I love Flavia. She is one of my favorite characters – Alan Bradley has done such a good job with her I can imagine sitting together and making sarcastic assessments of passers-by. Accordingly, I snapped up As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust almost before it hit the shelf, the latest in the mystery series that has won pretty much every big mystery award out there. Flavia is a brilliant, mouthy twelve-year-old who loves chemistry, particularly the poisonous kind. She is almost always far smarter than the adults around her, possesses no tact whatsoever – and has the habit of stumbling over dead bodies. In this book, she has been “banished” to a boarding school in Canada, which may or not be a front for a secret spy training facility. Things start looking up when a dead body falls out of the chimney in her room.
I was fortunate enough to join Alan Bradley for high tea at Toronto’s Windsor Arms along with other booksellers and some representatives of Penguin Random House. Firstly, I highly recommend having high tea there. If you don’t have your own fancy hat, they have ones you can use for a small donation to charity, and the food and tea was amazing (I indulged in lapsang souchong, which is the most wonderful tea for winter). Also, I got to wear my own fancy hat. I was seated next to Alan, who I would happily have tea with on a weekly basis. Originally from Ontario, Alan now resides in England, and is such an excellent source of British television and film recommendations that we started taking notes.
He spoke about fond memories of family book readings, where adults took turns reading aloud, and the children were allowed to stay up until the story was over. I thought this sounded like a wonderful idea, and we discussed the impact of reading aloud to children, and favorite read-aloud books (I mentioned Narnia, and Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately the Milk). This series would actually be a wonderful one for that purpose, because it would be entirely appropriate to read to children, but has a sly subtext for adults.
Some of the booksellers spoke about having books you saved for reading when you needed a treat, or to be cheered up, or to make up for the other book you had to read because it won an award likely due to the judges panel being drunk (this seems to happen frequently). Alan Bradley is our reading reward, our book dessert. Flavia is delicious, and not to be missed.