Read Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz Online


WINNER OF A 2013 NEWBERY HONOR!Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sorcery to a Victorian gothic thriller — an enthralling, darkly comic tale that would do Dickens proud.The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s aWINNER OF A 2013 NEWBERY HONOR!Newbery Medalist Laura Amy Schlitz brings her sorcery to a Victorian gothic thriller — an enthralling, darkly comic tale that would do Dickens proud.The master puppeteer, Gaspare Grisini, is so expert at manipulating his stringed puppets that they appear alive. Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, is spellbound by Grisini’s act and invites him to entertain at her birthday party. Seeing his chance to make a fortune, Grisini accepts and makes a splendidly gaudy entrance with caravan, puppets, and his two orphaned assistants. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are dazzled by the Wintermute home. Clara seems to have everything they lack — adoring parents, warmth, and plenty to eat. In fact, Clara’s life is shadowed by grief, guilt, and secrets. When Clara vanishes that night, suspicion of kidnapping falls upon the puppeteer and, by association, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall. As they seek to puzzle out Clara’s whereabouts, Lizzie and Parse uncover Grisini’s criminal past and wake up to his evil intentions. Fleeing London, they find themselves caught in a trap set by Grisini’s ancient rival, a witch with a deadly inheritance to shed before it’s too late. Newbery Medal winner Laura Amy Schlitz’s Victorian gothic is a rich banquet of dark comedy, scorching magic, and the brilliant and bewitching storytelling that is her trademark....

Title : Splendors and Glooms
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780763669263
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 400 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

Splendors and Glooms Reviews

  • Kristin
    2019-03-11 01:08

    I must admit, I am pretty shocked at all the good reviews and high ratings I'm seeing for this book.So no one else felt that this story just dragged on and on, and that you had to just force yourself to bite the bullet and finish it? And no one else felt disappointed with the skimpy plot and the pages and pages of useless should-have-been-edited-out-stuff about putting on slippers and walking dogs and such? Did anyone raise an eyebrow at the scary (for kids) imagery of witches burning alive, or the not-quite-appropriate "bitch" line? You all weren't even annoyed with the overly simplistic happily-ever-after ending? Goodreads, you have let me down. My one consolation in finishing a book I didn't like is logging on to goodreads and reading a few story-shredding reviews.If you are still considering reading this book: don't be roped in by the "winner of the Newbery medal" line. Schlitz did win with another title, but it was collection of historical fictional monologues. Not a novel.Oh, and I am required to disclose that I won this book through the Firstreads giveaways. I'm curious to see if I win anymore after this not so positive review...

  • The Rusty Key
    2019-03-07 21:32

    Reviewed by Rusty Key Writer: Jordan B. NielsenRecommended for: Ages 10 to 12 for explicit violence against children, overt suggestion of adult sexuality and alcoholism, and overall macabre tone. The third person narrative is split between two female characters and one male character, but though the male character is sufficiently boyish, the preciousness of the Victorian Gothic genre is likely better suited to girls. One Word Summary: Dreary.As an exercise in genre replication, Splendors and Glooms is a terrific success. Laura Amy Schlitz had created the Victorian Gothic pastiche from an assemblage of parts collected from the pantheon of 1800s English literature and reconstructed them with a precision worthy of Madame Tussauds Wax Museum. What this joyless, melodramatic headscratcher of a children’s book has to offer its young audience, aside from a healthy dose of gratitude to be born in the new millennium, is beyond this reader. Splendors and Glooms presents an inexplicable weaving of adult and child characters, two orphans, a witch, a puppet master and an aristocratic young girl, and entangles them around a plot to destroy a stonepossessed of dark magic, sort of like what would happen if The Lord of the Rings met Oliver Twist in a shoe factory run by Stromboli. The stage opens on Cassandra, an aged witch at the end of her life and powers, writhing in her castle as the magically endowed Phoenix Stone which has given her terrible abilities is now wreaking havoc on her body. She is loath to rid herself of her source of power, but as the phantom flames lick ever closer to her flesh, Cassandra knows she has but one option: she must summon her sworn enemy, former lover, and one time magical co-conspirator, Gaspare Grisini. To the south, in sooty industrial London, twelve-year-old Clara is also awaiting the arrival of Grisini. It’s Clara’s birthday, and her one wish was that the renowned puppeteer and his fantoccini might come and entertain at her party. Her doctor father and hollow shell of a mother were initially reluctant to allow this puppet master, an Italian foreigner, into their home, as he and his assistants might track in the types ofgerms that killed their four elder children in a cholera epidemic. Their house has become a mausoleum to the dead, with pictures of the children laying in their coffins on every wall, and their plaster death masks adorning the piano forte. Life has turned to parentally enforced grief for Clara, and with this birthday wish, she hopes to let a little light in between the mourning shrouds. Traveling with the cartoonish Grisini are his orphaned assistants and wards, Parsefall and Lizzie Rose. Lizzie Rose is fourteen, the daughter of well respected actors, and doggedly attached to good manners in spite of her now impoverished condition. Parsefall, scrappy, malnourished and single minded can’t remember how old he is (he lived in a work house until the day that Grisini appeared and selected him to be his apprentice) nor can he remember why he is missing his pinky finger on his left hand. Of course Grisini, a roiling cauldron of malice and theatrical charisma in the mustache-twirling ilk of Snidely Whiplash, has more in mind than performing the simple puppet show. After the party, Clara goes missing, and some weeks later Lizzie Rose and Paresfall happen across a beautiful new puppet in Grisini’s collection with the fair skin, brown curly hair and perfect white party gown of that same sad little rich girl who vanished shortly after they performed for her. Just as things start heating up, Grisini too disappears, and the children unearth a letter from Casandra to their vile caretaker, asking him to bring his wards north so that she might shower them with riches in a last act of atonement before she dies. Knowing full well that this is clearly a trap and that the woman must have ulterior motives, the children decide to just go for it anyway and hitch a train to Scotland with little puppet Clara in tow.It would be very easy to hide behind the genre as a shield from criticism. Do these stock characters feel overly one-dimensional, the unflappably virtuous Lizzie Rose, the Cockney pick-pocket scallywag Parsefall, Grisini, the monstrous evil embodiment? Absolutely, but of course so did all the characters in Victorian literature. Is the tone relentlessly dreary and morbid? Yes, but same. Are there wild, plot serving leaps in the characters’ reasoning? Is the ending a little too easy? Indeed, and ditto. Yes all of these faulty elements that might be perceived as the writer’s weakness exactly mimic the trappings of the very genre which she is succeeding at duplicating here, but what then is the point or this exercise? For a modern writer to emulate and repackage an existing genre so accurately that she even mimics its failings? Perhaps then my greatest criticism of Splendor and Glooms is that it adheres a little too closely to form in all of those respects, but as Schlitz has the benefit of being an evolved and decorated (Newbery Medal winning, in fact) writer, might she not have hand selected the best elements from Victorian Lit while using her skills to improve upon the worst? Yes, she might have, but the decision was made, and as such I am unwilling to grade on a genre-aware curve. Viewing this work simply as it is, without two semesters of college level Victorian Lit under my belt, as will be the case for the children who read this book, Splendors and Glooms suffers terribly at the hands of its main characters. There is little to like in either Parsefall, a shade of The Artful Dodger with twice the self-interest and half the humor, or Lizzie Rose, a tediously weepy, moralizing drip. Through Parsefall’s flatness you at least know who he is, however selfish and grotesque, but Lizzie Rose’s manners and ladylike etiquette are a constant performance, and as a result I felt held at a distance from the truth of her. On selecting a bauble from the witch Cassandra: “Lizzie Rose had made up her mind to behave like the youngest daughter in the fairy tales she loved. The youngest daughter always preferred the humblest gift: a rose instead of a diamond, a blessing instead of a fortune.” If Lizzie Rose “made up her mind” to behave that way, then presumably it’s a pose, and disingenuous to her true feelings. At one point Grisini refers to her as “a deceitful little puss, in spite of her pious airs”, and though we are meant to jeer at this as character assassination, I think he had it right, and I wish we could have seen a little more of the inner deviousness that had led him to say that, and less of her forced virtue. What did Lizzie Rose actually want as opposed to what she decided to choose? Clara showed a glimmer of a rebellious streak, but the plot literally immobilizes her and as a result she remains passive until the final moments when she bursts out of her prison in a grand act of bravery that feels unearned. Cassandra the dying witch held the most interest for me, but due to the state of her health she too was largely passive, confined to her sick bed, coming in and out of lucidity. We hear a little about her life as a child, a chubby outcast, abandoned by her parents, but I would have loved to see Cassandra at the height of her beauty and power, when she and Grisini were partners in crime, two ruthless hedonists with magical abilities. How did they use their powers when they were in full? What happened to turn these two so viciously against one another? How does Cassandra still hold her sway over him? Knowing the answer to these questions might have added some emotion to their present state, bodies broken, power all but gone, love turned sour. Alas, we were not treated to such, and these two are left to play their “bad guy” parts. Unfortunately there is nowhere else to look for betterment. The characters’ actions and motivations are poorly explained and often downright inexplicable (In the height of their eventual victory, the heroic Clara slaps Parsefall across the face for merely elucidating that Lizzie Rose is not his sister by blood. My mouth fell open.) the plot is full of holes (The children deduce that Clara has been turned into a puppet and then do absolutely nothing to try to turn her back into a human. Not even a brainstorming session. Some friends.) and the bow on the ending is so neatly tied it defies reason (Really, Parsefall gets a new wealthy family but they’re not going to make him go to school because he’s just not the type?). I would love to meet the ten year old who could read this book from start to finish. Though I can appreciate the notion of presenting different adult genres to a younger audience (and it can be done well, see This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein) it’s hopelessly naïve to believe a spoonful of sugar isn’t necessary to help the medicine go down, and in the world of Splendor and Glooms where the promise of magic is only used to harm children, where is the sweetener? A stifling read, desperate for a breath of fresh air that never comes. For more reviews, author interviews, reading lists and articles from The Rusty Key, visit us at

