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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Dragon Boy: Book One of the Star Trilogy by Donald Samson

The Dragon Boy has an interesting oral process of creation, much like the original folk and fairy tales.  Donald Sampson was a Waldorf classroom teacher for nineteen years, and he shared his favorite fairy tales and folk tales and myths with his students.  Then he began a new story, a story that he spun out for weeks and that came entirely from his own imagination.  His students loved the story and begged him to write it down.    And he did.

The story begins with two archetypal characters, Galifalia, an old woman with a back story of heroism, and Aga, an ageless magician.  Aga brings Galifalia a baby boy to raise.  She tells the magician she is too old to raise a child, but she is unable to resist the baby--as Aga knew would be the case.  

The orphan baby grows happy and content in Galifalia's care, but when she dies, the boy has no one and must survive on his own.  He goes each day to the compound where the great dragon Star is kept and asks to speak to the Dragon Master.  His determination finally bears results, and his request to be taken on as a stall boy is granted.

The boy loves his work and makes some good friends, but he also must endure some bullying from one of the older boys.  Though small, his time on the streets has made him tough and determined, and he doesn't let the bullying discourage him, but fights back.  Working with the dragon Star is all he has dreamed of, and his love for the dragon increases.

Star takes to the boy immediately, and one small detail that I liked is that Star purrs when the boy is around.  Something about a dragon purring just appeals to me.  As the relationship grows, it turns out that the boy and dragon share the ability to communicate telepathically, and the dragon takes it upon himself to teach the boy.  The boy becomes the dragon's apprentice--a goal that the mysterious Aga, who brought the orphaned baby to Galifalia, has intended all along.


The Dragon Boy has been honored with a first place gold medal in the 2009 Moonbeam Children's Book Awards for Best First Book.

The Dragon Boy has also received the coveted Mom's Choice Award for juvenile fiction.
I enjoyed this adventure, and since many of the reviews are from young people, it is clear that Samson has reached his target audience.  A great book for read-aloud with parent and child both enjoying the experience, but for middle graders, an involving read on their own.

Once Upon a Time Challenge

Fantasy.  2012, 3rd ed.  245 pages.


              




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Hangman by Stephan Talty

Hangman 

Serial killer Marcus Flynn has escaped from prison, and Abbie Kearney finds herself the lead in the investigation.

After murdering four young girls, Flynn's attempt at suicide failed, and the brain injured man was tried and incarcerated. The body of the 4th girl was never recovered, a loose end that hangs over the heads of the police and of her father.

Despite the dragnet in place after his escape, Flynn makes his way back to his old hunting grounds, and almost immediately begins killing again.

Abbie Kearney desperately attempts to stop the Hangman before he kills again, and a young girl has only hours left if Abbie isn't successful.

Hangman reads reads quickly and is a suspenseful adventure.  There are no surprises, really; you can figure most of it out very early, but the turns the investigation takes will keep you interested.

Talty has been compared to Jo Nesbo and Tana French, but Abbie lacks the strange charisma of Nesbo's Harry Hole and the writing lacks the multi-layered psychological approach of French. Not as violent as Nesbo, not as well-written as French.

I had a few questions about a few situations, but didn't go back to see if I just overlooked a few things.   

 Read in Jan.; blog post scheduled for April

NetGalley/Random House/Ballantine

Police Procedural/Crime.  May 23, 2014.  Print Version: 320 pages.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fatal Inquiry by Will Thomas

Fatal Enquiry is the 6th book in the Barker/Llewellyn series of mysteries set in Victorian London.  I was not familiar with the series, but the book works perfectly as a stand-alone even though the villain was introduced in a previous book.  

Cyrus Barker, a respected private enquiry agent, is man with a complicated and colorful past and a deep appreciation of all things Asian.  Intelligent and intuitive, Barker is also a physical person, known for his skill with both fists and weapons.

 Narrated by Thomas Llewellyn, Barker's young Welsh assistant, the plot mainly follows Thomas in his attempts to save his employer after Barker is accused of murder and on the run.  

Thomas' perspective is limited, and the reader discovers information along with Thomas.  Barker, of course, is often better informed.  

Sebastian Nightwine, the villain of the piece, has a long history with Barker and has recently been granted immunity by the government and returned to London with a dastardly plan.  Taking down Cyrus Barker is only part of it.

