Flash Reviews (5th May 2014)

The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce Mystery #2) by Alan Bradley ****
I was a little disappointed by the first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, but when I spotted its sequel in my library sale for a ridiculously low price, I couldn’t resist picking it up.  I love the idea of these mysteries; Flavia de Luce, our protagonist, is an eleven-year-old chemistry loving crime solver.  The storyline of this novel, which deals with a travelling puppet show’s arrival in Bishop’s Lacey and a subsequent murder, is appealing.  The first line – ‘I was lying dead in the churchyard’ – acts as a hook to immediately reel the reader in.

The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag begins in 1950, and takes place in the small village in which Flavia lives with her father and siblings, Ophelia and Daphne, whom she does not at all get on with.  The writing style, told from Flavia’s own perspective, is engaging from the start – far more so than I remember the first book in the series being.  Bradley crafts her narrative voice seamlessly, and each word which she utters is believable of a relatively young girl growing up in the early 1950s.  Flavia is rather a complex construct too: she is amusing, sarcastic, witty, a little full of herself, and fills scrapbooks with details of murders and poisonings.  She is also a very perceptive protagonist and reads others well – like a mini Miss Marple, I suppose.  The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag is almost neo-Gothic in its style and plot at times, and I am now very much looking forward to reading the third book in the series.

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The Easter Parade by Richard Yates ****
I so enjoyed Revolutionary Road when I read it last year that I have been scouring shelves for Yates’ work ever since.  As I have been on a book-buying ban more often than not, I have just looked at the lovely Vintage covers longingly, but when I received a £10 voucher from Waterstone’s for filling up my latest stamp card (oh, you wonderful promotion, you!), I chose one of his novels almost immediately.  I must admit that I selected The Easter Parade at random, as I am fully intending to make my way through all of his novels in the near future.

The novel focuses upon the Grimes sisters, Sarah and Emily: ‘Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back, it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce’, Yates tells us in the story’s opening line.  I am struck by how realistic his characters are.  They are all multi-dimensional, and they feel so lifelike at times that they could quite easily step from the page.  Emily is the protagonist of the piece, really.  She is such a complex construction that I found myself respecting her as a distinct being, even if I did find some of her actions a little odd or questionable at times.  The plot of The Easter Parade is rather a quiet one; Yates’ beautiful prose mainly involves itself with showing the changing relationships within the Grimes family.  To anyone who enjoys literary fiction, this novel comes highly recommended.

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Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ***
I had heard so many great things about this novel that I was half expecting it to be disappointing before I began to read it.  I love World War Two novels and find their every premise fascinating on the whole.  This storyline particularly appealed to me, telling as it does the story of a World War Two ‘enemy agent’, who is captured and is then consequently forced to ‘cough up’ her every recollection of the British War Effort.  Verity – the pseudonym which she goes by, as the novel’s title suggests – has just two weeks to write down everything which she remembers. Much of the plot – and, indeed, the entire second section, which is narrated by her – deals with her friend Maddie, and the things which the girls have done together.

Whilst the history of the period is set out well and details are built up as the story progresses, the novel is a Young Adult one in terms of its genre, and the almost chatty style of the prose does not sit overly well with the story which Wein has crafted.  The writing style also felt far too modern on the whole to fit the period.  I would have personally liked to see more exact and old-fashioned vocabulary, rather than the too-modern constructs which often find their way in.  The prose was a little lagging, and felt plodding in its pace at times.

Code Name Verity is a work of fiction, but it has been split up into separate sections, each with their own headings.  Whilst some of the plot was continuously told, it was forever being broken up in this manner, and this technique stopped it from being a story which the reader can successfully be immersed into.  The whole also felt a little disjointed in consequence.  Verity’s voice was not consistent enough, and everything felt a little flat, really, which was such a shame.  I also found portions of the novel very repetitive and unrealistic.  The style of Code Name Verity was not as I expected it to be, and whilst I have awarded it a rather generous three star rating (merely because it is better than a lot of the two star books which I have read of late), I ultimately found it rather disappointing.

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