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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: mysteries, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 98
1. An Adult/Children's Book Mash-up

I have been a fan of Flavia de Luce, the eleven-year-old protagonist of a series of adult mysteries set in England in the 1950s, for a long time. I've also wondered why she hasn't received more attention from the YA world. Her most recent adventure, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, isn't my favorite, but it is a great example of why Flavia, created by Alan Bradley, is such an incredible combination of adult and even children's fiction elements.

Flavia has an incredibly unique, sharp voice, and she's extremely knowledgeable about a sophisticated subject, chemistry. While she jumps on her bike and has the kinds of adventures that are the stuff of children's books, that voice that adult readers love so much might not be acceptable to child readers. Adults like her because a child shouldn't sound like she does or do the things she does. Child readers might just find her unbelievable. Adults don't care about believing her. Adults like that this brilliant child knows nothing about sex. In this most recent book, she thought she could use her massive knowledge of science to bring someone back from the dead. It was a childish belief that adult readers would find touching. Child readers, on the other hand, might not get that this attempt on Flavia's part was more about character than plot.

I also suspect that Flavia isn't an entirely reliable narrator when it comes to her family. She perceives her sisters as hating her, but they have routinely come through for her over the course of the series. And in this volume it's clear that she hasn't understood her father's behavior toward her. I'm not aware of a lot of unreliable narrators in children's books or even YA.

In all these books a mom has been missing--a classic children's book situation. In The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, we get an actual dead parent. Children's literature is littered with those. What is really fascinating about Vaulted Arches, though, is that here we get a child suddenly learning that her family has a special function and that she is chosen--not those others--to be part of it. This is a cliche of children's fantasy, and there is almost a whiff of fantasy about Flavia at that point.

So what have we got here? While these definitely aren't children's books, do they have enough children's elements to bring young readers into the world of adult reading? 

Alex Waugh of The Children's War has also been writing about Flavia.

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2. Guest Blogger: Michaela MacColl, Author of Always Emily (Giveaway)

Always Emily_FC

Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle—before someone else gets killed.

What’s Up with That Title? by Michaela MacColl

This week my new book Always Emily comes out. It’s the next novel in my series of literary mysteries – this one is about the Bronte sisters.  Charlotte Bronte (who would write Jane Eyre) is 18 and her sister Emily (of Wuthering Heights fame) is 17. The sisters get involved in a mystery on their very own moors – a mystery that threatens their peace of mind, their brother and father and even their lives.

If my story is about two sisters, what’s up with that title? Always Emily? I’ve had lots of  people ask me (especially my husband who gets this book mixed up with my last one about Emily Dickinson).  The truth is this book was originally written in alternating chapters, first Charlotte then Emily. These sisters, despite having an identical upbringing, were completely different from one another.

Charlotte was the eldest sister and she assumed responsibility for the family. She’s the one with the plan – to keep the family solvent, to find employment and to get the sisters published.  Emily, on the other hand, had zero ambitions other than to wander the moors and write her wild, uninhibited poetry and stories. Naturally Charlotte wrote about the repressed and moral Jane Eyre, while Emily penned a gothic melodrama of illicit love and revenge.

Jane Eyrewuthering heights


Ultimately I found the alternating narration way too confining. It didn’t seem fair to the reader to leave Charlotte locked in a trunk about to suffocate and then shift to Emily doing the most mundane of chores.  So I switched to a third person, but let each sister own their own chapters.  It worked so much better but I had to answer that pressing question, who is the main character?


I’m the eldest in my family and I’m the one who likes to plan – so my preference was Charlotte of course. But Emily was so much more fun! And if there’s to be a romance (and in these literary mysteries there is always a hint of some love in the air) Emily seems the more likely candidate. So Emily won out by a hair – Charlotte has adventures, but Emily is the main player.

Charlotte quite reasonably resents her sister’s lack of responsibilities. And how aggravating that Emily is the sister that attracts the masculine attention that Charlotte craved. More than once Charlotte mutters, “Emily, it’s always Emily.”

My editor and I liked this as a title because it sounds so romantic – but really it’s the lament of the plainer, older, duller sister. It’s always Emily!

Thanks for reading. I’d love to have you visit at www.michaelamaccoll.com , or follow me on Twitter at @MichaelaMacColl or check out Author Michaela MacColl on Facebook.


Read an excerpt at http://www.scribd.com/doc/198642656/Always-Emily

CCSS-Aligned Discussion/Teacher’s Guide at http://www.chroniclebooks.com/landing-pages/pdfs/AlwaysEmily_DiscussionGuide_FINAL.pdf

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3. Coming Soon!: Moonflower by Angela Townsend


Natasha remembers little from her Russian childhood, other than the lingering nightmares of her mother’s tragic death. So when someone close to her hands her a one-way ticket to Russia, along with the deed to her family farm, and then is brutally murdered, she has little confidence about what awaits her in that distant land.

With doubt and uncertainty, Natasha has no choice but to leave her life in America for an unknown future. Once overseas, the terrifying facts as to why she was really summoned home come to light.

Fact one: Monsters do exist.
Fact two: The only thing keeping those monsters out of the world is an ancient mural hidden below her family’s farm.
Fact three: The mural that keeps the evil out of the world is falling apart.
The final fact: It’s up to Natasha to restore it and save the world from a horror unlike anything seen before.

Luckily, Natasha isn’t alone in her mission. Three Russian Knights are tasked with protecting her from the demons as she restores the mural. And leading the Knights is the handsome and strong Anatoly, who seems to be everything Natasha could hope for in a man. Unfortunately, there is one huge problem. Her Knights are forbidden from having relationships with the artists they protect, and Anatoly is a hardcore rule follower. But rules cannot stop the way she feels.

When a horrifying demon breaches the barrier and pulls Anatoly inside the mural, Natasha can’t help but charge, once again, into the unknown—this time to save the man she secretly loves. Now on the demons’ turf, she risks her own life to free the very one who is supposed to be protecting her. Little does she realize that if she should fail, it could mean the destruction of the very last barrier shielding mankind. Will Anatoly refuse Natasha’s help? Or will he finally realize, when love is at stake, the rules will be broken.

COMING MARCH 31, 2014!


You can add Moonflower to your list on GoodReads at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20924104-moonflower

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4. False Detectives, True Discourses, and Excessive Exegeses

I got caught up in the hype, got curious, and found a way to watch True Detective. It's my kind of thing: a dark crime story/police procedural/serial killer whatzit. Also, apparently the writer of the show, Nic Pizzolatto, is aware of some writers I like, and even one I know, Laird Barron. (Hi Laird! You rock!) What struck me right from the beginning was the marvelous music, selected and produced by the great T-Bone Burnett, and the cinematography by Adam Arkapaw, who shot one of my favorite movies of recent decades, Snowtown, and also the very good film Animal Kingdom and the marvelous Jane Campion TV show Top of the Lake. Something about Arkapaw's sensitivity to color, light, and framing is pure mainlined heroin to my aesthetic pleasure centers. If I found out he'd shot a Ron Howard movie, I'd even watch that.

