Back in September, on one of my last days in Wisconsin, I wandered up the street to the Little Free Library and discovered a tattered copy of Pure Dead Magic, by Debi Gliori. Since I’d recently donated an item, by local LFL rules, the book was mine to keep.
Meet the Strega-Borgia family, who live in the Castle Strega-Schloss on the shores of Lochnagargoyle, just outside the Scottish town of Auchenlochtermuchty. Baci is an amateur witch with, so far, more enthusiasm than ability. Her husband, Luciano, is just trying to hold things together at Strega-Schloss (and steer clear of his notorious relatives back in Italy). Twelve-year-old Titus and ten-year-old Pandora are determined to disabuse their latest visitor of the notion that she could be their new nanny. Not-yet-two-year-old Damp thinks said visitor is quite lovely, actually. And Flora McLachlan is much more savvy and helpful than any of the Strega-Borgias yet know.
There are also three mythical beasts, a moat-guarding crocodile, a pregnant pet rat, a sassy lipstick-wearing spider, and a cryogenically-preserved ancestor affectionately called Strega Nonna.
There are currently six books in the Pure Dead series, and I’ve just finished the third. These stories are admittedly full of gross-out humor and some events that require a healthy set of suspension-of-disbelief goggles. But they’re also funny and clever, and in the third book (Pure Dead Brilliant), baby Damp is obsessed with fairy tales at the same time as she’s developing her own magical abilities, which leads to some seriously adorable mishaps. I didn’t as much appreciate the portrayal of overweight people as either odious villains or horrifying visions of the future; as I’ve mentioned before, it’s pure dead cliché at best, and not the kind of attitude I’d want to pass along to younger readers.
Otherwise, it’s a harmlessly goofy series that combines myth, cybermagic, a dash of history. and (in Book 2) some real estate intrigue.