"There could be no doubt left in anyone's mind that my life had all the makings of a country-and-western song."
The second of seven children (with another on the way), Hallie Palmer has one dream: to make it to Vegas. Normally blessed with an uncanny gift for winning at games of chance, she's just hit a losing streak. She's been kicked out of the casino she frequents during school hours, lost all her money for a car on a bad bet at the track, and has been grounded by her parents. Hallie decides the time as come to cut her losses.
Answering an ad in the local paper, she lands a job as yard person at the elegant home of the sixty-ish Mrs. Olivia Stockton, a wonderfully eccentric rebel who scribes acclaimed poetry along with the occasional soft-core porn story. Under the same wild roof is Olivia's son, Bernard, an antiques dealer and gourmet cook who turns out mouthwatering cuisine and scathing witticisms, and Gil, Bernard's lover, whose down-to-earth sensibilities provide a perfect foil to the Stocktons' outrageous joie de vivre. Here, in this anything-goes household, Hallie has found a new family. And she's about to receive the education of her life.
From a wonderful new voice in fiction comes the freshest and funniest novel to barrel down the pike since Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Caf�. In Beginner's Luck, Laura Pedersen introduces us to the endearing oddballs and eccentrics of Cosgrove County, Ohio, who burst to life and steal our hearts-and none more so than Hallie Palmer, sixteen, savvy, and wise beyond her years, a young woman who knows life is a gamble . . . and sometimes you have to bet the house.
When Hallie Palmer, a 16-year-old gambling whiz kid, gets kicked off her Ohio high school's soccer team for skipping class, she quits school altogether. With her parents and six siblings breathing down her neck, she also decides to leave her chaotic home, hiding in the summerhouse of the Stocktons-the delightfully quirky family for whom she's just started doing yard work. Pedersen (Going Away Party), a wunderkind in her own right who had a seat on the floor of the American Stock Exchange at the age of 20, uses her financial background and expertise as a childhood card shark to concoct this buoyantly zany coming-of-age tale. Hallie is at first perplexed and then captivated by the Dickensian residents of the Stockton manse. There's the enthusiastically eccentric, multi-cause obsessed Olivia, the 62-year-old grande dame of the family who takes care of her Alzheimer's-afflicted husband; Bernard, her foppish son, who owns an antique store and is a gourmet cook of outlandish theme meals; his partner, Mr. Gil, the self-proclaimed "normal one," who is into "tooth prognostication"; and Rocky, a mixed drink-guzzling chimpanzee trained to work with paraplegics. Pedersen has a knack for capturing tart teenage observations in witty asides, and Hallie's navet, combined with her gambling and numbers savvy, make her a winning protagonist. As the first trade paperback original in the five-year-old Ballantine Reader's Circle series, this novel is funny and just quirky enough to become a word-of-mouth favorite. A preview of Pedersen's next book, an unlikely romantic comedy featuring a terminally ill Scotsman and a dying cloistered nun, also shows great promise. Agent, Judith Ehrlich. (Jan.) Forecast: Pedersen is already a TV personality with a show on Oxygen cable, Your Money & Your Life. There should be ample crossover interest from her fans. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 31, 2003
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Excerpt from Beginner's Luck by Laura Pedersen
Down and Out in Cosgrove County
It's only midafternoon and already the whole day is a bust. I may only be a sixteen-year-old girl, but I'm an experienced gambler and so I believe in probability, not luck. But on days like this, you really have to wonder.
The air is hot and still and feels like a weight up against my chest. I push down hard on the pedals of my bike because I'm so aggravated. Who does that cheapskate Mr. Exner think he is, trying to give me fifty cents apiece for Titleist golf balls that were hit twice at most? Balls I can clearly see he's repackaging as new and hawking for twelve bucks a dozen. Meantime I'm the one with leeches all over my ass after dredging the swamp otherwise known as the Municipal Golf Course. Grown-ups love to chisel teenagers because they figure we don't really need the money, that we're only going to blow it on concerts and incense. And then they wonder why we start packing automatic weapons in our lunch boxes.
However, I decide to conserve my anger for this afternoon's soccer game. Our opponents, the Timpany Tigers, are a ferocious team-tall, mean, yellow-eyed, and all elbows. They live atop one of Ohio's thirty-eight hazardous waste sites, and obviously more than a few drums of toxic chemicals have seeped into their drinking water.
It's almost two o'clock when the school parking lot comes into view. Only thoughts are churning in my head like an out-of-control slot machine, so I forget to look before hanging a Louie and therefore don't notice the handicapped school bus creeping along behind me. Fade to blacktop.
I regain muscle movement in a hailstorm. The hard white golf balls clunking against my skull have acquired the velocity of flying soup cans. Bloody gravel-flecked road pizza now decorates my palms. And though my wrists are only bruised, it feels as if I've just arm-wrestled a security guard. Both elbows of my sweater are torn, and even though this outfit can't exactly be classified as women's better sportswear, Mom will be mad that it's headed for the trash instead of her beloved hand-me-down bin.
The driver of the bus, a middle-aged man in full Mr. Rogers cardigan and khakis regalia, dashes over with a look of awestruck terror-fearful of a lawsuit, yet secretly thrilled by the job security of another rider for his specially ramp-equipped vehicle.
"Are you all right?" His radio is poised, ready to call 911.
"I'm okay. My fault." Gradually I rise and check to ascertain whether all my limbs are still attached and look around to make sure I'm not seeing double. Only I'm seeing spots. Eighty-two white spots bouncing across the blacktop and into the gully, almost fifty bucks' worth of golf balls. Do I chase after them? No. I'll miss the last class and won't be allowed to play in the soc- cer game.
After adjusting the handlebars I remount my bike. The bus driver slowly follows me into the school parking lot. Part of me wishes he would just gun it and finish me off like a lame horse. The sunny September afternoon only serves to make the dark gray cinder-block building appear even more flat and gruesome than usual, if that's possible