It appears that I haven’t posted in almost exactly a month! Well, as I’ve said before, life happens. I had a wonderful Christmas with family even though it was colder than the Arctic up in the north country where they live. Then I came back down south, where we’ve been stuck in a deep freeze for the better part of the New Year. We even got a freak winter storm, which resulted in the first three days of classes being canceled. I’m excited to get back to my program, but who doesn’t love a snow day now and then? Tomorrow I’ll actually have to go to class. It will be a little strange to be a student again.

Anyway, I’m long overdue on several  book reviews, and I’m starting with T.C. Boyle’s The Road to Wellville. This is one of those books that first caught my eye a few years ago, but I didn’t pick up, then it caught my eye again, but I didn’t pick it up again for whatever reason. Then I finally decided to just read it. I hadn’t read any of Boyle’s works before, but a colleague recommended one of his other books to me a couple years back- in fact, she said she stayed up all night to finish it because she couldn’t put it down. I didn’t go that far with The Road to Wellville, but it definitely kept my attention.

Originally, I picked up two Boyle books from the library: this one and Water Music. Despite the fact that it was Wellville that kept catching my eye, I decided to start with Water Music. And then I put it right back down about 4 pages in when the assumed main character began to be tortured. I’m pretty squeamish as it is, but perhaps especially so when it’s sprung on me at the very beginning of a new book. And it had such a pretty name…  I may attempt this one at a later time, but right now my reading schedule is full.

Anyhow. The Road to Wellville takes place in Battle Creek, Michigan, and mostly at the Sanitarium of Dr. Kellogg (yes, the Dr. Kellogg of Corn Flake fame). The story follows a plethora of delicious characters, including the somewhat epicurean Will Lightbody and his hypochondriac wife, who are a rich couple spending a few months at “the San” on the wife’s recommendation; Charlie Ossining, a young entrepreneur eager to cash in on the breakfast health food craze; the sordid, adopted son of Dr. Kellogg, George; and of course the luminous Dr. K. himself. These are the main players, set against a field of “patients” at the San- all of whom seem to have far too much time and money on their hands, constantly inventing maladies which the Doctor happily dispenses diagnoses and prognoses for, and the cast of business partners and investors Charlie is keen to convince. Little by little, the lives of the characters unravel, ironically set against what is supposed to be the healthiest place in the world. Boyle lambasts the place and the philosophies of Kellogg and his contemporaries. And yet, while the flaws are so apparent to the reader, it is easy to see how a privileged group of people could get sucked in to such a place in search of a cure-all for the slight imperfections that idleness has blown out of proportion. The book reads almost as a juicy tell-all of Kellogg and as each skeleton is revealed and quickly covered up again, you can’t help but cringe as you devour more.

Bottom line: Loved it. Totally grossed me out at times, but definitely a solid pick.

By the way, there’s a movie of this I want to see now that stars Anthony Hopkins as Kellogg. Anyone seen it?

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I was delighted to take a break from my research work — not that I don’t love it, but you know what they say about all work and no play — to read a book with a great title. You know I can’t bypass a book with a title that jumps out at me.

Elephant Milk, by Diane Sherry Case, is more than just a great title. The main character and narrator, Sean, is a seventeen-year-old whose spirit evoked memories of my own late teenage years. Like many seventeen-year-olds, Sean falls in love fast and hard, and doesn’t want to let go no matter where that love takes her. And it certainly does take her places. She follows her first lover, Frank, south of the border after an unfortunate and embarrassing brush with showbiz, and in her pursuit, joins a small traveling circus as a means of going from town to town to search for him. Her passion for him springs partially out of a desire to escape an unstable family life, led by a mother who seems to have things other than her daughter’s best interests on her mind. That same passion causes her to throw herself into whatever she finds herself doing, whether it is being held up by the strong man, facing lions, balancing on top of an elephant, or having knives thrown at her body.

Her journey launches her into rather unconventional coming-of-age transformation. On her way, she meets many characters, each one alluringly presented through Sean’s seventeen-year-old eyes, which, despite the things she has been through, are still naive. Things begin to unravel for her at the circus once she is officially, and somewhat publicly, made the “other woman” of the strong man. Although his wife understands her predicament, she is none too happy about the situation. And to top it off, a crazed male elephant escapes from the circus and runs amok in the Mexican jungle. It is only after Sean faces a machine gun in the hands of her lover’s girlfriend that she comes into her own and finds “something bigger and more ancient than romance.” The final scene is triumphant, bittersweet, and powerful.

