Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review: One Dangerous Lady

One Dangerous Lady by Jane Stanton Hitchcock
3.5 stars

Reasons for reading: Number title for Triple 8 Challenge; enjoyed her previous book

Description: Jo Slater returns in a dazzling new story of passion, money, and murder. Jo is in Barbados, preoccupied by the notion of a new romance with a dashing English lord, when Russell Cole, a fabulously wealthy art collector, disappears from his yacht. Jo suspects that Russell's wife Carla knows a great deal more about her husband's disappearance than she is letting on. Back in New York, Jo discovers that a figure from her own past continues to put her at great risk and that neither the urbane lord nor her missing friend's wife are what they appear to be.

First line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a widow in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband."

My thoughts: Honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned wit seems to sometimes be in short supply these days, but Jane Stanton Hitchcock's got it. Here are a couple of examples:

"I admire you...You have principles. Fortunately, I gave mine up for Lent in 1975."

"Money's the only thing that really talks in this town."
"I understand. And I wish it would shut up for once."

And a particularly over-the-top decorating style is described as "Rococo-a-gogo."

I must say, though, that at some points I found myself thinking how exhausting it must be to have to work at one's position in society all the time. The thought "These women should get actual jobs!" crossed my mind several times, as it all seems so pointless, devoting their energy to surface trappings. Even the charities they throw events for are only an excuse to dress up and gossip. I'm still really quite fascinated by New York society and would, of course, love to be fabulously wealthy, but I don't know if I could handle being a lady who lunches - it sounds like way more work than it's worth.

Jo at least tries to contribute her time to valuable enterprises, like her beloved Municipal Museum. She's been through a lot but still makes every effort to be classy, socially correct, and loyal to her friends. Those friends are well-drawn, too, and they're sources of both support and exasperation to Jo. There's Betty, who tells it like it is and wears whatever she pleases even if it's an orange dress with a green collar that makes her look like a carrot, and June, who can't stand not to be invited to things and sees herself as a grande dame, even if no-one else does. And on the non-friend front, Carla Cole is a consummate villainess - charming and cool on the surface, ruthless and rather crazy inside.

I didn't really realize this was a sequel to the author's Social Crimes until I was partway in. I enjoyed Social Crimes about four years ago, but couldn't quite recall all the details, which was a bit annoying as the events in that book are referred to throughout One Dangerous Lady but aren't fully explained until near the end. I recommend these witty, high-society murder mysteries, but make a mini-spree of it and read the two in order and close together for maximum enjoyment.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Review: Eighth Grade Bites

Eighth Grade Bites (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod, book 1) by Heather Brewer
3 stars

Reasons for reading: thought it would be a good one to recommend to kids; Vampire book for the Triple 8 Challenge

Summary (from School Library Journal): "Vladimir Tod's is a vampire-or at least sort of; he's not quite sure. His father was a vampire, but his mother was human, and they died three years ago in a mysterious accident. Now Vlad has only his friend Henry and his "Aunt" Nelly, his mother's best friend who is raising him, to confide in. He has a hunger for blood, although he's been trained since babyhood to be "normal" and not to act on it. He gets by because Nelly, who's a nurse, brings home bags of blood from the hospital where she works, and he hides one or two in his backpack for when he gets hungry. But Vlad realizes that his father had a history he didn't know about when his English teacher vanishes mysteriously, to be replaced by a tall, thin substitute teacher in a purple top hat who seems to know a little too much about him."

First line: "A tree branch slapped John Craig across the face, scraping his skin, but he kept on running and ignored the stabbing of pine needles on his bare feet."

My thoughts:
Teenage vampire stories are all the rage these days and it's interesting to see authors are doing with the traditional lore. Most of them involve teen vamps having some kind of genetic code for vampirism that's triggered at a certain age. In this book, Vlad is a born vampire, which isn't something we see much of. It's sort of like Clark Kent in Smallville, he's going to have to grow into his powers and no-one quite knows the extent of them.

