The Secret Starling

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The Secret Starling
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Release Date
June 08, 2021
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A tattered ballet slipper found under the floorboards of Braithwaite Manor may be the key to Clara’s sinister family secrets in this delightful, lightly Gothic mystery for fans of Maryrose Wood and Claire Legrand.

Clara Starling lives a life of dull rules, deadly routine, and flavorless meals under her cold uncle’s strict regime—until the day Uncle disappears, leaving Clara alone in his old mansion. When streetwise orphan Peter and his rescue cat arrive unexpectedly, the children seize the chance to live by their own rules. But when the pair’s wild romps through the halls of Braithwaite Manor reveal a single, worn ballet slipper, they are hurled into a mystery that will lead to London’s glittering Royal Opera House and the unraveling of twisted Starling family secrets of poison, passion, and murder. Diabolical villains, plucky orphans, and glamorous ballet stars populate this absorbing adventure with a classic feel.

Editor reviews

2 reviews
Great for fans of Maryrose Wood and Claire Legrand
Overall rating
Plot/Characters/Writing Style
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Clara Starling is used to the drudgery of life with her uncle in his huge mansion. It’s all routine, cold and sparse conversation, and rules. One day, her uncle suddenly takes off, leaving Clara in town with some money and nothing else. Unsure of what else to do, Clara returns to the mansion, only to find a stranger, Peter, there. Clara and Peter become fast friends and decide to stay at the mansion on their own, making their own rules, and having fun. When they stumble upon an old ballet slipper, they discover a long-lost mystery of the Starling family that could change all their lives.

Reasons to read THE SECRET STARLING:
1.) The mystery: THE SECRET STARLING features an intriguing, dramatic mystery with several unexpected plot twists. The beginning is on the slower side, but once the ballet slipper is found, the pace picks up.
2.) The illustrations: In the review copy I received, the illustrations were unfinished but still lovely. I particularly enjoyed the ones featuring the neighborhood kids (and their horse) Clara and Peter meet.
3.) The tone: THE SECRET STARLING features several familiar elements, like being an orphan, making a ragtag group of friends, etc. It brings that warm, familiar tone to the story, even as the mystery is heating up. The ending is especially touching.

Fans of Maryrose Wood and Claire Legrand are sure to like this heartwarming story from Judith Eagle.
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Family Secrets Come out to Dance
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It's 1974, and Clara is being raised in a decrepit, remote country mansion by a stern and uncaring uncle because her mother died at her birth. There's a constantly changing rotation of governesses, but at least she has Cook, as well as the butler who mainly does repairs. When the latest governess is not replaced, Clara enjoys her freedom until she finds out that Cook has been sacked. Her uncle orders her to pack a bag and leave the house with him, then drops her off in the village, vaguely instructing her to seek out Cook. Instead, Clara decides to go back home to make her own way. Soon, Peter, who is about her age, and his cat Stockwell show up, saying that they have been sent by Stella, a neighbor of Peter's grandmother, to live with the uncle. His grandmother is ill, and Stella is a friend of the uncle. The two make a go of it for a while, but then Stella shows up, takes charge of tidying the uncle's study, and sets a string of mysteries in order. The house is to be sold, which irritates Clara despite the fact that pipes are always bursting. They do have some help from Cook's grandchildren, although the adults seem content to ignore or hinder them. Peter is worried about his grandmother, and since Stella isn't providing enough answers, the children take off to London to check on her. Will they be able to solve mysteries about both of their families, Peter's love of ballet, and Stella and the uncle's lies?
Good Points
The most amusing part of the mystery for me was figuring out what year this was set! With talks about watching Nureyev dance, a fifty pence coin (after 1968) and other clues, I had this placed in the early '70s, then Clara offers a little bit of math concerning her age to cement it! There are a few other details, and the whole book had a decidedly vintage British feel to it. The inclusion of ballet was fun, and Cook's grandchildren diversify the all white cast of characters. There are deliciously evil villains, legal hassles, and secret parentage. Occasional illustrations add to the charm.

I continue to worry about British parenting and childcare. Reading a lot of Jacqueline Wilson at one time can make me want to investigate how social services in the UK works! Edwards' Mandy came out in 1971 and there was a fairly effective orphanage. Would Clara have been better off there instead of with the uncle? For those concerned, there is a happy ending.

This has some similarities to Chalfoun's The Treasure of Maria Mamoun, as well as Guterson's Winterhouse, and a definite ring of classic British literature like Streatfield's various Shoes books. This is a great book for readers who want a murder mystery that is clue oriented rather than gruesome.
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