4

Flavia is growing up

Flavia de Luce is one of my favourite characters in literature right now. She is cheeky and clever and funny, she doesn’t play by the rules, is tortured by her sisters but is well able to give as good as she gets and she has quite the knack for finding bodies.

When I finished reading When Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I wasn’t sure if the series was going to continue. Author Alan Bradley had spoken before of his intention to write only six books. When Chimney Sweepers Came to Dust was the 7th book and it didn’t feel like the end but I couldn’t find anything anywhere to tell me either way.

Well! Imagine my delight when I heard about Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d!

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Flavia is back home in Bishop’s Lacey after her time in Canada. She is looking forward to being welcomed home with open arms by Dogger, her father, and even her sisters. So she’s a little disheartened to see only Dogger waiting for her when she arrives. He tells her that her father, Colonel de Luce has pneumonia and is in the hospital.

When Flavia gets home she finds the place quite different. Her sisters are off in their own world, her father is in the hospital and no one really cares what Flavia does. So Flavia goes out on her own, to say hi to some of her friends in the village. The vicar’s wife asks her to please take a letter to this man in the next village over and when Flavia arrives, she finds him strapped upside down on the back of the door, dead.

What follows is classic Flavia. She decides to look into the matter on her own, knowing that she can do it better than the police.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d is more melancholy than the previous books. Flavia is growing up and she’s beginning to understand people and how society works. Additionally, she really misses the family dynamics the way they used to be and worries about her father who she isn’t allowed to see.

I appreciated a more adult Flavia. Don’t get me wrong – she’s still 100% Flavia, with a dislike of people in general but she’s more forgiving of their foibles. I suspect that Bradley has plans for Flavia and they include her having to grow up. When I first started reading these books, I assumed that Flavia would be eternally 11. I see now that that was never the intention. Bradley has allowed Flavia to grow up and is making room for readers to come along for the journey. This latest book is setting the stage for a Flavia to grow up and I’m looking forward to seeing how that all turns out.

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: if you haven’t read the Flavia de Luce books, you are missing out and I do not know what you are even waiting for!

Thanks to Penguin Random House of Canada for an ARC of this book. 

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15

Farewell Flavia?

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Even though When Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust came out at the beginning of the year, it took me a while to read it for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to say good bye to the de Luces, Dogger or Buckshaw, but especially Flavia. How could I start reading what is supposed to be the last book when I know that doing so would mean that it was all over?

And then I heard that the setting in this 7th book was going to be a boarding school in Canada. At first I was STOKED. What would Flavia make of Canada? But then I worried that changing the setting might kill some of the magic of these books. How will Flavia fare away from her sisters and Dogger? What will she do without faithful Gladys and Uncle Tarquin’s chemistry lab?

If you are wondering some of the same things, I’m here to tell you not to worry. Alan Bradley has successfully navigated the change of venue and has created a setting and a whole new cast of characters that are completely worthy of a Flavia de Luce mystery. The chemistry teacher was acquitted of poisoning her husband; the headmistress is at once extremely sympathetic and intent on punishing Flavia for any indiscretions, no matter how slight; the head of the board of directors is a seriously dodgy guy; and of course, there’s a body!flavia final

After finally finding out what happened to her mother, Flavia is sent to the school that her mother went to – in Canada. After surviving the boat trip there, she arrives late at night and is sent to her room immediately. Soon thereafter she’s woken up by a pupil beating the living daylights out of her – Collingwood thinks Flavia is someone else. After breaking a couple more rules (students aren’t allowed in each other’s rooms and lights aren’t allowed to be turned on after lights out), they find themselves staring at a body that’s been dislodged from the chimney, with the headmistress demanding to be let in the room.

If you’ve read any of the Flavia books, you will know that our heroine loves nothing more than a dead body. She has to learn lots of new tricks in this new world – how to be a part of the investigation in this strange place, who she can and can’t trust, and how to get to use the chemistry lab.

This book might have been one of the funniest in the series. Flavia is completely out of her element and the way that she navigates this new world is hysterical. And yet, Buckshaw, Feely and Daffy aren’t forgotten. Flavia feels intense homesickness for her home and her chemistry lab, Dogger and even her sisters. I think she probably surprised even herself with how much she misses them and constantly mentions things she learned from them or things they used to tell her. In this way, Bradley seems to have found a way to bridge the gap between this new world and the old one we’d all gotten used to being a part of.