Readers will find complex relationships masked by a fairly simple plot line, and, dare I say, symbolism, within these pages. The quick pace and honest storytelling style keeps you on your toes and anxious about the next turn down Sean’s path. There is a piece of everyone’s teenage idealism in this character, and it’s exciting to discover what can happen when you “follow your heart,” as Sean vows to do, and live without regret.

Bottom line: Fantastic and fresh. Definitely worth a read.

Long time, no book?  Not quite. In truth I’ve read a few books these past weeks and I’m just behind in reviewing them because I’ve been busy moving across several states! I’m back in South Carolina now, although I seem to have brought the northern weather with me. Brrr!!

Today’s review has to do with weather phenomena, too. The book is The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors, written by Michele Young-Stone. I picked it up out of the new books section at the local library based solely on its title. How could you walk by this one? I just had to give it a chance. One thing that I found especially, er, striking about this book (do-do tchhh) was the fact that the writer herself was struck by lightning once. Well, they do say to write what you know!

The story revolves around two central characters, Buckley and Becca, and their respective stories. Many writers attempt the format of taking two separate characters with completely separate lives and having their paths intertwine eventually seemingly by the sheer will of the universe. I’ve read several books where this device falls a little flat, but Young-Stone does it quite skillfully, with the characters’ lives brushing against each other without their knowledge of it, splitting apart, and coming together again. The chapters jump around in time and place, with events in their lives occurring in a respectively linear path, but the plot as a whole is not chronological. Buckley is a bit older than Becca, and so his story begins quite a bit earlier in time.

Buckley and Becca are both something of underdogs, and I found myself rooting for both of them. Both of their lives are drastically altered by lightning strikes, whether the bolt hit them or someone close to them. Buckley loses someone in a tragic freak lightning strike (although really, pretty much all lightning strike accidents would be classified as “freak accidents,” right?) and it is an event that he is never able to quite overcome. This leads him to write “The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors,” in an effort to boost awareness of the dangers of lightning and prevent any more tragedies from occurring. Becca herself is struck when she is very young, although no one believes her. She witnesses a fatal lightning strike and then years later is struck again. The two characters’ lives take them all over the eastern United States, from Galveston to the Outer Banks to New York City, and it doesn’t seem likely that they will ever meet even though a kind of six-degrees thing begins to develop. Finally, they do meet, but it is not monumental: it’s not a sappy, overblown Hollywood “the star-crossed lovers finally meet” type of encounter. It’s not a love story at all, which I appreciated– I think too many books become love stories when they have the potential to make a different statement. Anyway, they meet and then part, and then they do not meet again for quite some time.

The book flows at a good pace, giving plenty of time for each character’s story to develop. The reader really gets to know all of the characters that are introduced, as Young-Stone dives into the back story of each and every one. Her knowledge of people and their motives, reactions, and emotions is expert. She is also good at springing unexpected twists on the reader, as I was surprised at a couple of points. Not so surprise that I found the story unrealistic, just enough surprise that it created interest. These turns in events reflect the random-yet-not-random patterns of lightning strikes, in my opinion, like how people from their pasts “coincidentally” bump into each other in some way or another.

Bottom line: Well worth the read.

Philippa Gregory’s books are something of a guilty pleasure for me. The Other Boleyn Girl was a real page-turner that was so juicy I couldn’t put it down. I know there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding the historical accuracy, but in my opinion Gregory’s rendition of the events is perfectly plausible. Who is to say otherwise, really? There’s no way to really know.

So I was excited to read The Red Queen, a novel set even earlier, during the War of the Roses in England. It’s pretty obvious that I’m a big fan of historical fiction, and those that are set in times this far removed from our own intrigue me. Is it possible to write accurately about daily life? I’m sure it is, but it would require an enormous amount of research- at least for me it would. This book, like most of Gregory’s, features families of the English aristocracy who have ties to the throne.