  • Heidi
    2019-03-25 04:33

    4.5 Stars.Any reader who has found themselves enraptured by the world of Charles Dickons will be happy to surround themselves with a similar beauty and grime in the aptly titled Splendors and Glooms. Laura Amy Schlitz utilizes her fantastical prose to steep us in the wonders of a Victorian child’s world. Children have the capacity to believe in anything, and they feel everything so acutely–such is the shape of the magic in this story.Three children brought together through a set of unfortunate circumstances are bound by need. Clara, the only surviving child of a wealthy family feels incredibly alone despite her place in good society. Knowing that her parents would have rather she died than her twin brother, she feels she is not really allowed to live life when her parents are so fixated on death. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are the poor assistants to the foreign puppet master, Grisini. Lizzie Rose knew family and love at one time, and refuses to comport herself as anything but a lady of the most humble nature, certain things will turn out in the end. Parsefall is a nine-fingered thief and skilled young puppeteer who pushes away all of Lizzie Rose’s attempts to treat him as a brother, his sense of reality too acute for the feelings and responsibilities of others.While a unique and mystifying magic drives the story of Splendors and Glooms, it is the strong characters and their relationships that make this such a memorable book. The children involved are brave, and so hopeful despite their close acquaintance with the hard realities of life and death. Grisini is precisely the type of manipulative villain one should most fear, the type who will stop at nothing to gain a better foothold in the world and can charm the right people into giving it to him. Cassandra, an old rival of Grisini, determined to hold onto her pampered life with tooth and nail can easily be marked as one of the most complex and sympathetic villains I have yet to encounter. I am in awe of Laura Ann Schlitz’s ability to make me open my heart not only to these children, but to the very woman who puts them in the greatest danger.Splendors and Glooms brings to life the wonder and innocence to be found in a puppet show, the beauty of weightlessness, and the power of belief. Unaware of their positions as pawns in the machinations of sorcery, these three children take us through the streets of London to the English countryside. Each setting holds its dangers, but as ever, in Splendors and Glooms looks are deceiving. A perfect winter read, the cool creepiness of the story settled in the wonderland of the snow covered country manor makes it an ideal companion for chilly winter evenings.For once I adore both the US and UK covers, and though I do prefer the title Splendors and Glooms for its nuance, the text used for Fire Spell is beautiful–I can almost hear it crackling. I find it very interesting that in a story featuring three children, we get a picture of all three only by seeing both covers together–the UK cover features Clara, the US Parsefall and Lizzie Rose.Beautifully written, Laura Amy Schlitz will captivate readers of all ages. Splendors and Glooms is not only one of my favorite Middle Grade reads of the year, it is one of my favorite reads of the year period. Seriously friends, read this book. The twists and turns of the plot, while not always unpredictable were always filled with the power to horrify or fill my heart with warmth. It is a story woven so subtly that you hardly know how you have been drawn in until it has already taken you.Originally reviewed at Bunbury in the Stacks.

