Monday, January 27, 2014

Flavia de Luce series: where is it going?

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, the 6th in Alan Bradley's 'Flavia de Luce' series seems to be a bridge between the series as it was and whatever it will become from now on. Flavia is an almost 12 year old girl living in a small village in England after WWII (1951 in this book). She lives in a crumbling old estate with her emotionally distant father, two older sisters who dislike her and a small household staff. She loves chemistry and solving crimes. In this book, the mystery of what happened to her mother, missing for ten years, is solved. Harriet de Luce's body is discovered in the Himalayas and shipped home to her family. The mysteries that remain unsolved are: what was Flavia's mother really doing in the Himalayas? Why is the family involved in British intelligence work and in what way? At the end, Flavia's father tells her that she will be sent to boarding school in Canada, so in addition to a change of venue, the series seems to be taking a turn toward Flavia as international spy in training, but we will have to wait for the next installment to find some answers and to find out if the series improves once it makes some major changes. I enjoyed the earlier books in this series and hopes it regains its footing now that this book has sent it into a new direction as Flavia matures.

Reviews of the Flavia de Luce series and similar mysteries on this blog can be found here.

Interview with author Alan Bradley

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Tuesday Library Book Group 2013

The Second Tuesday of the Month evening book group read the following titles in 2013. Library blog reviews are linked to titles when available.

January – Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
February  – How it all Began by Penelope Lively   
March  – The Light of Day by Graham Swift
April  – Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
May  – Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
June – Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisson
July – The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
*No meeting in August
September  – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
October  – Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi
November – The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
December  – Defending Jacob by William Landay

Our first book, translated from the French, 'Elegance of the Hedgehog' was not generally liked by the group. I think the criticism was that it was a bit preachy and wordy. Rather than really developing the characters or plot, the characters pontificated about philosophy at length. Is it possible that an American audience would prefer to be shown, not told?

'The Night Circus' divided the group firmly into those who loved it and came dressed in black and white with touches of red  (fans are called 'reveurs') and those of us who just don't like fantasy and wished the plot or characters were a little more developed. As Ellen noted in her review, the descriptions of the circus are beautiful and imaginative, but for some readers, that's just not enough to carry the book.

Most of the reading group members seemed to like 'The Language of Flowers' and found it easy to read and to finish, which is not always the case with reading group books.

'Gone Girl', a huge bestseller and book club pick across the country, usually provokes strong reactions in readers. I remember hearing patrons discussing it heatedly at the Circulation Desk. Some readers so dislike the characters, that they choose not to finish the book . Most of our book group members found 'Gone Girl' engrossing even though none of the principal characters is at all sympathetic and the plot beggars belief at times.

The discussion of 'Defending Jacob' was snowed out twice, so we will discuss that at our January meeting.

Leave a comment with your thoughts about these books or email me at and I will post your comment for you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Friday Library Book Group 2013

The library's First Friday of the Month book group is a self-guided group that picks their own titles and discusses without having a discussion leader. In 2013 they read:
January  – Moloka’i by Alan Brenner
February  - Far to Go by Alison Pick
March  - Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey
April  – The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
May  – The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak
June  – Canada by Richard Ford
July  – The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein
*No meeting in August
September – Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka
October  – Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick
November  – Still Alice by Lisa Genova
December  – Istanbul, Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk

