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

sweetnessThis was the last book I finished in 2013, and it was a great way to close the year!  I was struggling halfway through A.M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven, and needed something light, and Sweetness was on my shelf.

To be honest, I’d put off reading this book in the fear it would be too cute.  It wasn’t.  The story and its heroine had me hooked from the first chapter, and I didn’t want to put it down.  And, since I’d taken two days off work to ring in the New Year, I didn’t have to put it down.

You’ve no doubt heard of these books already, but here’s the synopsis.  Flavia de Luce is living in small town England in the 50’s, in an old country house called Buckshaw.  She’s 11 and loves chemistry with a passion.  Her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, have no interest in her.  Flavia is the kind of character you’re expecting from a mystery novel: she’s tenacious, smart, nosy, and adventurous.  She doesn’t care about things like etiquette and it drives her crazy when people call her “dearie” or “just a girl.”  I couldn’t relate to the chemistry part but liked everything else about her.

The book has kind of a “Downton Abbey” vibe to it, even though it’s set in the 50’s: aging English mansion in modern economic times, father holding on to old traditions, girls trying to balance between societal expectations and changing times, the men dealing with traumatic war experiences.  Of course maybe the 20’s and 50’s were pretty similar in small town England.

I really liked the mystery story, particularly since Flavia learns a lot about her father as the story goes on, and the detective work is sort of realistic, except for the fact that everyone that needs to be visited is within bicycling distance.  I’m not sure Flavia is a realistic 11-year-old, but she doesn’t have to be.  I like that she starts off with an immature passion for making poisons and grand schemes to murder people she doesn’t like — but during the course of the novel she begins to see how death has real repercussions. Another thing that elevated this book was Flavia’s struggle between being herself, and fitting in with her family.  I wish I had more of her spirit as a girl.

Not to make more of this book than I should, it’s basically a light, fun mystery, but one I highly enjoyed.

9 Responses to “Mini Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley”

  1. Fictionquest

    I heard an interview with the author sometime ago and apparently he gathers the background information for this Englamd of the 1950s from old encyclopedias.

  2. Lark

    I recently read Alan Bradley for the first time, too…and I really like Flavia. What a unique and entertaining character. I’ve already read book #2 and can’t wait to check out #3 from the library. Your review is great!

  3. Anesa Miller

    Afraid I came down on the other side of “cute.” While Flavia has considerable appeal, I feel she fits a standard model of the plucky young heroine refusing to conform. A girl in the 50s who insists upon her interest in science–yes, that’s a promising character. But along with all the well-timed life lessons, the book seemed somewhat formulaic in spite of a good deal of whimsy. Guess it just wasn’t for me.

    • curlygeek04

      Great comment, thank you! I always appreciate thoughtful disagreement, and I can totally see where you’re coming from. I guess the question for me is where he takes the character from here.


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