The England of the War of the Roses is war-torn and chaotic, still deep in feudalism, which makes the tone of this book quite different from her Tudor books. Gregory has done vast amounts of research as usual and it really shows. However, at some points I felt that the research overpowered the plot- after all, this is supposed to be a novel, not a history paper. The main character and narrator, Margaret, was pretty unbelievable for me. This is a woman who betrayed many people and stopped at nothing to make sure that her son had a chance at the throne, yet Gregory portrays her as a religious zealot who wants nothing more than to be a nun. I don’t buy it. I know religion in those times was quite different from the idea of Christianity today, but I don’t believe for one second that a woman so fixated on putting her son on the throne and being obsessed with restoring her family to power would have so deep an interest in religion. A little, sure, no problem. But one of the resonating traits of this character is that she is always going to pray about something and feels betrayed by her mother for forcing her to get married rather than letting her be a nun. This is also problematic for me: I find it highly unlikely that a young girl in those days, raised in a noble family and in such a society, would beg her mother to become something she is obviously not cut out for socially.  I felt that portraying her as a willful, stubborn young girl inflicted too many 21st century values on her. Anyway, back to the religion point. As the book goes on, I suspect that Gregory was showing the splinters in Margaret’s love of religion in that no matter what happened or what she did, she was always firmly convinced that God was on her side- even when her side was defeated in battle. No matter what underhanded plot she developed, it was always “God’s will.”

The other character trait that constantly shows up is Margaret’s desire to “sign her name Margaret R.” as a queen would (or, in her circumstances, mother of the king).  I get the significance of this and how it shows the conflict with her religious side and that it’s foreshadowing and all, but really, I don’t need to be beat over the head with it quite so hard. And very predictably, the book ends with this statement.

Though Margaret’s sentiments about her marriages and her son probably ring true for many female readers, I found her to be much too one-dimensional and repetitive for my taste. But who’s to say she wasn’t? I wasn’t very impressed with this book but I do want to read the companion book, The White Queen for comparison’s sake.

Bottom line: Ho-hum.

Oops, I seem to be falling a little behind in my reviews. The book I’m focusing on today is one that I finished a couple of weeks ago, but don’t think I haven’t gotten around to it because it’s not good. The book, One Day, by David Nicholls, is one of the most original books I’ve read in a while.

The premise is pretty simple: each chapter is one day in the lives of the two main characters, Dexter and Emma. The chapters take place on the same day, July 15, but each chapter takes place on the next successive year of their lives, beginning when they are fresh out of college. As you can probably guess by the fact that there are a male and female lead and it focuses intensely on their lives and relationship, it is somewhat of a love story. But it’s not a sappy, saccharine-drenched romance; One Day is brutally honest about feelings and missed chances, suppressed longings and things unsaid.

For most of the book, the two main characters are not actually in love. The plot hovers on their relationship with each other briefly in each chapter, but also on their relationships– intimate, friendly, and familial– with the other people in their lives. Nicholls writes about the problems they face, such as alcoholism, loneliness, and grief in an unflinching voice. I appreciated how candidly these issues were discussed and how realistic the characters’ struggles were. The challenges that they face in the novel are unexpected and sometimes brutal, which I found to be very true to life.

The back of the book says something along the lines of as the true meaning of this one day is revealed… and so of course I found myself wondering throughout the majority of the novel what the significance of the day truly was. My guess from the beginning, that he had accidentally gotten her pregnant and they had a child together whom she gave up for adoption, wasn’t even close to what it really was. I won’t spoil it because I feel that the unpredictability of the novel is at the heart of its interest. While I was a bit distracted trying to take a stab at the meaning of July 15, I found this novel very engaging. I really got sucked into the characters’ lives, and I rooted for Emma in particular since she came from humble beginnings and worked her way to a successful life. I laughed, I cringed, I cried, and I feel like I want to just call up these characters for a chat now.

Bottom line: Both heart-breaking and life-affirming. Solid.

P.S.- It’s after midnight right now, so it’s officially my birthday! 😀  Here’s to another great year of reading!