My Year of Reading 2013, July - December

As promised in the last post, My Year of Reading 2013, here is a list of my favorite books read in 2013 from July through December.
July was a good reading month with several favorites. Silent Voices, a Vera Stanhope mystery by Ann Cleeves, a British mystery series that always delivers,  is a bit of a departure from the usual 'cozy' style mysteries that I read for pure comfort and escapism. The hard-drinking, brooding Vera Stanhope character and her homicide cases and the cold, Northumberland landscape are portrayed true to the books in the PBS series Vera.
Also in July, I enjoyed Sue Grafton's Kinsey and Me, which includes some previously unpublished short stories and autobiographical essays. My review can be read on the blog here.
For August, let's pick some Jersey shore beach reading: Mad Mouse by Chris Grabenstein, which finds Iraq war veteran John Cepak solving  a murder on the amusement ride at a fictional Jersey shore town that sounds a lot like Seaside Heights. Read any of these mysteries based 'down the shore' as we allegedly say in 'Joisey' for a fun escape to the boardwalk.  Stephanie's review of summer reading including the John Cepak series can be read here.
From the dark, brooding U.K. mysteries to the light, sunny American ones, September's pick is humorous essays by Quinn Cummings, Pet Sounds, stories about her household devoted to nurturing eccentric pets that pet lovers everywhere will appreciate. Read my review here and be sure to read Ms. Cummings Notes from the Underwire if you enjoy here comic style.
In October, I discovered a new mystery series: Sydney Chamber and the Shadow of Death, the Grantchester mysteries by James Runcie. This series of two so far is set in an English village near Cambridge in the early 1950's. The review and related recommendations can be read here. A book that goes well with the Grantchester mysteries, a memoir set in 1950's U.K.: Sunlight on the Lawn, the third in the 'Merry Hall' series, is my other pick for October. Recommended for gardening enthusiasts and possible even the legions of Downton Abbey addicts looking for period pieces about living in grand houses in England of bygone days.

In November, the publishing world came forth with something I've been waiting for forty years to read: a new Bertie and Jeeves adventure. True, it's not by the master himself, P.G. Wodehouse, but Sebastian Faulks was picked by the great man's heirs to carry on the tradition and I think he did a really good job with Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. All of Plum's fans will want to read this and I hope you agree it's great to be back in the world of Bertie's bumbling and Jeeves saving the day with his fish-powered brain. Terrific.

Finally, in December I generally read nothing but very light, escapist, funny mysteries. So I revisited the 'Peculiar Crimes Unit' series and it didn't disappoint. The Invisible Code by Christopher Fowler has the usual crazy mix of London history and eccentric police detectives from the PCU. I just reviewed that right after Christmas right before tidying up my book journal for another year.
Happy reading in 2014 everyone!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

My Year of Reading 2013

My book journal lists 70 books read in 2013. Here are my favorites from January to June. The second half of the year will appear in the next post.

January: The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje was quirky and nostalgic and beautifully written. I recommended it to the library Friday book group where feelings were decidedly mixed about this semi-autobiographical novel by the author of The English Patient. If you liked Ondaatje's autobiography, Running in the Family, definitely read The Cat's Table. Here is my blog post review of The Cat's Table.
My other January favorite was Safehouse, the first stand-alone novel by Chris Ewan, author of 'The Good Thief's Guide to...' mystery series. Mr. Ewan may feel as though I am stalking him as my posts and tweets and Facebook likes of his work are piling up and he often politely responds. But when you need a diverting, page-turning, entertaining, funny mystery or a good spy yarn to read or to recommend to a patron, you can rely on Chris Ewan's writing. Read my review of the spy thriller Safe House here.

Continuing with the English spy/thriller genre in February,  Secret Asset by Stella Rimington about Liz Carlyle, an MI5 agent, is my top pick. I would recommend it to fans of the British spy genre and to fans of the TV show Covert Affairs, which is about a young American woman/CIA agent.

March has two favorites, both falling in the quirky/one-of-a-kind category. The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson and Mr. Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. In fact, I reviewed them together under the heading Two Quirky Books. Both books featured old men who are old enough to defy convention and expectations, a cliche perhaps, but well-done with humor and mysterious plots that move at a good clip.

April's favorite was Dave Barry's Insane City. Laugh out loud funny, of course, and, I should mention, kind of 'course' too in places. Be warned, his descriptions of South Florida thugs are pretty disgusting, but funny, disgustingly funny.

May's choice is When the Devil Drives, by Christopher Brookmyre, a noir thriller set in Glasgow, Scotland. My review of the author's first book in the series, Where the Bodies are Buried , can be read here.

In June, I discovered the Walt Longmire western mysteries by Craig Johnson. Cold Dish was my first read and favorite of the month. Read my review of the series and TV show here.