The Bone Witch: A Great Expectations Review…

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GREAT (1)

Given that I adored Rin Chupeco’s first two novels, it was only natural that I would have massive expectations regarding her third.  We received The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco from the publisher via Netgalley for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Tea accidentally resurrects her brother from the dead, she learns she is different from the other witches in her family. Her gift for necromancy means that she’s a bone witch, a title that makes her feared and ostracized by her community. But Tea finds solace and guidance with an older, wiser bone witch, who takes Tea and her brother to another land for training.

In her new home, Tea puts all her energy into becoming an asha — one who can wield elemental magic. But dark forces are approaching quickly, and in the face of danger, Tea will have to overcome her obstacles…and make a powerful choice.

Memoirs of a Geisha meets The Name of the Wind in this brilliant new fantasy series by Rin Chupeco!

bone witch.jpg

What I Expected:

*an enchanting blend of magic and creepiness with a complex plot and plenty of action, as in the previous two novels from this author

*a memorable story in which the imagery created by the author sears itself into your brain as you read and leaves a lasting impression

What I Got:

*seemingly endless descriptions of the setting and the “rules” of the world in which the book is set

*a completely different narrative tone from the other books I had read by this author

*an extremely slow-placed story that resulted in my DNFing at 15%

The Bone Witch is such a massive shift in content and voice from Chupeco’s first two horror/supernatural novels that I felt all at sea from the very first chapter.  The story opens with an unnamed narrator searching for the girl who turns out to be the protagonist of the story, as the narrator tries to convince this girl to tell him the story of how she became a Bone Witch….or something like that.  I’m not 100% sure because I didn’t finish the whole book, but essentially, the bulk of the book is the story that is being told by the girl to the narrator of the first chapter…if that makes sense.

The story that is being told features Tea as the protagonist, a young girl who accidentally manages to raise her brother from the dead and in doing so, marks herself out as a Bone Witch.  Bone Witches are reviled by most good folk for….reasons that aren’t exactly clear…but Tea attaches herself to an experienced Bone Witch as an apprentice and together, the two, plus Tea’s undead brother set off to do…Bone Witchy things.

You may think that I don’t really know what’s going on because I gave up on the book so early – and you would probably be right – but there is so much description and “telling” about the setting going on that I found it really hard to keep the important bits of information – such as who the main characters are and what they’re meant to be doing – in my head while reading. Unfortunately, the interminable description of everything from architecture of certain towns to the particulars of Tea’s brothers ex-regiment in the army, is not balanced out by explanations of important aspects of the world, such as what heartglasses are and what purpose they serve.  This might come along later in the book, but heartglasses were mentioned so often in the first 15% of the book that I really needed a fuller explanation of what these were in order to get a grasp on the story.

The last few bits I read before putting the book down did seem to be picking up a bit and I began to enjoy the undead brother character’s interventions, but not to the extent that I felt like I could wade through more dry descriptions of the setting.

If you are a fan of Rin Chupeco’s work, you should probably know going into this that it is a departure from the style that readers will be familiar with from her earlier works.  This may not be a problem for you and I hope you enjoy this book much better than I did…for me though, this was a miss.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

The Song of Seven: A Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are a fan of classic children’s literature of the style of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and even Enid Blyton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then I will be pleased to introduce you to another author who definitely belongs within the ranks of these writers, but of whom you have probably never heard.  Today’s book is The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, which was first published in 1967 under the title De Zevensprong, in the original Dutch.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – a copy which Laura Watkinson has ably translated for its release in English and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him – involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can’t think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he’s expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter…

And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs. Although the treasure rightfully belongs to Geert-Jan, his uncle is determined to seize it for himself. As Mr Van der Steg, with the help of his pupils, sets out to rescue the boy, he becomes more and more entangled with the strange history of the Seven Ways, the House of Stairs and the powerful Conspiracy of Seven.

 

the-song-of-seven

The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016.  RRP: $29.99

 

Read it if:

*you are a fan of classic old children’s literature in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s early Narnia tales

*you can’t go past a story that involves a tricky riddle, a grand old house and getting out of school work to listen to stories

*you are the type of person who, when a complete stranger turns up to your house in a mysterious coach in the night and tells you to hop in, would probably put down your hot chocolate, kick off your bunny slippers and climb aboard

*you’ve ever been invited to an illicit party that really brought the house down

After having put Dragt’s The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood on my TBR list when they first came out, but never having got to reading them, I was excited to see The Song of Seven released, not least because it’s a standalone novel.  It took me a couple of chapters of delightfully vintage-feeling prose before I looked at the publishing information to find that rather than just being vintage-feeling, the text actually was vintage!  I must applaud Laura Watkinson, the translator, for recreating that nostalgic tone of great children’s literature of times gone by in this contemporary English release, because the story just oozes retro charm.

