Tag Archives: 3 stars

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

book cover of As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAuthor: Alan Bradley
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Mystery
Length: 392 pages

There isn’t a good way to discuss this book without spoiling the previous. If you haven’t read The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, you may not want to read on.

Yaroo, a new Flavia book! I dearly love Flavia de Luce. I read this series to see what sorts of shenanigans Flavia gets into and how she works her way out of them, not because I’m really engaged the mystery. Given the end of the last book, I was nervous about The Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. What would a Flavia story be like without her father, her sisters, and Dogger? Without Buckshaw?

On many counts, Flavia works really well in a different environment (her dramatic insistence that she has been “Banished!” for example or her plotting out how she would poison her chaperone). She’s still getting in and out of trouble, being clever and wonderful, doing chemistry, and making me laugh aloud. The boarding school setting and strange Nide, secret society intrigue were also interesting if a bit over the top.

Bradley spends a lot of time building the world of Miss Bodycoate’s. There is a dizzying cast of girls with as many names and nicknames as a Tolstoy novel. Even by the end, they all seemed very similar. I had trouble keeping them apart.

My biggest struggle, however, was with the end of the book, which seemed to negate the entire point of the book.

3 stars to As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust because it’s Flavia and I still enjoy reading about her quite a bit, but this was definitely a weaker entry in the series.

I received an advanced copy of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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Another Owl Reads Behind the Beautiful Forevers

BehindBeautifulForeversTitle: Behind the Beautiful Forevers
Author: Katherine Boo
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Non-Fiction, Social welfare
Length: 256 pgs.

Synopsis: When Katherine Boo married her husband 10 years ago, she was excited to gain a new home country in India; however, her husband warned her not to take it at face value. Having written for the Washington Post and The New Yorker about poverty in the U.S., she turned her focus to the struggles of the poor in Mumbai and the juxtaposition between the situation in the slums and the lives of the elite.

Review: The poverty faced by the people in this book is so far removed from my own experiences that I was shocked when Asha’s family takes a trip to visit relatives on the farm and they’re thought of rich. These are people who spend 18 hour days picking through garbage to find plastic water bottles and old batteries to sell. Many are stooped by starvation or riddled by tuberculosis. And they’re considered the rich relatives who have made it in the big city. It was completely mind-blowing.

Another thing that surprised me was the fighting within the community of Annawadi. The people living there looked at any situation from the perspective of how they could make it advantageous for themselves – even in cases where absolutely horrible things are happening to their neighbors. These aren’t bad people, but they have no other options.

The aspect of this book I found most disturbing was the amount of corruption. Corruption is brought up by news media in vague terms all the time when talking about developing countries, but in Behind the Beautiful Forevers you see first-hand the damage it does to the poor. While I’m sure that most of the population isn’t corrupt, it seemed like everyone these people came into contact with was trying to extort them in some way: when they had to go to the hospital you had to bribe the nurse to give care or the doctor to give the medication so desperately needed and even then it was probably expired; the police would arrest random people and then make your family pay to not send you to jail. It’s terrible! I couldn’t believe that all these stories were real.

This book made me feel about myself and the comparative richness in which I live. But what can I do with this information? Nothing. I don’t have the skills to actually make a mission trip to India a good idea, and monetary donations will most likely just end up in the wrong hands. What’s a girl to do?!

Note: Madeleine read this book last year and loved it a lot more than I did, so be sure to check out her review as well! https://thebookowls.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/behind-the-beautiful-forevers/

Murder in Libraries, sans Agatha Christie

Chapter One

With his back pressed close again the door of the police station, Carty Rand stood gloomily staring across the street. Should he go up to the Press Club and play poker with the gang, or spend the next hour improving his mind at the public library?

-Murder in a Library

Title: Murder in a Library
Author: Charles J. Dutton
Rating: 3 Stars
Genre: Mystery
Length: 302 pages

Synopsis:

Carty Rand is a young newspaper reporter. He’s assigned to cover stories surrounding police work and the public library. So when he finds the reference librarian, Ruby Merton, murdered in her office next to a reading room full of people, he can’t help but investigate. Rand is joined by a police inspector (Kent), the chief of police (Rogan), and a popular professor of abnormal psychology (Manners), in an investigation that takes them from the library to the local speakeasy, but they are all puzzled. As they repeat ad nauseum, who would ever kill a librarian, and why?