Atmospheric Victorian London, a little "cherchez la femme," some homage to Holmes and Watson--but definitely NOT Holmes and Watson, an engaging narrator, assassins....

An interesting and entertaining mystery.  I wouldn't mind reading more in this series, getting a better feel of the background of the relationship between the experienced Barker and the loyal and resourceful Thomas Llewellyn. 

read in February

NetGalley/St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books

Mystery/Historic Fiction.  May 13, 2014.  Print version:  304 pages

Sunday, April 20, 2014

A Famine of Horses by P.F. Chisholm

A Famine of Horses

I've read one other book in Chisholm's Sir Robert Carey series (An Air of Treason), but A Famine of Horses is the first in the series and very, very good.


A Famine of Horses is a fast-paced tale full of historical detail with many of the characters taken from real life, both the good guys and the bad guys.  On Sir Robert Carey's arrival as Deputy Warden of the West March, he is faced with a murder to investigate.  He must discover the guilty person quickly to avoid further bloodshed.  Another mystery pertains to the shortage of horses; horses are being stolen at an alarming rate, and what, wonders Carey, is the purpose.

I loved Carey's character, but the other characters were well-drawn with distinct personalities, as well.  (oh, and names:  the murdered young man is Sweetmilk Graham, Carey's sister's name is Philadelphia, and then there is Red Sandy Dodd, and Bessie's Andrew, and Bangtail Graham, etc.)  

In An Air of Treason, I was quite fond of Sergeant Dodd, and it was fun to see the beginning of the relationship and get know his wife, a great character in her own right.

This was a Kindle read for 99 cents!  How I love a bargain that turns out to be a so rewarding;  I look forward to the next in the series.

Background on Sir Robert Carey--
The real Robert Carey was the son of Lord Hunsdon, Henry VIII's illegitimate son by Mary Boleyn.  Lord Hunsdon was also Queen Elizabeth's Lord Chamberlain (and half-brother) and patron to Shakespeare.  Obviously, Robert Carey had some interesting DNA to draw from, and he had an interesting life as a dandified courtier in Elizabeth's court.  Then, for whatever reason, he decided to switch to soldiering, and he accepted the position of Deputy Warden of the English West March.  Quite a switch, that.  From courtier to sheriff/marshall of the wildest part of the kingdom in the West March where murders, horse thieves, and outlaws abounded.

Evidently a charming and cheerful man, his memoirs are lively and entertaining, and Chisholm says that she lifted him "practically undiluted from his own writings." 

Information about the West Marches can be found here

 P.F. Chisholm is a pseudonym of a well-known writer of historical thrillers, childrens’ books, and nonfiction blogs and ebooks. Previous titles in the Sir Robert Carey and Sergeant Dodd series are A Famine of Horses, A Season of Knives, A Surfeit of Guns, A Plague of Angels, and A Murder of Crows. After the events in An Air of Treason, Sir Robert and Sergeant Dodd will be heading back to the Anglo- Scottish Border where trouble is brewing as usual.  (from Poisoned Pen Press)

Read in March.

Elizabethan mystery.  1999/2012.  Print version:  288 pages.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Grumbles from the Forest: Fairy-Tale Voices with a Twist by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Grumbles from the Forest features poems by Jane Yolen and Rebecca Kai Dotlich, with lovely illustrations by Matt Mahurin.  

Fairy tales and poetry, a perfect mix.  Yolen and Dotlich give voice to the many inhabitants of fairy tales: prince or princess, fairy or witch, the gentle, the jealous, the greedy, to the major characters and to the minor characters whose opinions we rarely consider.

As an example, the following two are from the tale of Sleeping Beauty;  the first the lament of the wicked fairy, the second the (ahem) omniscient voice of reason:




Words of the Wicked Fairy

Beauty wakes!
My fun is through.
What's a wicked fairy to do?

I blame myself.
This didn't go well.
Big mistake.
Wrong spell.

I should have given her 
crooked ears,
a runny nose,
chapped lips.
Should've read 
that page on TIPS.

Spell's over.
Imagine this!
All because of a stupid kiss.

-Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Beauty Sleep

Wake up, princess, time to rise.
Open up your dreamy eyes.
Never mind the prince or kiss.
By no means were you raised for this.
Take the plot back from the witch.
Kick her spindle in the ditch!

