They’re calling for rain all day today, including thunderstorms, but right now it is a gorgeously sunny morning, filled with birdsong and the sound of the breeze blowing gently through the trees… it definitely feels like early summer as I sip my chai tea and think about the book I read last week and the book club meeting we had yesterday.
I’ll tell you first about the meeting. We discussed the first book in the bestselling “Flavia de Luce” series by Canadian novelist Alan Bradley, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. This novel is told from the point of view of 11-year-old Flavia, youngest daughter in a household of three girls, and is set in a mansion in the English countryside in the early 1950s. Flavia’s father has been a widower since she was a baby, and the girls are left pretty much to their own devices where parenting is concerned. It is summer, and the girls are free from school for the holidays. An adventure presents itself when the cook, Mrs Mullett, finds a dead bird on the doorstep, its beak piercing a rare stamp. Later, Flavia hears her father arguing with a red-headed stranger in the study, and a few hours later, she discovers this stranger dying in the vegetable garden. Foul play is suspected, and her father is accused of the murder. Being a budding chemist specializing in poisons and an amateur sleuth, it is up to Flavia, with the help of a few adults along the way, to solve the mysteries of both the dead bird and the dead stranger, and to clear her father's name. I tried reading this book a few years ago and didn’t enjoy it at all, but one of my ladies made a recommendation for this to be included on our selection list so I added it, figuring that I would stick with it if I had to facilitate a discussion. I ended up listening to it a few months ago, and that seemed to be a more engaging experience for me, although I didn’t love it. As the narrator, the precocious, feisty Flavia drove me crazy (I don’t usually enjoy adult books told from the point of view of a child or teen), but I could get over that while listening, I guess because I have to concentrate less when a book is being read to me. It was exactly what I expected it would be, and didn’t feel the need to reread it for my discussion, although it was my intention to skim it (which I did not have time to do). When we started the discussion with everyone sharing their initial thoughts about the book, the first three ladies felt much as I did, that it was a light, fun read, although Flavia was somewhat annoying, that it was easy to put down, but that the story picked up about halfway through when Flavia’s father shared the story of his past with her. I suggested that it was more of a Canadian Tire book than a Lee Valley one. Then one member, a retired high school English teacher, got her chance to share, and she LOVED the book! She thought that making the protagonist a girl detective with an interest in science and a love of language, a girl who demonstrated good problem-solving skills throughout the novel, was very clever, making Flavia a great role model. She pointed out that Flavia was a bit nerdy, from a dysfunctional family, a girl who was bullied by her older sisters, but who, nonetheless, managed to earn the respect of adults. We discussed Flavia’s mother, Harriet, who disappeared on a mountain-climbing expedition and is presumed dead, and whether we thought she would have been a good mother, as well as Flavia’s search for a father figure. We agreed that the plot became quite farfetched at times, making it necessary for us to suspend our sense of disbelief. We wondered whether this book would be suitable for children or young adults to read, as the character would definitely be an inspiration to young girls (she has been compared to Harriet the Spy). At first most of us did not think we would read any more of the books in this series, but after the discussion, a few of us agreed that we might try another one. I thought that, since Flavia’s character and her relationships with the others in the household and in the village has already been established, the others might be more focused on the mysteries, so might be more interesting. We agreed that this book was actually a Lee Valley book in the guise of a Canadian Tire one. It was a great discussion, and a good book club choice.
Rather than reread this book, I ended up reading a book I got from the library, A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell. Stephanie is a widowed stay-at-home mom and blogger who lives in a small town outside of Connecticut, looking after her five-year-old son Miles. There is nothing unusual about her best friend Emily’s request that she pick up her son, Nicky, Miles’ best friend, from school one day and keep him at her place until Emily is able to come and get him later that night… except that Emily never shows up. Emily’s husband, Sean, is in England on a business trip, and Stephanie doesn’t know what to do as one day, then another, pass with no Emily. Sean returns and together they try to find out what has happened, until Sean receives the shocking news that Emily is dead. The nightmare is over... or has it just begun? This novel is another in the long line of domestic thrillers to have been published recently, and as a debut novel from first-time author and preschool teacher Bell, it was quite impressive. I’ve read a number of these (The Widow, The Couple Next Door and The Silent Wife, among others), and have tried and given up on even more (Gone Girl, and Girl on a Train), and this one falls into the category of “pretty good”. The pacing was steady, the shifting points of view made for a fuller reading experience, and the plot twists were fairly believable. I had difficulty with Stephanie’s utter naiveté, and some of the plot twists didn’t ring true, but overall, it was a book that was difficult to put down, a fast-paced, psychological thriller filled with deception, betrayals and intrigue, and I feel confident recommending it to anyone who enjoys books featuring unreliable narrators, where all is not what it seems.
That’s all for today - I better get outside before the rain begins. Have a great day!
Bye for now…