The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
A Flavia de Luce Novel
Delacorte Press, 2014
From the back of the book: “On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-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, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luce’s crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.”
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.”
The Golden Yarn
A Mirror World Novel
Breathing Books, 2015
This is the third book in the Jacob Reckless, Mirror World Series. Reckless is basically a treasure hunter from our world who passes through a mirror into an alternate world where the humans coexist with otherworldly/magical creatures such Goyl (a race of people with stone skin), fairies, thumblings (teeny people), shape shifters and all sorts of other magical stuff. Through the series of three books the reader follows Jacob as he goes back and forth between worlds.
I read the first two books several years ago (Reckless
) and from what I can remember enjoyed them a lot. But this third book I have struggled through – if I had read the first two books again and then read The Golden Yarn
, my opinion on the book might be different, but that’s not what I did, so I can only review what I did read. This book cannot stand alone – it is intricately tied in with the second of the three books – the main characters of both Jacob and Fox (a shape shifting human woman who changes into a fox) have deep issues with the events of the 2nd
book and this book doesn’t explain what happened to them. Nor does it explain what happened to Will, Jacob’s brother, in that book, only that he has issues recovering from those events as well.
This is another one of those books that I really hoped it would be a wonderful fantasy, one to lose myself in and get swept up in the magic. But considering I put the book down for 5 days and didn’t even think about reading it – well, that tells me a lot doesn’t it? As I was reading it today (I’m 3/4s of the way through) – I asked myself “why am I reading this?” I was lost, having forgotten what had happened. Anyway, you don’t need to know all of that.
Suffice it to say, I didn’t finish it. I’m not saying it’s good or bad – just uninteresting. Which means its a no daisy rating.
Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, 1996, 1998
Thirteen-year-old Hand comes home from school and finds his father dead on the floor. He is alone in a rundown motel and then alone at the hospital where he waits. His mother left his father and his older sister, Vida, three years before and moved to Seattle. Vida is in college a couple of hours away. When Hand is eventually reunited with his mother, he is full of anger over her abandonment of him and resentment that his sister has seemingly welcomed their mother back into their lives. On top of all that, guilt weighs heavily on him – if only he had come straight home from school instead of staying for track practice his father would still be alive and his mother on the West Coast.
This book tackles what is hard for anyone, let alone a child, which is the death of a loved one. Over the course of a year the reader watches Hand grow from a closed-down soul of a boy into an understanding and compassionate young man. In the end he still has issues with his mother but he knows he can move beyond those problems and back into the life as a teenager.
The author writes Hand with compassion, sensitivity and an eye toward all the jumbled-up emotions death brings. This is one of those stories that the author could easily have stretched into hundreds of pages but has distilled it down bare bones and raw emotions. Among all of the books I have read by Gregory Maguire, this numbers among the best –its brevity of word and accessibility for all ages (although it is geared toward 9-12) offers hope even in the midst of grief.
Click on the author’s name to go to his website.
This review also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume of ‘Toby’.
Egg & Spoon
Candlewick Press, 2014
Do you remember reading Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper? Well this fantasy novel is a take on that theme – a poor Russian peasant girl trades places with a girl of privilege on her way to be introduced to the Tsar.
Elena Rudina lives in a dying town where her father lies in an unmarked grave, her mother lies dying of illness and starvation and her brothers taken, one by a rich landlord and the other by the Russian Army. She and the town are starving slowly because there is no food and no one to harvest it if it were growing. Into this impoverished life comes Ekaterina “Cat” de Robichaux, who knows nothing of the constant pang of hunger or of a life without possibility. Through a series of accidents they end up switching places – but not by choice. Elena goes on to meet the Tsar and Cat meets the Russian witch, Baba Yaga and her Dumb Doma, or her house perched on chicken legs. In St Petersburg the two girls are reunited and join Baba Yaga on a journey to find out why the magic has gone out of the world. Through this journey both girls learn life lessons about generosity of spirit, the dangers of neediness and selfishness, and the joy of giving.
I did enjoy this book way more than the previous Maguire book I read (After Alice). It was still kind of fantastical and crazy but toned down for the youth audience it was written for. The author shows his skills here – I could feel the haunting cold and hopelessness Elena felt and was angered along with her when Cat ate only half an apple and threw the rest away and bragged about leaving almost all her food on her plate. What cruel things to say to a starving person standing not 3 feet from you! It was harder to identify with Cat, or feel for her because she was so arrogant and snooty; but the mighty do fall and fall she did. But, as it is a youth book, the fall was only so far!
By combining the rich man/poor man switcharoo scheme with the Baba Yaga folklore, Maguire has written a book that is fun to read and like life, just a little crazy!
This review also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume, ‘BobbieSue’.