Black Flowers, White Lies – A YA Thriller

Book Review : Black Flowers, White Lies 

By Yvonne Ventresca

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Her father died before she was born, but Ella Benton knows they have a supernatural connection. Since her mother discourages these beliefs, Ella keeps her cemetery visits secret. But she may not be the only one with secrets. Ella’s mother might be lying about how Dad died sixteen years ago. Newfound evidence points to his death in a psychiatric hospital, not as a result of a tragic car accident as her mother always claimed. After a lifetime of just the two of them, Mom suddenly feels like a stranger.

When a handprint much like the one Ella left on her father’s tombstone mysteriously appears on the bathroom mirror, at first she wonders if Dad is warning her of danger as he did once before. If it’s not a warning, could her new too-good-to-be-true boyfriend be responsible for the strange occurrences? Or maybe it’s the grieving building superintendent whose dead daughter strongly resembles Ella? As the unexplained events become more frequent and more sinister, Ella becomes terrified about who—or what—might harm her.

Soon the evidence points to someone else entirely: Ella herself. What if, like her father, she’s suffering from a breakdown? In this second novel from award-winning author Yvonne Ventresca, Ella desperately needs to find answers, no matter how disturbing the truth might be. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

One of the best things about a thriller is if the reader cannot predict the twists and the end. Since this is a YA novel there are not a lot of twists, but I was still surprised and had not predicted the ending until close to the very end. I also enjoyed how Ventresca entwined the supernatural, doubts of the supernatural and the psychological twists. It is one of the better YA novels that I have recently read.

I thought the main character, Ella Benton’s, attachment to cats added to the charm of the book. To keep the surprises in the book I’m keeping this review short, and sparse on detail. It is sufficient to recommend this book if you like a good mystery.

3.5 out of 5 stars
3-half-star-hotel

  • Michelle

If you liked this one you might like Prophecy, The Dragon King Chronicles by Ellen Oh, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.

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Under A Painted Sky – Should Historical Novels Use Racial Slurs Which Are Accurate For The Time Period?

Book Review : Under A Painted Sky

By Stacey Lee

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush. Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

This beautifully written debut is an exciting adventure and heart-wrenching survival tale. But above all else, it’s a story about perseverance and trust that will restore your faith in the power of friendship. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Stacey Lee has writing talent, and uses some great imagery. Here is an example that the title of the novel Under A Painted Sky is derived from:

“I never heard anyone call the sky painted before, but it’s the perfect word. Clouds outlined in gold streak across the firmament, casting uneven shadows over the landscape.”

I wish Lee would bring out more imagery! She does include tidbits about the Chinese zodiac and helps the reader see the world through the eyes of Sammy. Overall, I felt like the story was too simplified into a romance.

Under A Painted Sky is a fast, fun read, but not really any more than that. My favorite part in the book is the relationship/friendship that develops between Sammy and Andy. They support each other and respect each other. They dress as boys to be safer as they cross the country posing as argonauts (gold rush prospectors). Even though there is an undercurrent of racial relations, it isn’t the overall theme. Andy, who is actually named Annamae, is an escaped slave. Sammy, Samantha, is escaping a charge of murder when she struck out at the man who intended to rape her and enslave her as a prostitute. The main theme of the book is the relationships of the traveling companions.

One of the problems I have with historical novels is when they are inaccurate for the time period. Problem 1: Cay finds a lot of promiscuous gals. Since this is prior to the 60’s I found this to be unbelievable. Pregnancy, shame and social morals would not have led to so many women being charmed into sex with a charming cowboy. Problem 2: Homosexuality was another huge taboo in this country. I find it unbelievable that the cowboys would just calmly accept another as a “filly” (Lee’s euphemism for a gay man) when sodomy was a legally punishable offense. Problem 3: The people refer to Annamae as Black. The term “Black” was not used until the 1960’s, and even then, many African American’s considered it to be offensive. The more polite term would have been “Negro” or “Negress” – which is still considered to be very offensive today – and as a slave she really would have been referred to by the N-word. If Lee had used the historically correct terms it would have made her book much more about race inequality, and would have hit the reader in the face. Such explicit language also would have made the friendship Andy has with Sammy even more tender.

Though not historical, another problem I had were the romances. They were kind of lame. I really didn’t see why Sammy liked West, he was surly and withdrawn. Peety was probably the most charming of  the three leading men. Again, there really wasn’t any information as to why Andy was in love with Peety.