I liked the little nods to vampires in our culture throughout the book - Vlad's old house is on Lugosi Trail, vampires meet in the town of Stokerton and Vlad lives in Bathory, which I had to look up. Turns out it's a reference to Countess Elizabeth Bathory, a prolific 17th century serial killer who was said to bathe in the blood of virgins in order to retain her youth.

It's not an utterly amazing book. The characterization isn't a whole lot to write home about, for example. But (as I always seem to say with these stories) I like the twists on vampire lore, I think it has enough going on to carry over to the sequel, it's a relatively rare boy-vamp novel and it's a quick read. I'd definitely be able to recommend it to reluctant boy readers or any teen who's rabid about vampires in this age of

Monday, August 18, 2008

Review: Hotel Du Lac

Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner
4 stars

Reasons for reading: has been on my TBR list for some time; Booker Prize for the Book Awards Challenge

From the back cover: Into the rareified atmosphere of the Hotel du Lac timidly walks Edith Hope, romantic novelist and holder of modest dreams. Exiled from her home after embarrassing herself and her friends, Edith has refused to sacrifice her ideals and remains stubbornly single. But among the pampered women and minor nobility Edith finds Mr. Neville, and her chance to escape from a life of humiliating spinsterhood...

First line: "From the window all that could be seen was a receding area of grey."

Favourite part: Edith is having lunch with her editor, who is trying to get her to modernize her romance novels in order to appeal to today's "liberated" woman who wants "something to reflect her lifestyle."

"I simply do not know anyone who has a lifestyle. What does it mean? It implies that everything you own was bought at exactly the same time, about five years ago, at the most. And, anyway, it's she's all that liberated, why doesn't she go down to the bar and pick someone up?"

"As far as they [her readers] are concerned - as far as I am concerned - those multi-orgasmic girls with the executive briefcases can go elsewhere. They will be adequately catered for. There are hucksters in every market place."

My thoughts: I can see why this won the Booker - Anita Brookner is a wordsmith the likes of which I've rarely seen. It's a short novel, but it's very well and carefully formed, focussing on Edith's struggle to come to terms with her work, herself, and her romantic life, or lack thereof.

It was a bit hard to determine when the novel was set - for a lot of the time, it seemed quite old-fashioned, perhaps in the 50's or 60's, with the thought that Edith would have to go into "exile" after the incident (don't want to give it away) and the whole liberated woman thing, but there's no indication that it's not set in the year it was written, 1984. But then, I supposed that women executives with their briefcases were starting to really come into the workforce in the 80's and perhaps Britain's social code was still pretty formal. And really, I suppose people have always gone and always will go into hiding after a big public embarrassment. Perhaps it's because the hotel also was very formal and old-fashioned, with its "veal-coloured" bedrooms.

The other characters, particularly the vivacious, demanding, and self-centred Mrs. Pusey and her daughter Jennifer, were also very well done. All of the female guests at the hotel were there because they either weren't wanted or didn't have men - Mrs. Pusey is a rich widow, elderly Mme. de Bonneuil has been sent away from her family home because her son's wife dislikes her, and Monica has been sent away because her eating disorder embarrasses her husband and seems to be preventing her from having children.

The Times calls it a "smashing love story." I can't say I agree with that at all! Love has led Edith nowhere but trouble and trying to escape spinsterhood without love hasn't helped, either. But Edith does perhaps regain some self love, which is what she needed most.

(If you've reviewed this book, leave a link in the comments!)

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Review: Elements of Style

Elements of Style by Wendy Wasserstein
2.5 stars

Reasons for reading: had been on my TBR list for ages; New York book for Triple 8 Challenge

Book description: Francesca Weissman, an Upper East Side pediatrician rated number one by Manhattan magazine, floats on the fringes of the upper strata of privilege and aspiration. Through her bemused eyes we meet the thoroughbred socialite Samantha Acton; relentless social climber Judy Tremont; Barry Santorini, an Oscar-winning moviemaker accustomed to having his way; his supermarket heiress wife, Clarice; and more, tossed together in a frothy stew of outrageous conspicuous consumption and adulterous affairs that play out on Page Six.

