Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie In spite of the fact that this was a horrible name for a book (who can remember that name?  and I found only a weak connection between the name and the book's content), and in spite of the fact that I usually don't read mysteries because I don't like them (and this was "A Flavia de Luce Mystery"), this was a pretty darn good book.

Set in the 1950's in the family owned once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, we meet a most interesting and delightfully entertaining group of characters.  Flavia de Luce, our sleuth, is a precocious 11 year old girl with a pendant for chemistry and a particular love for poisons.  She lives with her widowed reclusive father, and two older sisters Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely) where book reading and rivalry rules.  In the opening chapter we find Flavia dissolving Feely's inherited pearls that had "belonged to Mummy" much to Feely's horror.  And, that is only the start of it!

The murder takes place by Chapter 2, and it is up to Flavia to untangle who killed the man that had been visiting Father the previous evening.  She found the victum layed out in the family cucumber patch, expressing his last breath. The book is well written without any nastiness that would offer it an R or probably even a PG-13 rating.  It is clean, entertaining, and quite British.

I'm happy to see that Alan Bradley has many more Flavia mysteries to entertain us.  Any of these books would make great gifts to adults and adolencent readers alike.  It isn't a great discussion book, but would be fun for a lighter mystery or dinner party oriented reading group.

Mr. Bradley became a first time novelist in his 70's, and I'm sorry he waiting so long to start! His writing is good and prolific.   In 2007 he won the Debut Dagger Award of the (British) Crimewriter’s Association for this novel.  Check out the web site more bio information, a list of his Flavia mysteries, and an opportunity to join his fan club!

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson

The Orphan Masters Son This is a great discussion book, but takes the cake for the most depressing book of my literary lifetime.  I even think this beats Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment  for the unhappy literature award.  Basically you have all the makings of a great book.  The setting is interesting; placed in North Korea, it is in a land few of us understand.  The book is very well written, matter of fact I can say that this book is well engineered.   The author left us with the most positive ending possible by saving some of the characters you grew to care about.  The story of life in this dreadful country is told through a young male orphan, Jun Do.  We travel with him as he lives, from a horrible existence to "as good as it gets".

Enough said, this book was extremely dark.  There is a level of torture described as I've not read before; there are heartbreaking scenes that reveal North Korea as the truly evil dictatorship that it is.  Do not read this book to be happy, read this book to see what it means for a whole nation of people to be imprisoned.

The trip taken by the North Korean group to Texas was a goofy addition to the book.  What was the author thinking of, I know not.  He did tie the story line together, but it seemed very unbelievable.  He seemed to show us more about how unfair a country is when there are no personal liberties.

There is a lot to discuss, however as a group discussion book, this belongs in a book club like the Marquis De Sade's Book Readers, or perhaps the Political Atrocities Literary Society.  Our book club enjoyed Korean BBQ while we discussed this, but if we were true to form, we would have had a little bit of rice and vegetables and gone home hungry.