Review – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Alan Bradley)

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Keywords: mystery, chemistry, 1950’s, fiction, murder, poison, England, detailed descriptions, first in a series, recommended by a friend.

Luci πŸ™‚

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Now, you don’t see a title like that every day! This was recommended to me by my book-loving friend Luci. When she first suggested this book, I was taken aback by the name. What kind of book could this be? Is it a book about pies?

Not quite! It is, in fact, a mystery book filled with murder, poison, and…well, pie, actually. The main character is named Flavia De Luce (a name as interesting as the book’s title!). She is no ordinary 11 year old (but then again, there’s no such thing!). Living in a literal mansion in the English countryside, she spends her days studying chemistry and taking revenge on her mean-spirited sisters.

The front cover

One day, a dead snipe (a kind of bird) shows up on her doorstep. A red stamp is found pushed through its beak (Take note of that; stamps are a HUGE part of this story). If that’s not weird enough, Flavia’s father reacts to the bird in an incredibly suspicious way. He turns pale and pretty much runs for his life. So that’s, uh, something to consider. Dead birds aren’t pleasant to look at, sure, but to look as though you’re about to be murdered? Highly suspicious.

Flavia thinks so too. So begins her detective work into the issue: who delivered the dead bird and why? Who is that dead body in the garden? Why are her sisters so annoying? (I’d really like to know the answer to that last one!)

Flavia’s vocabulary is something to behold as well. There are some words and phrases in her narration that thoroughly impressed me! The best narration, though, is when she describes her chemical experiments. If you already like chemistry, you’ll love these parts; Flavia takes the time to explain all the chemicals and processes she studies. If you’re like me and you’re a little scared of chemistry (it looks difficult, not gonna lie), don’t worry. Plot twist: you’ll probably like the chemistry parts too! Flavia’s descriptive language makes even the most mundane parts of chemistry seem magical. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to understanding why some people love chemistry so much! Here’s an example:

Flavia de Luce by Brigette Barrager (this is exactly how I pictured her!)

“With the water bubbling furiously, I watched as the steam found its way through the tubing and escaped into the flask among the leaves. Already they were beginning to curl and soften as the hot vapour opened the tiny pockets between their cells, releasing the oils that were the essence of this living plant.

This was the way the ancient alchemists had practised their art: fire and steam, steam and fire. Distillation.” (pg. 11)

How lyrical! It is by far the most enjoyable description of distillation I’ve ever read!

As for flaws, the one thing I can think of is the pacing. When I say ‘pacing’ I’m talking about the speed at which the plot moves. This book – to me at least – felt a bit too slow at times. There were moments where I thought, “Come on, get to the good parts faster!” That’s the only criticism I have, though. Everything else was splendid!

Obviously, Millie loves this mystery book. Louise loves it too, if only for its wonderful description of chemistry experiments!

Psst! Something to think about:

This book’s title is based on a quote you can find on the first page. It goes: “Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” (The Art of Cookery, William King). What do you think this means? How does it relate to the book?

Review – Nevermoor (Jessica Townsend)

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Keywords: fantasy, clever, witty dialogue, imaginative, magic, dramatic, a cat is in it and she’s amazing, first in a series.

Leaf πŸ™‚

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this has been on my ‘to-read’ list for years. The only reason I didn’t read it earlier was because of all the glowing praise it was receiving. I know it’s very cynical of me, but whenever I hear that a book is popular and flawless, I’m afraid that actually reading it will disappoint me. Thus, it takes me a while to get around to reading it! It was only when my particularly well-read friend Leaf recommended this that I finally bought a copy of Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow.

The front cover

Dear readers, I severely regret not reading this book earlier. It wasn’t the type of book where everything seems unoriginal. The world of Nevermoor is entirely its own. Before reading it, I was afraid that it would be copying Harry Potter. Other than magic playing a part in the story, the Harry Potter and Nevermoor worlds are completely different!

Can I just say how much I would love to live in Nevermoor? It’s a hidden world where you travel via umbrella (a bit like Mary Poppins) and meet fantasy creatures every day. The world is run on a sort of magic called ‘Wunder’, which makes things even more interesting. You see, the only person who knows how to use Wunder is a guy called the Wundersmith. Spoiler: he is not a good guy. You’ll see what I mean.