But now that I’m finished with it, I’m not any surer about the future of this series. Does Bradley have another book up his sleeve? Is he ready to move on? I’m not ready to move on so I hope he’s still got another story to tell. Flavia is one of the best characters in literature right now and if you haven’t read these books yet, you are missing out big time.

If I haven’t convinced you, read this interview with Alan Bradley – that should do the trick.

5

Waiting It Out: Paperbacks

I have been waiting all year for the 5th book in the Buckshaw Chronicles to come out in paperback. I started buying the books in paperback and they are so good looking sitting side by side in the same format, that I’m doomed to have to wait it out each time a new volume is released. The fifth book, Speaking from Among the Bones did the paperback thing on Tuesday.

I went on Tuesday to collect a copy for myself. But I couldn’t find it anywhere and since I was on a time crunch, I figured I’d just come back the next day (one of the perks/curses of working near a bookstore – I can always come back the next day). Wednesday found me back in the bookstore searching and searching and searching, circling around the store with zero luck until I happened upon a store employee who took pity on me and helped me out. They did have paperbacks of the book but they were still in the box in the back! 

She went back and minutes later came out with her arms full of brand new, never-been-touched, fresh-out-the-box copies of Speaking from Among the Bones paperbacks. And then I got to choose one.

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Book nerd glory.

Since the season of giving is upon us and some of us really do wait for paperback versions of our favourite books to come out, I thought I would run down a couple of my personal paperback favourites that have just been released.

The Dinner by Herman Koch. I actually already own this in the hardcover format but I see that it has just come out in paperback and that’s excellent news for my book club as this is our next selection. Two brothers and their wives go out for dinner one summer night in Amsterdam to discuss their teenaged sons’ recent activities. Tension runs just below the surface of the meal at a fancy restaurant until the whole thing blows up. I can’t wait to read this again and then get to talk about it. It is twisted and uncomfortable and oh so current.

One of the best books I read this year (and possibly that I’ve ever read), Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity. This book is massive and if paperback had been available earlier this year, I might have gone for it. Would have saved myself some neck pain. This book is incredible. Whether you have children or not, this book forces you to take a closer look at what it means to be human. Often it is a tough book to read, I personally had a really hard time with the chapter about children conceived in rape, but I think it’s an incredibly important one.

J.K. Rowling’s fans were heavily divided on The Casual Vacancy but if you were waiting for the paperback version before you got in on the debate, wait no more. I really liked this book – it was different from Harry Potter but that was the whole point. Rowling proved that she is a gifted storyteller no matter the genre and the end? The end was one of the most spectacular endings I’ve ever experienced.

Finally, if you’re on the Buckshaw Chronicles wagon and adore Flavia de Luce (and if you’ve read any of the books, you do), the 6th book (The Dead in their Vaulted Arches) is released (in hardcover, boo) in January. So next fall I will be all over that paperback!

3

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

I’ve had a bit of bad luck recently when choosing books to read. This whole year, actually, has been filled with not-so-great (for me) reads. It’s been a delicate balance of slogging through to find some redemption in a book’s ending, and knowing when to cut my losses and move on.

Generally I cut my losses when the book is from the library and I haven’t shelled out for the book myself.

The point is my (self-described) flawless literary taste has been in question.

Which is why it was such a relief to jump into a book that I knew I would love, and that didn’t disappoint.

I am talking about the 4th installment of the Flavia de Luce series. More officially known as the Buckshaw Chronicles.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows follows in the genius footsteps of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag, and A Red Herring Without Mustard. It is just as brilliant and possibly funnier than the others.

I am properly obsessed with this series, and especially with Flavia herself. The titles alone! Come on.

For those of you that are not in the know (and I insist you run out and educate yourselves immediately), the Buckshaw Chronicles tell the tale of 11 year old chemistry prodigy, Flavia de Luce who lives in an old English manor with her absentee dad and horrid sisters in the years following World War II. They have no money, her father is more interested in collecting stamps than his daughters and dead bodies keep turning up in the village.

In the latest installment, Colonel de Luce (Flavia’s dad) rents out the house to a film crew. They are always in need of some extra funds and this seemed like a relatively painless way to make some money. The crew descends on the manor and all sorts of characters turn up. The whole town ends up at the house for a Christmas Eve show when the vicar convinces the movie’s star to put on a performance.

