We all have one, a "literary comfort zone." Certain genres, certain settings, certain authors become "go to" literary favorites. Sometimes, however, a reader may be willing to take a risk, or a friend recommends a book that normally would be bypassed.
Here are a few of my own unexpected pleasures. They are not my traditional reads, but they have become new favorites.
Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by HelenSimonson
Note from the librarian: After hearing at least two recommendations, I figured it was worth a try. I was reading it on an NYC bus and just as I was ready to get off a fellow passenger said to me- "Isn’t that a wonderful book! Everyone in our book club loved it." Something that gets people talking is well worth a try!
The reader first meets retired Major Ernest Pettigrew after he has received a call that his brother has died. The local shopkeeper Mrs. Ali has stopped by to collect the payment for the paper delivery. The Major is flustered and obviously upset. Mrs. Ali comes to his rescue and sits him down and gets water. It is the start of a new friendship that deepens into something more.
It is a story about family, thinly veiled racism, culture clash, and how people can sometime completely defy expectations. The characters, while not always likeable, are well drawn, fully rounded people, and they provide necessary touches of humor to balance out some of the more serious issues explored.
The Major, especially, has a nicely dry British wit. Like the Major, this book has unexpected depths and great humor.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Note from the librarian: I usually do not like books for adults where the narrator is a child. For whatever reason this book caught my attention. It may have been the lime green cover. Yes, even librarians sometimes pick books by their covers.
The story is set in post WWII England at the mouldering country estate of the de Luce family. Flavia de Luce lives there with her father(a widower), two older sisters, one manservant, and their housekeeper who comes daily. Flavia is the youngest daughter at age 11 and follows in the footsteps of one of her ancestors. Said ancestor had a full chemistry lab built in the house and amassed a collection of chemistry books that Flavia studies. She is especially interested in poisons.
The usual routine of the house is disturbed when a dead blackbird with stamp through its beak is found on the stoop. Late at night Flavia hears her father arguing with a stranger in his study and in the early morning hours she finds a man gasping his last in their cabbage patch.
Flavia is not any ordinary child and decides to investigate. She stumbles upon a plot that her father had been involved with when he was at school. She makes something of an unlikely sleuth, but her witty observations and above average intelligence make her an engaging heroine. (And yes there really is a pie involved).
Note from the librarian: Book group members have no doubt heard of this book or possibly even read it. I had heard of it when it was a New York Times Bestseller. Somehow I ended up with a copy of the book, and I started reading.
Doctor David Henry seemly has everything. He put himself through medical school. He marries Norah Asher and they start a family. Norah goes into labor during a blizzard forcing them to stop at David’s office where Caroline Gill, David’s nurse, assists with the birth.
The first baby, a boy they name Paul, is fine. His sister Phobe is born healthy, but has Down’s Syndrome. With his wife lying unconscious, David decides to lie and say the other child was born dead. He instructs Caroline to take the baby to a local institution and leave her in their care. Caroline sees the conditions at the home and decides to keep the baby for herself. David lies to his wife setting off a disastrous chain of events that will impact them and their marriage. For Caroline, Phobe is a blessing.
Caroline, who eventually marries, keeps in contact with David and sends him periodic updates concerning Phobe. After David’s death Caroline decides it is time to reveal Phobe’s existence to her birth mother and to Paul. They all must grapple with the consequence.