Here is another example of the writing.

“The simple strains of the lullaby return me to the world I used to live in, each bow stroke conjuring a memory. Father with his ear cocked as he tuned Lady Tin-Yin. The two of us flapping like herons to help me loosen my arms.” (p. 268)

I plan to read another book by Stacey Lee to see if she can bridge the problem of a stilted story line than is more worthy of her writing skills.

3 out of 5 stars

3 star

If you liked this western you might like Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede (it has magic) or historical books like Here Lies the Librarian by Richard Peck, or his book A Year Down Yonder have the feeling from a time long ago. I love the book The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian : How Does Hope Change Us?

Book Review : The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

By Sherman Alexie

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.  (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

 

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian falls into the category of books that I call “books that are written for a young adult audience, but will be enjoyed by adults more than kids”.

The author’s experiences growing up are vastly different than my own, and that is what I like about his novel. I felt like I gained some insight into what it meant to grow up on the rez; the utter hopelessness and grief. One of the most telling moments is when Arnold explains that he has been to over 40 funerals in his life while his white classmates have maybe been to one of an aging relative who had died. The deaths of the Indians were all related to alcohol and very tragic.

This scene is at Grandma Spirit’s funeral:

     And that set us all off.
We kept laughing.
It was the most glorious noise I’d ever heard.
And I realized that, sure, Indians were drunk and sad and displaced and crazy and mean, but dang, we knew how to laugh.
When it comes to death, we know that laughter and tears are pretty much the same thing.
And so, laughing and crying, we said good-bye to my grandmother. And when we said good-bye to one grandmother, we said good-bye to all of them.
Each funeral was a funeral for all of us.
We lived and died together.
All of us laughed when they lowered my grandmother into the ground.
And all of us laughed when they covered her with dirt.
And all of us laughed as we walked and drove and rode our way back to our lonely, lonely houses. (p. 166)

The novel is sad, tragic and poignant. It is also crude in the language and content at times. The sentences are short and choppy (one of the things I despair of in modern literature), but very much how a young boy would talk. It feels gritty, like it really expresses the poverty and death that surrounds Arnold.

At the end of the book Arnold expresses that he would have died if he had stayed on the reservation. He also has a new hope:

I hoped and prayed that they would someday forgive me for leaving them.
I hoped and prayed that I would someday for give myself for leaving them. (p. 230)

I don’t know who I would recommend this book to, but I was glad to have read it. Even though it is more sad than hopeful, there is a thimble full of hope. Hope is the power to change.

3.5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michelle

This book is unlike most of what I read.

If you liked this one you might like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly,  Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool and A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck.

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The Heir of Brownlie Manor – Regency Romance, But Does It Romance The Reader?

Book Review : The Heir of Brownlie Manor

By Anita Stansfield

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

After a medical discharge from his duties in the Napoleonic War, Thomas Quincy Fitzbatten has returned home. Disoriented, burdened by guilt for his wealth, and disillusioned with life’s injustices, Thomas longs for a chance to make a difference in the world. But he keeps himself a mystery to those around him, and another motive for his charity gnaws at the back of his mind: to seek redemption from the traumatic demons of war. Then everything changes at the arrival of Ruth Dawson, the niece of Thomas’s butler, a stunning woman with a secret of her own. Thomas graciously offers to assist Ruth in her predicament, but a surprise instinct prompts Thomas to handle the case a little more personally—through marriage. As their love blossoms, it appears that all will be well—until Thomas receives a mysterious letter from an old friend in trouble, compelling him to the rescue. But what will Thomas do when nothing is as it seems? And why can’t Ruth shake the feeling that her destiny is intertwined with Thomas’s in a way they could never have imagined? (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

The Heir of Brownlie Manor was recommended to me to read. Initially I had high hopes for this novel because I liked the characters and they had real problems. Thomas has come home from the war traumatized and is quickly becoming an alcoholic. Ruth, has found herself in big trouble, with no position and pregnant.

Though highly improbable, Thomas decides to marry Ruth and the story moves on after that decision. I felt like the name of Ruth was a nod to the Biblical Ruth who would leave her past behind to follow her new husband. However, the story also goes downhill from that point. Each problem is handled graciously (unrealistically) and at every moment the characters are expressing their gratitude. I’m all for gratitude, but in a book there needs to be conflict.  Nearly every character has a saccharin-sweet response to life’s challenges, which is boring.

