fin and lady


In the same conversational style as The Three Weissmanns of Westport, Catherine Schine creates a story about an orphaned boy and his irrepressible fun-loving guardian in New York City – a modern “Mame” – in her short novel, Fin and Lady.

After his mother dies, eleven year-old Fin leaves the comfort of a farm in Connecticut to live with his wealthy half-sister, Lady, in Greenwich Village.  Twenty-three year old Lady, the family black sheep, provides Fin with a reading list, enrolls him in an unconventional bohemian school – the progressive New Flower, and enlists his help in deciding which of three suitors she should marry before she is twenty-five.

Although the plot sounds frivolous, Schine manages to channel the changing times from the sixties through the Vietnam War era, and reveal the insecurities of the main characters as they support each other in navigating their lives.  Supporting characters add humor to the unlikely escapades, some fitting nicely into the stereotypes that Schine uses to skillfully create expectations that never materialize: the Hungarian refugee and art dealer Biffi; the ascot-wearing lawyer Tyler; the Yale-educated Jack; Biffi’s Hungarian mother who hides her jewels in a paper bag of stale cookies; Mabel, Lady’s maid with an attitude.

In addition to the highlights of New York City as Lady tours Fin through the museums, art galleries, shops, and restaurants, Schine offers flowing descriptions of Capri, when Lady escapes to find true love:

“The town was full of steps and alleys. Enormous lemons hung from vines. The beach was tiny, the harbor full of brightly painted boats. There were dolphins one day. The sun was high and hot… Everything seemed enchanted.”

The narrator of this love story is unclear until she is revealed later in the story, and, at times, I found myself backtracking – thinking the author had missed a typo in the narrative – when the mysterious voice intermittently inserts an opinion.  Otherwise, this short read is humorous and disconcerting – a happy ending but a sad life.

Related PostThe Three Weissmanns of Westport

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The Secret Room

9781616089603_p0_v1_s260x420Within the framework of an adventurous fantasy, Antonia Michaelis addresses the heart wrenching sadness of parents losing a child, and the quest of an adopted boy trying to belong, in her book for middle school readers – The Secret Room.

Achim, an eleven year old orphan, is adopted by Paul and Ines whose four-year-old son, Arnim, died seven years earlier.  Achim discovers a secret room in his new home that has kept the dead boy’s spirit a prisoner.  With Achim fighting off an evil powerful monster, the Nameless One, while aided by talking birds, and transforming himself into a brave, fearless fighter who can fly like a bird, the suspense of his quest sustains interest in the adventure.  A young reader might easily attend more to his dramatic feats than to the underlying message that subtly seeps in between the lines.

Michaelis cleverly uses metaphors for the parents’ sadness to frame the images of lives trapped by the horror of an untimely death.  Clearly, only their ability to move on with their lives will free both their son’s memory as well as allow them to continue living in the present.  Achim, their newly adopted son is the key, as he battles his own insecurities and rises to be the hero who saves all, including himself.

I received this book to review from the publisher, and it sat on a pile for over a month.  The book jacket summary did not incline me to rush to read it, but perhaps the timing was fortuitous.  As parents and older siblings are now struggling to cope with the aftermath of the horrific murders of first graders in Connecticut, the message of this book seems timely.  Although Achim defeats the Nameless One in the end, he notes:

“…he would always exist. People would keep dying and other people wouldn’t be able to let them go.”

The book ends happily with Achim finding a new family, new friends, and himself – finally free of the worry that he will be sent back to the orphanage.  The touching moments when Achim’s parents appear as birds to help him will have adults tearing up, and the excitement of defeating the villain will appeal to the middle grade audience.

As a coping vehicle for parents helping children and themselves recover from the death of someone young, this book could also become a valuable resource.

10 Reasons I Liked Maurice Sendak

10 Reasons I liked Maurice Sendak:

  1. He was gruff and tough and reminded me of my short grandfather.
  2. He wrote honestly and never talked down to children.
  3. He was a natural talent, never taking a class in how to write or how to draw.
  4. He grew up in Brooklyn and lived in Connecticut.
  5. He stayed with his partner for 50 years.
  6. He loved dogs.
  7. He laughed when the librarians drew a diaper on his drawing of a naked baby.
  8. He scowled when they tried to ban his books.
  9. He reinvented himself in old age, designing scenery for operas.
  10. He inspired children; he inspired me.


I was hoping to see him return to the Colbert Report, but his endorsement (The sad thing is, I like it) of Colbert’s “I Am A Pole” book on his first visit will always be one of my favorite shows.

Luckily, he left behind lots of books with his signature style.

Related Post: Review of Bumble-ardy