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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

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4,5804601,047 (3.86)745
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English (450)  Spanish (3)  German (3)  Dutch (2)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Catalan (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (461)
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Read from June 15 to September 08, 2014

In my ongoing attempt to finish as few books as possible in 2014, here's another one I just lost interest in. I found Flavia an interesting character, but the mystery wasn't mysterious enough to keep me interested in reading another 200 pages. ( )
  melissarochelle | Oct 12, 2014 |
Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is the star of this mystery set in England in 1950. When a man is found dead in her garden, she has to unravel events dating back decades in order to identify the murderer. Well, technically, she doesn't have to. In fact, the authorities would probably prefer that she left the job to them. But Flavia is smart and precocious, and she's convinced that her knowledge of chemistry and her general curiosity will lead her to the killer.

I had trouble warming up to Flavia at first. On the audio, she came across as a bit too impressed with herself. (The inflections in the narrator's voice may have heightened this effect.) But in the end, she won me over. I felt like she needed an "equal" in the book. Her father, her sisters, the housekeeper, and most of the other characters came off as quite daft most of the time. Her conversations with the chief investigator as the book was wrapping up made me wish that they had more interactions throughout. Although this start to the series was entertaining enough, I'm on the fence as to whether I'll keep going. ( )
1 vote porch_reader | Sep 30, 2014 |
This wasn't exactly poorly-written, but I didn't feel connected to the main character and the things she did just weren't very interesting or smart or funny or anything special. ( )
  piersanti | Sep 28, 2014 |
I found this book perfectly charming... yet flawed. Some of Bradley's stylistic choices seem amateurish, at best.* I'm sure he will pick up and correct these over time. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I'm asking too much of the genre itself. Regardless, I do have certain standards that he failed to meet on a few occasions that I'll describe below.

One, in particular, hit me hard in chapters 15 and 16, where Flavia's father, Colonel de Luce, tells her the backstory regarding Horace Bonepenny. The story is told from the Colonel's point of view, in his voice, as he recites it to Flavia. However, the narration voice in this section is exactly the same as the rest of the novel, which itself is from the first-person voice of a rather precocious 11-year-old girl. Bradley wanted a method to convey this backstory to Flavia (and likewise to us), and used her father as a vehicle. As a plot device, this is perfectly fine, of course, but I found it jarring and unbelievable that her father spoke the same way that Flavia did. First and foremost, nobody talks like that, not even a precocious 11-year-old girl, but we're inclined to forgive that because the voice is so charming and it's just narrative after all. Second, nobody would talk that way in actual dialog. Here's an except from the beginning of the tale (and remember, this is the Colonel speaking out loud to Flavia):

“Although Greyminster was no more than a few miles from Buckshaw, in those days it might just as well have been on the moon. We were fortunate indeed in our headmaster, Dr. Kissing, a gentle soul who believed no harm could ever come to the boy who was administered daily doses of Latin, rugger, cricket, and history, and on the whole, we were treated well.”

See my point? This sounds like written narrative, not spoken dialog. If Bradley wanted this to be dialog (which was the choice he made when he had Flavia's father "tell" her this story) then he should have adjusted the voice to something believable, something that flowed more like dialog would.

Second gripe: most of the other characters in this novel are wasted. Flavia is thoroughly fleshed out, wonderfully so, and will bring readers back for more. As the first-person delivery mechanism, most of Bradley's time was devoted to her. But then he practically ignored the rest of the characters and left them as mere window dressing around Flavia's adventure. Even her father, front and center in this drama/tragedy, doesn't achieve much more than a slight awakening at the end to his daughter's efforts. How much better would this book have been had the cast of characters around Flavia—and there were more than a few that sparked my interest—been developed properly and allowed to bloom?

That said, the writing was more than I'd expect from a novice, and either Bradley struck on a one-hit wonder with the character of Flavia (too soon to tell) or he's got a decent pool of creative genius to tap into for other books to come. I will most likely read the next book in the series to see how he progresses. If nothing else, I am not through with Flavia and would genuinely like to see what her character gets up to next.