Review:

I came across Murder in a Library by chance, while I was searching for a different missing book at the library. Flipping open an original copy from 1931 the overwhelming hardboiled detective vibe was strong from page one (spoiler alert: Carty Rand chooses to go to the library). I was instantly charmed and checked it out. Here’s another snippet from the first chapter:

Crossing the floor he paused at the delivery desk and for a few moments joked with the efficient looking girl who was in charge. Because of the storm the room was almost deserted and the assistant had plenty of time at her disposal. There were at least twenty girls on the staff and Rand knew them all…

And now every one of you who has ever worked in a library is thinking, “Oh, he’s one of those types.”

Honestly, I enjoyed this book simply for the era and attitude it captures, but it was not a good book. Rather, reading Murder in a Library was a so-bad-it’s-good situation. The writing is sloppy, and Dutton oddly repeats himself all the time. The mystery wasn’t particularly engaging. Oh, and the old librarian stereotypes (and sexism) are very strong in this one. Poor Ruby Merton, the reference librarian, comes off as a pretty unpleasant character. Here’s a taste of how she’s described:

  • “…A funny, repressed neurotic, whom life had soured, who, to say the least, was not well liked.”
  • “No one had ever called the reference librarian good-looking; there were many who said she was just the opposite. Eccentric in everything she did, like many of her type, her clothes ran to vivid, extreme colors.”
  • “Why should anyone kill that harmless, neurotic old maid? True she had a sharp tongue, caused no doubt by the fact that most of the prizes of life had passed her by, but to murder her—the thought was absurd. Yet she had been murdered. That reality could not be escaped.”

Ouch. It reminds me of It’s a Wonderful Life when the fact that Mary is an unmarried librarian is just about the worst thing George can imagine:

Mary Bailey as an unmarried librarian in It's A Wonderful Life

George: Please, Clarence, where’s my wife? Tell me where my wife is.
Clarence: You’re not going to like it, George.
George: Where is she? What happened to her?
Clarence: She became an old maid. She never married.
George: Where is she? Where is she?
Clarence: She’s…she’s just about to close up the library!

The book is pretty short, and if you want to read it, a scanned version of Murder in a Library is available for free on HathiTrust!

 

The Lace Reader

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Magical Realism

Length: 390 pgs.

Synopsis: The last time Towner read lace, a form of psychic reading, her twin sister drowned and Towner ended up in a mental institution. Now after 20 years(?) Towner’s great-aunt/adopted mother has gone missing and Towner is called back to Salem. After finding out what happened to her aunt, sort of, Towner and a local police detective end up investigating another missing woman and a local cult leader, who just happens to be Towner’s uncle. The plot of this story isn’t linear and is very hard to explain.

Review: I have a problem with unreliable narrators. I’m an incredibly gullible person who tends to take things at face value when I read, especially when the story is told in first person. How could you lie to me when I’m inside your head?! Well…

I liked Towner from the beginning. Towner is in recovery from surgery when she first gets the news about her auntand having just undergone surgery myself, I was very concerned about the amount of traveling and exercise she was undertaking so soon during her recovery. I absolutely loved the secondary characters. Towner’s hermit mother living on Yellow Dog Island infested by packs of wild golden retrievers (Take a minute and picture that. Remote Island. Adorableness running rampant. Ok, back to the story). Having been fascinated with the Salem witch trials since middle school earlier, I’m surprised I didn’t read this book when it first came out.

Until the last 50 pages or so, I would have given this book four stars and then the twist happened. I’m not going to say what it is, just that I did not see it coming. And now I kind of want to re-read the entire book to see if there were any clues and I’m just ambivalent, or if it was just an oddly written book. In any case, the twist changes the entire feeling of the book and it made me doubt everything I had just read. That being said, if you like family drama, the Northeast, and sort-of-witchy witchiness I would actually highly recommend this book even though I only gave it 3 stars.

The House of the Scorpion

http://www.nancyfarmerwebsite.com/house-of-scorpion.html

Considering that this YA novel won so many awards and is read by pretty much every middle schooler ever, I cannot believe that I hadn’t really heard of it let alone read it. I was randomly looking up young adult books to read for a young adult book club and this was one I came across with many awards behind the title. It was vetoed as a book club choice, but I put it on my to-read list anyway. I can’t say that I loved it, but I am glad that I read it.

The House of the Scorpion brings up some interesting moral and ethical dilemmas like cloning, free will, and use of power. Matt, as El Patron’s clone, finds out quickly that he is not viewed like other little boys in the drug land of Opium. Matt’s coming of age story has its moments, but to me it seemed like Matt’s voice from early childhood to teenager didn’t change very much. He still seemed very childlike. This was part of why I got bored with it. I wanted a young adult book that actually spotlighted a young adult, not a child. Plus, the last third of the book just went in a completely different direction, and seemed unnecessary.

