The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The-Sweetness-at-the-Bottom-of-the-PieBook – It is 1950 in the south of England, there is a dead body at the bottom of the garden, and the feelings of eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce can best be described as… delight.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the first in a series of mysteries featuring a thoroughly unconventional young sleuth.  Flavia is a devoted chemist, a razor-sharp observer and–though she would never use the term of herself–a girl genius, with a noble heart but a matching talent for lying, inventing or thinking her way out of trouble.  All of this ought to combine to create a completely unbelievable character.  Miraculously, it doesn’t.  What it creates, instead, is a genuine original, an irresistible series that I couldn’t put down if I tried.

In her first outing, Flavia solves a mystery involving a dead bird, an extremely rare postage stamp, stage magic, an academic who fell from a bell-tower decades ago, and her own father’s boyhood.  Not every reader will love Bradley’s sometimes verbose and always metaphor-strewn style, but those who fall under Flavia’s spell will find six more titles waiting, the newest published just this year.  the audiobooks are exceptionally good, with Jayne Entwhistle providing a pitch-perfect Flavia who never seems more than half-an-inch shy of laughter.


Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

elizabeth is missingBook – Maud is concerned that her friend Elizabeth is missing.  Maud is also aware that she frequently forgets things and becomes confused; that’s why she writes things down of importance on pieces of paper that she leaves around her house or stuffed in her pockets or purse.  She is distraught because no one takes her seriously regarding her friend’s disappearance. Maud’s search brings up other old memories, the disappearance of her sister Sukey during post World War II.  Though authorities determined that Sukey simply ran away to start a new life away from her husband, due to lack of evidence to suggest foul play,  Maud has always been haunted that her older sister would have shared this secret with her and bid her farewell. Could the two mysteries be connected?

This is a bittersweet glimpse inside Maud’s dementia.  She doesn’t always know who her daughter is, she keeps buying tins of peach slices when she has a pantry full, and forgets to drink the cups of tea she’s made.  We feel her panic when she gets lost or can’t remember why she is at a certain place and why she is interacting with “strangers”.   She realizes that she may only have a short time until her memory fails her completely to resolve the disappearances of her friend and sister.

This is the author’s first book and it received starred reviews from Library Journal and BookList.  This novel would make an excellent book club selection.


The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

silkwormBook – This award-winning audiobook will appeal to fans of British accents and British mysteries. The narrator Robert Glenister does a wonderful job of bringing to life a variety of characters, especially the star of this  detective series, Cormoran Strike. This is the second book in J. K. Rowling’s series that started with The Cuckoo’s Calling, and which she published under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. In this book we get to see further into Cormoran’s background, and his mentoring relationship with his assistant Robin adds enjoyable color to the tale.

The primary case in this book is brought to Cormoran by the wife of a missing writer. The investigation reveals an unpublished, incendiary book by the missing writer that may be related to his disappearance. The publishing world, obviously well-known to Rowling, provides an intriguing background for this story, and the characters from that world have depth. I’ve enjoyed this series despite the fact that the red herrings are a bit obvious and the villains not that hard to detect. Because The Silkworm has a more complex plot, interesting twists, and more cozy details of British life that Rowling captures well, I liked it more than The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

codeBook Code Name Verity follows the World War II adventures of two young Scottish women.  Sensible Maddie, who grew up in her grandfather’s bike shop, has a skill with machines matched only by her love of aeronautics.  As a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force she mostly flies supply planes, but her missions become a lot more interesting once she meets Queenie, the girl with many names.  Queenie is fearless and funny, brilliant and aristocratic—and a spy.  Thrown together under extraordinary circumstances, it isn’t long before the girls form a fierce friendship.  When Maddie’s plane is shot down over occupied France and Queenie is captured on a mission, however, both girls will find their strength, and their bond, tested to the limit.

Told through letters and documents written by both young women, Code Name Verity introduces two equally vivid lead characters whose affection for each other makes them jump off the page.  Elizabeth Wein does an extraordinary job of building tension and maintaining the novel’s pace, making it hard to put down.  Code Name Verity functions equally well as an action-packed war story and as a coming-of-age novel, but for me the absolute highlight is the friendship between the girls—perhaps the single best female friendship I have ever read.  There are mentions of off-screen torture that may be uncomfortable for some, and readers are definitely advised to keep their tissues handy, but the depth of emotion and exquisite writing in this top-notch story make it well worth the ride.




