Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book
Rate this book
High on a cliff above the gloomy coastal town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts. But one night, Stella sees something she shouldn't have... Something that will set in motion and adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for...

260 pages, Hardcover

First published November 1, 2014

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Judith Rossell

54 books78 followers

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
591 (33%)
4 stars
725 (40%)
3 stars
374 (21%)
2 stars
68 (3%)
1 star
17 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 284 reviews
Profile Image for ✦BookishlyRichie✦.
641 reviews1,041 followers
September 4, 2020
I did not see that coming!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I thought this was going to be a regular magical mystery, but it turned into a full-blow Studio Ghibli movie in book form and I loved every moment of it. I hope to be reading the sequels in the future because this was such a delightful, dark, and magical read.
Profile Image for Krystal.
1,658 reviews384 followers
August 28, 2020
This is a middle-grade book, so personally I found it a little tame but as I'm clearly not the target audience I'll be reviewing it with that in mind.

It's a delightful little story: Stella lives at the Hotel Majestic with her three tyrannical aunts and dreams of the far-off places she learns about in her Atlas. Then one night she witnesses something she shouldn't and it puts her in the path of danger, running from an insidious enemy known as The Professor.

The setting is really beautifully detailed, and you feel instant sympathy for Stella who is treated pretty terribly. At the same time, there's not a huge emphasis on the bullying - her aunts aren't blatantly cruel, they're just cold and believe in being 'proper'. So while we don't particularly like them, they're not a ridiculous stereotype. At the same time, we can understand perfectly well why Stella wants to escape them.

As soon as Stella unwraps the package, magic begins to leak into the story, and suddenly there's more to this story than meets the eye. Suddenly impossible things become possible, and Stella's adventure leads her in a more mystical direction.

I loved the characters she met along the way, and wished they'd come into the story earlier. I loved the friends she made and I think her friendships are a really important element to enjoying this story. There's also no grand gestures to cement things, which I thought was really good. There's no reason she makes friends, other than that's what happens with people of a like mind. It felt very genuine and warm.

There are also some important moral lessons about helping, and pity, and understanding. For a children's novel, the characters are fairly grey and I think that's what will make this book stand out.

The illustrations are fantastic, too. They really spur the imagination and add an extra element of enjoyment to the story. My favourite was the illustration on page 143 of Stella, Mr Capelli, and all those cats.

There's such a warmth to the story, and kids will be entertained by the situations Stella finds herself in. It's magical but also easy to follow, and The Professor presents an intelligent, malicious sort of figure to be properly terrified of.

It's a great story with fantastic illustrations, so I can see this being a bit hit, particularly with spirited young girls. Highly recommend for younger ones.
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,265 reviews406 followers
May 1, 2023
We got to about three quarters of the way through and gave up. The start seemed promising but lost whatever it had as the book progressed.

A couple of seasonal mistakes, walking past rhubarb in the kitchen garden in the middle of winter, the plant would have disappeared underground by then. Surely there wouldn't have been a litter problem with sweet wrappers a hundred or more years ago? I'm sure they didn't have wrappers then.

The dialogue became cliched and tiring, lots of 'cor blimey, where's that bleedin nipper' from the bumbling working class criminals.

It did have it's plus points, the author has tried to use a wide vocabulary and the idea seemed interesting to begin with. Seeing this is a series we feared the storyline and mystery might have been dragged out through further books and gave up.
Profile Image for Judy.
Author 24 books17 followers
July 27, 2016
This is an enormously entertaining Victorian mystery-thriller for upper primary aged readers. Girls may like it more, simply due to the heroine being a girl, and one of the supporting characters Gert (whom I LOVED) also being a girl. But there's lots to enjoy for boys as well – monsters, magic, trickery, acrobatics, and action! And the other main supporting character is a boy, whom I look forward to seeing again in the second book, in his new life. Like most 'first in a series' books, there's a bit of work that necessarily goes into setting up the characters and their environment. By the time the second book comes along, we will be raring to go, already knowing Stella who is deftly resourceful and quietly brave, Gert who is a powerhouse of female humour and strength, and Ben with his mysterious past and exciting future. Mr Capelli and his fantastic team of cats are a delight.