Towards the end of the novel, a big problem arrives in the form of the child’s birth father. In an effort not to spoil everything, it is enough to say that he is a scheming, opportunistic scoundrel. Even so, the family handles this overwhelming problem with such acrimony it is ridiculous.

Other tedious problems are in the setting. Though set in the Regency there are inconsistencies with the time period. Foremost, would be the relationships between men and women and the ideas of equality. Part of the charm in true Regency novels is the way men and women act with each other. In Sense and Sensibility Emma’s brother takes everything, because he has the legal right, but also because he and his wife have the mind set that it is their right. In Pride and Prejudice, it is not that Mr. Darcy overcomes his pride, but in fact Elizabeth recognizes his right to his pride because he is such a judicious master of his lands. These are not the type of men to serve a woman because she is pregnant and do the dishes, that’s a modern ideal. Setting that subject aside there are other problems, like the people having “lunch”; in the Regency period there was not a meal called “lunch”. If the author chooses to set things in a historical period I feel like the setting should be consistent with that time period.

In the end, I was not romanced by The Heir of Brownlie Manor. I wanted more out of the characters and the story. It is perfectly clean, not even passionate kissing described. I know this author has a strong following and there is an audience for this type of book.

3 out of 5 stars
3 star
– Michelle

If you want to try a different kind of romance that I immensely enjoyed read Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede. It’s very light hearted and has a Regency/magic twist.

 

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Precious and Grace – How Women Work Together

 

Book Review : Precious and Grace
 No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series

By Alexander McCall Smith

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

In this latest installment of the beloved and best-selling No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi help a young woman on a quest to find someone from her past.
Changes are afoot at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, where Mma Makutsi, who has recently been promoted to co-director, has been encouraging Mma Ramotswe to update to more modern office practices. However, an unusual case will require both of them to turn their attention firmly to the past. A young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana requests the agency s help in recovering important pieces of her life there. With only a faded photograph and, of course, some good old-fashioned detective skills to guide them, Precious and Grace set out to locate the house that the woman used to live in and the caretaker who looked after her many years ago. But when the journey takes an unexpected turn, they are forced to consider whether some lost things may be better off unfound.
Busy as she is with this challenging investigation, Mma Ramotswe can always be relied on to come to the aid of her friends who seem to have a special knack for landing in hot water. Mr. Polopetsi, an occasional assistant at the agency, has made an ill-advised business decision that may lead to serious trouble. And next door at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, Fanwell, the junior mechanic, has become helplessly attached to a stray dog who proves to be a bigger responsibility than he can handle. With Mma Makutsi by her side, Mma Ramotswe dispenses help and sympathy with the graciousness and warmth for which she is so well known, and everyone is led to surprising insights into the healing power of compassion, forgiveness, and new beginnings.”
(Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

Precious and Grace have an interesting relationship. Grace is very difficult to get along with because she is naturally prickly and seems to want to be offended. Despite their differences they respect each other and maintain their friendship. However, their friendship and working relationship wouldn’t work if Precious wasn’t flexible and forgiving.

Precious always wants to see the best in others and believes the best in others. She decides she cannot, even hypothetically, toss Violet Sepotho out of a hot air balloon, even if it meant saving Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Not only is Precious tolerant of Grace, she is tolerant of other’s foibles. Poor Mr. Polopetsi has naively become embroiled in a pyramid scheme. It would be too easy to say that he had been stupid, but Precious works on building him up while helping him solve his problems.

Precious and Grace has an unusual speech on forgiveness. Author’s avoid moralizing as a general rule, however, Smith embraces this role as he discusses the benefits of forgiving others. I thought he walked a fine line by tackling such a subject, and yet everything he said was true. We are better off when we are forgiving.

In a world filled with incivility I love stepping into the rhythm of Mma Precious Ramotswe’s life. Even when others are confrontational she maintains her smooth demeanor. I believe we could all learn how to be better by emulating Precious.

4 out of 5 stars
4 star

  • the Mother

If you liked this one try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, Moon Over Manifest by ClareVanderpool and The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery.

