The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I keep telling you that I am not a mystery reader.  You know, “Blah blah blah, mysteries meh, but this one was really good!”  Okay, at some point I have to admit that I’m loving on the mysteries, even with all of the things about it that were really “mystery-y”; all the tropes, like formulaic plots, uncanny coincidences, etc.  But really, you try and read about Flavia de Luce and tell me you don’t like her.  It’s not possible.

Flavia and her family live on an old estate in post-war England.  It’s a picturesque countryside where nothing very exciting happens.  Until Flavia wakes up one night and hears her father arguing with an unfamiliar man.  The next morning, as Flavia is walking outside to begin her day, she finds that same man laying in the garden.  He takes a breath and says the word, “Vale!” and promptly dies.  As Flavia says, it is the most exciting thing that happens in her life.

There are so many things to like about this book, but the best part is Flavia herself.  Her one passion in life is poisons and using them to get back at her evil sisters.  When her father is wrongly accused of murdering the mysterious man, she decides that she is going to find out who the killer is herself to save his name.

As for the rest, I’ll let you discover it.  Just know that I have totally jumped on this bandwagon.

One of my favorite quotes:

“As I stepped to one side to peer in the window, I noticed a handmade sign crudely drawn with black crayon and stuck to the glass: CLOSED.

Closed?  Today was Saturday.  The library hours were ten o’clock to two-thirty, Thursday through Saturday; they were clearly posted in the black-framed notice beside the door.  Had something happened to Miss Pickery?

I gave the door a shake, and then a good pounding.  I cupped my hands to the glass and peered inside, but except for a beam of sunlight falling through motes of dust before coming to rest upon shelves of novels there was nothing to be seen.

“Miss Pickery!” I called, but there was no answer.

“Oh, scissors!” I said again.  I should have to put off my researches until another time.  As I stood outside in Cow Lane, it occurred to me that Heaven must be a place where the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

No… eight days a week. (58)

So go read this!:  now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: everyone and their mother.

PS: Is not Flavia an amazing name?

PPS: I’m totally going to start saying “Oh, scissors!”

Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert

If you’re skipping this review because this cover doesn’t interest you (which it should, because it is darling), or because you think a book  about wild bird rehabbers won’t interest you, or because you don’t read non-fiction or memoirs all that often, please let me stop you.  Flyaway is one of the funniest, captivating memoirs I have read in a long time that manages to find the perfect balance of emotion, information, fact and well-written prose.  I can’t recommend it enough!

Let me begin by saying that the world of wild birds is completely foreign to me, especially wild songbirds.  My closest connection to the world of birds was my parrot named Clyde.  I got him in the fifth grade and we adored each other, even though he bit me when I tried to feed him.  Didn’t he know the rules?  I think he would have just enjoyed it more if I let him camp out on the edge of my plate and eat my food.  It was heartbreaking when, for reasons completely outside of my control, we had to part ways.  In that sense, I understood the tiniest bit what Suzie Gilbert was talking about, but other than that, all of the information in this book was new to me.

Suzie Gilbert begins her life as a wild bird rehabber by volunteering at an already established center, but once she caught the rehabbing bug, she couldn’t give it up.  Thanks to the donations of several people, Suzie was able to begin her small organization that eventually she names Flyaway Inc. to help injured birds and raise babies and fledglings.  With two young children of her own, Suzie vastly underestimates the amount of time being a bird rehabber will take, but with grace and an unfaltering love for the wildlife she protects, Suzie makes rehabbing not only a full time job, but also a lifelong passion.  Suzie’s husband and children play a large part in this book and I grew to love them as much as I did Suzie and her birds.

This book is a roller coaster of emotions, from hilarious moments, to touching moments, to downright tear-inducing, tragic moments, but it ebbs and flows so naturally.  Not only did Gilbert entertain me, but she educated me.  I was briefly considering making my cat an outdoor cat, but Oscar will have to be satisfied watching the birds from the window because Gilbert carefully explained the dangers house cats (and the growing population of feral cats) pose on endangered bird species.  Outside of her personal stories, this memoir is filled with information about all the wild birds that Suzie rehabs and about the resources available to people who find injured birds.  Though I wouldn’t classify this book a “how-to”, the information within is wonderful for anyone who shares the land with wild birds.  So, you know, everyone.

This book is compellingly readable, taking only a few hours to finish, and I have to admit that I was addicted to it this past weekend.  I found myself unable to sleep one night until I knew what happened to Suzie and her birds.   If I had any complaints, they would be that I would have liked even more information.  I wanted to know more about the birds and more about her family.  I was also unsure about how much time had passed between the first page and the last.  I couldn’t tell how old her children were by the end, but I’m sure that’s a question she could easily answer.  These are incredibly minor complaints that do not take away from what a wonderful reading experience this was.  I really enjoyed reading this book and I think that everyone who enjoys a good story will too, even if you thought a story about wild birds could never be that interesting… trust me, it is!

