Tag Archive | Doubleday

Speaking From Among the Bones

Alan Bradley — Doubleday, 2013 — 9780385668125

Oh Flavia! How I’ve missed you. Looking back at my post about the previous novel in the series, I realize my recollection of it now is quite different. I remember it as feeling rushed, as though it needed to be published in winter to reflect the holiday theme, but the story just wasn’t quite there.

Not so with this fifth book. How great it is to have Flavia back! She’s as witty, as precocious, as cloyingly-acquiescent yet silently indignant as always. Her observations on English country village life are like warm cocoa with fluffy marshmallows on top and a hidden kick of chili spice deep within on a cold, rainy day.

I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be able to solve the mysteries Flavia encounters myself. Indeed, I think the author may have hinted at this fact with a wink, at least a bit more obviously than in his previous books. And I was a little astounded to read that she’s still only 11 years old — mainly because that means all 5 novels have taken place in the span of one year. Is it just me, or is that a lot of murders for a quaint country village?!

But the life of Flavia progresses well — or, as well as can be for a family that is about to lose its ancestral home. Much like Flavia herself, I can’t imagine her and her family living anywhere else. But the family is changing, after all, with Feely about to be married. Still, there are plot twists to the very end with this book, right up until the last page. (If you haven’t read it yet, don’t peek ahead! If you have read it, all I have to say it, “I knew it!”)

And as always, I’m left wanting more. No word on when the sixth book will be published (end of this year, or early next?), but until then we can cross our fingers that Sam Mendes will do Flavia justice in the upcoming tv series.


The Night Circus

Erin Morgenstern — Doubleday Canada, 2011 — 9780385671712

I don’t know what made me pick up The Night Circus, but I’m certainly glad I did. Overall, I enjoyed it and was pleasantly surprised with the entire experience, especially since 1) it’s a debut novel, and 2) this book has been generating a lot of buzz, which for me would usually make it one to avoid.

The story, set at the turn of the 20th century, is about two magicians, Celia and Marco, who are trained all their lives by their respective instructors to compete in a magical skill-testing competition, centred around a magical circus that is only open at night. What makes the plot work is the wonderful setting of this circus, Le Cirque des Rêves. It is magical not only because this competition of magical prowess is taking place within it, but also because all circuses have a certain amount of inherent magic in the form of illusion, performance, drama, and spectacle.

Morgenstern does a nice job of describing the sensual world the circus and its characters reside in. The overall atmosphere is mysterious, eccentric, charming, and romantic, most likely a result of intentional vagueness on the part of the author so that the reader envision the circus as they see it while reading along. That being said, I can’t help but feel as though perhaps a small part of this vagueness stems from the inexperience of this being the author’s first novel, with the result of it aiding the atmosphere of the book being somewhat unexpected. But I think it works, so I shouldn’t complain.

Overall, this was very a very enjoyable read and I appreciated the pacing of the plot and interaction between Celia and Marco — it wasn’t too rushed but rather realistically spaced out. My main qualm was that there were some romantic scenes in which the dialogue and characterization of women, as unable to control their emotions in the presence of the men they love and needing the men to hold them together, was painfully cliché and annoying to read. I hope the author abandons this device in her next book, because I would like to read it.

What I liked most was the attention to detail that went into the production of the book. The endpapers consist of black and white stripes, echoing the tents of the circus and distorting your perception. The case is black with fine sliver filigree stamped on the front and spine, echoing the descriptive signs on the circus tents. And the head and tail bands are red, like the scarlet items the rêveurs (the followers of the circus) wear to identify themselves apart from the regular circus goers. It would have been nicer if the illustration on the cover were black and white and red, instead of the current coral pink, but I think the designer realized it would echo the look of a certain series, and not to this book’s benefit.


I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Alan Bradley — Doubleday Canada, 2011 — 9780385668095

The fourth book in the Flavia de Luce series! I really enjoyed this one, more so than the third in the series. Perhaps it’s because setting a mystery at Christmas time makes it all the more cozy, especially if it’s a locked-room / English manor house type of mystery. Or perhaps it’s because Flavia was back with her wit and quips and that touch of naïveté. Either way, it’s a pleasant read with a small cliff-hanger of an ending that, of course, already makes me impatient for the fifth book to come out.

That being said, I was once again disappointed with the mystery aspect. The solution always seems to come about rather abruptly, and the reader can’t possibly figure it out (although you can guess) because we’re not given access to all the information. However, I’ve learned with this series not to focus too much on the mystery and to simply take in the pleasures of Flavia.