  • Betsy
    2019-03-11 21:19

    Do you remember that moment in the film version of The Princess Bride where the grandfather is trying to convince his stubborn grandson that the book he's about to read is fantastic? He lures the kid in by saying the book contains, "Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles." If I had a kid standing in front me right now looking at Splendors and Glooms with equal suspicion I would probably tell them that the book has a witch, an evil puppet master, transformations, a magical amulet, small dogs, orphans, lots of blood, and Yorkshire pudding. And just as the grandfather's description fails to do The Princess Bride justice, so too does this description just wan and pale in the presence of Laura Amy Schlitz's latest. This is a book infused with such a heady atmosphere that from page one on you are so thoroughly sucked into the story that the only way to get out is through.The witch is dying. The girl is lonely. The children are hungry. Four people unconnected until the puppet master Grisini brings them, in a sense, together. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are orphans who have lived with the man for years, doing his puppet work with him, received almost nothing in return. When they perform for Clara Wintermute, a rich little girl who requests a performance for her birthday, they are unprepared when the next day policeman come around asking questions. Clara has disappeared and Grisini is under suspicion. When Grisini himself disappears, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall find something that makes Clara's fate seem out of the ordinary. All the more so when they are summoned by a witch to a beautiful distant estate and everyone, even Grisini, is reunited once more for a final showdown.As odd as it is to say, what this book reminded me of more than anything else was A.S. Byatt's Angels Insects. To be fair, I felt that way about Ms. Schlitz's previous novel A Drowned Maiden's Hair too. Though written for adults, Byatt's novel consists of two short stories, one of which concerns séances and a woman with multiple dead children in her past. Thoughts of that woman came to me as I read more about Clara's story. At first glance a spoiled little rich girl, Clara is cursed in a sense to be the one child that survived a cholera epidemic that wiped out her siblings when she was quite young. Forced to honor them at her birthday (not to mention other times of the year) she is understandably less than in love with their figurative ghosts. Like Byatt, Schlitz taps so successfully into a time period's mores that even as you wonder at their strangeness you understand their meaning. You may not agree with them, but you understand.Where A Drowned Maiden's Hair was a self-described melodrama, Splendors and Glooms is Victorian Gothic. It brings to mind the dirty streets of London and books by authors like Joan Aiken. In Lizzie Rose and Parsefall's world you can get dirty just by walking through the yellow fog. Never mind what you encounter on the street. The first three chapters of the book are split between three different characters and you go down the class ladder, from upper-upperclass to kids who feed only when they can get away with it. It's a distinctive period and Schlitz is a master and plunging you directly into that world. I am also happy to report that her ear for language is as pitch perfect as ever. She's the only author for kids that I know of that can get away with sentences like, "Lizzie Rose corrected him, aspirating the h."At the same time no one acts the way you would expect them to. You walk into the novel thinking that orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall will be perfect little pseudo-siblings to one another and you're repeatedly surprised when Parsefall rejects any and all affection from his devoted (if not doting) friend. In fact he's a fascinating character in and of himself (and at times I almost had the sense that he knew himself to BE a character). He has only one love, one devotion, one obsession in this world and it's difficult for anything else to make a dent in it. Likewise, when Lizzie Rose interacts with the witch you expect the standard tale where she melts the old woman's heart against her will. Schlitz doesn't go in for the expected, though. You will find no schmaltz within these pages. Though the characters' expectations may line up with the readers', beware of falling too in love with what somebody on the page wants. You might find your own heart breaking.Even as a child I had a strange habit of falling in love with storytime's villains. Captain Hook most notably, but others followed suit. That was part of what was so interesting about the villain Grisini in this book. By all logic I should have developed a crush on him of some sort. Yet Schlitz manages to make him wholly reprehensible and just kind of nasty to boot. He actually doesn't appear in all that many pages of the book. When he does you are baffled by him. He's not like a usual villain. He's almost impotent, though his shadow is long. He also suffers more physically than any other bad guy I've encountered in a book for kids. If you've ever worried that a no goodnik wasn't paying sufficiently for their crimes you shall have no such similar objections to Splendors and Glooms. The wages of sin are death and perhaps a bit of bloodletting as well.I admit (and I'm ashamed to say so now) that when I first read this book I thought to myself, "Well that was delightful but I'm sure I'll have a hard time persuading other folks to like it as much as I do." Chalk that one up to my own snotty little assumptions. I'm sure the underlying thought was that I was clearly the right kind of reader and therefore my superior intellect was the whole reason I liked what I had read. Fortunately I was to find that I was nothing more than a snobby snob when it became clear that not only did other librarians love it (librarians who would normally eschew most forms of fantasy if they could possibly help it), kids were enjoying it too! As of this review there are twelve holds on my library's print copies of Splendors and Glooms and six holds on our two ebook editions! So much for lowered expectations. It is exceedingly rare to find an author who hits it out of the park, so to speak, every single time she writes. Ms. Schlitz has written six published works for children and not one has been anything but remarkable. As adept at fairy stories as fairytales, at straight biographies or melodramatic ghost stories, at long last we see what she can do with a Dickensian setting. Result: She does wonders. Wonders and splendors with just a hint of gloom. The sole downside is sitting and waiting for her next book. If it's half as good as this one, it'll be worth the wait.For ages 10 and up.

  • David
    2019-03-17 21:11

    Simply put, this book is a gift. Laura Amy Schlitz gives and gives and gives with this novel, and she somehow makes every sentence, word, and detail completely necessary and completely perfect. That's kind of a massive accomplishment for a nearly 400-page story.If someone ever asks me why I read children's books I won't say anything- I'll just hand them a copy of "The Graveyard Book" and "Splendors and Glooms."Like most great art, this will be really devisive. Readers who like short and succinct/less is more-type novels only will lose patience with this one pretty quickly. But those of us who like language and can savor an incredible sentence and see line after line after line spin out in darn-near perfect storytelling will find a goldmine here.Laura Amy Schlitz excels at the impossible. She made me fall in love with her jewel-like poetry about a feudal manor in "Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!" Now she shows that she can hang with Dickens himself (whenever the boozy landlady Mrs. Pinchbeck showed up I had to remind myself that I wasn't reading "David Copperfield") in this diabolically clever novel that literally doesn't have a wasted sentence to be found.Patience will be rewarded. Language will be savored. Amazing!

  • Erica
    2019-03-08 04:16

    My good sense, what little I have, tells me this was a solid story. My enjoyment sense tells me this was long and boring, despite a capable narrator.I'm torn on how I feel about this book.I think it was too much - too many narratives, too many players, too many paths. It rides the line between middle grade and young adult levels so some of the potential depth is lost, especially among the more adult themes. A lot happened throughout this story and I felt much of it was unnecessary.I liked:-The children, Parsefall, Clara, and Lizzie Rose.-The settings, Victorian London and a snowy lakeside manor somewhere in the northern UK?-The use and symbolism of puppetry.I didn't like:-The sideplot in the Pinchbeck household.-The sideplot with Dr. Wintermute.-The Grisini/Madama flashbacks.Tangentially related: I thought of Elijah Wood doing his Dancey Dance every time the narrator said "puppet master"Yeah, you're welcome for that.I'm hovering at a 2.5 stars for this one but am rounding up because I really did like those kids.