The period details are engaging, never more so than when Jude Rossell settles down to really describe a scene in depth, such as the embroidery/sewing scene, which put me in mind of one of my favourite books, Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/4... It's in these moments that we really get to feel part of the story, and feel as though we are in the heroine's skin.

But there's a further pull with this delightful book, and the reason I took several days to read it, instead of one or two nights: the design and illustration of the book, which caused me to stop and linger for many minutes at every full page illustration. Jude Rossell has really hit her stride with this project, which melds her natural ability to render careful detail, with an Ardizzone-like use of light and shadow. There's nothing I love more than an illustrated scene in a children's book where not all is immediately apparent… we have the pleasure of delving into the page and using both our eyes and our imagination to make out what is happening in the shadows, while the atmosphere of light and shade affects us as viewers more than any other illustrative tool. It's almost as evocative as an aroma.

Counterbalancing these moody full page illustrations are many small illustrations in the margins, and these are light and clear, depicting the paraphernalia of the Victorian era. The whole book is printed in dark blue ink on quality cream paper stock. Hardback, with a sumptuous cover and blue satin ribbon for marking your page. It's a book I enjoyed holding as an adult but would have been in raptures over as a child.
Profile Image for Mimes.
11 reviews2 followers
December 17, 2015
This is seriously the best book I have EVER read! It starts off while Stella is reading her treasured atlas she found in a conservatory in hotel majestic. While she is reading, she hears someone come in, saying something she shouldn't of heard. Will they catch her?

Join Stella on a adventure of a lifetime that anyone 10-12+ will love. I really really really really REALLY loved it. I even emailed the author, Judith Rossel, and she replied! I hope everyone loves this book as much as I did, so please keep me updated on how you are enjoying it!


From Jemima, age 11
Profile Image for Jennifer (JC-S).
2,977 reviews204 followers
May 15, 2018
‘Stella Montgomery lay hidden behind the ferns in the conservatory of the Hotel Majestic, flat on the mossy tiles, tracing a path through the Amazon jungle in a small, damp atlas.'

In the town of Withering-by-Sea, in the Hotel Majestic, Stella Montgomery lives with her aunts: Condolence, Temperance and Deliverance. Poor Stella! She is often in trouble with her aunts as she would much rather go exploring than learn how to play the pianoforte. She’d rather read her atlas than learn French Conversation for Young Ladies.

But one day, while Stella is reading her atlas in the hotel conservatory, she sees Mr Filbert (another resident of the Hotel Majestic) hiding a package in an urn. Stella’s curiosity knows few boundaries, and that night she sneaks out of her room to investigate. But Stella’s troubles are about to begin: thieves have broken into the Hotel Majestic and are demanding that Mr Filbert tell them where the package is. Mr Filbert sees Stella and asks her to protect the package. This puts Stella in danger … can she outwit the thieves?

To write more about this delightful novel with its adventure and magic, and messages of friendship could remove the sheer joy of turning each page to find out what happens next. Yes, this is a novel for children aged 9 and older, but this senior adult really enjoyed it as well. It’s beautifully illustrated, and now I need to read ‘Wormwood Mire’ which is the second book in this series.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
Profile Image for Kristy.
139 reviews39 followers
March 30, 2017
In the Hotel Majestic, high above the town of Withering-by-Sea, Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three horrid aunts: Condolence, Temperance, and Deliverence.

When she should be spending her days learning pianoforte and French Conversation for Young Ladies, Stella prefers to be exploring or reading from her most prized possession - an old battered atlas of the world, and so she often finds herself in trouble with her aunts. But no amount of trouble compares to that which she finds herself in on the night that thieves break into the hotel. And it turns out that they're looking for something that she's taken...

But the trouble doesn't end there. It turns out that the aunts have been hiding something from Stella. Something about exactly who - or what - she is.

Withering-by-Sea is a light fantasy about a young girl who finds herself in a whole world of trouble as a result of her boundless curiousity.

