Friday, February 13, 2015

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #1)

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Interesting main character and setting
Cons: Pacing of story, especially in the beginning; Flavia acts her age at times
The Bottom Line:
Unusual sleuth
In story that fits her well
And a good debut

Sweet Mystery Debut for Flavia de Luce

I have been hearing raves about the Flavia de Luce series ever since the first book came out, yet I never had managed to read a book in the series.  So many books, so little time, right?  But all the talk from fans as the latest book hit the shelves made me look up the series on audio.  Sure enough, my library had it, so I checked out The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  While I didn’t love it as much as I thought I might, I certainly did enjoy it.

Life for 11-year-old Flavia de Luce is fairly easy in 1950 England.  True, she doesn’t get along with her two older sisters, but she gives as good as she gets from them, usually thanks to her passion for chemistry.

Then one June day, their housekeeper finds a dead jacksnipe on their doorstep complete with an old stamp on his beak.  That first upsets her father, who goes into his study to be alone.  However, Flavia wakes up in the middle of the night and heads to the garden to find a stranger dying in the cucumber patch.  As these two events connected?  What might they mean?

I’m wondering if part of my reaction to the book was the universal praise I usually hear for the series.  Were my expectations too high?  Possibly.  Again, it’s not that I didn’t like it, but I didn’t think it was quite as charming as others have said.

Let’s start with Flavia.  She’s a typical 11-year-old, which meant at times I loved her and at times I was very irritated with her.  She is certainly smart, but she’s also a little arrogant.  While I really didn’t like her sisters much at all, the way she treated them at times was pretty mean, too.  In the end, I did enjoy her.  Most of the characters are entertaining as well, and felt real to me.

The plot is actually fairly solid.  The pacing could have been better, and it is Flavia’s first person asides that often slowed it down.  However, her reasons for getting involved in a murder and the way she gathers and pieces together the clues is very realistic.  The twists and turns along the way were good, and the climax was wonderful.

To expand on the first person narration, it at times provides some charm and at others tends to drag on.  This is especially true early on as Flavia tells us about her passion for chemistry.  Hopefully, that will be smoothed out in future books since we already know about it now.

The narration by Jayne Entwistle for the audio version was truly wonderful.  Her voice perfectly captures that of an 11-year-old girl and the highs and lows of the story.  At times, her enthusiasm seemed a bit over the top, but for the most part her reactions usually fit the mood of the story.  There was certainly no over acting that got in the way of the story on her part.

While I wasn’t as blown away as I thought I might be, I really did enjoy The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  I will be adding Flavia’s further adventures to my audio book rotation in the months to come.

And if you need more, here are the Flavia de Luce mysteries in order.


  1. I do want to read this series and it's nice to hear a positive but not over the top review for it. I'm glad to know audio's a good option for this series as well. I have half a chance of getting to it in the next year on audio! Great review!

    1. Obviously, audio is the only way I was going to get to it. Hope you find the time to read it, or listen to it, soon as well.

  2. I'm with you on the audio. Work has slowed A LOT for me, but still, I have far more time to listen than read. I actually heard of the series from listening to another of Jane Entwistle's books (I always wonder if she is really to John-the bass player from the Who): The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. I LOVED that book, and I found her voice incredibly attractive (which made seeing her a big disappointment-sorry, I know that sounds super shallow)

    I did not mind Flavia's asides on chemistry (as you can see, my mind works the same way with little footnotes every paragraph), but I have to admit there were times that my hand fairly itched to spank her! That girl is just too mischievous and I seriously think she needs a spanking or three! She IS very intelligent, but she hides things from the police, she is incredibly vindictive towards her siblings, and so on.

    I must say, I didn't realise you were replying to my comments on your book and movie reviews (the notifications go to my gmail account which I hardly use and to it's media folder, so i didn't see it) until recently, but when I saw that you did read my reviews, I wondered if you reviewed this series, and you did! I have the rest of the series on audio, so when I get to them, I'll definitely check out what you had to say! Thanks for taking the time to do these reviews, and for reading my thoughts on them!

    I'm off to see if you reviewed anything else I'm familiar with. I know how to check your book series, but is there a way I can look at a list of the standalone books you reviewed?

    1. All of my reviews are listed under the various categories in The Index: I try to update them one a month.

      Flavia is one of those characters that is more fun in fiction than in real life. In real life, I think I'd ring her neck by the end of a day.


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