Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

The heroine of The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie is an intelligent 11-year old who has a talent for chemistry, especially loves poisons, and loves to do experiments on her two older sisters; who she doesn't especially love. When Flavia stumbles upon a dying stranger in her garden, she discovers she also has a bit of a talent for sleuthing. In her efforts to prove her father innocent of this murder, Flavia uncovers the story of another murder to which her father was closely related, and which has ties to the current death. Her revelations nearly lead to her own demise.

Although it has been some time since I have read any Agatha Christie, this story seemed reminiscent of those I remember. This was a fun story with enough mystery that easily unfolded for the reader, but didn't come as a surprise or twist. Even though the plot didn't thicken until midway through, it's worth hanging on for. This story is the first in a series of Flavia de Luce mysteries and I'll probably give another a read.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Book Challenge Completed!

I finished the What's in a Name Challenge 5. Here are the books I read:

1. Topographical feature- Garnethill by Denise Mina
2. Sky feature- Angel of Darkness by Caleb Carr
3. Creepy crawly- Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
4. Type of house- The House of Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
5. Something in a purse- The Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
6. On a calendar- 11/22/63 by Stephen King

That was fun.


by Denise Mina

Garnethill is somewhat of a murder mystery: Maureen wakes up to find her married boyfriend has been brutally murdered in her living room. Naturally as the police's first suspect, she determines to find the killer on her own (nothing new here). The twist is that Maureen comes from a dysfunctional family, is a victim of incest and spent significant time in a mental institution, facts that dominate the story line. The boyfriend also happens to have been a therapist at a mental clinic where she was treated.... another form of abuse that Maureen spends the entire book defending.

I was sorely disappointed in this book; it had top reviews on Amazon so perhaps I went in with overly high expectations. Clearly the readers of Garnethill have very different ideas of a good mystery, good writing and good character development. This book contained little mystery, poor writing and unlikable characters.

Perhaps it goes without saying that I wouldn't recommend this book, however it did meet the book challenge requirement of a title with a topographical feature.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Sisters Brothers

by Patrick deWitt

One of my reading buddies recommended this book like this, "I just finished a book you would like, it's really weird." Not sure how to take that, and then I have to admit when I began reading I had real doubts about finishing, not being a big fan of western themes, and questioning my friend suggesting the genre. However, I wasn't too far into the story when I had a change of heart. The Sisters Brothers is a story about two unconventional cowboy/hit-men, Charlie and Eli Sisters, who have been hired to kill a thief. More than half of the book covers their mis-adventure just to find the man, as told by the younger, less-bad brother. Despite a couple of "shoot 'em up" scenes, this book is not a high action adventure and may be somewhat comical. Some of the more humorous things include a handicapped horse, a cowboy on a diet and discovering the toothbrush! The brothers do find their mark only to struggle with second thoughts after reading a diary (of all things) and then their escapades continue.

The book is chock full of eccentric characters and unsuspecting anecdotes, which drive you on to find out what will happen next. It is an oddly dark, yet somehow sadly humorous story that I'd say you ought to read. The one negative is the anti-climatic ending. The cover says it all.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Diary of a Nobody

by George Grossmith and Weedon Grossmith

I found this book on a "one hundred books you must read" list and since I had nothing pressing in my stack 'o books I downloaded it (free). I have to give The Diary of a Nobody a mixed review because although I did find it humorous, I also never felt compelled to keep reading. The book is less than 200 pages and it took me a week to get finished!

This book is exactly as the title states; a diary of nobody. It is a very dry-witted satire on so many journals of lives published in the late 1800's (or today). The story is merely diary entries of a middle-class, middle management man tied to the social bounds of his time. Mr. Pooter gives great details of his regular life with a grown son who seems unambitious to his father, a loving and doting wife, a boss he admires and his two eccentric friends (Cummings and Gowin). While Pooter claims he is humorless, his diary is filled with jokes and antics of his slips down the ladder of success. The names of the characters throughout also play to the book's wit.

All that being said, the diary never seemed to hold my attention. There seemed to be nothing driving a story line and providing incentive to get to the end. Those of you with a dry humor will enjoy this book, but I'm not sure I'd add it to my top 100 read list.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Angel of Darkness

by Caleb Carr

The Angel of Darkness could have been a really great book had it been subjected to some serious editing. The underlying story is pretty interesting, it is a sequel to The Alienist (reviewed April 2011) but told from the perspective of a different character. Unfortunately, no one helped the author cut out so much unnecessary information that distracted from the plot. I don't know many authors who can create a great novel using a thousand pages, it mostly just turns out to be overly wordy (King is an exception).

This book sticks to its predecessor theme of rudimentary criminology, forensic science and criminal psychology. In this story, the alienist and his cohorts set out to catch a serial child murderer who is extremely crafty in making herself a hero rather than a murderer. Here Carr introduces a court scene involving Clarence Darrow, which was a fascinating diversion into Darrow's courtroom technique of arguing a case in the negative. I do have to give credit to Carr in his research and historical accuracy. 

However, some things really distracted from the story line. First, the narrator's irregular substitution of the word "what" in place of "that" which rather that create a sense of a regional dialect only succeeded in a slow-paced and bothersome narration. In addition, I felt the inclusion of Roosevelt in this story was just an attempt to account for as many "names" as possible, but that entire scenario was implausible and should have been cut out. Furthermore, the entire ending after that big climax fell flat.

While there are many compelling aspects to this story, I hesitate to recommend it because completing it requires a lot of time and commitment to get past too many words. If you read this on a Kindle be prepared for many misspellings and word substitutions that also make for a challenging read.