Knowing this novel was going to be filled with mystery, I was expecting it to have a bit of a detective-y Nancy Drew feel to it. It turns out it's not that sort of mystery at all. And I ain't even mad.

This was a really fun read filled with adventure, magic, and friendship, and I often had trouble putting it down. It was exactly the sort of book I needed to help me unwind after the stressful Christmas rush at work.

If you enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events, I feel you might get a bit of a kick out of this one.
Profile Image for CLM.
2,697 reviews185 followers
July 17, 2019
I don't read much middle grade fiction but you can nearly always win me over with an intrepid orphan story and a little fantasy tossed in. Lonely-and-brave-when-she-has-to-be heroine, cruel guardians, unusual friends, bad guys in pursuit - what's not to like? It may not be incredibly original but I enjoyed it and quickly ordered the sequel. A third book about Stella has not yet been published in the US. My review:

Profile Image for Daniela.
493 reviews19 followers
August 12, 2019
Eins vorweg, was ich allerdings nicht in die Bewertung einfließen lasse, da das Buch eigentlich nicht als eBook gedacht ist - aber die Lesbarkeit bzw. die Formatierung als eBook war nicht der Renner.
Die schönen Illustrationen haben den Lesefluss gesprengt, da der Text ursprünglich wohl um die Grafik drum rum fließt, als eBook aber nur groß unschöne Lücken hinterlassen hat.
Auch die willkürlichen Zeilenumbrüche mitten im Satz - sogar mitten im Wort - waren anstrengend.
Aber nun zum Buch selbst...
Ich weiß nicht so recht, was ich davon halten soll.
Der Titel des Buchs stellte sich letztendlich als ein Randgeschehen dar.
Die Charaktere blieben relativ flach, was man aber bei einem Kinderbuch sicher erwarten muss.
Die Geschichte allerdings - die sollte ja nun wirklich im Mittelpunkt stehen.
In meinen Augen war sie aber wirr, stellenweise langatmig und undurchsichtig.
Alles in allem hat es mir jetzt nicht so gut gefallen, wie es Kinderbücher normalerweise zu tun vermögen - daher weiß ich auch nicht, ob ich die Reihe weiter verfolgen werde.
Profile Image for Julie Grasso.
Author 19 books301 followers
November 20, 2014
We begin with Stella, hiding behind some ferns in the conservatory. She is studying an atlas, her most prized possession. Within its pages, are hopes and dreams, that Stella may one day escape her horrid aunts and go on an adventure.
When poor Mr Filbert, an elderly gentleman staying at the Hotel Majestic, scurries in and hides a tiny package under a fern, Stella has no idea that adventure has just found her.

She retrieves the package, but is somewhat perplexed. It is just a tiny bottle, but within the bottle, something lurks. Later that night, Stella finds herself the only resident awake in the whole Hotel Majestic. It is then that she witnesses a most heinous crime. The perpetrator of the crime and his men, will do anything to find the package, including kidnapping Stella and forcing a young boy to scry for its location.

In a sometimes nail biting adventure, Stella must defeat the villain and the evil that lurks in the bottle, rescue her new found friends, and find a way home. A tall order for a young girl, but Stella is not just any young girl. She is a mystery herself.

I really enjoyed Withering-by-Sea. The Victorian setting was rich, drawing you deep into Stella's unhappy life with her absurd aunts. There is a colourful cast of characters to enjoy along the way and the scenes in the theatre were delightful. The illustrations were enchanting, and I found myself wishing for more and more, with every new page. The mystery of Stella's origins is left open, which I hope will be resolved in further books to come.
There were some dark and creepy moments, so for kids who love a mystery that will occasionally make the hairs on your arms stand up, this will be a winner. I believe this would suit confident readers aged 9-12.
Profile Image for Aleshanee.
1,451 reviews100 followers
May 28, 2018
3.5 Sterne

Ab und an lese ich solche Kinderbücher auch sehr gerne zwischendurch, wobei ich hier sagen muss, dass ich nicht ganz das bekommen habe, was ich erwartet hatte.

