Posts Tagged With: Flavia de Luce

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

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Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Mystery Novels – Feeding My Reading Sweet Tooth

mystery1What genre of fiction brings you the most genuine enjoyment?

I find that, although I sincerely and successfully attempt to read broadly, I possess a “default setting” in my literary taste; one that inevitably draws me back to mystery novels and  one that I give in to with periodic binges.

It all started twenty-five years ago when I stumbled upon Masterpiece Mystery airing on Sunday night television. My local public broadcasting station was showing the Brother Cadfael mysteries, wonderful productions starring British actor Derek Jacobi and based on the novels of Ellis Peters. I rushed to the library and gobbled up the series. A Morbid Taste for Bones (1977) being the first novel.

Why do I love mysteries so much?

Sometimes the mystery novel is “delicious” due to its fascinating setting. In the case of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, all the action take place in 1137 A.D. Britain as a retired Crusader turned monk uses his knowledge of herbs (and poisons) to solve whodunits within the environs of Shrewsbury Abbey.

Another mystery novelist I recommend for excellent setting is Tony Hillerman who brings the reader to 20th century North America and the fantastic arid desert region of the Four Corners where the state borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Nevada meet. Navaho Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn and his counterpart Sergeant Jim Chee delve into the mystical current and ancient culture of the First Peoples. The Blessing Way (1990) is the first novel in the Navaho Mysteries series.

Fundamentally, mystery novelists honor the preciousness of human life.  Murder is heinous and murderers must be found out and brought to justice.  This underlying truth resonates with my worldview.  The justice system, fair law enforcement, and a belief in the sanctity of human life all join together in a worthwhile, yet arduous battle to expose and eradicate hidden evil.

mystery2Another reason mysteries can be valuable reading  are the well-drawn characters who leap off the page, enter our living room and sit down beside us as if they were real people. A prime example is Mary Russell, who matches Sherlock Holmes in wit and brains in contemporary novelist Laurie R. King’s mysteries. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (2002), the first in this series, introduces the reader to a middle-aged Sherlock who engages the impressive intellectual gifts of young Oxford student Mary Russell to help him solve intricate mysteries in a series of thirteen novels.

Another wonderful character is Lord Peter Wimsey who acts the part of shallow rich blue blood all the while figuring out impossible puzzles in both the English countryside and in urbane London. Dorothy L. Sayers adds another layer to Lord Peter’s personal complexity with the entrance of love interest Harriet Vane who is accused of murder in Strong Poison (1930). These stories are both set in and written in the 1930s and are extremely authentic.

Not to be ignored in this genre, is the importance of a complex plot. I mined the riches of British mystery authors for years because of their ability to fool me every time. Sometimes, after I read the denouement, I flipped backwards through the pages to find those hidden clues in conversation or description and saw how skillfully authors had planted the trail of breadcrumbs. Masterful creators of intricate plots are Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, P.D. James, and Bruce Alexander.

Inevitably the criminal mind and the depths of human depravity weave themselves throughout all mysteries. I must admit the dark alleys down which certain authors go can be too haunting for me. I have backed away from certain stories when I felt the cold breath of evil curl around me too chillingly.

Patricia Cornwell’s suspense thrillers starring brilliant Virginia medical examiner and FBI consultant, Kay Scarpetta finally scared me away with their depiction of evil. These mystery novels are full of well-researched forensic detail and psychological suspense for readers who dare. Postmortem (1990) is the first of this series.

More wholesome mysteries abound; one such author is Patricia Sprinkle who introduces Katharine Murray, a Georgia homemaker who is in the midst of a mid-life crisis and discovers her talent for unraveling family secrets in Death on the Family Tree (2006). The Family Tree series also includes Sins of the Fathers (2007) and Daughter of Deceit (2008).mystery3

Of course, I must give a most honorable mention to the best sleuth of all – eleven year old Flavia de Luce.  See my blog post on Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009).  I hope to write again and in more detail about this wonderful mystery series by Alan Bradley.

I truly don’t mind being fooled by the mystery author, as long as I am captivated by the characters, the setting, or the plot.

If you are a mystery novel aficionado, please leave a comment with your favorite.

Categories: British novels, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Tasteful Mystery: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” William King, The Art of Cookery (1708)

Yet again I am a latecomer to the party.  I am just now tasting the delights of the mystery series by Canadian author Alan Bradley starring Flavia de Luce – an 11-year prodigy who solves crimes ahead of highly intelligent Inspector Hewitt. 

But I am getting ahead of myself.  I want to indulge in a personal comment before telling you about this series: I have entered my fifth decade and want to say that I now firmly believe the old adage: “It’s never too late”.  So arriving late to the party is just fine, as long as I enjoy it when I get there!  (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, was first published in 2009, so I am just four years late).  

Immediately acclaimed, book one won a long string of awards, including the Debut Dagger Award of the British Crimewriter’s Association and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.       

“Character is king” and Alan Bradley has created royalty in Flavia de Luce, who is a wonderful, charming, uncannily intelligent, motherless child.  Her influence has just begun and I must thank Uncle Mike Stanley for telling me about her, and Phyllis at my local library for insisting that I listen to the audio version of the book narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwistle.

An excerpt from the series website sets the scene: “Alan Bradley plants the story deep into the setting of 1950s England, with a portrait of an eccentric home life that is all too wickedly familiar. The story’s twists are supported by the time and place as well as the unusual interests of the characters which range from stamp-collecting to making poisons all of which are highly researched and ingeniously incorporated.” http://www.flaviadeluce.com/the-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie/

Alan Bradley

I would rather not divulge the book’s plot, but, instead, rave about its characterization, turns of phrase, and wonderful conclusion.  I thoroughly enjoyed the unlikely pairing of a precocious eleven-year-old and a middle-aged British police inspector.  Author Alan Bradley has a masterful grasp of the English language and uses it to both amuse and draw in the reader to his time and place:

 “Except for a handkerchief-sized scrap of grass at one side, Miss Mountjoy’s willow filled the fenced-in yard.  Even on the doorstep I could feel the dampness of the place: the tree’s languid branches formed a green bell jar through which little light seemed to penetrate, giving me the odd sensation of being under water.” (p. 136)

 Also, the ending is incredibly satisfying – resolving the mystery and stirring the heart.

My teen daughters and I listened to the book on our car rides this fall and found that Flavia appealed to all of us, although some of the gruesome aspects of the murder and the creepy murderer made it a definite PG-13/TV 14 rating in our opinion.  (That, and Flavia’s propensity to exclaim: “Damnation!” “Damn it to hell” , etc. throughout the story) This book series is found in the adult mystery section of my library.

I declare our plan to catch up with the Flavia fan club by reading the other five novels in the series: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking From Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.

If you are already a fan of the series, I would love to hear from you, just don’t spoil anything I have yet to experience! Flavia Fan club website: http://flaviafanclub.ning.com

Also, I discovered that great discussion questions are available on

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/13-fiction/1008-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie-bradley?start=3

My friend Wendy has this to say about this series: “I knew you would love it! This is one of the only series that we pre-order instead of waiting for the library to have. That is the advantage of being late to the party, you don’t have to wait for the next book! Isn’t Flavia fun?! I love all the church, hymn and history references, I love the way she talks to and treats her bike, Gladys, like a horse. “I put my feet up on the handlebars and gave Gladys her head. As we shot down the hill…” and “Leaving Gladys to graze in a bicycle stand…” (I had a green schwinn before I got my own horse, I remember…). And through all her thrilling fantastic adventures, there is something about her motherless childhood that rings so true.”
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Categories: Humorous, Mystery, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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