Is It Time to Revisit Montaigne?

In the frenzy of caustic political diatribe in the weeks before the vote for President in the United States, Tim Parks offers the voice of reason in his articleShould Novels Aim for the Heart or the Head? in the Book Review section of the New York Times.  

“Montaigne’s position was always that we must be extremely careful about our emotions, in particular our tendency to get emotional about ideas.  He didn’t advise neutrality, but simply that ‘we should not nail ourselves so strongly to our humors and complexions.’ To foster emotions deliberately and habitually was dangerous, because once a strong emotion had kicked in it was very difficult to find a way back.”

The rhetoric of emotional intensity has spilled over from reality show television and action packed books and movies into the political arena, a place where the calm assessment of affairs has been replaced by dyspeptic rants, brutal verbal attacks on adversaries, and “horror for the future.”  Montaigne notes: “No one is exempt from speaking nonsense – the only misfortune is to do it solemnly.”

9781590514832_p0_v1_s192x300   Rereading Sarah Bakewell’s A Life of Montaigne has immersed me into introspection – and a new appreciation for nonfiction.

 It will not stop me, however, from escaping reality and losing myself in the next book of fiction – life seems better when it’s not real all the time.  Alan Bradley has my attention now in the return of Flavia de Luce. 9780345539960_p0_v2_s192x300 



The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches


The brilliant eleven-year-old sleuth, Flavia de Luce, is back in Alan Bradley’s sixth book in this mystery series – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. If you have not yet met this smart updated version of Nancy Drew with a chemistry set, a pet chicken, and a bicycle name Gladys, who lives in a rundown version of Downton Abbey, you really do need to find this precocious heroine from the first book – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.  Her adventures are fun; the mysteries are engaging; and the information you will glean about poison is enormous.

Although Flavia’s father and two sisters have been unlikely and mostly unwilling assistants as Flavia solves each case, her mother, Harriet, has been missing.  Harriet, who died mysteriously in a plane crash over the Himalayas when Flavia was just a baby, is finally found, and her body is shipped home.  As possible villains and World Was II heroes (including Winston Churchill) appear to attend the funeral, Flavia is determined to use her knowledge of chemistry to bring her mother back to life.

I am in the middle of reading this engaging book, and look forward to each page and more of Flavia’s wise, yet not always appropriate, comments.  The action is just heating up with possibilities of espionage and secret family history, but the word is that Flavia will be shipped off to boarding school when she turns twelve soon – and then how will she – and her readers – manage.  What will become of Gladys (her bicycle) and Esmerelda (her pet chicken).  Will she have access to her lab materials that have played an important role in solving crimes in the six book series?  Alan Bradley, don’t disappoint us.

Reviews of Other Flavia de Luce books: Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley

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Speaking From Among the Bones

9780385344036_p0_v1_s260x420Eleven year old detective Flavia de Luce is back, solving another murder in Alan Bradley’s new mystery – Speaking From Among the Bones. With her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia is digging into graves, cracking open her chemistry set, and listening through rubber tubing to solve a murder. The family finances are still precarious and Buckshaw, the family mansion, is now up for sale, but Flavia is determined to connect to an old fortune to save the day. With a number of story lines to distract from the villain, Bradley uses his quirky characters to charm his audience, with a lot of humor along the way.

If you have not read the first three of Flavia’s adventures, Bradley will fill you in on the background, but it won’t take long to find yourself in the middle of the muddle. In this book, Flavia discovers more about her mysterious mother and older sister Ophelia, and connects to a new character. When the 500 year old tomb of St. Tancred is opened, Flavia is the first to see the dead body – but it’s not the old revered saint. The missing organist has been found.

Mystery and murder and lots of fun.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

Flavia de Luce is back.  The most recent in the series of crime adventures solved by Alan Bradley’s  precocious British detective – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows – opens with Flavia dreaming of ice skating down the corridors of a deserted portrait gallery.  She could hose down the halls in the cold drafty East Wing of Buckshaw, the Victorian mansion where her family has lived for centuries, for her makeshift indoor ice rink.

Christmas is coming, and Flavia has created a plan with her chemistry set to prove that Santa really exists.  Her father has rented out parts of the old house to a film company to generate some income.  A blizzard traps most of the village residents overnight at Buckshaw after a special benefit performance, and  the star is found – by Flavia, of course – strangled by a length of film around her neck.  Everyone is a suspect.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, feel free to dive into this one anyway.  Bradley will bring you up to speed quickly, and you can enjoy the Christmas flavor while Flavia uses her wits to help Inspector Hewitt solve the crime and catch the murderer – but Father Christmas eludes her.  The mystery is fun, and Flavia is in good form again.

Read my reviews for the first two Flavia de Luce mysteries: