Thursday, December 17, 2020

Lucy's Floundering in Possibilities #amwriting



 LUCY BURDETTE: I have just finished reading an advance copy of Rhys’s April book, THE VENICE SKETCHBOOK—you have such a treat ahead of you! But I mention that not to gloat, but because she’s so good at telling a story over several time periods using several points of view. I’m musing over how to do exactly that with this lump of an idea that I have. I’m at the awkward point where many directions are possible—how to choose the ones that will best tell the story? Here's what I know...


I’m pretty sure two characters, Betty and her daughter Winifred, will narrate the story. And it will take place in Paris and New Haven. I know these characters exist because they appeared in the book that is presently in my agent’s hands. But there is so much to find out about them, not to mention how to structure the book. And what kinds of bigger secrets might be involved with the Frenchman to whom both are tethered?


It’s kind of overwhelming. Thoughts, suggestions, brainstorms all most welcome! Here are the tiniest and roughest little snippets…



Betty, April



Betty was certain she had French blood in her veins. What else would explain how she’d begged her parents to let her spend half of her junior year in Paris although they had already paid full tuition to her private women’s college? Even though French was not useful in her current life other than in names of recipes, she subscribed to several 'news in French' podcasts and had a weekly standing appointment with a senior citizen in a Parisian elderhome who was happy to let her practice. 

And how else could she explain the intense but disastrous affair with a young Frenchman that had ensued in Paris, followed by the unexpected pregnancy that she’d been totally unprepared to handle? He'd been handsome and slender and so romantic, and he could cook like a dream. That part at least she knew was still true, because she'd followed his career through three restaurants, two cookbooks, a Michelin star, and three wives.   


Winifred, April


The birthday cake that birth mother, Betty, (BMB, that’s what she’d dubbed her privately) had presented on their second meeting was perfect, a light-yellow sponge, not the least bit dry, frosted with thick mocha butter cream. Happy Birthday Darling Winifred! had been piped in French chocolate across the top of the cake. And pink fondant hearts floated around the edges and drifted down the sides. It was the most beautiful and perfect homemade rendition of her favorite cake ever. 

Baked and decorated by the mother who had given her away when she was less than 24 hours old.

At first, she’d been overwhelmed with gratitude and excitement at the idea of meeting her biological mother. But by the time their second coffee date arrived, taking place in the adorable new cafe where BMB cooked and jabbered with her girlfriends, complete with the perfect cake, her anger began to prickle and then surge. How does a woman take care of her baby through nine months of pregnancy, suffer through labor and delivery, and then hand the little bundle—the size and lumpy shape of a beginner’s loaf of sourdough bread—off to a stranger? It didn't compute. 



Lucy again: That's about all I know! How do you feel about more than one point of view in a novel? Any favorite books that handled this especially well? Ideas about the mysterious Frenchman?




Breaking news: Lucy's latest, THE KEY LIME CRIME, is featured today on First Chapter Fun, the brainchild of our own Hank, plus Hannah Mary McKinnon. Join the fun today on Facebook live and Instagram live, 12:30 pm!





83 comments:

  1. This is so intriguing, Lucy . . . I can’t wait to find out how everything works out between Betty and Winifred . . . .

    Most of the time I enjoy stories with multiple points of view [“The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” by Mitch Albom is a particular favorite]. It’s always interesting to see how the same situation is interpreted [often so differently] by the two characters . . . .

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    1. thanks Joan! I remember an editor warning me years ago that using two (or more) points of view, you break the connection with the reader each time you change. What I wouldn't want is people getting bored or disgusted and setting the book aside!

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    2. What? The editor said that? If your reader has connections to both characters it won't matter.

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    3. Yeah, I'm going to say that's bum advice. I had a book with EIGHT viewpoint characters, and no one complained. Think of something like GRRM's SONG OF ICE AND FIRE saga, with more main, viewpoint characters than I can count! It certainly hasn't kept readers from connected to them.