So many other people have discussed the show that there are now, I'm sure, nearly as many words written about it as there are words in Wikipedia. My own opinion of the show is of no consequence, though for the curious, here's what I said about it on Jeff VanderMeer's Facebook page, where some discussion was going on: "I liked the music, cinematography, most of the acting and directing, but thought the writing was all over the place from pretty good to godawful. And episodes 7 and 8 were like the Goodyear blimp deflating mid-air and landing in a bayou of drivel. (The stars, the stars! Use the Force, Rust! The Yellow King is YOUR FATHER!!! Oh, wait...)"

Much more interesting to me is the discourse around the show. Why did this show inspire such a fanatical response? Why did we feel compelled to respond? Zeitgeist, genre, etc. probably all play into it, but a fuller answer would require some time and research, particularly about how the show was marketed and where and how it first caught on. 

I'm enough of a pointy-headed academic to hope one day for a whole book about the construction of True Detective's appeal, something that doesn't neglect the material aspects: budgets, advertising, Twitter. I'd also like to see analyses of fan responses to mystery/crime shows — for instance, a comparison of fan speculations between seasons 2 and 3 of Sherlock and fan speculations about the mysteries of True Detective before the finale. The choice in season 3 of Sherlock to offer a relatively acceptable but not definitive answer to the mystery of how Sherlock lived was, I thought, quite smart, because even though the creators probably had (unlike Conan Doyle) an idea of an answer when they wrote Sherlock's "death", they realized by the time it came to write season 3 that no answer they could provide would be satisfying after two years of fan speculations.  

True Detective took a different approach, partly because they didn't realize viewers would react the way they did, or that the show would be subject to so much ratiocination, and so they gave a rather ridiculous and clichéd end to the mystery, one that made not a whole lot of sense and tied up only the most obvious of loose ends. Pizzolatto's interest was more in the characters than the plot, or perhaps not even the characters so much as the mood and the projection of an idea of complexity rather than any actual complexity. 

That's the great illusion the show tries to pull off: the illusion of depth. And it does pull it off, thanks to the excessive exegeses of viewers. The exegeses make the depth real — the excess is the depth supplementing the show's surface. Now that we have explored so many assumed clues, we have added a megatext (or megatexts), and so the show becomes vastly more than it was on its own. We have, as it were, colored in the lines, whether they were there for anybody else or not. I don't mean that as a criticism. Some texts invite obsessive interpretation. The process of interpreting widens the text for us, even if we choose to reject the interpretation. I thought most of the ideas about The Shining offered in the documentary Room 237 were bonkers — but I immediately watched The Shining yet again (20th viewing? 30th?) after listening to them all, and I loved the movie more than ever.

I am, myself, now falling into exegesis more than I intended. (It's fun to posit signs as wonders!) Really, what I wanted to do was collect a few writings about True Detective that I particularly liked, that got me thinking. The show has inspired some good writing about it. Here then, before they get lost in the din, are a few fragments I'll shore against these ruins........

Jacob Mikanowski at LA Review of Books:
The Southern Louisiana of True Detective is part truth and part myth. But just by showing so much of it, the show puts us in contact with its real history, even if it doesn’t spell everything out. But there are hints, especially on the margins. There’s the history of pollution, visible in the omnipresent cracking towers and in the condition of Dora Lange’s mother as well as the relative of another victim, a one-time baseball pitcher disabled by a series of strokes. There’s Louisiana’s French and Spanish past, glimpsed momentarily in the Courir and in a stray allusion by Rust to the Pirate Republic of Barataria. And then there’s the history of segregation and racism, barely present except for the suggestion that the schools most of the victims attended were a way around busing — like the “segregation academies” that sprang up in different parts of the Deep South as a response to Brown vs. the Board of Education.

In my dream version of the show, the detectives are historians or archivists. They could work equally well somewhere in the Mississippi Delta or Eastern Poland. The crimes they investigate are buried in the past, and the thing they realize eventually isn’t just that everyone knew, but that everyone was complicit. Coincidentally, while the first episodes aired, I happened to be reading Trouble in Mind, Leon Litwack’s magisterial history of the lives of Black Southerners under Jim Crow. And although I shouldn’t have been, I was shocked by his account of lynching — at how common it was, how popular, and how public. The audiences that gathered for lynchings were huge, and their appetite for suffering — burning and other tortures — as spectacle couldn’t be satisfied by mere killing. Children even played their own games of hanging and being hung. True Detective doesn’t go there — but in the sense it creates, of a past that infects the present, of ritualized violence that doesn’t end even after it officially disappears — it starts to open the door.

Dustin Rowles at Pajiba:
That is literary inefficiency, and while it’s easier to understand in the context of a longer season in the midst of a longer series where it’s often necessary to pad out the episodes, and where showrunners are often forced by more demanding production schedules to wing it along the way, Pizzolatto had only eight episodes to write and the ability to plan out the entire season in advance. The irony, of course, is that he still had all the ingredients necessary to create a more compelling ending, and yet he still he chose to stick with the simpler, “There’s a Monster in the End” storyline. It’s a shame, too, because Pizzolatto obviously has a deep understanding of literature, and yet he chose the television ending over the literary one. Unfortunately, it seems, he knows how to introduce literary allusions, but he doesn’t show us he knows how to utilize them.

Joseph Laycock at Religion Dispatches:
Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a happy ending. But the final message of True Detective reinforces a dangerous mythology that’s already endemic in American popular culture. The brutal misogyny of the heroes, their willingness to commit all manner of felonies—this was not a Nietzchean tale of those who hunt monsters becoming monsters themselves. Instead, this is a moral universe where anything is justified as long as your opponent is “truly” evil and good “gains some territory.” This is about as far from Lovecraft’s cosmic horror as one can get. 

Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic:
Certainly Marty’s violence and sexism isn’t appealing; certainly Rust deserves the eye rolls that other characters threw his way. But creating flawed heroes isn’t subversive—it’s doing exactly what any decent fiction writer is supposed to do. A subversion would have been to make those flaws figure into the main narrative in some unexpected but crucial way. Maybe the “good guys” botch the case. Or maybe, per the theories mentioned before, they’re connected to the murders in ways they don’t understand till it’s too late.

Instead, both main characters got a fair amount of vindication in the end. Marty’s family doesn’t seem to hate him quite as much anymore. Rust believes in the afterlife now. They both go backslapping into the night. All of this comes from them catching a killer of women and children. So for the zillionth time in Western pop culture, men (straight, white ones at that) get psychic rewards for valorously risking themselves on behalf of the weak.

Susan Elizabeth Shepard at The Hairpin:
If you're going to make a dead sex worker the inciting incident for your story, if one of the central characters is defined by his rage about the sexual purity of the women in his life, it needs to pay off in the form of story advancement and character development, otherwise it's just gratuitous, sensational, "edgy." And for the last several episodes, it's become clear that the only satisfying way for the mystery to end is for Rust or Marty to be the killer. But we're gonna get some dumb conspiracy of Louisiana good ol' boys who worship the devil, which is going to be unsatisfying and also not give the proper payoff to all that violence against women, which then becomes just so many witchy antler decorations with no clear meaning.