  • Barb Middleton
    2019-03-11 22:11

    "I think I can. I think I can." This little engine that could is chugging through the 2013 Newbery Medal list mentioned in a previous post. My non-picky  appetite seems to stack the most recently devoured book on the top of the pile making it number one for my own personal list. Argh! My top 5 are pretty much interchangeable. So many terrific books!  Glad I'm not judging the "most distinguished" book of the year... Right now I'm guessing: Splendors and Glooms, Crow, Starry River of the Sky, and The One and Only Ivan. What's your pick?While Splendors and Glooms meets the Newbery criteria with its unusual and complex plot, characters, themes, and language; it might not be all that likable to folks not hankering for the Victorian mood and language that slowly builds at the start entwining different plot points into an exciting climax. Not that this matters when choosing a Newbery - that falls under personal taste which is not measured in winning books. The book is creepy and depressing in parts with Lizzie Rose and Parsefall being abused and Clara neglected, to humorous scenes with the wacky dog and Pinchbeck reliving her acting days with Lizzie Rose. Remember the hubbub surrounding The Tale of Despereaux because of the violence in it? I think this might rile up some for the same reason. On the blog Heavy Medal the discussion about the pacing being slow and boring just goes to show some are gonna love it and some are not. It's worth deciding for yourself.The first chapter introduces Clara Wintermute, the sole survivor of cholera that took the life of her four brothers and sisters. Life is one mournful event after the other with trips to the family mausoleum at Kensal Green cemetery for holidays and birthdays. Clara feels guilty because she lived and her parents neglect her in their grief. When Clara sees a marionette troupe she convinces her dad to have them perform at her birthday party. She likes the girl who plays the music, Lizzie Rose, and the boy, Parsefall, who works the puppets, but she is frightened of Mr. Grisini, owner of the show. Clara disgraces herself at the performance and soon after vanishes. Grisini is the prime suspect but when he disappears, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are left trying to survive with no money.Circumstances force them to flee London to Strachan's Ghyll, a frigid place that contrasts wonderfully from the smoggy London atmosphere. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are befriended by a witch who is by no means a one-sided villain. She is an interesting study of manipulation and loneliness. All the characters have interesting changes except Grisini, who remains the one-sided villainous character from beginning to end. Lizzie Rose tries to control her environment through cleanliness and caring for those around her. She responds in kindness and rejects hate. Parsefall is a victim who finds relief through the craft of puppetry.  His view of people is what motivates him at the end of the novel. All of the buildup and multiple viewpoints are essential to the plot and characters' actions that leads to an exciting climax.The Dicken's-like orphan Parsefall adds to the Victorian feel and is a masterful example of character voice. He calls an expensive gem a "gewgaw" and tells Lizzie Rose to not involve the "coppers" with Grisini because "You don't know 'im the way I do." He is a streetwise, illiterate boy who is not as tough as he tries to appear. The witch is another fascinating piece of character building who is vicious and vulnerable. Only Lizzie Rose can truly see her lonliness, but then only Lizzie Rose can truly see the loyalty of Parsefall. Loveable Lizzie Rose is like the comical dog she hauls around who has unconditional love for all the odd (and normal) characters she crosses paths with. Clara becomes friends with Lizzie Rose and must decide whether or not she'll help the children in the end, as well as, forgive her parents and herself in order to move forward with life.Some of the content to know about beforehand are: a kidnapping, two swear words, characters attacked - one child maimed, a female character having to deal with unwanted male attentions, lots of characters with child abuse and neglect issues, hint of a suicide (due to magic), and many deaths (all except one happen in the past). This gothic tale is best for older readers. Slow? Boring? Violent? Newbery possibility? Decide for yourself. This one definitely distinguishes itself.Reading Level 5.5

  • Wendy
    2019-03-25 01:06

    While this book is too dense for my personal tastes, the writing is excellent with no missteps. Every character is fascinating--even the ones who seemed like they were going to be stock figures at first (that is, most or all of the adults). Nicely atmospheric of London, the English countryside, AND Venice. This isn't a particularly talky or intellectual book and probably has a wider potential audience than it would seem. It certainly has a well-earned shot at the Newbery, but is not, frankly, a kind of book that generally does win the Newbery. I haven't read every honor book, but looking back over the last twenty years or so, out of the books I've read I don't see anything much like this--rich with this kind of detail, quite otherworldly. (The kids are real kids, but I don't see their personal struggles as being directly related to those of modern American kids.) None of that is meant as a criticism, at all; I just wonder if maybe books like this don't seem to get Newbery recognition because they're difficult to build consensus around.

  • Rachael Stein
    2019-03-11 01:18

    I've been having the darnedest time figuring out how to review Splendors and Glooms. I first read it back in June, I think. I gave it five stars, mentally filed it away as My Favorite Book So Far This Year, and planned to reread and review it later. I reread it this month - still great.Here's the thing, though: I'm kind of a fangirl for Laura Amy Schlitz. She is by far my favorite author writing for children right now. I find that it can be difficult, however, to explain her genius to those who are not already on her bandwagon. I firmly believe that A Drowned Maiden's Hair should have won the 2007 Newbery, and I know some people love it as much as I do, but many reviews dismissed it as formulaic.But. BUT. Therein lies Schlitz's particular talent: she takes what should be formulaic and infuses it with beauty and emotional depth. A Drowned Maiden's Hair follows the plot of a traditional melodrama, but it says True Things about love, family, and home. Similarly, The Night Fairy (another wildly underrated book) contributed a wonderfully fierce, complex character to the overstuffed ranks of fairy lit, and accomplished that within the confines of a book directed at lower elementary readers. Like a formal poet, Schlitz employs the limitations of genre to lend depth and focus to her books.And so we come to Splendors and Glooms. Typical Victoriana with the addition of magic and marionettes. Poor little rich girl Clara Wintermute is both coddled and stifled by her parents. The long shadow of family tragedy hangs over her household and continues to shape her life. Enter plucky orphans Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, apprentices/slaves to the sinister puppeteer Gaspare Grisini, who lives under a shadow of his own. And then there is the mysterious witch with the cursed opal pendant. The three worlds collide in comic, tragic, sensational ways that make the novel's 400 pages fly by. Seen it before? Of course! But not like this. I would argue that Clara, Lizzie Rose, and Parsefall are the most fully realized, complex characters in any middle grade novel published this year. To invert one of the book's tropes, it's as if Schlitz has brought a set of porcelain dolls to life, and they don't always behave in the ways we expect. The secondary characters are delightful as well, especially the comically dramatic actress-cum-landlady and the oily, grasping Grisini.All of them move within settings so real I have trouble believing that Schlitz is not hiding a time machine somewhere in her Baltimore home. The grubby London streets, the stuffy Wintermute home with its freakish Victorian mourning customs, the crumbling castle by the lake - all are painted in lurid color by Schlitz's richly layered prose. Of course, Schlitz has a gift for envisioning this particular time and place. I recently learned that she wrote the very first Regency romance I read as a teenager - A Gypsy at Almack's. I think it gave me unreasonable expectations for the whole genre.If there is any complaint to be leveled at Splendors and Glooms, it is that the ending is unreasonably happy. Again, though, that goes along with the genre. Like Oliver Twist, Clara, Lizzie Rose, and Parsefall have been through so much that we can hardly begrudge them their hearts' desires. And I would certainly not begrudge Laura Amy Schlitz another gold medal.(Cross posted from For Those About to Mock)

