The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
The story: In an little English village in the 1950s, an 11-year-old girl stumbles upon a murder scene in her own backyard and resolves to solve the mystery. Dubbed "a combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes," Flavia de Luce goes about the village and outskirts finding clues and digging into the past. She's also a budding chemist with a special penchant for poisons, which could have been interesting but wasn't.
Me: T-e-d-i-o-u-s. I don't have a proper appreciation of precocious 11-year-olds, bumbling and blustering, or British wit. This is one of those books that has been recommended to me several times and I've always meant to read it; however, I cannot even fathom the obsession with this book. Yawn. (This was our January book club pick.)
The Bohemian Gospel by Dana Chamblee Carpenter
The story: Mouse is an orphan, raised in an Abbey in 13th century Bohemia. Her past is shrouded in mystery. She doesn't know where she came from or who her parents were—or why she has strange and amazing powers. She is training to be a healer, and when the young King Ottakar shows up at the Abbey with life-threatening injuries, she must put her skills to use to save him—or else. When he's healed enough to travel, he orders that she accompany him back to his kingdom as his personal healer. Things heat up between them, despite the difference in their social class, but this isn't a Cinderella story. Ottakar's life is in danger, and Mouse must contend with her own set of horrible problems. The story is filled with mystery, a love story, a tragedy, and supernatural elements that make it quite fascinating.
Me: This isn't my usual genre—a mixture of magical realism, fantasy, and historical fiction—but I loved it. Carpenter is a wonderful storyteller. Her writing is beautiful, and Mouse was a fascinating character. I felt immediately immersed in Mouse's world. It felt kind of enchanted, kind of horrifying, and very entrancing. I was a little confused at a few points in the novel, but I didn't care. I was reminded greatly of Isabelle Allende's novels, and also of Shannon Hale's The Princess Academy. Highly recommended.
Inside the O'Briens by Lisa Genova
The story: The O'Briens are a typical family—they go to work, they fight, they make up, they plan for the future. Joe is a Boston cop, and lately he's been prone to fits of anger and exhaustion. His wife is worried and insists that he see a doctor. What they find out shocks them to their core: Joe has Huntington's disease—and there is a 50% chance that each of their four adult children might also have it. The novel takes us through Joe's diagnosis and subsequent story and also follows his children as they decide whether to find out if they do or don't have the gene.
Me: Lisa Genova never disappoints! Still Alice was incredible. Love Anthony was sad and lovely. Left Neglected was fascinating. Genova holds a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard, and, naturally, her books all explore neurological disorders. That could sound tedious or didactic, but she is neither. Ever. Genova has a gift for making her characters so knowable, so relatable. And then: WHAM! These characters must contend with a medical disorder that Genova explains so wonderfully. I always feel more knowledgeable and more compassionate with each book I finish. I'm greedy, I know, but I can't wait for her next one. Highly recommended.
The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede. (Nonfiction)
The story: 15 years post-9/11 and I've never heard this story. On Sept. 11, all air space into the United States was closed after the terrorists' attacks. But all of these planes were in midair—where were they supposed to land? Gander, Newfoundland, had once been an important landing spot, and this seemed to be the best place for 38 passenger planes to land. The people of Gander—a sleepy town of around 10,000 people—were called into action. They turned every available space into living quarters for nearly 7,000 passengers. Hotels were filled with pilots and flight attendants. The people of Gander fed them, clothed them, entertained them, and comforted them.
Me: This is a great story about the goodness of human beings. This community gathered together and organized at a moment's notice, doubling their population for four days. They opened their homes to strangers, brought their own towels and blankets and clothes to these people, and shared their lives with folks who just wanted to get home. In turn, the passengers—many of whom had loved ones in New York City— were grateful and patient, absorbing the goodness of the people of Gander. It was a wonderful story—a great one to read if you think our world is headed downhill. (This was our February book club pick.)