Schiltz, Laura Amy. A Drowned Maiden's Hair (2006)
Picked this book up at Half Price Books because... well, it was $2. Wasn't sure about the cover, which is a bit dark, or the whole 1909 setting, or the orphaned main character. If you're going to read about an orphan at this time period, read Anne of Green Gables, right?
Not quite. I got about two chapters in when Picky Reader demanded something to read. Since the book was fast-paced, involved problems, and has a Snicketesque vibe to it, I gave her the book, which she proceeded to polish off all 389 pages in less than 24 hours. Declaring it the best thing she had read in the longest time, she requested that she keep the copy. Also helping-- there was a character named Eleanor whose nickname was Nell!
So. Maud Flynn is an orphan at the Barbary Asylum when Hyacinth Hawthorne and her sister Judith come looking for a little girl to adopt. Captivated by her singing and spirit, the two override the opinion of the headmistress and take Maud home. They give her books and clothing and a nice room... on the condition that she be able to keep their secrets. These are deliciously vague for a while (Are they white slavers? Do they kill their boarders?) until we find that Maud acts as a medium and defrauds bereaved relatives of huge sums of money in return for "speaking" to their deceased relatives. When one mother offers $5,000 to be reunited with her young daughter who drowned, Maud is brought into the plot. The group moves to the seaside, and Maud gets a small taste of life outside the home, and begins to realize that Hyacinth doesn't care as much about her as she had believed. There is a great relationship with the deaf and mute housekeeper, Anna; a horrible tragedy; and a story book ending for all concerned.
Definitely, fans of Victorian Gothic stories like Wallace's Peppermints in the Parlor, will adore this one. Picky Reader had heard a little about the Spiritulist movement in the early twentieth century, but had not read much about it, and Schlitz gives it a very thorough and delighful treatment in this book. I don't know how I missed this one, but I will definitely get one for my library.
Also reading this week: the new Brian Jacques title, The Sable Quean. Evil animals capture young Redwall denizens. Lots of food is consumed. Lots of hedgehogs talk in Liverpudlian accents. *Sigh* Not my favorite, but there will be die hard fans wanting this book when school starts in August.
Which may be interesting since there is no carpet, shelving, furniture or even light switches in my library right now! Shouldn't it at least be painted?