Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Haunting of Charles Dickens (fiction)

Did you remember to celebrate Biographers Day on May 16th (our Guest Post Day)? In the hands of a skilled biographer, an average life becomes a nuanced tapestry worth noting, and an extraordinary life shows all its colors. But what of the fictionalized biography?

I remember being surprised as a child that the "Little House on the Prairie" books were in Fiction, because they were about real people who really did live in the Big Woods and on the Prairie, where you can visit a replica of Laura's cabin today. By choice, Laura and daughter Rose used selected elements of the Ingalls' and Wilders' lives as they crafted the Little House books, as this NPR program notes, recreating conversations from decades earlier and omitting events for better story flow.

We have to trust that writers of fictionalized biographies will stick to the major facts of their subjects' lives (like early baseball book Mudball, by Matt Tavares), or else tell us that we'll be traveling off the path of real history and far into the woods of speculation (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, anyone?).

I think that Lewis Buzbee indeed warns us fairly that The Haunting of Charles Dickens uses just one bit of the writer's life and runs through the alleys of London with it, as Dickens helps the Pickel family of printers solve a mystery. A fun book, with enough of the real Dickens in it that older readers will grasp how the wretched backstreet life that he witnesses becomes the heart of his books, but not so much literary insider talk that younger mystery fans will find it distracting.

On second thought, let's just enjoy this book in honor of International Old Friends, New Friends Week, shall we?

Book info
: The Haunting of Charles Dickens / by Lewis Buzbee, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Fiewel & Friends (Macmillan), 2010. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailer ]

Buzbee also wrote Steinbeck's Ghost, another literary mystery for middle graders which received good reviews and would be a great read for Steinbeck fans of any age. Watch for his upcoming lit-mystery, Mark Twain and the Mysterious Stranger.

Recommendation: Meg is frantic when her big brother Orion disappears from their family's London printshop. Has he been captured by a press-gang to work on the new railway or sail away on a trading ship? Six months gone, with no word at all!

And he'd taken the last section of Great Expectations with him as well! Their good friend Charles Dickens had Meg gasping and laughing and worrying about Pip through the earlier parts of his book, but she never got to finish the story and she can't stop worrying about Orion, even if he is 15 and old enough to take care of himself.

When she spots a strange green glow on a nearby rooftop, Meg asks Mr. Dickens to help her investigate. They find a spiritualist medium at work, using tricks to get money from sorrowful families who want to communicate with their dead loved ones. When actual ghosts come out to meet the pair on the rooftop later, they give clues about Orion's disappearance.

Racing through the dim alleys, into London's dangerous underworld of petty thieves and master criminals, Meg and Mr. Dickens follow Orion's trail as they interpret signs and signals that point to a greater and more dangerous plot.

New antiques, tunnels to nowhere, a trip abroad without leaving London - can they find Orion before he disappears forever? Can Meg and Mr. Dickens stop the danger that threatens the whole city and still keep the famous writer's name out of it? (one of 5,000 books recommended on


  1. Each day I look forward to reading your posts and have a list a mile-long now of YA books for my 11 year old (okay, I admit, I'm going to read them, too). Thanks for sharing. This one in particular sounds interesting to me. I love historical fiction.

    If I may ask, how do you pick the books to highlight?

  2. Bach, I've been recommending books on for about a year now, so I do have a good backlog of my own reviews to start from, with more books & advance reader editions coming in all the time.

    Since I'm trying to promote titles that may be overlooked, I trend toward the 'little guys' in the publishing world - smaller publishing houses, new authors, unheralded works from major publishers, non-US authors, etc.

    Some are fine for middle schoolers, most will be for high school and above (like you and me!) - hopefully, my notes will let readers know which books are for 'very mature' readers. See my May 1st post about my intended blog audience.

    And, as I did when writing a weekly column for the local public library long ago, I like to make a connection for my readers, so I try to link special dates/events with related book(s) - my own "theme days" a la Blogathon.

    So glad you're enjoying BooksYALove and hope that you and your daughter find some wonderful summer reading!

  3. I love the look of your blog. It's just gorgeous. Okay, I need to ask you what would you recommend for a 15 yr that doesn't like to read but loved Alex Rider. He just read Blackhawk Down...If you'd like me to email you privately, I'll be happy to.

  4. Once again, a win for the underdog authors. :) Great post.

  5. Jan - Have him check my recommendations on (use Find a book icon) for these titles (which I'll eventually blog):
    - X Isle, by Steve Augarde
    - Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation, by Matt Myklusch
    - Young Samurai (series), by Chris Bradford (I can't wait for #3!)
    - Murder Afloat, by Jane Lesley Conley
    - Mamba Point, by Curtis Scaletta
    - The Grassland Trilogy (Escape the Mask, Beneath the Mask, Beyond the Mask), by David Ward
    - Hothouse, by Chris Lynch
    - Fish, by Gregory Mone
    - For the Win, and Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
    Enough for starters? Let me know which ones he likes...


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