The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley

Posted 12 October, 2010 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 26 Comments


Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Published: 2009 Pages: 373
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Rating: 4.5/5

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie begins when 11 year old Flavia de Luce (also the narrator) stumbles upon a dead man in the cucumber garden at her home. Found near the dead body is a jack snipe with a stamp stuck through its bill and even more curious is the slice missing from the housekeepers custard pie—a pie which none in Flavia’s family would dare consume. Though inspectors are working to solve the murder, Flavia takes it upon herself to solve the mystery on her own. But with each bit of unraveling Flavia manages, the mystery becomes more and more tangled until she’s not sure what’s what anymore. Also of note—set in 1950s UK.

Why I read this book: Seen around the blogosphere. I took first serious notice after Ana’s review and then my desire to actually go out and get the book was solidified after seeing Joanna’s review.

What I liked about the book: More accurately, who I loved: Flavia de Luce. Though she’s only 11, she’s a spunky, precocious, imaginative, quirky, loveable little firecracker. I’ve seen some criticism that Flavia doesn’t act her age—that perhaps she acts a little bit older than 11. There is no question that Flavia is mature for her age—perhaps because of her older sisters Feely and Daffy or the manner in which she was raised by her parent(s)—but Flavia doesn’t let us forget for long that she is at heart just a kid. She speaks her mind with fierce innocence, makes assumptions and acts upon impulse, she plays mean tricks on her older sisters, but it’s tough not to admire her brilliance as well as her childishness.

What else? For me there was little I didn’t like about this book. Actually, the only thing that I can think of is that it ended too quickly—and not in the hasty wrap-up or loose endings kind of way—but in the way that I just wanted to continue reading about Flavia’s adventures. I read this book rather quickly (during the readathon), so I have a feeling there are several little nuances and plot bits that I missed—some of the transitions between scenes seemed jumpy, but this was probably due to my quick reading.

Next to Flavia, what I loved about this book was the writing. Bradley’s writing is clever and quick, punchy and to the point (Flavia is the narrator afterall). I was totally swept up into the story and was only pulled out by my alarm telling me it was time to go cheerlead. I laughed out loud, I had my heartstrings tugged at, I was absorbed in the mystery and eager to know more, I was interested, engaged, enthralled, and above all else I was allowed to use my brain but not in an exhausting way. Perhaps if I had read this one slower I’d have more criticisms, but not today. Isn’t that a nice feeling?

Bottom Line: Given my current reading (Brothers Karamozov mostly, Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud on the side), this book was a refreshing delight. In fact, when I finished it during the readathon and turned to EC&IC (which I’m loooooooving), I still wanted to be reading about Flavia’s adventures. Normally I “savor” works by authors—I have a fear about reading through an author too quickly and then having nothing left to read by them—but I have a strong desire to pick up The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag immediately and read it immediately. Though I know the latter is just a wishful thought. I certainly recommend The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie—a reading delight with an unpretentious literary touch.

Have you met Flavia de Luce yet?  What did you think of the book?  Did you continue onto The Weed?

26 Responses to “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley”

  1. I loved this one! I honestly thought Flavia didn’t sound like a child at all, but it felt like that was done on purpose, a technique I really enjoy, so it worked for me.

    I did immediately go on to try to read Weed, but reading them back to back didn’t work for me. The second book just felt like a repeat of the first so after 30 pages I turned it back in to the library and said I’d try it again next year during RIP. I rarely do well reading books back to back like that. I should have known.

  2. I listened to this one on audio. The narrator had a really odd inflection that I didn’t hate, but I didn’t love it either. I really enjoyed Flavia and the story, but I didn’t care as much for the narration.

    I haven’t tried The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, but if I do, I think I’ll read it instead of listening!

  3. I liked this book, but not enough to read the sequel. Sort of weirdly, what turned me off so much was how cruel Flavia’s sisters were, and that no one stopped them from being so cruel. But Flavia is a very winning character!

    (p.s. – loved your jammies VLOG!)

  4. Flavia sounds like an incredible character and this book sounds like something I would enjoy. I’ll have to add it to my ever growing list of books to read.

  5. I really enjoyed this one too. I haven’t read WEED yet (Sidebar: my library doesn’t have it, even though they’ve got the first one!), but I fully intend to read it.

  6. *Vivienne – Flavia is such a delight! I hope you can read this one soon–it’s shortish and a fast read.

    *Amanda – I’m wondering if you reviewed this one during my break? I’ll have to look! I agree with you about Flavia and think that she was written perfectly. I can see how these books might be similar and you’re probably right about waiting to read the next one. Plus there are 10 million other books I want to read *rightnow* as well. :P Possession…!!

    *Erin – Bummer about the narrator! I was actually thinking about trying to find this one on audio since I read it so quickly, but the speaker makes all the difference, huh?