Matt Zoller Seitz at Vulure:
Marty's hypocritical attitude toward his wife and daughters is positively Scorsesean in its misogyny. Never for a moment does the show pretend that he's got the right idea about fidelity, fatherhood, or anything else related to the women who live under his roof. He's got a gangster's idea of manhood: I'll do what I please, and you do whatever I tell you. He's the king of his castle, everyone else is a serf. Rust, meanwhile, is haunted equally by the death of his daughter (and subsequent guilt over his failure to preserve his marriage afterward) and his rocky relationship with his father, to whose home state, Alaska, he briefly returned; he's destroyed by his inability to live up to an unrealistic standard of manly strength, goodness, and patience. It makes both dramatic and rhetorical sense that Marty and Rust's interrogators would be two black men, and that many of the detective's most mortifying and self-destructive moments stem from their inability to deal with women in an honest and non-condescending way. The show's disinterest in race relations and inability to resist gratuitous T&A shots damages its credibility greatly in this department, but the notion that True Detective is purely a white male supremacist fantasy is not remotely supported by the evidence. 

Lili Loofbourow at LA Review of Books:
Ask a woman whether Errol Childress matches the monster at the end of our dreams — I doubt you’ll get many nods. But there is a monster we might dream about in True Detective, and he’s everything a monster should be: murderous, violent, deeply sympathetic, and totally adept at spinning the Cohles of the world to his side. Here’s to TV’s greatest and most affable monster, Marty Hart.

Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber:
Another interpretation, which seems to me to be equally plausible, is that the catharsis of the closing episode is false, and deliberately so. The darkness continues. Marty’s inattention to his family has had profound costs. The show strongly suggests that one of Marty’s daughters has been the victim of sexual abuse, in ways that mirror the detective story, just as the detective story mirrors the story of Marty’s family. Marty doesn’t seem aware of this at all. If Marty and Rust conclude that the light as winning, it is only because they fail to see the darkness that surrounds them, and cannot see it, so long as they continue to live in a world of purely brotherly camaraderie, a war of light against dark where one responds to male violence only with more violence and leaves women’s business to the women. Even when you are confronted with your true situation, you cannot necessarily free yourself from it. The detective’s curse means that you do not escape from Carcosa. You only think that you do because you are willfully blind to the Carcosa that surrounds you, the labyrinth made of the circle that is invisible and everlasting.

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5. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 29

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out a new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I currently send out the newsletter once every two weeks.

Awards Update: In case you missed it, the ALA Youth Media Awards were announced on Monday morning. You can find the complete list of 2014 winners here. A few highlights:

  • Newbery: Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo & K. G. Campbell
  • Caldecott: Locomotive by Brian Floca
  • Printz: Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick
  • ... and lots more. Congratulations to all of the authors and publishers honored this year. There seems to be fairly widespread satisfaction with this year's selections. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (picture book through middle grade / middle school). I also have a post about a recent experience that I had that validates the importance of keeping books nearby, and one with a few recent highlights from my daughter's read-aloud journey. I have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently, both chock full of book lists and literacy links. 

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read 3 middle grade, 3 YA, and 2 adult titles. I read:

  • Matthew Kirby: The Quantum League #1: Spell Robbers. Scholastic Press. Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed January 17, 2014. My review.
  • Laurel Snyder: Bigger than a Bread Box. Yearling. Middle Grade. Completed January 18, 2014. My review.
  • Ari Goelman: The Path of Names. Arthur A. Levine Books (Scholastic). Middle Grade/Middle School. Completed January 23, 2014. Review to come.
  • Marie Lu: Champion (A Legend Novel). Putnam Juvenile. Young Adult Fiction. Completed January 15, 2014, on Kindle. I found this a satisfying conclusion to the series, but I don't feel compelled to review it. 
  • Hollis Gillespie: Unaccompanied Minor. Merit Press. Young Adult Fiction. Completed January 22, 2014, on Kindle. I read this after reading a recommendation from Leila at Bookshelves of Doom. She said that she was too sick to read, but this book held her interest. I read it while exercising, and it kept my interest, too. The writing style took a bit of getting used to (the story is told in the form of a debrief between the main character and the authorities after an incident involving a plane hijacking and a bomb), and there's a bit more detail about the things that can go wrong on board airplanes than I personally needed. It's also relatively violent, with several deaths. Despite all that, it worked for me as escapist fare.
  • Rohan GavinKnightley & Son. Bloomsbury USA. Middle School. Completed January 27, 2014. Review to come.
  • Michael Connelly: The Gods of Guilt. Little, Brown and Company. Adult Mystery. Completed January 19, 2014, on MP3. Like all of Connelley's books, this one was well-done. But I've concluded that I really don't enjoy courtroom dramas, and this one has more court time than I personally prefer (especially in an audio, where one can't skim). 
  • Salman Kahn: The One World Schoolhouse. Twelve. Adult Nonfiction. Completed January 20, 2014. I found this book about "the flipped classroom" by the founder of the Kahn Academy fascinating (though I have no plans for changing my daughter's educational experience.) Have any of you read this one?

I'm currently reading Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton (a Kindle library book for while I'm exercising), and Ophelia and the Marvelous Boy by Karen Foxlee. I'm listening to the fourth book in Maryrose Wood's Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series, The Interrupted Tale. I think that the Incorrigible Children books are pure genius. 

Baby Bookworm has been snagging reading time whenever she can lately. While she's eating, while she's brushing her teeth, etc. You can check out the complete list of books we've read to her so far this year on my blog. Her taste doesn't always agree with mine, but it is a lot of fun to watch her developing her own personal preferences. 

What are you and your family reading these days? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2014 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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6. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: January 2

JRBPlogo-smallHappy New Year! Today I will be sending out the first 2014 issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. I usually send out the newsletter once every two weeks, but I skipped last week because of Christmas, so this issue has a bit of extra content. I'm also sharing my goals for 2014 in this post, so read on if you are interested. 

Cybils2013SmallNewsletter Update: In this issue I have seven book reviews, ranging from picture book through young adult. I also have a new literacy milestone post regarding my daughter, and a post with my reactions to the just-announced Cybils shortlists. I have two posts with links that I shared on Twitter recently. Not included in the newsletter this time around I published:

Reading Update: In the last three weeks I read one middle grade, three young adult, and two adult titles. I read:

For the entire year my total was 143 books read (not counting picture books): 42 early reader to middle grade, 54 young adult, and 47 adult titles. You can view the full list here. Seems like going for 50, 50, 50 for 2014 would be a good goal, doesn't it? One book a week in each of my 3 categories, with a couple of weeks of slack. I doubt it will work out quite that way, though. I read more adult books than usual in 2013 because I was sick a lot, and I hope that situation will not be repeated. 

I'm not making formal resolutions, but I do have 3 goals for 2014:

  1. Get more/better sleep
  2. Read more
  3. Exercise more

I have these goals for my daughter, too. Regarding #2, it's not that I want reading to be a contest, or that I'm really going to pay attention to exactly how many books either of us reads. It's more that when I'm deciding how to spend my time (and my daughter's time), and I have a choice, I'm going to try to steer us towards sleeping, reading, or getting exercise. This morning, for example, before starting work I spent 40 minutes reading on my Kindle while riding my exercise bike, thus working on 2 of my goals at the same time. 

