Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer

Review: The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray by E. Latimer
Source: Hardcopy courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada. Thank you!
Publication: February 13, 2018 by Tundra Books
Book Description:

Bryony Gray is becoming famous as a painter in London art circles. But life isn’t so grand. Her uncle keeps her locked in the attic, forcing her to paint for his rich clients . . . and now her paintings are taking on a life of their own, and customers are going missing under mysterious circumstances.

When her newest painting escapes the canvas and rampages through the streets of London, Bryony digs into her family history, discovering some rather scandalous secrets her uncle has been keeping, including a deadly curse she’s inherited from her missing father. Bryony has accidentally unleashed the Gray family curse, and it’s spreading fast.

With a little help from the strange-but-beautiful girl next door and her paranoid brother, Bryony sets out to break the curse, dodging bloodthirsty paintings, angry mobs and her wicked uncle along the way.

When I saw the great cover and read the blurb for E. Latimer‘s The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray I thought it sounded terrifically spooky and added it to my reading list. A gothic historically-set middle grade novel, inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray? Count me in! More sinister and more fantastical than I imagined, Latimer’s novel is a surprising treat.

The novel opens with a prologue that takes us into the extravagant, lush and self-indulgent life of Lady Dashworth, who is eagerly awaiting the delivery of a portrait of herself done by a supposedly odd but extremely talented thirteen year old girl. Upon opening, Lady Dashworth finds the portrait stunning…remarkable…so remarkable in fact, that the portrait seems too life-like. It is then that Latimer takes the already eerie opening and takes the story to its darker core: the portraits being done by that thirteen year old artist- Bryony Gray- are coming to life, ripping from their canvases and causing deadly mayhem in London. As readers meet Bryony and the terrible aunt and uncle who keep her prisoner in their attic, the story takes one fascinating turn after another.

Having planned an escape from her attic confines for some time, Bryony finds herself freed quite suddenly by accident when a portrait she purposely painted to look monstrous tears itself to life off the canvas. It is then, as Bryony escapes into the city slowly being tyrannized by her art, that she meets siblings Mira and Thompson- the next-door neighbors she had only dreamed to meet one day. Latimer weaves multiple elements as the story continues to unfold: Bryony experiencing London, her surroundings, and children her own age for almost the first time in her life; the trio of children having to escape for their lives time after time while attempting to help Bryony stop the madness; and perhaps the biggest thing of all, Bryony finally learning truths about her long-absent father who presumably cursed the Gray family. It is a lot to pack into a tale, but Latimer does a solid job of maintaining all of the elements, adding some bombshell reveals, and threading in some very interesting ties to an imagined incident that lead to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Overall, The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is wonderfully unusual and atmospheric, with terrifying and surprising moments. It is written with such precise, intriguing detail that I vividly pictured the story from beginning to end, and even thought to myself how incredible it would be to see this story brought to life on-screen! Readers who enjoy gothic, scary stories or the work of authors such as Claire Legrand, Charis Cotter, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl or Laura Amy Schlitz might especially enjoy this dark tale.

I received a copy of this title courtesy of Tundra Books/Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

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Review: The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine

HOUSEBETWEENTIDES25814507Review: The House Between Tides by Sarah Maine
Source: ARC courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada. Thank you!
Expected publication: August 2, 2016 by Atria Books
Verdict: Excellent
Book Description:

Kate Morton meets Daphne du Maurier in this atmospheric debut novel about a woman who discovers the century-old remains of a murder victim on her family’s Scottish estate, plunging her into an investigation of its mysterious former occupants.

Following the death of her last living relative, Hetty Deveraux leaves London and her strained relationship behind for Muirlan, her ancestral home in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. She intends to renovate the ruinous house into a hotel, but the shocking discovery of human remains brings her ambitious restoration plans to an abrupt halt before they even begin. Few physical clues are left to identify the body, but one thing is certain: this person did not die a natural death.

Hungry for answers, Hetty discovers that Muirlan was once the refuge of her distant relative Theo Blake, the acclaimed painter and naturalist who brought his new bride, Beatrice, there in 1910. Yet ancient gossip and a handful of leads reveal that their marriage was far from perfect; Beatrice eventually vanished from the island, never to return, and Theo withdrew from society, his paintings becoming increasingly dark and disturbing.

What happened between them has remained a mystery, but as Hetty listens to the locals and studies the masterful paintings produced by Theo during his short-lived marriage, she uncovers secrets that still reverberate through the small island community—and will lead her to the identity of the long-hidden body.

Sarah Maine’s accomplished debut novel, The House Between Tides, is an historical fiction title that resonates with the best combination of Gothic novels and family saga mysteries. An impressively crafted novel; carefully wound, gorgeously moody, and rich with description, The House Between Tides is a haunting and memorable read.

