Thursday, February 7, 2013

Chemistry Prodigy Finds Stamps, Solves Decades-Old Murder Mystery

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Sign me up as the newest member of the Flavia De Luce fan club!  I am so glad I finally got around to reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, that there are several more books in this series for me to read, and that the audiobook narrator is FANTASTIC.  That is what I'd call a win-win-win situation, my friends.

Flavia de Luce is a precocious 11-year-old in 1950 with a strong love for chemistry, particularly the chemistry of poisons.  She lives in a grand old English country house with her two older sisters, neither of whom really understand her, her father, who keeps quite aloof from everyone, and their devoted servant Dogger, from whom she's learned all sorts of important things, such as how to pick locks.  When not in her laboratory, Flavia likes to ride her trusty bike Gladys to the library and play pranks on her older sisters.

One day, a dead bird with a stamp on it shows up on Flavia's front door step.  Later that night, she sees her father arguing with a tall, red-haired man.  The next morning, the redhead is dead in the garden, and Flavia is delighted to have a mystery on her hands.


So really, the mystery part of this book probably isn't that great.  There's a lot of monologue to fill in the back story, and the whodunnit was fairly obvious even to me, who never tries to solve mysteries in novels before they are solved by the detective.  But seriously, this book is about so much more than the mystery.

What I LOVE about mystery series is when they have so much more going on than just the mystery.  That's why I fell in love with Marcus Didius Falco, who was dealing with the trials of trying to join the middle-class in Ancient Rome, why I loved Farthing, which had so much subtext about homosexuality and fascism, and why I generally don't like stand-alone mystery novels nearly as much as series that focus on a detective and that person's growth.

Flavia is one of those detectives.  She's growing up in a rapidly changing world - she lives in a beautiful old house that her family has owned for generations, but that is now too expensive to keep up.  Her father has become reclusive since the death of her mother years ago, and Dogger has "episodes" when he remembers his time as a POW during World War II.  She's a very smart person, but she doesn't have many outlets for all her genius.  And this is what makes the book so good!  You can tell when you read the book that there will be so many happenings on all of these fronts (and more!) as you continue the series.  I am thrilled to see what Flavia will do with the rest of her life (getting a PhD in Chemistry is high up on her list) and how she will grow as she begins to understand the context of everything going on around her - the class divide, the post-traumatic stress disorder, the politics, and all the family dynamics.  I am so excited for all of that.

And while there were times when I thought Flavia was a little too smart for an 11-year-old, most of the time, she's very realistic.  For example, she believes what people tell her, and doesn't often consider that they may be lying or covering up.  She also can get fixated on an idea and go down a path that may not exist.  She bickers with her sisters and is very forthright with everyone.  She doesn't really worry much about danger, and then when she does, she can become very imaginative and dramatic.  She's just a delightful person with whom to spend time, and I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series.

21 comments:

  1. I think I'm in the minority of people who didn't love this book - I loved the writing, but it's Flavia who got me all riled up. I can't do an 11 year old who investigates murders and goes off alone to follow murder suspects.

    Tanya Patrice
    Girlxoxo.com

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    1. That's justified. She is sometimes a bit TOO smart and able to leap to conclusions. But I thought she was fun and for me, the mystery wasn't really the important part, even though it was a mystery novel.

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  2. I have the first one of these books on audio, and you've made me so excited to get to it! I like precocious kids when they're not too precocious, and it sounds like Flavia is a delight. It also sounds like the narration was top notch, which is important for me. It doesn't so much matter that the mystery is easy to figure out if there is a lot of character growth, so I am hopeful! Very nice job on this review today. I really enjoyed it!

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  3. I really need to read this. I think it's been on my to read list for years.

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  4. I'm so glad you enjoyed this. It's great to see another Flavia de Luce fan! I've read the first four books in the series and loved them all. The actual mysteries aren't very complex but the characters and setting make up for it.

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  5. I enjoyed meeting Flavia in book 1 but haven't yet been inspired to keep going. Although the gorgeous colors in the book covers are very appealing.

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  6. I too really enjoyed these novels, and the follow ups as well. I have the latest book here to read at some point in the next couple of weeks.

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  7. I started this book years ago but never finished it. Maybe I need to try it on audio. I love your enthusiasm for this book.

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  8. These are some of my favorite books. I discovered Flavia when that first book with its enticing green cover came out and I've been a fan ever since. Love her and her family. One of many wonderful things about these books is that they are much more about the characters and the overarching mystery of what happened to Flavia's mother. You get little bits of information with each novel and you grow to love these characters more and more.

    I recently bought the 5th book but am waiting until I can get the audio from the library as I listened to the previous one on audio and was really impressed with the narrator.

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    1. I really enjoy the audiobook version, too! I hope the same narrator does them all.

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  9. I love Flavia too! Especially her love of chemistry, I think that's so cool. I've read three books in the series now and what bothers me most is the family dynamic - how can sisters be so cruel to each other?

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  10. Seems pretty normal to families I've seen, lol! And we have to remember that we are being told everything through the eyes of an 11 year old who may be seeing things as a little more black and white than they actually are.

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  11. That's true, Carl. I guess I consider her a reliable narrator because she's so smart, it's true that her version might be exaggerated.

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    1. I only read the first book, but I don't think the sisters are that cruel to each other, really. After all, Flavia tries to poison them! I agree with Carl, though - not sure Flavia is completely reliable on the family front.

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    2. Joanna, after reading the second book, I can completely understand why you think the sisters are cruel to each other! The whole elaborate concoction of an adoption and returning Flavia to the orphanage was taking it way too far, in my opinion.

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  12. "She's a very smart person, but she doesn't have many outlets for all her genius." Love that!

    And YES! You got into Flavia! I just started the brand-spankin' newest one this morning!

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  13. I really enjoyed the Flavia books too - I've read the first three and have been meaning to read the latest - I might just order it now while I'm thinking about it! Thanks for another great posr.

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  14. Oh, I'm so glad you've started this series! I really feel that each book is better than the one before so you're in for a fun ride with them. And as for Flavia's unnatural intelligence, isn't it okay if there are a few exceptional kids out there, ones with the ability to think and reason better than other kids their age? If all kids were just average, what would be the point? We should be happy that there are some budding geniuses out there like Flavia.

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  15. Oh, I'm SO happy you've discovered Flavia and love her too! She's brilliant, isn't she? I particularly love her interactions with her family and Dogger and can't wait to find out more about her life, especially her mother (I'm sure that will come up eventually!) I do agree about the mystery but it doesn't really bother me much either.

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  16. Also adding how pleased I am that you've discovered the joys of Flavia! I loved the first one with its distinctive Poison Green cover, and have just finished the latest which was fabulous! I think I might even have to break with custom and try an audiobook after hearing everyone rave about the narrator for this series.

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Thank you for taking the time and effort (I know word verification is MISERABLE) to comment here! Unless you are spamming me, in which case, thanks for nothing.

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