The Kids Are All Right

In movies and television, overly-precocious kids are a red flag. They can easily come off as smug and obnoxious, and there's no faster way to get me to lose interest in a film or TV show. Wisecracking kids are the worst. In books, however, a clever child is a lot more palatable. There's a reason that Harriet the Spy ranks among my favorite books of all time. It's only by chance, though, that both of the books I just finished feature one of these wise protagonists. They're also both mysteries of a sort, and both belong to series that I've been following with interest.

The first was Speaking from Among the Bones (2013), which is the fifth book in Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series. It's odd that I've never mentioned the character on the blog before, since I've been a fan since the beginning. I'll have to do a more comprehensive post on the series as a whole, but for now, I'll just talk about Book #5. Our intrepid protagonist is Flavia de Luce, a pre-teen girl in England in the early 1950s. Flavia has one great love, and that love is chemistry. She spends countless hours in the laboratory one of her ancestors built in the family's palatial estate, concocting poisons to her heart's content. She also spends a great deal of time sparring with her older sisters, with whom she has a very fraught relationship. As in the previous four books, Flavia sticks her nose into a local murder, thrilled by the danger and the challenge of solving a tricky puzzle. In this case, it involves a dead organist, hidden tunnels, locked-up lunatics, and a priceless missing jewel.

The Flavia de Luce series has been sagging a bit lately, but this was somewhat of a return to form. Naturally, it helps when the central mystery is more interesting than it has been in a couple of previous books. This one is also set higher by advancing the de Luce family story arc, as it were. Flavia's adventures throughout the local village do not take place in a vacuum. Things are happening back at the homestead, and those obstacles keep interfering in Flavia's fun with blood samples. One of these revelations happens at the very end of the book, and instead of being as annoyed as I usually am with cliffhangers, I'm genuinely curious to see where the series goes from here. I wouldn't recommend the book to people who haven't read at least Book #1, but for those who have been following Flavia's journey, it's a good read.

The other one I just finished was Lemony Snicket's When Did You See Her Last? (2013). It is Book #2 in the "All the Wrong Questions" series, and it wasn't very long ago that I was singing the praises of Book #1. Book #2 picks right up where we left off, and throws Lemony into a new mystery in the crumbling town of Stain'd-by-the-Sea. This time, a brilliant chemist (not Flavia, although that would be something, wouldn't it?) has disappeared, and her parents are curiously unworried about it. Although Lemony's mentor is as useless as always, this time he can depend on the relationships he's built with some of the town's residents. The book is as quick and witty as all of Daniel Handler's Lemony Snicket books, and the illustrations are as superb as ever.

If the book suffers from anything, it's a lack of novelty. It's a great story, but not all that different from Book #1. I'm still as interested as ever in this storyline, though, and am eagerly anticipating Book #3. I'm fortunate that Handler is so prolific, as there are two other Snicket books I can tackle while I wait. Those won't take long, though. What am I going to do after those? Oh, I know! I'll read Harriet the Spy for the 1,000th time.

Speaking from Among the Bones: B
When Did You See Her Last?: B+


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