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    4. That's the goofiest thing I've ever heard, Lucy! And I certainly want to know BOTH Betty and Winifred's stories!

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  2. I enjoy multiple viewpoints. They have to be done well, for me the biggest thing is knowing which person is our view point character for a scene. Random switching will drive me absolutely crazy. But when it is done well, I love it.

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    1. Me too on random switching Mark. I'm reading a book now with two characters--she only changes POV between chapters, and they're marked with the name and date.

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    2. Lucy, I like the way you want to change POV. I have no doubt that you'll manage this perfectly.

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    3. Lucy, your mention of marking with name and date sent me back to reread the snippet. My first read through had April as a third woman. That’s what I get for coming so late to Jungle Reds.

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  3. Oh, Lucy, this going to be so good. So much there in just that one snippet to grab my interest and have me wanting more. I’m interested in how Betty cooks in a small cafe while her French lover, Winifred’s father, has gone on to be a a major player in the food world. And, how did Betty and Winifred find each other?

    I like the story told from more than one point of view. Different characters filling in parts of the story and knowing things a character doesn’t.

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    1. Yes Kathy, that would be the exciting thing--having characters know different parts of the story. With my Key West books, I can only write what Hayley knows!

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  4. Wow, Lucy, this new book idea is intriguing, and I hope you go for it.
    Any book set in Paris has my interest.

    But you are just taking a break from KW and Hayley, right?

    I also enjoy reading a story with multiple viewpoints.
    Like Mark and Kathy said above, when it is done well, it can really enrich the story.

    Is it also going to include different time periods?
    One great read that did both well was JRW's Julia.
    Hid From Our Eyes was brilliant!


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    1. Agree about Hid from Our Eyes, Grace!

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    2. Me too on Paris, Grace! and yes taking a short break on Key West while I think about this project. I remember HID FROM OUR EYES being terrific, will have to reread.

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    3. Thank you, Grace! I think the way to handle multiple timelines is to have a firm grip on the structure of the story. It took a lot of work for me to figure out the architecture of HID FROM OUR EYES.

      The real tour de force of layering timelines: THE TIME TRAVELERS WIFE.

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  5. Of course you have challenges ahead, but how lucky to have these two characters in your head! So many possibilities. The first book I remember paying attention to multiple POVs in was Poisonwood Bible. Kingsolver makes the voices so distinct, I never got lost starting a new chapter or wondered who was speaking, even though they weren't labeled.

    I've written only one book in two POVs and once I got into the rhythm of it, I liked the challenge. (It's out on submission now, so fingers crossed!)

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    1. Fingers crossed Edith! I did read the Poisonwood Bible but have no memory of the characters!

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    2. Edith how exciting! Tell us more about the book you have out. Is it finished? Not being familiar with publishing process, what stage is it?

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    3. It's a historical mystery. It's finished, edited, and as polished as I can get it, and is out with a three-book proposal. I don't want to jinx it by saying more than that.

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  6. Roberta, this sounds great. Especially in this day and age when there are so many ways to find your family. The questions to answer include who was looking? how did she do it? why? and a hundred others.

    As for two voices, I like it if the voices are distinct. I love stories told in first person or narrated with two points of view. Deb does it all the time. And stories told with different time frames usually work well. I am excited about your challenge.

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    1. Of course Debs does this brilliantly! Thanks for your kind words.

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    2. Agreed, Debs does this well all the time!

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    3. Thank you all! I just finished a chapter with four POVs. But I'm a stickler for not changing POV WITHIN a scene, and for making clear at the very beginning of the scene whose head we are in. It's a great way to advance a story, but you really have to keep track of the threads.

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  7. Since I write a series with two different viewpoints, I'd say I'm okay with it. :)

    This is a great beginning. I can't wait to see where Betty and Winifred go from here!

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    1. Thanks Liz. Did you start out writing different viewpoints, or have you switched to that?

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    2. I started out with different viewpoints. The Laurel Highland stories always came to me in that way. It wasn't until I started writing the Homefront series that I did first person.