And that’s when the dead body turns up.

That’s about all I will say about the main plot points. What fun is reading a murder mystery when you already know how it ends? None at all.

I will say that Flavia is in top form in this installment. I was laughing my head off at the audacity of an 11 year old girl inserting herself in a murder investigation. And some of the things that come out of her mouth! She is hysterical. In a totally dry, British humour kind of way. I adore her.

A British film crew in the years following the Second World War provided ample opportunity for all sorts of characters with all kinds of histories to drop into the story. Alan Bradley certainly took advantage.

The excellent news here is that since I waited so long to read I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (I wanted it in paperback to match the others), I won’t have to wait too long for the 5th book to come out. Speaking From Among the Bones is due out in early 2013. And if you are looking to familiarize yourself with the first half of the series, I saw that the first three books have been combined into a handy first volume: The Buckshaw Chronicles.

I was thinking earlier today how fantastic it would be to hear that these books were going to be turned into a movie or mini-series and just now, what do I find? This article from May that says just that! By the same production company responsible for Call The Midwife! I’m in heaven!

1

P.G. Wodehouse

Sometimes my own literary non-knowledge shames me. For some reason I had always assumed that P.G. Wodehouse was a terribly dull philosopher of some kind. Don’t ask. I have no idea where this notion came from.

I could not have been more wrong.

I was reading this interview with J.K. Rowling on my way to the library the other day (I think we have discussed my love of/obsession with J.K. Rowling?) and she mentioned that she would like to meet P.G. Wodehouse. She made him sound delightfully eccentric and my curiousity was piqued. It was a done deal when she mentioned that she would take the complete works of P.G. Wodehouse with her on a deserted island. When I arrived at the library I was resolved to find some Wodehouse to take home with me.

The day was grey and foggy and generally perfect for reading and Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit was a delight. Wodehouse responsible for Jeeves! I was having quite an eye opening day.

In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Bertram Wooster is tasked with helping his Aunt Dahlia out of a jam when she needs to sell her newspaper to a man whose wife controls every aspect of his life. Bertram finds himself engaged no less than 3 times to a woman who is extremely fickle in love and who he really does not want to marry. He doesn’t even ask her, it just keeps happening. And, in what I assume is regular Wodehouse fashion, Jeeves is called upon to help get everyone out of all of these schemes.

I think that Bertie Wooster might be one of my favourite characters in literature. He’s a complete twit – in the first pages he’s grown a David Niven-esque moustache that everyone tells him looks ridiculous but he insists on keeping the status quo. He’s completely puffed up with self importance, refers to his Aunt Dahlia as “aged relative” to her face and is extremely keen on avoiding the fists of one Mr. Cheesewright.

I cannot tell you how delighted I was with this book. It starts out in London, in a comedic kind of Upstairs Downstairs, and eventually moves to a country house. Everyone knows that the best kinds of things happen at English country houses. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, and more recently Alan Bradley and Kate Morton, are majorly responsible for this notion.

It’s a short book, just 212 pages, but it is filled with hijinx, capers and fantastic characters. The names that Wodehouse comes up with alone are worth the read. Lemuel Gengulphus! Tom Portarlington! G. D’Arcy Cheesewright! Having been a long time student of J.K. Rowling’s work I can honestly see that she had been heavily influenced by Wodehouse’s work. She does similar things with naming characters and her style of humour is also very similar.

If you love Rowling’s work, are keen on books set in English country houses and would be into an Agatha Christie type novel without dead bodies, you will love Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. I’d take it a step further and say you would enjoy any of Wodehouse’s work but having not read any more, I can’t be sure just yet.

2

A Red Herring Without Mustard

Have you read any of the Flavia De Luce books? You must. If you’ve never heard of them, allow me to introduce you.

The Flavia De Luce books currently consist of 4 books. I just finished the third one, A Red Herring Without Mustard. Flavia De Luce is the most delightful character I have come across in a long time and I just can’t get enough of her. She’s an 11-year-old chemistry whiz with a passion for solving crimes, which is lucky because she stumbles upon an awful lot of dead bodies for someone so young.

