book review, Children's Fiction, murder, Young Adult Fiction, youth fiction

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

This Flavia de Luce novel was a bit different from the rest – and it was because of that I found it difficult to get through. The previous three books were fun and exciting – even if it involved solving a murder. But this one, was dark and somber, mostly because it was centered on Harriet coming home. Harriet, who had been missing for ten years, had been found, long-since frozen on a Himalayan mountainside and the sudden realization that her mother was dead forever sent Flavia into an emotional tail spin of epic proportions. Her father, who had always been morose, and her spiteful sisters were also plunged even further into the depths of despair.  This isn’t to say the book wasn’t excellent – it was – the subject of Harriet’s death and subsequent burial were unexpected and depressing.

 

The book did end on a positive note so that was good. The murder was caught and unfortunately killed in their escape (in a particularly spectacular way, only a teensy bit gruesome.) If you have trouble thinking about interacting with corpses, you may want to skip the part where Flavia opens her mother’s coffin and gives Harriet a kiss.  At first I was troubled by Flavia’s plan to resurrect her mother from the dead with a chemical injection of thiamine and ATP (adenosine triphosphate), but then I remembered when you’re eleven, you believe anything is possible, and, especially because, “It was a brilliant idea, and because it was scientific, it simply could not fail.”

 

Rating  4 daisy rating

 

Debby 2Reviewer: Debby

 

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book review, Children's Fiction, Fiction, murder, Mystery Review, youth fiction

Speaking From Among the Bones

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Speaking From Among the Bones
A Flavia De Luce Novel

 

Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, 2013

 

From the back of the book: “Eleven-year-old amateur detective and ardent chemist Flavia de Luce is used to digging up clues, whether they’re found among the potions in her laboratory or between the pages of her insufferable sister’s diaries. What she is not accustomed to is digging up bodies. Upon the five-hundredth anniversary of Saint Tancred’s death, the English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey is busily preparing to open its patron saint’s tomb. Nobody is more excited to peek inside the crypt than Flavia, yet what she finds will halt the proceedings dead in their tracks: the body of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist, his face grotesquely and inexplicably masked. Who held a vendetta against Mr. Collicutt, and why would they hide him in such a sacred resting place? The irrepressible Flavia decides to find out. And what she unearths will prove there’s no such thing as an open-and-shut case.”

 

You’ve probably guessed by now that I am a fan of Flavia de Luce. She is funny, brilliant, bold and a real smart-a**. But she is also vulnerable to her sister’s vicious and hurtful attacks – so much so that she alternates between wanting to poison them and wanting to love them. She never really goes through with any of her diabolical plans, but it’s fun to read her plans for them. Her true love are poisons and she thinks about them all the time. I have to share this quote with you, it’s so “Flavia”: “Whenever I’m a little blue I think about cyanide, whose color so perfectly reflects my mood. It is pleasant to think that the manioc plant, which grows in Brazil, contains enormous quantities of the stuff in its thirty pound roots, all of which, unfortunately, is washed away before the residue is used to make our daily tapioca.”

 

In this book, Flavia cycles her way through the English countryside, crawls through an open grave into a tunnel that goes under the graveyard to the church and, of course, is almost killed (she rescues herself!). Through it all she keeps herself motivated even when the police tell her to stay away, when her sisters bring her to tears and her father forbids her to leave the house. The murder itself happens before the book opens, there are a couple acts of mild violence and some shocking news at the very end of the book (no spoilers!). As always, this book is for middle-grade readers of all ages, especially those who like strong female characters and cozy mysteries.

 

Rating: 4-daisy-rating

 

Reviewer: DebbyDebby 2
book review, Children's Fiction, murder, Mystery Review, youth fiction

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

flavia 
The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
A Flavia de Luce Mystery
 
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House, 2010
 
From the inside front dust jacket: “Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders….finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads. … Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets. Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations of the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Bronte’ sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is … the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help.”
 
After reading the first book in this series (The Sweetness as the Bottom of the Pie) I wasn’t too sure I’d read the rest – there was a lot of chemistry in the book and I’m not big on chemistry. But I decided to give it a go and I’m glad I did. Set in 1950s rural England, this book is full of charm and wit – and a good mystery that had me guessing until the end. This is the 2nd book but could easily stand alone. There are a brief mentions of the incidents in the previous book but thankfully, this book doesn’t stand on those shoulders.  I love how Flavia talks to herself, offering encouragement along the way (“Bravo, old girl! You can do it!”). At home she has to contend with her older – and meaner – sisters, Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne), a mostly absent father, and the emotional-ghost of her long dead mother. 
 