* This felt like Bradley's first attempt at writing (or publishing) a novel. Checking Wikipedia, this seems to be true (sort of). I get the sense that he's drawn on a lifetime of experience *reading* novels and decided he could do just as good a job on his own *writing* novels. To that end, I will say: he's got some talent. But I think he needs some practice. ( )
  invisiblelizard | Sep 28, 2014 |
This was pretty goofy in a fun parody of an English cosey mystery. I'll be reading more of the series ( )
  MikeRhode | Sep 26, 2014 |
Unexpected. Excellent. Delightful. ( )
  atuson | Sep 7, 2014 |
King George is not a frivolous man

Yes, this is a book written for grown ups and yes, the main character is 11 years old. Flavia de Luce has a passion for poison, the vocabulary of an adult, and a bicycle named Gladys. Her mother died climbing mountains in the Himalayas and her father, Colonel de Luce, is just about as distant, showing more interest in his stamp collection than his daughters. It's part of the whole English reluctance to show affection and keeping a stiff upper lip, or something like that...

But things get shaken up a bit when a dead blackbird shows up on the porch at Buckshaw (the old mansion where the de Luces live) with a penny stamp stuck to it's beak. The next morning Flavia finds a dead man in the cucumber patch - well, he's not dead yet, but expires with a final word: "Vale." But who was he, and more important, who killed him? Was it the Colonel who had secretly argued with the stranger the night before, or Dogger, the dependable but unstable gardener (who still suffers from his experiences in Japanese POW camps)? Maybe he died from eating a slice of Mrs. Mullet's horrible cream pie? Whoever it was, Flavia is determined to find out with the help of her chemistry knowledge and Gladys.

In spite of a slow start, this was really an enjoyable read. It has a style that reminded me of Alan Bennett's "The Uncommon Reader." It's what the English like to call "wickedly funny," which apparently means that it's funny in a clever and witty way with a good helping of subtle sarcasm. And it's certainly all of those. My 15 year old son quickly read it (he has this habit of snagging any book I order and reading it first, which I wouldn't mind except he doesn't feel the need to treat them as gently as I would prefer!) and loved it, so even though it's written more for grown-ups (don't worry, there's nothing inappropriate here!) older kids will probably enjoy it just as well (most of it would just go over the heads of younger kids). My son and I are looking forward to another slice! ( )
  J.Green | Aug 26, 2014 |
Fun to read. I could not believe Flavia was 11—I tend to find prodigies more annoying than endearing—but fortunately, I was willing to suspend reality and enjoy the story unfolding, particularly the chemistry references. ( )
  spellfone | Aug 13, 2014 |
Flavia is a young chemist who is brilliant at solving mysteries. Follow her through this well written mystery of a murder, right in her own garden! Intricate and fun!
  mcorbink | Jul 4, 2014 |
This review may contain spoilers.

I like mysteries but have never really loved them (except for Nancy Drew, but that may have been a right-time, right-circumstances thing). But with Flavia de Luce, I really got sucked into this book. It was well done. I really like the chemistry talk (kinda goes with my interest in forensic crime/police procedural TV shows). At the same time, Flavia just has a lot of gumption. She's smart, and she's almost fearless-- both because she's an invincible youngster but also because of an innate morbid fascination. Any comparison with Wednesday Addams would be apt.

Ah, but what's the story?, you may ask. It starts out... well, let's skip the first little bit so you can enjoy that for yourself. Soon enough, the cook--yes, this is 1950s Britain and classism is an underscored reality-- finds a dead snipe on the doorstep, with a Penny Black stamp impaled on its beak. Her father is clearly unnerved by this when he sees it. Upon recovering himself, he snatches the offending object from the creature.

The dead jack snape will not be the only death on the property. Later that night, after Flavia overhears a heated argument between her father and a red-haired stranger, the same red-haired stranger is found lying in their cucumber patch. Flavia stumbles upon him as he takes his dying whispeedr, "Vale!"

