Sweet Tooth is a novel about a young woman named Serena Frome, who is recruited into the English spy agency MI5 during the early 1970s. I’m struggling to write too much besides that summary, because – as in many of his novels – Ian McEwan throws a wrench in near the end that makes the whole book seem different in retrospect. I need to read it again!
I’ll just say that this book was very entertaining. While not a “spy novel” in the traditional sense, it is a page-turner, and there is definitely suspense. Serena’s voice is dry and funny, and the supporting characters are really well-done. I couldn’t help casting a hypothetical movie version – Emma Watson as Serena, Max Minghella as her dour co-worker – though I’m not sure (given the surprise at the end) how the book would translate to the screen.
Intrigued yet? If you are, I recommend the book. It was a really quick and absorbing read.
-review by Liz Galoozis, Reference Librarian/Research Instruction Coordinator
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Have you caught Downton Abbey fever? My house has been swept up into the start of the third season of this BBC Masterpiece Classic production. While you wait for another episode, you may be interested in Life Below Stairs: True Lives of Edwardian Servants by Alison Maloney. Originally published in Great Britain, the book details servants’ social background, household structure, pay and conditions along with chapters on a day in the life of a country house, toil and technique, special occasions, hiring and firing and the high life. From the book dust jacket: “Thoroughly researched and reliably informed, this charmingly illustrated volume also contains firsthand stories from the staff of the time, making it a must-read for anyone interested in the lifestyle and conduct of a bygone era.” -Colleen Mullally, Reference Librarian
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Click here to see whether the library’s copy of Life Below Stairs is on the shelf. The library also has the first and second seasons of Downton Abbey (check availability here). If you like Downton Abbey, you may also be interested in the Upstairs, Downstairs series (check availability here).
What could be better than a trilogy of amusing and witty crime novels starring a young British heroine? If the accompanying image gave it away, then you’ve guessed correctly: Alan Bradley has written a (soon to be released) fourth book to continue the stand alone series! Centering around an oddball family living in a dilapidated English countryside manor, the Flavia de Luce (say: FLAY’-vee-ah duh-LOOSE) mysteries – with their quirky titles and eccentric family members – put a different spin on the traditional British murder mystery genre. Flavia is an eleven year old living in post-WW II England with her widowed father, a man completely preoccupied with his prized stamp collections, and two older sisters who are bent on torturing her. Flavia spends quite a bit of time outside of Buckshaw, their ancestral family home, riding along her trusty bicycle Gladys. She enjoys putting her nose into other people’s businesses and generally causing mischief as she works to solve the homicides that happened at Buckshaw and in the nearby town of Bishop’s Lacey. When she isn’t out and about, Flavia is often up in her wing of Buckshaw conducting chemical experiments and concocting ways to exact revenge on her older sisters.
Flavia is definitely the most bizarre and charming young sleuth and most unlike the goody-two shoes Nancy Drew. While she is a bit reminiscent (to me, anyway) of Harriet the Spy, Flavia is every bit more interesting and naughty. Alan Bradley has executed well-written books that are highly entertaining and a pleasure to read. I had the opportunity to read the books during the summer and am very much anticipating the newest installment which is due out in November! A note to readers that it is not at all necessary to read the books in the order in which they were published. I know this firsthand as my husband grew impatient waiting for me (I dawdled my way through the first book) and decided to read the second book before the first.
- review by Colleen Mullally, Reference Librarian
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Click here to check the library’s availability of the Flavia de Luce books.
A.S. Byatt’s latest novel has a lot in common with her previous ones; it’s an intricately detailed work of historical fiction that follows a group of families through several generations. This one centers on a group of artists and writers, following them from the Victorian era through to World War One. The characters, I thought, were the best part of the book. They’re realistic and vivid, and even though there are a lot of them, it’s not that hard to keep track of them. Wanting to know what they would do kept me going through occasionally tedious descriptions of artwork, buildings, and landscapes. The characters also play out some really interesting ideas of the time, like the ways progressiveness and “free thinking” sometimes lead to real change, and sometimes just to a circle of people in a room, talking in circles. It’s a good book to read in long stretches, which makes it ideal for summer.
