Showing posts with label Modern Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Modern Fiction. Show all posts

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches

You know those books where you finish them and have no desire to go back into regular life or read another book?  The book is still so present in your mind that all you want to do is sit and go over the book again and feel sorry that it wasn't longer.  Well, that was how the last Flavia de Luce book was for me.  I've read some great books recently, but none of them have stuck with me like this.  I read it in about two sittings in one day and it was wonderful.

I'd heard some bloggers mention that this book isn't like the earlier books and this made me a little worried that I wouldn't like it as well.  I definitely agree with them, this book is a little different from the earlier books.  The other books followed the pattern of a pretty classic mystery that Flavia solves by traveling around her little village finding clues and talking to people.  Along the way, of course, there is some family friction and little side adventures, but the point is solving the mystery.  Well, this final book doesn't follow this pattern at all.

As the story begins, the de Luce family is standing on the railway station waiting for their long-lost dead mother who wrecked in the alps (I think...but I can't absolutely remember where it was) when Flavia was a baby.  As they stand waiting, a tall man comes over to Flavia and murmurs, "You like pheasant sandwiches, too?"  Minutes later, somebody shoves him onto the railway and he is run over by the train.  As the family members begin to flock to Buckshaw, Flavia learns more and more about her mother and she begins to suspect that there is more to her mother's death than meets the eye.  Is it perhaps connected to the man who died on the railway tracks?

Alan Bradley wrote about Flavia's mother's death and the reactions of the family so beautifully; I found the funeral scene so heartbreaking that it gave me chills.  I tend not to like extremely emotional scenes in books, but this was so believable and understandable that I thought it was very appropriate. The ending surprised and pleased me and the loose ends were so nicely tied up that I was left feeling quite satisfied with Flavia's lot.

I don't just recommend this series.  You must read this series.  I'm even considering buying these and re-reading all of them, they were so good.  However, if you don't want to buy them, please, please, please check them all out of the library and read them.  I promise, you will be glad that you did.

And that's the end of the Flavia de Luce series.  I've heard murmurings about there being more books, but who knows.  On Good Reads, the seventh book is listed with a 2015 release date, so we'll see...
Oh, but please, Alan Bradley, I want more!

Here are the links to all the blog posts I wrote about Flavia de Luce:

And here's the handy-dandy amazon link, so you can order this straight away, if you so choose.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Belle Ruin

My latest read has been Belle Ruin, the third Emma Graham book in the series by Martha Grimes.  This book is just as wonderful as the first and second.  In this book, Emma discovers another mystery that seems to be tied in to the other two mysteries she is working on.  Years ago, the child of the rich owners of the hotel called Belle Rouen was kidnapped.  The press never really covered the story and the child appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth.  Emma is determined to figure out what happened to this baby and how it is related to the other two mysteries.  There were also several new plot developments, about which I was very pleased.

First of all, nasty old Ree Jane, the daughter of the co-owner of the hotel, is finally starting to get her comeuppance.  Emma has a job as a cub reporter, which infuriates Ree Jane to no end.  Emma also appears to have just realized that she can tease and torment Ree Jane to no end.  It is surprisingly refreshing reading about it.

Also, Emma is starting to gain respect from the people in her town and from her formerly quite cold mother.  Even the eccentric aunt on the top floor is coming to be slightly nicer, although she still requires that her daily martinis delivered by Emma.   The other relieving event was when the sheriff, who had formerly been on the outs with Emma, made it up to her by letting her help him check meters.
The Author

Now for the bothersome parts:  I really, really, really want to know the back-story of why Ree Jane and her mother are still hanging around the hotel.  What does Emma's mother owe them?  I'm hoping that this gets resolved in the fourth, and last, book.  Also, the ghost that only Emma can see makes me curious.  Who is this spectral figure?  I have a feeling that all is going to be revealed soon.

So those were my thoughts about the third Emma Graham book.  I'm looking forward to reading the last book!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

I finally read Stardust this weekend.  And what a good read it was!  I normally read books before movies, but in this case, I just happened to see the movie first.  The movie was very good, starring Claire Danes and some other guy I've never heard of.  The plot was interesting with lots of twists and turns and combined fantasy and romance very well.  The book was all those things, plus Neil Gaiman's wonderful writing.
The book.

