258 of 270 people found the following review helpful
"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a simple mystery, written without explicit violence, sexual situations, or terrorists. The book is filled with humor that is delightful, very tongue-in-cheek and very British. The mystery is solved; its solution is arrived at through intelligent thinking and resourcefulness. The characters are interesting and develop distinct personalities through the course of the story.
Flavia de Luce, heroine of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is an intrepid young lady with a penchant for poisons. Arsenic and its antidotes are her special interests. A brilliant, budding chemist, she is also an all-around persistent protagonist who insists on inserting herself into every situation!
Flavia's family consists of her reclusive, eccentric father and two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. Her mother, Harriet, was an adventurer who died tragically during a mountain climbing expedition. Of the three sisters, Flavia believes herself to be most like her mother. The core family is completed by Mrs. Mullet, the cook/housekeeper, and Dogger, a former soldier who served with Mr. deLuce. Having served in a number of positions during his employment with the de Luces, Dogger is now the gardner. He is also Flavia's confidante and mentors her in useful skills such as lockpicking.
Intelligent preteens will find in Flavia someone with whom they can identify. Individuals seeking an entertaining read which does not require intense concentration will sail through this novel. As this is the first in a series, I will be interested to see how the characters develop and whether Bradley can resist succumbing to the formula mystery genre to which so many authors fall prey. I hope he will resist that temptation and continue to provide interesting characters and situations so that Flavia can continue her sleuthing.
Alan Bradley has crafted a wonderful book which should appeal to a broad audience. It is well written; Bradley uses an extensive vocabulary as is fitting for someone of Flavia's intelligence. I rated this book as a four star read because of its simplicity and because the reader is not pulled so deeply into the story as to lose track of time.
159 of 179 people found the following review helpful
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie features a precocious 11 year old named Flavia DeLuce who possesses a love of chemistry, a passionate obsession with poisons, a bicycle named Gladys, and a talent for deductive reasoning. (Could our Flavia somehow be the adolescent female version of Sherlock Holmes?) For all her intelligence Falvia also demonstrates her childish "get even" mentality as illustrated by the revenge she wreaks on he older sisters.
I will admit that it took a couple of chapters for me to warm up to the unusual group of folks living at the decrepit country mansion called Buckshaw. The family dynamic is unusual to say the least, and the vocabulary and knowledge pouring forth from Flavia as she narrates the story takes a little getting used to. Perhaps I was a bit jealous and somewhat intimidated by all the scientific knowledge this little "smart-aleck" had to impart, or could it have been that I found myself imagining what it would be like to live in a household inhabited by Flavia and the dysfunctional cast of characters that surrounded her. If I still smoked, that thought alone would have found me reaching for a "gasper".
Author, Alan Bradley has managed to give his readers an unconventional protagonist, a creative, somewhat amusing and intriguing story, as well as multiple mysteries to solve. Written for the adult reader, Flavia is definitely more Nero Wolfe than Nancy Drew. Just abandon logic and reality, hop aboard Gladys and take a bumpy ride back to 1950's England with Flavia DeLuce, girl sleuth. 31/2 stars
51 of 56 people found the following review helpful
Yes, this is a book written for grown ups and yes, the main character is 11 years old. Flavia de Luce has a passion for poison, the vocabulary of an adult, and a bicycle named Gladys. Her mother died climbing mountains in the Himalayas and her father, Colonel de Luce, is just about as distant, showing more interest in his stamp collection than his daughters. It's part of the whole English reluctance to show affection and keeping a stiff upper lip, or something like that...
But things get shaken up a bit when a dead blackbird shows up on the porch at Buckshaw (the old mansion where the de Luces live) with a penny stamp stuck to it's beak. The next morning Flavia finds a dead man in the cucumber patch - well, he's not dead yet, but expires with a final word: "Vale." But who was he, and more important, who killed him? Was it the Colonel who had secretly argued with the stranger the night before, or Dogger, the dependable but unstable gardener (who still suffers from his experiences in Japanese POW camps)? Maybe he died from eating a slice of Mrs. Mullet's horrible cream pie? Whoever it was, Flavia is determined to find out with the help of her chemistry knowledge and Gladys.
In spite of a slow start, this was really an enjoyable read. It has a style that reminded me of Alan Bennett's "The Uncommon Reader." It's what the English like to call "wickedly funny," which apparently means that it's funny in a clever and witty way with a good helping of subtle sarcasm. And it's certainly all of those. My 15 year old son quickly read it (he has this habit of snagging any book I order and reading it first, which I wouldn't mind except he doesn't feel the need to treat them as gently as I would prefer!) and loved it, so even though it's written more for grown-ups (don't worry, there's nothing inappropriate here!) older kids will probably enjoy it just as well (most of it would just go over the heads of younger kids). My son and I are looking forward to another slice!