And so starts the mystery that occupies the rest of the book. It is engrossing. And you should read it, to find out, like the best, "who dun it?"
  pegasus.rose.99 | Jun 25, 2014 |
Lovely mystery replete with young sassy smart girl of 11 going on 40 who helps to solve quite a mystery. Exciting! ( )
  hklibrarian | Jun 2, 2014 |
Not my favorite. Too slow moving and lacked a certain amount of believability in the characters. In fact, I don't think I liked any of them at all. ( )
  klarsenmd | May 29, 2014 |
Flavia De Luce is my new favorite "detective" even if she is only 11 years old! ( )
  Chatty_Cathie | May 18, 2014 |
Book 1, in the Flavia de Luce series

This is a delightful old fashioned mystery set in the English countryside in 1950. It features Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old amateur sleuth who pulls herself away from her beloved chemistry lab in order to clear her father in a murder investigation. This debut novel was written in 2009 and was well received by critics, 5 more books were written for adults and have since been published.

Flavia de Luce is a brilliant, bold, adorable and a gem of a character. She comes alive on the page and her voice is so distinctive, a precocious young heroine with extraordinary vocabulary (she certainly has a doozy one) it is hard not to be engaged by this compelling lead detective. Although I was totally absorbed by this tale I do question to whom this book was meant to appeal? When an 11 year old girl is the protagonist you would think a younger audience is the target but when a language has such a deep level and details paint realistic experiences it makes for a tedious read and may be a bit much for the younger minds. Oh! Yes I remember this series is for adults…. Hum…ok.

Flavia is far too mature for her age, putting this aside was my best bet to enjoy this mystery at its fullest. In fact I now say this story is rather captivating, one that moves quickly giving us bits and pieces until we have the final picture. There are a lots of clues covertly hidden waiting for us to discover and this is a fun pleasure. Added to all this mix is a touch of humour. This is an uplifting adventure that was slow to grab me but it finally did as I further read along.

Next “The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag” is on my TBR list….I give Mr. Bradley thumbs up for picked such original titles. ( )
  Tigerpaw70 | May 9, 2014 |
Flavia is truly one of a kind. ( )
  zguba | Apr 25, 2014 |
Flavia helps her father who is accused of murdering an old schoolmate. Fun read. ( )
  SparklePonies | Apr 19, 2014 |
"I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." This according to the narrator, eleven year old Flavia de Luce regarding finding a dead body in the cucumber patch.

Delightful. The style is quirky and fun, with a real relish for language and the period. I'm going to say this is a three and a half star read. Agh, this rating system is difficult! :) I may change my mind. (this is this month's group read and discussion.) ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
"I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." This according to the narrator, eleven year old Flavia de Luce regarding finding a dead body in the cucumber patch.

Delightful. The style is quirky and fun, with a real relish for language and the period. I'm going to say this is a three and a half star read. Agh, this rating system is difficult! :) I may change my mind. (this is this month's group read and discussion.) ( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
I was fortunate enough to win this book from one of this sites drawings. I have now managed to find time to read it. The story is told from the perspective of an 11 year old girl set in the 50's. Whilst I'm no expert on the period, it is obvious that the author has done his research and he quickly draws you into her world.

The writing is fast paced and the story is one you don't want to put down. The heroine is like-able even if she is awfully bright for someone so young. I look forward to his other books and thoroughly enjoyed this one. It is the perfect beach book, my only complaint was that it was over too quickly. ( )
  ExpatTX | Mar 31, 2014 |
Fun! ( )
  ewillse | Mar 23, 2014 |
OMG!!! It have taken about 6 months to read this book. A little bit difficult but very interested. I have the other three books of this series. May be some day I can read complieted. ( )
  wankorobo2 | Mar 7, 2014 |
Fun! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
Fun! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
Fun! ( )
  PatienceFortitude | Mar 6, 2014 |
What a great book. A solid mystery, wonderfully quaint setting, and completely brilliant little heroine. I adored Flavia. She's so clever and endearing. Definitely will be reading more Flavia de Luce books. ( )
  virginiahomeschooler | Mar 4, 2014 |
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