Posts Tagged ‘England’
Bradley, Alan. (2010) The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. (The Flavia de Luce Series) Bantam, division of Random House. ISBN 978-0385343459. Litland recommends ages 14-100!
Publisher’s description: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over—until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing, and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head? (Bantam Books)
Flavia De Luce is back and in full force! Still precocious. Still brilliant. Still holding an unfortunate fascination with poisons…
As with the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we begin with a seemingly urgent, if not sheer emergency, situation that once again turns out to be Flavia’s form of play. We also see the depth of her sister’s cruelty as they emotionally badger their little sister, and Flavia’s immediate plan for the most cruel of poisoned deaths as revenge. Readers will find themselves chuckling throughout the book!
And while the family does not present the best of role models (smile), our little heroine does demonstrate good character here and there as she progresses through this adventure. As explained in my first review on this series, the protagonist may be 11 but that doesn’t mean the book was written for 11-year olds :>) For readers who are parents, however (myself included), we shudder to wonder what might have happened if we had bought that chemistry kit for our own kids!
Alas, the story has much more to it than mere chemistry. The author’s writing style is incredibly rich and entertaining, with too many amusing moments to even give example of here. From page 1 the reader is engaged and intrigued, and our imagination is easily transported into the 1950’s Post WWII England village. In this edition of the series, we have more perspective of Flavia as filled in by what the neighbors know and think of her. Quite the manipulative character as she flits around Bishop’s Lacy on her mother’s old bike, Flavia may think she goes unnoticed but begins to learn not all are fooled…
The interesting treatment of perceptions around German prisoners of war from WWII add historical perspective, and Flavia’s critical view of villagers, such as the Vicar’s mean wife and their sad relationship, fill in character profiles with deep colors. Coupled with her attention to detail that helps her unveil the little white lies told by antagonists, not a word is wasted in this story.
I admit to being envious of the author’s creative writing talent and assume he must be a killer competitor in Scrabble!
If this were a movie (and I wish it were!), it would likely be PG. We have a tasteful treatment of unwed traveling companions and their pregnancy. Rather than being addressed in direct and vulgar manner, the author has Flavia make a correlation of their relationship to one in Oliver Twist. Her attempt to learn about the birds and the bees is thwarted by the well-meaning adults in her life. Very few instances of slang profanity. See our review against character education guidelines for the first book in the series for more detail http://www.litland.com/reviews_15up/Sweetnessbottomofpie.html
Ultimately, the reader is left with a smile on her face, and moving the next story in the series (A Red Herring Without Mustard) to the top of her reading to-do list. Excellent read! Grab your copy at the Litland.com bookstore.
Bradley, Alan. (2009) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. New York, NY: Bantam Books, a division of Random House. ISBN 0385343493. Litland recommends readers age teen and adult.
Publishers description: It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
When is a book a child’s book? When is it adult fiction? And when does it fall into that nebulous in-between category of teen/young adult? In times long past, the age of the character hinted at the story’s audience. But this book, written for adults, has an 11 year old protagonist. Hmm…
One way to determine the reader’s age is to look at the problems or issues dealt with in the story, and how these are portrayed. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is exquisitely detailed in its description, whether it be Flavia’s ongoing dialogue narrating the story (and she is certainly quite a talkative character!) or the description of surroundings and experiences. The deep level of detail paints a realistic picture of the murderous death of one antagonist which is a bit much for elementary and middle school readers. We also have Flavia’s reaction to the death, which is an academic curiosity and intriguant rather than a reaction of humane concern. The reader should already have developed a solid concern for humanity in order to distinguish this character flaw, or uniqueness, about the protagonist. Similarly, other descriptions such as that of the dead bird are intense.
Another way determine reader age is, of course, to look at the difficulty level of the composition; its vocabulary and sentence structure. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie certainly has a doozy of a vocabulary. Flavia has a library available to her with centuries-old texts including dictionaries! So you can expect not just a complex but a very colourful, intriguing dialogue.
And don’t forget the choice of vocabulary for slang! Once it elevates to mild cussing, it elevates to teen level reading. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie does engage occasional profanity common to British slang but which may be totally unknown to American readers: damn (ok, we know that one!), bloody and sod. Even bugger can be considered a “bad” word depending upon its use (but it is used affectionately here so no worries).
And finally, the behaviour of the characters…The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie entails rich descriptions of Flavia’s every move, sensation and vision. It is due to this rich description that the book is better set for older readers. Usually providing a more mature view of the situation, we also see Flavia’s strengths of ingenuity and innovation used in ways that child/tween reader’s mind is not yet developed to properly take in. An example would be Flavia’s poisoning of her older sister’s lipstick via chemical experimentation (which is described as curiously similar to a 45 caliber bullet), and then waiting endlessly for the effects to take root. Humourous to its intended adult market and to teens; not an idea to put into the head of those younger as their stories should maintain context from a child’s innocent perspective.