  • Rebeka
    2019-02-28 02:06

    Splendors and Glooms is the type of book I wish I'd written. Set in Victorian England, rife with orphans and evil puppeters, mystery and magic, the story tells the tale of Clara, a rich girl whose supposedly easy life is not so easy at all, and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, orphan apprentices to a puppeter who is more than he seems. The past of the puppeter and his connection to a witch named Cassandra and an intriguing stone called a fire opal draw the children into a web of treachery and evil magic--a web they may not escape.While the book is not fast-paced by any means, I finished it within three days, grabbing it any chance I could get when I wasn't doing my chores or spending time with my family. The book is peppered with funny, touching moments that even out the sorrowful, eerie tone. Whether a kind constable or melodramatic landlady, the characters make this book feel as homey as a Charles Dickens novel--it makes the time period shine and come alive in the readers' minds.The children are all superbly developed, often in surprising ways. While Parsefall and Lizzie Rose have a brother-sister relationship, it is by no means easy-going or overly affectionate. I found myself wanting to reach out and adopt these two sad children through the pages of the novel. Clara was by no means just a spoiled rich brat; she had a sadness and a story all her own, with struggles to overcome. And the names! Wintermute and Parsefall and Lizzie Rose--completely enchanting and otherworldly and absolutely WONDERFUL!While I found this book in the Juvenile section of my local library, I think teenagers and adults alike would be charmed by this beautiful, haunting, and heartwarming tale. While it was not quite as eerie as I was expecting, it was a wonderful surprise to discover what truly lay within its covers. There were a few sprinklings of language here and there--taking the Lord's name in vain--that stop this book from being a complete five stars in my opinion, but I definitely recommend this book for those searching for something to remind them of the classics from childhood.Four stars!

  • Jim Erekson
    2019-03-15 00:33

    This is tricky. I've been reading so many picturebooks that I had to shift gears to rate a novel. Why? Because I spent so much more time on this book that I want to rate it higher. Just because I read it and liked it, I want to say I "really" liked it. But truth be told, I don't know how many people I'll go out and recommend: "You're going to need to read this book." Again, a five would have to be beyond 'recommendable' and into the 'must have' and 'will re-read' category, and a four would have to be something I really wanted to talk to other people about. This one, I would talk about with people who happened to read it (which could be a lot because of the silver medal), but I wouldn't go around seeking out my own people to read it just so I could share the experience and discuss it with them. I experienced some some fine aesthetic moments while inside the reading. I enjoyed the dark tone, and felt the small dose of fantasy in the premise was used well to set up a highly polarized and distorted moral world where dark themes could be explored because of the exaggeration. Much like in a fairy tale, we need something as extreme as a cannibal ogre to be the enemy so we can justify killing him in the story. Social class is an issue that can be exaggerated very well in the Victorian era, so the setting made for interesting dynamics that way. Servants and the served is a strong theme. Containment, cruelty, magic (what makes something magic), and belonging could also be explored pretty deeply. Schlitz pulled no punches on the violence, which was refreshing because this realizes the sense of danger and immediacy. The content about puppet theater was fun, but I spent the whole time wishing it was about a Punch and Judy 'swatchel omi' instead of a marionette (fantoccini) theater--many of these performers in the 1800s were also Italian. Punch & Judy is just so much more Victorian and English.

  • Emma
    2019-03-11 04:10

    The year is 1860, and a young Clara Wintermute is looking forward to her twelfth birthday party, in which a puppeteer is coming to create a magical puppet show for Clara and her friends. While the puppet show will be enchanting, Clara is more excited to see the two children who help with the puppet show. They are unlike anyone Clara has ever met, and she actually feels like they genuinely like her, unlike her other friends. For Clara is a very lonely little girl, and it feels as if the ghosts of her deceased siblings are everywhere she goes. After the puppet show, Clara Wintermute goes missing. Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, the two orphans who worked as puppeteers, might be the only ones who can save Clara. Tied to Clara’s fate are two dangerous magicians, caught in an age-old battle for power. Amidst the grey world of Victorian London, three children will have to confront magic and ancient curses.I bought this book at Foyles in London, mainly because Stacey from Pretty Books had heard it was good, and because it looked like the perfect book to buy in London, with Big Ben and St. Paul’s on the cover. I actually read this book in Paris and I quickly got wrapped up in it. I adore the cover art, and the novel as a whole captures and even lives up to the eerie and beautiful picture depicted. I loved the atmosphere presented in the novel, and how Victorian customs, especially pertaining to death, were dealt with in the novel. It was well-researched and interesting historical fiction. The story takes us into the minds of various different characters, from the rich to the poor, the good to the evil. All the characters were all well written and intriguing, and it was nice to see London of the mid 19th century from the perspective of characters from different social standings. Even as I spent my days in Paris I found my mind being drawn back to this book, which I was reading at night. It was well written with a fast moving and unique plot. In the middle I was feeling a little let down, wishing there had been more explanation as to why Grissini did what he did to Clara. In the end, I was very happy with the ending and how the novel took you there. Full of spells, puppetry and impossibilities, Fire Spell was enjoyable read for lovers of fantasy. 4/5

  • Teresa
    2019-03-17 02:23

    Set in Victorian London in 1860, Fire Spell will appeal to young readers with a penchant for magical adventure and fantasy. Clara Wintermute comes from a wealthy but rather melancholy family, not surprising given that all her siblings were wiped out by cholera. She longs for some excitement in her life and this comes in the shape of the puppeteer, Grisini, a Fagin-like character and his young urchin assistants, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall (the Artful Dodger?). Unfortunately, in true Victorian melodrama style, all does not bode well and Clara ends up imprisoned in the body of a puppet while Grisini engages in magical and mental battle with the aged witch Cassandra. Will Clara ever return to human form? Can Lizzie Rose and Parsefall help her whilst evading the clutches of their evil master? Does Cassandra have a human heart after all?Yes, it's all rather melodramatic but extremely good fun and reminiscent of the adventures of E Nesbit's characters with touches of Neil Gaiman's Coraline and The Graveyard Book as well as a pinch of Cornelia Funke's Inkheart Trilogy. Targeted at the 9-12 age group, at almost 400 pages, I think it's perhaps only suitable for very confident readers in the younger age bracket but it is an enjoyable romp of a read for anyone who enjoys an exciting, magical, well plotted story with no great surprises en route.

