The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 27 Feb 2018

Member Reviews

Four stars. This was an intriguing adventure. Well written, you were drawn into the world and you didn't want to leave. The detail was amazing. A very well crafted story.
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Psst! The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray proves a book in which it would be much too easy to say too much. Orphaned Bryony lives with her weak Uncle Bernard and his domineering, social-climbing wife, Gertrude. Like her disgraced father (about which nothing is said, although Bryony knows Uncle Bernard and Aunt Gertrude whisper about him and his rakish life), Bryony has an incredible gift for painting. But she also has a stubborn independent streak and a volcanic temper.

So, for the past six years, Bryony has been locked in the attic, forced to paint portraits of wealthy snobs. Now 14, Bryony has been planning her escape to find her father, whom she is certain is still alive, despite what Aunt Gertrude says. But her escape comes earlier than expected when her portraits begin to — but that would be giving away too much! 

Instead, she meets the children who live next door, the adventurous 13-year-old Mira Griffin and her cowardly older brother Thompson. The clever threesome embark on adventures that will keep you glued to this book until the very last satisfying page. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley, Penguin Random House Canada and Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review.
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I absolutely adored this frighteningly scary new take on Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray; which is also one of my favorite classic tales that reread often! The creations that came alive in the story were straight from your worst nightmare. The things that you collect and use to show your stature in society come to life to murder you outright or suck your vitality dry! The way that the author describes in stark detail the portraits coming to life and crawling through the canvas was so on point that I felt like I was there!
This book is not for the faint of heart or those who not endure stories with violent content or blatant abuse of the main character. The family members of the main character are especially hard on her and treat her with pure vehemence. They knowingly and willingly mentally, physically and emotionally abuse her with every interaction. With that being said, it’s in a way that’s tasteful enough for younger readers and adults who can look past the afore mentioned troupes because the message outweighs the bad situations. There also seems to be a couple in accuracies in the history references in the book but they are subtle and only the sublimely picky would take away the great aspects of the book to rant over them.
Aside from the fantastic imagery and creepy situations that Bryony finds herself in, the story is well thought out and highly developed. Even throughout the struggles and the hardships the MC still uses her wit and perseverance to find her way through the tough obstacles. This will teach the message that even in the bleakest of times hope and determination will get you through the worst of times. I really applaud this author for the vision and follow through that made this tale epically harrowing!  
As I previously mentioned, I adored this story being in the same world as The Portrait of Dorian Gray but I would not necessarily call it a retailing as Dorian is in fact Bryony’s long-lost father. I would recommend reading Oscar Wilde’s story and then reading The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray. Overall this book was highly entertaining and vividly thrust upon the world! I would recommend it to anyone who likes dark Victorian England Historical themed books such as Lemony Snickets!
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So I would classify this more as a 'middle grade sequel' to the Picture of Dorian Gray [a truly hilarious sentence when you stop to think about it] rather than a retelling because it is literally set after the original novel [although also in a world where Dorian Gray was apparently a real person that Oscar Wilde knew ...] with Bryony being Dorian's daughter. 

Overall it's a really fun read. The way the author writes the paintings coming out of their frames and the way they move is incredibly vivid and definitely causes you to bring up some terrifying images in your mind. I really liked Bryony and the brother-and-sister duo that helped her throughout the story. I think that overall it's a very fun - yet still faintly horrifying - read and one of those rare middle grade books that are just as enjoyable for adults as they are for children.

I do have one bone to pick though, and that is the fact that neither Oscar Wilde nor Dorian Gray's sexuality is ever brought up. I guess you can say that's not relevant to the plot in this particular book but it is DEFINITELY relevant to the plot of the original and I can't help but feel that the entire thing was glossed over because it's a children's book which is just sad.
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After multiple attempts, I just couldn't get into this book. More than 50 pages in, and I still didn't care for any of the characters. The writing style was a little stilted for me as well. I give myself a certain percentage with every book that I have to read. After I reach that point, and I'm still struggling, I move on. That's what I did here.
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In and of itself, this is a decent read. While the historical setting (not to mention the need for familiarity with A Picture of Dorian Gray) may be a bit of a barrier for some readers and character development isn't particularly complex, the plot is largely cohesive and follows an internal logic. It's interesting to compare it to the original novel. This novel is intended to be read like a sequel. It's events hinge on events in the original novel. Yet it achieves different ends. Dorian Gray is a morality tale, destruction by vanity and cruelty. Bryony's story, on the other hand, is more traditional horror. Yes, one can glean from it messages about agency and suffering from the sins of those who came before us, but at heart it's a story about out-smarting a curse.
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The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite Victorian novels. This is a great sequel to the story.

This story had great pacing. Bryony’s paintings began to come to life right at the beginning. It was so creepy! It kept me hooked through the whole story. I really couldn’t predict what was going to happen next, so I was always surprised.

I think this story is actually creepier than The Picture of Dorian Gray. Though it is a sequel, it follows Gray’s daughter, so it is for a younger audience. I loved this story and I got a lot out of it, even though it is aimed toward middle grade readers. It is a great choice for both young readers and older fans of Dorian Gray and Oscar Wilde.

