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!


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. 


Bring it to the beach: She’s Not There

Remember that time I read Cartwheel, a fictionalized account of the Amanda Knox case, and felt dirty and voyeuristic?

That’s kind of what I was afraid would happen when I read She’s Not There by Joy Fielding.

In May 2007, nearly 4-year-old Madeleine McCann disappeared from her room in a Portuguese resort while her parents had dinner at a nearby restaurant. Her siblings were asleep in the room with her.

To date, she hasn’t been found.

she's not there

In She’s Not There, Caroline Shipley’s 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, was taken from her hotel room at a Mexican resort as her parents dined with friends downstairs. Her 5-year-old sister, Michelle, was asleep in the room with her at the time.

Fifteen years later, near the anniversary of the disappearance, Caroline receives a phone call from a 17-year-old who claims to be her missing daughter. This bombshell rips open all the old wounds and forces Caroline and her family to confront the things that happened all those years ago.

In the beginning of the book, I did get that uncomfortable feeling like I was getting enjoyment reading about the very real pain of the McCann family. But we soon moved past the actual abduction and onto the fallout from that night: the Shipleys’ divorce, the uncomfortable relationship Caroline has with her daughter Michelle, the complex relationship she has with her (horrible) mother, Mary, Caroline’s difficulties finding work as a teacher since her daughter’s disappearance and the portrayal of her in the media as a cold, distant, uptight woman.

She’s Not There becomes less about the abduction and more about the emotional toll it takes on the family. The phone call throws everything Caroline thinks she knows on its head and she is forced to confront truths she might not be ready for.

At the centre of the whole thing, of course, is the question: is this girl really Samantha?

I enjoyed this book so much more than I thought I would. It’s well-paced, trailing just enough breadcrumbs to feel like you are ahead of Fielding. Caroline is allowed to rage against her family, her ex-husband and the media who all have these ideas of Caroline as a terrible mother, a boring person, and an ice queen. I appreciated that all loose ends were tied up and I don’t need to track down other books in a new series.

This is the kind of book that deserves to be read beach-lake-or-pool-side with a cocktail. If you haven’t already read it, keep it in mind when you’re filling your summer totes.



Cozy English Mystery: The Lake House

I’m a sucker for a story set around an old English house. I especially love when that story is a mystery.

So it should surprise no one that I’ve been waiting for Kate Morton’s The Lake House to come out, pretty much since I finished The Secret Keeper (which I didn’t love).

For someone who didn’t love the most recent effort, I had remarkably few reservations about reading this new book. Old house, mysterious disappearance, an imperious author with a secret? I’m here for it.

lake house

A.C. Edevane is a famous British author, a national treasure. Her detective books, 50 of them, have sold well for decades but at 86, there’s one mystery she’s been trying to hide: the disappearance of her little brother in 1933. Seventy years later, DC Sadie Sparrow is on forced leave in Cornwall after leaking her suspicions of another case to the newspaper. She stumbles across the house that Edevane grew up, left as though its inhabitants had just walked away for a minute, albeit covered in dust. Intrigued by the house and bored by her unplanned vacation, she starts poking around in the disappearance of little Theo Edevane.

There’s a lot of foundation to lay for this story. It took me a while to truly feel invested; it almost felt like Morton had trouble settling on which perspective to tell the stories from. Did she want Alice (A.C.Edevane) to take it on from her perspective or would it be better told from her mother, Eleanor’s, view? She eventually settled on Eleanor to tell the full story but Alice is used as a way to misdirect.

For what feels like the first time, I called it before I got to the end. But that didn’t make the getting there less enjoyable. When we finally reached the conclusion, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction that one can only get from a story where all the possible loose ends are totally tied up.

There’s a lot to love about this book, even if the mystery wasn’t such a tricky one. There’s the magical Cornish setting, complete with fairy tales and secret tunnels, the post-WWI setting of much of the story, how people were trying to pick up the pieces of a world shattered beyond repair and the secondary mystery that Sadie got in trouble for talking about. I enjoyed the time I spent with Sadie and Alice and Eleanor and appreciated the peripheral characters too: Alice’s sisters, the eccentric author who lived near the Edevanes, and Sadie’s lovely grandfather.

All in all, I was pretty content with this one and I’m still going to be awaiting whatever Morton writes next.


Dementia in Literature: Elizabeth is Missing

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

I love a good mystery. I didn’t know this about myself until a couple of years ago. I can’t get enough Agatha Christie, Kate Morton, Jo Nesbo, Gillian Flynn or Camila Lackberg. When I read the synopsis for Elizabeth is Missing, it sounded similar to Before I Go To Sleep which I loved. So I was thrilled to get the chance to read it this week.


Elizabeth is Missing is Emma Healey’s debut novel. In it, we meet Maud, an 80-something year old woman convinced that something has happened to her good friend, Elizabeth. No one will tell her where Elizabeth is so she decides that she will find her. She calls hospitals, care homes, and Elizabeth’s horrible son; she visits Elizabeth’s house, peering in the windows, asking neighbours if they’ve seen anything. The problem is that Maud has trouble remembering things – she suffers from dementia.

The story slips back and forth between Maud’s present-day search for Maud and her search for her missing sister Sukey in 1946.

Here’s the issue with this book: it’s so sad. It’s a beautifully written novel that so accurately captures what it must be like to live with dementia, that it was all I could do not to weep for large sections of the book. Maud just wants to find her friend but she can’t remember how to make a cup of tea, what the names of common objects are, why she’s suddenly in this room. She writes herself notes on little scraps of paper but they aren’t complete and don’t really serve their purpose. Her daughter, Helen, comes in to look after her when she can but you can tell that she’s also incredibly frustrated with the situation: her mom constantly eating toast, leaving multiple cups of unfinished tea out, asking “where’s the best place to plant marrows?” over and over.

It took me a long time to connect with this story. I think because the whole thing just made me so sad. The only thing Maud seems able to remember with any frequency is that her friend is missing. The further you get in the novel, the more obvious it becomes that the search for Elizabeth mirrors the search for Sukey all those years ago.

As a society, we have a tendency to write off old people. Especially those that have health issues, like dementia. I thought that Healey did a beautiful job of writing an older character with dignity, even one that could barely remember her own name. Despite her challenges, Maud is feisty, strives to be independent, and shows an unwavering loyalty to a friend she can’t seem to find.

I wasn’t sure where the whole story was going to end up but the ending was incredibly satisfying. I love when a mystery is neatly tied up and this one tied up nicely. I wish I had spent time with this one on a patio in a patch of sun – I think it would have made for an even more satisfying reading experience.