Favorite quotes:

A moment when Suzie Gilbert made me laugh –

While most people’s protective instincts are aroused by cuddly creatures such as puppies and ducklings, mine are also triggered by homicidal raptors with records of assault. (56)

A quote that made me tear up a little –

We clean, feed, study, attend conferences, amass arcane knowledge, and learn to handle the creatures who fear us.  Our triumph is to accept an injured wild animal, treat its injuries, carefully learn each one of its quirks and preferences, help it heal, and then let it go.  If things go according to plan, we will never see it again.

Somehow, this is enough.

“Do you ever fall in love with the animals you take care of?” I asked a rehabilitator, naively, years and years ago.

She gave me a small, rueful smile.  “Every single one,” she said. (127)

And, finally, just a passage I thought was particularly lovely –

Time flew toward the summer sky.  The small spot of orange became a string of orange lights draped festively around my flight cage, shining into the darkness.  The roof opened and fireworks shot straight up into the night and fell as birds, swooping upward before they reached the earth.  The string of lights turned into a flock of orioles.  And in place of the sound of explosives was a voice so beautiful it could ease a troubled mind and wash it all away.  Like rain. (255)

If you are looking for an organization to donate to, or would like more information about what resources are available in your area, please check out the Wildlife Rehabilitation directory.  You can type in your zip code and there is a directory including the rehabber’s phone number, location and which animals they take in.  Check it out!

Also please check out Suzie Gilbert’s website to watch a video of her releasing a hawk that has been rehabbed!  It’s amazing!!

So go read this!: now| tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Thank you to TLC book tours for providing me a copy of this book to review.

Other reviews: Bookfoolery and Babble, DogEar Diary.  Previous stop on the tour: Raging Bibliomania.  Next stop on the tour: Farmgirl Fare.

In the Woods by Tana French

I really tried to write this review without spoilers, but I failed.  So, the spoilers are in white text, just highlight them and you’ll be able to read them. In the Woods by Tana French is a mystery/detective/thriller novel that follows Rob Ryan , who used to be named James Ryan, and Cassie Maddox on the most important case of their detective careers.  A young girl is murdered in his old hometown and they hit dead end after dead end.  To top it all off, when Rob was a young boy, two of his friends disappeared in the same woods where they found the murder victim.  The only real clues left over from the old case are the blood that was found in Rob’s shoes and a hair clip.   The writing is beautiful!  I listened to the audiobook and the actor who voices Rob did a wonderful job.

This book has left me so conflicted. Rob made me angrier than any character I’ve read lately and I’m sure there are some really freaked out people on I-95 who saw me screaming at my car radio for him to stop being an ass and get over it.  Seriously, rarely has a main character, whom I am supposed to like, pissed me off the way Rob did.  I hated him.  I spent days going around saying things like, “God, Rob is being such a jerk right now.”  With some unsuspecting person asking me, “Who’s Rob?”  And me sheepishly responding, “Oh you know… just some guy in a book I’m reading right now.”

And then I felt so bad for him.  Never have I wanted to use so many foul words in a post before.  I’m mad at Rob, I’m mad at Tana French, I’m mad at Cassie, I’m mad at SPOILER Rosalind.  But any book that has elicited such a response in me has to be good, right?  I think so?

Highlight text below to for spoilers:

So I’m super pissed that we don’t learn anything about what actually happened to Rob, even though, TECHNICALLY, I know it makes a stronger novel because things are neat and tidy, but dammit, sometimes I really want something tidy. I thought the mystery was fairly well-played. SPOILER  That last scene with Rosalind and Cassie was INTENSE and really stressed me out. So yes, I liked it.  I mean, I hated every minute of it, but in a wonderful way.  Plus, I really can’t wait to get my hands on The Likeness even though SPOILER it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to learn anything about what really happened to James.  Jerk.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’?, Caribousmom, Big A Little A, Care’s Online Book Club, books i done read, Stephanie’s Written Word, The Book Lady’s Blog, Firefly’s Book Blog, Book Addiction, Presenting Lenore, S. Krishna’s Books, Linus’s Blanket, Savidge Reads, Save Ophelia.

Girlhood friendship in Woodson’s “After Tupac and D Foster”

When I read If you come softly by Jacqueline Woodson back in spring, I was completely blown away by the beauty and the tragedy of it.  It’s a simple, lovely novel that has the power to change lives.  So really if you haven’t read it yet, stop reading this review and go read If you come softly. You won’t regret it.   After reading it, I wanted to read every Jacqueline Woodson book I could get my hands on, so when I saw After Tupac and D Foster on my library shelf, I grabbed it right away.