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Possession – Romance and Victorian Poetry

Book Review : Possession

By A.S Byatt

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and triumphant love story. It is the tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets. As they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire—from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany—what emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas.
(Courtesy of
goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

After reading romances this summer, and being disappointed, I decided to read Possession again. I remember reading and enjoying it quite a bit a few years ago. Now, for the bad news – I haven’t enjoyed it nearly as much as I did originally. Before I remember it being witty and intense, and this time I am slogging through it. There are so many details that aren’t germane to the main characters or the plot. I keep thinking to myself, let’s move it along dearie. I found that I read in small sitting which fit a carpool style schedule, so I get lost in long passages trying to remember who is speaking.

In its defense, there are beautiful descriptions and the poetry guides the reader through the narrative. I thought these description were wholly original and drew up a distinct image.

The librarian fetched a checked duster, and wiped away the dust, a black, thick, tenacious Victorian dust, a dust composed of smoke and fog particles accumulated before the Clean Air acts. Roland undid the bindings. The book sprang apart, like a box, disgorging leaf after leaf of faded paper, blue, cream, grey, covered with rusty writing, the brown scratches of a steel nib. (p. 5)

His body was long and lean and trim; he had American hips, ready for a neat belt and the faraway ghost of a gunbelt. (p. 105)

I’m taking a little break and will pick it up in a couple of weeks.

Now, that a little more time has passed I was hoping to get back into the rhythm of Possession.

Here is an example of the letters the poets Henry Randolph Ash and Cristabel LaMotte write to each other. Their letters are written with interjecting thoughts within thoughts – with a heavy hand for hyphens – have odd choices of capitalization – most of their letters are italicized – except for emphasis – WHICH MUST BE CAPITALIZED.

Ash writes: “I write in haste – I fear your answer – I know not whether to depart or no – I will stay, for you – unless this small chance you spoke of prove a true possibility.

Christabel answers: “It is done. BY FIATE. I spoke Thunder – and said – so it shall be – and there will be no questions now – or ever – and to this absolute Proposition I have – like all Tyrants – meek acquiescence.” (p.220)

At this point I have decided it would be a terrible trial to be in love with a poet, terribly shy in person and more interested in letters than a person. The tale of Melusina, or the tail of Melusina, was an interesting poem, though strange, until they dissected it again and again. I’ve always liked the odd, gruesome Grimm Fairy tales and Melusina fits in between myth and a fairy tale.

I have finally arrived at the point where the two professors, Roland and Maud, have been walking the documented path of the poet Ash, as they look for clues that Cristabel was on that journey. Then the scene moves to Ash and Cristabel on this trip. The poets flaunt the Victorian social taboo of sex through their discussions in their poetry and their illicit affair.

The pieces of the puzzle come together for the reader, but the professors, Maud and Roland, are left with vague interpretations of actual evidence. This has been the most interesting part of the novel because of the illumination given to the reader. Sticky situations tend to get stickier, as does the mystery here as the other players seek to discover what covert research Maud and Roland have been conducting. My remaining problem is that this is over half way through the book and I’ve not felt compelled to read and discover more.

It’s always hard to review a book that you remember loving the first time, and have come back to discover that in some way you have outgrown that particular story. I felt the same keen disappointment when I re-read The Flame Trees of Thika by Elsepth Huxley. Part of the problem this time around is that I don’t actually like or relate to the characters. Val and Roland are so unhappy together and there is nothing to bind them together, Maud has been untrue to herself and allowed others to determine who she should be (as witnessed by her hiding and binding her hair), Randolph Ash is an egotistical twit (witness by his poetry and pursuit of Christabel), and Christabel LaMotte and Blanche Glover are both weak, watery characters. I believe my fascination reading Possession the first time centered around the literary devices of letters and poems reflecting reality, as well as the two time periods with a feeling of discovery. Since then I have seen other books do this same time of thing and I don’t see it as intriguing enough to carry the storyline.

As a note, the poets and other characters are all fictional. Because of the letters and Victorian poetry many have thought Henry Randolph Ash and Cristabel LaMotte are historical figures.

I hesitate to even give it stars. I would probably give it 3 stars today and have left it as a sliding scale because I remember loving Possession back in the 1990’s.

After this I’m ready to go read an Anne McCaffrey romance, full of nonsense and predictability.

3-4 out of 5 stars

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  • Michelle

I recommend The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede.