I'm currently reading Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord (due out in late February) and Reality Boy by A.S. King. I'm hoping to get a post up tomorrow about the new books that my daughter received for Christmas, so I'll tell you more about what she's reading then.

I'm also keeping a promise that I made to a follower of my Facebook page, and attempting once again to track all of the books that I read aloud to my daughter in 2014. I've started with a typelist in the right-hand sidebar of my blog, but will transfer to a page of the blog later on. 

Wishing you all a happy and book-filled 2014! Thanks for reading, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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7. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: November 13

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1768 subscribers. I send out the newsletter once every two weeks. 

Newsletter Update: In this issue I have four book reviews (three picture books and one for middle school age). I also have a post about National Literacy Day and the Scholastic SPOTLIT collection, one about WordGirl's word of the month for November, and one with links that I shared on Twitter.

Not included in the newsletter, I have three posts about a conference that I both attended and helped to organize last weekend (the Kidlitosphere Conference, aka KidLitCon):

Reading Update: In the last two weeks I read two middle grade/middle school books, one young adult title, and one adult mystery. I read:

  • Rick Riordan: The House of Hades (Heroes of Olympus, Book 4). Disney-Hyperion. Middle Grade / Middle School. Completed November 5, 2013, on MP3. I don't review audiobooks, but I did enjoy this one. 
  • Peggy Eddleman: Sky Jumpers. Random House Books for Young Readers. Middle Grade. Completed November 6, 2013. Review to come.
  • Robin Benway: Also Known As. Walker Children's. Young Adult Fiction. Completed November 10, 2013. Review to come.
  • Julia Spencer-Fleming: Through the Evil Days (A Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mystery). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed November 10, 2013. A highly suspenseful installment of this series, one that finds all of the major characters facing important personal and professional decisions/deadlines. A perfect winter read, with Russ and Clare spending much of the book stranded by a major storm.

I'm listening to Murder in Chelsea by Victoria Thompson, and reading Sunny Sweet is So Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann (which I picked up at KidLitCon). I also have Reading in the Wild by Donalyn Miller and Susan Kellley on my nightstand, though I haven't had a chance to really start it.  

Baby Bookworm is reading Back to Bed, Ed! by Sebastien Braun. More on that next week (sigh! sleep problems). We received a box of winter/holiday-themed books from HarperCollins this week, and she is particularly excited about the Pinkalicious Cupcake Cookbook and Charlie the Ranch Dog : Charlie's Snowy Day (an early reader).

She insisted that her babysitter read aloud to her from the cupcake book immediately, though this isn't normally what one does with recipe books. And about the Charlie the Ranch Dog book, before we had even finished it she said: "Let's read this one every day until Christmas, and then on Christmas." It's not even a Christmas book, but ok... Whatever keeps her excited about books. 

Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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8. Book Spotlight: Dead Dreams by Emma Right

emma cover


Eighteen-year-old Brie O’Mara has so much going for her: a loving family in the sidelines, an heiress for a roommate, and dreams that might just come true. Big dreams–of going to acting school, finishing college and making a name for herself. She is about to be the envy of everyone she knew. What more could she hope for? Except her dreams are about to lead her down the road to nightmares. Nightmares that could turn into a deadly reality.

Book Title: Dead Dreams, Book 1, a young adult contemporary psychological thriller and mystery

Print Length: 170 pages

Publisher: Right House Books; 2013 First edition

(August 26, 2013)

Format: Kindle


Purchase at Amazon!

Music video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uM7MI_3vqyo


Emma Right is a happy wife and Christian homeschool mother of five living in the Pacific West Coast of the USA. Besides running a busy home, and looking after their five pets, which includes two cats, a bunny and a Long-haired dachshund, she also writes stories for her children. She loves the Lord and when she doesn’t have her nose in a book, she is telling her kids to get theirs in one.

Right worked as a copywriter for two major advertising agencies and won several awards, including the prestigious Clio Award for her ads, before she settled down to have children.

Social Links:

Email Address: emmarightmarketing@gmail.com

Website: http://www.emmaright.com

Twitter link @emmbeliever

Facebook link https://www.facebook.com/DeadDreamsEmmaRight

Goodreads User:









Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.com/Emma-Right/e/B00BD7C4A8/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

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1 Comments on Book Spotlight: Dead Dreams by Emma Right, last added: 11/9/2013
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9. New Books for Review

seesawClavis sent me a group of books to review, which you’ll be seeing soon. Here’s a list of what arrived this week:


The Seesaw and Good-bye, Fish by Judith Koppens,

Circus 123 by one of my favorites, Guido van Genechten,crypto

A Big Book of Face Painting by Charlotte Verrecas,

Kevin’s Big Book of Emotions by another favorite, Liesbet Slegers.


I also purchased a copy of The Crypto-Capers in The Peacock Diaries by Renee Hand. I’ve been following this series since the beginning, so I sure don’t want to miss out on any of them.

Overdue is my review of Soccer Dreams by Clare Hodgson Meeker, but it’s coming soon. I promise.


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10. Growing Bookworms Newsletter: September 18

JRBPlogo-smallToday I will be sending out the new issue of the Growing Bookworms email newsletter. (If you would like to subscribe, you can find a sign-up form here.) The Growing Bookworms newsletter contains content from my blog focused on children's and young adult books and raising readers. There are 1745 subscribers. I send out the newsletter once every three weeks. 

ReadAloudMantraNewsletter Update: In this issue I have a post about one of my daughter's milestones on the path to literacy, a post in celebration of Roald Dahl day, a post about the 2013 Cybils panels, a discussion of the five series I am most looking forward to reading with my daughter, and post about whether or not it matters if you read at bedtime.

I also have a post about getting my blogging groove back, after my illness this summer slowed me down. I appreciate you all staying with me through that. I don't have any book reviews in this issue, but I do expect to have more book recommendations (in one form or another) coming up soon. 

Other recent posts not included in the newsletter this time around are:

Reading Update: In the last 3-4 weeks I read 2 middle grade novels, one young adult novel, and 8 adult novels. I'm just starting to dip my toe back into the world of children's and young adult literature, after what turned out to be a refreshing break. I'm including mini-reviews here:

Jessica Day George: Wednesdays in the Tower. Bloomsbury. Middle Grade. Completed September 14, 2013. I had trouble getting into this sequel to Tuesdays at the Castle (reviewed here). The actions of the kids felt tame compared with the first book, and the device of the semi-sentient castle felt less original (perhaps inevitable in a sequel). The book did get more exciting towards the end, but then concluded with an unexpected cliffhanger. 

Holly Black: Doll Bones. Margaret K. McElderry Books. Middle Grade. Completed September 16, 2013. I haven't written a formal review of this book, because it's already been reviewed everywhere (and is on Betsy Bird's Newbery candidates list). But it really is fabulous and I highly recommend it. Doll Bones is the perfect mix of creepy possible ghost story with kid-directed adventure, with a spot on portrayal of evolving boy-girl friendships at age 12. 

Malinda Lo: Adaptation. Little Brown. Young Adult. Completed August 28, 2013. The premise of Adaptation, in which two teens awaken from a car accident and find themselves in a secret government hospital, intrigued me. I picked it up as a Kindle daily deal one day, and enjoyed it. I do plan to read the sequel at some point.

Robert Crais: Suspect. Putnam. Adult Mystery. Completed August 23, 2013, on MP3. This is a standalone (or first in a new series?) novel is about an LA cop and a military service dog who help each other recover from their respective traumas while solving the mystery of why the cop was shot (and his partner killed). Some of the book is told from the dog's perspective. This worked surprisingly well (though I was a bit resistant to the premise at first). 

Marcus Sakey: Brilliance. Thomas & Mercer. Adult Science Fiction. Completed August 23, 2013, on Kindle. I found this an intriguing science fiction novel about an alternate US reality in which, starting in the 80s, some 1% of the population are "brillliants" - the kind of geniuses that previously only cropped up once in a generation. There are, naturally enough, tensions between the brilliants and others. It's the first of a series, and I can't wait to see what happens next. 

Carol O'Connell: It Happens in the Dark (A Mallory Novel). Putnam. Adult Mystery. Completed August 25, 2013. The Mallory novels are among my favorite mystery series. I find the character herself (a deeply flawed, highly capable NY cop) endlessly fascinating (even if she does break her friends' hearts). The plots are so convoluted that I can actually re-read these books, and thus buy them in hardcover. This one did not disappoint. 

Stephen White: The Last Lie (Alan Gregory #18). Signet. Adult Mystery. Completed August 30, 2013. See below. 

Stephen White: Line of Fire (Alan Gregory, #19). Signet. Adult Mystery. Completed September 4, 2013. See below. 

P.J. Tracy: Shoot to Thrill (Monkeewrench , #5). Signet. Adult Mystery. Completed September 5, 2013, on MP3. The Monkeewrench series is another that celebrates quirky characters (a crew of wealthy, odd hackers), set against a more conventional (in this case) police procedural. The premise of this one, in which people are murdering others on camera, and posting the videos on YouTube, was a bit disturbing. But the characters made it fun.

Stephen White: Compound Fractures (Alan Gregory #20). Signet. Adult Mystery. Completed September 6, 2013. I read the last few books in the Alan Gregory series pretty much all at once, after dipping in and out of the series over the years. The books are about a Boulder psychologist who, with his Assistant District Attorney wife and cop best friend, finds himself in the middle of some ugly situations. The final books of the series are all tightly connected, and it was definitely the right thing to read them as a unit. 

Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache). Minotaur Books. Adult Mystery. Completed September 8, 2013. This series is absolutely brilliant, another one of my all-time favorites. In this installment, things start out a bit bleak for Chief Inspector Gamache, and he to some extent retreats to the small town of Three Pines (which was absent from the prior book). But fans should not worry, because everything is not what it seems. The actual mystery involves a story loosely based on the Dionne Quintuplets, but there is much more to be figured out. I found this one quite satisfying. 

I'm currently listening to Never Go Back (A Jack Reacher novel) by Lee Child. I'm reading The Shade of the Moon (Life As We Knew It, Book 4) by Susan Beth Pfeffer. There are many other books on my TBR shelf, and several upcoming books that I am excited about. 

Baby Bookworm has been enjoying Splat the Cat: What Was That by Rob Scotton and Pinkalicious: Pink or Treat by Victoria Kann, as we start to think about Halloween. We're also reading lots of Curious George, Fancy Nancy, Arthur, and Little Critter books. 

How about you? What have you and your kids been reading and enjoying? Thanks for reading the newsletter, and for growing bookworms. 

© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook

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11. Hold Fast by Blue Balliett | Review

This book will appeal to readers in 5th through 7th grades who like a good mystery, poetry, and stories about hardship and changes in fortune.

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12. New and Upcoming Indie MG and YA Titles


Jake’s plan for a carefree holiday at a musical performing arts camp in the Windy City hits a sour note when he stumbles upon a long-hidden message from his mother, art historian Karen McGreevy. She had traveled to Chicago thirteen years earlier on a dream assignment, never to return home. With his violin and his mother’s mysterious letter in hand, Jake, his best friend Julie, and new pals Ben and Natalie are heading west, where they will follow the clues and uncover the truth about a missing masterpiece, the meaning of friendship, and the enduring bond between a mother and her son.

Coming in November from MB Publishing!


A thrilling graphic novel adventure that unlocks the mysteries of ancient Egypt!

The Egyptian capital of Cairo is a buzzing hive of treasure hunters, thrill-seekers, and adventurers, but to 12-year-old Ronald “Rocket” Robinson, it’s just another sticker on his well worn suitcase. But when Rocket finds a strange note written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, he stumbles into an adventure more incredible than anything he’s ever dreamt of.

Rocket and his friends soon run afoul of master criminal Otto Von Stürm, who’s planning the theft of the greatest treasure in history—an ancient pharaoh’s fortune, secretly hidden for centuries. To stop him, they’ll have to de-code an ancient riddle, solve a cryptic puzzle, face off hungry crocodiles, and navigate a centuries-old labyrinth full of traps. All while staying one step ahead of Otto’s bloodthirsty goons.

The streets of Cairo come alive in Sean O’Neill’s lively, vibrant, full-color illustrated pages. Young fans of ancient Egypt will immediately be drawn in by the references to hieroglyphics, mummies, pyramids, and pharaoh’s tombs, all lavishly illustrated in O’Neill’s fun, accessible style.

Coming in October from BoilerRoom Studios.


The Survivors: Body & Blood is the third installment of The Survivors Series!

How many answers you seek are just a part of you, waiting to be found?

The game has changed.

Fresh from her first brush with mortality, a fragile Sadie Matthau is playing human with Cole Hardwick while the Survivors endure unimaginable tragedy. Wrought with the first deaths of their own kind, a tyrant who will torture them, and an opponent more terrifying than anyone could have foreseen, the Survivors are facing their end.

Told from three points of view, The Survivors: Body & Blood is a bloodcurdling, mind-bending, heart-stopping ride. As Sadie and the Winters uncover more enemies, more history, and more answers, they find themselves brought closer together and ripped further apart. And all the while, a haunting Alexander Raven lurks at the edge of Sadie s lifeline, at the darkening fringes of her mind.

As the Survivors descend into chaos, Sadie realizes a painful truth: the deepest of secrets leave the darkest of marks.

Caught between a terrifying fantasy and her own grim reality, Body & Blood is the story of Sadie s dance with her demons, future, past, and present.

Released July 2013 from Chafie Press, LLC.



Filled with terrific suspense and budding romance, Daughter of Camelot is a fast paced adventure set against the turmoil at the end of the Arthurian era.

Raised in the shadow of a fort dedicated to training Knights of the Round Table, Deirdre thirsts for adventure.

Instead, at 14, she is sent to court to learn the etiquette and talents of a young woman.

Court life, however, is more fraught with danger than she expected, and Deirdre finds herself entangled in a deadly conspiracy that stretches deep into the very heart of Camelot.

All Deirdre thought she knew and believed in—loyalty, love, bravery—is challenged when she embarks on a quest to defy Fate and save the King.

Coming in September 2013 from Mabon Publishing.



