REVIEW: Maisie Dobbs

Confession Time: I have had this book for a million years.

My dad and stepmom gave it to me.

A million years ago.

And when I finally did just read it… I did the audio version.

It’s so British and lovely and charming and delightful.

At 13, Maisie is motherless (but not fatherless) and catches the eye of these wealthy types who take her in as a servant. They find her sneaking books from their library and realize she’s a Smarty Smartenheimer. Well, that changes everything. They sponsor her and she gets an education, becomes a war nurse and after the war opens her own detective agency only to take her first case – a man terrified his wife is cheating on him.

Maisie is ready to turn it down when her mentor says, “Not so fast.”

So you know it’s going to be more than a cuckolded gent.

This is the first in series I am sure to return to.

Ill WIll

My Snotty Literati Column’s latest review is Ill Will. Check it out now!

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

f5b0e41325260a2b830f6a706700852bEarlier this month, I snagged a deal on Living Social that got me a three-month membership for just $8.00 per month. Normally, a membership runs $14.95 per month, so it was kind of a no brainer: a discount involving books that I could read while I drove to work when I couldn’t normally read? Uhm, okay. Sign me up.

I downloaded Karin Slaughter’s Pretty Girls, as my first “read”. I thought a mystery would be a good pick for an audio book, because I wanted something that would keep my attention and have enough action to keep me engaged in this consumption format. Well, let me tell you what. Pretty Girls was a perfect audio pick; and I realized this when I had to pull over at one point to catch my breath. Yeah, that really happened.

Pretty Girls centers around sisters Claire and Lydia, sisters whose lives were irrevocably changed when their older sister Julia was kidnapped and never found. Fast forward 20 years and the sisters don’t speak and live vastly different lives: Claire is married to one of Atlanta’s most successful businessmen, and Lydia is working to maintain sobriety while raising a daughter on her own.

It was the tragedy of their sister’s disappearance that drove them apart and the murder of Claire’s husband that brings them together. The reunion is hardly welcome, and the two women must now navigate life with old wounds ripped open and new secrets as Claire learns her husband’s murder was not a simple random act of violence.

Pretty Girls is not for the faint of heart. It’s gritty, gristly, and gruesome. It will make your heart race and plummet. If you are new to audio books, I highly recommend listening to voice actor Kathleen Early read this dark and twisted story that will stay with you long after the last word is spoken.

4 Stars


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone GirlI can’t stop hearing about Gone Girl. It’s everywhere. Every best book list for last year. Every bookstore has tables and tables of it. Every airport has it. Everywhere! People are telling me I HAVE TO READ IT. I mean, I see or hear about it as much as I hear that Call Me Maybe song.

Confession time: Hey, I just met you and this is crazy… but I love that Call Me Maybe song. Seriously… way too much. It’s on my iPod. I listen to it every time I workout. I listen to it when I don’t work out. It’s a total guilty pleasure just the way good pop songs are supposed to be. Despite all this, I am kinda convinced all the air time, over-exposure and gazillion parody videos that came from Call Me Maybe will probably resign Carly Rae Jepsen to one-hit wonder status, because how can she ever do anything bigger than that? It might be impossible. And if you are wondering what on earth this has to do with Gone Girl, I am getting there.

I first read Gillian Flynn when the Book Babes selected Sharp Objects for book club a few years back. We all read it, were super creeped out and loved it. Ms. Flynn was already starting to get quite a following with this book and her next one Dark Objects. But not a Carly Rae Jepsen-level following. You want to be good but not YouTube crazy parody good, which I am not quite sure how you even do with a book… but I think you catch my drift.

Fast-forward several years and everyone has read this Gone Girl book and is stark-crazy raving about it and Gillian Flynn is the new “Mistress of Mystery”. (I am making up that moniker, but someone has probably penned that nickname and if not, okay, I’ll take credit for it). And thank goodness this is her third book so she really can be the Mistress of Mystery and not the “Carly Rae Jepsen of Mystery”. Now if that Jepsen girl has another bona-fide hit, my iPod and I will be thrilled, but my analogy here will be screwed. And what’s that analogy again? Be popular, but not Carly Rae popular.

So, back in December, one of the Book Babes selected Gone Girl for our February read and we were all pretty excited. Here’s the non-spoiler overview:

Nick and Amy Dunn have been married for five years when the recession forces them out of their cushy writing jobs in Manhattan and back to Nick’s Missouri river hometown to care for his declining mother. Amy misses the life left behind—one of privilege and minor celebrity status as the namesake of her parent’s wildly successful children’s book series—Amazing Amy! Life in Missouri is hard hit by the recession, houses in the Dunn’s neighborhood are foreclosing and Amy is declining. Nick is trying to make the move back home work. Going in on a bar with his twin sister Margo, he’s the only one with a job. Long hours take time from the marriage. They take away the spark as well. The day of their five-year anniversary, Nick gets a call he never expected. Racing home, he finds an open front door, a ransacked living room, lots of blood and no Amy.