My thoughts: This book felt like Gossip Middle-Aged Women, rather than Girl. While I loved the first Gossip Girl book (and I watch the TV show, I admit it!), it's definitely not appealing behaviour in 40 year-olds. And the post-9/11 setting made it seem really dated, even though it was actually published in 2006. (Perhaps it was written in 2002 but not published til after Wasserstein passed away?) Not that we should forget the tragedy and I know it changed New York forever, but - and feel free to disagree with me - it seems to me that the time for making it a focus of novels has passed. Or maybe it was just this novel.
I'm quite interested in New York's high society, but if these women are its best, my interest may be misplaced. Actually, I've been wanting to read up on turn-of-the-century/early 20th century New York society - anyone know any good nonfiction on this topic?

The Washington Post's review included this: "If we don't feel sympathy for the majority of Wasserstein's characters, their creator would undoubtedly would have said, "Good. You weren't supposed to." " Well, I surely didn't. Even Frankie, the "good" character seems, at heart, very sad and a bit pathetic. The other reviews I skimmed through talked about it being hilarious and satirical, but it just wasn't there for me. There were a few funny, satirical moments, but everyone was so hateful it was hard to be anything but just disgusted by their behaviour.

And the worst part of it for me was what I saw as a complete lack of brightness for the future. Almost every character had died, gotten divorced, or suffered another tragedy by the end and things didn't seem poised to get any better. The only ones who seemed likely to go back to their lives unscathed were still shallow, self-centred, and basically cruel people. Wasserstein tried for a note of hope on the last page with an ill baby being released from the NICU (didn't have anything to do with the rest of the story, so I'm not giving anything away), but it wasn't enough.

This just isn't the best example of the older chick lit/NYC/socialite/bitchiness genre. For love-of-NYC and stylish women, I'd suggest Candace Bushnell and for bitchery I'd suggest Olivia Goldsmith.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Review: My Summer of Southern Discomfort

My Summer of Southern Discomfort by Stephanie Gayle
3 stars

Reasons for reading: spotted it on our new books shelf at the library and liked the title; Southern book for the Triple 8 Challenge

Book description:
Convicting arsonists and thieves in Macon, Georgia, was never Harvard Law grad Natalie Goldberg's dream. The pay is abysmal, the work is exhausting, and the humidity is hell for a woman with curly hair. But when a steamy romance with her high-powered New York boss went bad, Natalie jumped at the first job offered, packed her bags, and headed south. Natalie's leftist Yankee background brands her a conspicuous outsider in this insular community. Her father, a famous civil rights lawyer, refuses to accept her career change—or talk to her. Her best friend begs her to come back home, and Natalie keeps thinking she sees her former lover everywhere. But Natalie's not completely alone. There are a garden-obsessed neighbor, a former beauty queen–turned–defense attorney, and a handsome colleague who has a nervous tic whenever she gets near. And then there's a capital case that has her eating antacids by the truckload. Yep, it's going to be one heckuva long, hot summer. . . .

First line: "I don't know why she swallowed the lye, " the boy sings, emphasis on "don't."

My thoughts:
While it wasn't an earth-shaker, this book was a good, quick read with a lot of Southern flavour.

It was also one of the few Southern books I've read that really mentions race constantly and also casually. It's not a source of conflict or anything, it's just a fact of life. In Macon, the population is so predominantly black that Natalie feels like even more of an outsider and, as her former Miss Georgia aquaintance tells her friends, "Nat is a Yankee and therefore sensitive to such matters." And Natalie agrees, "A product of New England liberalism, I was taught it was a matter discussed in the classroom, not outside." Unlike many books where either everyone is white or nobody has a colour, many of the characters' are specifically described with varying dark skin tones, which I found rather novel .