  • Christy B
    2019-03-18 01:32

    I was sort of sad when I finished this. I just loved the world, and the characters, and the magic, that I really was caught up in it.Young Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are the assistants of the master puppeteer Gaspare Grisini. When a little girl goes missing the night after they've entertained for her birthday party, everything is thrown into turmoil, and decades old secrets are revealed.The story is set in early 1860s England, and is a fabulously weaved story of historical fantasy. People of all ages should love this. Honestly, it was very creepy in some places, and the plot was intricate. It really has something for everyone, so don't judge when you see it's a story for juveniles. It really, really does not read that way.In the book, you're swept up in a dark, Victorian setting, almost Dickensian, with two orphans, an almost sadistic puppeteer, and an old witch who is obsessed with vanquishing herself of something before she dies. First, we're walking around the creepy, dirty London streets, and then we're up to an almost fairy-tale castle-like home, with a crumbling tower. The story can go from gothic to enchanting in a paragraph. I truly didn't realize that until just now, because it was done so masterfully.Highly recommended to fantasy or historical fantasy fans.

  • Wealhtheow
    2019-03-12 21:10

    Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are apprentices of a cruel puppet-master, Grisini. They are mistreated and miserable, but they have one bright afternoon--teatime with a little lonely rich girl. Then Clara goes missing and they are suspected of kidnapping her. When Grisini disappears as well, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall follow to find him in the home of a mysterious old woman. Cassandra has powerful sorceries, and the choice she offers the children could save them from Grisini's torments--or doom them for eternity.I really enjoyed this. Each character is unique and memorable, and the problem they are set is at first dauntingly insurmountable. I liked that over time, they found ways to connect to each other and think their way out. Although the main characters are young, their circumstances are grim and the nuances of their Victorian society probably difficult for equally young readers to understand.

  • Kathy
    2019-03-08 21:22

    When Clara Wintermute invites puppeteer children Lizzie Rose and Parsefall to perform at her 12th birthday, their master, Grisini, kidnaps her, turning her into a puppet the children take to the stately home of a witch, Madama Cassandra, who wants one of the children to steal her cursed jewel. You have to admire those names. I savored this book for both its elegant language and its masterful construction--focusing on one character and then another just as if THEY were the puppets (indeed, Parsefall once says “"How do you know we ain't in a story?"). There is gothic melodrama and there is convincing magic. The story is convoluted enough that you can't quite imagine how it will all work out, but is satisfyingly resolved using all the little bits and pieces. Due out in August, this is a story-telling triumph.

  •  Linda (Miss Greedybooks)
    2019-03-14 01:23

    London 1860.Gaspare Grisini with his puppet caravan intrigues Clara Wintermute enough to beg for a performance of the fantoccini at her 12th birthday party. The orphans, Parsefall ("I ain't done nuffink), and Lizzie Rose are his helpers. I enjoyed this story - I would call it a grim fairy tale (pun intended), it is a Newbery metal winner, but I can't say I loved it. It was kept in grimy, dark & foggy London mostly - it added to the gloomy part. The splendor was hinted at more than brought to the front, I would have liked it more defined & had a shiny part explained. The tale goes along well in the beginning & characters are well developed. It was the end that was muddled. It was not explained well, there were things left in my mind unanswered. I felt there could have been more that was finished, how & why. What happened after?Oh, and there is a witch.

  • Adriana
    2019-03-21 01:17

    http://shesgotbooksonhermind.blogspot...A book about puppets. Not your usual read. I didn't really think about what I was going to get myself into with this book. I only really remembered reading the summary and coming away with puppets and a witch so I was sold. Who gets to read about puppeteers ever? I enjoyed the concept of the puppets way more than I expected. It made the story original but as I was reading it and gasping at a particular part in the book I realized how original it was. It revealed a whole new world that kids and adults alike can imagine as their own.Clara's mother is so glum all the time. She does have a reason but really I felt I would have run away if I were Clara a long time ago... She assumes the worst about her and she never gives her the benefit of the doubt. Clara of course is the perfect angel. I'm serious. All throughout she's even nicer than Lizzie Rose but I will get to her later. Clara forms a bond with Parsefall that makes me giddy. You might not think so when I describe Parsefall as being a dirty thieving boy who never showers and has only 9 fingers. Yep. It's a bit freaky when you first learn about the nine fingers but Parsefall was my favorite character. I seriously wanted to hug him sometimes but others I wanted Lizzie Rose to force him to take a bath. Not me. From what I can tell he took a bath like three times maybe so I doubt he would obey me...Lizzie Rose was a bit uppity to me every now and then only because she tried to take on too much and blamed Parsefall for being lazy (remember he is my favorite so I will always side with him). I don't mean that I didn't like her because she was responsible. In time I did grow to like her and just really wished for her to not act so noble all the time. You are a kid! You are allowed to act like one and make mistakes. She was albeit very essential to the dynamic of the story because without her I doubt Parsefall could survive. Parsefall might survive but he wouldn't nearly be as well off. She did show remarkable restraint as well during the book with the even more evil character than Grisini - the witch!The story is told through the perspective of many of the characters and especially in one in particular which was the witch. She is dying and complains of her pain and dreams of fire. She knows she will burn and even if it might hurt her pride she must find out what Grisini meant by unless. Grisini is kind of like the adult version of Parsefall only in that he's a thief and is also very very dirty. He and the witch, Cassandra, are absolutely horrible people. I didn't feel any sorrow for them. I felt somewhat pity for Cassandra but all in all... no. They both deserve their miserable lives.When I went on Goodreads I discovered a couple of bad and some so so reviews here and there and I was shocked! This book was told masterfully. The characters are devised in such a way that you can't help but feel like you know them or at least want to know them (I'm talking about the kids. The others not so much.). Parsefall was just the best and he completely sucked me into his story or at least the mystery of it for the most part. Why oh why would anyone think this book was less than great!? Children of the world read this book and become amazed! I loved this book from beginning to end and I now must go in search of other books by Schlitz. You Schlitz, are doing everything right.

