The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Somehow I managed to miss this book when it was first published. It was only when Amazon recommended the next book in the series (due for publication in January 2015) to me that I realised there had been one in between, and despite the fact that I’m only supposed to be spending money on Christmas gifts this month, I had to purchase a copy immediately. And of course I was unable to resist reading it the minute it arrived, which is how it ended up being my free book for the Semi-Charmed Winter Reading Challenge (worth 5 points).

The plot:
On a spring morning in 1951, almost twelve-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later he is dead, apparently pushed in front of the departing train by someone on the platform. Who was this man? What did his words mean? And were they meant for Flavia? Back at Buckshaw, Flavia once again puts her sleuthing skills to the test, and in the process finds out more about the history – and secrets – of the de Luce clan, and in particular her mother…

My review:

In some ways this book felt like a filler. Not much really happens in the way of ameteru detecting compared to the earlier books in the series – yes, there is another murder, but Flavia manages to refrain from doing much investigating. Instead, she confines her sleuthing to the secrets within Buckley Hall, which means we out more about the how and why of Harriet’s disappearance… and Flavia gets to ride in a plane! At the end of the book, we learn that Flavia will be going away, and I’m quite interested to see where the series takes us once she’s out in the big, wide world. There are only so many times someone can happen to stumble across a dead body in one small village before it starts seeming ridiculous, so I’m glad Bradley has decided to take things in a new direction. In a way, this is the least interesting book in the series so far – it feels like it was only there to make the transition between ameteur detecting at home and being away slightly less sudden, but Flavia is just as incorrigible as ever and I love her so it still gets all 5 stars from me (mostly because you can’t give 4.5 stars on Good Reads). It seemed like Flavia was maturing a lot in this book and I’m excited to read the seventh book in the series and see where life takes her next. This is a must-read for fans of the series. Everyone else should start at the beginning (with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) and decide for yourselves.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

This is the first book I’ve read for the Winter 2014 Reading Challenge. I started reading it on the train back from Paris yesterday and finished it in bed last night, which probably already tells you something about what I thought of the book. I read it for the category “Read a “bookish book” (in which books play an important role, e.g. the setting involves a bookstore or library, a major character is an author, or a book that celebrates reading and books”, which is worth 20 points. Usually I would put the autor of the book in the post title, but it was already really long, so I’ll say it here. This book was written by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows.

The plot
It’s January 1946. London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War and author Juliet Ashton is looking for ideas for her next book. She finds it when she receives a letter out of the blue from a man she’s never met, a native of Guernsey, who has got hold of a book that used to belong to her. Juliet starts corresponding with the man, and with his friends on Guernsey, learning all about life on the island, which was occupied by the Nazis during the war. The letter writers from the island are all members of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a sort of book club that was initially founded as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when the group were caught breaking curfew, but came to have a profound effect on thes lives of all those involved.

My review
I loved this book! Although the war plays a large role in the story and there is at least one tragic story (don’t worry, no spoilers!), the book is never depressing. Instead it is heart-warming, thought-provoking and, at times, even funny. The harsh realities of war are never glossed over, but I wouldn’t consider this book to be a “war story”. Instead, it’s essentially a book about the love of reading and the sheer power of books. It’s a quick little read, but one that will leave you with a smile on your face. Also, it’s written in the form of letters, so if you like to send/receive snail mail and are passionate about books this is one for you. It’s also made me want to find out more about the German occupation of Germany dring World War II!  I will admit that the book is a bit “cutesy” and the author doesn’t always manage to make the different voices distinct enough, but I’m still giving this one five stars.