Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pie time

I just finished reading Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It's sunny and warm and I can combine reading with tanning. Yay for weekends.

Fun cover, huh? And it's a perfect representation of what happens in the first chapter.

Here's Amazon's description:
It's the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop's Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she's inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities.

With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passions—stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectively—Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley's critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don't be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail.

Yep, that review sums up my feelings. Lovely period setting, good plotting, detailed characters, amusing, etc. I guess the sun took away my desire to write any more details. Oh well.

Rating: 8/10

I think I need to stop reading about child detectives, though....first Harriet, then Flavia. I'm in the mood to read something totally different.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

In which I make a mess of the series

I adore Susan Howatch's writing. Okay, so I haven't read any of her early works but from her Starbridge series on, I've been a fan.

Back in January 2008, I read The Wonder Worker (which utterly horrifies me; I literally thought I had just read within the last six or eight months....not 17 months ago). It is the first book in a three-part series about Nicholas Darrow's healing center, but back in 2006, I read the third book in the series, The Heart Breaker. So I guess it's fitting that I finally read the second book, The High Flyer. And dang, I wish I had read them in order. I'm going to have to re-read Heart Breaker to fully get the entire story because characters from the first two books have subplots in it.

So for this book, the plot is this: Carter Graham is a "high flyer" aka big business woman. She marries a guy named Kim (I think his real name is Joachim) and then is hit with a series of revelations from him. Basically, he's a liar and involved in some baaaaad stuff. But Carter gets involved with Nicholas Darrow and good things come about...

I enjoyed The High Flyer but it was certainly filled with dialogue and analyzing situations, people, etc. While it was good, it didn't blow me away like other of her works. All in all, not bad but I like some of her other writing better.

Rating: 7/10

Why, Donna, WHY?

I'm not going to post the cover of The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. It's CREEPY. So creepy that after I bought the book at a library book sale, I couldn't bring myself to read it for months because of the cover: all black, with a cutout of a baby doll's eyes. And there isn't even really a doll mentioned in the book! When I finally did read it, I kept it face down at all times when I wasn't reading it.

The Little Friend is a Southern gothic novel that takes place over a summer. (In that respect, I was thrilled to read it; I love reading books set in the same season.) I have to admire how completely Tartt switched from the New England/ivy league college setting of her first book, The Secret History, to the completely rural, class-conscious atmosphere of a small town in Mississippi. And her narrators switched gender, age and worldviews.

So the basic plot is this: 9-year-old Robin was found hung in his backyard; no one knows who did it. Twelve years later, Robin's sister Harriet decides she's going to find his murderer. And then she becomes involved with a certain trashy family and snakes and wow, Harriet's life is crazy and odd and gothic.

Tartt is a detailed writer and this book is certainly character-driven. (In my opinion, too character-driven. You get to know SOOO many people far too well.) Harriet is a fascinating character that's not entirely sympathetic. But that's okay, because otherwise she wouldn't have accomplished what she did. As for plot, well, random things happen. Like poisonous snakes nearly killing people. Looking back on it all, my main problem is that I didn't end the book feeling resolved on anything.

Here's my main issue and it's a bit of a spoiler: THE ENDING IS AWFUL. There's no resolution. None. Every single plot line is left open: Harriet's parents, what will happen to Danny and Harriet, the murder.....GAHHHH. Donna, you strung me along for 600+ pages; I WANT ANSWERS. I know, I know; life isn't pretty and full of answers but fiction isn't real life.

I just want to talk to someone else who read this book. Help me move on and resolve my issues...

Rating: 6/10 (more like a 8.5 for writing but a 5 for plot because I'm still so bitter)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fun Fun

Ally Carter's Don't Judge a Girl by Her Cover is sheer fun. I'm always up for the Gallagher Girls and their adventures.

Here's the gist of the series: there's a super-secret school, Gallagher Academy, that trains girl spies (they're not spies now; just learning everything they'll need to know). Cammie Morgan is a pavement artist--skilled at following people, seeing what others don't. She'll need those skills to help protect one of her best friends, whose father is running for vice president.

The story ties in nicely to the previous books in the series, so you should really read those first. (On that note, who reads just one book in a series or skips around? And as I typed that sentence, I realized that I DO. Currently, I'm reading the second book in a loose series where I read book three first, followed by book one and now I'm on book two. Shame on me. But more on that later...)

Cammie is growing as a character and overall maturing, so that's nice to see. And yay for a certain character from book two making a few surprise appearances.

Anything, I like this's fun, full of spies and is still somehow believable.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, July 10, 2009

You're not better than the pros!

I don't remember why I wanted to read Fake I.D. by Walter Sorrells, other than it featured a mom and a daughter living on the run. It seemed like an intriguing YA story.