There are two murders, one in the past, one happens within the current timeline, but the details are neither gory or gruesome. There is some talk of illicit affairs,  an unwed pregnancy, and the cultivation and partaking of “Indian hemp” (cannabis)  –  which I found very surprising but not offensive – at least to my sensibilities. This book is targeted toward middle grade readers but anyone can read it and enjoy trying to figure out the mystery.
 
If your middle-grader is looking for a good mystery with a brilliant female protagonist, this is the perfect book! Chemistry lessons included for free!!
Rating: 4 daisy rating
Debby 2 Reviewer: Debby
 
book review, Children's Fiction, mental illness, murder, youth fiction

The Gallery

gallery

Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016
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From the inside front cover: “Something is afoot in the Sewell Mansion. Twelve-year-old Martha, the new kitchen maid, is going to find out what it is. Millionaire Rose Sewell was once the talk of the town. But no one has heard from her in ages—she hasn’t left her room in years. Her newspaper-magnate husband has a staff to tend to his eccentric wife, so he can instead focus on tending to his riches. … Martha’s ma, the head of household staff, oversees everything, but is blind to the most obvious, devastating deception of all. And at the center of this house filled with secrets sits the gallery, which just might hold the key to revealing what everyone is hiding. Inspired by real-life events, and set in the Roaring Twenties, [the author] spins a tale of mystery and intrigue where no one is who they say, nothing is what it seems, and the answers are concealed in plain sight, if you only know how to look for them.”
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We really enjoyed this book.  After Martha was kicked out of the local Catholic school, her mom brings her to work with her (so she can appreciate schooling) and puts her to work in the kitchen scrubbing pots. During the long 12-15 hour days, she begins to actually miss school . But then, the mysterious Rose locked away in a  top room of the house – complete with a bodyguard outside to prevent her from escaping, Martha slowly begins to understand that the entire household staff works in concert with Mr. Sewell against the devastating truth about Rose.
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As the mystery and intrigue slowly build the reader is invited to figure out what the changing pictures in the art gallery mean. Is Rose trying to communicate with the outside world? Is she really crazy enough to be medicated all the time? Who are Mr. Sewell’s late night guests? And why is the footman so allusive?
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Martha has a strong foundation of right and wrong and she is determined to right the wrongs she sees being done. She does have to tell ‘white lies’ here and there to accomplish her task, but is always found out by her mother. The mother-daughter relationship is strong and loving; Martha looks after her younger twin brothers on their one day off so her mom can rest. Despite the frequently absent father, they have a strong and supportive family unit.
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Warning: There are depictions of drunkenness and wild frivolity at a party; Rose has to be physically restrained more than once; and Martha’s dad, “Daddo,” is an alcoholic actor in vaudeville. (One afternoon she finds out he is in town without telling his family; she searches for him and finds him totally plastered in a bar. Not for the first time, she has to walk him home.)
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This is a really good book for middle grades who enjoy mystery and puzzles. The author also includes a history of the long-gone era and the real life events that inspired her. I wouldn’t mind putting it on my “to-read-again” list!
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Rating: 4 daisy rating
Reviewer:Debby 2 Debby
book review, murder

The Baker Street Translation

baker street

The Baker Street Translation
 
A Thomas Dunne Book for Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 2013
Reggie Heath is a barrister in London, circa 1998, leasing the offices at 221-B Baker St for his law practice. Does the address seem familiar? It will if you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes! As part of the lease agreement, Reggie must receive and answer all the mail that comes in addressed to Sherlock Holmes. (The standard response is supposed to be that Sherlock is now retired and no longer actively pursuing investigations preferring beekeeping to crime solving.) One day an old Chinese gentleman shows up at his office looking for Holmes and unwittingly involves Reggie, his girlfriend Laura, and her former boyfriend, Buxton, in a murderous plot by anarchists, kidnappers, and toymakers!!
When I picked up the book I didn’t realize it was the 3rd of a series and the characters were already established in their literary lives. As I continued to read – thrown off a little by the seemingly insignificant first couple of chapters of seemingly random events – I realized this book was not the first and felt a little short changed. The novel can stand on its own, but only just. To get to know the characters better I would have to go back and read the other books and that’s the trouble with some serials. I find nothing wrong with reading serial novels, but I do prefer if the books are able to stand on their own without their predecessors. Anyway, the mystery is good and had me guessing mostly to the end. Will I go back and read the previous 2 books? Probably not as there are over 200 other books on my to-read list and I didn’t connect with the characters. Especially Reggie – he was particularly annoying because he was too young to be such a curmudgeon. It was a good thing I read the whole thing in about 4 hours because if I had put it down I would have been hard-pressed to pick it back up!
Rating: 2 daises 2 out of 5 daisies
Reviewer: Debby 2  Debby