68 of 81 people found the following review helpful
on April 5, 2009
Alan Bradley has crafted a great read in "Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie." Flavia, the main character, is a fascinating young chemist/detective.
Before I began reading, centering a story on around a child detective struck me as an odd choice. However, once I started the book, I found that Flavia's youth and wit were an excellent combination for a literary sleuth. Because of her youth, apparent clues that she has (temporarily) failed to notice can be forgiven by the reader. Because of her sharp mind, it is believable when she pieces a solution together using bits of information that may have been overlooked by others. While she occasionally drifts toward a dark personality, I found Flavia to be an extraordinarily interesting and likable character.
The mystery unfolds at a good pace. I was well into the book before I began to catch on to the solution, and even after I had figured out the probable culprit, I was still glued to the pages while Flavia went to work sorting out the details.
If one were to nitpick, there were two small passages that were mildly irksome. One involved a sibling squabble that ended with an accusation of being adopted. It was an unnecessary part of the story, and using the concept of adoption as a threat or a curse, even in an argument between children, is tiresome. The second is a brief discussion involving a mock Chinese accent, recounted with stereotypical "r - l" substitutions.
However, both of these issues were minor, and easily forgiven based on the quality of writing and wonderfully developed characters. I enjoyed the book tremendously and hope to read more adventures of Miss Flavia de Luce in the future.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
This novel is a tough one to review. I liked it, hence the 3 star rating, but I cannot say that I am over the moon about it.
Flavia is an interesting and precocious protagonist who is older in her head than her 11 years. She is an avid student of chemistry, doesn't shy from a challenge, and has a knack for quoting Shakespeare.
This being said, the novel is a quaint one, set in the 50's of the English countryside and smacking of a ideological lense with which to view it through. Flavis is tormented by an absent father who is the proverbial "man behind the newspaper", and two sisters who have sinister intentions at every turn.
Throughout her investigation, Flavis is presented with clues, help, and fortuitous circumstance at each turn, when needed the most. I suppose that in this novel it makes sense- how else is an 11 year old prodigy to solve a crime when a bicycle is her mode of transportation?
All in all, I liked the novel but at times it seemed to be a bit flowery and too descriptive. The protagonist was well written but a bit too pretentious for my tastes. Alan Bradley has written a good novel, but unfortunately one that I just haven't fallen in love with. A good read, by all means, but not a "must-read" by any.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 13, 2009
This was a very enjoyable story. The main character, Flavia, reminds me of Harriet the spy. She is a budding chemist and young sleuth intent on solving multiple mysteries tied to her home and her family. There are a number of fun and interesting characters surrounding Flavia which include her father, two older sisters (with whom Flavia is constantly bickering), a cook and a gardener. Flavia's mother died when Flavia was one, but she is still very much a part of the story. And I particularly like that Flavia's bike is named Gladys. It's a nice touch to bring out the innocence and ignorance of the young detective.
The book was well written and it was very quick to read. It wasn't a complicated plot and it was easy to sail right through the chapters. It grabbed my attention from the beginning, but didn't require a lot of concentration. I had to remember throughout the story though that Flavia is only 11 years old so it's easy to understand how a novice could make mistakes or overlook important details. I heard the next book in series is complete and a third is in process, so I will be looking forward to reading those.
32 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Most eleven year old girls would be upset to come across a dying man in their garden, but not Flavia de Luce. Already an avid chemist (with a passion for poison) she eagerly embraces the chance to investigate the murder. It won't be easy - her mode of transport is a bicycle and she has to battle her older sisters and the police, who for some reason don't welcome her help. However, whether they know it or not, her family needs her help and Flavia is determined to give it. But is she really strong and smart enough to battle a murderer?