The one and only Morrigan Crow (I kinda want to be her best friend, honestly)

As for the main character, Morrigan Crow is an interesting protagonist to root for! She has been treated as a ‘cursed child’ for her entire 11-year-old life. Every time someone in the town has something bad happen to them, they blame Morrigan! It’s ridiculous, I know, yet it happens so often that an official literally has to come to her house every month. This worker then gives a list of all the bad things that happened in the town along with a bill. Yup, a bill. Morrigan’s father has to pay fees for misfortunes that Morrigan supposedly caused! Poor girl. Her ‘curse’ pervades her daily life. Her family doesn’t help. In fact, they loathe her and often pretend as if she doesn’t exist. Imagine that! Morrigan’s father is particularly heartless. I’d like to give him a curse or two and see how he likes it. 😑

As a cursed child, Morrigan is doomed to die at midnight on Eventide (which is this world’s version of New Year’s Eve). She has been preparing herself for her inevitable death since she was an infant. I hope you don’t mind me giving you a tiny spoiler: she doesn’t die. How did she escape death? Read and find out! (It involves a mechanical spider and time travel.)

Fenestra in her grumpy glory

There are many fascinating characters in this book, especially in the secret world of Nevermoor. For example, there’s a giant grey cat who works at a hotel. Fenestra the giant Magnificat is…how do I put this…flawless? I actually love her?? I might be biased due to being a humongous cat person, but there are other reasons for my admiration too! Fen is courageous and hard-working. She comes off as grumpy at first, but once you become closer to her, she reveals her softer side and loves you fiercely. In other words, she is a cat! Hm. Maybe my love for cats is influencing me a bit. Oh well.

This is the type of rollercoaster I was desperately trying to describe haha

This book was a roller-coaster of emotions. It’s a clichΓ© to call something a ‘roller-coaster of emotions’, I know, but that’s what it was! I honestly couldn’t stop gobbling up Morrigan’s adventures in Nevermoor. Things that seemed unlikely or unexpected kept happening at an exhilarating pace. Reading this book was like one of those ‘drop-fall’ rollercoasters (the one where you go up and down on a tower thingy and you never know when you’re going to fall next)! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going off to buy the sequel: Wundersmith. πŸ™‚

It’s a gorgeous fantasy book, so of course Felipe recommends this! Also, there are elements of mystery in the plot (what is Morrigan’s talent? Why was she rescued?), so Millie encourages you to read Nevermoor as well.

Review – Murder Most Unladylike (Robin Stevens)

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Keywords: fiction, murder mystery, female protagonist, 1930’s England, diary fiction, detective novel, boarding school, first book in a series.

Wow. Wowie wowie wow. I absolutely loved reading this book!

The front cover

Look, I know that I say that in pretty much every book review, but I mean it: this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year! The plot was engaging, the characters were interesting…it was all so wonderful!

First, let’s talk about the main character: Hazel Wong. Despite how she speaks about herself sometimes, she is so clever and strong. Thankfully, she becomes able to see just how great she is by the end! This book is a casebook (which is pretty much a diary) written from Hazel’s perspective. We learn a lot about her: how she feels like an outsider at Deepdean School for Girls; how homesick she is for her family in Hong Kong; even how overshadowed she feels around her friend Daisy. (But more on that later!)

Hazel is Chinese which, in 1930’s England, makes a lot of people treat her strangely, even disrespectfully. The book doesn’t shy away from the racism Hazel faces. It handles it with care, presenting the racist characters as undesirable. Hazel speaks of her emotions about this unsavoury behaviour. She often feels saddened, angered, and like an outcast. However, she remains strong and soon, she finds people who like her for who she is!

Enter Daisy Wells, Hazel’s best friend. She’s as clever as Hazel yet far more impulsive. Where Hazel is careful and nervous, Daisy is headstrong and confident. Honestly, I didn’t like Daisy that much at the beginning. I thought she was a bit spoiled. Also, she is occasionally mean to Hazel without realising it. By the end of the book, though, Hazel helps her grow into a better person and vice versa. This is not only a book about murder; it’s also a book about friendship.

Oh, by the way, this is a murder mystery book. Sorry, I got a bit carried away talking about the characters! Anyway, Hazel and Daisy form a Secret Detective Agency. They’re the only members and they’re both enthusiastic detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. When a teacher is murdered in their boarding school, the detectives search for clues and try to solve the case. I will not tell you too much, but let’s just say that there are MANY twists and turns in the plot!

As for the writing style, there are quite a few lovely words to learn. Since the story takes place in the 1930’s, Hazel uses slang terms from that time. The definitions of each word can be picked up from context. For extra help, Daisy has written a glossary at the very end of the book! Some of my favourites are ‘bunbreak’, ‘shrimps’ and ‘view-halloo’!

All in all, it’s an excellent book! And good news: it’s the first in a series, so there are many more to read! I’ve already bought the second and third books and I honestly can’t wait to read them. Because of its engaging mystery and historical setting, mystery-loving Millie and historian Dmitri recommend Murder Most Unladylike.