  • Anne
    2019-03-22 03:34

    I think this might be the first book I've read that I'd put on the same level with JKR's writing in the Potter books. The detail. The way the story is spun. The writing. It's full of detail & imagery but not too much. But it's enough to make you see and feel and smell the settings. I'd almost venture to say that Ms. Schlitz's writing is better than JK's (and I'm not talking about Casual Vacancy here, b/c I feel like that's an entirely separate animal) as her pacing and prose are truly flawless.Ms. Schlitz's complex plot, language, themes, and characterization build slowly but steadily, intertwining several plot lines before tying them all up in a wonderful climax. One thing I greatly enjoyed was the fact that it's not readily clear which characters are The Hero/ines, and which ones are The Bad Ones. Yes, Clara & Grisini are obvious, but the other ones, Parsefall, Madama, even Lizzie Rose, etc. are rather ambiguous. While I adored Potter, it felt very clear to me from the outset which "side" each character was on. I loved that Schlitz presented a complexity to her characters and peeled away their layers throughout the story, essentially leaving it up to the very end to reveal their true nature. It made me stop and think and constantly try to anticipate what the different characters would choose to do next.I realize that many of the reviews are less than 4 stars, but in my opinion it's simply a splendid piece of storytelling. For me, this earned every star because it's not just the story that shines, but also the way it unfolds, the sometimes haunting characterizations, and of course Ms. Schlitz's wonderful prose. Finally, I had the chance to meet Ms. Schlitz last April and talk with her in a social setting. I also had the chance to hear her speak to a roomful of librarians, teachers, and parents about this book, her writing process, and how difficult Splendors & Glooms was to write. She stood by herself in the middle of the stage and spoke with such passion & insight. No podium, no notes. Prior to speaking about Splendors, she read a passage (FROM MEMORY. Again, no podium, no notes) from her previous book, The Bearskinner. Ms. Schlitz is an absolutely CONSUMMATE storyteller. The entire room was entranced. I'd give anything to hear her read part of Splendors & Glooms.

  • Jenny
    2019-03-11 21:20

    I finished this a week ago and have been putting off reviewing it because I'm not sure what to say. I liked some things about it and felt less certain about others. I enjoyed the plot but it did feel a bit dark, maybe rather dark...and it moved slowly. It took me longer to read than I would have expected even though I was enjoying it. I also wonder about the target audience. I teach 3rd grade and definitely wouldn't read it to/recommend it to 3rd graders. But I am not even sure I'd recommend it to my daughter in 6th grade...I think it would frighten her.. Definitely upper elementary or junior high for the audience..and even then it seems like it might only fit a small niche of students.So a tiny plot summary: two children, Parsefall and Lizzie Rose, are in the care of Grisini, a puppeteer. They help him run his shows....and they are mistreated by him and nearly starving. They are invited to perform at the birthday party of a young girl, Clara, and shortly after their performance, Clara disappears. The police suspect Grisini kidnapped her but they can't prove it, nor can they find Clara. Grisini disappears and the children receive a letter from an old friend of Grisini's named Cassandra. Cassandra is dying and says she wants to leave her riches to them. However, Cassandra is a witch and has ulterior motives for inviting them. Nevertheless, the children travel to her home, hoping their fortune is changing. I do appreciate that we see the characters grow and develop. Even Madama/Cassandra seems to become more human and less wicked near the end. (Grisini, however, does not. I just shudder thinking about him. He could be the unsub on an episode of Criminal Minds...a gruesome figure.) I kept thinking how dark it felt to me...Grisini and Cassandra are pretty wicked and frightening characters. I like stories with magic...I kept thinking about Harry Potter....and Harry Potter definitely had some evil characters. But somehow this felt more frightening and more dark than Harry Potter or many other books with magic. I tried to explain why it feels darker than Harry Potter and realized as I was doing so that they have some comment elements...yet I still think this feels more intense.

  • Michael
    2019-03-27 05:25

    Uncovering Gaspare Grisini's criminal past linked to the 12 year old Clara Wintermute's capture and transformation into a puppet, the only way to break the curse is to steal a rare gem called a fire opal. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, learning the danger, gets lured to live with Gaspare's arch-nemesis, Cassandra Sagredo's trap which is designed to steal the fire opal causing burning death to anyone who inherits it.Parsefall, a fairly mischievous boy with a tragic past, is a dark, scared, and a mysterious young boy. I don't want to be friends with this boy because he has a rich amount of issues that shaped him for the worst. He is a unpleasant boy with the growing hatred towards Grisini and the pessimistic output towards the future as shown through his thoughts and thinking that he will live with Gaspare forever. He is scared by the memory of Gaspare shaving-off his finger, causing trauma on how he sees things with his preference. He is mysterious because he does not open up until desperate times, just like when he rescued Clara, it took him a while to open up to save Clara.Overall I think this is a good book because we learned a lot about the character, not necessarily by the constant characterisation stated by the author, but the silence of the character that you could infer what the character is like. How the author transitioned through events was spectacular, with the way he kept you curious with the events leading to a major part of the story. I would definitely recommend this book to other middle schoolers. The fact that you can't really relate to them is for me, a major component of the fascination of the story. Parsefall, even if he may be dull, he riches the plot of the story, balancing the traits of Lizzie Rose. The story held my interest for every page I read. I sit on the edge of my seat, reading this thrilling story. It is plainly a page turner. You won't regret reading this story.

  • Barbara
    2019-03-25 23:26

    I enjoyed reading this suspense-filled tale of magic and mystery set in 1860 London and Strachan's Ghyll in 1861. While it takes awhile for all the connections among the characters to be revealed, I appreciated being given the time to figure out what each one's secret was. This is one of those books in which it's hard to decide which person is most evil: Cassandra the witch or her archnemesis, the puppet master. Clearly, the author has more sympathy for Cassandra since she reveals aspects of the young Cassandra and the elderly, dying Cassandra that make readers feel pity for her whereas the puppet master seems relentlessly intent on getting his way with little care for others. The storyline revolves around Lizzie Rose and Parsefall who are orphans who fall under the care of Gaspare Grisini, a talented puppeteer who has several other ways of making a living, including having Parsefall steal from the members of his audience, and kidnapping. After they perform at Clara Wintermute's twelfth birthday party, she disappears. Eventually, it becomes clear that Grisini has taken her away, put her under a spell so that she remains a puppet, unable to speak or move except when strings are attached to her limbs. After Grisini seems to have disappeared, the children head to the north of the country, following the instructions in a letter from Cassandra who promises to leave her estate to them. Of course, she can't be trusted either, and she has plans to use the children to get rid of a pendant that has brought her great power but never any happiness. The writing kept me moving quickly the story, and the characters were drawn so realistically that I felt that I knew all of them or someone just like them. I could feel the grinding hunger and exhaustion that Lizzie Rose and Parsefall experienced and the delight with which they filled their bellies. I'll be interested to hear the opinions of middle grade readers on this one.

  • Lu Benke
    2019-03-20 05:18

    Death, temptation, religion--they are all in here. But the charm of the book for me was in the puppetry-related scenes and the descriptions of the settings. I'm no longer a big fan of fantasy where all things are possible and the deus ex machina reigns supreme, but the magical elements in this book are actually minimal. It is more a story about the characters. The book decidedly got more interesting to me when Cassandra came on the scene. She's the witch, but she is more like a not-nice-yet-still-human eighty-something and that is plenty to make her interesting--at least the way Schlitz paints her. In fact, she is the most well developed of all the characters. Still, she has evil hovering around her and the other dark themes make more of an entrance as she is on the scene. Schlitz knows how to make you shudder at the suggestion of evil (such that I expected warnings from reviewers about the adult themes)and she uses this to good effect. The more direct focus on religion came unexpectedly about two-thirds through the book and it seems like Schlitz should have set the stage for it sooner. But for a fantasy book to hold me through to the end means it must be worthwhile. I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator (Davina Porter) was superb. Her portrayal of the boy Parsefall was especially fun and alive.

