Flavia de Luce Strikes Again!

Cover ImageIt’s no secret that I loved Alan Bradley’s Dagger Award Winner The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Therefore, I’m happy to announce that the plucky, winsome eleven-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce is back and better than ever in Bradley’s latest release The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag.

Yes, the second book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series is even, dare I say, cleverer than the first. Why? Perhaps because both Alan Bradley and Flavia are a bit bolder and a bit more daring (of course I realize that one supersedes the other). Though Flavia continues to sport a respectful air toward her elders, her inner dialogue in The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is sheer wit and genius.

Alan Bradley is a risk taker with interpretation (just look at his titles) and an absolute superstar with a simile. Ramping up both character and plot, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is pure head candy sprinkled with smarts.  Whether you read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie or not, Bradley’s second shot is a hit and not to be missed.

Related Links

Poem: Sir Walter Raleigh to His Son

Jack and the Beanstalk

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Estleman’s ‘Alone’ Invokes Garbo Glam

If you’re looking for something smart but not too heavy, you might want to give Loren Estleman’s latest Valentino mystery a shot. Alone is a modern-day work with a shout out to the glamorous age of big-screen legend Greta Garbo. As Valentino works to renovate a run-down movie house, he becomes entangled in a clumsy murder which ultimately invokes the voice of his beloved Garbo.

Alone is good clean fun and packs sharp, blue-streak dialogue in its pages. Estleman relies on brains for brawn rather than devices of profanity and perversion to work his story. Crediting his readers’ intelligence and ability to follow his quick lead, Estleman moves with a flip yet debonair style that conveys sincere (albeit sarcastic) sentiment. Alone’s characters provide a humorous commentary on age, politics, love, and greed. Though Estleman’s latest won’t rock your literary world, it will provide you with nice slice of escapism.

Loren D. Estleman is the author of more than sixty novels. He has earned four Shamus Awards, five Spur Awards, and three Western Heritage Awards. He lives in central Michigan with his wife, author Deborah Morgan.* For more on this man behind many books, you can link to Mr. Estleman’s “About” page here.

*Taken from book jacket courtesy of Forge Books.

-Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters!

-Quick review by Megan Shaffer

Author Steve Hamilton Appearing at Troy Barnes and Noble

Born and raised in Detroit and a graduate of the University of Michigan, author Steve Hamilton is well known for his Alex McKnight series, particularly A Cold Day in Paradise (Michigan,that is) which snagged both an Edgar and Shamus Award.

It appears, however, that Mr. Hamilton is branching out with a new piece of work. His site states that his latest book The Lock Artist, “…steps away from his Edgar Award-winning Alex McKnight series to introduce a unique new character unlike anyone you’ve ever seen in the world of crime fiction.”

Whether you are new to Steve Hamilton’s work or have been with him from the beginning, you can catch him up close and personal at the Barnes and Noble store in Troy on Friday, January 15, 2010 from 5-7 pm. As always, call first to confirm.

*Support your local bookstores. It matters!

-Post by Megan Shaffer

For More on Steve Hamilton:

The Lock Artist Q&A with author Steve Hamilton

Bad Things Happen

It’s true that bad things happen, but are we supposed to enjoy them so much when they do? In Harry Dolan’s Bad Things Happen, half the fun is waiting out the next “bad thing” (of which there are plenty) while the other is enjoying the ride.

Bad Things Happen is…well…sexy. From the alluring, yet solitary main character David Loogan, right down to the seductive college vibe of Ann Arbor itself, Mr. Dolan hooks you up with a delicious murder that fills you with a sweet, edgy unease. As his sultry characters glide in and out of focus, you are left exponentially wondering who in the world you can trust.

After David Loogan becomes inadvertently involved with the mystery magazine Gray Streets, his quiet low-key life somehow slips into a sea of complicated suspicion. However, Mr. Loogan’s appeal lies in his subtle, easy dialogue and blithe manner towards all things homicidal.

As Loogan makes his way through the maze of Gray Street personalities in hopes of solving his friend’s murder, he encounters one Elizabeth Waishkey. Elizabeth is a cop who is also intent on solving the murder, but is saddled with the snag of distancing herself from the ambiguous Loogan, who is a promising prime suspect with each turn of the page.

As Waishkey works on Loogan, and Loogan works on his own, this shadowy tale is spun on pure Ann Arbor background, bringing about a well-deserved nod for this progressive midwestern pocket. Matched in sophisticated tones, Ann Arbor provides the perfect setting for Dolan’s sleek, hard-boiled fiction.