Den Einstieg fand ich richtig klasse, denn man lernt sofort Stella kennen und sie war mir als Kind sofort total sympathisch, weil sie so eine wundervolle, lebhafte Fantasie besitzt! Sie lebt ja mit ihren Tanten im "Hotel Majestic" - das muss irgendwo in der Nähe von London sein - und hat außer französisch und Klavierspielen zu lernen, zu sticken und anständig zu sein nicht viel Freiraum. Fragen sind absolut nicht erlaubt und Neugier etwas "vulgäres".
Ihre kleinen Freiheiten schafft sie sich trotz aller Gegenwehr mit kleinen Tricks und so entführt sie sich selbst mithilfe eines alten Atlanten weit weg in fremde Länder. Nein, das ist nicht die Magie in dieser Geschichte, denn auf diese Reisen geht das junge Mädchen in Gedanken. Ich konnte sie dabei direkt vor mir sehen, wie sie mit dem Finger die Landkarte entlangfährt und sich Geschichten zu den erklärenden Texten ausdenkt, die neben den fernen Ländern abgedruckt sind. Das fand ich schon richtig toll weil ich finde, das vielen Kindern genau diese Fantasie heutzutage fehlt.

Mr Filbert, der ja im Titel erwähnt wird, kommt etwas kurz, hat aber eine entscheidende Rolle in Stellas Leben - denn nach der Begegnung mit ihm geht aus auf einmal drunter und drüber. Erzählt wird immer aus Stellas Sichtweise, wobei man nicht viel zum Hintergrund über sie oder um das ganze drumherum erfährt. Einen wirklichen Rahmen zur Handlung hatte ich nicht und auch von der Gefühlswelt der Figuren hat man nicht viel gespürt.
Dadurch war es für mich stellenweise leider auch nicht wirklich spannend, dazu kamen viele Beschreibungen, die ich zwar teils wirklich interessant fand, aber teils einfach auch für mich nicht lebendig genug erzählt wurden.
Toll fand ich dafür einige Erwähnungen von Mythen und Aberglauben, die viele Kinder in der heutigen Zeit gar nicht mehr kennen. Die Stelle hat mir besonders gut gefallen! Und ich mag es auch, wenn Wörter in Kinderbüchern vorkommen, durch die sie auch etwas lernen können. Dabei ist es insgesamt flüssig geschrieben und gut zu lesen, nur hatte ich einfach öfters das Gefühl, dass ich nicht so gebannt bei der Geschichte dabei war.

Stella entwickelt sich aber in der Geschichte, fasst Mut und Vertrauen und lernt auch Menschen kennen, die ihr beistehen und ihr zuhören, was ich sehr schön fand. Gegen Ende nimmt es auch an Spannung zu und es gibt auch einige für Kinder vielleicht unheimliche Momente, die man aber vielleicht noch etwas besser rausarbeiten hätte können.

Für mich war es eine gute Geschichte, der noch etwas der Pfiff gefehlt hat. Viele der Ideen waren nicht wirklich neu und man hätte noch etwas mehr herausholen können. Wobei ich jetzt nicht so gut einschätzen kann, ob es für Kinder anders wirkt und sie noch etwas mehr Spaß daran haben als ich.

© Aleshanee
Profile Image for QNPoohBear.
3,103 reviews1,484 followers
December 13, 2017
Like Harry Potter, James from James and the Giant Peach and Lemony Snicket's poor Beaudelaire children, the child protagonist of this novel, Stella Montgomery, lives with three mean aunts. They live in a hotel high above a cliff in the town of Withering-by-the-Sea. The aunts take the nasty waters, bathe and promenade when they're not telling Stella how to behave like a respectable young lady! Stella longs for adventure and fun. She likes to spend her days secretly reading an old atlas in the hotel conservatory, hidden away from her aunts and dreaming of places she'll never see. While reading in the conservatory one day, Stella sees an older gentleman guest hide a small package. Later, at night, she sees something sinister and makes a promise that sends her running from an evil stage magician and his young assistant who can see events that have happened.