Stardust is the story of young Tristran Thorn, a romantic boy who is in love with the "prettiest girl in all England", Victoria Forester.  She, however, sees him as merely a shop boy with no prospects whatsoever.  So, Tristran makes a bargain: if he finds a shooting star that has just fallen, Victoria must marry him.  She laughingly agrees and Tristran sets off over the wall that separates a regular English village from the land of Faerie.  He ends up where the star fell and he is shocked to find that the star is not just a piece of glittering rock, but a woman named Yvaine.  He ties her up and insists that she come with him to meet his future wife.  She, with much complaining and eye-rolling, agrees to go.
The movie.

Meanwhile, there are two other people that are on the hunt for this star.  Three brothers who are up to no good must find the star before one of them becomes king.  Along the way, their four ghost brothers who are already dead provide commentary on the living brothers' quest.  Also, the Lilim, three ugly and wicked witches, are on the hunt for Yvaine because if they cut out her heart they will be young again.  Tristran and Yvaine have more adventures, from meeting the sky pirates to meeting a lion and a unicorn fighting for a crown.  And, of course, there is a happy ending.

I really enjoyed this book.  It was the perfect weekend read because I had the time to sit down and read larger chunks of it instead of just a page here and a page there.  I recommend this for anyone who likes a good fantasy story with a good portion of suspense.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Speaking from Among the Bones

I'm done with Flavia de Luce # 5, Speaking From Among the Bones.  Well!  I finished the last page and shrieked a little when I finished it.  The very last sentence drops a huge bombshell.  I have recommended Flavia over and over on this blog, so I don't think I need to rhapsodize anymore about how wonderful the books are.  Instead, I'll give a brief summary and then some of my favorite quotes from this book.

In this book, the little Hamlet, Bishop's Lacey, in which Flavia lives is holding a five-hundredth anniversary celebration of Saint Tancred.  In this celebration, they will dig up his remains.  Flavia just so happens to be on the spot and is the first to discover the former church organist, killed and wearing a gas mask in the tomb of Saint Tancred.  Nobody can think who would have bad feelings for the mild mannered Mr. Collicutt, but Flavia is determined to find out.

Quotes (Some of these, I marked in the book because I liked them, and some are thanks to GoodReads, who helps me remember every book quote I ever forgot):

“I was the eighth dwarf. Sneaky.”

“There's an unwritten law of the universe which assures that the thing you seek will always be found in the last place you look. It applies to everything in life from lost socks to misplaced poisons. . .”- This is so true!  

“The word “actually,” like its cousin “frankly,” should, by itself, be a tip-off to most people that what is to follow is a blatant lie— but it isn’t.” -  And, I would add, "No offense".  Of course you are going to say something offensive, there's no need to add that annoying little preface. 

“History is like the kitchen sink,” Adam answered. “Everything goes round and round until eventually, sooner or later, most of it goes down the waste pipe. Things are forgotten. Things are mislaid. Things are covered up. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of neglect.” 

And finally, I have a poll for all you readers.  How do you pronounce the name Flavia?  When I read the first book, I pronounced it "Flahvia".  But here's the thing: Flavia nicknames herself "Flave", which makes me think that maybe it's "Flaevia."  I wonder if this is a British/American thing. I have a poll to the right and I'd love it if you would vote one way or the other.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

I got my Flavia de Luce book back!  I sat down and started reading.  I think this might be my favorite of the Flavia de Luce books so far because of all the developments in character and in the ongoing story about Flavia's mysterious mother.  I really was very pleased with what happened in this story.  The other new new thing about this book for me is that for the first time, I actually am interested in Dogger's character.  (Dogger is Flavia's father's valet of sorts and also a gardener/odd jobs man.  They were also in a war together and Dogger still has painful flashbacks.)  He seems to be developing into a main character and not just a background character.

In this book, Colonel de Luce (Flavia's father) is even closer to bankruptcy on the old mansion in which they live.  Finally, he hears about a film producer that is looking for an old English mansion for his latest film.  Colonel de Luce rents out the mansion and the set trucks and the famous actors start appearing a few weeks before Christmas.  This both disappoints and thrills the de Luce daughters, who are excited to have real live actors living with them, but also disappointed because it means that there will be no Christmas tree and presents.  However, things start to get very exciting when Flavia becomes friends with the selfish but strangely likable leading actress.  The night after a play that the actors give for the locals, Flavia can't sleep and so is wandering the halls.  Suddenly, she hears a movie that the actress starred in.  She hurries to the actress's room and finds her, hung from the ceiling with rolls of film.  But the odd and slightly chilling thing is that the actress was dressed and covered with make-up after she died.  Now it's up to Flavia, with the grudging assistance of the inspector, to find out whodunnit.  There are a pile of suspects, as half the village has been snowed in with the de Luces.
The quote on which the title of the book is based.
Each book title in the series is from a quote.

