Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: The Caged Graves - Dianne K. Salerni

The Caged Graves by Dianne K. Salerni
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Published on May 14, 2013
Published by Clarion Books
Pages: 329
Read From: 6.30.13 - 7.2.13

"In Catawissa, sometimes the dead don't stay where you put them." 
The year is 1867, and Verity Boone is returning to her birthplace, Catawissa, Pennsylvania. She knows that this small farm town will be a big change from Worcester, Massachusetts, where she's spent most of her seventeen years, and she's ready to face the challenge. She looks forward to a joyful reunion with her father and, of course, to meeting Nate, her future husband, face-to-face for the first time. 
But her homecoming isn't all she expected. Verity's father is awkward and distant, and there's no role for her in his household. Even Nate disappoints - their strained conversations are so unlike the easy exchange of letters that convinced Verity to accept his proposal. 
And a horrifying surprise awaits her. There are two graves enclosed in iron cages just outside the local cemetery's walls, and Verity is determined to find out why. She hears rumors of grave robbers, hidden treasure, even witchcraft. Were the cages built to keep others out - or the dead in? Verity's search for the truth exposes the town's closely guarded secrets, sheds light on some disturbing family history, and leads her into mortal danger.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I do like it. I like that there is an actual picture of one of the caged graves on the front, and I don't mind the character impersonator, because it's a side profile.

Characters: I loved Verity Boone right off. She's fashionable and girlish, yet practical and even-tempered. Though she misjudges practically everyone when she first meets them, Verity learns from her mistakes and is willing to adjust her opinion based on her newfound facts. Her inquisitiveness and persistence are all admirable traits in a mystery novel, and when she loses her temper she is quick to discard it. I loved Beule Poole, the matronly yet very stern housekeeper, and Verity's rambunctious cousins. My opinion of Nate was much like Verity's: he was dull, he allowed his sisters to direct his actions far too much, and he was awkward to a point that wasn't adorable. But also like Verity, as I got to know him right along with her, I grew to really like him. He was kind, hardworking, reliable, and even had a quiet sense of humor. Hadley Jones, meanwhile, was an immediate hit. I loved him the moment he entered the story, and my affection did not wane. He had a good sense of humor, a great personality for a physician, and his flirtations with Verity seemed genuine and friendly. I had major character crushes on both of the boys by the end of the story.

The Romance: Yes, there is a love triangle, but it is a gentle love triangle. Verity hardly knows Nate and she's worried that she is making a mistake by marrying him. Hadley is charming and kind and makes her laugh - what's not to like? Verity doesn't know what to do; Hadley excites her, but she cannot let Nate go. I might have found Verity's indecision annoying if 1)I hadn't loved both of the boys myself, and 2)Verity had behaved immaturely about it. But her confusion was understandable - she didn't know Nate! Yet she wanted to, because she was to marry him, and yet there was something about Hadley. For once, I was actually emotionally involved in the romance, and I couldn't have chosen for Verity, either. However, even amidst this emotional turmoil, the mystery of the caged graves still takes precedence, so the romance never gets annoying.

Plot: After Verity's mother died, she was sent to live with relatives in Massachusetts for most of her life. She has now returned to her birthplace of Catawissa, Pennsylvania - a quiet, rural town that is completely different from the hustle and bustle of Worcester. Still, Verity is willing to make the best of her new life - and maybe she can even bring some sophistication to this place! She doesn't really have a choice: her future husband is in Catawissa, after all, and not likely to leave. Verity doesn't know what to expect when she disembarks from the train, but she knows that she's disappointed with her father's awkward welcome and the disenchanting appearance of Nate, her intended. Where is the charming young man who wrote to her while she was in Worcester? Did his sisters write his letters for him and choose those gifts which were so appropriate? Then Verity finds the caged graves. Located outside of the protective walls of the cemetery, and therefore on unconsecrated ground, are the graves of Verity's own mother and her uncle's first wife. And no one seems to be able to tell Verity why exactly they weren't buried in the cemetery - and why those peculiar cages were erected around them. Her father claims it is to keep away medical students looking for bodies to dissect; the townswomen say it's because they were involved in witchcraft, while the townsmen claim it's because Verity's father buried something valuable with his wife. And her cousin says it's to keep the dead in their graves. Whatever the reason, Verity is determined to find out the truth, and her mother's journals just might offer the key. Graverobbers, ghosts, witchcraft, buried treasure - which of these is the explanation? And how far are people willing to do to keep Verity from finding out? I thought that the plot could go in any direction. It could have turned supernatural, or it could have had a perfectly reasonable explanation. I will neither confirm nor deny either, because part of the thrill of this story is not knowing which it will be, but I can assure supernatural and historical fiction fans alike that you will both enjoy it immensely. At the story's heart, it's a mystery. And perhaps what makes it so thrilling is the fact that the Author based the book off of two actual caged graves in Catawissa, Pennsylvania. How much creepier can that be? When the plot isn't focusing on the mystery, it's focusing on Verity's adjustment to the town - and her respective beaus. And when that threatens to grow a bit boring, it throws in a new revelation or twist that kept me reading 'til the wee hours of the morning. I did guess part of the twist a little less than halfway through, but I still really liked it - and I didn't figure out the how or why for a long time.

Believability: I found no historical details that bothered me.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. The writing style is simple, yet it had a pleasant rhythm to it. The narration had the proper feel for the era without being too old-fashioned so that it aggravate Readers more accustomed to modern writing.

Content: None.

Conclusion: I can't say much about the climax without giving important things away! As the story progresses, there's a continued ominous feeling that builds quietly behind everything that's happening. There are aspects of the climax that are a bit cliche, and I was immensely pleased to see that my prediction about the twist turned out to be correct, but there were still aspects of the explanation that surprised me. And by the time everything comes to a head, I knew which young man Verity would choose, though there was still a sliver of doubt in my mind. I wasn't displeased; I liked both young men, and I would have been okay with her choosing either of them. Perhaps the end is a bit tidy, but I thought it was realistically bittersweet, and it only increased my love for this book. I had a good feeling about The Caged Graves pretty much as soon as I started reading it, but I withheld my good opinion so I wouldn't be disappointed. As soon as I realized that I absolutely adored the two love interests, and once the caged graves themselves were introduced, I was hooked.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fourteen-and-up, great for historical fiction and mystery fans!

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