The third book opens with Flavia getting her fortune read by an old gypsy woman, a decidely un-Flavia activity. She ends up burning the gypsy’s tent down and offers her some part of Buckshaw (her home) to bring her caravan so that she can rest. Hours later she finds the gypsy woman beaten unconscious and so begins our mystery. Who would want to do this to an old woman? Who else knew she was here? Did it have anything to do with the disappearance of a local child a few years earlier?

As always Alan Bradley has gifted us with a plethora of sinister and hilarious characters in addition to the stock characters that inhabit Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey (the nearby town) but Bradley also added something different to this third installment: vulnerability. Flavia was always tortured by her older sisters, Feely and Daffy before and she gave it right back, but in this book you get the feeling that she’s starting to be upset by it. And that she’s really starting to miss and wonder about her mother who died when she was a year old.

In addition to being good old fashioned mysteries, set in a ramshackle old English house, these books are really funny. I had a smirk on my face the whole time I was reading. I burned through this one quickly too – Bradley leaves just enough of a teaser at the end of each chapter that you have to carry on.

If I didn’t want the whole set of books to match (I got the first two as paperbacks) I would run out tomorrow and buy the fourth: I’m Half Sick of Shadows.

I will just have to content myself with telling you about them in the hopes that you fall in love with Flavia and Buckshaw just as easily as I did. For your records the first two books are: The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie and The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag.

Stars: 4.5

Grade: A-

0

No Thanks Required

There are so many good things about fall. When I was still in school it meant brand new notebooks and pens and clothes. It still means crisp autumn sunshine and cozy fall sweaters. Its an excuse to break out those boots that have been languishing in your closet all summer.

And it means new fall titles.

You’ve seen the bookstores clearing out their titles, to make room for all the new, life changing books that will be filling the shelves in the coming weeks. You may have found some good deals. I know I have. I found a $150 Atlas for $20. A $75 book on life under the Third Reich for $12 and the complete works of Shakespeare in 3 hardcover volumes (conveniently divided into his comedies, tragedies and sonnets) for just $25! My biggest problem has become how to better organize all my lovelies to show them off the best advantage.

But I digress. Earlier today I had some time to kill and wandered over to Chapters.ca to mine for new reads to add to the ever growing list (currently stands at 3 pages). I should probably come up with a more original way of finding new reads but have you ever taken a look at Heather’s Picks? That woman, aside from having the best job in the world, has flawless taste. I know it’s part of the marketing strategy but honestly, she will never steer you wrong.

I was scrolling through the upcoming releases and I got really excited. I find that, because literary genius takes a while to ferment, it’s impossible to come up with any kind of timeline for when your favourite authors might come out with a new title. These aren’t movies with fancy trailers after all. So I found that I was pleasantly surprised, delighted even, to find that the following titles would be coming out soon. Keep in mind that I haven’t read any of them. But keep reading to find out why I’m excited.

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay. Did you read The Birth House? If you have, you know why I’m excited about this – I read that in one sitting. I could not put it down. I don’t even know how long The Birth House has been out, but I feel like I didn’t even know that I was waiting for Ami McKay to release a second book! Serendipitously it was released today. I should probably wait until I have made a little more headway through the books that I still have to read but I might not be able to help myself!

Out of Oz: The Final Volume in the Wicked Series by Gregory Maguire. Maguire was able to take a well-loved story and turn it on it’s head. Maybe the Wicked Witch was just perceived to be terrible when she was actually fighting against the oppressive tyranny of the Wizard! Intriguing no? Maguire hasn’t only done this with Dorothy and the Wicked Witch either – he made Cinderella’s stepsisters seem human and painted Snow White in a rather unflattering light. I’m excited at the chance to return to Oz and see how this all turns out. It’s out November 1st.

A more recent obsession of mine comes from the fantastic genius of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. The 4th in the series (six are promised), I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, is set to be released shortly (November 1st to be exact). Flavia de Luce has been described as Harriet the Spy meets Lemony Snicket and I can’t think of a better way to put it myself. Murder, chemistry, a run-down English manor, a distant father, horrible sisters- what’s not to love? I haven’t read the 3rd title yet (A Red Herring Without Mustard) but I may just have to double up like I did with the first two and do a back-to-back mini marathon.

When you’re cuddled up on the couch with one of these and a blanket you can send me a thank you. Enjoy!