This book is a lot of fun. It's a very child-oriented fantasy novel much like the classics mentioned above but this time this main character is a girl. The plot is full of excitement, danger and adventure. I couldn't put it down. I found the ending very unsatisfactory but it leaves room for a sequel or series, which I need to read ASAP! Some of the danger sequences are pretty scary for a middle grades book but not as scary as Harry Potter.

Stella is a typical Victorian era heroine in a contemporary novel. In order for her to appeal to modern readers she meets the benchmarks: spunky, rebellious, stubborn and brave. Naturally this makes her A-Ok in my opinion. I don't normally approve of disobeying adults but in this case the rules deserved to be disobeyed. Stella's aunts are horrid! They're more than Victorian spinsters. They must truly hate children or hate Stella. Not only does she have to practice French, deportment, and piano as is typical for a young lady in the Victorian era, but she isn't allowed to talk to anyone or go anywhere without the maid hunting her down and dragging her back to her aunts in disgrace. As punishment they lock Stella up without food! If I were Stella I would have run away long ago and joined the circus! The aunts may very well be the ancestors of Vernon Dursley!

The circus here is where the trouble lies. The stage magician, known as The Professor, is truly evil. While Stella's aunts are horrid, they're not endowed with magical powers. Unlike most villains in fantasy novels, this one does not have his own powers. He's clever and cunning and has access to a secret magical laboratory where he has appropriated objects for his own evil ends. The Professor is ruthless and will do anything to achieve his own ends. He is despicable. He has a couple of evil henchmen of the type that populate Lemony Snicket books. They come from the criminal world and will do anything for money but are very incompetent.

There are several more secondary characters with important roles in the story. The Professor's young assistant Ben is a sympathetic character. His is abused again and again by The Professor. He seems like a kind-hearted boy who just wants to be safe and happy. I can't wait to find out what happens to him. Mr. Capelli and his singing cats stole my heart. I'm not much of a cat person but jovial, kind Mr. Capelli loves his cats so much. The author did an amazing job of conveying that love through the singing cat act. Mr. Capelli is very proud of his cats. He is my favorite character. A kind, generous, animal-loving Italian! I can easily hear his voice in my head. Gert, a dancer with the circus, is even more spunky than Stella. I love her attitude and her cheerfulness. She is a lot of fun.
Mr. Filbert is Stella's only friend at the hotel without actually being a friend. He seems like a kind old gentleman. His secrets are astonishing and if I didn't have knowledge of folklore and fantasy, I would have been very surprised. I was horrified and shocked by what happens to him as much as Stella is.

I absolutely love the stylization of this novel. It's printed all in blue, something I've never seen before. The illustrations appear not just on individual pages but also above the chapter headings and in the margins as well. They evoke the time period and gloominess of the area without being too old-fashioned or creepy for kids. Searching for cats is almost like a scavenger hunt. I didn't count them but there are a lot of pictures of cats!

I recommend this book to readers 10-11 + (4th-5th grade U.S.). I think my niece will like this when she's a year or two older and confident reading independently. It's a bit too long as a read aloud but 9-10 year olds may enjoy an audio book if there is one.
Profile Image for Sara.
2 reviews
March 26, 2020
The Stella Montgomery intrigue is a series of three breathtaking books about a girl whose past is a mystery and whose future does not look fortunate. Stella lives with her aunts, Condolence, Temperance, and Deliverance. Her mother (Patience) has been missing for 9-10 years and now all Stella has for comfort is an atlas and an old photograph.

Stella is brave, she will stride through any amount of trouble, but, she is also shy and nervous which lets you into the mind of an unloved eleven year old. I find you can really get into her and let her guide you through her story, through greedy magicians, magical creatures, singing cats, demon dentists and silent schools. You become a part of her and many other characters that are a part of her story.
Profile Image for Julia Tulloh Harper.
219 reviews31 followers
September 24, 2020
Edit - reread 2020. Love this so much. Will continue to reread and reread.