I am enjoying each Flavia de Luce book more and more as I go along.  Each story stands out in my mind and the characters are well-developed.  My next read will probably be the 5th Flavia book.  I'm also very excited because there is a TV show about Flavia de Luce being made this year!  I will most definitely be watching it.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Brighten the Corner Where You Are

I adored this book.  Even though I was in deep mourning over leaving Flavia de Luce behind, that didn't keep me from thoroughly enjoying Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Fred Chappell.  The premise of the story is very simple: a day in the life of Joe Robert Kirkman, a schoolteacher who wants to teach about evolution, a philosopher, and a lover of pranks in a 1940s North Carolina mountain town.  The story is recounted by his son.

The tale opens with Joe Robert Kirkman shimmying up a tree at 3 in the morning to catch an opossum. Then he cooks french toast for himself while his family sleeps, breaking every pot and pan in the house and then splattering egg all down the front of his best suit.  We learn that he is going to be questioned by the school board about his beliefs because of his teaching of evolution.  While on his way to school, he sees a child flailing about in a small, fast-flowing creek.  He dives in, expels the water from her lungs, and takes her to the general store, where he changes into an odd collection of clothes that afford him odd looks all day.  The day is filled with many an adventure from ending up stuck in the chimney with a goat on the roof to a drastic interview with the paper.
The Author
One of my next reads.
This story is charming, gently funny, and full of beautiful language.  The writing is some of the best I have read in a long time and Chappell manages to capture post war North Carolina perfectly.  The characters are interesting and quite human, with foibles and funny quirks.  Joe Robert Kirkman is the funniest, quirkiest, most human of them all.  I highly recommend this to pretty much everybody.  Even if you don't have an affinity for southern novels like I do, this is a must read, simply for the beautiful language.  I am also excited because this novel is part of a sort of casual series, all written through Joe Robert Kirkman's son's eyes.  I will definitely be reading them all.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hunger Games Thoughts

(This isn't a book review, but musings about a book.  If you want the basic plot of the Hunger Games before you read my thoughts, go to Good Reads.)  

For months (probably years by now) I have had people telling me that I need to read and watch the Hunger Games.  I was quite reluctant for several reasons.  First of all, I had read the first book and thought that the writing was, frankly, not that great.  Second, I have a (slightly irrational) dislike of young adult fiction as a class.  I think that it's kind of ridiculous that teenagers have to have their own category of books.  You read the children's section until you're sick of it, then you gently ease into the adult section.  I also found it highly ironic that the people reading/watching the books/movies are being entertained by the killing just like the members of the Capitol.  However, last night at the behest of my family, I sat down and watched the first Hunger Games.  Before I sat down, I decided I was going to step out for the worst of the gore.  There actually were only three huge battle scenes, so I didn't actually miss huge portions of the movie.

Several things struck me while I was watching the movie.  1.  This story is a huge social commentary.  That's something I didn't realize when I first read the book.  Sure, the story is for entertainment, but there's a deeper point behind the pretty basic tale of kids in a dystopian society.  Are we, like the people of Panem, entertaining ourselves to death?   I was interested to read that Suzanne Collins thought of the Hunger Games while switching channels between a sports game and Iraq war footage.   2.  I don't think that many watchers/readers get how serious the message is. Actually I don't think you really can if you're, say 10.   3.  And this is completely shallow...I'm sorry.  I liked Gail (the boy back home that loves Katniss) better than Peeta (the boy who is in the Hunger Games and ends up with Katniss).  He has principles, something Peeta apparently doesn't really have.  And, I just think he's a nicer person.

