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!

6

Get Your Book Nerd On

It’s probably going to be a bit quieter around here because I’m currently trying to make my way through Les Miserables.

I know, exciting. You can cheer for me, I know I deserve it.

The point is I won’t have many reviews to post because all of my reading energy will be focused on getting through Victor Hugo’s masterpiece. I’m 450+ pages in right now, and I have to say, it’s kind of awesome so far. Although I did just have to suffer through a description and analysis of the Battle of Waterloo that I could have done without but I’m sure it will be significant shortly.

Anyway, to tide you over, I’ve been scouring the Internets for book news. And I got pretty excited about some of them. So if you’re looking to get your book nerd on, look no further.

First, the really big one: Dan Brown. You may be familiar with his work. Or you may have spent the past few years living under a rock. Either way, he’s coming out with a new book, Inferno, starring everyone’s favourite symbologist, Robert Langdon. I stayed up all night reading The Da Vinci Code and was even more into Angels & Demons but The Lost Symbol really didn’t do it for me. I’m hoping that a return to Europe will make this a better read for me. Although, remember when Robert Langdon was trapped in The Lost Symbol? That was kind of awesome. Inferno comes out on May 14, 2103.

Good thing I always speed through Dan Brown books because on May 21st, a book that I didn’t even know I was waiting for comes out: And The Mountains Echoed.  Khaleed Hosseini is the heartbreaking genius behind The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. If you didn’t bawl your eyes out reading either one or both of these books, I’m going to go ahead and say that you have no heart. Also? This is his first book in six years. Probably too busy being a doctor and an envoy to the United Nations refugee agency. Some people.

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but the new Flavia de Luce book (fine, The Buckshaw Chronicles) is being released soon! I also know that I’m going to have to wait for a paperback version of this one to match the others. For those of you that don’t have this issue, Speaking From Among The Bones (which I’ve heard is the best one yet) will be on bookshelves on January 29th.

Finally, one of my very favourite authors has a new book coming out. Jen Lancaster. That’s the link to her blog if you haven’t already had the pleasure. Here I Go Again is like Mean Girls crossed with Back to the Future. How does that not appeal to you? Although her first novel, If You Were Here, wasn’t my favourite that was only because having visited her site all the time I was familiar with a lot of the material already. She promised not to do that again. So I’m really looking forward to this. Bonus? Now that her new book is out (February 5th), her previous non-fiction, Jeneration-X, will be out in paperback!

Speaking of which, since I call myself the Paperback Princess, it would be remiss of me not to let you know that some of my favourites will be coming out in paperback soon. The Prisoner of Heaven will be released on March 12, 2013. Death Comes to Pemberley by PD James is now available in paperback (love the cover) and Gone Girl, which is what most of you search to find me, will finally be in paperback on March 5.

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!

5

My Top Reads of 2011

It is the end of the year, and as per tradition dictated by the masses, here are the top 10 books that I read this year. You should know that these weren’t necessarily published this year and they are in no particular order but they were all awesome and should you be looking for something to read, maybe check out my list.

  1. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943, Betty Smith). Pretty sure that I am the last person on the planet that has read this book. I feel like this book was always hovering on the periphery of my world, but I never paid enough attention to realize how incredible this book is. It’s one of those classic books where nothing really happens except for mundane every day things. At least, the everyday for Francie and her family in Brooklyn in the beginning of the 20th Century. Nothing I can say will do justice to the quiet brilliance of this book so if you haven’t already read it, read it.
  2. Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (2010, David Sturrock). I feel like Matilda changed my life. I was a young disciple of Roald Dahl’s so how could I turn up an opportunity to get to know the man behind of some of the best stories of my childhood? The man behind The Twits, George’s Marvellous Medicine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and of course, Matilda, was kind of a curmudgeon. As he got older, he embraced his mantle as a teller of children’s tales, but for most of his life, he resented his adult stories being overlooked. It was a surprising and intimate, if not always favourable, portrait.
  3. The Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley. I’ve posted about my love for these books before. I read the first three this year, I look forward to reading the 4th one in 2012. They are a refreshing take on the classic murder mystery, told with an incredible sense of humour and style. The series starts off with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, carries on with The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag and A Red Herring Without Mustard and so far, concludes with I’m Half Sick of Shadows. So now you know and you can read accordingly.
  4. The Game of Thrones series by George R. R. Martin. I know that I was a little late on the uptake on this one, but I can’t remember the last time I was so invested in a story and it’s characters. Martin actually makes me afraid to turn the page. Yes, the story will advance, but it may not always turn out well for my favourites. I’ve read the first three books so far and they are a commitment. They will take a long time to get through but the pay off is huge. And if you can’t see yourself reading the books, watch the first episode of the HBO series and see if you still feel the same way.
  5. The Imperfectionists (2010, Tom Rachmann) was an incredible read. I loved every story, every chapter, every character. I loved the way that the story was constructed so that each chapter took you home with a different character, carried you along in time so that you could still check in with characters from other chapters and see how they’ve fared. It’s a bit of a sad read when you realize that it is also a commentary on the state of the newspaper industry today but the melancholy is worth it.
  6. The Reluctant King: The Life and Reign of George VI 1895-1952 (1990, Sarah Bradford). Despite the popularity of The King’s Speech last year, I still find that George VI is one of those monarchs that is overlooked, despite the extraordinary sacrifice that he made for his country. This biography tells the story of the man who wasn’t supposed to be king, but who wore the crown with dignity and aplomb after his brother abdicated in favour of a divorcee. Ultimately, the shy, quiet younger brother of Edward VIII would pay for this heavy burden with his life, the stress of the job proving to be too much for him.
  7. Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings (2008, Mary Henley Rubio). I always assumed that the creator of Anne of Green Gables would be very similar to her heroine: sunny, imaginative and wonderful. After reading this biographical masterpiece, I know that that is not the case. The woman who would make Prince Edward Island the internationally known home of this most famous of her characters, spent most of her adult life living in Ontario in circumstances that she didn’t much care for. She was depressed, took all sorts of medications that poisoned her from the inside out, and had horribly dysfunctional relationships with her husband and sons. This book was illuminating and brilliantly put together, making it a compulsive, as well as informative, read.
  8. The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2008, Muriel Barbery). I wrote a post about this book so I know that you know how much I love this book. This is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever had the pleasure to read. What Barbery can do with language is incredible. The story is tragic and sweet and ordinary and the ending…it left me in tears and it stayed with me long after I had finished it.
  9. The Age of Innocence (1920, Edith Wharton). This is one of the books that I read this year that I know I will read again. Obviously it is an excellent book – a Pulitzer Prize winning book in fact, the first one for a woman. But sometimes those grand award winners are stiff and difficult to read, relevant to their time, but somehow lost in the translation of time. This is not one of those books. While it is the story of 1870s New York (what an uppity place!), it is ultimately the story of love and loss and duty and all the things that make for a respectable life. Told from the perspective of a man, and so masterfully done that I forgot almost the whole way through that this was in fact, written by a woman.
  10. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (2003, Mark Haddon). This won a bunch of awards back in 2003 and had been on my list for a long time but I’m not sure why it took me so long to read it. A wonderfully quirky murder mystery that ends up having nothing to do with murder at all and everything to do with the human condition and all the flaws that make up our relationships with each other. Loved it.

So there you have it, my top 10 books that I read this year. I’m sure that I overlooked some but its not easy to choose your top 10 books in a year! Hopefully you found a title that sparks your interest!

Happy New Year!

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-