And it could've been a good story, except for so many gaping plotlines and holes. Chasity Pureheart doesn't know her real name; her current name was plucked from a romance novel. Her and her mom have been running for 16 years but "Chass" doesn't know why. Her mom goes missing and then Chass' life falls apart....or finally comes together? Well, thanks to the preview of book two at the end, you learn neither happens. It's Sorrells decided he wanted to write more about the series, so he totally writes off what happened in book one.

But here's my biggest issue with the book: the secret could've easily been turned over to the police. It should've been immediately turned over! I truly do not understand why Chass' mom has decided to keep them on the run, other than she says something like she's been working on finding solid evidence on this one bad guy for the last 16 years. Honey, clearly you suck at it. Let the pros do their job. Oh! Here's another thing--spoiler alert--at the end, you get a preview of the next book and even though they revealed the secret, the same people are still after them. I DON'T GET IT. The secret should've been in police custody, etc.

There's a few issues, too, with continuity. Chass leaves a guitar and all her clothing in a certain car, which she has to ditch, leaving it all behind. Yet somehow later she still has it. What? Aah, and so much gets resolved in a page or two, it killed me. Really, this book just killed me. (And you think a few other characters, but nope, book two brings them back.)

It certainly was action-packed and an engrossing read but the reason for it all annoyed me so much, as did little continuity issues.

Rating: 6/10

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Weekend/Monday Reads

I wasn't really in the mood to read much this weekend (a rare event for me). Still, I managed to finish off Mad About the Boy? by Dolores Gordon-Smith and Edna Lewis' The Taste of Country Cooking.

I love the cover on this one; it's actually what drew me into the series. The cover is evocative of the atmosphere of the novel--very 1920s.

The series feature Jack Haldean, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot turned mystery writer. While Jack is visiting relatives at their grand estate, a guest kills himself--but Jack isn't convinced. As he delves into the mystery, new complications keep on popping up, involving everyone in the family.

Gordon-Smith, as I've said before, is a good writer; it's easy to read and engrossing. I'll be reading book three, As If By Magic (and again, beautiful cover!).

Rating: 8.5/10

Another book I've been reading in bits and pieces is The Taste of Country Cooking (30th anniversary edition). I wouldn't call it a cookbook for general use but rather a look at what cooking used to be like--and I am SO GLAD that I don't have to butcher my meals. It's fascinating how much food preparation has changed in less than 100 years but also in what remains the same. Also, I was intrigued by how Lewis is a strong champion for local and organic eating--30+ years before it became a major movement.

Overall, it reminded me of Little House on the Prairie and how so much of those books involved gathering/preparing/eating food. And I loved them for that fact. But, as in those books, I don't love Edna's descriptions of slaughtered pigs with "glistening" white skin. Eww. I'm not a vegetarian nor will I ever be, but let's not test how deep my love for meat goes, okay?

Still, slaughtering descriptions aside, it was an excellent read and I do recommend it for any fan of cooking.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wandering with maps aplenty

Reif Larsen's The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is certainly ambitious and in some ways, charming.

The book is about 12-year-old T. S. Spivet, a genius cartographer. T. S. maps everything--from the corn he and his sister husk to bugs to yeah, everything.

T. S. lives with his rancher father, his scientist mother and his normal pop-obsessed sister. In this family, no one quite fits. T. S. is certainly no cowboy but instead more of a scientist like his mother. Anyway, a professor friend nominates T. S. for a Smithsonian award, which he wins--but the committee doesn't know he's only 12. Too scared to tell his family about the award, T. S. runs away to Washington, D.C. and has many adventures, etc. (Just a side note on that: in Chicago, T. S. has a rather, um, surprising/violent encounter. It threw off the book for me; it was realistic but just didn't fit with the rest of the novel.)

The book rather meandered. Unless there's a sequel in the works, then we're left with so many open-ended questions: Does his mother discover her species of beetle? What happens to the book his mom is writing? Is T. S. and his father's relationship repaired--but his parents' relationship is now ruined? There's also a bit of magic realism thrown in, which again, is a bit odd for a book so solidly founded on science.

My one big complaint was the lack of resolution on so many fronts. It was one of those endings where I involuntarily spoke out loud "Are you kidding me? THAT'S the end? GAHHH."

Selected Works is different--a bit of a plodding work--definitely not a beach read. But it is beautifully illustrated with maps and sketches, which add to the writing but slow it down. It's worth taking a peek at to see if you'd want to read it. Just be prepared for some randomness scattered in.

Rating: 7/10

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Happy July

So my three best friends came up for a loooong "weekend" visit. It was incredibly fun and fabulous and I'm sad they're gone. Sometimes I really miss college--mainly the social aspects.

Anyway, that means I did practically no reading--instead we watched movies, like Step Up 2. I LOVE that movie (ok, well, really just the lead guy, actor Robert Hoffman, and all the dancing). So good!

I'm about to finish up a book that's taken me all week to plow through, so I'm looking forward to finishing it and moving onto something new.