggy’s eyes, come alive with the same exhiliration that she feels. It’s easy to imagine walking down paths and streets with her as she comes closer to uncovering the story of her birth, and there’s a disarming quality about her kindness and introspective connection to the world around her. As with the previous books, I might just have to go back and re-read after a while.

 

 

 

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Thoughts

Once a YA Reader…

I happened on a Goodreads post about ways to know you’re a YA reader, and felt inspired to make my own notes, because, yeeees, I belong to that tribe (among other genres that I pursue). My thoughts tended to drift in the direction of asking why one might remain a YA reader even after (possibly) exiting the general target audience.

Young, frequently teenage characters arrive at decisions and gain insights we’re still glad about at our age (whichever that may be), with the advantage of settling crucial life lessons way before their 30s and often in a short period of time jam-packed with social activities or even supernatural events.

If it’s fantasy, characters might be of age earlier than us, or age might not be a determining factor at all, otherwise circumstances are introduced which render the character able to do all sorts of things that wouldn’t have been possible if every single law and reality check went through. But that’s why it’s fiction!

Unlike for your own adolescence or early 20s, there’s actually a script for this one.

YA characters are always on the cusp of something breathtaking, dramatic or even life-changing in any setting – bring it on.

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How to Talk to a Woman Reading

No Means No, It Doesn’t Matter How Women Say It by Amna Saleem was immediately familiar to me as soon as I read the article. As she described the persistent attention of a man who approached her  with offers of a drink, despite the fact that she was reading a book and repeatedly declined politely, I was nodding along. I remembered various situations both when I was younger and older, and reading about the mocking responses of the irritating would-be suitor, I also remembered those I had heard myself, among them such as “Don’t you ever smile?” and “So what’s your boyfriend’s name?”

But the article and the author’s mention of some of the nicer Tweets she got from readers got me thinking on another topic. How can a man talk to a woman reading in a public place without seeming like a persistent creep? Or how would the non-creeps do it? Here’s an opinion.

My heartfelt suggestion to men who really want to speak to a woman reading would be to follow this example of what to say to her:

Excuse me/ sorry, hi, sorry to bother you, but I just noticed you are reading * insert name of book here * and I’m thinking of getting it for my father/ mother/ sister/ brother/ cousin/ friend. Could you tell me if it’s good/ what you think of it so far?”

If she answers your question, but doesn’t offer anything else, thank her, wish her pleasant reading and BACK OFF.

If a conversation follows, participate, but don’t overdo it with attention or suggestions, drop a bookshop tip or two, or ask her.

A woman reading in a restaurant, cafe, on a park bench or anywhere else outside of the home that’s sufficiently lit is not looking for a way to mask that she is alone, nor is she self-conscious about sitting by herself. Even if she is, that’s her business. She isn’t begging for persistent, even aggressive attention. She might be waiting for someone, she might have had a long day and just needs an escape for a while. Or she just wants to read, dammit.

The point is, she chose this space, this time and this book by herself, for herself. This needs to be respected.

I love to read and I make a goal out of taking myself somewhere beyond my home to do this. I like to interact with the outside world just as much as I like to withdraw from it sometimes. I need to look up from my book after a while, I most certainly need to eat and drink. Like the author of the article, possibly, I also enjoy looking at something other than my phone to fill my time.

It’s not that a woman reading in a public place, or anyone, can’t be approached at all. But this is a specific situation that merits thinking about.

If she’s reading, she intends to concentrate. The only person who is allowed to break that concentration is the one she might be waiting for. Unless they are both meeting up to read together. The fact that she has a book with her means she’s occupied. She picked something to do.

Anyone being approached by someone deserves politeness and respect, as well as some amount of distance at the beginning of communication, especially when it’s about talking to strangers.

That’s it. And no really does mean no.

 

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Seen/Heard/Read

Mary Higgins Clark Reading Spree: What I Learned

Besides the fact that I can accomplish the things I set my mind to?! Again! Hair flip! Another TICK on the list! Drumroll! All that good stuff. Using bookmarks like I mean it and reading standing up between the parts that making breakfast consits of. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride.

But in all seriousness. . . This is one of my favourite writers I’m talking about here. Her books have accompanied me multiple times from my early teens in to adulthood, providing new viewpoints both on the novels themselves and life as I was experiencing it with every read.

This year I set out to reread all the suspense novels she had written so far that I had on my bookshelf, starting with the terrifying debut Where Are The Children and finishing with one of her latest, All By Myself, Alone. The novels span several decades of publishing, from the mid-seventies to today. After spending time with 34 books from January to mid-November, what have I learned?

Mary Higgins Clark has the gift. Her prose is seamless, structured, not overloaded, her descriptions are spot-on and her storytelling skills are mesmerizing. She knows how to draw a reader in.

Stand-out qualities in the pages she has written include a steady, continuous sense of sincere empathy – there are words and descriptions you simply cannot fake. There’s also a clear distinction between right and wrong, even good and evil, if you will. She writes with honesty and precision, but without preaching, deftly interweaving and examining complicated issues within the story.

Her books are a compliment to the intelligent reading experience, with plenty of visibly solid research that becomes an integral part of the story without reading like a lecture or textbook even when something needs to be explained. The experts in her novels are believable, and readers end up becoming curious about various topics not just due to the strong plot. From American history in various regions to actual famous murder cases, to burial customs, to reincarnation, to biblical scholarship, the palette is a colorful one.

It’s refreshing to have an author, and a bestselling one at that, who writes about relatable and likable heroines who are still as compelling and complex, just as much as any other. Their likability makes us see ourselves or someone we know in them, and this is part of the reason we get hooked. The “good girl” also has a place in literature. Most of us have known or know women like those who are at the center of Mary Higgins Clark’s novels. Many of us are like them, hard-working, at times struggling, faced with hard circumstances and loss, holding on to values and integrity, even sanity, loving with fear and sincerity at the same time and fighting for a sense of self in a difficult world.

I have discovered something for myself in every novel, but as in most cases of continued reading, a few already well-thumbed favourites that I know I will pick up again and again are on my list. These are Remember Me, Moonlight Becomes You, On The Street Where You Live, Daddy’s Little Girl, No Place Like Home. Some of the reasons for these gems topping the list include heroines with creative professions, among them writing, a house with a tragic past, sisterhood, parenthood, family ties and dealing with loss, developing love stories. And heck, the crime.

Mary Higgins Clark is turning 90 this year and in a recent interview she made it clear that she has no intention to stop writing – YES! People will still ask her why she does it. She loves it and gets paid well for it! I want to punch the air and say Atta girl!

Now I have to go buy her newest novel Every Breath You Take, which came out while I was busy finishing my reading spree. The journey continues!

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