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  8. Lucy, this sounds fabulous, very intriguing. Multiple viewpoints are fine as long as they are well handled and enhance the story. Julia does it very well, always keeping the story going forward while we see through Claire's and Russ's eyes.

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  9. Roberta—so fascinating! What genre is it—women’s fiction/book club ? All my non-Charlotte books are multiple POV—and THE FIRST TO LIE and THE MURDER LIST have dual timelines. The new book too. I think the he key is to “be there “ in the now of both times. The past is not a flashback—it’s the present. SO excited about this!

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    1. Such a great way to think about it Hank, thank you! Yes, it's women's fiction/book club

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  10. First, I love this beginning. Though I became immediately defensive of Betty. My older sister had to give up twin boys at birth because...well, because it was 1969 and without a LOT of family support, keeping an illegitimate baby just wasn't possible. That unwanted pregnancy and having to give away the babies completely changed the trajectory of her life, and there was never a moment when she didn't wish she could have kept them. Happily, when she reconnected with them she learned they had been raised by adoptive parents who told them that their mother was someone who "loved them so much she made the biggest sacrifice any mother could make for them." (When I later met their adoptive mother and told her how much that had meant to our family, she told me that back in the day, they gave them almost no information about the birth mother, so she didn't know if it was actually true -- just that it was what her boys needed to hear.)

    On the multiple points of view, I will say that at my book club last month, there was some grousing about how it seems like that's all anyone is writing anymore. It feels like most of our selections have featured multiple points of view, often across multiple timelines. Someone lamented, "Why can't we just read a straight story as it unfolds for a change?" Just throwing that out there as it surprised me a bit and I thought it might surprise you, too.

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    1. Susan, what you wrote about your sister, her sons and the adoptive mother brought tears to my eyes. There are such good peoples in the world.

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    2. Your comments about your sister and her babies are so important to keep in mind--and I would hope that Winifred comes to that realization over the course of the book.

      And I'm not surprised to hear about the grumbling, because I admit to enjoying a straightforward story too. Especially if I prefer one of the characters!

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    3. I do love a good straightforward story, too, but it's sort of apples and oranges--no reason why you can't enjoy both. I just read a draft of Marcia Talley's new Hannah Ives book, coming out next spring, and she does such a great job with a first person narrative. But I love long complicated books, too!

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  11. And multiple POV s allow so much depth and irony and drama and suspense because the reader knows more than the characters do.

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  12. I love a good story with multiple POV and timelines--you're right--so many ways to go with this story. Just go for it! And if you travel too far along one road and don't like where it goes, ditch it and come back to the part you do like. I think it was Julia once talking about having to pull a draft apart so she could see where each part was going, then weave them all together again.

    The mysterious Frenchman? Eh--fancy chef, loser life so far (three wives doesn't speak well to his character). Just please don't make this "and they lived happily ever after--Winifred, Betty, and Frenchman". Make them work for the ending!!

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  13. Sounds great so far. Ann Cleeves juggles multiple POV's seamlessly. Can you write individual character narratives and then weave them together?

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    1. that's what I'm wondering...maybe it would be easier to write each pov in the story separately and then figure out how to do the weaving?

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    2. Hmm. Interesting question. But I think you might lose some of the tension of the stories playing off against each other, if that makes sense.

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  14. I kind of let my stories tell themselves. If I have one strong protagonist, I have one point of view. But if I have two strong protagonists, each with an equal stake in the outcome, I'll break into multiple points of view. You have two strong women in Betty and Winnifred. They have equally urgent questions to answer, and an intriguing conflict in what they want those answers to be. I think you owe it to them to give each her own voice. If your readers want each of them to reach a happy ending, we won't mind switching from one to the other. In fact, if you leave me with a big ol' cliffhanger for Betty, I might jump ahead to see that she's okay before going back to catch up with Winnifred. But I will go back to catch up with Winnifred because I care about how her story is unfolding, too.

