The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


A mystery with an 11 year old genius as the detective can be annoying.   And it is, sometimes.   Mostly it wasn’t Flavia’s unnatural intelligence and love of chemistry that put me off.   Child geniuses are dime-a-dozen in fiction.  Lots of people seem to love her, but I could never decide if I liked her or not.   The dynamics of the family definitely put me off.   The absent though present father.   The cycle of prank and revenge with the sisters I found especially tiresome.   Am I supposed to be amused that Flavia poisons her sister’s lipstick?   Cuz I’m not.  And, of course, no adult knows about this, so all the punishment is meted out by her sister, whom Flavia will then get back at.   Honestly, they could all use a stretch behind bars.

I think the issue is I just didn’t find the story believable.   A murder takes place below her window and sharp-eared Flavia hears nothing?  Also, it seems to have taken 3-4 hours for the victim to die, though it shouldn’t have as far as I can tell.   The idea that the criminal still had the stamp he stole as a school boy and hadn’t found a way to get rid of in the intervening decades is also strange. A stamp that’s almost unique, incredibly valuable, and his friend becomes a shady stamp dealer in America.   In all that time, they never find a buyer?  Writing this out helps me though to realize how irritated I was with the plot.   In mysteries so often one keeps reading because you want to know who, how and why.   There were also times I just didn’t get why Flavia did what she did in her investigation.   At one point, late in the game, she goes to find an old gravestone.   She already knew about the person’s death, what did she expect or hope to learn from the stone?   

It was his first one, so I might give the next one a try.   It wasn’t as irritating as the woman who microwaved a frozen cake.   And I do love the titles.



I really fell down on the job in March.   I was supposed to finish this for the readalong on the 31st.   I also didn’t get far in The Warden.   But all this may be subject to correction.  Fortunately no one’s grading me any more.   Or if you are, just keep it to yourself.  


Candide.   What to say about Candide?   As a philosophical document, it’s pants.  Purporting to be a refutation of Optimism, it includes a section in the utopian El Dorado, which isn’t good enough for our heroes.    Our heroes are dopes.   Is that the gist?  Man is too stupid to recognize paradise?   It doesn’t seem to be because while Candide loses most of his money he winds up somewhat happy on a farm cultivating his garden.    As a philosophy, I think this lacks a whole lot of essentials.   If everyone stayed put cultivating their gardens, we would presumably have no war, we would also have no art.   No vaccines.   No internet.   And while there is no doubt there are a lot of downsides to all the things mankind has invented/developed, there are marvels, too.   If everyone cultivated their garden, there would still be earthquakes, floods, fires — all of which we’ve made some strides toward mitigating the damage from these things.   Earthquake resistant buildings, fire fighting equipment, etc.  None of which would exist if we all just stay home and grow whatever our yards can produce.   

I don’t completely dismiss this philosophy either.   There’s something to be said for not trying to be rich or famous or marrying the most beautiful person, for accepting life as it comes and working at what’s in front of you.   It just seems to be only part of the answer and a part that really shouldn’t have taken them that long to figure out except that Candide is one dumb bunny.   I found it hard to believe he had supposedly read all those great authors and yet, learned nothing. The book makes occasional digs which hit their targets – early on the descriptions of warfare seem fairly apt, but a lot of the time I think it just over simplifies.   If this is not the best of all possible worlds, and certainly I wouldn’t argue that it is, then don’t we have some duty to try to improve it?   Granted that there isn’t much ordinary people can do, political horribleness and wars and so on will continue unless humanity learns to be a heck of a lot better than it is, but does that mean attempts shouldn’t be made?  That we should just live in blissful ignorance?  I believe we’ve made some progress since Voltaire’s time and I believe that progress is owing to people who stood up and worked hard to bring about changes they saw as necessary.   People who did not just stick their heads in the sand and say, I have no idea who was beheaded yesterday.

Optimism, at least as expressed by Pangloss, seems beyond absurd, and yet Voltaire seems to be advocating behaving exactly as if it were the best of all possible worlds and all we need to do is cultivate our gardens.  Was he serious?   I don’t know enough about him or his philosophy to know if this was supposed to be accepted at face value or argued with and holes punched in it.  Presumably I should read more Voltaire, but I can’t say I feel inclined to do so.

This counts as a French book and a translated book.

Literary Jetsam

I went on vacation and made sure to bring with me plenty to read both print and e, but what do I do?   I inspect the little shelf of books when I get to the apartment and choose one there instead.   Carol Shields, best known for The Stone Diaries, wrote an academic mystery in which an otherwise completely uninteresting Canadian farm woman who lived a hard life on a poor farm is discovered to be an interesting and fresh voice in poetry.   There are four main characters starting with the young feminist, Sarah Maloney, who discovers Mary Swann’s only book in a cabin in Wisconsin.  Maloney at this point has successfully promoted Swann’s work and there are enough scholars studying her that a small symposium is scheduled for January.   We meet Maloney, Swanns biographer, her friend from the library in the little town she lived nearest to, and her publisher.  Then in the last section they all meet at the symposium.   But as each of them prepares for this event, the remains of Mary Swann’s life are disappearing one by one.  


