Book – 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.
Book – How can a mother abandon her seven year old son at an orphanage with promises that she will return for him and still leave him there for years after she is famous and prosperous? Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford tells the story of William, now 12, a resident of Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage in the 1920s. He still has loving memories of his ah-ma and is certain that a woman named Willow Frost that he sees in a film advertisement is his actual mother. William is determined to track her down wanting to know why he was abandoned. He tries to escape the orphanage with dreams of re-uniting with his mother. This book follows the trials and stories of both William and Liu Song (Willow Frost). This is a wonderful story of a “boy with dreams for his future and a woman escaping her haunted past—both seeking love, hope, and forgiveness” ~ from the book jacket. Ford also does a great job of conveying a vivid sense of the time period and atmosphere. A thought provoking novel that would be great for book discussion groups. If you enjoy this book you should also read Ford’s first book Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet.
Book – Lord Peter Wimsey, the famous amateur detective, will do just about anything in the pursuit of an interesting case. This time, he’s gone incognito to take a job at an advertising agency where, several weeks ago, one of the employees had a suspiciously convenient accident on the spiral staircase. He flings himself into the work with gusto – both the investigation, and the writing of advertising copy, at which he proves surprisingly adept.
This is the eighth book starring Lord Peter Wimsey, but it really doesn’t matter; it’s one of the ones you could read in any order. Dorothy Sayers first created Lord Peter in Whose Body? in 1923, where he appears as the usual kind of Golden Age detective, a younger son of the nobility with a useful servant and an unusual hobby. He stands out from the Hercule Poirots and Roderick Alleyns of the genre, though, as he develops in psychological complexity throughout the series. We learn about his shell shock from the War, his reluctance to turn over criminals to the law when it will mean their deaths, and his sensitivity to the double standards faced by women of his era.
Murder Must Advertise is one of my favorites of the series, although I admit it’s probably not the best one – but it’s just so much fun. It’s a delightful peek into the pre–Mad Men era of advertising, which Lord Peter is learning along with the reader. There’s also a wonderful cricket game toward the end of the book. I’ve read it five times now and I still don’t understand cricket, but everyone’s having a marvelous time.
Book – Bridget used to work as a lawyer; now she stays at home with baby Julia while her computer-programmer husband Mark supports their little family. Bridget and Julia aren’t alone in the house while he’s gone, though. There’s a shadowy figure, a ghost that creeps through the rooms. Mark can’t see the ghost, but Bridget is all too sure it’s real.
A hundred years ago, Rebecca is the daughter of a doctor, and although she’s unsure she chooses to marry a farmer, an old friend, and become a farm wife. She struggles with her new life and fights with her husband almost constantly. Their life together may be interesting, but it’s anything but happy.
While alternating between the stories of Bridget and Rebecca gives some hints about the nature of the ghost that haunts Bridget, it remains a little unclear just what the connection between the two women really is. I found I enjoyed that; I like a little mystery with my scariness. I also liked that neither of the two main characters were really, well, nice. Rebecca is profoundly selfish, while Bridget can’t stop herself from looking down on her friends. That doesn’t mean they aren’t likeable, though – Bridget’s devotion to her daughter is extremely moving, and Rebecca is caught in an impossible situation that’s hard not to empathize with. I was enthralled by both of their stories, and I only wish I could have learned a little bit more about them.
Book – William Talmadge is a lonely orchardist tending acreages of apricots and apples at the foot of the Cascade Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. His life is forever changed when two pregnant girls decide to take refuge on his property. He feels protective of these young women, since he is still haunted by his sister’s disappearance 50 years ago when she was a teenager. He slowly builds trust and a relationship with sisters Della and Jane, but tragic consequences leave him unexpectedly caring for Jane’s baby as she flees and tries to confront and take revenge on the ghost of her past. Talmadge is heartsick at her leaving and works at her redemption as he strives to protect her from her from the psychological traumas she had suffered. Set in the early 20th century this story gives a great insight into the hardships and lawlessness of the old West. Beautifully written, The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin explores the complexity of human nature. This book has received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Library Journal and Kirkus and is a great choice for book groups.
Book – 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.
Book – Mr Norrell is a practicing English magician. He actually does magic, which is considered beyond strange by all of his colleagues, who focus on research and analysis. And he is about to make a name for himself when Jonathan Strange appears. Jonathan Strange is also a practicing magician, and what’s more, he is young and handsome and a part of Society, which is not really something Mr Norrell can manage. Of course they will study together, and of course they will be rivals.
This is not a book for everyone. It’s long. There are rambling, divergent footnotes. It combines Regency romance sensibilities with war narratives and an approach to magic that’s based more on medieval English folklore than on The Lord of the Rings. There’s a tonal shift three-quarters of the way through that reminds me of nothing so much as Jane Austen writing the adventures of Richard Sharpe. And if you’re like me, that makes this book perfect. This is one of those books I would like to recommend to everyone, even though I know there are so many reasons why many people would not like it. I just love it so much, I would like to be able to share that love with everyone. Do you have any books you feel that way about?
Book – In 1686, eighteen-year-old country girl Nella arrives in Amsterdam to begin her life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She doesn’t know him well and finds his household strange and unwelcoming. His sister, Marin, runs the household and seems to lead a pious, austere life. The servants, Otto and Cornelia, are friendly, but cautious. In addition, Johannes is often absent and when he’s home, he’s preoccupied. Then, Johannes presents Nella with an extravagant wedding gift, a miniature version of their house. Nella is confused and overwhelmed by the gift, but with little to occupy her time, decides to begin furnishing it. She hires a miniaturist through the mail, and when the contents start to arrive, she is both fascinated and terrified. The miniaturist seems to be able to not only replicate their household down to the last detail, but also seems to be able to predict the future. As events begin to unfold, Nella struggles to figure out what’s real and what is an illusion. What I found most interesting about this book was the historical detail. Events transpire to illuminate both the lifestyles and attitudes of Amsterdam during this time period. The characters were interesting and complex. This story was full of secrets and intrigues and kept me guessing until the end.
Book – Meet Helen, Grace and Ruby – young women from very different backgrounds. Each fascinating with her own set of baggage and secrets. However, they all share the same dream of fame and the three become fast friends working as dancers at the glamorous Forbidden City Nightclub in San Francisco in 1938 just as the World’s fair is set to open and rumors of war circulate. The story spans 50 years and the girls tell their own stories through alternating voices. They share in each other’s ups and downs and rely on one another through unexpected challenges and changes in financial situations.
Working at the prestigious club, these strong and independent women are looked upon as delicate “China Dolls” dressed in beautiful glittering costumes and makeup. They all hit bumps on their road to stardom, but manage to overcome the obstacles. But their bond of friendship is jeopardized with the bombing of Pearl Harbor that results in betrayal and the revelation of hidden secrets.
Well researched by author Lisa See this is a rich story of dreams, relationships, and the endurance of the human spirit.
Book – City of Thieves is, in the author’s own words, a semi-biographical look at the Siege of Leningrad during the Second World War. A thief and a deserter are arrested and given an impossible choice, find a dozen eggs in a city cut off from all outside supply lines or be executed. While this is a rather weak quest, Lev and Kolya bring the city and the war to life for readers.
While most ‘modern’ authors tend to write accents out phonetically so that you know they are speaking a different language, David Benioff restructured the sentences to give them a wonderful Russian cadence. Admittedly I don’t have much experience with the Russian language, but it flowed as if I was listening to Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof speak.
For those who enjoyed Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, City of Thieves is a humanizing account of World War II that reminds you of the entire story, not just what you were taught in school.