-review by Liz Galoozis, Reference Librarian/Coordinator of User Education
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Check our catalog to see if this book is available.
To learn more about the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th century depicted in the book, check out this exhibit catalog from the library’s collection, or an interactive guide from the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is also featured prominently as a location in The Children’s Book.
This is a creepy book, and the creepiness actually has little to do with the fact that its main character is a ghost, or that much of it takes place in and around London’s historic Highgate Cemetery. It comes from its characters, a mostly amoral bunch who seem to think nothing of wreaking complete ruin on others’ lives. But while this aspect of the book pushed me away with one hand, Audrey Niffenegger’s excellent storytelling and eye for detail pulled me in with the other. I enjoyed being immersed in London (a place I’ve never been), and I really did want to race to the end to find out what happened to Julia and Valentina, American twins who have been left a flat by their mysterious aunt Elspeth on the condition that they live in it for a year. It was a little like being fascinated by the proverbial car wreck.
Just as she did for time travel in The Time Traveler’s Wife, Niffenegger sets up a fairly plausible set of ground rules for ghosts and spirits – and like Henry the time traveler in that previous novel, the ghosts here have little say in their circumstances. That’s why I was disappointed when, near the end, a couple of things happen that seem to contradict the ground rules. The book as a whole, though, pulls you along compellingly to its shocking end. Readers who are looking for a tale similar to The Time Traveler’s Wife won’t find it here.
- review by Liz Galoozis, Reference Librarian/Coordinator of User Education
Want to Learn More?
Learn more about the author Audrey Niffenegger on her website. Her visual art is featured as are photographs of Highgate Cemetery.
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Find out if Her Fearful Symmetry is currently on the shelves through our catalog record.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Helen Simonson’s first novel, plods along at its own pace. The Major reminded me of bits and pieces of other British characters I’ve come across over the years such as Basil in the British television drama “Upstairs Downstairs” — there may even by some Jane Austen’s Mr. Darcy in him. He definitely has his flaws and his problems understanding the newer generation, but he is quite likeable all the same. The supporting cast of characters helps to make the narrative interesting. I recommend this audiobook.
- review by Kimberly Morin, Reference Librarian
Check out reviews of her book and learn more about first time novelist Helen Simonson on her website. You can also listen to an excerpt from the book here.
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The library has both audio and print copies of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. Check the library catalog record to see whether a copy is available now.
Little Bee is a tale that starts on a Nigerian beach and ends on a Nigerian beach. It is a sad tale that at times is very difficult to listen to. The difficulty has nothing to do with the excellent narration and performance of the readers and all about the content itself. I have a hard time outright recommending this title, but the story does stay in your mind, so I am recommending it with this reservation, “Start listening to it knowing that story will haunt you.”
Learn More About Little Bee on Audiobook
The audiobook version of Little Bee has garnered much critical acclaim – both Library Journal and Audiofile Magazine named Little Bee a “Best Audiobook of 2009″. Additionally, Audiofile bestowed upon Little Bee its “AudioFile Earphones Award”.
Want to learn more about this novel and its author? Read the AudioFile Magazine review and Library Journal review, and visit the publisher’s web site to listen to a MP3 audio clip of Little Bee. Don’t forget to check out the author’s web site, which contains his blog, video clips, and more information about his work.
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- review by Kimberly Morin, Reference Librarian
Last month, I went to go see Nick Hornby read from his latest novel, Juliet, Naked, and answer questions at the Brookline Booksmith. He’s a very funny man, and from the excerpt he read, I got excited about the book and checked it out the next day. High expectations inevitably lead to some disappointment, and for me in this book, it was some of the plotlines. There are some coincidences and some leaps that are a little sloppy, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think of the book’s quick, ambiguous end. But there are plenty of things to like in this book. The three main characters – a reclusive retired musician (Tucker Crowe), his biggest fan (Duncan), and Duncan’s girlfriend (Annie) – are well-done. There’s obviously a lot of the author in Duncan – Nick Hornby shows some sympathy for his musical obsession, but also pokes fun at people who memorize every detail of an album or a musician’s biography (and often, aren’t even close to the truth).