The most interesting thing about this book for young readers is that the protagonist, Frans van der Steg (or Frans the Red, as he calls himself when telling stories to his class) is an adult, and more than that, a schoolteacher!  It’s so rare to find contemporary children’s stories that aren’t told from a child’s perspective these days that it certainly made the book immediately stand out for me as something different, and perhaps even timeless, as no doubt to a child, an adult is an adult is an adult, no matter what historical period you find them in.  In fact, apart from the supporting cast of Frans’ class and Geert-Jan, the boy confined in the House of Stairs, all of the main characters are adults.  This collection of unlikely  companions makes up a group of conspirators, who are invested in dealing with the prophecy connected with the House of Stairs, and Geert-Jan himself.

While the vintage tone of the book was definitely refreshing and cosy to fall in to, I did find that there were a lot of chapters in which not a lot happened.  The author seems to delight in leaving Frans the Red in the lurch, and just when it seems he is about to make a breakthrough regarding the conspiracy, his fellow conspirators decide not to tell him, or something happens to ensure that the next key piece of information is left dangling, like a carrot on a stick, for Frans and the reader to chase.

Once Frans makes it into the House of Stairs as Geert-Jan’s tutor, however, the pace begins to pick up and we are treated to yet more oddball adult characters, as well as a setting that must be seen to be believed.  The climax of the tale comes together quite quickly and it is an exciting and unexpected ending that balances out the slower pace of the first half of the story.  Throughout the book there is a definite sense of magical realism lurking behind the ordinary happenings, the fact that one of the characters is a magician notwithstanding.  Even though I wouldn’t class this as a typical fantasy book, there is an undeniable undercurrent of the uncommon and extraordinary between the lines of each page.

If you have a confident, independent reader in your dwelling who isn’t afraid to solve a riddle, and wishes that their classroom teacher would spend a good portion of each day telling stories, then you should definitely nudge The Song of Seven in their general direction.  If you are an adult fan of books for young readers and you love a book where the magic is in the nuance of the story, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Shouty Doris Interjects during… The Women in the Walls!

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Shouty Doris interjects

It’s been a while, but today Shouty Doris is back to interject during my review of The Women in the Walls by Amy Lukavics, a YA thriller that we received for review from Simon & Schuster Australia.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Lucy Acosta’s mother died when she was three. Growing up in a Victorian mansion in the middle of the woods with her cold, distant father, she explored the dark hallways of the estate with her cousin, Margaret. They’re inseparable—a family.  

When her aunt Penelope, the only mother she’s ever known, tragically disappears while walking in the woods surrounding their estate, Lucy finds herself devastated and alone. Margaret has been spending a lot of time in the attic. She claims she can hear her dead mother’s voice whispering from the walls. Emotionally shut out by her father, Lucy watches helplessly as her cousin’s sanity slowly unravels. But when she begins hearing voices herself, Lucy finds herself confronting an ancient and deadly legacy that has marked the women in her family for generations.

women-in-the-walls

Before we get into it I have to ask: Doris, where have you been for so long?

Shouty Doris interjects

Washing my hair.

For seven months?

Shouty Doris interjects

Yes.

But surely you couldn’t ha —

Shouty Doris interjects

Just get on with it Bruce.

Haven’t lost your charming personality, I see, Doris.  Right.  Let’s crack on.  Just a warning – there will be some spoilers in this review.    

I had high hopes for The Women in the Walls when I requested it for review.  The blurb sounded spooky and mysterious, the cover was creepy, with a hint of old-time menace.  I honestly thought that this would be a five-star read and something I would thoroughly relish.  But….

Shouty Doris interjects

It wasn’t.

Well, quite.  From the very first chapter I started to have misgivings about how creepy this book would turn out to be, mostly because from the very start it seemed that the author was having trouble getting a handle on her protagonist’s voice.  I was finding it hard to pick up from the dialogue, thoughts and actions of Lucy, the main character, just what kind of a person she was – what made her tick, what her strengths might be…in short, who she was going to be as a character.  But, I decided to press on regardless because I didn’t want to give up on the prospect of creepy voices in the walls.

