Sunday, February 22, 2015

Withering-by-sea : A Stella Montgomery Intrigue by Judith Rossell

There are so many things that I adored about Withering-by-sea.  Here is a list :

  1. The texture of the cover - such a pity we have to put on a plastic cover.
  2. The colours used on the cover illustrations and the little illustrations scattered throughout the story
  3. The printing is dark blue and the book has a ribbon book mark - quite charming
  4. The title which reminded me of seaside towns in England
  5. My email last night to the author asking for details about the next in this series and the immediate answer from Judith Rossell.  She is working on the next installment right now and we might see it in 2016.
  6. The thought that this terrific action packed story might be short-listed for our CBCA Awards (fingers crossed)
  7. Inside this book you will find the most delightful words such as : antimacassar, quadrupeds, tendrils, perambulator, and so many more.  You know how much I appreciate books with a rich vocabulary.
  8. There is also a murder, a magic show, some very special friends and a group of talented cats.

Stella is an orphan who lives in a seaside town in the Hotel Majestic.  The time is Victorian when young girls should be seen and not heard and a truly accomplished young woman has excellent deportment and embroidery skills.  Stella's aunts - the aptly named Aunt Deliverance, Aunt Condolence and Aunt Temperance -  live at the hotel so they can partake of the waters.  They have carved out a life of comfort and routine and they are determined to mold Stella into an appropriate young lady.

Stella takes refuge in an atlas which is a book that allows her to visit, vicariously, all the exotic regions of the world.  One morning while she is absorbed in her atlas and hiding in the hotel conservatory, she sees a hotel guest - Mr Filbert furtively place something in Chinese urn holding a potted plant..  Later Mr Filbert is murdered and his dying words to Stella are "Hide it. Keep it safe."

"The little bottle was corked and sealed with red wax.  It was heavier than it looked and as smooth as glass. ... (Stella) shook it and heard a whispering noise, as if something were slithering over shingle. ... A sinuous shape seemed to move inside the bottle ... It was beautiful but it made her skin prickle."

There is so much action in this book.  In just 250 pages you will find your self cheering for the good guy and hissing at the baddies somewhat like a Victorian melodrama.  You might anticipate the action but I am sure you will be wrong.  The twists and turns made me dizzy.  Here are some excellent teaching notes.  Here is a detailed review and the author web site.

If you enjoy Withering by Sea (and I am sure you will) you might also like to look for The Book without Words, Tensy Farlow and the home for mislaid children,  Three times lucky, The truth about Verity Sparks, and The remarkable secret of Aurelie Bonhoffen.

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