The musician, Tucker Crowe, who has just released an acoustic demo version of his last and most famous album, Juliet, called Juliet, Naked, is probably the most likable and believable character. How Tucker’s music, and the reactions to it, are portrayed raise questions like: Does it matter if musicians “lie” in their music? Should musicians quit while they’re ahead or keep making albums, even if their quality suffers (sometimes, simply because they need the money)? Does it take an expert on a musician to truly appreciate his music? Is there always a tradeoff between happiness and good art? In the process of trying to answer these questions, Nick Hornby has written a very enjoyable story.
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What Others are Saying
Juliet, Naked has been reviewed in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, and The Wall Street Journal. You can also listen to the author read the beginning of Juliet, Naked at the Penguin Audio Book Break web site.
- Review by Liz Galoozis, Reference Librarian/Coordinator of User Education
“Once upon a time – for that is how all stories should begin – there was a boy who lost his mother.” With a bleak backdrop of London during World War II, the story of that boy – David – is one of loss, grief, and metamorphosis. Very much devoted to his sick mother, David spends much of his time with her reading aloud from books of myths, legends, and fairy tales. Determined to keep her alive, he makes up a series of daily rituals, believing that he could stave off her death by performing these routines. However, his complicated understanding of the world completely dissolves after watching his mother succomb to illness. While his father quickly reaches out again to the world and finds another woman with whom he has another child, David withdraws further into his one great escape: books. Now that the family is re-located to his new stepmother’s home outside of London, David’s world is consumed with books. His books are his company and he begins to hear the books on his shelves whispering to him. Alone in his room, the voices grow louder and the room itself begins to take on more magical properties. The novel takes an abrupt turn from the countryside of London as David decides to follow a voice he hears calling him into the woods. It is here that everything imaginable becomes real.
Central to the book is the theme of loss and identity and what happens when one ventures into the woods. The book references so many tales from the canon and provides readers with many exciting (and, like many Grimm Brothers fairy tales, dark and frightening) adventures as David meets beasts and trolls, befriends the kindly Woodsman and a chivalrous knight named Roland, encounters the Seven Dwarfs, and faces the powerful and dark Crooked Man. Though the tales are David’s imagining, the struggles he faces are very real and difficult and the lessons they teach are vital in order for David to complete his journey and live once again in the real world.
As a book lover, I was immediately drawn into the story of a boy who loves to read and has a vivid imagination. The writing throughout is beautiful and the story is transformative. I was disappointed to reach the end of the book so quickly and – after lingering so long in the world of fairly tales – found it to be an sharp ending to a book that had such a lyrical flow. However, it is a beautiful story that I would recommend to anyone.
–Colleen Mullally, Reference Librarian
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Click here to look for The Book of Lost Things and other books by John Connolly at the Bentley Library.
I loved this novel and sped through it. It was a fun, light-hearted romp by Brit Marie Phillips. In it, we find the Olympian gods of the past living in a run-down apartment in London, drained of their powers because there’s virtually no one left on Earth who believes in them. Chaos ensues. It has echoes of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, but it is much less dark. I was so engrossed in this book that one night, I didn’t want to watch Rock of Love 2! I said to the husband, “This book is so much better. I don’t have the attention span for Rock of Love tonight.”
Check to see if this novel is available by searching the library catalog.
Learn more about author Marie Phillips on her very own website. There, you can read about plans for an upcoming TV show based on the book, optioned by Ben Stiller’s production company, Red Hour Films.
- Reviewed by Amy E. Galante, Interlibrary Loan Supervisor
To read more of Amy’s musings on pop culture, check out her blog.