The main focus of the plot is the capital case that Nat is assigned to as co-counsel - as if she wasn't having enough trouble fitting into her new Southern firm, she's adamantly against the death penalty. Yet she's equally adamant about wanting to prove her can help win such a big criminal case, especially to the obnoxious lead attorney who she's convinced thinks she should get back to New York where she belongs.

I particularly enjoyed what it had to say about finding a home - sometimes it can take a while, sometimes it's not what you expected at all, but you know when you find it and it feels good.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Need help picking a book!

I had to give up on The Hakawati for the Orbis Terrarum Challenge (9 books by 9 authors from different countries), I just couldn't get into it and it was looming over me and I decided that even for a challenge, reading still has to be fun, not a chore. But now I need another book for the challenge and I want to be sure it's a good one (not that The Hakawati was bad, it just wasn't for me). So, if you have any recommendations of books that blew you away, please leave a comment!

The author can't be from any of these countries, as I have them covered:
Hong Kong


Thanks in advance!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review: Miss Julia Takes Over

Miss Julia Takes Over by Ann B. Ross
4.5 stars

Reasons for reading: I loved, loved the first Miss Julia book last year; Southern book for Triple 8 Challenge

First line: "I declare, if it's not one thing, it's two more."

My thoughts: Miss Julia's second adventure didn't disappoint! It gets 1/2 a star off because I didn't think we really needed another plot by Brother Vern to get Little Lloyd's money on top of the mystery of missing Hazel Marie. And I was a bit put off at first by the NASCAR setting (of all the un-Miss Julia-like things!!), but it turned out okay. But Miss Julia still provides a hilarious, Southern read with a very distinct voice.

Miss Julia has an opinion on everything, from church to other people's romances to home decor to private investigation to the greeters at Wal-Mart, and she's not afraid to share it! It would be very annoying to be the victim of her machinations, but they make for entertaining story. Her asides about having to do everything herself, when that's exactly what she wants to do, are a hoot and she really does get things done, even if it involves high-speed chases or avoiding the police.

But there's also some vulnerability to her and that comes out in this volume of the series - part of her does want to look after everything, but she'd also really like to have someone to take care of her sometimes, too. Happily, that might just happen - her relationship with retired lawyer Sam continues to grow, although it might get sidetracked by a busty nurse. Her love for Hazel Marie and Little Lloyd also develop in this book, they've truly become her family and she'll do anything to look after them.

Lately I've been finding I'm not interested in continuing with too many series after the first book, but I'm definitely along for the entire Miss Julia ride and I recommend her very highly!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Review: Bobbie Faye's...Family Jewels

Bobbie Faye's (kinda, sorta, not-exactly) Family Jewels by Toni McGee Causey
3.5 stars

Book description:
It had been a whole freaking month since Bobbie Faye Sumrall had blown up anything or been shot at, and that was almost a new record. Then her diva cousin Francesca waltzed into Bobbie Faye's workplace, Ce Ce's Cajun Outfitter and Feng Shui Emporium, and everything just went to hell. Francesca's mom has disappeared with exceptionally valuable diamonds swiped from Francesca's dad and Francesca has told every insane psycho within earshot that Bobbie Faye could recover the ersatz family jewels. Accused of one man’s murder, Bobbie Faye’s on the run as an unintentional Pied Piper to a rabid band of thieves. She has to find the diamonds, figure out the motives of the dead sexy FBI agent who's pressing her for more than just the jewels, all while racing to side-step her steamy (and steamed) detective ex-boyfriend before the deadline arrives and the diamonds disappear.

First line:
"Bobbie Faye Sumrall was full up on crazy, thank you very much, and had a side order of cranky to spare."