My third thought deserves a whole paragraph unto itself.  I'm going to have a little spoiler here, so if you don't want to know what happens at the end of the first book/movie, stop reading.  At the end, Peeta and Katniss (our heroine) survive.  They have been told that they can be a team, so they don't end up killing each other.  Finally, after everybody else is dead, there is an announcement that, never mind, they will have to kill each other.  Katniss pulls a move that nobody is expecting.  She takes a handful of deadly berries and tells Peeta that they're both going to eat them and die, leaving no winner.  Now, let's stop right there (I promise this isn't the end).  You all know that I am a sucker for happy endings (in fact, I'd probably hate the writers if I hadn't thought of this plot ending myself), but what would have happened if Katniss and Peeta had eaten the berries and died?
It would have been a huge statement.  Think what would have happened- here is the Capitol with no winner, no huge victory parade and medals, no crown.  It would have shown all the watchers the true horribleness of the Games.  It would have said, look, the whole point of the games is death and entertainment.  There would probably have been a whole lot of rage and uprising and, hopefully the end of the games.  Of course, that isn't what happens.  A voice yells, "Stop!" and the two are safely carted home with much fanfare.

So now you know what I think about the Hunger Games.  I think I will go ahead and read the books and I'm definitely going to watch the next movie.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Life of Pi

This is a review of an old favorite, rather than a book I have just read.  This book definitely goes on my top ten list of books.  Life of Pi came out several years ago, and many people have kind of forgotten about how good it was.  I however, still think about it quite fondly and was just thinking the other day that I need to get it out and read it again.

Life of Pi is the story of an Indian boy, Piscine Patel.  The story is told by a much older Pi, now living in North America, to a young man who wants to write a book.   Pi's family, originally from India, moves to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship.  Pi is the son of a zookeeper and so, along with his family, come all of the zoo animals.  One fateful night, the ship that the Patels are on sinks in a storm, killing everybody except for Pi, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and, most frightening of all, a 450 pound Bengal tiger.  Now all four very different species have to figure out how to survive on a small life boat in the middle of the ocean.

Quickly, the tiger kills the wounded zebra, then the orangutan, and then the hyena.  This leaves Pi and the tiger to decide who is going to survive.  Both manage to survive together until they reach Mexico, where Richard Parker, the tiger, disappears into the jungle and nobody ever finds him again.  Pi, wounded and very thin, is recuperating in a hospital when Japanese officials come to his bedside to hear the truth about what happened.  Pi recounts his story to the officials, but nobody believes him.  Finally, he comes up with a much more ordinary story and tells it, pleasing the officials.  "Now, which story do you prefer?"he asks in closing to the young man writing the story.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Graveyard Book

I first heard of Neil Gaiman through a family member, who raved about how interesting and wonderful his writing was.  While at the library, I did a little search through the young adult and adult fiction by Gaiman and settled on The Graveyard Book.  I was quite unimpressed by the cover: very typically young-adulty-sci-fyish looking, but I went ahead and checked it out because a.) it won a Newberry and b.)  the summary of the book looked very intriguing.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy named Bod, short for Nobody, who lives in a graveyard and is raised and educated by ghosts and his guardian, a strange creature who is neither a ghost or a human.  He has all kinds of adventures, from keeping away from the evil man who murdered his whole family, to meeting the Indigo man who lives under a hill.  He makes friends and has a loving family, just like a normal human child, but all of his friends and family are ghosts, with exception of a girl named Scarlet.
An illustration from the book

This book is so intriguing and I loved every minute of it, from Bod's doting ghost parents, to the thrilling adventures he has.  While I was reading it, I didn't think for a moment, "This is definitely a young-adult book."  This story can be enjoyed by all ages.  So, I recommend it and I guarantee that, even if you've never cared for ghosts stories, you will love this charming book.

Another illustration from the book

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Flavia de Luce

I just finished a mystery called The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag and before that I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, both written by Alan Bradley.  They are mysteries about a young girl in 1950s England named Flavia de Luce.  She is a brilliant chemist, living with her slightly absent-minded father and two aggravating sisters who are respectively a brilliant musician and reader.  Flavia rides around her small English village on her bike, name Gladys, and solves mysteries.

As I said in this post,  I love stories about precocious young detectives who solve difficult mysteries in their everyday lives and I think that Flavia is going on my list of favorites.  Her funny voice shines through so well.

In the first book, a man is killed in her garden and she is convinced that her father did it.  But, to solve this mystery, she has to go back and solve another mystery about a man with whom her father went to school.  In the second book, Flavia meets a famous puppeteer and his assistant, the frantic and slightly distressed Nialla.  When the puppeteer is killed by a bolt of electricity and then hung by marionette strings, Flavia sneaks around the village inspector who is looking in all the wrong places and does some sleuthing on her own.

I have read just the first two in this fantastic mystery series.  I can't wait to read the next!