Edit- Reread 2018...I love this book so much, it's one of my faves and I think I'll reread the series every year now. I've upped to 5 stars because I love it so much :)

This was awesome! A young heroine, magic, mystery, a secret past, a magical bottle, an evil professor, a guy with seven singing cats, a tower in the middle of the sea.... all accompanied by gorgeous illustrations. Incredible descriptions of the 19th century scenery including a theatre on the pier and all the circus acts inside, a hotel with an enormous, fern-filled conservatory, a marsh with a lost village.... can't wait to read the sequel.
Profile Image for Marlana.
421 reviews1 follower
May 14, 2016
I really dislike giving books low ratings, but I couldn't justify giving Withering-by-Sea three stars.

It's not that the writing is terrible or that the characters are horribly flat. It's just rather dull. Nothing much happens in Withering-By-Sea and I almost felt like I was Withering-By-Sea while I read it. I kept wondering when the plot was going to take off, but it never did. Even scenes and plot points that should have been exciting or slightly frightening weren't.

It's one that I found myself glad to finish, unfortunately.
Profile Image for Steven Paulsen.
Author 22 books4 followers
August 5, 2016
This is a fabulous quirky book for tweens. Girls will love but I think a lot of boys will enjoy it too. It's full of wonderful characters and strange goings on, like a 'girl's own adventure'. There is mystery, fantasy, adventure and fun to be had here. The illustrations are beautiful and really compliment the story. But be warned, I initially read the e-book version and later learned that it does not include all the illustrations. So in this case it's worth seeking out the print version because the illustrations really are fantastic.
Profile Image for Ela.
5 reviews
November 28, 2016
This book was amazing! Along with descriptive and amazing writing, there were beautiful drawings as well. The art style of the drawings showed really helped me visualize the characters and scenery. Judith Rossell really made me understand what the main character, Stella Montgomery, was feeling at the time. Her writing made me loose track of time as the story was so enjoyable! I would recommend this book to readers who love mystery with an element of magic!
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
1,016 reviews68 followers
October 22, 2017
So fun! Great characters, vivid setting, lots of adventure. Great Sunday afternoon read.
Profile Image for Karschtl.
2,209 reviews54 followers
September 26, 2018
4,5 Sterne

Zu Beginn dachte ich, das wird ein bißchen wie Cluedo. Eine cosy Mystery mit einem Toten im Hotel, und jetzt wird versucht den Tätern auf die Spur zu kommen. Und unsere Protagonistin Stella versteckt ein wichtiges Beweismittel und hilft wahrscheinlich auch ein bißchen bei der Detektivarbeit.

Doch da lag ich gewaltig falsch, denn Stella ist mittendrin im Geschehen und wird vom Professor und seinen Schurken gejagt und mit Hilfe von Magie immer wieder aufgespürt. Anscheinend ist das kleine Fläschchen, das sie versprochen hat für den Toten aufzubewahren, sehr wertvoll. Das war ganz schön spannend für so ein Kinderbuch ab 10 Jahren!

Den Vergleich mit Lemony Snicket finde ich sehr treffend. Auch wenn es inhaltlich keine Gemeinsamkeiten gibt, so ist die generelle Stimmung doch dieselbe (und wohl auch die Zeit, in der die Geschichte spielt, so vor ca. 100-150 Jahren). Stella hat hier unter ihren 3 absolut grässlichen und herzlosen Tanten zu leiden. Und trifft im Theater auf ein Sammelsurium an bunten Gestalten. (Schade, dass da sowohl Stella als auch wir als Leser nur so wenige Auftritte verfolgen konnten).