What I liked:
- As with the first book in the series, Bobbie Faye's Very (very, very, very) Bad Day, I really liked the whole thing, particularly the humour, Bobbie Faye's character, and the Louisiana setting. It's also a pretty good mystery story.

- The 2 hunky men in love with her, woo! I'm looking forward to seeing how that love triangle gets resolved.

What I Didn't Like:

- The vague family ties. In the first book, Bobbie Faye is struggling to save her brother and her niece, so it's obvious that she'd move heaven and earth for them. But in this one, Francesca hates her and she hates Francesca and Francesca involves some other cousin-type folks and aunts and uncles (and a father!) she hasn't seen for years. While it's been established that family means everything to Bobbie Faye, it was hard to buy that she'd risk her life yet again for these people who, apart from a couple of aunts, she can't stand.

- That magic was brought in at the end. It just seemed too unrealistic to me, even if the message was a nice one.

I'd still definitely recommend you join Bobbie Faye for a crazy, dangerous, sexy, funny journey through Cajun country!

Mini review: The Secret of the Mansion

The Secret of the Mansion (Trixie Belden, book 1) by Julie Campbell
2.5 stars

Reason for reading: Girl detective story for the Daring Book Challenge

Description: "Trixie’s summer is going to be sooo boring with her two older brothers away at camp. But then a millionaire’s daughter moves into the next-door mansion, an old miser hides a fortune in his decrepit house, and a runaway kid starts hiding out in Sleepyside!"

My thoughts: I've always wondered about Trixie Belden. I hadn't read any of the books as a kid, I wasn't really into the girl detective thing. But when Dewey's Weekly Geeks asked us to recall fave childhood books, tons of people chose Trixie. So when it came up on the Daring Books list, I thought I'd give it a go.

It was a fine book, full of spunk, friendship and adventures. It's just not really my thing, hence the 2.5 stars. I'm not sorry I read it, though, I think it's good for me to know about such an enduring children's classic. I actually thought it would be a lot more dated than it was, but it wasn't too bad, apart from things like having to call the operator to place a phone call and a few other references. I didn't dislike it, I just didn't have a really strong "wow!" reaction about it. But I can see why people would have it on their childhood faves list. And I'd put it in the hands of a kid at the library today, especially if their parents were looking for good clean reads. I guess I'm just not much of a girl detective girl.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Review: Julie and Julia

Julie and Julia: 365 days, 524 recipes, 1 tiny apartment kitchen by Julie Powell
4 stars

Reasons for reading: I'd heard lots of buzz about it; I like books about blogging; Nonfiction for the Triple 8 Challenge and Julia Child's August birthday for the Every Month is a Holiday Challenge

Book Description: Julie & Julia is the story of Julie Powell's attempt to revitalize her marriage, restore her ambition, and save her soul by cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I, in a period of 365 days. . . When we first meet Julie, she's a frustrated temp-to-perm secretary who slaves away at a thankless job, only to return to an equally demoralizing apartment in the outer boroughs of Manhattan each evening. At the urging of Eric, her devoted and slightly geeky husband, she decides to start a blog that will chronicle what she dubs the "Julie/Julia Project." What follows is a year of butter-drenched meals that will both necessitate the wearing of an unbearably uncomfortable girdle on the hottest night of the year, as well as the realization that life is what you make of it and joy is not as impossible a quest as it may seem, even when it's -10 degrees out and your pipes are frozen.

What I liked:
- The stories of her cooking adventures! Killing a live lobster, boning a duck, removing the marrow from a bone, getting mayonnaise and gelatins to set. . . things I hope to never, ever have to do, but I fully enjoyed reading her accounts of them.

- Her love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer! I really enjoyed her references to it and I have to say, she's made of sterner stuff than I am, to cook for a journalist on the night of the series finale! Buffy even gets a mention at the end of the Project, which ends "back exactly where we started - just Eric and me, three cats and Buffy...sitting on a couch in the outer boroughs, eating, with Julia chortling alongside us..."

