I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

…that left only Father Christmas. He would be coming again in less than a week and, in order to settle the question for once and for all, I had long ago laid plans to trap him. Scientifically.

Flavia de Luce, the 11-year-old mastermind chemist detective, is determined to find out if the slippery St. Nick is real. He always seems to come and go without a trace and she is determined for this year to be different. Christmas is only a few days away and Flavia, being the clever minx she is, plans to catch him. She concocts a nice batch of bird lime in her laboratory to slather onto the roof to prove, once and for all, that he exists.

A few days before Christmas, Flavia’s father, Colonel de Luce, announces that a movie company will be taking over Flavia’s home, Buckshaw, to use it as a set for a film. Shortly thereafter, the famous Phyllis Wyvern has descended upon their crumbling English mansion with her director and film crews. As they begin to film, the town Vicar convinces Wyvern to perform a little Romeo and Juliet for the townspeople to help raise money for charity at Buckshaw. The night of the performance a blizzard hits, trapping all the townspeople at the mansion overnight. As everyone beds down the evening, strewn across the entryways and floors like a big sleepover party, Flavia sneaks out of her room to wander. Amid the late night snores and shuffles she hears the slap-slap-slap of a film endlessly circling at the end of its reel. She follows the sound and finds, as Flavia always does, that someone has been murdered.

With each Flavia de Luce mystery that is written, I am scared I will not enjoy them as much as the last. As with most series that have no end in sight, I tend to open the books with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Will this one be as good as its predecessors? I always wonder. No fear this time readers! Bradley hasn’t lost a whit of his writing fire.

I am Half-Sick of Shadows was a great book. I started it last night, reading until I had to sleep, and then finished it this morning. This Christmas themed addition to the series is just as amusing, heart warming and enjoyable to read as the three that preceded it. Flavia is as clever as ever. Though this mystery is full of her whirlwind schemes, chemistry experiments and constant battles with her sisters as usual, this book offers a bit more.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows revolves around stalking Father Christmas and solving the movie set murder, but we also get to learn about the people in Flavia’s life. Dogger, their faithful handyman, her father Colonel de Luce and even her relationship with her sisters grows as the story progresses. I thoroughly enjoyed this one and I think it may be my new favorite of the series.

If you haven’t read the Flavia books before I’d suggest starting with the first, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. They’re all wonderful and can be independently read, but it is more fun to read from the beginning of Flavia’s adventures.

If you have already read the Flavia books and are waiting to start this one, stop waiting! Its a jolly good read with lots murder mystery fun, but also, cartloads of Christmas cheer.

A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized of all the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest.

Have you met sleuth Flavia de Luce? She is cunning, witty, sharp as a whip and a bit of a mad scientist. She lives in the crumbling old estate Buckshaw with her father and two sisters where she concocts experiments in an old laboratory. Her two evil sisters are to be found often reading, playing instruments or torturing Flavia. They might tie her up in the cellar, but she’ll get back at them in her own manner. Once she had her revenge by distilling the essence of poison out of a plant, mixing it with a melted lipstick and then molding the lipstick back into its original shape for her sister to use. Yea, shes that brilliant. Did I mention she is 11-years-old?

I have often heard people call Flavia “unrealistic” and complain about her being so darn smart (jealousy I tell you!) But really, did you complain when Peter, Edmund, Lucy and Susan walked through the wardrobe into Narnia? NO! You just sat there wishing that a lamppost would appear in YOUR forest. So stop complaining. Books don’t need to be realistic, its why we love them.

Anyway, back to the Herring without Mustard. The third in the Flavia de Luce novels is yet another murder mystery. It starts when Flavia has her fortune told by a gypsy and accidentally sets her tent on fire. She is only 11 after all, accidents happen. In her remorse and I suspect, for a bit of fun, she invites the gypsy to come rest on the Buckshaw estate for the evening. Later that night in a fit of wakefulness Flavia travels out to the Gypsy’s caravan and finds her bleeding to death. Thankfully, the gypsy lives but the mystery continues.

Don’t be disappointed, I did say murder mystery. Not all the characters in this story are as lucky as the gypsy. A local vagabond dies shortly thereafter and Flavia is once again pedaling Gladys, her trusty bicycle, around the countryside in search of clues.

This book will not shake your soul or change your life but it will make you laugh, chuckle and turn the pages to see what scrapes she gets into next. I always enjoy my time with Flavia, I think you would too.

(Recommendation: If you haven’t read Flavia’s exploits before, start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and then The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. )