Schöne Illustrationen (meist mehrere pro Kapitel) runden das tolle Kinderbuch perfekt ab. Ich freue mich schon auf den 2. Teil, wo wir dann hoffentlich auch erfahren, wer denn 'L' ist.
Profile Image for Lisa.
110 reviews2 followers
April 1, 2020
I didn't expect the magical elements in this story, but I enjoyed reading it.
It is more a 3,5 star read for me, not bad but definitely not the best middle grade
I've ever read.
Still a fun and fast read and for it's target audience a good choice!
3,448 reviews49 followers
June 5, 2021
3 1/2 stars. A magical adventure set in a Victorian seaside town with a spunky girl hero. Very enjoyable with great illustrations.
Profile Image for § Zara §.
23 reviews2 followers
July 18, 2021
*read this a while back*
Such a beautifully written book and gorgeous details.
Profile Image for Orinoco Womble (tidy bag and all).
2,021 reviews186 followers
September 7, 2022
While very obviously a series opener (several main points remain unresolved so the author can squeeze at least two more volumes out of the story), I enjoyed this book a great deal more than I feared. I say "feared" because I saw it puffed as being "for people who like Lemony Snicket" which I hated and didn't even get through the first volume, not even on audio book. However, the book I drank in a sitting due to a sleepless night was refreshing. It is not derivative, and even the "dark" bits aren't dark enough to really scare the intended middle-grade reader. I did get rather tired of the atlas being the most important "secondary character", but I suppose it symbolises Stella's desire to get away from her aunts and have a few adventures. With all her love of maps, where exactly was it set? England? Australia? We don't know, and it doesn't matter.
I really liked the positive characters, especially the cat loving man. There was a scent of James and the Giant Peach about the three obnoxious aunts, but without slopping over into the ridiculous or making you feel the author copied from Dahl's paper.
Profile Image for Sula.
264 reviews25 followers
January 24, 2023
3.5 stars. Good writing, and a nice sense of atmosphere. Historical setting was done well, realistic and naturally incorporated. Surprised by people calling the writing advanced and archaic, I felt unlike many children's books (and adult ones) it wasn't dumbed down, but at the same time it wasn't heavy going, just enough sentence complexity and wide vocabulary to keep it interesting and to progress younger readers’ learning. In those areas I felt the book did very well.

However, although it did well in those areas I found the plot lacking - a fairly run-of-the-mill mystery/action story that took a while to get going and then suddenly went non-stop - and the characters quite flat. I wasn't so bothered by that in the aunts as that seemed suitable for how children can perceive adults and their actions (something about them makes me think of Eva Ibbotson's books) but it was just boring in her friends.

I liked that as well as stating what font the book was printed in on the edition notice page (please don't let this tradition die out!) it also stated the medium of the illustrations: ink, pencil, water colour, and digital work. It was interesting to see this information.
Profile Image for Megan Higginson.
81 reviews9 followers
March 9, 2016
High on a cliff above the gloomy coastal town of Withering-by-Sea stands the Hotel Majestic. Inside the walls of the damp, dull hotel, eleven-year-old orphan Stella Montgomery leads a miserable life with her three dreadful Aunts.

But one night, Stella sees something she shouldn't have ... Something that will set in motion an adventure more terrifying and more wonderful than she could ever have hoped for ...

This book had me hooked from the first page. I could not put it down. Judith kept me intrigued and I could not help but keep turning the page to see what was going to happen next. Her descriptions are succinct but beautiful and I had a movie going on in my head the whole time. When I had turned the last page, I wanted more.

Perfect for those who love Wildwood, Lemony Snicket and Tensy Farlow.
Profile Image for A.J..
Author 4 books15 followers
January 7, 2015
Thoroughly enjoyable read. Lusciously quirky characters, a suitably dour Victorian setting, and a complex enough storyline that keeps you wanting more. I couldn't wait to find out how Stella would escape her next predicament. Judith Rossell has a wonderful imagination. Her artwork is a delight and her writing took me back to my childhood reading of Enid Blyton's The Magic Faraway Tree.
Profile Image for Mabel Rose .
48 reviews
December 30, 2022
Loved the first in this award winning series. I stayed up for like, 2 hours last night trying to finish it! I liked how this book is kind of a mix of all genres. Well maybe not, but still! It had fantasy, a tiny bit of horror ( I guess), mystery, realistic fiction, little tidbits of nonfiction, and was told from a time in the past. Recommend for readers of all ages 😍
Profile Image for Corrinne.
120 reviews1 follower
January 1, 2015
I loved this intriguing story. The wonderful language suited the era of the story and was set off perfectly by the navy print and the illustrations scatteted throughout. Great story, pleasurable to read and a perfect recipe to feed the love of reading to a new generation.
1 review
June 8, 2015
Too cute, when can I read book 2?
Displaying 1 - 30 of 284 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.