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Monthly Archives: October 2009

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the PieMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked this book a lot. I might have liked it even more if my expectations going in weren’t so high.

From Goodreads.com:

Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….

I admit, I have a weakness for precocious kids in books.  Flavia certainly qualifies.

Flavia feels the distance from others that smart kids often do in books (and life). Her mother died when she was a baby. Her father is distant. Her sisters gang up on her to convince her that she was adopted and doesn’t really belong in the family (Flavia uses her chemistry skills to get revenge, perpetuating the cycle). She doesn’t seem to have many connections within the community.

Flavia digs down into her memory of her father’s lectures on stamps, and adds this to her knowledge of chemistry and anatomy, and uses these in following the twists and turns of this mystery.  At first it is just a game, but it becomes more serious when her father is accused of murder (somehow the police aren’t convinced when she turns herself in), then again as she gains the attention of the culprits.

I thought that the character played more as a (still precocious) 13 year old than as an 11 year old. The narrator of the audiobook may have been part of that. Overall, she was very good, with an unusual voice that usually worked for me and occasionally annoyed me.

In spite of featuring an 11 year old, this book is not aimed at kids.  There isn’t anything particularly  inappropriate, but it is intended for adults. I don’t think my daughter would be interested, although I’m not sure why. I’d let her read it if she asked.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie combines an interesting protagonist with a solid mystery to make for a very good read.

I’m writing this review 3 weeks after finishing the book.  This is a mistake for me, particularly with an audiobook, where I can’t just flip through to remind myself of details.  I’d better get caught up on my reviews, so this doesn’t happen again!

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Posted by on October 31, 2009 in books, reviews

 

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Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard BookI thought I’d make sure I posted this review before Halloween, although I’m cutting it close!

From Goodreads.com:

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy.

He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead.

There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy-an ancient Indigo Man beneath the hill, a gateway to a desert leading to an abandoned city of ghouls, the strange and terrible menace of the Sleer.

But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family. . . .

I went into this book with very high expectations. I should really stop doing that, I don’t think it ever helps, and sometimes causes me to be disappointed in a book that would otherwise have thrilled me.

I had a hard time with the beginning of The Graveyard Book. Once the boy was in the Graveyard, the book improved for me.

I enjoyed the book most when Bod was interacting with the outside world, whether it is by being an imaginary friend to a young girl or attempting to attend school without attracting attention.

That said, I thought all the interactions were well done, and that the characters (living, dead and other) were the strongest aspect of the book.

I also enjoyed exploring the world Neil Gaiman created in this book. In the end, I was more interested in the bad guys for their role in the universe than the details of their battle with Bod. The ghosts in the graveyard, the ghouls, and all the others were what gave the book its structure– more so that the plot.

The book was more of a series of short stories than a single book. This worked for me.

The book was pleasantly creepy. The beginning and the end were scary, but I think that charming might better describe the parts in-between.

I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman reading his own book. Some author’s don’t have the voice or the control for it, but he does, and there is a thrill in knowing that’s how the author intended it to sound.

I read this book for my Book Club L.  Opinion was someone mixed about this book.  Most members had some about of difficulty with the beginning of the book, and that carried further in for some, where others got into it pretty quickly after that. We had a good discussion, ranging from talking about influences Neil Gaiman drew from (we had considered talking about The Jungle Book as well, but I gave it up when no one else was reading it), favorite aspects of the book, and what we’d figured out when. Things that seemed obvious to one person came as a complete surprise to others. I’d consider this a good, but not great, book club selection.

 
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Posted by on October 30, 2009 in Book Club, books, L, reviews

 

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Review: Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

Her Fearful SymmetryMy rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the first 2/3 or so of this book.  It was a creepy modern gothic novel with strong characters. Unfortunately, the end didn’t hold together for me.  It wsn’t bad, but it was disappointing.

This was the story of two sets of twins.  Elspeth and Edie have gone their own way, and Edie is mom to the second set, Julia and Valentina.  The younger twins are somewhat adrift in life, having dropped out of three colleges and not having a plan to go forward.

The mail brings them word that their Aunt Elspeth has died and left her estate to them– if they move to her flat in London for a year.  They’ve never met her, but that will change as they move into her apartment next to a graveyard.

Her Fearful Symmetry had some real strengths.

Julia and Valentina were fascinating alone, and particularly together.  These 21 year olds still live together, dress alike, make plans for their future together.  They have their differences. Valentina being cautious, with a strong interest in fashion and design.  She also has health issues, which has put Julia into the position of protector, a job she takes too seriously for either of their sakes.  She’s the outgoing, decisive one, and resents how people are drawn the the reserved Valentina.  She’s hungry for knowledge and to solve puzzles, but has no ideas as to how she can apply this to her future– since she feels any career must include both twins.

There were some wonderful secondary characters as well.

Martin (the OCD upstairs neighbor)and his wife Marijke added some beautiful texture to the story.  Seeing how his illness affected their lives and their relationship was heartbreaking.  His friendship with Julia allowed the reader to see a different side of each of them.