"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" sounded intriguing but I found it disappointing in the end. The premise is an interesting one - a precocious eleven year old with a flare for chemistry investigating crimes, but it is that very premise that failed to work for me. For one thing, the novel is aimed at adults but I think the idea would have worked better in a mystery for young adults. Another problem is Flavia herself. The novel is written in the first person, narrated by Flavia, and except for the fact that she had to ride her bike everywhere I had a hard time believing she was only eleven years old. Yes, she was raised in a unique sort of family, left pretty much on her own after her mother died and her father basically withdrew from the world, but she struck me as far too intelligent for an eleven year old girl (the quoting of Shakespeare is an old cliché and a bit much in this book). There are some nice moments - the sibling rivalry between Flavia and her sisters is very realistic - and some nice bits of humor in the book, but not enough to redeem it in my eyes. There are too many unbelievable scenes - for example the entire conversation Flavia and her father have about how he knew the murder victim. While the novel is set in 1950, it feels very old-fashioned and might have benefitted from being set in an even earlier time frame. The mystery has some good moments, but relies a bit too much on fortuitous timing - the police always seem to be there when Flavia needs them and she easily stumbles across clues the adults have missed. There are not enough suspects to have fun trying to figure out who the killer is.
"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" has its moments but I ultimately found it disappointing.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
For a kid like me who grew up on Nancy Drew and always harbored a lingering desire to follow in her footsteps "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" was a truly delicious little mystery that I'll admit had me fantasying I was the main character-or at least her best friend.
Because who wouldn't want to be Flavia de Luce? She's very smart, is as competent as fully educated adult chemistry and knows poisons like the back of her hand, is independent on her bicycle and to be perfectly honest-in situations where most eleven year olds would be completely terrified-she's just thrilled at the excitement. Did you catch the part where she's eleven years old?
Growing up without a mother (dead in a tragic mountaineering accident) Flavia has learned to tip-toe around her reclusive father (and to torture her two older sisters with the occasional non-lethal concoction) but when she finds a dead stranger in the cucumbers- who she just happened to spy her father arguing with the night before- it's time for a serious investigation-not only into the dead man in the garden, but into her father's past.
And what Flavia finds leads her to tragedy in the past, a stamp that collectors everywhere would salivate for and real danger on her own doorstep. Flavia is already one step ahead of the police-but can she stay ahead of the killer?
This is a really awesome book. Written in first person Flavia literally leaps off the page (or maybe she pulls you into the book with her) and takes you along an incredibly intelligent, funny, dramatic and mysterious adventure. This is a book that kids and parents could read together-or separately-and belive me it's rare to find a mystery that spans the age gap. Also the setting in just Post WW2 rural England makes an excellent backdrop.
It feels slightly disloyal to say this but you, Flavia, with your quirky, funny, slightly malicious and always genius tendencies are just so much cooler than Nancy Drew.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2010
I should not have like this book. I like Cussler and Clancy. Guy books. This was about a 12 year old girl. But each page is a delight. At 370 pages, I thought I would skim through it. But Bradley writing is so good you don't want to miss a single drop. This started out as my bus reading, but I had to stop because people were wondering who the crazy person was that was laughing and talking to himself.
Read this book
Note to author: Find a way to bring back Harriet.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2009
What happens when a wickedly intelligent 11 year old girl whose interests lean to the macabre literally stumbles over a dead body in the garden?
Flavia de Luce, the young lady in question, is the youngest daughter of an aristocratic family in decline. Her two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, alternate between tormenting her and ignoring her. Her mother, Harriet, died when she was an infant. Her father, Colonel de Luce, spends the majority of his time locked in his study alone. Thus, and except for the servants, young Flavia is essentially without supervision, and therefore free to indulge her hobby: chemistry, with a special interest in and predilection for poison.
Early one morning a dead snipe mysteriously appears on the door step. A peculiar postage stamp is perched on its bill, the sight of which causes the Colonel to blanch. Flavia's curiosity is piqued -- the Colonel never speaks of his past, and this stamp must mean something very important. Late that night, Flavia overhears her father arguing in his study with an unknown man; Early the next morning, while strolling through the garden, she trips over a nearly dead stranger who, with his last oddly-scented breath, utters a Latin word, "Vale."
Flavia is on a mission now: She almost recognized that scent. Who is the stranger? Why was he at her home? Why is he dead? Was it murder? Who killed him? And what is the significance of "Vale"?
With determination, perseverance, and a logical thought process that would do Sherlock Holmes proud, Flavia sets forth to solve the mystery. Along the way, she confounds the local constabulary, annoys the local librarian, investigates the goings-on at the local inn, and generally makes a nuisance of herself all over town. Bless her little heart, she's absolutely adorable, if more than a little terrifying: Scout Finch with a Bunsen burner and access to controlled substances.
Told entirely from Flavia's perspective, Alan Bradley's novel is sheer joy to read: captivating, charming, and utterly original from the first word to the last.
I sincerely hope this is not the last we see of Flavia de Luce.