A Red Herring Without Mustard

Alan Bradley — Doubleday, 2011 — 9780385665865

The third installment of the Flavia de Luce mystery series. I look forward to each new book as it comes out, but I still find that I read these more for the main character (Flavia), than the actual mystery (although that’s fun, too). With this book, Flavia starts to grow a little older and wiser and more aware of her family’s financial difficulties. I think this shows promise for installment number four — more character development to go with the precocious wittiness and mystery!


The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession

David Grann — Doubleday, 2010 — 9780385517928

Well, I’ve finally caught up to 2011. The year kicked off with this great collection of essays by David Grann who, you may remember, wrote The Lost City of Z.

Grann likes to write about people who are obsessed with something, or someone, which was the case with Percy Fawcett and his Amazonian adventures to find a legendary city. In this collection of previously published essays Grann discusses a variety of subjects, including the mysterious death of one of the world’s foremost Sherlock Holmes experts (my favourite essay of the bunch); the case of a Texas man convicted of, and put to death for, a house fire that killed his children (despite numerous contradictory evidence); and the influence of the Aryan Brotherhood inside (and outside) the US federal prison system.

Grann’s essays are well constructed and he does justice to whichever subject he writes about, always presenting differing points of view (often as a twist halfway through the essay), and following up sometimes years after his initial investigation. You just know you’re going to get a well researched and well crafted essay, making his unique topic choices that much more enjoyable. Many of these essays are available online for free, mostly from The New Yorker, but I think it’s worth it to have them all in one place where they can easily be reread.


The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Alan Bradley — Doubleday, 2010 — 9780385342315

Book two in the Flavia de Luce series. I was worried it wouldn’t be as good as the first, but I needn’t have bothered. Flavia is still Flavia.

I neglected to mention in my post about the first book Bradley’s plan for the series. Each book is centred around some aspect of life in Britain in the 1950s (when the books are set) that doesn’t really exist, or is rare, today. The first book dealt with stamp collecting, and this one is about a travelling puppet show. It’s a great way to create for your readers a sense of nostalgia of a time long gone (even if you’re not old enough to have experienced it). Also a great way to make people think of daily life from a different perspective. Like what it was before everyone and their dog had a blog.


The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon

David Grann — Doubleday, 2009 — 9780385513531

A great book about a British explorer in the early 1900s who goes off to South America to search for a fabled lost city. He makes several trips but on his last one, when he is accompanied by his son, he goes missing and is never heard from again. Over the years there have been hundreds of explorers that have gone looking for him and the city, and many of them disappeared as well. The author also decides to make the trek. How’s that possible you ask? Oh yeah, because this book is NON-FICTION. Awesome.

I won’t spoil the end for you, but I will say that this book made me want to run out and buy all the history books about pre-Columbian North and South America I could find. So I did. Maybe one day soon I’ll get a chance to read them. It also made me want to read more by Grann, who is a great writer. So I did (that post to come). I’m anxiously awaiting Grann’s next (third) book. Until then, I hope Hollywood doesn’t ruin this book with its movie adaptation.

Also, about the time I was reading this book, I heard about Ed Stafford, the former British soldier who was (at that point) attempting to walk the ENTIRE AMAZON. And he finished. Can’t wait for THAT book to come out!


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley — Doubleday Canada, 2009 — 9780385665834

I loved this mystery, and was excited to find out it is the first in a series. The main character, Flavia de Luce, is excellent as an eleven year old chemist enthusiast turned sleuth. And what a character! I knew the book would be great the moment I read the following, on p9:

The book’s title was An Elementary Study of Chemistry, and within moments it had taught me that the word iodine comes from a word meaning “violet,” and that the name bromine was derived from a Greek word meaning “a stench.” These were the sorts of things I needed to know!

Flavia’s love of poison, her precociousness, and her strong personality make this book what it is: a cozy British murder mystery with a lovely twist. I found myself looking forward toward her next zinger more than the solution to the mystery!


The Lost Symbol

Dan Brown — Doubleday, 2009 — 9780385504424

This is the first book I’ve read that actually made me mad when I thought of all the time I wasted on it. (Although I suppose my tolerance for this kind of crap is pretty high, since I’ve read all his other books.) Did he just stop trying? It seems to go only for supposed shock value — I mean, nothing is resolved in the end! (Oh… spoiler alert, I guess?)

I like to think The Da Vinci Code marks a sort of nascent awareness for me when it comes to books. I read it just before I started working in a bookstore, during which time I was exposed to a wide variety of books and opinions. I suppose The Lost Symbol marks an end to a good chunk of my naiveté when it comes to books (be they low-brow or high). That’s why it stayed at my parents’ place after I moved out. Yeah, The Da Vinci Code moved with me. SO WHAT?!



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