Tuesday, April 26, 2011

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

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Mystery, Historical Fiction
374 pages
published: 2008
4.5 of 5 stars


It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, 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.”
- from Goodreads


I don't read many mysteries, and must confess that the "mystery" is usually the least interesting part of the story for me, so I was surprised to find myself happily reading Flavia's ruminations. I can attribute this only to the awesomeness that is Flavia de Luce. She is indefatigable. (Ha! Never thought I'd actually use that silly word!) She is refreshing. And precocious is not the right word for her. (But I'll discuss that later.) If it wasn't Flavia solving this mystery, I would have not cared a wit. But it was!

I loved how she tormented her sisters.

Quote alert:  "I found a dead body in the cucumber patch,' I told them.
       How very like you,' Ophelia said, and went on preening her eyebrows."

I loved her drive and curiosity and spunk and chutzpah and independence. I love that she was rarely scared and always had a plan. I love that she named her bike and treated it like a horse. I loved her love of chemistry and poison. I loved her allusions and well-read-ed-ness. She was amusing. She was bubbling under that surface all the time, and yet so very....English on the outside.

Quote....right now: "Anyone who knew the word slattern was worth cultivating as a friend."

I don't have my book on hand to look up other things that tickled my fancy. Dang it. But I loved that she loved herself, even though she thought no one else did. How refreshing among all the characters out there who struggle for any personal sense of worth!

Now, about the writing. Yummy. A winking fest of happy meaning-rich words and allusions. I found I couldn't read it as rapidly as I normally do. I must have been wallowing.

My one caveat? The reason this isn't a glowing 5 star rating? Well, as much as I loved Flavia, she isn't a believable 11 year old. Qualifier: isn't a believable 11 year old all of the time. Sometimes she reeks of eleven-ity. Her response to a dead person, her petty revenge, her occasional naivete, her energy and creativity...all were very 11. But I just couldn't swallow the depth of her chemistry, literature, and music knowledge. But I mentioned I loved it, you squawk?! I did. I do. I forgave her. I moved past it. I don't really care. You might, but I made my peace. Perhaps she is a prodigy. Perhaps she is writing this looking back. Whatev.

I enjoyed nearly every moment of this novel. Highly recommend.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Listful Mondays: Books from Vacation

The Books We Brought Home from Vacation
(or The Books We Bought at my Favorite Used Book Store in my Home Town)
  1. Feed by M. T. Anderson (For my dystopian collection.)
  2. Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (Remembered from childhood - just don't remember anything but the cover.)
  3. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander (Replacement for our tattered copy.)
  4. Dragons of Deltora: Shadowgate by Emily Rodda (Book 2)
  5. Dragons of Deltora: Isle of the Dead, Sister of the South (Books 3 & 4)
  6. Deltora Quest: books 5 - 8 (We got confused and thought we found a whole series by one of Jadyn's favorite authors. Not so. There are 3 different related series. Stink.)
  7. Starbridge by A.C. Crispin
  8. Ancestor's World by A. C. Crispin (These are Scott's.)
  9. Magic Study by Maria V. Snyder (This was the one I was missing! Serendipitous!)
  10. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary (Never read anything by her, but loved the movie.)
  11. Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (The specific printing to match my set from childhood, replacing my spine-broken copy.)
  12. The Seventh Tower: Into Battle (Book 5)
  13. The Seventh Tower: The Violet Keystone (Book 6. We have 1 - 3. Now we just need book 4.)
  14. Whirligig by Paul Fleischman (Replacement for a Loaning Casualty.)
  15. Redwall by Brian Jacques
  16. Mossflower by Brian Jacques
  17. Mattimeo by Brian Jacques
  18. Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacques
  19. Salamandastrom by Brian Jacques
  20. Martin the Warrior by Brian Jacques (We had no Redwall books, but Scott played the audiobook for the older kids and they loved it. I'm sure the store had all the rest of them too, but I had to draw the line somewhere.)
I am home, possibly recovered, and thinking about books and blogging.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: My Double Life by Janette Rallison

My Double Life
by Janette Rallison
YA, contemporary
265 pages
published: 2010
4 of 5 stars


Her whole life, Alexia Garcia has been told that she looks just like pop star Kari Kingsley, and one day when Alexia's photo filters through the Internet, she's offered a job to be Kari's double. This would seem like the opportunity of a lifetime, but Alexia's mother has always warned her against celebrities. Rebelliously, Alexia flies off to L.A. and gets immersed in a celebrity life.  Alexia must stay true to herself, which is hard to do when you are pretending to be somebody else! - from Goodreads 


I love reading Rallison's books because they are fun, easy to like, moral, and uplifting. That isn't to say they don't deal with real issues, but somehow she keeps them from being dark or overbearing. Quite the reverse. This one might well be my second favorite of hers. (My Fair Godmother would be hard to upstage.) 