    The only time I have ever had a problem with multiple viewpoints was once when an author hit me with so many POVs--I think it got up to eight or so--in such tiny snippets of scenes that I never latched on to anybody, and was completely worn out before I got 50 pages into the book. I had to put that one down.

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    1. Exactly Gigi, too many POV can be exhausting. But I did exactly what you described last night with the current book I'm reading, RECIPE FOR A PERFECT WIFE. I had to skip ahead to make sure one character was ok before I kept reading...

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    2. I think multiple viewpoints are particularly effective when you're dealing with the kind of emotional topics we wrestle with in women's fiction/book club type novels and romances, where all sides have life-changing personal issues to wrestle with. As Julia pointed out, multi-POV is also really common in SF/F novels.

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    3. I suppose the real question is, will this be first person or third person?

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  15. So perfect! Competing viewponts... Both of these characters are likeable but we can see trouble ahead. Great start! I want to know what happens next... what secrets will be revealed that will either unite them or put them at one another's throats?

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  16. Intriguing teaser, Roberta! So much tension set up already, in just a couple short paragraphs.

    Sounds like a good way to implement Hallie's definition of plot: revealing the story in bits and pieces. Yes, The Poisonwood Bible did this so well. Kingsolver crafts the daughters' voices so differently, and of course, the mom's, too. Their separate perceptions of the father--whose voice is conspicuously absent--pull the story forwatd.

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    1. thanks Karen--I may have to go back and reread TPB, though I remember not loving it the first time through. (that's probably a bad thing to say:)

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    2. Well, as brilliantly written as it was, it's a rough story to get through. So I totally understand.

      When I first saw it I resisted reading it until Steve and I met Barbara Kingsolver's parents. When I gushed about Barbara's books her mother asked if I'd read TPB, and when I said I hadn't she said "You must. It's her best, by far." So how could I not?

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  17. It will be brilliant as long as we know whose point of view it is. I can tell by your preview that we will so I look forward to reading it. I just hate when you have to guess who is talking and where and when it is .
    Also almost anything in Paris has me at the word "go" after living there for a few years.

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  18. Don’t forget don’t forget! Lucie is featured on first chapter fun today! So make sure you come to Facebook or Instagram, first chapter fun, to hear the first chapter of Key Lime Crime! We read at 12:30 PM Eastern – – all you have to do is go to Instagram at first chapter fun, or join the first chapter fun group on Facebook! Do it now! I will accept your membership right now!

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    1. thanks Hank, I totally forgot to mention this! But can't wait!

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  19. Lots of exclamation marks above, I realize. :-)

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  20. Stories of mothers and babies and adoption always draw me in when the telling includes a realistic and compassionate portrayal of the context and situation. I have no first-hand experience of any of it, but I certainly have immense compassion for those who have lived it. When an author takes it on, it must ring true.

    Having multiple POVs in a story is fine for me as a reader, though I echo what others have said about it needing to be signaled for ease of following by my poor tired brain (I tend to read at night, in bed, when tired) and also to be organic to the story itself. In some multiple POV stories, I have felt like the author didn't want to bother with continuity between chapters, so chose multiple POVs to make sense of the discontinuities. Clearly no JRWs involved in that!

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    1. Yes, I read at night too Amanda, so it's a recipe for trouble if the changes in POV aren't easy to follow.

      And absolutely yes on making sure the adoption story rings true

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  21. These are super intriguing characters, Lucy, and I love the little stinger at the end of Betty's section, "because she'd followed his career through three restaurants, two cookbooks, a Michelin star, and three wives." Zing! It made me instantly want to find out more.

    I think a lot of women who came of age in the late seventies onward have no real conception (no pun intended) of just how culturally BAD it was for a woman to have a child out of wedlock. Griswold v. Connecticut was in 1965, and by 1975 the world had utterly changed. The shame and the structural barriers that for centuries had made it so difficult for unmarried women to keep their children for just vanished, in the space of a decade. suspect unless a young woman read up on that history, she'd have a hard time really getting it.