After reading this book, I’ll never look at paintings the same way again!
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This book, targeted to the Middle-Grade reader, is an imaginative spin-off from Oscar Wilde's The Portrait of Dorian Gray. It's a clever enough idea but research issues and anachronisms kind of tanked my enjoyment of the book. Set around November 1901, (as discerned from a reference to Oscar Wilde's death being almost exactly a year ago, factually November 30th 1900), there are oddities that show a lack of research thoroughness on the part of the author and editor. While I get that children might be less affected by Queen Victoria's death in 1901, the somber tone in England (where they even used black edged stationery for the year following her death in January 1901) isn't captured. Furthermore, there are references to teddy bears, which were not even a thing until 1903, when simultaneously developed in the US and Germany (the latter by Stieff) as a reference to a cartoon image of US President Teddy Roosevelt. Anyway, it's the little things. Sadly this book arrived after my recent reading of Catherynne Valente's meticulously researched Glass Town Game about the Brontës at Haworth and it suffers in comparison. I was also bothered by the sketchiness of Bryony's painting style (excuse the awful pun there) since I paint and it is clear the author doesn't have a feel for painting and various media. 

Middle-Grade readers will no doubt not be troubled by a discerning adult reader's concerns about accuracy. They might even be tempted to pick up Wilde's book, which would be a good thing.
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The Strange and Deadly Portraits of Bryony Gray is a super creepy but super fun story. Bryony Gray stays locked up in the attic, painting portraits under the close watch of her aunt and uncle. Bryony's fame has reached far and wide, for although she's only 11, she is an amazing painter. But when her paintings come to life and attack people, Bryony must escape and discover the truth behind her paintings, her family, and especially her father - Dorian Gray.
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I could not really get into this book which I'm sad about because I was so excited for it. I went into it believing that it would be a retelling of The Picture of Dorian Gray and was surprised that it wasn't.  This just wasn't really for me.
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What a fantastic and wonderful read. Bryony Gray is a spirited girl in Victorian England. Her Aunt and Uncle keep her locked in the attic, where she's forced to paint portraits for the London gentry. He rportaits are wonderful and lifelike... too much so. The portraits come to life and start terrorizing the city. With the help of two quirky children from next door, Bryony must get to the bottom of the that plagues the Gray family, a curse brought upon them by her father... Dorian.

I loved this book! I am a sucker for spunky girls on madcap adventures. Parts of this book played out like the best Doctor Who episodes, with creepy pictures crawling out of paintings and mirrored reflections coming to life. My favorite part is the innocent and intriguing hints at the relationship between Bryony and Mira, which was dealt with tastefully for the age group, and realistically for the time period.  Well plotted, with twists I didn't see coming, and with a writing style that made me want to curl up with a blanket and a cup of tea. (Which I did.) I would highly recommend.
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A strange and bizarre tale that draws from an old favorite, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Strange and bizarre in a delightful way! It's unique enough to hold the attention of middle schoolers and, hopefully, to make them curious enough to reach for Dorian Gray.
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What a delightful and exciting read. I had not known what to expect when I started reading,  but I certainly had not anticipated how much I would enjoy this book.

It’s an engaging, interesting, story line, with compelling characters. I'll want to keep an eye out for more books by this author.
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When I was in London, a number of years ago, I got turned around on Oxford Street. Oxford Street is a broad, straight road, in the center of London, well known for its shops. It was originally a Roman road, back when London was under Roman rule, and the Romans are well known for building straight roads, because that is the way they worked.  

I bring this up because, although this novel never said when it took place, exactly, it is clear that a) it is taking place in London around the early 1900, after Queen Victoria has died, and b) after Oscar Wilde has died.  Although it is a fantasy, it based in reality, because that is the way historical fiction is.  So, knowing that, why not be a little more accurate?  Seeing how Oxford Street is long and straight, why say that it is winding and narrow?  If you need a winding narrow street, choose another street. 

In another scene, Bryony, who has only left her attic once, notices that there are Teddy bears at a child's table, as though having a tea party.  The problem is, Teddy bears were invented in 1903, and while the story might be taking place in 1903, and the other character might have the latest new toy, how would Bryony have heard of them, seeing how new they were?  Choose another toy to have at your tea party.

And why have your character be friends with Oscar Wilde, who went to Paris, after he was released from prison, and died there.  No reference is made to Paris, when the character, Constantine, mentions being, or talking to Oscar before he died.

These are the things that take me out of the story.  It happens every time I read a book where I know a little bit about, and it throws me off.

Look, I get it is a middle-grade book.  I really do.  But good historical novels try to keep a bit in check, and when they don't, they explain why, at least.  This novel never did.

And one last problem I have, the way painting is depicted. My grandmother was a painter (she actually worked for Walt Disney studios, back in the 1930s.  My daughter is an artist.  I am friends with artists.  I have never heard of painting with, what, watercolor, the way Bryony does. Perhaps it is oils, but even so.  Perhaps it is the magic, but it sounds very odd.

Is there something I liked about the novel?  Yes, the brother and sister pair that help to solve the mystery. For Mira and Thomas, I give this novel three stars.  But, if you like the book  Portrait of Dorian Gray don't go into this book expecting anything like that.  It is inspired by the book, the part of about wanting to be young and beautiful part.  And it has got some exciting bits, so for that, it can keep its three stars.

Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.
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ARC...copy deliciously dark (darker then most middle grade horrors I read actually) retelling/take on Dorian Grey (especially the themes of vanity-beauty), and imaginative in the artistic-world building of the "painted" Grey family curse. It felt especially creepy when the portraits do come to murderous life in creepy imagery right to their painted faces and killer smirks.
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