- Her conclusion that what helps you make your way in life is joy, and that's what she found in MtAoFC , that it had "the deeply buried aroma of hope and discovery of fulfillment in it." And that Julia Child didn't find it til she was 37, when she married her husband and learned to cook, so perhaps it's not too late for Julie and for me.

What I didn't like:

- The constant cracks against Republicans. I'm Canadian, I'm not particularly political and I don't really care, but it just irked me. It didn't have anything to do with anything about the Project. One crack would've been enough to let us know where she stood, if we really needed to know, but there was one about every other chapter and it got tiresome.

- I could have done with less about her job at the government agency responsible for post-September 11th tributes. (Although the story of the dominatrix who called up to find out about government aid for her business was hilarious!) Some of it was necessary to show why she was so unhappy with things in her life, but I'd have preferred to have read more actual blog posts or more about the cooking.

- Julie, sometimes. But, unlike a book character, she's a real person and I don't like me all the time, so I can forgive her some whininess and histrionics.

Other thoughts:

After finishing the book, I looked up Julia Child on YouTube and my, she was quite the dame! I hadn't seen much of her and mostly thought, as many people do, of Dan Akroyd's SNL sketch about her. But the clips I found of her show were fascinating, such a product of the 70's but also good, solid cooking tips. The first one I saw was of Julia's omlette-jerking technique, which is among the first things Julie describes. And there was one called "Bavarian Combos, " all about the joys of molded, custardy desserts. And she signed off with "The next time you make a dessert, don't be a square with a chiffon pie, because now you've got the know-how to really swing [arm-waving gesture] with the Bavarian Combo!" Honestly, you couldn't pay today's actual comedy writers enough to come up with that kind of cheesy goodness! (Seriously, look Julia Child up on YouTube - as some a kid Julie overheard at the Julia Child exhibit at the Smithsonian said,"in awed tones, 'Julia Child is crazy.' ")

Finally, In one of those examples of books coming to you at the right time, I could really relate to Julie. I'm around the same age, my biological clock is ticking very loudly but my diabetes and weight issues mean babymaking is tricky and an increasingly worrisome prospect. Also, while at heart I do love my job, it's currently making me pretty unhappy a lot of the time. Maybe I need a year-long blogging project! Any suggestions?? It seems to have done her a world of good, I could use something like it. I just wish I knew what it was . . .

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Mini Review: Housekeeping vs The Dirt

Housekeeping vs The Dirt by Nick Hornby
3.5 stars

Book description: In this latest collection of essays following The Polysyllabic Spree, critic and author Nick Hornby continues the feverish survey of his swollen bookshelves, offering a funny, intelligent, and unblinkered account of the stuff he's been reading. Ranging from the middlebrow to the highbrow (with unrepenting dips into the lowbrow), Hornby's dispatches from his nightstand table serve as useful guides to contemporary letters, with revelations on contemporary culture, the intellectual scene, and English football, in equal measure.

For shame, I'm still catching up with the reviews from Weekly Geeks #12!

Michelle asked: Have you read other books by Nick Hornby? If so, how did Housekeeping vs The Dirt compare to the others? If not, did Housekeeping vs The Dirt make you want to read another one? Why/why not?

I have read other Hornby books and enjoyed them. I think About a Boy is my favourite.

And in fact, last year I read The Polysyllabic Spree (my review is
here) and I liked it so much I asked for this one for Christmas. But for some reason the second volume didn't resonate with me as much. I don't know if it was the books he was reading or that I didn't find the whole idea of the column as fresh as the first time or what. Don't get me wrong, it was still enjoyable and since I have my own copy, I'll probably re-read it some day and perhaps I'll get a bigger bang out of it the second time.

I still think Nick Hornby's a great author and I hope to read his YA novel Slam soon. And I maintain my belief that he'd be a cool guy to have over for dinner. :-)

Southern Challenge 2008 Wrap-Up

Well, a mighty big thanks to Maggie for hosting this fun challenge again!! I seem to read more and more and more Southern lit each year, so this one's both easy and perfect for me.