The copy I read had a naked woman on the cover.  God knows why.   People wanting a story about a naked woman will be sorely disappointed.  Anyone who likes academic stories though should be entertained.  Shields explores not just the mystery of who’s stealing the stuff, but the mystery of the human mind, how an ill-schooled farm woman could be a poet and also takes a very sly look at the nature of literary scholarship, the flaws and foibles of scholars and non-scholars when a spotlight is shone on a corner of their lives which had previously held no interest.   The temptation to fill in the gaps, to polish a rough edge, to find some better reality is more than some can bear.   I really enjoyed this book, though I do for some reason have a liking of academic stories, and was glad I could finish it at the apartment and not have to leave it part way through and order my own copy to finish.  I don’t think it fulfills any challenges, but if I’ve forgotten one, I’ll correct this.

Candide Readalong Pt. 3 – Three Days late

Can’t decide what to think about this book any longer.  In the beginning I ignored the fact that Candide is a dope because he wasn’t instructed in the ways of the world, but the damn fool never learns a thing.   Okay, you want to leave El Dorado to find Cunegonde, not smart, but I can sympathize with being foolish for love.   Wanting to be richer than everyone and unsatisfied with everyone being rich (in El Dorado) stupid, but human.   But the idea that somehow they would manage to hold on to 12 sheep worth of treasure and get it back to Europe without being robbed of it — well, they haven’t learned a thing since being kicked out of the castle in chapter 1.   No street smarts.   No protection for the wealth.   Flashes it around makes it obvious.   At this point, Candide, you deserve what you get.  

And at this point I have trouble understanding what Voltaire is getting at.   He’s made his point that this world is full of people and events that seem to be non-optimal.   Did people still believe in El Dorado or places like that when Voltaire was writing?  Is the point that humans aren’t even satisfied with paradise?    That could be true, although presumably the El Doradans are human, too.   I did like when he was reunited with his sheep.   

Once Upon a Time VIII Sign-Up

I’m a little late, this began 5 days ago, but it sounds like fun and it’s pretty.   The question I can’t quite resolve is whether to go for Quest the First, which is 5 books in what remains of the month up to April 21st of just settle for the —  heck, I just realized it goes to June 21st not April.   So heck yeah, 5 books is doable.



I will do Quest the First – reading 5 books in fantasy, folklore, mythology or fairy tales


Also I will watch some movies or shows.  Maybe Gormenghast.  If you have any books or movies you’d like to recommend, please do.


Even better sign up for the challenge as well.   You can reach the site by clicking on the top pic.

The Underground Man

Not quite my usual thing.  Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer is a bit more hardboiled gumshoe than I go for.   He’s a good writer.   The story has good pace, decent characters, sound enough plot.   I personally think that when Archer realized the boat was gone, he should have called the Coast Guard or the owner right then instead of letting them have all night to go wherever, but as far as detectives doing more than their job goes, that’s pretty minor.   And I struggle to wonder why I’m so not into this.  I was into it enough to read it in a few days.  I did want to know whodunnit, and I had kind of guessed right, but I think it’s just too much like real life.    I like my books to be somewhat escapist, I think.   Things I don’t really want to read about generally include bad trips, escaped prisoners, rape, bad parenting, fire and psychosis.  Even though none of this is graphic or even first hand, which helps a lot, I’m not sure I’ll read more of him.   I like the puzzle aspect, trying to figure out not only who did it, but what happened in the first place, but I think it’s just too 1970 for me.   Or something.   But I do recommend it if you like your crime novels non-cozy, but not too graphic.

I wanted to make it my book outside my usual thing for Bingo, but it’s not Golden Age.   It’s Silver if I read enough of those.   Almost forgot I can use it in the 14 challenge

13. Not My Cup of Tea: Reach out to a genre that you’ve never tried (or probably just disliked) before. Whether it’s a romance, horror or non fiction, maybe you will find a hidden gem!

Death-Watch by John Dickson Carr

My first John Dickson Carr and, of course, my first Dr. Gideon Fell mystery – kind of a cross between Nero Wolfe and Gervase Fen.  He gets around more than Wolfe, though he needs two sticks to do it, but he’s as eccentric/scholarly, I think, as Fen.   Death-Watch is complicated.   I gather that’s one of Carr’s signatures.   I enjoyed it except for the early scene in the room with the recently deceased mystery man with a clock hand through his neck.   People walking around, drinking brandy, moving stuff, when the cops finally show up with the fingerprint and other investigative equipment, I just roll my eyes and think what’s the point. Fell even has the body turned over!   Argh.   I hate that.   But you just have to let go and see Fell as a police-substitute, even though Scotland Yard is right there.   Their sole purpose is to propose wrong solutions and be an audience for Fell when he figures it all out.   He’s allowed to walk off with evidence, everyone waits until he gets there and finds other things to do when he needs some time.   It’s a bit ridiculous, but I think the solution is fair.   Mostly, anyway.   Partly it relies on knowing the layout of the house which is described, but not drawn out — I couldn’t picture it at all.   A diagram would’ve been very helpful.   I still don’t think I would’ve gotten it, but I would’ve at least understood the layout of the house.   (Which had I think it said a 60′ x 20′ hallway upstairs??   Which substitutes as a ballroom?)   I’ll read at least one more.   Maybe a few.   Not sure yet whether I like thee, Dr. Fell, or not.


Sadly, I did not have this cover.

This counts as another Cozy, I believe, and also Vintage Golden Bingo – Book by an Author I’ve never read Before.