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    1. LOL on the stinger Julia! I want to find out more too:)

      And to your second point, as I have imagined this so far, the adoption would have taken place around 2000. So I better have a very good reason for why Betty gave this baby up...

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    2. Julia, I can remember, in the sixties, girls who 'went to stay with an aunt' for the summer--there were always whispers and sometimes those girls would not come back to finish school in their hometown. Or the ones who dropped out of school and married and kept their babies, and neither they nor the boys ever returned to finish school. Different times.

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    3. Lucy, I want to point out, the name "Betty" made me sure her story was taking place in the 50s or early 60s. If she's a young mother in 2000, it's extraordinarily unlikely she'd be a Betty - most Bettys were in their 40s or 50s at that point!

      If she's an Elizabeth, it's far more likely she'd be called Lisa or Beth (or maybe Lizzy, which started to crop up in the 90s.)

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    4. Lucy, this really bothered me, too. Unless perhaps it was a family name, and that was explained? It would be easy to make her Beth. My maternal aunt was a Betty, and my cousin named her daughter Betty Kate, but she goes by Kate.

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    5. My cousin Betty was born in 1950, so that name didn't bother me. But the name Winifred seems very old-fashioned for the daughter. Maybe Jennifer would be more likely.

      Sorry, Roberta!

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    6. I like Winifred. I think it's just old-fashioned enough to have been popular again in 1980. But Betty I don't think has ever had a resurgence. We have a neighbor toddler named Clementine, btw! What a hoot!

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  22. Oh Happy Day! Lucy/Roberta is bringing life to other characters. You know Reds, I never had a much of a feel for Paris, but after 6 years reading about the ambiance I am leaning in..
    I am certain the creator of the Key West series is up to the challenge of a multiple POV. looking forward to hearing more about this WIP.

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  23. I love this excerpt, Lucy, and I'm thrilled that you are picking up Betty's and Winifred's stories. I have no doubt that you can handle two POVs! And Paris! Do they get to go to Paris? I'm all in!

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    1. oh yes we are all going to Paris...and London...and Scotland and lots of other places!

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  24. I don't mind multiple points of view in a book, as long as it's labeled. I've read books where the chapter told you who was speaking.

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  25. I like multiple perspectives, Lucy. You find out interesting tidbits from the characters in their observances of shared events. I love how Betty has been "stalking" her lover over the years. And I agree with the others about her name. Betty doesn't seem like the right name unless there is a back story to that. Although BMB is perfect!

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  26. You have me intrigued, Lucy! I love multiple points of view. It gives the author more room to play and let's the reader experience the story from more than one perspective! Can't wait to read more!

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  27. Both our children are adopted. Our son is not particularly "impressed" by that fact.
    Our daughter has found it to have more of an impact. Around 14 when her phycological poop hit the fan we found out that girl adoptees tend to have more challenges adjusting to having "been given up." They know the logic of birth mothers who, for various reasons, couldn't cope with a child--poverty, illness, lack of support, etc. But the logic does not always balance out the gut level feeling of abandonment.
    So your character's feelings on the second visit with BMB are very real.

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    1. Exactly Libby! Knowing the logic of a decision does not change the emotional reactions to it. thanks for sharing...

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  28. One of the most unusual books I've ever read is "Songs of the Humpback Whale" by Jodi Picoult. It is the same story told from the viewpoint of 5 different characters. In many cases, the exact scene is repeated at scattered places throughout--and to complicate matters, the mother tells the story in a normal, forward-moving manner, but the daughter relates everything chronologically backwards. So while Jane tells what happened on July 3 in the front of the book, Rebecca is relating what happened on August 2. It was somewhat disorienting, to say the least. I've really liked other books by this author, but wasn't crazy about this one. It felt like an experiment for a writing class.

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  29. Lucy,

    I look forward to reading your Paris story.

    Diana

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