Overall, I think if I had been in middle school or even high school I would have enjoyed this book much more. As an adult, it was underwhelming. I enjoyed reading it, but it wasn’t nearly as good as I expected it to be with all the awards it won. With that said, I checked out the sequel at the same time as The House of the Scorpion, so I started reading The Lord of Opium. We’ll see if this one is better. Stay tuned!

Pretty Girl-13

Hmm….I really expected to like this more. I know that may sound….weird (for lack of a better word) when thinking about the subject of the book but it could have been written so well. I know that this book is out there to educate kidnappings/sexual abuse that in the end come to happier conclusions (Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, etc.) but there were no surprises here. I found myself thinking, “was that supposed to be a surprise?” “Really? That’s the “twist”?” and I guess I’m not sure what I fully expected from this book. It did it’s job in introducing the world to a character that you could almost relate to. I thought some of the plot lines were a little weird. I really loved the idea of exploring Disassociative Identity Disorder and the reality of being in a situation you are beyond dealing with and your body basically taking over. But, and this is a big one, this could have been MUCH better. I applaud the author for taking a really hard subject and giving it a voice. Not often in literature for teens do certain sort of taboo subjects come up.

Angie, our main character, goes camping and the suddenly finds herself back on the street she lives on. She goes home and her parents are elated to see her. She doesn’t understand that three years have passed because she doesn’t remember them. Her alternate personalities are basically shielding her from what has occurred so the last thing she remembers is leaving to go camping and then winds up home instead.

I found I couldn’t relate to Angie as a person. The story felt like a story and not a world that I could try to understand and join. It lacked some sort of emotion for me that would have made it seem more realistic or at least made the characters more realistic. I also had a hard time accepting her “alters” as real characters. The interactions with them were strange and kind of detracted from the story a bit for me.

I wouldn’t say I don’t recommend that you read this, just that it really wasn’t for me. 

It was actually kind of funny…

Not going to lie, I fully expected to hate It’s Kind of a Funny Story. It’s written by Ned Vizzini, who published Be More Chill while I was working at B&N, which truly earns the award for worst title and worst cover art in the history of YA fiction.

I’d also seen trailers for the movie and it didn’t really seem like my kind of thing.

The book ended up being not quite so bad. It starts off with a a brilliant hook: “It’s so hard to talk when you want to kill yourself.” I was instantly interested. Ultimately, this book about teen suicide ends up being much mroe upbeat than I expected. 16 year old Craig Gilner worked for a year preparing for the entrance exam for an elite high school in New York. Once he got in, he realized that now he actually has to attend this school with other kinds who were also smart enough to be accepted. Reeling from the fact that he might not be as exceptional as he assumed, Craig starts suffering from depression. It gradually gets worse, until he can no longer sleep or eat and he starts contemplating suicide. When he calls a suicide hotline found in one of his mom’s self-help books, he’s told that the suicide hotline is actually overwhelmed with calls that night and his best option would be to go to the emergency room. Through a series of unlikely concidences, Craig is admitted to the locked adult psychiatric wing where he has to stay for at least five days, or until the doctors think him well enough to rejoin society. Over the course of those five days, Craig finds himself: he realizes that pre-professional school really isn’t for him since his real love is art (nevermind that he hasn’t drawn since he was four), and that realization changes his life for the better – he achives what he calls a “shift.

Craig’s self-depreciating tone turns what could be a very depressing read into something more; it’s real, and intimate, and funny. The issues Craig faces, most obvious the pressure of figuring out who you are would be relateable to many teens. In the end, though, I found the book to be too unbelievable to truly love. The give day turn-around seems awfully quick. Craig’s problems are instantly gone when he checks into the hospital; he can now eat, makes friends quickly, finds a girlfriend, has his first sexual experience, and has a breakthrough. The overall message was great, but it was tied up in a neat little bow that I found unrealistic and would add even more pressure to teens facing their own issues.

Lastly, do teen boys really think about sex as much as Craig does in this book? If so, I fear for the future. He meets a girl while in the hospital and his entire focus is on making her his girlfriend. Is it not enough to be friends with this girl? That doesn’t even occur to him. And honey, you met this boy yesterday. In a psych ward. And you’re 16. Can we not let him get to third base? Have some respect for yourself.