One of the benefits of working in a library is the constant stream of books coming across your desk. One of my favorite parts of the day is when the delivery of books comes in and I get to see the new titles and holds that people are currently reading. I have read so many new and interesting things…and so many terrible things… because of those shipments. Last week a co-worker came to pick up her hold and showed me the book she had been waiting for, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley.
This book was right up my alley… an adult fiction book where the main character is a murder-solving 11-year-old chemistry whiz in the 1950’s English country-side? Count me in. Flavia de Luce is the youngest sister in the de Luce household; headed by a philatelist father, the memory of an adventurous dead mother, and two older sisters’ set on making her life miserable. Flavia often slinks away to the comfort of her chemistry lab to conduct experiments with things she has nicked from the pantry. Alan Bradley has written a character similar to the lead in your average children’s book; bright, witty and a little fearless. But unlike your average children’s fiction Bradley has placed his character in the real world along side adults who are knowledgeable and useful if not a little put off by Flavia’s precocious nature at times.
Alan Bradley has written a whole series based on Flavia and her talent for getting herself into and out of trouble using her old friend, Chemistry, along with her Sherlock-like observational skills. Often times when I am reading mysteries I can quickly guess where the plot is going, but Flavia tends to notice things that should have been obvious to me from the onset and by the end of each book I understand how Inspector Hewitt, her contact on the police force, feels being outsmarted by an 11-year-old.
On the other hand there have been several books I have grabbed out of our daily delivery that utterly disappointed me. A recent example was another Sherlock-inspired mystery novel; Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz. All of the successful mystery components were there…London in the 1880s, Scotland Yard, veiled threats… but Horowitz throws in a HUGE plot twist at the very end that you would have needed to be clairvoyant to guess, or at least that was how I felt. I spent most of the day shushing my children and telling them “mommy is trying to read” while hiding in the closet so when the book ended with a giant “screw you” from the author I got really frustrated and threw the book against the wall. I then gave a book talk to my 6 year old daughter discouraging her from reading it. Although she was swayed by my argument it seems like most other people love the book since it was on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Whether I loved it or hated it, thought it good or bad, finding new titles is still one of the best parts of this job!