Where If you come softly was a story about romantic love, After Tupac and D Foster is the story of three black girls who are best friends, Neeka, D and our narrator.  D mysteriously enters their lives the summer before they turn twelve and just as quickly leaves right after they turn 13.  Tupac plays an important role in the girls’ lives, with the book beginning when Tupac was shot for the first time and ending with his death.  D looks up to Tupac and she feels as though he is talking directly to her through his music.  They become closer friends through their passion for the musician and it gives the novel the perfect arc.

What I loved best about After Tupac and D Foster was the narrator and her voice.  She’s very mature, but not unbelievable, and she is just looking for a little bit of beauty in the world.  The novel captures an era and a place perfectly.  The love that the three girls share is so perfectly described, but it manages to be about bigger things than that.  It is a short book, but one that encompasses so many parts of life, from the challenges to the perfect moments.   I loved the inclusion of Tupac in this book because it puts it in a precise moment of time, New York in the 90s.  Tupac is a fascinating man and I highly recommend the VH1 documentary about his life.  There are so many things that I didn’t know about him, but having watched the documentary beforehand really gave me a greater sense of the emotional way that the girls reacted to Tupac and just how important he really was (and is).

But Woodson does not stop at the girls’ friendship or their relationship with Tupac.  There is so much more in this book and it’s amazing how much Woodson captures in 150 pages.  One of the most touching scenes is when the narrator and Neeka go visit Neeka’s brother Tash in jail.  He was wrongfully accused of assaulting an old friend, but really it was a crime against Tash, in which he was beaten as well.  Tash, a gay man, must avoid being beaten or worse in prison and he has a conversation with his mother that will absolutely break your heart.

“Why did you roam, though?” I asked.  Whenever D talked about her roaming, I always asked why.  I wanted to understand — deep — what it was like to step outside. [...]

“Uptown they got those fancy buildings.  Out in Brooklyn they got those pretty brownstone houses.  West side got Central Park and people going all over the place in those bright yellow taxicabs.”  D looked at us and I knew a part of her knew how much me and Neeka lived for the rare moments when she showed us where she’d been and, by doing so, we got to go to those places too.

And then it made sense to me — crazy-fast sense in a way it hadn’t before.  D walked out of her own life each time she stepped into one of those other places.  She got off the bus or walked up out of the subway and her life disappeared, got replaced by that new place, those new strangers  — like big pink erasers.  Before me and Neeka started asking D about her life, we were erasers too — she got to step into our world with all the trees and mamas calling from windows and kids playing on the block, and forget (18).

And that is exactly what Woodson does for her readers.  You so perfectly step into this world, onto this  street and you are completely with the three girls that it does not feel like you are reading a story, it’s more real than that.  There are many other passages that I want to quote for you, but I think I’ll let you discover them for yourself.  Jacqueline Woodson has done it again and I plan on reading everything she has ever written, because if all her books are only half as good as If you come softly and After Tupac and D Foster then they will all be  excellent.

So go read  this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Also reviewed by: Color Online & The Happy Nappy Bookseller.

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Call me Zits in Sherman Alexie’s Flight

Sherman Alexie is one of those authors that everyone loves and for good reason.  He’s ambitious, witty, fearless and unbelievably creative.  I’ve been interested in picking up more of his books recently, especially after reading and loving The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianTen Little  Indians and some of Alexie’s poetry last year.  I’ve also been listening to Nancy Pearl’s podcasts on my commute and one of her older archived interviews was with Sherman Alexie right after he published Flight, which is, as far as I can tell, one of his least popular books to date.  It did not sell well and has received very mixed reviews.  Something about the way Alexie talked about his narrator Zits really made me want to read it and I suggest everyone go watch the video!  If that doesn’t make you want to read Flight, I’m not sure what will.

“Call me Zits,” the novel begins, introducing us to one of the most original narrators I’ve read in a long time.  He’s a half-white-half-indian teenager who has been wronged by life, a not uncommon tale, of an absent father and a loving mother who dies when Zits  is young, forcing him into an uncertain life going from foster care family to foster care family.  After one particular incident with a new foster care family, Zits is arrested and while in jail he meets Justice.  Justice convinces him that he can bring his mother back, but only if he kills someone in a revenge murder.  So Zits shoots up a bank and is killed by a police officer, dying immediately.