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13. Review of the Day: A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk

GirlProblem 328x500 Review of the Day: A Girl Called Problem by Katie QuirkA Girl Called Problem
By Katie Quirk
Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 97800-8028-5404-9
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

Who says that mystery novels for kids all have to include the same tropes and settings? I tell you, half the time when a kid comes up to a reference desk asking for a mystery they think what they want is the standard white kids in suburbia model perfected by Encyclopedia Brown and his ilk. They’re wrong. What they really want is great writing and a good mystery with a twist they don’t see coming. So I will hereby give grand kudos and heaping helpfuls of praise to the librarian/bookseller/parent who hears a kid ask for a mystery and hands them Katie Quirk’s A Girl Called Problem. This book is a trifecta of publishing rarities. A historical novel that is also a mystery set in a foreign country that just happens to be Tanzania. Trust me when I say your shelves aren’t exactly filled to brimming with such books. Would that they were, or at the very least, would that you had as many good books as this one. Smart commentary, an honestly interesting storyline, and sharp writing from start to finish, Quirk quickly establishes herself as one author to watch.

The thing about Shida is that in spite of her name (in Swahili it would be “problem”) you just can’t get her down. Sure, her mom is considered a witch, and every day she seems to make Shida’s life harder rather than easier. Still, Shida’s got dreams. She hopes to someday train to be a healer in her village of Litongo, and maybe even a village nurse. In light of all this, when the opportunity arises for all of Litongo to pick up and move to a new location, Shida’s on board with the plan. In Nija Panda she would be able to go to school and maybe even learn medicine firsthand. Her fellow villagers are wary but game. They seem to have more to gain than to lose from such a move. However, that’s before things start to go terribly wrong. Escaped cattle. Disease. Even death seems to await them in Nija Panda. Is the village truly cursed, just unlucky, or is there someone causing all these troubles? Someone who doesn’t want the people of Litongo there. Someone who will do anything at all to turn them back. It’s certainly possible and it’s up to Shida to figure out who the culprit might be.

The trouble with being an adult and reading a children’s work of mystery fiction is that too often the answer feels like it’s too obvious. Fortunately for me, I’m terrible at mysteries. I’ll swallow every last red herring and every false clue used by the author to lead me astray. So while at first it seems perfectly obvious who the bad guys would be, I confess that when the switcheroo took place I didn’t see it coming. It made perfect sense, of course, but I was as blindsided as our plucky heroine. I figure if I honestly as a 35-year-old adult can’t figure out the good guys from the bad in a book for kids, at least a significant chunk of child readers will be in the same boat.

Now I’ve a pet peeve regarding books set in Africa, particularly historical Africa, and I was keen to see whether or not Ms. Quirk would indulge it. You see, the story of a girl in a historical setting who wants to be a healer but can’t because of her gender is not a particularly new trope. We’ve seen it before, to a certain extent. What chaps my hide is when the author starts implying that tribal medicines and healing techniques are superstitious and outdated while modern medicine is significantly superior. Usually the heroine will fight against society’s prejudices, something will happen late in the game, and the villagers will see that she was right all along and that she’ll soon be able to use Western medicine to cure all ills. There’s something particularly galling about storylines of this sort, so imagine my surprise when I discovered that Quirk was not going to fall into that more than vaguely insulting mindset. Here is an author unafraid to pay some respect to the religion of the villagers. It never dismisses curses but acknowledges them alongside standard diseases. Example: “Though Shida was certain Furaha should take medicine for malaria, she was equally certain she should guard the spirit house that night. Parasites were responsible for some sicknesses and curses for others, and in this case, they needed to protect against both.”

Quirk is also quite adept at using the middle grade chapter book format to tackle some pretty complex issues. To an adult reading this book it might be clear that Shida’s mother suffers from a severe form of depression. There’s no way the village would be prepared to handle this diagnosis, and Shida herself just grows angry with the woman who stays inside all the time. You could get a very interesting book discussion going with child readers about whether or not Shida should really blame her mother as vehemently as she does. On the one hand, you can see her point. On the other, her mother is clearly in pain. Similarly well done is the final discussion of witches. Quirk brings up a very sophisticated conversation wherein Shida comes to understand that accused witches are very often widows who must work to keep themselves alive and that, through these efforts, acquire supposedly witchy attributes. Quirk never hits you over the head with these thoughts. She just lets her heroine’s assumptions fall in the face of close and careful observation.

All this could be true, but without caring about the characters it wouldn’t be worth much. I think part of the reason I like the book as much as I do is that everyone has three dimensions (with the occasional rare exception). Even the revealed villain turns out to have a backstory that explains their impetus, though it doesn’t excuse their actions. As for Shida herself, she may be positive but she’s no Pollyanna. Depression hits her hard sometimes too, but through it all she uses her brain. Because she is able to apply what she learns in school to the real world, she’s capable of following the clues and tracking down the real culprit behind everyone’s troubles. Passive protagonists have no place in A Girl Called Problem. No place at all.

Finally, in an era of Common Core Standards I cannot help but notice how much a kid can learn about Tanzania from this book. Historical Tanzania at that! A Glossary at the back does a very good job of explaining everything from flamboyant trees to n’gombe to President Julius Nyerere’s plan for Tanzania. There are also photographs mixed into the Glossary that do a good job of giving a contemporary spin on a historical work.

Windows and mirrors. That’s the phrase used by children’s literature professionals to explain what we look for in books for kids. We want them to have books that reflect their own experiences and observations (mirrors) and we also want them to have books that reflect the experiences and observations of kids living in very different circumstances (windows). Mirror books can be a lot easier to recommend to kids than window books, but that just means you need to try harder. So next time a 9-12 year-old comes to you begging for a mystery, upset their expectations. Hand them A Girl Called Problem and bet them they won’t be able to guess the bad guy. In the process, you might just be able to introduce that kid to their latest favorite book.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Notes on the Cover:  Now was that so hard?  We ask and we ask and we ask for brown faces on our middle grade fiction and still it feels like pulling teeth to get it done.  Eerdmans really blew this one out of the water, and it seems they spared no expense.  The book jacket is the brainchild of Richard Tuschman who you may know better as the man behind the cover of Claire Vanderpool’s Newbery Award winning Moon Over Manifest.  Beautiful.

Other Blog Reviews: Loganberryblog

Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus


  • This is utterly fascinating.  In this post author Katie Quirk talks about the process that led to the current (and truly lovely) cover.
  • And Ms. Quirk shares what a typical day for Shida might look like in this video.

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6 Comments on Review of the Day: A Girl Called Problem by Katie Quirk, last added: 5/3/2013
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14. Twelve Dancing Princesses

Twelve Dancing Princesses, by Rachel Isadora
A Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator gives this classic fairy tale a brand-new setting!
Night after night, the twelve princesses mysteriously wear out their shoes. But how? The king promises a great reward to any man who can solve the mystery. Rachel Isadora has revitalized and reimagined this well-loved Brothers Grimm fairytale by bringing the story of the twelve princesses to Africa...

