"Tuesdays at the Castle" by Jessica Day George and "The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls" by Claire Legrand
Coincidentally, I just read two books in which the homes the protagonists inhabit are alive. Both stories were good, but both could have been better. Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George suffers from a cartoonish cover and wide variations in tone, while The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand could have benefited from a much tighter edit and consistent characterizations.
Castle Glower in Tuesdays at the Castle is quite magical. It can transform rooms, add passageways, and even select the heir to the kingdom. Youngest royal Princess Celie is the castle’s favorite and the feeling is mutual. But the royal family is in danger. While returning from a trip, the king, queen, and oldest son (but not the heir) are set upon by assassins and have disappeared. Evil counselors and foreign princes have declared them dead, but Princess Celie and her older brother (the heir) and sister know it cannot be true. Castle Glower helps them plot against the evildoers and save the kingdom.
That’s all well and good, but the cover of the book led me to believe the novel was going to be much more light-hearted – and not at all about those who plan assassinations. Some of the action the young royals take are quite silly -- stealing chamber pots, anyone? -- but the bad guys are really dangerous. The cover certainly didn’t prepare me for the fact that Princess Celie would face an attempt on her own life by a man who speaks like a Russian spy:
“If alive, why not here?” Prince Khelsh [the main bad guy] asked. “He could have to the castle walked.” He shrugged. “Is dead.”
Have we learned nothing from George Lucas’s Watto and the Gungans?
It’s probably not fair to compare Tuesdays at the Castle to The False Prince by Jennifer Nielsen, but both deal with heirs to kingdoms, assassination attempts, and castle intrigue, so I at least want to share their covers. That of the False Prince is more atmospheric and evocative, no? Still in all, I really enjoyed Tuesdays at the Castle and am looking forward to the next book in George’s new series.
I didn’t like The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls nearly as much as I wanted to. Many reviewers have said it’s a creepy book and even a bit scary (in a good way), but as I discovered a few police procedurals and thrillers ago, I’m inured to such things. Despite my lack of sensitivity, it’s a good story. It has a terrific heroine (by the second half of the book). And the conflict is strong enough to keep the story going. But the first part of the book is boring and our heroine’s best friend suffers from being inconsistently portrayed.
In the early chapters of the book, we learn that 12-year-old Victoria Wright is perfect and has the grades and attitude to prove it. She has no friends, really, because that would be messy. Her only friend is Lawrence Prewitt, a music prodigy, and a sloppy one at that, but Victoria hopes to straighten him out. In the early chapters, we find that Lawrence is the only person who doesn’t take Victoria as seriously as she wants to be and even has the gall to call her “Vicky.” He’s personable and actually a bit charming (he writes her a lovely note for her birthday). Then Lawrence disappears.
Victoria is one of the first to notice that the Cavendish Home at the end of her street is an unusual building with odd inhabitants, and she’s the among the first to notice that children are vanishing, and that none of the adults seem to be themselves anymore. When Lawrence is taken, she believes it’s up to her to rescue him. She attempts to infiltrate the home, but instead gets captured by the evil matron just like the other kids. Now the novel picks up steam and Victoria’s out-sized ego keeps her from accepting victim-hood. She may be, as Mrs. Cavendish suggests, just like a young Mrs. Cavendish in her desire to make all things neat and perfect, but Victoria refuses to be trapped or allow her classmates lose their personalities. It is as she is fighting Mrs. Cavendish and her gruesome minions that the house wakes up and helps her set things straight. It’s actually quite an adventure.
But the first half of the book lingers far too long on Victoria’s desire to change her one “B” on her latest report card to an "A." That whole subplot could have been cut. We know Victoria is a snob from other events. Further, Lawrence, who is cheeky enough to call Victoria “Vicky,” loses all personality later on. I refuse to believe that the Mrs. Cavendish knocked that much will out of him. If he defies his parents constantly at the beginning of the book – they don’t encourage his musical talent – why does he turn into such a wimp later? It just doesn’t fit. And I suspect the author knew that too because she flips back and forth with him – sometimes he does stand up to Mrs. Cavendish, and sometimes he doesn’t. I think Lawrence could have been a stronger character. Especially considering how he makes Victoria all warm inside – then and in the future. (No spoilers, but I like the ending very much.)
Again, though, I will recommend the book. I think tweens will enjoy it and maybe even get creeped out by it, as they should be.