Shouty Doris interjects

Well, that was a mistake.  

How so?

Shouty Doris interjects

The voice problem never gets any better.  It’s like the author decided to pick obvious, wooden dialogue for all the characters and just throw it at the page in the hope that it would create a spooky atmosphere.  Quite frankly, I would have been happy if the walls had collapsed on the lot of them by the end of chapter five.  Spoilt, selfish brats, all.  Even the adults.

You’ve got a point there, Doris.  None of the main characters – Lucy, her cousin Margaret, and Lucy’s father – were particularly likable and none were developed in any deep way.  We get told (through Lucy’s thought processes) about the various tragedies that have befallen each of them, but their behaviour toward each other is so cold and unlikely that I couldn’t muster up the motivation to care about what happened to any of them.  Yet still I pushed on, hoping for the atmosphere to take a turn for the creepy.

Shouty Doris interjects

Strike two!  The author doesn’t know anything about creepy.  There’s no suspense, no atmosphere, no tension; just a bunch of whinging young girls bickering and some supposedly spooky happenings plucked out of thin air and slapped down in front of us with no build up.  I think the author was going for shock value rather than bothering to craft a story that felt suspenseful.  It’s like bringing a bag of salt and vinegar chips to a party – people will be disgusted on first seeing them, but it won’t leave a lasting impression (luckily for you.  Who brings salt and vinegar chips to a party?)

I’d have to agree, Doris.  I was hoping for this to be a real psychological thriller, with voices in the walls causing madness and mayhem to ensue.  It does ensue, admittedly, but the execution is so ham-fisted and unsubtle that any sense of tension is completely lost.  There are a couple of violent and outwardly gruesome scenes – Margaret’s death being one of them – that the author describes in detail and then keeps bringing up, as if to try and raise the scare factor, but the narration and plot arc are so clumsy and signposted that these scenes feel like they’ve been included simply to add a bit of gore to the book.

There were also parts of the narration that made absolutely no sense.  My particular favourite of these is Lucy noting, after Margaret’s brutal and frankly dubious (according to the laws of physics) method of suicide – she throws herself out of a window, landing on a spiked fence, causing her to be impaled through both body and head, in case you’re wondering – that she had no idea why Margaret did what she did.

Shouty Doris interjects

HA!! Yes, that had me chuckling a bit too.  No idea why she did what she did? Really, girly? So the inappropriate giggling in the middle of the night, the claim about hearing voices of dead relatives, the scribbling out her mother’s face in every photograph in the house, the waking to find her standing over you with scissors, the dissection of a rat, the previous gruesome suicide of another member of the household ….none of this gave you a hint that Margaret was unhinged and might do something even more unexpected? Like launch herself out of an unfastened window onto a fence worthy of Vlad the Impaler’s summer home?

Exactly.  That, and the intermittent introspection about “Did I ever really know *Margaret/Penelope/My Father/insert name of character here* at all?” felt stilted and pedestrian and did nothing to add any depth or realism to Lucy as a character.

I think the author had some good ideas for a truly creepy story here, but the execution is amateurish.  There are supposedly interweaving plotlines involving magic, the disappearance of Margaret’s mother and the involvement of a country club, but the author couldn’t seem to bring these together in a coherent, suspenseful story.  Every time I felt any kind of suspense building, the author would cut to a scene that allowed the suspense to deflate.  The parties with the country club were a big culprit here.  I mean, her aunt has disappeared, her cousin has killed herself and Lucy is quite content to hang out with her father’s country club buddies?

Shouty Doris interjects

I don’t know why you bothered to finish it.

Weeeellll.  I didn’t.  I pushed on for 227 pages and then I just couldn’t face wading through any more stilted, disconnected events narrated by a bitchy, self-centred teen.  It’s sort of my two-fingered salute to the book for not being what I expected.

Shouty Doris interjects

I’m sure the author is cut to the bone that you read seven eighths of the book and then put it down in protest.

Yeah, yeah.  I just honestly kept hoping it would get better.

Shouty Doris interjects

Let that be a lesson to you, boyo.  Now, I have to go and wash my hair.

But didn’t you just wa —

Shouty Doris interjects

Get on with it.

Right.