Lately I had the good fortune to check out the book Thirteen Moons, by Charles Frazier, from the library. I originally picked the book up for the title, which made me think of Native American lore, and the beautiful cover. Then I noticed the writer’s name, which seemed to ring a bell– I remembered having enjoyed reading Cold Mountain years ago, so I thought I would try this book as well. I’m so glad I did.

Thirteen Moons was better than I expected it to be. The premise is simple, and I thought I would enjoy it for its historical genre as well as the setting in the mountains of North Carolina, but Frazier well exceeded my expectations. The writing is lyrical and patient, and the tale is told in a winding way that reminds me so much of how old Southern men tell stories: somewhat linear but with each anecdote igniting the memory of a related anecdote.

The story is told through a long flashback that begins when the main character and narrator, Will, is sold as a kind of indentured servant by his parents. He is a “bound boy,” obligated through a contract signed by his parents and an old gentleman, to run a mountain trading post which conducts business primarily with the Cherokee who live throughout the woods. This is where he meets Bear, a Cherokee man who becomes his adopted father. Will subsequently finds himself straddling the two cultures and living a colorful life, working as a lawyer, a businessman, and a senator, up into his twilight years. The story unwinds slowly, with a plethora of both lovable and love-to-hate-able characters. A quiet, painful love story is the thread that runs through most of Will’s life, but the book is far from being a romance novel. It is a blend of historical fiction and fictional memoir. The book is not a quick read and it is not meant to be that way– though it lingers, you want it to last even longer, like a glass of good wine.

The language is mesmerizing, and the setting is vividly brought to life, taking on a character of its own. I think it takes a truly gifted writer who can balance setting with character, dialogue, and plot. Equal attention is given to these elements, and while it is indeed long, it is not for the writer simply padding the story with unnecessary details or rambling on. Set in the early through late nineteenth century, the writing skillfully mirrors the pace of a slower world that was not technology-obsessed. Reading it reminded me of the many camping trips I’ve had in the Appalachian Mountains, and it also sparked that blind nostalgia that we sometimes get when reading historical fiction that takes place when our country was “simpler.” Of course I say “simpler” with gritted teeth; issues back then were certainly just we weighty and complicated as they are today, but without modern threats such as nuclear war, suicide bombers, heavy drugs, and the incessant obligation to be connected at every second. I don’t relish the thought of being without some modern conveniences (particularly medicine) but a part of me longs for those days. The narrator makes an excellent point late in the book about how, for hundreds of years, human life was basically the same: you lived your life in pretty much the same way your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and etc. did. However, beginning around the time of Will’s lifetime, individuals’ lives were radically different from generation to generation, and this thought still resonates today.

Bottom line: the best book I have read this year. Frazier is a master.

I’ve always been a fan of postcards. I love to travel, and ever since I was young I’ve enjoyed picking up postcards when I visit a new place. I also ask friends to send me postcards when they go on vacation. In the past couple of years, I’ve taken this hobby to new heights, joining the website Postcrossing and exchanging cards with people around the world. I’ve received over 100 cards through the website and I still get a thrill every time one arrives in my mail box. So I was naturally drawn to the title of this book, Postcards from a Dead Girl, by Kirk Farber. Adding to my delight of finding a fiction book that even mentions postcards was the fact that there is something spooky about it– perfect for this time of year, don’t you think?

The main character, Sid, has been receiving postcards from exotic locations from his old girlfriend. The catch is that she’s either deceased or missing- Sid is not clear on this for the majority of the novel. Sid, understandably, gets more and more upset about receiving these postcards, until they turn into an obsession for him and he decides to try to get to the bottom of the mystery in various ways, including befriending a postal worker in his neighborhood and traveling to some of the places the postcards have come from. Along the way, though, we begin to realize that Sid isn’t the most reliable narrator, and he has a myriad of quirks and what some might call flaws. He allows his obsession to run him into deep credit card debt, and he loses all motivation to work at his telemarketing job– which I can definitely relate to, working as a temp in a call center myself these days.

We also see that things in Sid’s life are not what they at first appear to be. The character of the postman is especially symbolic of this, evident both by Sid’s surprise at seeing him not in his postal uniform and in that he has an underground bomb-shelter-cum-library. Sid also begins to slide down the deep end as he becomes obsessed with digging a mudbath spa for himself in his back yard.

