Monday, January 19, 2015

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust: Alan Bradley

I have enjoyed all six previous entries in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  I never expected to like a series about an eleven-year-old girl who investigates crimes, but I was won over by the first book. Each book has been entertaining and fun. The books are set in post World War II Britain, in the village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia is the youngest daughter (around 11 years old) in the de Luce family; she lives with her two sisters and their father in a very old country house that requires a lot of upkeep. Her mother died when she was young. Each member of the family is unique, and none of them communicate their feelings very well.

The sixth book resolves the plot thread of Flavia's missing mother. Now the series has moved to Canada. Flavia, now 12 years old, has been sent to a girls' school in Toronto, Canada. At Miss Bodycote's Female Academy she is to continue her education and learn some unnamed ancient arts in her mother's old school. Almost as soon as Flavia gets settled in her room at the school, a charred body comes crashing down out of her bedroom chimney. As Flavia investigates this occurrence, she discovers that more than one girl has mysteriously disappeared from the school.

This book did keep me entertained, but it was not up to the standard of earlier books. I thought I was going to like the move to a new setting; I like to read books set in Canada and the author is Canadian, but the Canadian setting did not work as well for me. There were descriptions of Toronto, but most of the book is set in the very strange Female Academy. That institution and its inhabitants strained my ability to suspend disbelief even more than earlier books. In previous books there have always been interesting secondary characters, even the ones that show up for only one book. There was no depth to any new character in this story.The plot seemed disjointed. The mystery is solved but the many questions Flavia has about her new school (a secret society, who can she trust, what is she actually there to learn?) are left unresolved.

Alan Bradley's books about Flavia have never failed to pull me in and keep me interested and entertained. I credit Bradley's superb storytelling ability for that. Flavia is a wonderful character. Where this book was lacking was in plot and  characterization and the storytelling could not overcome that.

I would like to note that most reviews of this book were very positive. I refer to some below. Some reviews point out the issues I had but did not consider them serious drawbacks. So if you like this series, don't let this review deter you. And if you want to try it, I suggest starting with an earlier stronger book. I would read them in order, but many readers of the series say that each can stand alone.

See other reviews at Bookloons, Peggy Ann's Post, the Montreal Gazette, Publisher's Weekly.

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Publisher:   Delacorte Press, 2015
Length:       384 pages
Format:      ebook
Setting:      Toronto, Canada
Genre:        Historical mystery
Source:      Provided by the publisher via NetGalley.

26 comments:

  1. He has been a real success story. And so prolific.

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    1. True, Patti. Even though I resisted reading the books at first, I found the first books in the series charming.

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  2. I haven't yet read any of these though I have some of the earlier ones in the series. In all honesty I doubt I will get this far along, which might be just as well if it's a bit below par.

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    1. Col, I enjoyed the first four immensely. I will be interested to see what you think when you get to them.

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  3. Tracy - Sorry to hear that this one didn't take you away, so to speak, as the others have. Like you, I'm a Flavia fan, and wasn't sure I would like her. I have to say, as an aside, that I've always liked the originality of the titles in this series :-)

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    1. The titles are great, Margot. I felt like a split personality reading this book because I still enjoyed the tone and Flavia (although she was awfully whiny), but I was irritated with the plot and expecting more from the story.

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  4. I've really enjoyed reading the earlier books in the series so I'll definitely be reading this one. I'm now wondering what my reaction to it will be though.

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    1. I will be eager to hear your reaction, Katrina. Peggy liked it a lot, and lots of others did. I am in a minority.

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  5. Another series that I intend to get round to one day. Thanks for the prompt, Tracy.

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    1. This is definitely a series worth trying, and I look forward to hearing your opinion on it.

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  6. Tracy, I haven't read an Alan Bradley yet though I'd like to read about Flavia de Luce and her mysteries. She sounds a bit like a younger version of Nancy Drew minus the cosy family atmosphere Nancy grew up in. I think the Flavia de Luce series is more 'A' than 'YA.'

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    1. That is a good comparison, Prashant. I never read much Nancy Drew, so it did not occur to me. It was certainly my initial opinion that the books were aimed more at adults, and many adults read them, but I think they could work for both age groups.

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  7. You know, Tracy, your right about those 'questions' not being answered. It didn't spoil the story for me though. It seems he leaves us to our I,agitation about something's. Secretive like. Although I adore Flavia and will read and enjoy every one of the books he writes I do think something will have shifted now with her being groomed to be a spy and they won't be quite the same anymore.

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    1. I don't know why the unanswered questions left me disappointed, Peggy. It will be interesting to see where he takes the series in the next book.

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  8. For some reason I've been avoiding this series, despite a lot of people I know loving it. I almost gave in when I saw a title that played of "The Lady of Shalott." Maybe someday I will get to these, not sure when though.

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    1. Hi, Ryan, I have just been reading your review of The Simple Way of Poison. I think you might like these books, whenever you get to them.

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  9. I read the first one and didn't really enjoy it, so didn't continue with the series. But I often think I should give them another chance, as so many people whose views I respect like them!

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    1. I don't know, Moira. If the first one did not appeal, I don't think they change much in later books. I have been surprised how popular they are.

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  10. I have resisted reading this series, not thinking I'd want to read a child's point of view, although I loved The Earth Hums in B-Flat by Welsh writer, Mari Strachan. I will eventually read the first one when I make a dent in the TBR stacks.

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    1. Kathy, I thought this series would be too cutesy for me, but somehow the young narrator isn't like that. I will be interested to see if it does appeal to you when you try it someday. I want to read the Mari Strachan book also.

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  11. I liked the early books in the series but I'm completely behind now.

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    1. I do that a lot with series too, Sarah. Too many good books and authors to read. For some reason this one grabbed my attention and kept me coming back. Partly because the author is Canadian, but that is not the only reason.

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  12. I have only read two in this series and adored them. I'm not sure about the move to Canada either, part of the attractions for me is reading about a time when I was a child living in London.
    Ann

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    1. Ann, that sounds interesting ... that you lived in London as a child. That would make the series even more rewarding for you. I saw your review of the 2nd book and I liked your description of the book as "magnetic." That is why I keep coming back.

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  13. I think the age of the protagonist was off-putting for me in the beginning but since you've enjoyed them I've put it back on my reading list. I'm trying to focus on books recommended by other bloggers this year so I can *er* clear out of my tbr pile (kind of). No promises on when I'll start but I do want to read the first book and see how I like it.

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    1. Keishon, this is a series that I do recommend that most mystery readers at least try once. Not everyone likes it but it was much different than I expected.

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