The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick; Algonquin Young Readers, 320 pages ($16.95). Ages 10 and up.
The winter solstice and the primitive fear of a cold, dark world abandoned by the disappearing sun is the inspiration for this marvelous fantasy-thriller-coming-of-age tale set in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.
Debut author Amy Herrick says the novel was inspired by an idea which came to her during the annual rush of activity preparing for her family’s traditional Christmas/Hanukkah/Saturnalia celebration: What if something had gotten into our world and was stealing our time, if all our minutes were just a little bit shorter, and we just hadn’t noticed it yet?
Herrick’s quartet of diverse heroes is a bit reminiscent of the four siblings in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” Edward is an orphan who lives with his Aunt Kit, an odd free spirit who is more in touch with folklore and mythology than might seem normal to his classmates. He tries hard not to be noticed at school, but a disruptive girl named Feenix invariably singles him out for bullying. The rest of the quartet is popular, friendly, athletic Danton and red-haired Brigit, who has been mute since the death of her little brother. The action begins when Edward gets an assignment to bring a glacial moraine rock to school and at the last minute he pries a strange rock from his aunt’s garden. The rock attracts the interest of Feenix, who steals the rock and then disappears and is immediately forgotten by her classmates. More strange things start to happen. Can the four keep time from disappearing?
Herrick deftly weaves many elements into her elaborate fantasy, with page-turning suspense, and even a touch of romance as the time theft gives the four a beguiling preview of their slightly older selves.
– Jean Westmoore
Heart of Palm by Laura Lee Smith; Grove Press 496 pages ($24)
“Most people never understood why Arla went and married a Bravo,” explains the resident guide-gossip in the prologue to “Heart of Palm,” Laura Lee Smith’s fine, funny first novel. It’s a voice reminiscent of Richard Russo’s (think “Mohawk” and “Empire Falls”), a likable and knowing town historian who introduces us to debutante Arla Bolton. Arla’s just 18 in 1964 when she announces her plan to wed the blackest sheep she can find in her hometown of St. Augustine: hard-drinking bad boy, Dean Bravo, whose family tree boasts rum runners, drunks and a brother doing a stretch at the state pen.
Her father is speechless. Her mother, horrified. But I love him, Arla protests. “ ‘Oh, Arla,’ ” her mother warns. “ ‘Dean Bravo? Love won’t be enough.’ ” Sure enough, by day three of their honeymoon, a freak accident ensures that nothing will ever be the same for the two lovebirds. There is ruin - it comes mercifully quick, without a lot of suspense - but it isn’t the kind we expect. It’s “a blunted, soft jolt” that could also describe the eventual disillusionment in many a marriage.
When the story picks up 40 years later, Arla, now 62, shares a home with her grown daughter, Sofia; sons Frank and Carson live nearby. Though Dean ran out on them years ago, the Bravos have done well. Their profitable waterfront restaurant in Utina, Fla., has long been the watering hole of choice for locals. Carson runs a successful investment business.
There’s just one problem: The Bravos are ready to strangle each other. So when an Atlanta developer offers a sizable fortune for all that waterfront property, is it any surprise that some want to sell and some don’t?
Early on, Arla says Dean was the “bitter medicine” that “brought her to herself.” Smith’s novel carries much the same mixed blessing. In the end - which comes with a delightful twist - the guilty pleasure of “Heart of Palm” is its steadfast tangle of rage and grief and love, a heaping dose of Southern soul with a whole lot of chutzpah thrown in.
– By Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution