Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old, finds the body of a stranger in the cucumber patch. Finally something interesting is happening around Buckshaw, her home, and she's pleased to be a part of it. As you might have guessed, Flavia is no ordinary youngster. She has her own laboratory where she mixes chemicals to create fantastic poisons; some quite benign and some definitely deadly. She's determined to ferret out the numerous secrets that abound and solve the mystery that's shown up on her doorstep.

Fantastic book. I knew with all of the buzz surrounding this book and the numerous awards its won, I was bound to enjoy it. However, I did more than that. I loved it. Absolutely! Set in the 1950s in an English mansion, the story was charming, inviting and featured a great mystery. Honestly, it really didn't even matter that much how it turned out. I just loved reading about Flavia and the other characters in this setting.

Speaking of Flavia, she was delightful. I think she found the whole mystery situation quite amusing. Her penchant for poisons and knowledge of them were astonishing. I often had to remind myself that she was only eleven-years-old. She seemed much older. Her interactions with adults, especially Inspector Hewitt, were very mature. We get to see a little of her child-like playfulness when she's dealing with her sisters, Feely and Daffy.

Flavia's father was a avid stamp collector which allowed the author to bring in all sorts of interesting philatelic (stamp collecting) information. I particularly liked reading about the Penny Black stamp.

I loved the final scene between Flavia and Inspector Hewitt. Much like a final duel, they were still feeling each other out, each determining how to get the upper hand. Awesome. I hope Flavia encounters him (or similar characters) again.

Favourite quotes: There were lots of great lines in this book to choose from. Here are two of my favourites:
...silence is sometimes the most costly of commodities. (page 219)

I gave Father a silent hug to which, although he remained rigid as an oak, he did not seem to object.(page 221) This line from Flavia made me laugh out loud. On the face of it, it's sad that Flavia's relationship with her Father was such that a real hug would be out of the question. However, how could he object to a silence hug? Would he even know he was receiving one?

New Word Alert: This book had numerous new words for me. Here's a sampling:
budgerigar (page 5) - small bird
pinioned (page 7) - hold down
factotum (page 19) - menial, gofer
aeons (page 78) - era, age
cogitate (page 153) - think
boulevardier (page 160) - man of the world, a fashionable sophisticated man who treats life with light-hearted cynicism
netsuke (page 179) - toggle on kimono cord
prestidigitation (page 184) - conjuring, sleight of hand used in performing magic tricks.

Highly recommended. I can't wait to read Bradley's next Flavia installment, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

If you love Flavia as I do, you might want to check out the The Flavia Fan Club. It contains lots of author information as well as updates on future books.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, Anchor Canada (Random House), ©2009. ISBN 9780385665834(Hardcover), 370p.

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