In a dual timeline format- similarly to that which you might find in a Kate Morton novel- Maine takes readers deep into the heart of the Blake family and their tragedies. We begin in 1945, introduced to the sister of Theo Blake, at an unsettling event. Catapulting to 2010, readers are presented to Hetty Devereaux, a descendant of the Blake family, and set to inherit the once-iconic, disputed, and imposing structure that was and is Muirlan House in Scotland.

Hetty travels to see what remains of Muirlan House- a relic of her family’s history- but she almost immediately comes up against obstructions. The first major obstacle is that of ancestors and current residents of the small island where Muirlan House rests, who do not wish to see a Muirlan rebuilt as sprawling, modern hotel. The second obstruction is that of her long-deceased relatives and their strangely obscured history. With the unnerving recent discovery of old human remains in Muirlan house itself, Hetty is drawn deep into her family’s past- specifically that of renowned artist-turned-fallen-star Theo Blake who resided and died at Muirlan, and his wife Beatrice.

As with most dual-timeline reads, there are multiple stories running their course, meeting and intertwining at intersections of the story, and drawing themselves up to the climax and slowly back down. Maine truly excels in drawing out fascinating stories, characters, and emotional reveals in both timelines. The chapters in which readers are taken into the hypnotic and shadowy early twentieth-century world (and minds) of Theo, his wife Beatrice, and the workers of Muirlan are, in a word, fascinating. At once a fly-on-the-wall study of a marriage, of adults diverging with time, of relationship between place and time, of art and memory, of land and human, and of Theo and Beatrice’s descent- this timeline is bursting (in the best way possible). While the current-day timeline with Hetty is arguably less directly shocking or surprising (though still devastating), it is by no means less interesting. The present-day timeline works, perhaps primarily, to magnify the parallel runnings of the past- especially as the mystery of the remains gets closer and closer to reveal- but more personal plotlines allow Hetty to establish interest as a character in her own right.

Overall, The House Between Tides is a beautifully written novel with a perfect blend of mystery and family drama- and a pervasive sense of unease. I would absolutely recommend for readers who appreciate historical fiction or stately family mysteries along the lines of Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. As noted above in my review, readers who enjoy the work of Kate Morton might especially love Sarah Maine’s debut as well as any readers who appreciate intricate, character-driven dual-timeline stories.

I received copies of this title courtesy of Simon & Schuster Canada as well as via First Reads in exchange for an honest review. All opinions and comments are my own.

Must Read Monday (18): The Wolf Wilder & The Dreamsnatcher

Welcome to another edition of Must Read Monday! This feature is where I spotlight current and/or upcoming releases I am looking forward to. The lists will include all genres I like to read, everything from picture books to comics, children’s lit to adult fiction!

This week features the latest from children’s author Katherine Rundell and a middle-grade debut from Abi Elphinstone:

the-wolf-wilder-9781481419420_lgThe Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell
Publication: September 9, 2015 by Bloomsbury Children’s

Feodora and her mother live in the snowbound woods of Russia, in a house full of food and fireplaces. Ten minutes away, in a ruined chapel, lives a pack of wolves. Feodora’s mother is a wolf wilder, and Feo is a wolf wilder in training. A wolf wilder is the opposite of an animal tamer: it is a person who teaches tamed animals to fend for themselves, and to fight and to run, and to be wary of humans.

When the murderous hostility of the Russian Army threatens her very existence, Feo is left with no option but to go on the run. What follows is a story of revolution and adventure, about standing up for the things you love and fighting back. And, of course, wolves.

I am sorry to say that I have not yet read Rundell’s Rooftoppers or Cartwheeling in Thunderstorms; both which have been recommended and critically acclaimed. The Wolf Wilder looks to be another winning middle-grade title from the author: it sounds like a wonderful and well-written combination of historical fiction mixed with elements of Russian fantasy and adventure.

 

thedreamsnatcher23573606The Dreamsnatcher by Abi Elphinstone
Publication: February 26, 2015 by Simon & Schuster Children’s

Twelve-year-old Molly Pecksniff wakes one night in the middle of the forest, lured there by a recurring nightmare – the one with the drums and the rattles and the masks. The Dreamsnatcher is waiting. He has already taken her dreams and now he wants her life.

Because Moll is more important than she knows… The Oracle Bones foretold that she and Gryff, a wildcat that has always been by her side, are the only ones who can fight back against the Dreamsnatcher’s dark magic. Suddenly everything is at stake, and Moll is drawn into a world full of secrets, magic and adventure.

There’s just something about dark, Gothic middle-grade fiction isn’t there? For a long time now, I have had an interest in the suspenseful and mysterious genre of children’s lit. Uncannily insightful, surprising and packing emotional depth, these kinds of novels can be such a wonder for readers. The Dreamsnatcher, the debut from author Abi Elphinstone, has just piqued my interest so much and I look forward to diving in.