    *Rhapsody – Her sisters were cruel, huh? For me this was part of the story–just like the absent father. Kind of made Flavia who she is? And glad you liked the vlog. Apparently I have no shame. :P

    *Kristi – Yes yes, this one is a really fun read! I haven’t read very many negative things about it, so I hope you’ll like it too!

    *Word Lily – Strange about your library not having the second! Hasn’t it been out for a while? The new one is being released in February. Tell them to get with the program. :P

  7. I thought this one was just okay, then promptly gave the book away. :) My memory of it is much lower than my rating suggests. I won’t be continuing with the series, but am thrilled to see that you will be. I love to see the joy a book can bring – even if I’m not on board. :)

  8. Yes, I think WEED came out in February of this year. I’ve thought more than once of asking my library to get with it on this one. :p My sister bought them both on my rec, though, so maybe I’ll borrow it from her (or just buy it) now that she lives closer to me …

  9. I’m so glad you loved this, Trish! Flavia was so awesome – I loved how even though she was precocious, there were touches of vulnerability that reminded us of her age. Also, I’m so excited that you’re reading Extremely Close & Incredibly Loud! LOVE Foer.

  10. This is a great review. Although I am not into mysteries, I have been feeling the need to read something different than usual. Will prob pick this one up soon. Hope you are doing well!

  11. I love the scene where Flavia looks up slowly from her work so that “the round lenses of my spectacles would flash blank white semaphores of light…” Deliciously sinister.

  12. *Joy – I’m sorry you didn’t like this one—especially since the memory is lower than the rating! Hate when that happens! I’ll admit to not seeing too many fair or negative reviews of this one so I am curious as to what you thought!

    *Word Lily – LOL! Yes, a guess a sister who has the book is a good thing! :) Especially if she’s willing to lend it to you!

    *Nymeth – Hellllllo! :D So good to see your lovely purple avatar. :) And yes, just adored Flavia. Such a perfectly drawn character. Though I love Oskar, too, from EC&IL—funny to read two books back to back with child narrators. Loved them both…but in different ways.

    *Michelle – I’m not big on mysteries either and I hesitate to even call this one a mystery (thought it is). It’s more literary but very readable if that makes sense? I generally think of mysteries as being a bit lighter in substance, but this one has a lot of depth. I hope you do read it! I think you’d really like it!

    *Charley – “Deliciously sinister.” Great way to describe the book Charley. Isn’t Flavia fantastic?

    *Amy – I’m guessing you enjoyed The Weed that Strung the Hangman’s Bag? I’ll definitely have my eyes open for it to grab it up!

    *JoAnn – It’s fun and short—what more can you ask for? :) Oh, and a great one for this time of year!

  13. I’ve been wanting to read this one for what seems like forever–ever since Carl reviewed when it first came out anyway–but I just can’t seem to get to it. You DEFINITELY made those “I want to read it NOW, I want to read it NOW, I want to read it NOW” juices kick into high gear with this review, Trish! Hope you’re happy with yourself. :P

  14. So glad to hear that you enjoyed this one as I’ve been wanting to read it for awhile now. And it is always nice to just enjoy a book and have no complaints, isn’t it?? :) Great review!

  15. I started this novel at the beginning of last summer (when I was in denial about my qualifying exams reading list), but I had to turn it in to the library before I got too far in. I am looking forward to picking it back up in a few years. :)

  16. Ooh I’m so glad you’re a Flavia fan now too!!! I can’t wait to get the next book, but I don’t think it’s out in paperback yet so I have to wait… I would have loved to be like Flavia when I was 11 – I think maybe that’s part of the reason for why I love her so much!

    By the way, I loved EL&IC too, I can’t wait to read your thoughts. I read it pre-blogging, but maybe it’s time for a re-read…

  17. *Debi – Haha! YES, I am happy with myself. I think you’d really like this one Debi—no excuse not to read it. Flavia is just too darn likable.

    *Stephanie – I’m glad you’re in the Flavia fan club, too! Hope you get to the second one soon!

    *Samantha – I hope you get a chance to read this one! It falls in that category we were talking about the other day—literary mysteries. And yes, no complaints about a book is a fantastic thing! ;)

    *Bermuda – I am curious why you’re not itching to reach for the second! Just more of the same, you think?

    *Iris – There are so many things about Sweetness that really made it great and I agree the setting was perfect. The time period, the locale…just everything came together perfectly!

    *Karen Beth – Oh my poor dear. Yes, I hope in a few years you can get back to this one. ;)

    *Joanna – I’m so glad YOU loved this one and convinced me to read it! And yes, it would be fun to be Flavia—minus the terrible mean sisters. She reminded me of a young Nancy Drew…did you ever read those books?

  18. I read the first, haven’t yet bothered to get to the 2nd. I’m not much of a series kind of reader…

    I can see where this would be a wonderful fun diversion read from your other books!!

  19. Ah Nancy Drew… Yes, I read them and I loved them. I should actually get my hands on them and re-read, that would be fun. You know, I think any character who is that perceptive appeals to me – I don’t notice anything ever and would never be able to see all those clues!