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

 

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

The Gallery

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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

The Black Stallion

TheBlackStallion
The Black Stallion

Walter Farley

Random House, 1941

Way back when I was a kid I loved horses (I actually had one for a year or so!) and I loved reading the books by Walter Farley. The one I am reviewing today is The Black Stallion. The story is about Alec Ramsay, a 14 year-old boy, who is on his way home from a summer vacation in India with his uncle. He is sailing on the tramp steamer, Drake through the Gulf of Aden, the Mediterranean, around the coast of Portugal, then to England before catching another ship to New York City. Along the way, the Drake stops at an ‘Arabian’ port and picks up a majestic stallion, purest black and incredibly wild. Alec becomes enamored by the Black, as he calls him.  Alec begins visiting the horse every day with sugar and the two begin a friendship of sorts. One evening the ship sails into a terrible storm and begins to sink; Alec thinks to release the Black from his confining stall to at least give him a fighting chance of survival. As it happens, the only two survivors from the ship were Alec and the Black. They are quite literally shipwrecked on a desert island and need each other to survive. Alec is eventually rescued and brings the stallion with him back to New York.

 

I enjoyed this book as much as I did way back when – it moves along at a fast pace, there is excitement, some tension and a little worry that everything will work out. There are no real villains and no epic fight of good versus evil; instead, it is a good, wholesome story for kids who love horses. There is a horse fight – the Black and another stallion duke it out on the docks; and the Black does take down a man with a hoof; but other than that there’s no real violence. There is, however, imagining you’re riding like the wind on the back of a magnificent creature – no – flying through the wind! It’s really exhilarating! There is also loyalty, friendship and commitment –  positive lessons for children and adults of all ages to learn and/or be reminded of!

Rating:4 daisy rating

Reviewer:

Debby 2 Debby

 

 

Oasis

oasis

Oasis

Gregory Maguire
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.

Rating: 4 daisy rating

Reviewer: Debby Debby 2

Click on the author’s name to go to his website.

loc banner 2This review also published on Library of Cats under the non de plume of ‘Toby’.