Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray and Legends of the Lost Causes

Latimer, E. The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray
February 13th 2018 by Tundra Books (NY)
Copy provided by the publisher

Bryony Gray's mother is dead, and her father is probably as well, so she has been kept in the attic by her aunt and uncle, and forced to use her considerable artistic talent to paint portraits of the well-to-do to earn money. When the last three people who sit for her go missing, a huge scandal surrounds her work, but it also makes her more desirable as an artist. When other creepy things start happening with her paintings, Bryony is bound and determined to investigate information she has about her father. This takes her in search of a book binder, and puts her in contact with a brother and sister, Thompson and Mira, who want to help her. There is a connection to Oscar Wilde's new book, The Portrait of Dorian Gray, and the children must investigate this, as well as a grimoire, before even more terrible things happen.
Strengths: This definitely had a very creepy Victorian London air to it, reminiscent of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, A Drowned Maiden's Hair, or Lemony Snicket. I can also see fans of V.C. Andrews Flowers in the Attic buying into the aunt and uncle's treatment of Bryony. The art angle will also attract some readers who like mysteries like those of Blue Balliet's.
Weaknesses: The time period is not explicitly stated, but the historical details were wanting. Some didn't seem quite right, and the dialogue, characters and settings seemed more modern to me.
What I really think: Middle grade readers will enjoy the creepy portions of this without thinking about the historical information too much, but I would have enjoyed it more if the deliciously creepy details of Victorian London were captured more accurately.
34567449McLelland, Brad and Sylvester, Louis. Legends of the Lost Causes
February 20th 2018 by Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Keech and Sam live in an orphanage in the Old West (1850s), tended by Pa Abner and Granny Nell. When they meet a man named Whiskey on the trail who is looking for some men, including Pa, the boys try to throw him off. They hurry home and warn Pa, and he sends them to town to send a cryptic telegram that seems to reference Biblical passages. The telegraph office is attacked, so the boys eventually go home. Sadly, Whiskey soon shows up and has some men with him, and they destroy Keech's house and family. Sheriff Turner isn't far behind, and does offer to help, but his idea of help is not Keech's. Eventually, Keech runs into a group of children whose parents have also been killed by Whiskey (or El Ojo). There is serious magic involved, and Keech learns that Pa Abner was really an Enforcer, and Keech and his new friends must keep Whiskey and his zombie-like thralls from finding the Char Stone. Their adventure takes them through a haunted woods, labyrinthine cave, and into a mass graveyard for people who died of the Withers, for their final showdown with the evil Whiskey. Even if they are able to defend themselves in this show down, will the Lost Causes be able to defeat the forces of evil?

For some reason, my Nook wouldn't allow me to go back to my bookmarks, so I apologize for being vague about names and details.

Strengths: The world building is quite good, and the action starts immediately, which is essential in a middle grade book. We see enough of Keech and the Lost Causes orphanage to be sad when Whiskey destroys them, and to understand Keech's wish for revenege. The zombie-like thralls add an extra layer of adventure to a book already packed with horse ridin', fightin', and general derrin' do. The Old West setting is perfect; well described, but not overshadowing the adventure. Somewhat reminiscent of Gemeinhart's Some Kind of Courage. It is a bit surprising that there aren't more middle grade novels set in the Old West featuring children whose entire families were killed and who are seeking revenge. This will be an easy sell!
Weaknesses: This is a strong start of a series, but I rather wish it were a stand alone title. While there aren't many details, the Osage tribe is mentioned in conjunction with some of the magic, and Keech's father is described as part Osage. I can't opine on how accurate these details might be.
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, if only so I can pitch it to my students with the description "It's like Little House on the Prairie meets The Walking Dead!"
Ms. Yingling

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