Us by David Nicholls

usBook – Douglas Petersen, a scientist, is trying to cope with his wife Connie’s announcement that she thinks she wants to leave him. Also, his relationship with his recalcitrant seventeen-year-old son, Albie, has always been rocky. Douglas hopes that their family’s planned “Grand Tour” of Europe will somehow help them resolve their issues. He sets some personal goals for their inter-rail trip, including “It is not necessary to be seen to be right about everything, even when that is the case.” As they embark on the trip from their home in suburban London, Douglas narrates their experiences, and shares the story of his marriage to Connie and struggles as a father to relate to his son. Told in short chapters, and alternating from past to present, Douglas kept me entertained with his dry humor, insights and predicaments as he tries to approach his life in a new way.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyouBook – Louisa Clark has lived in her small village all of her life with her younger sister, nephew and parents. She hasn’t explored much of life beyond her town in which the main object of interest is a tourist attraction castle. She works at a local café, has been dating her boyfriend for seven years and the most flamboyant thing about her is her fashion sense. When she loses her job, she desperately accepts a job as caretaker of a quadriplegic, Will Traynor, who lives on the castle grounds. The events that unfold change Louisa’s life in ways she never imagined. Moyes transported me into the lives of both a caretaker and a quadriplegic to examine the choices, heartache and stresses of their everyday lives. I liked these characters and the dilemmas they face are compelling and complex. While the story is often amusing, it brings serious issues to light and would be an interesting book for a discussion group.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

Beekeeper's AppBook – Even if you are not a Sherlock Holmes fan, you can’t help but be delightfully drawn into the adventures of the newly formed sleuthing team of Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. They are an unlikely pair. Mary is only 15 years old, a recently orphaned American who is a fiercely independent feminist. Holmes is mostly retired from detective work and lives a quiet existence keeping bees in the country. Mary impresses him with her intelligence, and Holmes slowly teaches her the art of detection.  As his apprentice, she quickly catches on and makes her own valuable contributions in solving cases. She evolves into taking on a more active role in his investigations and Holmes is inspired into coming out of retirement. However, their exposure and enthusiasm brings some bad guys out of the woodwork and Mary and Holmes find themselves confronted by perils and threats of death that they never anticipated.  Heartwarming and witty, the mysteries that this pair solves will keep readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, this is only the first book in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes mysteries. The Library has all the books in the series for readers to enjoy.


One Plus One by JoJo Moyes

oneBook – Jess is a single mother with a lot on her plate. Her adopted stepson is regularly beaten up by neighborhood thugs, who taunt him for wearing make-up and being a loner. Her young daughter, Tanzie, is a mathematical genius who has an opportunity to go to a special prep school that Jess cannot afford. Jess is estranged from her dead-beat husband, Marty, who lives with his mother and hasn’t supported the children financially or emotionally for two years. To make ends meet, Jess waitresses and cleans houses. One of her clients is the software billionaire, Ed. Although Jess doesn’t know it, Ed is being investigated for insider trading. Their paths cross unexpectedly as Jess sets out on a trip to secure scholarship money for Tanzie. It’s a fun and entertaining adventure as four eccentric and lonely people discover their strengths, vulnerabilities and their “tribes.” Moyes has written several other novels, including Me Before You.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

discoveryBook – A Discovery of Witches begins in the heart of academia in Oxford’s Bodleian library, where a bright young scholar, Diana, is researching centuries-old manuscripts for a presentation on the origins of science. The author’s detailed descriptions of the atmospheric library and Oxford’s history laden campus set a very pleasant tone for this story of romance, magic, history, and suspense. Diana has suppressed all connections to her family’s involvement with magic and is therefore taken by surprise when her contact with an enchanted manuscript on alchemy in the Bodleian library attracts the unwanted attention of a diverse supernatural community. This community includes another professor, a vampire studying genetics, named Matthew. A tentative courtship between Diana and Matthew includes yoga classes, carefully planned meals, scholarly conversation, and the finest wines. The realistic details of these romantic engagements obviously draw deeply from the life of author Deborah Harkness, who is a history professor, recipient of numerous fellowships, and an award-winning wine blogger. Whether Matthew is trustworthy, or actually one of the numerous entities jeopardizing Diana, is a mystery to be revealed. The second book in the series, Shadow of Night, is even more a work of historical fiction, and reveals the author’s knowledge of Elizabethan England.

The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

The Bellwether RevivalsBook – Oscar is doing pretty well for himself. He’s found his way to Cambridge, working his way through his degree as an aide in a nursing home, where he meets the most interesting characters. He never loses his head, though, until he meets Iris Bellwether at one of her brother’s church services (he plays the organ). A little light church music isn’t all Eden Bellwether is interested in, though, and before he knows it, Oscar is drawn into Eden’s circle of admirers, accomplices and experimental subjects. Eden believes that his music has the power to heal. He might be right.

This spectacular Gothic novel by debut author Benjamin Wood sucked me in from the wonderful two-page prologue. It’s been repeatedly compared to Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, but as I’ve read neither of those, I couldn’t tell you how accurate the comparison is. I can tell you that I fell in love with all the characters, who are by turns symbolic and wonderfully genuine, and that the tense, surreal atmosphere was sustained well throughout the book. I’d recommend it for a book club – there’s lots to talk about.