Things I enjoyed about My Double Life:
  • Alexia was a real girl to me. And not just a real girl, but a girl who wanted to be a good person.
  • The plot, through all it's twists and surprises and even all that seemed unlikely at first, turned out very believable to me.
  • That in the midst of trying to do the best thing, Alexia didn't always do the best thing. Not because she was weak, but because sometimes the questions are hard to answer. Sometimes "right" gets clouded and confused. Sometimes "right" has more than one answer.
  • The adults weren't just stupid and uninvolved. I appreciate when teenage characters comes to realize that their parents/advisers/adults might actually know what they are talking about.
  • The secondary characters were not flat people. They had their own issues and strengths and often surprised me.
  • There was romance, heartbreak, misunderstandings, tantrums, epiphanies and witty conversations. Everything needful for a good time.
Recommended For: I have no compunctions recommending anything Rallison has written to anyone. Her books are clean and fun and real. Go for it!

Monday, April 4, 2011

Listful Mondays: My Favorite Thieves

I'm not sure why, but some of my all-time favorite characters have been thieves. Loving those rascals has become so ingrained that I automatically like a new thieving character, before he or she has had a chance to prove themself, simply because they are a thief. How is this possible? I don't condone dishonesty in real life! Perhaps it has to do with their incorrigible mischievousness. Or maybe their amazing skills at sneaking and slight of hand. Or their personal set of morals that, while twisted slightly, always have a certain value and loyalty. Maybe they are just impressive and fun. They are such expedient people. They get things done. Ingenious. Creative. Daring. I would want those thieves on my side. If I were to be thrown into a fantasy story all my own I would either want to be the thief, or I would love the thief.

So my list today is about those adorable thieves. Surprisingly, when I actually set down to write the list, there were fewer names on it than I had thought there would be. Either my brain is failing me, or these few thieves have all the credit my undying devotion.

My Favorite Thieves:
  1. Gen from The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (The Queen's Thief series)
  2. Tasslehoff Burrfoot from The Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
  3. Silk and Velvet from The Belgaraid and the Mallorean by David Eddings
  4. Jimmy the Hand from the Rift War saga by Raymond E. Fiest
  5. George (the King of Thieves) from the Lioness Rampart series by Tamora Pierce

I would like to know who I have missed. Who are you favorite thieves? Do you know any of my favorites? Or do you find me morally corrupt to fancy thieves in the first place?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone by Dene Low

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone
by Dene Low
YA, Historical Fiction
208 pages
Published: 2009
4 of 5 stars


You would think Petronella’s sixteenth birthday would be cause for celebration. After all, fashionable friends are arriving at her country estate near London, teas are being served, and her coming out party promises to be a resplendent affair. Everything is falling nicely into place, until, suddenly—it isn’t. For Petronella discovers that her guardian, Uncle Augustus T. Percival, has developed a most unVictorian compulsion: He must eat bugs. Worse still, because he is her guardian, Uncle Augustus is to attend her soiree and his current state will most definitely be an embarrassment.
During the festivities, when Petronella would much rather be sharing pleasantries with handsome Lord James Sinclair (swoon), important guests are disappearing, kidnapping notes are appearing, many of the clues are insects, and Uncle Augustus is surreptitiously devouring evidence. It’s more than one sixteen-year-old girl should have to deal with. But, truth be told, there is far more yet to come . . .
-from Goodreads


This book is a good time. It is an amusing satire of high society. It is mildly disgusting, and contains much to stretch (even shatter) your belief. But you want to know something? So what! I enjoyed it. One big reason why was the writing. 

This was one of those books that really uses language - uses words that have meaning and connotations, putting "big" words together into sentences that makes you sigh with relief. Like stretching. The ecstasy of using your mind and working your vocabulary! The beauty of words strung together to sound like music! It's like pulling on my favorite pair of pajama pants, or taking a deep breath when I didn't realize I was in a stuffy room. Enough metaphors? All right. But I need a word for this kind of book because I can think of at least one other I will review soon that falls into this category. Ideas? Please... 

So, this book doesn't take itself seriously, and that is refreshing for a book that takes place in this time period. Petronella really wants to do the right thing (and have some adventure) and doesn't want to hurt her uncle, but she still cares about society.... It is a quandary! Her swooning over James is comical in the sense that I felt it was making fun of all the other well-known swooning. 

Only the four main characters have any depth. Every single authority figure is ridiculous. The phrase "bumbling idiots" comes to mind. This was so blatant that it was obviously done on purpose. It created the dynamic, found in so many other YA books, of the children having to solve the problems on their own. It was interesting to see the dynamic used without having unloving, uninvolved guardians, as is the norm. I had the privilege of listening to Dene Low talk about her book, and she mentioned this book was written as an outlet while working on her dissertation. She was frustrated with academia and authority in general, and suddenly Petronella's world made sense to me. 

So. This book is an uplifting, sniggering kind of good time. Have fun!