Thursday, September 25, 2014

British Mysteries

14059024 Stroud, Jonathan. The Whispering Skull (Lockwood and Co. #2)
September 16th 2014 by Disney Hyperion
E ARC from

Lucy, George and Lockwood are back, still fighting off Visitors and squabbling with the annoying rival Fittes organization. After a rather disastrous attempt to contain a spirit in an authorized grave, they are under scrutiny from DEPRAC (Department of Psychical Research and Control)—even though DEPRAC doesn’t quite trust Lockwood and Co., they are offered the job of researching the situation and dealing with it. And quite a situation it is. George has seen something in the coffin that lead to it being shrouded in silver, but someone has broken in to it and stolen an artifact out of it. Both thieves are discovered, but both end up dead. The team finds out that the body in the lead coffin was that of Edmund Bickerstaff, who was apparently killed and then eaten by rats, and the artifact was a boneglass with tremendous magical powers. Not only that, but the Level Three visitor whose skull and ectoplasm are in a jar in the Lockwood office starts talking to Lucy and is intimately involved in the Bickerstaff problem. Lockwood decides to investigate Bickerstaff’s long abandoned house, and the group takes the skull with them. It seems to lead them in to trouble, but also help them out of really tight spots. Not to give too much away, but ghosts are never what they seem to be, situations are always more dangerous, and Lockwood and Co. always ready to do their best, especially if they can best Fittes on top of it.
Strengths: Lockwood and Co. need someone to organize their business, and I could totally be an office manager for them. I understand that it would be moving to London, but I could clean and organize, make appointments, keep the place stocked with tea and cake and generally make life easier so that the trio can spend more of their time hunting ghosts.

Oh, strengths of the STORY. Fine. Awesome gory ghost story with fighting, flying ectoplasm, great evil characters and convincing world building. Lucy, George and Lockwood are all endearing in their own way, and a tad mysterious as well. This is a great read for a rainy day, curled up with a cup of tea. Stroud has quite the way with describing characters, too. My favorite was “It looked like a baby yak had fallen on him from on high”
Weaknesses: This is quite lengthy; it almost could have been made into two books. Anything over 400 pages is a bit of a hard sell for middle school students. Hard core fantasy fans will be okay with this, but those wanting gruesome ghost stories tend to want shorter books.

18885674Berry, Julie. The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place
September 23rd 2014 by Roaring Brook Press 
E ARC from

St. Ethelreda's is a very small school for young ladies held in Mrs. Plackett's house. There are only seven students. all of whom would much rather be with the querulous headmistress than with their own dysfunctional families. When Mrs. Plackett and her brother, Mr. Godding, drop dead after eating veal, the girls, especially Smooth Kitty (all of the girls have adjectives attached to their names, like Dour Elinor and Disgraceful Mary Jane), decide that the best plan of action is to bury both of the adults in the garden and continue on as if nothing has happened. This excellent plan would have gone off without a hitch had people not arrived that very night for a surprise birthday party for Mr. Godding. The story is created that a nephew of the pair is sick in India, and Mr. Godding has taken off forthwith to be with him, thus sending Mrs. Plackett to bed with a horrible case of vapors. Soon, Stout Alice is recruited to impersonate Mrs. Plackett, but villages tend to be such nosy places, and the girls have a lot of trouble keeping up their ruse. Eventually, after more murders are committed, they find the perpetrator to be an unlikely person working from an inconceivable set of motives.
Strengths: This is a very effective period mystery, well researched and clever. With the renewed interest in the history of any sort of Victorian-ish setting, this could find some readers, perhaps more in high school for this particular book.
Weaknesses:  While I enjoyed this, it could be a hard sell at the middle school. The murders, by poison, are not gruesome enough, and the idea of farce is one that younger students may have trouble understanding.  The cover might appeal to them, though. I found using the adjective with every girls' name to be a bit much; perhaps this is a Victorian convention that I somehow missed?


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  2. I am looking forward to reading the new Lockwood book, but it will have to wait until we are done with first round.

  3. I loved both of these novels! The Scandalous Sisterhood was an arsenic-and-old-lace murder mystery, and Lockwood & Co. I can never get enough of. You're right, the sentence complexity may rate a mid-grade classification, but along with Mysterious Benedict Society, I'd only be able to seriously recommend them to a YA audience for length alone. Putting the two books together reminds me of Robin LaFevers' Theodosia Throckmorton series, which blends the supernatural with an Edwardian mystery feel.