While teens and adults have sufficient cognition to pick up on the nuances in the story’s dialogue that demonstrate Flavia’s real nature vs. the ‘bratty” attitude exhibited early in the story (and which occasionally flairs up throughout), younger readers may not pick up on these elements. If your younger advanced readers are interested in the book, it would be recommended families read it together, creating opportunity to show kids how to identify these cues (improving their discernment skills, which are important to their own maturation of wisdom). Remember, there are other books for younger advanced readers intended to be for kids, full of fantasy and stimulating their imagination. Let them read kids books while they are still a kid :>)
Now, having expressed in the past that cozy mysteries are my favorite genre, I thoroughly loved this story! The intelligent, precocious Flavia is delightful and by her nature keeps the story moving quickly along yet still rich in detail. An excellent example of story telling, we are fed bits and pieces of the people until we finally have a picture of who these characters really are, and the time in history (1950). As in the best of mystery writing, the clues are covertly hidden in description waiting for us to put it all together. And mixed throughout is the humour, like when describing the age and demeanor of Miss Mountjoy, the retired librarian, as the palace of malice who is so old Noah was still a sailor in her youth.
The import of religion in this character’s life is realistic of the time period and multifaceted. We see the humour, such as the explanation of why, as having been Roman Catholics for hundreds of years, they are attending an Anglican church! It is also used to demonstrate that, in spite of her precociousness, Flavia is well-meaning in intent, continuously judges right vs. wrong, and shows contrition for bad choices. It is a story with clear demarcation of good and bad, while being aesthetically rich in beauty, history, humour and adventure. Great for book clubs, classroom lit analysis, the publisher does have a reader’s guide available too. An excellent, uplifting read and highly recommended! Be sure to read our review against character education criteria at Litland.com too!
Publisher Description: Throughout the hunt for the 39 Clues, Amy and Dan Cahill have uncovered history’s greatest mysteries and their family’s deadliest secrets. But are they ready to face the truth about the Cahills and the key to their unmatched power? After a whirlwind race that’s taken them across five continents, Amy and Dan face the most the difficult challenge yet- a task no Cahill dared to imagine. When faced with a choice that could change the future of the world, can two kids succeed where 500 years worth of famous ancestors failed? (Scholastic)
To thine own self be true
This book knocked my socks off! With the exception of book 2, all books in the series have been excellent in their portrayal of the elements of good character, civility, and virtues. Book 10 surpasses that from its very beginning with strong themes of integrity, trust, and love as each child (as well as some of the adults) struggle with their own identity. It is in the struggle that they acknowledge their own conscience, identify with one another’s selfless behaviours which then breeds trust, and distinguish between love and manipulation. Dan and Amy recognize early on they could win the hunt and then force collaboration upon the others, but they know that the only true way to succeed is by all the family members willingly caring and trusting.
And all of the kids are tired of the lies and killing.
The book was fast-paced and yet filled us in on sufficient detail from past books within the narrative so that nary a word was wasted. And there was still room for subtle humour, such as Dan’s spitting prowess. It is here where the next generation comes into their own. Each of the youngsters (Ian, Jonah, Hamilton) feel pity, remorse and concern for others. Perhaps because Isabel Kabra was the most heartless of the parental teams, Ian has the most to struggle with. But Jonah’s battle to differentiate love vs. admiration shouldn’t be underrated. And Sinead’s ruthlessness turns out to have a benevolent foundation, as poor behaviours often do.
Alastair identifies how Amy and Dan have succeeded:“ Integrity, Courage. Intelligence. Daring. Hard work.” he replies (p. 79).
Not to be forgotten, Amy and Dan have quite a few issues to work through as well. Feeling their mission is hopeless, Amy also worries that, because they are normal and not serum-enhanced, they are talentless. She couldn’t accept that perhaps Shakespeare accomplished greatness by his own effort rather than serum. Thus each must overcome their own weaknesses as well (for Amy, pessimism).
In addition to searching for one’s identity, perhaps the strongest theme in this book is redemption. Amy and Dan know all along that they must bring all five branches of the Cahill family together to collaborate in order to succeed. But they also carry the greatest burden of forgiveness withheld, and must be able to finally offer forgiveness to those who murdered family and friends, as well as those who attempted to kill Amy and Dan. Somewhere deep inside, each of the kids & Alastair still had the capacity for love. Only Isabel Kabra has lost all ability to love and so turned purely evil. It is when they rely upon love rather than cunning manipulation that success is found, branches unite, and all peacefully co-exist.
“So you would have the right instincts…you could win the clue hunt only by valuing human life more than the clues.”
Love’s Labours Won
(See our full review at www.litland.com plus related activities too!)