My books (with links to reviews):
1. Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
2. The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
3. Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch

My thoughts:
One of the things Maggie suggested we write about was how the books moved us.

I'd say Mudbound moved me the most - as I said in my review, it made me feel things physically. I was felt sorrow, anger, disgust, horror, and and a bit of satisfaction for Laura when her vile father-in-law got what he deserved. While Laura wasn't perfect, I was moved by her situation - being forced to live in a basically uninhabitable farm with horrid Pappy while her husband pays attention to nothing but his precious farm. And of course I was moved by the tragedy Ronsel faces, but also by the plight of his family as black people in 1946 in the Mississippi Delta - even though I know it was widespread, it still shocked me that they were treated that way, especially when Ronsel was a war hero and had been treated so well in Europe.

I was moved by The Sugar Queen because I felt so sorry for Josey being punished for her entire life for things now beyond her control - who her father was and how she'd acted as a child. Josey also moved me because she was so kind - even though she'd never really had friends or a boyfriend, she cared so deeply, so quickly about Chloe and Adam and even Della Lee. And while I don't have a closet stuffed with candy, I could relate to wanting to hide away and eat them quickly, to the feeling that they're the only comfort you have. I was so happy that she was able to finally come into her own and live her own life, after two decades of punishment and loneliness.

Girls in Trucks moved me because Sarah's tendency to screw up her life was so...pitiable. She was running from the constraints of her life in the South but she (and her Camellia friends) didn't really know what they were running to, so they ended up in various sad situations - some entirely of their own making, but some not.

I recommend all three of these books to y'all!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Review: Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Militant Midwives

Monsieur Pamplemousse and the Militant Midwives by Michael Bond
2 stars

Reasons for reading: the title (although I confess I thought it was "Militant Housewives" until the end of the book); mystery for the Triple 8 Challenge; Michael Bond created Paddington Bear!

Synopsis (from Having delivered a particularly stirring speech at his recently deceased colleague's funeral, Monsieur Pamplemousse is more than a little disturbed when the coffin explodes into flames during the ceremony. Luckily, his faithful hound Pommes Frites gives out a warning cry just in time, so there are not casualties. But, who exactly is behind this explosion - and what was the actual cause of his late co-workers demise? This latest in their wild romps find the entertaining duo meeting a CIA agent masquerading as a celebrity chef with a penchant for Krispy Kremes, causing chaos at a prestigious hotel, and experimenting with a dog translator.

My thoughts: This just didn't do it for me. I see now that it's #15 in the series (my library only has a few, so I didn't realize it was that long-running) and I really felt as if I needed to have read the previous ones. For most of the novel I felt like I do when I miss the beginning of a movie - even if I can catch up with the plot, I still don't quite feel like I'm getting the full experience.

I enjoyed Pommes Frites and there were certainly some very funny, slapsticky moments (some of course involving "dog's doings," of course, but the dog translator was a hoot), the whole mystery of the food terrorism was really hard to take seriously and the perpetrator wasn't very surprising, though I never really understood their motive for it (I was starting to skim a bit by the end). And I couldn't really buy that Le Guide (basically a fictional Michelin) was involved in covert anti-terrorism work (food-related or not), though perhaps it was because I didn't have the backstory from previous books.

Also, the militant midwives don't even come into it until the last few pages and, as I said, I'd been expecting militant housewives the whole time (which is my fault for misreading) - but they're just spoken about it in one scene. While it certainly makes for an intriguing title, they're just one small last-minute plot device and M. Pamplemousse doesn't actually have anything to do with them, so that was a bit weird.

If you've read the series and are looking for more Pommes Frites, or are a cozy mystery fan/dog lover/gourmand, this could be for you, but I suggest you start at the beginning of the series to avoid feeling as confused as I was.