If you liked this, try:
The Fisherman and his Wife
Sleeping Beauty
Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave
Puss in Boots
The Wild Swans

0 Comments on Twelve Dancing Princesses as of 12/11/2012 4:17:00 PM
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15. Steve Ditko talks at last…sorta

tumblr metwovNmFl1qhmu4uo1 12801 Steve Ditko talks at last...sorta

Via Midtown ComicsA recent letter from Steve Ditko.

A recent letter from Steve Ditko to one of our customers. He asked Steve what he remembered about designing Spidey’s costume. #ditko #spiderman (at Midtown Comics)

50 years is a long time…and Stan Lee doesn’t remember anything either. The intensely private Ditko has long refused to give interviews about his work at Marvel, and at age 85, perhaps telling people he just doesn’t remember is the best way to lay the whole thing to rest.

14 Comments on Steve Ditko talks at last…sorta, last added: 12/12/2012
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16. Agatha Christie Agrees With Me

In a newly published essay that she wrote back in 1945, Agatha Christie indicates that she is not a fan of Harriet Vane, the character some of us believe brought down the Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series. A Guardian article on the essay claims Christie says that Wimsey "became through the course of years merely a 'handsome hero', and admirers of his early prowess can hardly forgive his attachment to, and lengthy courtship of, a tiresome young woman called Harriet".

Yeah, Agatha, that's pretty much it.

I would argue that the Wimsey/Vane relationship became a model for other characters in other mystery novels. For instance, Ramses and whatever that woman's name was that he pines after for volumes in the Amelia Peabody books.

I read the Lord Peter books when I was in college, as a new adult. I see many lit bloggers talking about the series. In fact, it was a children's writer/lit blogger Facebook Friend who linked to the Guardian story about Christie's essay. But I don't know if new adults actually read them, or any so-called "golden era" mysteries, anymore.

0 Comments on Agatha Christie Agrees With Me as of 9/19/2012 9:12:00 PM
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17. Have you written a mystery? Are you looking for feedback/an agent?

If you have written either an adult or a YA mystery, you can enter a contest. Winners get a critique of the first 10 double-spaced pages of their work, by the agent judge, as well as a free one-year subscription to WritersMarket.com. Past winners have been picked up the agent judge and sold.

Read more it here. The contest closes Sept. 15.

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18. Latest News from Moonlight Ridge

Kindlers and Nookers take note!

I'm so happy to announce that my beautiful new VHP edition of Sweet Music on Moonlight Ridge is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

My new publisher, Vanilla Heart Publishers, have done such a great job! If you like mysteries, nature trails, Southern folk tales with a generous helping of humor and supernatural happenings, you'll love  the adventures of Lily Claire and Willie T. in the woods of Alabama.

From a family background filled with haunting images and delicious mirth, a couple of eight-year-old adventurers discover their own world of mischief, music, and magic in a special place called Moonlight Ridge.

Follow these two witty and wise youngsters as they find out that sometimes the greatest treasures are found in the most amazing and unexpected places.

5 Comments on Latest News from Moonlight Ridge, last added: 9/8/2012
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19. Cast of Characters: Grandpa Charles

It's been one hair-raising, fun-filled adventure after another for twelve-year-old best friends, Cynthia and Gus. I've penned (okay...typed) five...count 'em...FIVE books taking the girls through a magic trunk in Cynthia's attic back more than 50 years to the Louisiana Bayou, Switerland, France, a steamship crossing the Atlantic, and even Southern Indiana, the original setting. They even traveled forward 50 years, meeting another pair of best friends.

Leading up to the release of the final book in the series, Cynthia's Attic: The Legend of LupinWoods, I'm highlighting some of these colorful characters (my relatives!).

Great Grandpa Charles:

 As one of the early music teachers in Southern Indiana, he was a pioneer in his field. His enthusiasm for all things music inspired others to make it their chosen field.

He was also one of the first to turn his passion into a business, Conrad Music; still going today! He's shown in this picture driving the buggy he'd use to transport musical instruments he sold throughout Southern Indiana.
His love for music, and the fact that I've heard through many stories what a loving and generous man he was to his family and the community, is the main reason I decided to showcase Grandpa Charles in Cynthia's Attic: The Magician's Castle. 

In this story, Grandpa Charles is taking an organ to the circus for the evening performance. What he didn't know until after he delivered the organ, is that his daughter, Bess (earlier post), her friend, Clara, along with Cynthia and Gus, hitched a ride.


      Stepping outside the main tent, we spotted Papa Charles leading a procession consisting of two muscular men pulling a 4-wheel cart that held the organ.  Bess and Clara followed sullenly behind.

I pulled Cynthia behind a deep fold in the heavy canvas seconds before the procession marched by, and as we watched, it was pretty obvious from the pained look on Bess's face that her father hadn't been at all pleased with the unexpected company he'd found hidin

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20. Review of the Day: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

Three Times Lucky
By Sheila Turnage
Dial (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-8037-3670-2
Ages 9-12
On shelves May 10th

The Southern Girl Novel. It’s pretty much a genre in and of itself in the children’s literary world. Some years produce more of them than others but they all tend to follow the same format. Sleepy town plus spunky girl equals mild hijinks, kooky townspeople, self-awakening, etc. After a while they all start to blend together, their details merging and meshing and utterly impossible to separate. I’m just mentioning all this as a kind of preface to Three Times Lucky. Sure, you can slap a Gilbert Ford cover on anything these days and it’ll look good. It’s how the insides taste that counts. And brother, the one thing I can say with certainty about Three Times Lucky is that you will never, but ever, mistake it for another book. We’ve got murder. We’ve got careening racecars. We’ve got drunken louts and amnesia and wigs and karate and all sorts of good stuff rolled up in one neat little package. I’ve read a lot of mysteries for kids this year and truth be told? This one’s my favorite, hands down.

It was just bad timing when you get right down to it. Dale just wanted to borrow Mr. Jesse’s boat for a little fishing and his best friend Mo LoBeau would have accompanied him if she hadn’t been working the town’s only café while her two guardians (the elegant Miss Lana and the amnesia-stricken Colonel) were unavailable. Then Mr. Jesse offered a reward for the boat, and that seemed worth taking advantage of. That was before he ended up dead. Caught inadvertently in the middle of a murder mystery, Mo decides to help solve the crime, hopefully without making Detective Joe Starr too angry in the process.

A good first page is worth its weight in gold in a children’s novel. I always tell the kids in my bookgroup to closely examine the first pages of any book they pick up. That’s where the author is going to clue you in and give you a hint of how splendid their writing skills are. Heck, it’s the whole reason I picked up this book to read in the first place. I had finished my other book and I needed something to read on the way home from work. Deciding amongst a bunch o’ books, I skimmed the first page and was pretty much hooked by the time I got to the bottom. It was this sentence that clinched it: “Dale sleeps with his window up in summer partly because he likes to hear the tree frogs and crickets, but mostly because his daddy’s too sorry to bring home any air-conditioning.” Aside from the character development, I’m just in awe of the use of that term “too sorry” which sets this book so squarely in North Caroline that nothing could dig it out.