Robert (Elspeth’s younger lover and executor) has been working on his thesis giving the history of the Highgate Cemetery next door, but is too fascinated by all of the inhabitants to really pull together a coherent manuscript.  He and Valentina (who looks just like her mother and her aunt) head into a relationship that was both sweet and a bit creepy.

I don’t know if it is fair to call Elspeth a secondary character.  She’s the one that put the events of the book in motion. The reader gets to know her past, and her ghostley present.  She’s often not likable, but she’s very compelling.

Although not even a secondary character, I had to mention the Little Kitten of Death.  The kitten plays a pivotal role in the story, one foreshadowed by the wonderful name.

Her Fearful Symmetry was a creepy book, creepy in a very good way.  It took full advantage of the setting by the graveyard, the mystery of what happened between the older sisters, and of course the ghost story.

The tone was maintained through to the end of the book.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the characters.  Valentina and Robert both made decisions that, while important to the plot, I simply didn’t understand with respect to their characters.  Revelations with Jack (the younger twins’ father) left me baffled by him as well as the older twins. The direction these unexpected twists took the story left me somewhat unsatisfied at the end.

Worth reading?  Yes.  Will I pick up Nifferegger’s next book?  Yes, whenever it may happen.

 
8 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2009 in books, reviews

 

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The Seduction of the Crimson Rose & The Deception of the Emerald Ring

Several years ago, I listened to the first three of Lauren Willig’s  Pink Carnation books.

I enjoyed the mixture of a modern story (Eloise Kelly is an American in England, working on research for her dissertation on spies in the Napoleonic wars.   She’s hit a vein of useful papers, and met a very interesting man, who happens to be guardian of said papers.  Romance and research!)  with a historical romance (as we go back to the story of the spies she is researching)  in this series.

At the time, the fourth book  had recently been released, but it wasn’t available through Audible.  I checked back over multiple months, but it still wasn’t there, and slowly I forgot about the series.

Last summer, I found book 5 in the series as port of an Audible sale.  I went ahead and bought the 4th book (The Seduction of the Crimson Rose).  When I went to listen to it, I couldn’t remember who the characters were or what was going on (not unusual for me!) so I loaded The Deception of the Emerald Ring (the 3rd book) onto my MP3 player.

deception emerald ring

The summary of the book:

Rebellion is brewing in Ireland, egged on by the unquenchable Black Tulip. The Pink Carnation and Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe (formerly of the League of the Purple Gentian) are on the case. But as the Irish uprising draws nearer and the Black Tulip grows bolder, Geoff finds himself struggling with a very different sort of problem. An unexpected wife.

I had an odd reaction to re-listening to it.  Even though I didn’t really remember the plot.  I felt annoyed because it seemed so unoriginal.  I knew I’d encountered this plot before.  That seems singularly unfair as a reaction to a book I’d actually read before.  Now, I’m fairly sure that I have encountered all of the elements that were bothering me in other books as well, but that’s the way it goes with romance novels.

My MP3 player died while I was  listening, and I started something else on my backup player.  I went through several other books before returning to it, and all was well.  I enjoyed the rest of the book– both the modern and historical stories.  I’m not sure what was going on with my earlier reaction.

seduction crimson roseAnd so, I went on to the 4th book,The Seduction of the Crimson Rose.

The book summary:

Determined to secure another London season without assistance from her new brother-in-law, Mary Alsworthy accepts a secret assignment from Lord Vaughn on behalf of the Pink Carnation: to infiltrate the ranks of the dreaded French spy, the Black Tulip, before he and his master can stage their planned invasion of England. Every spy has a weakness, and for the Black Tulip that weakness is black-haired women-his “petals” of the Tulip. A natural at the art of seduction, Mary easily catches the attention of the French spy, but Lord Vaughn never anticipates that his own heart will be caught as well. Fighting their growing attraction, impediments from their past, and, of course, the French, Mary and Vaughn find themselves lost in the shadows of a treacherous garden of lies.

Although I like reading it, the current day plot is getting thinner with each book, it seems. A villain was introduced in this volume, which adds promise for the future installments.

The meat of the book is the historical story.  Until now, these have featured typical regency characters– the woman with flaws that are modern day virtues, the men who are strong but ready to fall in love.

Mary Allsworthy is beautiful, and really a bit of a bitch.  She knows what she wants, and figures out what she needs to do to get it.  She isn’t mean-spirited, but other people aren’t really a priority with her.

This is a pleasant change from the usual perky heroine, who is too smart or to tomboyish or some other virtue perceived as a flaw by the society around her.

Lord Vaughn isn’t a particularly nice guy.  In fact, those somewhat in the know are suspicious of whether he is in league with the Black Tulip, an infamous French spy.

As much as I generally prefer my protagonists to be pleasant people, I really liked the twist of these two truly deserving each other.

As you would expect, they both end up involved in the spy ring, and once you’ve been involved in a government plot together, can true love be far behind?  Of course, there are complications, and of course they explain why Vaughn has become the unpleasant fellow he seems to be.

