Friday, September 26, 2014
Review + Giveaway: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Review: The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry
Release date: September 23rd, 2014
Publisher: Roaring Brook (Macmillan)
Series: NO, ALAS
Length: 368 pages
Source: Print ARC from the publisher
Rating: A delicious and delightful comedy of manners and murder
There's a murderer on the loose—but that doesn't stop the girls of St. Etheldreda's from attempting to hide the death of their headmistress in this rollicking farce.
The students of St. Etheldreda's School for Girls face a bothersome dilemma. Their irascible headmistress, Mrs. Plackett, and her surly brother, Mr. Godding, have been most inconveniently poisoned at Sunday dinner. Now the school will almost certainly be closed and the girls sent home—unless these seven very proper young ladies can hide the murders and convince their neighbors that nothing is wrong.
The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place is a smart, hilarious Victorian romp, full of outrageous plot twists, mistaken identities, and mysterious happenings.
I simply adored this book. I giggled, squealed, and swooned throughout the entire madcap adventure. It is Victorian farce at its finest, full of dastardly deeds, sisterhood, pluck, sass, and cyanide. In other words, it is utterly, enchantingly delicious.
Our story opens with a double murder.
Mrs. Plackett, the headmistress of a small girls' school in Ely, Cambridgeshire, and her brother take one bite each of their Sunday veal and drop dead at the table. The seven girls, not being very fond of either of them, are not terribly heartbroken. They do, however, realize that the death of Mrs. Plackett and Mr. Godding puts them in rather a pickle. Thier deaths mean the end of the school, which means every girl is going to be sent back to their terrible homes. No more sisterhood. What's a proper Victorian schoolgirl to do?
Um, hide the bodies and cover up a murder, naturally.
Smooth Kitty, second oldest and most practical of the students, is the mastermind of the scheme, though every girl plays her part to perfection (or at least to the best of her abilities), including Dull Martha who, true to her sobriquet, is not the sharpest knife in the sisterhood drawer. Pocked Loiuse, the youngest and a budding scientist, sets out to solve the murder. It's hilarious and wonderful watching these girls play a very advanced game of Home Alone. They have to convince the world that their headmistress is alive and well, even through surprise birthday parties, doctors' visits, and strawberry socials.
The absurdity increases, the stakes get higher, the mystery gets more complicated. IT'S SO FUN. Just when the girls think they're settled, a new wrench gets thrown into the mix: long lost heirs show up, boys show up, money goes missing, YOU NAME IT. Sure, your credulity will be stretched in places, and perhaps one beat was missed in the buildup to the grand unmasking, but the tone and feel of this book are so pitch perfect that I didn't care at all. I was romping with this romp.
I want to outsmart nosy adults with Smooth Kitty, gossip wickedly with Disgraceful Mary Jane, hang out with Stout Alice, and talk science with Pocked Louise (well, maybe not the science bit). I loved all the girls with their different skills and personalities, and I liked how they were labelled by their one defining characteristic (Smooth Kitty, Disgraceful Mary Jane, Pocked Louise, Stout Alice, Dear Roberta, Dour Elinor, and Dull Martha), but of course they were so much more of that. I had no difficulty keeping track of them or sympathizing with them, particularly Kitty and Louise, who carry most of the brains and heart of the sisterhood. Oh, and Alice. Oh, and Dull Martha, adorably little fluffbrained girl, and I adore Mary Jane, and Dour Elinor is such a little Wednesday Adams. BASICALLY, I LOVE THESE GIRLS. Their headmistress and her foul brother died, and they made the best of it. (Or the worst, depending on where you fall on the morality spectrum.)
This book is like a mix of Clue and the delightful A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, which I was lucky enough to see performed in New York last year. TSSoPP is whimsical and ridiculous and heartwarming, and I did not want to part with this book. I do have a bit of trouble deciding which age group it fits in. I would definitely have been the kind of middle grade reader to love this book with every part of my precocious soul (she said humbly), but I wonder if some of the humor might be lost on some types of readers. A lot of the time, when I read middle grade, I end up saying something along the lines of "Ten-year-old me would've LOVED this!", but TSSoPP is one of those rare cases where adult Gillian is the one totally in love. I love this book for me, now. Back then, yes, but also now.
Someday soon, she vowed, they'd purchase seven tickets for that train, and ride away from this overly inquisitive little city, where everyone knew everyone else's face and business--where, ironically, the guilty could get away with murder, but the innocents couldn't get away with innocently covering it up. There was no justice in the world, or at least none in Ely.
It's my blogoversary month, and I'm feeling generous. Plus, I totally want to support this lovely book, so here's an international giveaway for a finished copy! Yay! Hip hip! Ginger beer for all! Huzzah! You must live in a country The Book Depository ships to to receive this prize.
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