Book Reviews

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley

Set in England in the 1950s, the 11-year-old, chemistry-obsessed Flavia de Luce tries to solve the mystery of a mysterious dead body she finds in her family's garden. The word precocious may have been invented to describe Flavia. The preteen sleuth reminds me of Kate in What Was Lost, whom I loved. The story weaves in fascinating information about stamps, chemistry and magic tricks.

One of my favorite elements of the book is Flavia's relationship with her distant father and crabby older sisters. Her mother died when she was a baby, so these people are all she has and yet their affection for each other is stoic at best. I really loved the characters, including the loyal gardener, Dogger. The mystery was so-so; enough to keep me interested, but it wasn't enthralling. The strength of the book really lies in the charismatic firecracker that leaves you wondering if you should send her to her room or give her a hug. I'll definitely be reading the sequel.

"It occurred to me that heaven must be a place where the library is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. No, eight days a week."

The Watsons
by Jane Austen

This is one of two unfinished books by Austen. There's no ending, but the first half of the story introduces us to Emma Watson, a young woman who was raised by her wealthy uncle and aunt. Her uncle dies and her aunt remarries and she's sent back home to live with her ailing father and siblings. She's been estranged from her family for so long, it's a hard transition. Her two sisters are desperately trying to find husbands. Emma on the other hand realizes the importance of marrying someone you love and respect, instead of someone who just has wealth.

It's hard to judge a book that's half finished, but Austen did tell her sister how she intended to end it, so there's that. It reminded me a bit of Mansfield Park, but Emma was a bit easier for me to stomach than Fanny. I would say this one is a must for any true Austen devotee, but definitely not before reading all of her completed works.

by Voltaire

A young, naive man, named Candide, lives a sheltered life of luxury until he's kicked out of his home. The plot follows his extensive travels and mishaps around the world. He meets dozens of people with strange stories of loosing fortunes, being persecuted, loosing loved ones, etc. Each person has a unique worldview, some optimistic, some pessimistic or realistic, each affects the way Candide sees the world. His one goal is to find and marry his love, Cunégonde, from whom he keeps getting separated.

One of the big issues explored in this satire is the role money plays in finding happiness. The story is told almost like a parable, a simpleton learning about the world through others stories. Some of the stories are truly strange, but prove their point. Voltaire writes in a way that's clearly a thinly veiled social critique, but he does it without preaching at the reader. Candide is a must read. It has affected so many books written since then and it's points still ring true more than two centuries later.


Jeanne said...

I love Candide, even though I've only ever read English translations--I expect it's funnier in French. It's right up there with Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest in terms of the books that have most influenced my life.

Jenners said...

Great minds think alike! I reviewed "Sweetness" with "What Was Lost" because Kate and Flavia seemed two birds of a feather. And I'm with you .. the mystery wasn't all that good ... the attraction is Flavia!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - Candide wasn't at all what I was expecting. I thought it would be so dry, but it was hilarious!

Jenners- I'm on the wait list at my library for the next Flavia mystery and I'm really looking forward to reading it. That was the one complaint I had about What Was Lost. I wish there had been more Kate, and this is the perfect antidote.

Anonymous said...

I love Flavia's quote in your post! There are some wonderful lines in the novel, I just kept laughing out loud. I haven't read 'What Was Lost' yet, but it seems it's one I need to check out. And maybe re-visit 'Candide' too.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sweetness really was too funny and you should definitely check out What Was Lost. It's not funny, but it's good.