Enter the police. Nick can’t stop lying to them, which doesn’t help matters. His disposable cell phone keeps ringing at the most inopportune times and he quickly finds himself in the role of leading suspect.

But let me tell you a little secret. Everything I told you is laid out for you in the first 30 pages. Flynn is known for writing super topsy-turvy, twisty-turny thrillers and Gone Girl taps out at 419 pages. So guess what? All is not as it seems.

Told in alternating chapters with Nick narrating his story in the present day and Amy’s story from a few years back, the reader is sent down a pretty twisted (read: crazy) rabbit hole to figure out who killed Amazing Amy.

I really can’t tell you anymore, except to read it. Gone Girl is a trip. A road trip into creepy crazy town. Flynn sets the stage well, keeping you guessing as you drive the car slowly up the hill and just as you make it over the top, the car starts careening out of control and you realize there aren’t any brakes. It’s a totally wild ride that ends in utter shock. Some of the Book Babes didn’t buy the ending. Some of us felt it couldn’t have ended any other way. Not one of us could stop turning the pages.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 319
Genre: Mystery


Week 23: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley

I have always enjoyed a good mystery. It started with the classic Encyclopedia Brown mysteries of my childhood and grew to enjoying the likes of Agatha Christie, Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben. Now, an expert on the mystery genre, I am not; but I do know when I like something. And I am ready to add Alan Bradley to the list of mystery writers to follow.

A first-time novelist at 70, Bradley has created an engaging heroine in the highly precocious, chemistry loving Flavia de Luce, an 11 year-old super sleuth and the star of THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE. Flavia (Flave) is the youngest of three girls and constantly finds herself at odds with her much older sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). The distance from and desire to terrorize her sisters is a great encouragement for Flave’s love of chemistry, which manifests itself as a passion for poisons. And despite this morbid-sounding affinity, THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE is as delightful as the title and a lovely little read on a hot summer day.



After brief introductions of the de Luce family, the story opens with a mysterious death at Buckshaw, the de Luce’s English estate, and even stranger leave-behind: a dead jack snipe, with a collectible postage stamp impaled on his beak. Flavia’s father is immediately taken into custody and it’s the young girl’s mission to get to the bottom of this mystery, much to the chagrin of all involved.


So much of THE SWEETNESS makes it an engaging story: The all-things-English about the setting and its eccentric cast of characters, the turn of events and the smart-aleck leading lady herself. If I had to mark it down a smidgen, it would be that you really do have to suspend your disbelief to fully appreciate that an 11 year old could really have the knowledge, insight and wherewithal to accomplish what she does. But isn’t that sometimes the joy of a good mystery? The ability to get fully engrossed and let a little of the imagination stretch beyond the realm of logical possibility and wrap up to a satisfying conclusion?


This self-proclaimed realist must have found a little soft spot at the bottom of the pie.

Rating: 3 stars

Genre: Mystery
Pages: 416

Week 17: Rough Country – John Sandford

Week 17 marks a first for Lara’s Reading Room: I was asked to review a book! Well, actually, Allan of Pop Culture World News was sent the book from the publisher and he passed it to me! Happily, I obliged.

ROUGH COUNTRY is the third in a mystery series (and my first) featuring Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator Virgil Flowers. Written by John Sandford, this installment has Flowers pulled from a fishing trip to investigate the murder of Erica McDill. Rich, powerful, well-known but not well-liked, McDill was on vacation at the all-female Eagle Nest resort, resting up before taking ownership interest in her firm and slashing positions, two openly known facts. Also openly known were McDill’s steady relationship with agency partner Ruth Davies, several sexual entanglements she had at the resort and her interest in promoting a band with a questionable history. Throw in years’ old murder that may be connected, a recent murder attempt that may not, a cast of characters with valid motives and a man’s-man-ladies’-man investigator, and you’ve got the makings of a good mystery.

And good mystery it is. Not great, but certainly good.

In 400 pages, Sandford has laid out a well-developed cast of interesting characters and punchy dialogue that moves the story on at a reasonble clip. ROUGH COUNTRY lacked a bit of action, and could have benefited from a few more twists and turns throughout the middle of the story that would have kept me more fully engaged and turning the pages a bit faster. I was also disappointed that the majority of female characters (who were mostly lesbians) seemed to fall into stereotypical behaviors and dialogue, while the commentary from the men about or directed to the women was, at times, cliched. These faults weren’t enough to turn me off of the book, but were worth noting. I thoroughly enjoyed the end, which I thought Sandford wrapped up creatively in certainly with a fourth book in mind.

ROUGH COUNTRY is a perfect book for a lazy weekend or when you are lounging on the sand. As breezy and juicy as that umbrella drink you reach for between the chapters.


Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Mystery
Pages: 400