OK, it's book reviewlet time again. I have been in a slump, fellow readers. Nothing much is really grabbing me, and some of what I'm reading is really letting me down. But before I start on what's bugging me, I'll kick off with something completely excellent.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
First off, this is Mr. Bradley's first book, though he's written a memoir and a lot of articles, and he's like, 70 years old I think. Tres inspiring. AND the book has already won The Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award. It's the first novel (with hopefully many to come) starring Flavia De Luce, a 12-year-old chemist and aspiring crime solver, and is set in post-war England. Flavia is the first to find a murdered stranger, lying in the cucumber bed of the family estate. Days before, a jacksnipe was left on the doorstep with a postage stamp in its beak. How are the two events related? Is Flavia's father somehow involved? Flavia herself is no ordinary girl--I wanted to write down a lot of my favorite quotes, but then the book became overdue at the library and I had already stored it in the swim bag, slightly water-damaging it (my sincere apologies, public library!), so I really needed to get it off my hands. However, here is one to whet your appetite:
"If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as 'dearie.' When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to 'Cyanide,' I am going to put under 'Uses' the phrase 'Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one "Dearie."'"
The next Flavia book comes out on March 9 and is titled The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. Mr. Bradley is working on the third installment, called A Red Herring Without Mustard. So, rush to get the first one, and you'll be all caught up. Oh, and you can visit Flavia here as well.
The next few I'll group together. I got on this kick of reading books that had recipes with them. You know how you order one book and then amazon will tell you others that are kind of like it? That's how I fell into that. Unfortunately, most of them were just lame chick lit. They are as follows:
The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal--cliched and trite. Girl is a chef and loses her job and can't find love. Oh, and has a hidden sadness. Girl gets handpicked to become executive chef by restaurant mogul. Girl faces all sorts of trials and tribulations as executive chef but triumphs brilliantly. Alas, still no love because of the hidden sadness. Can anything break through her sad, lonely shell? Why, yes, of course, restaurant mogul can. And all is well. Bleah. It's a Kate Hudson movie in book form. Also, quite a few people ask me for recommendations of Christian fiction. Heads up: this is definitely not it. Just sayin'.
Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Rich socialite gets dumped by cheating husband. She tries to find the one thing that ever made her happy besides being married to cheating, rich husband. Why, making bread of course. She magically gets a new job and new life, doing the very thing she loves and getting paid for it!! (does this ever happen in real life? No. As Drew Carey says, "Oh, you hate your job? There's a support group for that. It's called 'Everyone,' and we meet at the bar.") Somewhere in there she meets a rugged, handsome man who heals her heart from cheating husband, but honestly, I don't even know much about it because I tossed the book without finishing it. But you know that happens. C'mon. You know.
World of Pies by Karen Stolz. This was the best of the bunch. It covers the life of Roxanne, from Annette, Texas, from the age of 12 to 32. Each chapter is a stand-alone short story, but they all form snapshots of her life. It's all right, and there are some good recipes in there too. It's an extremely quick and easy read.
Here's one that someone lent to me. I don't usually read American thrillers, but I wanted to because of the whole friend lending thing.
Shutter Island by Dennis LeHane. This is actually a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, I believe, and is by the same author of Mystic River (another book/movie I haven't read/seen). I have to say, I had a hard time putting this down. It's about a U.S. Marshal and his partner who go to an island off the coast of New England to investigate a disappearance at a facility for the criminally insane. It seems she has vanished into thin air. While there, the marshals soon learn there is a lot more going on than just a missing crazy lady. I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars because it held my interest. I had to suspend my disbelief big time (not that I have a problem doing that), but the ending was pretty contrived--as many holes as a colander. But...if you're at the airport and you see this and you have a long wait with nothing to read, it's worth picking up.
I've also done two rereads this month by Maeve Binchy. I just love her old stuff. If you've never read her and you're put off by her Oprah connections (I'm telling you, her writing went way downhill after Oprah chose her to be in her book club), definitely check out her older novels. She can spin an Irish dramatic tale like nobody's business. Also, I met her once at a book signing, and she is so, so nice. She looks very lovely and glamorous on the American editions of her book jackets, but on the Irish editions, and in real life, she totally looks like your slightly disheveled older next door neighbor who wears her housecoat to wheel the trashcans out. In fact, when we took a bus tour of Dun Laoghaire, the area where she lives, the tour guide said she does just that, which makes me love her even more.
I reread Echoes and Firefly Summer--both of which are fantastic. I also recommend Light a Penny Candle, The Glass Lake, Circle of Friends, and Evening Class.
Last night I got into this big insta-chat with my friend Julie on facebook. We got talking about Donna Tartt and how great The Secret History was and how awful The Little Friend was and why she writes only one book every ten years. I've taught The Secret History more times than I can count, and I highly recommend it as a great modern novel. If you haven't read that, you certainly should.
In between talking about that, Julie recommended Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris to me (it's a mystery set in a prep school. Oh, mysteries and sinister doings set in prep schools and colleges...you had me at "hello"!) and I recommended everything by Carol Goodman to her. In fact, Carol Goodman has a new novel coming out on March 9 (same day as the new Flavia!) so in March, I will have all sorts of more library goodness to share.
That's all I've got! I read so you don't have to. You're welcome.