The book reads like an independent film. It’s chopped into many very short chapters, which has the effect of presenting Sid’s life and the plot in snippets that can be at time disorienting. It’s a perfect strategy for this strange tale, and just adds to the mystery of the postcards and the deeper, darker elements of Sid’s life that lie beneath the surface plot. Comments about mental illness and institutionalization flicker in Sid’s commentary more and more, particularly in his interactions with his sister. Sid’s past and the true significance of his old girlfriend are forcefully shoved in his and the reader’s face towards the closing of the novel, and you feel as though you’ve been shoved from a dark room into the blinding daylight and are told to just deal with it. The moment of revelation puts a jarring twist on the plot and makes you look back at the rest of the story in a new light. It’s been a while since I’ve read a story with a shock at the end, and though it wasn’t entirely unexpected in this book, I really enjoyed it and found it to be very fitting.

Bottom line: A quick read, but pretty darn good. I expect a movie to be made out of this. Well done.

Looks like my reviews are becoming weekly rather than an every-other-day event. I’ll try to post more often, but you know how it goes.

Today I bring you back, once again, to the Asia of a past era. Specifically, Japan, set in the 1950s and onward to today. The book is The Commoner, by John Burnham Schwartz, and it is a fictional memoir of the empress of Japan, whose roots were little more than middle-class. It chronicles her unlikely marriage to the crown prince, her trials in adjusting to life within the imperial palace, and the struggles of her children as they grow up.

Schwartz writes with great care in this novel, mirroring the distance and coldness of the lifestyle of the imperial family in his writing. I have not read his previous novels, but I found the characters in this one to be quite inaccessible. I thought it was very fitting for many characters, particularly the empress who precedes Haruko, as well as other characters within the court such as the poisonous lady-in-waiting, Oshima. However, for a first-person perspective fictional memoir, I would have expected his main character to be a little more open to the audience and easier to relate to. Initially, I thought she would be, but throughout the book she remained as closed-off as the rest of the cast, which made it difficult to sympathize with her. I would have liked to have seen more openness not only with her, but also perhaps in her relationship with her driver, which spans nearly as many years as her marriage.

I was also struck by the lack of detail of daily life and court operations. Our main character repeatedly says that she has a very busy schedule, planned out to the minute by the court, but there is very little detail of what this actually entails on a day-to-day basis. Did she have no free time at all? What were all of these events? Only a few of them are actually described. I was also struck by the almost overwhelming despair and misery that is the tone of the novel. There is a flutter of excitement towards the beginning when Haruko first meets the crown prince and their interest in one another develops through a series of tennis matches and social events, but even that is downplayed and gives way to gloom. Perhaps it’s my own fault for thinking of Marie Antoinette- both the movie and the many novels and biographies I’ve read about her- while I was reading this book, but I find it difficult to believe that being crown princess and subsequently empress of Japan would be nothing but doom and gloom. I realize that the stifling atmosphere of the palace would make even the strongest people crack a little, and it is no wonder that she suffers a kind of nervous breakdown shortly after her entrance into court life. However, later in the book she looks over old photos of happy times with her husband and children at the beach- yet the audience is given no indication that she ever had any happy times at all after her marriage, despite the fact that she states that she and the crown prince broke old traditions several times for their own comfort. I know first-hand that Japan is a very conservative and restrictive society, and for those in the public eye, particularly constricting. But is there really and truly nothing enjoyable about being empress? Surely as a Japanese national she was somewhat aware of how the royal family lived before her marriage to the crown prince, and if this was the case, why would she agree to marry him knowing the kind of lifestyle she would enter into was so far from what she wanted out of life? Japanese society certainly wouldn’t allow her to be as extravagant as a figure like Marie Antoinette, but I really would like to know if there is nothing at all good about being a woman in the royal family of Japan.

The end of this novel- though I won’t completely spoil it- seems to be both what Haruko has desired for herself from the beginning of her marriage and at the same time completely out of character. She orchestrates a way for her daughter-in-law to escape the court, which is where this story breaks off completely from its factual basis. I can’t decide if this would be a likely course of events for an older empress who has seemingly resigned herself to the ways of the court long ago, but I think that is due to the fact that we are never really let in to Haruko’s heart, mind, or desires. Perhaps this is part of Schwartz’s tactic, in keeping with the “mystery” and closedness (sure it’s a word, I’m a linguist and would I lie? 😉 ) of Japanese society as a whole. I’m curious as to whether this book has been translated into Japanese and if so, what Japanese readers generally think of it.