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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d – A Detective Story With A Bike Named Gladys

Book Review : Thrice The Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
A Flavia de Luce Novel

By Alan Bradley

Spoiler Alert!

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Summary

In spite of being ejected from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada, twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce is excited to be sailing home to England. But instead of a joyous homecoming, she is greeted on the docks with unfortunate news: Her father has fallen ill, and a hospital visit will have to wait while he rests. But with Flavia’s blasted sisters and insufferable cousin underfoot, Buckshaw now seems both too empty—and not empty enough. Only too eager to run an errand for the vicar’s wife, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle, Gladys, to deliver a message to a reclusive wood-carver. Finding the front door ajar, Flavia enters and stumbles upon the poor man’s body hanging upside down on the back of his bedroom door. The only living creature in the house is a feline that shows little interest in the disturbing scene. Curiosity may not kill this cat, but Flavia is energized at the prospect of a new investigation. It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits. But what awaits Flavia will shake her to the very core.
(Courtesy of
goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

One of my favorite characters in the Flavia de Luce novels is Gladys, Flavia’s bike. I never would have guessed that personifying a bike could be so charming.

     “Gladys’s wheels groan horribly beneath us. The biting cold has penetrated her steel bones and seized the tendons of her brake cables. She judders wickedly on the slick tarmac, threatening to skid off the road entirely and pitch me into the icy ditch.
I want to scream into the wind, but I don’t. One of us, at least, must keep her wits about her.” (p. 3)

“Gladys gave a little squeak of delight. She loved coasting as much as I did, and if there was no one in sight, I might even put my feet up on her handlebars; a bit of bicycle artistry that she loved even more than ordinary free-wheeling.” (p.27-28)

“Gladys was waiting patiently where I had left her, as I knew she would be, although she was now wearing, on her seat, a dunce’s cap of snow, as if to welcome me home with a practical joke.” (p. 134)

You will have to read the novel to find other Gladys sightings.

Another moment I love is when Flavia describes her new found maturity now that she is eleven and returned from Canada.

     “Sophistication was what was called for. Should I put a flower  behind my ear? …
Perhaps I would just stroll in, sit down at the breakfast table and light a cigarette. That would certainly signal a new maturity.
But the problem was this; I didn’t smoke. It was a filthy habit. And, furthermore, I had no cigarettes.” (p. 16)

Flavia also describes learning to have charity. Her example explains the forbearance she used when her cousin Undine had suggested she call her Undies, and she refrained. Now that is true charity!

My favorite Flavia books are the first four. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d isn’t my favorite, but certainly not my least favorite. If you have read the others it is worth reading.

I love the odd titles and seeing how Bradley ties them into the events in the novel. This novel refers to a witch in Macbeth. I was surprised how Bradley wove a witch into the plot. I think Bradley does an incredible job of capturing female characters, and especially a young precocious tween. I am continually amazed that a man can write young girls in such a believable fashion.

Here are my complaints with this novel. Flavia’s father is sick in the hospital and no one makes any effort to take Flavia to see him. Even to the point that they leave her sleeping in bed, after solving an exhausting crime, when they head out to visit him in the hospital. Even his niece, Undine, has had the opportunity to visit him while he has been sick.

Huge Spoiler Alert!!! Do Not Read This Little Section If You Want To Be Surprised!!!!

I didn’t feel there was foreshadowing for Flavia’s father’s death and I don’t see the purpose in removing him from the series. The death of Flavia’s beloved chicken Esmerelda, is the closest thing the reader had to a warning of the upcoming event or perhaps Crispin’s mourning over the loss of his father. That’s the best I can come up with after thinking about this for a week. Even though he played such a minor role he played a key part in the character of Flavia. This whole thing was played out in a strange manner.

Done with the Huge Spoiler. You may continue reading…

I also felt like the murder was a little more gruesome than the previous deaths that Flavia solved. It didn’t bother me too much, but it felt a little too Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown.

Finally, Flavia didn’t interact with her sisters or cousin very much and I like to have their relationships as a secondary plot line. I didn’t grow up with sisters, but I enjoy their complicated relationship. Flavia still gets to converse with the boys hoping to secure Feely’s love.

I would recommend this novel, if for no other reason than to enjoy Gladys.

3.5 out of 5 stars
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  • Michelle

If you liked this one you might like The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, 44 Scotland Street series by Alexander McCall Smith and Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool.

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