Turnage’s writing just sings on the page. Naturally I had to see what else she’d created and the answer was a stunner. Mostly she’s done standard travel guides to places like North Carolina (no surprise) and some haunted inns. The kicker was her picture book Trout the Magnificent. It was her only other book for kids so I checked to see if my library had a copy. We most certainly do . . . from 1984. To my amazement, Ms. Turnage has waited a whopping twenty-eight years to write her next book. The crazy thing? It was worth the wait. I mean, I just started dog-earring all the pa

10 Comments on Review of the Day: Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, last added: 5/5/2012
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21. Books Can Not Be Cancelled (Kyra Davis Keeps em Coming)

 I was talking with a friend last week, and somehow we started talking about 2012 television shows that were cancelled. I was sad to hear that GCB (abc) Prime Suspect (abc) and Alcatraz (fox) were cancelled. I am not surprised about GCB it was a very funny show with a lot of potential to get better, but it never stood a chance that that unmemorable title. Though I was surprised Prime Suspect and Alcatraz are off the air.

I am always bit sad when shows I enjoy get cancelled, (Arrested Development, Wonderfalls anyone) I suppose I could write letters to the network, but it is not that serious. Though it's a shame when good shows get pulled off the air.

A few days after that conversation  I started reading Vanity, Vengeance, & A Weekend in Vega$ by Kyra Davis. This is the sixth book in the Sophie Katz series and the first one that the author self published. I love me some Sophie Katz (and her friends)  . And I gotta love an author that can work references of Alice Walker, Ayn Rand, David Sedaris and Emily Bronte.

''What part of the mafia do you think Fawn objected to? She's in jail for attempted murder so obviously it wasn't the violence." Maybe she didn't like working with other people?" " Yeah," Dena replied, "maybe she just didn't like the corporate culture. She's an individualist. Like Ayn Rand with a Quentin Tarantino edge."

Sophie Katz is a bestselling mystery author/ accidental sleuth. Somehow she is always stumbling across dead bodies. Her Russian boyfriend Anatoly could give Ranger from the Stephanie Plum series a run for his money. Both characters have that dangerous/mysterious sexy vibe. Halfway into Vanity, Vengeance, & A Weekend in Vega$, I could not help but be thankful that books can not be cancelled.

If  an author can't come to a contract agreement with their publisher, they can always submit their work to another house or self-publish. Of course the latter option is not easy and the financial gain is probably small. Yet some authors go this route, I am very happy Kyra Davis is one of them and that the Sophie Katz series could not be cancelled.

I don't normally do disclaimers, however since this is boarding on fan gushing beyond what is decent I will do one now.  I purchased Vanity, Vengeance & A Weekend in Vega$, and it was money well spent.

2 Comments on Books Can Not Be Cancelled (Kyra Davis Keeps em Coming), last added: 5/20/2012
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22. Book Review - The Agency

I was lucky enough to score an ARC of Y. S. Lee's second book in The Agency series (The Body at the Tower) last Fall.  Shame on me for not reviewing it here.  When I saw the third book, (The Traitor in the Tunnel), I scarfed it up.  Now all I have to do is read the first book.

Fans of Victorian England will eat this series up. The period details are well drawn and in the third book the readers even get to meet Victoria herself!!  Here's the set-up.  Mary Quinn is a half-Chinese, half- Irish orphan who is rescued from a life of crime by The Agency, London's only all female private investigation operation.  Mary gets a good education, room and board and training in detective skills.  In The Body at the Tower,  she investigates a scam at an expensive building site and meets James Easton, a dashing engineer.

In The Traitor in the Tunnel, Mary is assigned to Buckingham Palace to solve the mystery of small thefts from the Blue Room.  While she is on assignment in the palace, a drinking buddy of the Prince of Wales is murdered in an opium den and the suspect just may be Mary's long-lost father.  Mary discovers a secret tunnel - not on any of the palace maps - that leads to the new sewer tunnels and a project overseen by....James Easton!  Romance, intrigue, an attempt on the Queen's life and an attempt to find and save her father keep Mary very busy in this third outing.  And there is a promise of more to come and very interesting developments at the end of this book.

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23. First Read Aloud of the Year

Capture the Flag
by Kate Messner
Scholastic Press, 2012
review copy came from the library (because I really am trying to dial back my book buying to only the most essential for my classroom...it's working...I've read at least one this summer that EVERYONE else loved and I didn't, so I'm glad I didn't spend any money on it...no, I'm not telling...if you follow me on Goodreads, you can already guess...)

Since I'm moving from 4th to 5th grade this year, the bar for ALL of my read alouds has been raised several notches. Unless I want to deliberately reread a book that my students heard last year, I'm not going to be able to fall back on ANY of my old standards. (Not that I had a laminated list of read alouds, but I did love Emily's Fortune...)

So, what does it take to be picked for the first read aloud of the year?

It needs to have a strong hook for all listeners. Not only does Capture the Flag have a strong first chapter with an incredible cliffhanger (way to leave a thief in the chamber with the Star Spangled Banner, Kate!) it has a punchy lead with short sentences and carefully placed details that will become important later in the story. This is a beginning chapter to return to for craft study in writing workshop.

It needs to have good characters for all listeners. Anna wants to be a reporter, like her mom. She's got the burning curiosity and the bulldog tenacity that will become important. Henry's got his video games. Kids are going to love it that what he's learned from playing video games will help the characters at almost every turn in the story. José has a backpack full of Harry Potter and a quote for every occasion. What José has learned from reading, along with the books themselves, will be crucial to the story. There is also a dog, an 8 year-old from Pakistan who collects and sketches idioms, and a secret society who protects famous art in the world. So there's at least one character for everyone in this book.

It needs to be fairly fast-paced and adventure-filled. Three kids trapped by a snowstorm in an airport with a mystery to solve, chase scenes in the baggage holding area, evil guys with snake tattoos. Yeah, Capture the Flag has plenty of action. 

It needs to have potential for big discussions beyond the book. I can imagine that my very international mix of students will have passionate discussions about immigration laws, cultural stereotypes, and discrimination. I'm thinking we'll research where the presidential ca

13 Comments on First Read Aloud of the Year, last added: 7/20/2012
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24. Lessons From Encyclopedia Brown

With the passing of Encyclopedia Brown author Donald Sobol, I've been thinking about all the things I've learned in life from the Boy Detective. Here goes:

Penguins don't live in the Arctic (and if there's a stuffed one in an Arctic exhibit, a thief has probably filled it with stolen money).

Even-numbered book pages are always on the left.

Tennis players have one forearm that is bigger than the other.

Bugs Meany is the best bully name ever.

Don't mess with Sally Kimball.

What do you remember learning from Encyclopedia Brown?

And some links:
The Ten Most Ridiculously Difficult Encyclopedia Brown Mysteries
Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Sad Readers

1 Comments on Lessons From Encyclopedia Brown, last added: 7/31/2012
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25. Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms: Magic, Mystery, & a Very Strange Adventure by Lissa Evans

5 Stars Horten's Miraculous Mechanisms By Lissa Evans Sterling Publishing Co. 978-1-4027-9806-1 No. Pages: 272   Ages:  8 to 12 ............................ Back cover:  When ten-year-old Stuart stumbles upon a note daring him to find his great uncle’s hidden workshop, full of wonderful mechanisms, trickery, and magic, he sets out on a Willy Wonka-like adventure of a [...]

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