Friday, January 15, 2010

Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Author: Alan Bradley

Pages: 370

Challenges: Read 'n' Review Challenge

First Line: "It was as black in the closet as old blood."

Summary (from the back of the book):
In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 -- an a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. 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.

My Two Cents:

Although I enjoyed this book, something didn't sit quite right with me.

This book started and finished strong. For the first 50 to 75 pages and the last 70 or so pages, I couldn't put the book down because I wanted to know what happened. But the middle just lagged something awful. I kept putting the book down and, reluctantly, coming back to it. At a couple points, I almost gave up on it entirely, but I don't usually do that with books. I'll wrestle through it and hope it gets better in the end.

Luckily, the book did pick up near the end, but that middle portion likely soured my view of the book.

I'm also having a difficult time deciding whether I liked Flavia, or whether I was annoyed with her. I usually like child and teen characters who are smart and aren't stereotypical, but Bradley's narration style made Flavia almost seem a show-off; it was as if she was rattling off chemical formulas simply because she knows that's what smart people do.

Another thing that bugged me throughout the book was that it seemed as if Bradley was cramming in every British phrase and reference possible simply because he thought he should (Bradley is a born-and-bred Canadian, although there's no mention in his biography as to whether he's ever lived in the UK). Having lived in England for a few months, I know that there are certain turns of phrase and products (Such as Weetabix) that are quintessentially British. However, there is a point of saturation that can be reached to where all the references from that point on just seem like overkill. I think Bradley reached that point round about page 125.

Despite the fairly negative tone of this review, I can honestly say that I did like The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and will likely read Bradley's next Flavia de Luce mystery, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, due out in March.

My rating: 7/10


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