Bottom line: lyrical, conflicting, and distant, like Japan itself. Worth borrowing from the library or reading in paperback.

Well, well! It’s been a little while since I last wrote, sorry about that. Life happens in the meantime 🙂  I managed to get a job, albeit a crappy one, but it pays me nonetheless. And I still have my research job, so life on the financial side of things is looking up. And did I mention we’re into October now? One month closer to my husband coming home and getting back to normal. One day at a time…

With a new job and more research than usual in the past week or so, I haven’t had much time to read. I did, however, manage to finish a non-fiction travel memoir about a couple who decides to up and move to the rainforest in Brazil. The book is Where the Road Ends, by Binka le Breton. I found it in the new books section of the library, and of course since I’ve been feeling pretty heartsick for the way my life used to be, the title was very appealing to me. I’m also up for travel memoirs pretty much any time, but this is the first I’ve read about Brazil or about farming in the rainforest. I was pretty excited and didn’t know what to expect of it.

Now, most of the travel writing that I’ve read thus far has been about an extended trip and finding yourself, lessons learned on the road and how perspective of home changes upon return, that sort of thing. This book, however, is about picking up your life and moving to a new lifestyle and career and existence in a place you are only mildly familiar with. Having come back from a failed work venture in Asia so recently, I could both identify with such a premise and feel mystified by it. I, too, sought a new career and lifestyle abroad, but I never had the intention of staying permanently. No, to be quite honest I was already thinking of returning before the year was up before I even left. I was interested to see what prompted them to make the move and then stay. That’s the key. Staying.

It turned out that the couple is quite international, having raised two children in many different countries. They had already experienced a lot of the world, both together and as individuals. Another part of their background as a family that is not really brought to the reader’s attention but which becomes glaringly obvious is that these people are quite wealthy. Does this matter? Well, it makes it difficult to relate to what they’re doing because the situation is vastly different from the two times I moved abroad. I do find it incredible that they went from such a comfortable, seemingly stable lifestyle in the USA to rural Brazil, which offers very little in the way of comforts from home- and from the sounds of it, they probably had some pretty cushy comforts back home! I think they are some of the most adventurous people I’ve ever heard of for doing that.

I really loved the descriptions of the land and how they started farming. I suppose I’ve always somewhat held on to the idea that farming is a romantic way of life, getting back to the land and all that. But of course, I’m from the country and I’ve always loved gardening and camping and general outdoor activities.  There is very little insight into the kinds of things the writer and her husband did that would lead to a decision like this, although I would imagine they had some “roughing-it” experience. Throughout the book, you do get glimpses of bits of experiences that may have led them to embark on such an adventure, such as Binka’s husband having been raised in Kenya. I’m both jealous of and mystified by their exotic pasts, haha.

While the farming and dealing with living in what seems to be a third-world shack are tough enough, their situation becomes a lot more dangerous (and thus for the reader exciting) once the local politics rear their ugly head.  Suddenly they are thrown into the world of land wars and pistoleiros, family vendettas and old murders. I really wonder if they realized that that kind of situation was possible before they moved there. As I sit here in a safe, peaceful bedroom, a life of hoping a pistoleiro doesn’t show up on my doorstep to get revenge seems pretty far from my realm of existence. And trust me, I’m pretty happy about that! I do wonder if any of those elements were exaggerated- not because I feel she is an unreliable narrator, but because I can’t imagine staying in a place where I know I have enemies who dislike me enough to come to my house toting guns. Keeping in mind that she had mixed feelings about moving there in the first place, I’m very surprised that she didn’t just say “That’s it! I’m out of here!” God knows I would have.

