Sunday, February 25, 2018

Alan Bradley and Kristin Hannah - Two Must-Read Authors with Two Must-Read Books!

I am so excited to do this week's blog update. I have read TWO amazing books this week and I consider them both "must-reads" that should be added to your TBR pile ASAP!

Well start with Alan Bradley, author of the Flavia De Luce series. Flavia can basically do no wrong for me.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place - A Flavia De Luce novel. (Book #9 in the Flavia De Luce Series).

From Goodreads: Flavia is enjoying the summer, spending her days punting along the river with her reluctant family. Languishing in boredom, she drags a slack hand in the water, and catches her fingers in the open mouth of a drowned corpse.

Brought to shore, the dead man is found to be dressed in blue silk with ribbons at the knee, and wearing a single red ballet slipper. Flavia needs to put her super-sleuthing skills to the test to investigate the murder of three gossips in the local church, and to keep her sisters out of danger. But what could possibly connect the son of an executed killer, a far too canny police constable, a travelling circus, and the publican's mysteriously talented wife?

My review: I love Flavia. She is the best little sleuth I think I've ever read, and I pay absolute homage to Ms. Nancy Drew - but Flavia...she's another level of detective genius. What I love about Bradley's fictional character is the spunk and charm with which he writes her. Flavia sometimes reminds me of Scout Finch with her rough and tumble approach to being a lady, but unlike Scout, Flavia has learned to turn it on and off to her advantage. With her best friend Dogger by her side in this adventure, there's no limit to to what she can uncover. 

But Bradley's stories aren't just a "whodunit" drama without depth. He creates a frame in which to tell the dynamics of a family - we read as much into how Flavia's sisters have impacted her upbringing and puzzle-solving skills, and how their relationship has changed over time, as we understand how Flavia has grown from annoying little sister into a young woman. 

Flavia, in this mystery, relies once again on chemistry to assess the death of a local man and through this process uncovers far more than she bargained for. With some close calls and one very precarious situation, Flavia once again makes discoveries far beyond her years. ☕☕☕☕☕

If you've never read the Flavia series - you should! Book one is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. My son is currently reading it right now and I'm so jealous that he's starting this series from the beginning. 

And now onto Kristin Hannah - The Great Alone.

The novel moved me in ways I didn't even understand myself.

From Goodreads: 
Alaska 1974.
Unpredictable. Unforgiving. Untamed.

For a family in crisis, the ultimate test of survival.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.

Thirteen-year-old Leni, a girl coming of age in a tumultuous time, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown.

At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.

But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

My review: THIS BOOK - THIS BOOK! It made me feel exposed and raw and sewn up again. I wanted to lash out in anger and break down in tears. The gambit of emotions portrayed in this harrowing tale about a family in crisis took me to the brink and back. I know this for certain - I do NOT want to move to Alaska...I'll just be one of those tourist the locals can't stand that come for the summer.

Leni is one of the best young adult characters I've ever read. She had a depth to her that impacted the way I look at young people, and I teach them every day. Her struggles allowed me to see into the heart of what many youth are dealing with behind closed doors, and the courage it takes to stay. Dealing with a father that is reeling from the atrocities of Vietnam, it took everything Leni had to just survive.

My frustration with both Ernt and his wife Cora (Leni's mother) was tangible - I could feel it welling up in me and wanting to lash out at both of them. Their co-dependence in such an abusive and destructive relationship sickened me. And to expose their child to it...I won't give anything away, but trust me when I say you'll want to scream out loud. I despised Ernt. I don't know if that's how I'm supposed to feel - I get that he was damaged in a way I couldn't possibly comprehend, but that made him no less aggravating to me. Maybe I lack empathy? I don't know. And my sympathy for Cora was pretty thin a lot of the time. I'm not sure if that was Hannah's intent in writing such a toxic relationship, but it's how those characters hit me.

The secondary characters to the Allbright family were superb, but by far my favorite was "Large Marge." She stole the page anytime she appeared with her generosity and warmth and sass that made me want to hug her and high five her all at the same time. She's a "heart of the novel" kind of character that the Allbright family simply could not do without. I also adored Tom Walker and his boy Matthew, how they played such an intimate role in not only Leni's life, but in the community of Keneq far from what Ernt Allbright could ever understand.

And the setting - Alaska. WOW! It's beauty, it's danger. I could not imagine living in an environemnt such as this and yet people do, and survive. The way Hannah unveils this backdrop it feels alive and it is most certainly a significant part of the narrative - another character and conflict to overcome in the journey of the Allbright's lives.

The Great Alone will go down as a book that is an absolute favorite. Kristin Hannah has once again taken the landscape of human frailty and turned it into something palpable and real for her readers. ☕☕☕☕☕

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