In case you haven’t picked up on my mood yet, I was disappointed with this one, but at least I know I gave it every chance.  Have you read The Women in the Walls?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge: Quidditch Through the Ages…

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

I’m inching closer to completing the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas, with only Q and A left to assign.  Happily, I realised that I hadn’t actually ever read JK Rowling’s faux-text Quidditch Through the Ages, so I grabbed it from the Kindle store and whipped through it to draw a line through the Q part of the challenge.  While reading, however, I got a message from the library that The Mysterious Mr Quin by Agatha Christie was waiting to be picked up, and I remembered that I had actually put that on hold to be my Q title.  Oops.  Anyway, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Did you know that: there are 700 ways of committing a foul in Quidditch? The game first began to evolve on Queerditch Marsh – What Bumphing is? That Puddlemere United is oldest team in the Britain and Ireland league (founded 1163). All this information and much more could be yours once you have read this book: this is all you could ever need to know about the history, the rules – and the breaking of the rules – of the noble wizarding sport of Quidditch.

quidditch

If you are a die-hard fan of the Potterverse, then it would be remiss of you not to read this book.  It’s certainly one that you can fit in to a lunch break or two, coming in at well under 100 pages.  The book was originally penned to raise money for Comic Relief, so it isn’t any deep exploration of the game of Quidditch, but rather a mostly-humorous look over the game itself and how it came to be, as well as dropping a bit more information about the Quidditch league for those Potter fans who like to go the extra mile, trivia-wise.

The most enjoyable part of the book for me was reading about all the different international Quidditch teams and how they came to be.  I was surprised to learn that the Americans have their own spin-off of Quidditch called Quod, which is at least as exciting and deadly as Quidditch itself.

I wouldn’t go out of your way to read this if you haven’t already, but if you’ve got a spare half-hour with nothing to fill it, this would be a suitable way to pass the time.  It may also have kindled my interest a bit more regarding finding out about the new Fantastic Beasts movie/screenplay and deciding whether or not I will bother with it.

Q – I dub thee, completed!  If you ‘d like to see how my Alphabet Soup Challenge is progressing, you can check it out here.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Hanging Tree: Peter Grant #6

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hanging-tree

If you are a fan of urban fantasy and police procedurals and haven’t yet become involved with Ben Aaronovitch’s DC Peter Grant series, you are doing yourself a grave disservice.  Today I have the sixth book in the series for you courtesy of Hachette Australia (although I have just found out that a graphic novella set in between books four and five has been released….and NOBODY told me! **NB: I’ve also just noticed that there is another short story set in between books one and two that was published in 2012 that I didn’t know about**) but if you think this series is something that might interest you, you really need to start at the beginning.  For everyone else, here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The Hanging Tree was the Tyburn gallows which stood where Marble Arch stands today. Oxford Street was the last trip of the condemned. Some things don’t change. The place has a bloody and haunted legacy and now blood has returned to the empty Mayfair mansions of the world’s super-rich. And blood mixed with magic is a job for Peter Grant.

Peter Grant is back as are Nightingale et al. at the Folly and the various river gods, ghosts and spirits who attach themselves to England’s last wizard and the Met’s reluctant investigator of all things supernatural.

It is no secret that I am a great fan of the first three books in this series, found the fourth quite lacking save for the epic and unexpected twist literally in the last few pages, and was bored rigid and greatly disappointed by the fifth.  Happily, The Hanging Tree is a return to form for this series with a multi-layered mystery and a cast of mostly familiar characters, with the Thames family featuring chiefly amongst them.  So, after returning to London, Peter becomes involved in a case featuring a number of young people and an unexplained death in one of London’s most prestigious apartment blocks. While on the surface, the case looks like it doesn’t require much Falcon involvement, once the surface is scratched it becomes clear that this case could be intricately linked with the identity of the Faceless Man.

Cue an inadvertent admission to manslaughter by the daughter of a river Goddess and some shifty looking Americans poking their noses in to Falcon’s investigation and things start to get tangled up pretty quickly.  One thing I did find tricky about this book was that given that the previous book took place outside of London, and that I hadn’t read a London-based DC Grant story since 2013, I found it a little tricky remembering who was who from previous books.  There are a number of wizards and demi-monde folk who reappear in this novel and a little ledger in the front with the names of all the Little Crocodiles and various hangers-on and where they fit in to the story would be incredibly handy for feeble-memoried readers like myself.

