Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
A co-worker recommended the book A Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to me. What a great suggestion! In 1950’s era England, eleven year old Flavia de Luce finds a body in the family’s cucumber patch. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened in my entire life.” She attempts to solve the mystery ( sometimes to the consternation of the local police) using her intelligence, advanced knowledge of chemistry, and just plain persistence. A quirky family- two older, literary sisters and a widowed father who is an avid stamp collector-also figure in the story. Canadian author C. Alan Bradley won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel for this delightful mystery, the first in a series featuring memorable Flavia.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris first came to my attention on a “Best Mystery” list. It is a mystery, and much more. Set in modern day Saudi Arabia, Palestinian Nayir al-Sharqi is asked by his friend Othman to go with him into the desert to try and discover the whereabouts of Othman’s sixteen year old fiancé, Nouf. The young woman has disappeared into the desert three days before their wedding, seemingly without a trace. Nayir tries to discover what has happened to Nouf, with the help of Katya, a young woman working in the state medical examiner’s office.
What I found particularly fascinating about this book was the glimpse into modern Saudi Arabian life. The author has lived in Saudi Arabia and so has a unique perspective and insight into the lives of both men and women living and working there. I recommended this book to a friend. Her book group chose it as their monthly read, and she said it resulted in a lively discussion.
If you’re looking for a mystery with a different slant, give this a try!
Michigan author Laura Ellen's Blind Spot left me emotional and confused. For me, Blind Spot is one of those unique novels that gains power over the reader by causing intense emotional turmoil and frustration. Basically, this book made me so angry and frustrated that I haven't been able to banish it from my thoughts.
The main character, Roz, suffers from macular degeneration, leaving her legally blind. She constantly struggles to make up for this deficit as she maneuvers her way through high school, but her eyesight is, unsurprisingly, always on her mind, making her self-conscious and lowering her self-esteem. Constantly frustrated from feeling helpless and out of her element in many situation while still wanting to be able to handle everything herself and without help, Roz has a tendency to jump to conclusions and snap at those around her, even those with the best intentions. This aspect of the novel felt very realistic to me. My younger sister was born with glaucoma and I think she'd identify closely with Roz. I can't say what goes on inside my sister's head, but I do know how she reacted to things when she was in high school and, from my point of view, Roz had similar reactions and thoughts. In the novel, Roz points out that people don't realize how poor her vision is and are constantly asking why she doesn't just get glasses. She can't drive and isn't able to play sports because she's a liability. These are all things my sister struggled with. Also like Roz, my sister could be a bit angry. She didn't like wearing her glasses, which improved her vision but left her feeling dorky and unattractive (which is not fun for anyone, let alone a high school-aged girl), and new situations were extremely stressful because she couldn't see to figure things out.
This is where the similarities between my sister and Roz end, right along with my positive feelings regarding Blind Spot. My biggest issue? I absolutely loathed all of the characters. The teachers, the police, Roz's friends, her mother, her boyfriend: all horrible, mean people motivated by self-interest and unwilling to see things from any point of view other than their own. I know it's a strong word, but I was truly disgusted. Realistically, I know that there are people like this in real life, people that let power go to their head and exploit others, but to have an entire novel populated with them was sometimes overwhelming.
I will say that I actually did enjoy the character Tricia, but she's dead from the first page (the focus of the book is, primarily, her disappearance and murder). Tricia, however, was the only character who, though monumentally messed up, actually seemed to do some genuinely nice, even protective, things for Roz without expecting anything in return.
So, despite feeling extremely frustrated with the characters as I read Blind Spot, I can't really say my strong negative feelings were necessarily a bad thing. Yes, I was disgusted and unhappy and wanted to stop reading because I felt like what was happening on the page was terribly unfair, BUT I didn't. And I can't help but talk about about this book and the messed up characters to anyone who will listen... so disliking the characters of this book isn't the worst thing that could have happened. Having no opinion of the characters or easily forgetting them would be even worse than hating them. In this case, hating the characters is a good thing.
Despite being very unhappy with pretty much all of the characters, I kept reading because I really wanted to know what happened to Tricia. It really bothered me that the one person who wasn't completely horrible ended up dead and I had to know what happened to her.
From the moment I finished Blind Spot, it hasn't been far from mind and I'm still trying to sort out all of my feelings about it. In the end, I want you to read this book. It isn't long and it clips along at a quick pace, but it isn't an easy read. I think it's good to challenge your perceptions and ideas though and Blind Spot allows for this in very interesting ways.
I like James Patterson’s books. The last few years a lot of “James Patterson” books are written under his guidance and he has a co-writer. I still read them. I like his solo books better but I read them all. “Private London”, soon to be followed by “Private Berlin” (reserve your copy now) is written by James Patterson and Mark Pearson. This series follows cases by a detective agency called “Private” because they handle cases for famous, rich people privately. In this one we are in the London office. You get a hint it will take place in London from the title. We are introduced to a new detective Dan Carter, who runs the London office. His ex-wife works for the London Police force, DI Kristy Webb. My synapses made a leap in my brain and I was thinking of Dragnet and Jack Webb, no connection and nothing to do with the story but thought I share that tidbit. Hannah Sahpiro as a child was abducted along with her mother. Jack Morgan, of Private USA found her but too late to save her mother who was raped and killed in front of her. Then we jump ahead seven years and Hannah is on her way to London to go to school and Dan Carter is charged with protecting her. Well, surprise surprise she gets abducted again. It would have made a boring mystery if she hadn’t. Dan Carter draws on the whole resources of Private International, a phrase they use over and over to show you how important they are. They even use it as an excuse for why Jack Morgan failed to save Hannah’s mother, he didn’t have the resources of Private International like he would today. I found the use of the phrase irritating but the actual mystery kept my attention. So if you can stomach that phrase, give it a read.