The plot takes many fun (if occasionally pushing my suspension of disbelief) turns.  It’s a roller coaster with swoops and sudden changes of direction.

I like the historical notes at the end of the book.  Of course, the author could be making those up as well, and I’d never know.

An entertaining adventure with a slightly unusual romance, and a modern day framing.  It works for me.  I’ll be getting the 5th book soon.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on October 28, 2009 in books, reviews

 

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Winners!

I had three giveaways end recently, and I thought I’d combine the winners into one post. Everyone listed here has been notified via e-mail.

Thank you to everyone that entered, and a big thank you to Hachette books for allowing me to host the two book giveaways!

BeattheReaper_blueBeat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

  1. Sarah Z
  2. Becca
  3. Framed
  4. Niveau
  5. Ruth Ann

Lovely BonesThe Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

  1. Kathy
  2. Bethie
  3. elaing8
  4. amandasue
  5. Sue
  6. Carla Pullum

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Bloggiversary Bookmarks

  1. Kathy (random.org likes you today!)
  2. elaing8 (you too!)
  3. Cherie J
  4. Zee
  5. BookwormMari
 
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Posted by on October 27, 2009 in blogging, books, giveaway

 

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Mailbox Monday

I’m participating in Mailbox Monday from Marcia at The Printed Page.

The postman delivered four books to my door last week, but two of them were the same book!

The BelieversThe Believers by Zoë Heller arrived on Monday for Twitter Book Club— I was lucky enough to win a copy at last month’s discussion of A Gate At the Stairs, thanks to The Book Studio. Unfortunately, Twitter Book Club was scheduled for that evening. Fortunately, TBC was rescheduled. Unfortunately, it was scheduled for the same time as one of my other book clubs.

Life After GeniusNext was Life After Genius by M. Ann Jacoby, courtesy of Hachette Book Group. My giveaway is up, and I hope to read and review it this week.  It also is in the running as a selection for my book club M sometime in early 2010.

chocolate love storyI recieved two copies of Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner (also from Hachette Book Group). I’ve talked with a friend who is going to help me with my dilemma. She will provide the second copy with a loving home. We’ll each try making one (or more!) of the scrumptious looking recipes, then get together to taste test.

What was in your mailbox?

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2009 in books, meme

 

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End of Read-a-thon

deweys-readathonbuttonI had fun participating in the Read-a-thon for 23 of the 24 hours it ran (see my kick-off post for more information).

In the end, I read (on paper) for 680 minutes for a total of 1656 pages. I also listened to about 120 minutes of an audiobook.  I may try to convert that to a page count later.  I believe that I read for at least half of every hour other than when I joined my family for dinner.

Thank you to all the cheerleaders, and a huge thank you to the organizers!  Thank you to my family as well, for being reasonably understanding about the whole thing :-).

End of Event meme:

1. Which hour was most daunting for you?
2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?
4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
5. How many books did you read?
6. What were the names of the books you read?
7. Which book did you enjoy most?
8. Which did you enjoy least?
9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?

  1. EvidentlyI found Hour 24 the most daunting, since that is when I stopped!
  2. I found that the popular romances I read worked well for me– Nora Roberts, Elizabeth Lowell.
  3. The only thing I can think to add would be more random drawings for prizes :-).
  4. The hourly posts were great.  The cheerleaders were wonderful.
  5. I read 5 books on paper, part of an audiobook
  6. These were:
    1. Murder Sucks: Chiana Ryan, (sort-of) PI by June Whyte
    2. Vision in White by Nora Roberts
    3. Blue Smoke & Murder by Elizabeth Lowell
    4. Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffeneger
    5. Spell Hunter (Faery Rebels, #1) by R.J. Anderson
  7. Vision in White and Blue Smoke and Murder
  8. After 4 hours, I decided Anyone But You really didn’t work for me.
  9. No Cheerleader advice here!
  10. I’d like to participate again.  I may decide to cheer for the April Read-a-Thon and read for the October one, I’m not sure.

My personal lessons learned

As it turns out, I could have stayed awake longer, but my eyes gave out.   Since they’ve always been one of the few parts of my body that works well, this was disappointing.  I thought about switching to cheering, but I simply couldn’t change gears at 4 am :-).

What I’d do differently next time

  1. Rest my eyes more as the day goes on.  I’d look into having a cool compress available, and taking regular audiobook breaks before they
  2. Put more effort into picking an audiobook before the Read-a-Thon starts. I wanted something short, but I need to have a good reason to think it will hold my interest as well.
  3. Get more short books with large print.   Even before midnight, focusing my eyes was an issue.
  4. Make solid dinner plans for my family, so I don’t have to break to deal with it.
  5. Get out the veggies for a snack durning the day.  I couldn’t believe I was craving them after midnight, and I did feel better after eating them.
  6. I’d have a tracking template and a posting template ready to go before starting.  It would have been hard this time, since I’d never participated before.

It’s been a lot of fun!

 
10 Comments

Posted by on October 25, 2009 in Readathon

 

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