I very much liked the developing professional partnership between Peter and Guleed here, and was happy to see Stephanopolous making a contribution, as this was where much of the humorous banter came from in this particular story.  Lesley May makes a much more significant appearance in this one too, which I am pleased to see remedied as her lack of involvement in Foxglove Summer was one of my main complaints about that book.  The relationship between Peter and Beverley Brook also takes a backseat  in this story, which was quite a relief after being bombarded with it in book five.  There are a pair of new practitioning ladies introduced in this book, with some new, never-before-seen (by Peter, at least) powers that shake things up a bit and provide some interesting implications for how these may impact on the Folly in the future.  Peter has mastered a couple of new (and quite amusing) forma since the last book, as well as having developed some helpful new magic-proofed gadgets and these added a bit of variety to the spells we have come to know and love.

The big plot point in this novel is the fact that Peter and Nightingale catch up with and uncover the identity of the Faceless Man – but I’m not telling you any more than that.  The ending leaves things up in the air once again, with all sorts of options left open for what might happen next.  All in all, I was pleased with this offering and although I will soon need a wall-sized reference chart to plot who is who and who is related to who and by what means to refer to while reading, I think I’m well and truly invested in this series for better or worse.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Unforgettable What’s His Name: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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It’s been a number of years since I’ve read a book by Paul Jennings, so the Book Club was more than delighted to receive a copy of The Unforgettable What’s His Name, by Mr Jennings, and illustrated by Craig Smith, from Allen & Unwin for review.  Before I unleash the Club on this quirky and heartwarming tale, here’s the blurb from A&U:

Now you see him, now you don’t – an action-packed adventure about a boy who just wants to blend in, from a bestselling author/illustrator team.

Even before all this happened I had never been like the other kids. I tried not to be seen. If I climbed a tree or hid among the bins, no one could find me. ‘Where’s What’s His Name?’ they’d say.

Then, one weekend, I got what I wanted. First, I blended in with things. But on the second day I changed.

I mean, really changed.

The hilarious story of a boy with an unusual problem, from children’s book legend Paul Jennings. Includes fantastic look-and-find colour illustrations.

 

The Unforgettable What's His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016.  RRP: $14.99

The Unforgettable What’s His Name by Paul Jennings & Craig Smith. Published by Allen & Unwin, 26th October, 2016. RRP: $14.99

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

When the eyes of the world are watching, will you step into the limelight or shrink into the shadows?  This is the dilemma faced by young What’s His Name.  To stand up and be counted, or overlooked, like a single monkey amidst a herd of leaping banana-chewers: only you can make the decision to be seen as you truly are.  We would all do well to take a lesson from young What’s His Name.  Blending in with your surroundings may solve your problem in the short term, but eventually, one must show one’s true colours, or risk remaining forever like a statue over a pond, while the moss slowly grows over one’s head.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

There are no dragons in this book.  There are a bunch of crazy monkeys that run all over town though, and a dog with no ears and a motorcycle gang, and even a boy who can transform into lots of cool things.  It sounds like a cool superpower but most of the time it isn’t very convenient for What’s His Name.  One time, one of the monkeys even tries to pee on him! They call that monkey the Big Pee!

I really liked Sandy the dog too.  This book has a lot of funny things in it and I think kids who like wacky adventures and unexpected things will like this book.  It would be fun to have a teacher read this book out in class because I think all the kids would be laughing.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

This poem is inspired by Simon and Garfunkle’s folk hit Feelin’ Groovy.

Hello lampost, whatcha knowing?

It appears you have two ears growing.

And is that a hair or three?

Do, do, do, do, do

You’re transforming!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

 

Paul Jennings, it must be said, is a master of magical realism, with a narrative style all his own.  Whether it has been two weeks or twenty years since you last read one of his books, I can guarantee that you’ll fall straight back into his familiar way of storytelling.  The Unforgettable What’s His Name is a book about a boy who wants to fade from sight.  Painfully shy, the boy gets the jitters whenever he thinks people are watching him and this leads to some unique and giggle-worthy problems.  All the expected Jennings features are included here: unexpected and hilarious situations involving our protagonist, things going wrong at exactly the wrong moment, characters who aren’t necessarily what they appear to be on the outside, and at least one reference to pooh.

The book didn’t seem to me as laugh-out-loud funny as some of Jennings classic works, but there are certainly a range of events that will have readers cringing with embarrassment and wriggling with glee as all sorts of silly situations unfold, requiring skin-of-your-teeth escapes and some truly innovative solutions to problems.  The book is illustrated throughout with both black and white line drawings and double-page spread, full colour illustrations, which add to the magical aspects of the book.