  • Beth
    2019-03-15 23:33

    For as well written and engaging as this book was, I found it disturbing in light of its target audience. It wasn’t just that it dealt with difficult subject matter – it’s often a good thing for young people to interact with violence and death in literature. I’m all for the violence of adventure stories or fairy tales, and I savor compassionate stories of loss such as Walk Two Moons, Bridge to Terabithia, or Belle Prater's Boy. But this was different. It’s very obviously a children’s book – not targeted for a teen audience – and yet it contains disturbingly real villains doing very frightening things to vividly written children. Death is dealt with in the creepy and macabre manner of gothic novels or Edgar Allen Poe. Don’t get me wrong: the story telling and description are impressive, and the characters make it difficult to put down. But it’s a story I would hesitate to recommend to children.*****If you appreciated this review, check out my blog at

  • Kristen
    2019-02-25 02:11

    Hmmmm. I'm just not sure how I felt about this one. It was taking me a while to get into it, and then I realized it's the kind of book you need to read in long sittings, not in 20 minute spurts like I was trying to do on my lunch breaks or before bed. Once I realized that, once I gave myself time to get lost in the gloom and setting, it was really gripping and I wanted to know what happened. I started to really be interested in the characters and the magic of the world. But, I still didn't love it. It's well written and interesting, and feels like it should be captivating, but for some reason it didn't grab me.Things to know: this is definitely a middle grade novel. The word "bitch" is used, there's talk of lust, and there are themes that probably wouldn't be comprehended by most younger elementary aged kids. The pacing is slow, and it's definitely a book for a reader who likes to take his or her time with a story and get immersed in the world. It is well written, atmospheric, and creepy--I can see why it was chosen as a Newbery Honor.

  • Linda Lipko
    2019-03-12 22:22

    While I didn't particularly like her Newbery Medal Award winning book Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!, I very much liked this one!Fairy tale like, containing a cast of young children trying to escape an evil and then not so evil witch, and a mean, nasty puppetmaster/magician, beauty and creativity abound in Splendors and Glooms.Set in London during the time when street urchins abounded, when poverty was soul numbing and brutal, without a safety net, those who are widowed or orphaned must somehow survive.Gaspare Grisini uses two orphans to ply his puppet mastery trade while pick pocketing those in attendance. When they entertain Clara, a wealthy young girl, in her lavish home, soon thereafter she disappears. When his wards discover that Grisini turned Clara into one of his puppets, the tale twists and turns as together the children quest for freedom.This is a dazzling, magical, lyrical book. Highly recommended

  • Kate Forsyth
    2019-03-18 22:05

    I absolutely adored this book! Laura Amy Schlitz reminds me of one of my all-time favourite authors, Joan Aiken, which is very high praise indeed. This is a rather creepy story about children and witches and a puppet-master in London a century or so ago. Brilliant.

  • The Book Queen
    2019-02-24 03:31

    3.75 stars Surprisingly good! I wasn't expecting to like this, but I did.

  • Katie
    2019-03-25 02:26

    This was well-written, but it stopped short of making me FEEL. I did like a lot of the plot and set up, though. And it felt like a COMPLETE book. Everything ended how it should.

  • M. Lauritano
    2019-03-22 23:17

    Just finished this Newberry Honor and I'm beginning to realize that exceptional middle grade novels are more rare than I would have hoped. Laura Amy Schiltz can certainly write. There is nothing 'tacky' about the plot or characterizations in the story. There is a formal quality to her prose that makes me want to take it very seriously. Unlike others, I was not bothered by the length, descriptive tendencies, or dark mood. But in the end the book was quite disappointing with little to love or ponder. The book starts intriguingly. A mysteriously ailing witch. A curious girl suffocating in Victorian grief. A sinister puppeteer. All great ingredients! But once Clara gets turned into a puppet, things stall.The magic in this story is terribly outlined and unusually cheerless for a children's book. Madama's 'witch' title feels completely unearned to me, as she is really just the selfish (not evil) possessor of a magical wishing stone. Grisini, for someone who has traveled the world learning about magic, must be pretty unimaginative to have ended up a kidnapper and poor puppeteer. How did he get the watch? What really happened to his other victims? These would have been interesting questions to answer, just as more backstory about the two sorcerors' implausible relationship (20 years difference?!) would have been appreciated. Returning to the subject of magic, (view spoiler)[how did Clara break out of her puppet form so easily? How was she able to destroy the opal (hide spoiler)]...?Again, at the start, I thought the characters seemed very well drawn with potential for growth and surprises. Initially, I wasn't completely sure whether Grisini was good or evil (maybe turning Clara Wintermute into a puppet could somehow help her family to heal?), but that ambiguity was quickly quashed in favor of a greedy child-abuser. Orphans Lizzie Rose (why two names?) and Parsefal seemed like they might build towards some kind of defining moment in how they related to each other and the world, but it never came. What if she had fallen to temptation? What if he had found his own code of virtue in their unfortunate circumstances? Madama had plenty of backstory, but something about her felt unclear. I'm not sure how we were supposed to feel about her as readers; perhaps some mixture of general dislike and pity?The fire opal feels like it should be some kind of symbol, but so far as I could tell, it's just a plot device. One that can do just about anything but bring back the dead.Part of me wishes that the witch plot had been dropped in favor of one villain, leading to a story that interestingly mingled dark magic and puppetry (and all the metaphors therein). Instead we get a second act, with a plodding set of chapters solely because one character pockets a letter he cannot read, then eventually, much wandering of a half-empty Scottish estate that begs for lots of action and magic but offers very little.The villains' defeat is incredibly anti-climactic (part of me wondered if this might be an indicator of a resurrection in a sequel). What follows is a clunky series of loose ends being tied off until the kids are happy and settled.Reflecting on the whole, I did feel as if everyone was a bit too multi-faceted. I admire that kind of ambitious direction in a children's book, but the all pieces have to somehow gloriously fit together and for me, they did not. The heart of the story needed some good old-fashioned, cut and dried, simple fairytale logic. Unlikely bravery discovered in relateable heroes. Villains that you actually take pleasure in hating. Some warmth and humor (Mrs. Pinchbeck did not cut it) especially between Lizzie Rose and Parsefal would have bouyed the story enormously. As I'm sure many other negative reviews have said, too much gloom, not nearly enough splendor.