Towards the end of the book, the writer and her husband begin to get more involved in the local political and economic scene. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about the last 25% or so of the book because of these goings-on. I understand that she had lived there for a year or two by that point, but she seems to be digging her heels in deep considering she hadn’t even applied for citizenship as her husband had by that point- at least not that was revealed in the book. It seemed like in that last quarter of the book, she really gains momentum as far as things that she decides to try to change about the situation there. I have to wonder how this was truly received by the local population, from an unbiased point of view. I’m wary of this on a personal level because, as a linguist, in any research that I conduct, I have to be very careful to not alter any local issues, which can be difficult when working with a community. Linguists, particularly years ago when minority languages were beginning to be discovered, came and forced their own agenda on the local people. Though well-intentioned, this at times causes a split in the community and they become more fractured than before. I worry, and perhaps needlessly so, that a foreign couple with money bags moving to such a small community like that might have somewhat the same effect. I certainly hope not. I would be curious to find out about how things have gone since then as they are reportedly still living there. That aside, I enjoyed the colorful cast of characters, made up of both friends and enemies, that appear throughout the book. I also found the flow to be pretty good, although personally I would like to have a more definite time frame so I knew how long certain things took, like building the house and settling in. But it brought the setting and people to life for me, which is what I really want out of a travel narrative.

Bottom line: A good read. Great for travel writing fans.

Last night, I finally finished The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. It took be a little longer to finish this one than the others I’ve reviewed so far on this blog, mostly because I’ve been doing research and other things, like helping my great-aunt clean her gutters while the weather is nice! I love reading, but it’s hard to turn down the chance at some physical activity outdoors when the weather is so nice.

Anyway, despite the time it took, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll admit that sometimes when a book that is marketed towards adults has a teenage or pre-teen main character, I find it annoying and out of place, but somehow the 11-year-old protagonist in this one worked. I think mostly what made it work for me was the snappy writing and the fact that the main character is something of a genius. A book about more normal circumstances featuring a normal 11-year-old would have most likely bored me to tears, let’s be honest here. But Flavia de Luce, though at times wise beyond her years, had enough natural naivete that comes with that age to be just believable enough– for example, she thought it would be a great idea to escape her assailant using her older sister’s advice to “kick him in the Casanovas,” but then couldn’t go through with said plan because she didn’t understand where a man’s “Casanovas” were located. Love it! Some of the chemistry talk I found a little bit hard to swallow since I find it highly unlikely that an 11-year-old could teach herself how to do such complicated chemical equations. Some of it got a little too thick for me, reminding me of the torture that was Chemistry 121 during my freshman year of undergraduate studies, but it never dragged on for too long and there was plenty of action to counter the scientific babbling. And, even though it is a little hard for me to believe that such a person could exist, the way chemical reactions and notable chemists were described had an enthusiasm each and every time that really would belong to an 11-year-old; it was far too pure and energetic to come out of the mouth of an adult character.

I enjoyed the cast of characters and especially the interplay between Flavia and her two older sisters, which felt realistic despite the extraordinary circumstances of the plot. The characters also have the best, delightfully British names: Dogger, Mrs. Mullet, Miss Mountjoy, Ophelia, Mr. Twining (what is more British that “Twining”? I ask you.). But my favorite name by far was Horace Bonepenny. Doesn’t it just sound like the perfect name for a villain? Even the house itself had a very proper-sounding British name, Buckshaw. On a side note, why is it that Americans have something ingrained in their minds that makes them love British English? Deep down do we wish we were still under the rule of the crown? Unsolved mystery, but true enough in my experience.

I originally picked up this book when I was in the mystery section of the local library, picking up the next The Cat Who… book for my mom. I had seen this book before, and the title and cover intrigued me, so I thought I would give a mystery book a shot. Generally I bypass mystery novels in favor of historical fiction, classic literature or international fiction, but I think I need a broader repertoire, and that’s what I set out to do when I checked this out. The mystery aspect of the book was all right, but still not my favorite. I like to be taken along for a ride than try to outwit the characters and figure things out before they do– although I was able to do that a couple of times in this book, I didn’t solve the big question, nor did I even really try. Does that make me a lazy reader? Or do I just have a different reading style? I think that different readers get involved in books in different ways, and my style is more of escapism I think. For anyone out there reading this, I’d love to hear what your reading style is.

Bottom line: a fun, snappy read. Definitely worth your time.

P.S. Sorry no image this time, the insert image option doesn’t seem to want to work properly today. Next time!