October 23, 2015

Book Review: Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Publication Date: September 29, 2015

Source: Vine

The book is about, among other things: the strongest boy in the world, a talking cockatoo, a faulty mind reader, a beautiful bearded lady and a nervous magician, an old museum, and a shrunken head.

Blessed with extraordinary abilities, orphans Philippa, Sam, and Thomas have grown up happily in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum of Freaks, Oddities, and Wonders. But when a fourth child, Max, a knife-thrower, joins the group, it sets off an unforgettable chain of events.
When the museum’s Amazonian shrunken head is stolen, the four are determined to get it back. But their search leads them to a series of murders and an explosive secret about their pasts. This sensational new series combines the unparalleled storytelling gifts of Lauren Oliver with the rich knowledge of the notorious relics collector H. C. Chester.

What you will find in this book:

    A rather attractive bearded lady
    Several scandalous murders
    A deliciously disgusting Amazonian shrunken head
    Four extraordinary children with equally extraordinary abilities
    A quite loquacious talking bird

What you will NOT find in this book:

    An accountant named Seymour
    A never-ending line at the post office
    Brussels sprouts (shudder)
    A lecture on finishing all your homework on time
    A sweet, gooey story for nice little girls and boys

The Shrunken Head is one of the most appealing middle grade books I’ve read in a long time. The quirky description’s hint of Lemony Snicket, combined with the lack of brussels sprouts, instantly tickled my fancy.

I loved all of Oliver’s other middle grade books, Liesl and Po and The Spindlers, so I knew I would be in wonderful hands. Oliver and H.C. Chester make a great writing duo. While The Shrunken Head isn’t a fantasy like Oliver’s other middle grade books, it is a fast-paced mystery adventure that kids will love.

Sam, Pippa, Thomas and Max are all considered “freaks” by the outside world, but in Dumfrey’s Dime Museum, they’re celebrated for their one-of-a-kind talents. Shy Sam may look like a scrawny beanpole but he’s the strongest kid in the world. Brainy Thomas can bend, stretch and flatten his body into any shape. Serious Pippa is a mentalist. And Max (short for MacKenzie) –tough, streetwise Max – is a wizard at knife-throwing and pickpocketing. I love the chemistry between these four, strange kids but I have a soft, knife-shaped spot in my heart for surly Max.  I also was drawn to the atmosphere of the Dime Museum, where the kids and other carnivalesque folk reside (the elephant man, the bearded lady, a magician, an alligator boy, etc.). Together, they form a loyal family, with Mr. Dumfrey as its flamboyant but kindly father figure.

When Dumfrey’s prized exhibit, a shrunken head, is stolen and murders and violent attacks start occurring, the four children of Dumfrey’s Dime Museum decide to band together to solve the mysteries. The twist-laden plot has its red herrings and revelations, not the least of which is how Sam, Pippa, Thomas and Max are connected. I’m extremely curious to find out more about their origins and further adventures in the next books of this series.

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