Putting aside the craziness of being able to turn into a human chameleon when anxious for a moment, this book is at its heart a story about facing one’s fears and carving out a place to belong.  As in most of Jennings’ work, the bottom line notes that you don’t have to be the same as everyone else in order to fit in somewhere.

I’d definitely recommend this as an insta-buy for classroom libraries or as a treat for fans (new and old) of the quirky, unexpected mind of Paul Jennings.

Until next time,

Bruce and the gang

 

Magical Middle Grade in a Mouldering Setting: Wormwood Mire…

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wormwood-mire

Subtle magic, family mysteries and mouldering old houses are the cornerstones of Wormwood Mire, the second Stella Montgomery intrigue by Aussie author Judith Rossell. If you are into historical fiction for young readers that embraces a bit of the ol’ unexplained, then you should probably jump on board with this series if you haven’t already.  The good news is that you don’t have to have read the series opener, Withering-by-Sea, to enjoy this second offering – I myself had forgotten much about the plot of the first book, except for the major points, and found that the small references to the happenings in the first book really provide all a new reader would need to know.  Enough blathering though.  We received a copy of Wormwood Mire from HarperCollins Australia for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

When Stella Montgomery returned to the Hotel Majestic cold and wet but exhilarated by adventure, the Aunts were furious.

Now they are sending Stella away to the old family home at Wormwood Mire, where she must live with two strange cousins and their governess.

But within the overgrown grounds of the mouldering house, dark secrets slither and skulk, and soon Stella must be brave once more if she’s to find out who – or what – she really is …

From bestselling writer-illustrator Judith Rossell comes the thrilling and magical sequel to her multi-award-winning novel, WITHERING-BY-SEA.

Let me start by reiterating that I really don’t think that one has to have read the first book in the series in order to fully appreciate this one.  I found Wormwood Mire to be a much more intriguing and multi-layered story than Withering-by-Sea, and overall would have to say that I enjoyed the reading experience much more.  Stella, whose is alone in the world but for a collection of cranky aunts, is sent away to live with her as-yet-unmet cousins, Strideforth and Hortense, at the crumbling estate of a long-dead relation, after the shenanigans of the first book.  Stella, having never met her cousins and never attended proper lessons at all, is understandably nervous about the move, but hopes that spending time at the estate will allow her to discover more about some of the mysteries surrounding her family and her strange new-found abilities.

Happily, while Stella’s cousins possess a few interesting personality traits, the trio gets along famously and we become privy to the real mystery of the book – the bizarre collection of plants and creatures kept on the estate by their ancestor, Wilberforce Montgomery.  This is not the only mystery that Stella hopes to shed light on though; she is also much interested in finding out more about her mother and two children in a photograph, who Stella suspects are herself and a long-lost sibling.  Add to this set of puzzles a rather unorthodox (and quite shady) dentist and travelling showman, a ghostly figure flitting about the place and townsfolk whispering about history repeating and you have all the pieces in play for a particularly intense game of discovery and derring-do.  As with the previous book, the pace and overall tone is quite sedate, but the multiple, interconnected mysteries add plenty of depth to the story and I was drawn further in to the search for answers with every passing chapter.

The house itself was a wonderful addition to the story and almost a character in itself, with secret passages and exotic artifacts squirreled away by Wilberforce Montgomery.  Hortense’s collection of truly outlandish animal friends also adds colour (and chaos!) to the story, with a disagreeable and downright naughty mollyhawk who squawks in fluent latin and an extremely bitey ermine just two of her unusual menagerie.  Another highlight of the story is the multiple references to Stella’s book of cautionary tales, received, of course, from the nefarious aunts, A Garden of Lillies, in which children who stray from following the instructions of their elders meet various unpleasant ends, recounted in rhyming couplets. I’m fairly sure that thwormwood-mire-interiorese little interludes are a nod to Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies and provide just the right amount of comic relief.

Once again this tome contains some gorgeous ink wash illustrations, some as whole page images and others fitting around the text throughout.  The style of illustrations, as well as their greenish tones, add to the sense of place and the historical setting in which the story unfolds, and as I always say, any book – every book – is better with pictures.  The chunky hardback format and the included ribbon bookmark make the reading experience satisfyingly tactile too.

I am very interested to see what happens next in this series, as this book ends on an unexpected and revealing note.  Given that this story was so different to the last, I am sure that Rossell will have something equally diverting for Stella Montgomery’s next intrigue!

Until next time,

Bruce