But that’s not where Zits’s story ends, that’s only where it begins.  As Alexie explains in the video, he becomes “unstuck in time” like Billy Pilgrim in Slaughterhouse Five, going from one moment in American history to the next.  At each moment, he experiences a revenge killing of sorts, making him relive the moment when he made the decision to shoot the bank.  Zits inhabits the body of all sorts of men and boys throughout history – men who betray their wives, soldiers who betray their army, even a little boy who is asked to do an unspeakable thing.  Each time he feels the guilt multiplied until he cannot understand making that decision over and over and over again.

One thing I think is clear from reading Flight is that we are all capable of revenge.  It can be a small thing, it does not have to be as big as murder, but that is a human feeling.  It does not matter what race you are or what gender you are or what age you are.  It is a powerful human emotion that can make anyone do something they will regret.  Zits’s story ends well, at least he tells us it does.  We are left at the end, unsure of what to believe or knowing what was real.  In the end, though, it does not matter if it was real or all in Zits’s head.  It does not matter if he killed in 2007 or the 1970s or the 1700s, or if he killed at all.  What is important is what he learned along the way – the danger of exacting revenge for something that no one could stop and the ability to forgive.  At least we hope he learned something.

Alexie, through Zits, provides so many insights that make Zits completely believable as a character, such as:

And then it’s the white kid and me.

He sits on the floor at one end of the cell.  I sit on the floor at t he other end.  He stares at me for a long time. He’s studying me.

“What are you looking at?”  I ask.

“Your face,” he says.

“What about my face?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that,” he says.  “They got all sorts of medicine now.  I see it on TV.  They got miracle zit stuff.  Clear your face right up.”

I’ve seen those commercials too.  The ones where famous people like P. Diddy and Jessica Simpson and Brooke Shields talk about their zits and how they got cured by this miracle face cream made from sacred Mexican mud and the sweet spit of a prom queen.  And, yeah, I’d love to buy that stuff, but it costs fifty bucks a jar.  These days, you see a kid with bad acne, and you know he’s poor.  Rich kids don’t get acne anymore.  Not really.  They just get a few spots now and again. (21)

This novel is so unique, drawing on influences from literature and popular culture, but making it into a completely original story that encompasses many aspects of our culture in one short novel.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Other reviews: Bibliofreak.

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Character driven family drama in The Summer We Fell Apart

When I first began reading The Summer We Fell Apart, I instantly fell in love with the narrator Amy, the youngest daughter of the Haas family and her innocent analysis of one summer in her life.  Her mother is an actress and her father is a writer and both are overly dramatic and uncaring.   They hurt each other and ultimately hurt their children, though perhaps unintentionally.  Amy, a high school student, is not only dreading the departure of her favorite brother George for college, but also trying to understand Miriam, the slightly older exchange student who comes to live with them. Her voice was touching and innocent, but still aware that her life and the lives of her siblings were changing forever that summer, when their father finally left their mother.

When I realized that the different parts of the novel were from different perspectives, one part for each Haas child, I was disappointed because Amy was so unique and I absolutely did not want to leave her. Fortunately, each and every single character surprised me: I enjoyed all of the characters and their respective sections of the book.  Each voice managed to be unique, while at the same time bringing new insights to the character.  It was a very perfect example of how to pull off this style.  Too often with alternating narrators or changing narrators, one becomes more believable or more enjoyable to read than the other.  Antalek never falls into this this trap, instead each section informs the reader about a character’s motivations.

The title to this novel is somewhat misleading as this book does not only take place during one summer, but it’s about the consequences that summer had on the family for many years to come.  We are first introduced to Amy and George when they are in high school, but end when they are in their late twenties/early thirties.  I was instantly drawn to Amy in her introductory section and Antalek was smart to allow Amy to begin the story, because she did not quite understand everything that was happening and that allowed the story to be unfurl gracefully, with each child revealing a little bit more.  George, the younger brother, also had a wonderful voice that I loved immediately.  He falls in love with the fathers of one of his students and it’s a really touching love story.

I really wasn’t looking forward to Kate’s section because of the descriptions of her provided by George and Amy: overbearing and rude.  However, this is really where Antalek proved that she knew what she was doing.  Kate’s section helped me to understand her character, and even though I didn’t always like what she was doing, I at least got where she was coming from.  Finally there is Finn’s section, the shortest, but one of the most important.  The culmination of the consequences of that summer in one tragic event brought the children and their mother together again to face their responsibility and their injuries.

The Summer We Fell Apart really surprised me.  Though the subject matter was heavy, it is a very hopeful novel that acknowledges not only the ways that families can hurt us, but also the way they can comfort and shelter us, even when we are least expecting it.

So go read this!: now | tomorrow | next week | next month | next year | when you’ve exhausted your TBR

Disclaimer: I received this book for review from TLC Book Tours.  Next stop: Dolce Belleza.