“Ann Arbor has the street life of a much larger city,” writes Dolan. “When the weather is fair, and sometimes when it’s not, the sidewalks along State Street and Liberty and Main bustle with people:  hip, arty, confident people who walk to theaters and shops, bookstores and coffeehouses, who gather at sidewalk tables that spill out of restaurants.”

Bad Things Happen brings in the sharp, classic styles of other noir lit authors such as Raymond Chandler, who is mentioned more than once in the book. But even if you are not a seasoned mystery reader (like myself) Harry Dolan’s seductive style easily translates. Mr. Dolan’s work is fun, and mentally unspools itself in close-up, pan-back fashion. Like a smooth, smoky Hollywood flick, Bad Things Happen definitely has movie rights potential but for now I highly suggest kicking back and enjoying it just the way it is.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Await Your Reply

Cover ImageWhen Laura Kasischke took questions after her reading of In a Perfect World a few weeks ago, I asked her what she was currently reading and her response was Dan Chaon’s Await Your Reply. I hadn’t heard of either the book or the author but once mentioned, the title seemed to keep popping up.

Await Your Reply is unlike anything I have read before and I’m having a hard time categorizing it. I suppose overall it is a psychological thriller, but it carries a literary depth which provides an eeriness that prevents the reader from settling into the book. You might call it “goth literature”.

Opening with an unsettling middle-of-the-night drive down a deserted northern Michigan road, we are quickly introduced to the character of Ryan Schuyler, the first of three who will provide the legs of the story. Quickly following are the intros to recent high school graduate Lucy Lattimore and the crucial character of Miles Cheshire. It is the action and dialogue of Miles that propels the story as we follow him on his cross-country search for his elusive twin brother Hayden who has been missing for ten years.

Unpredictability is but one of Chaon’s strategies that really worked for me, and as the three characters evolved I had no clue  as to how they would ultimately connect. Though I’m not a huge mystery reader, I can usually piece enough together to make a solid guess. Not so in Await Your Reply. Shrouded in mystique, its dark apocalyptic feel left me uncertain at each and every subtle turn permanently lodging an unnerving flutter in my gut. The visuals really are that strong.

What I want to tell you is that Chaon’s book is just plain creepy and loads of fun, but this is not a superficial piece of work. And while it is certainly entertaining, the deeper hook at its core poses some serious questions of humanity as we consider dehumanization in the age of technological advancement. In the fluid world of identity theft, we are left wondering if people are really who we think they are?

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Angels and Sweet, Sweet Pie

There are two books that I recently finished which are listed below with my brief review attached.  They are newer titles that currently sit on or very near the latest best seller lists. Friends will often ask me if I have read a particular title, or for the suggestion of a solid personal or book club read. Because it takes a lot of time and thought to do a detailed review of each book, I am posting these “quickies” for your reference and perusal.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I did not read The Shadow of the Wind, Zafon’s first novel which was a biggie with the book clubs. However, if it is anything like The Angel’s Game, I think I’ll pass. This bizarre mystery reminds me more of a Harry Potter meets Dante’s Inferno, and seemed to me a poor attempt at chills and thrills.

Dating back to the early 1900’s, The Angel’s Game spins the tale of David Martin, a struggling author who takes on an eerie writing project which ultimately throws him into the depths of his own personal hell. An abundance of dark alleys, secret doors, and hidden rooms left me both confused and exhausted as it stretched out over the span of its 531 pages. The word plodding comes to mind and a finger must be pointed at Lucia Graves for what is, in my opinion, a weak translation. I find it hard to believe Ruiz-Zafon’s original version would have a hooker in the 1900’s ask someone to “invite me in for a snack.”

*Take a pass on this one

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,

who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?

This book is so different, so engaging, and so much fun that I can’t stop suggesting it to people.  After a stretch of hum-drum fiction, I was pleasantly caught off guard by this Debut Dagger Award winner. I’m typically not a mystery reader, but this is not your average mystery as it holds one of the most plucky, winsome main characters I have ever met.

Flavia de Luci is only eleven but trust me when I tell you, she’ll keep you busy for 373 straight pages. An aspiring chemist, Flavia’s intellectual capabilities might be a bit of a stretch, but author Alan Bradley had me clearly convinced that this girl can do it all. As Flavia dukes it out with her two sisters, Bradley’s hot, literary knowledge tucks itself neatly into the family discord adding serious prose to the dialogue. The biggest treat… life through the eyes of an eleven-year-old.

*This witty, sharp, and charming novel is a must. A quick read, I would suggest it as a great personal choice and an entertainer for any book club.