-Jane Yolen


I liked that there were so many different voices imagined to tell the tales from unique points of view, but the quality of the poems varies.  Some of these poems are very good; some are less so;  all of the illustrations are beautiful.

While I wasn't as delighted with all of the poems as I'd hoped to be, I'll hold final judgement until after the grands give an opinion.  I'm not sure that the book quite knows its target audience.  

Another one for the Once Upon a Time Challenge.

Fairy Tale/Poetry.  2013.   40 pages.


The Flinck Connection (Book 4) by Estelle Ryan

The Flinck Connection   

Govert Flinck (1615-1660) was a Dutch painter during the Dutch Golden Age, and one of his paintings plays a part the latest Genevieve Lenard novel.

I've read all of this series whose titles always include the name of an artist.  Genevieve works for an insurance company in France that insures great art and so far, this has meant 4 mysteries connected with stolen paintings.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist in 1990 has made its way into several novels I've read.  In this one, Genevieve and her team determine who organized and carried out the heist--oh, if only!

You can find out more about the actual theft and see all the stolen paintings  (my favorites are the Vermeer, the Rembrandt, and the Manet)  on the Isabella Gardner Museum site .  

The reward-- "$5 million for information leading to the recovery of these works in good condition and, with the FBI and US Attorney, can ensure complete confidentiality.

I still enjoy all of the characters that populate this series, but the first one is the best.     

read in March

Mystery.  2014.  Print version:  359 pages.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

Sunbolt is the second book I've read by Intisar Khanani.  When I finished Thorn, I was so impressed, I couldn't wait to try another of her books.  

As much as I enjoyed Thorn, I found myself liking Sunbolt even more, with the caveat that I was disappointed to discover that I have to wait for the next book in the Sunbolt Chronicles.  

Both of these books would be wonderful for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge, but I read them both before this year's challenge began.  

Hitomi is a young orphan who must conceal her magical talents and her role in The Shadow League, a resistance group in Karolene.  The leader of the Shadow League is called Ghost, and during the effort to help a targeted political family to escape, the only way to keep Ghost from being captured involves Hitomi allowing herself to be captured instead.

She and the family members that survived are held in Blackflame's cages.  Without giving away the details, Hitomi manages to escape, only to be recaptured...and out of the frying pan, into the fire.  

While some details follow the YA fantasy formula, this story has several unique characters and superb writing.  

What a thrilling YA fantasy this was, but as other readers noted, it is too short.  Khanani yanks you into Hitomi's world, keeps you breathless through her adventures, then leaves us eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Read in March.

YA/Fantasy.  2013.  Novella (I know, I'm not crazy about novellas, but I didn't realize it going in, and Sunbolt is so good, I'm making an exception.)

  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

And Two More Medieval Mysteries

The King's Hounds by Martin Jensen, translation by Tara Chace.

This is an earlier period than most medieval mysteries I've read.  Set in 1018,  Cnut of Denmark (Cnut or Canute the Great was king of Denmark, England, Norway, and parts of Sweden) defeated Ethelred the Unready and married his widow, but though England is unified, it is still unsettled.

Halfdan, who is half Danish, half Saxon, is now a pauper since his father fought on the wrong side of the war.  He roams the country, stealing what he needs to survive and sleeping with any pretty and willing young woman he meets.

Winston is a respected illuminator on his way to a new commission when set upon by bandits.  Halfdan, who was actually going to try much the same thing, defeats the bandits and joins up with Winston.

A murder that coincides with their arrival in court results in Cnut deciding to charge the pair with solving the murder, which could prove politically explosive and derail Cnut's attempt to collect Danegeld and establish better relations between conquered and conquerors.

I liked the humor found in this novel as well as the historical background.  My main complaint is the modern phrases that are included.  These are probably the fault of the translator, but they are jarring. 

Overall, I liked the characters and the novel and will probably read more by Jensen.

Medieval Mystery.  2013 (not sure of original publ. date in Denmark).  Print version:  274 pages. 

Winter Heart by Margaret Frazer is set in the 15th century and features Sister (now Domina) Frevisse as the sleuth.

Frevisse must try to discover the circumstances behind a murder in order to save the life of a man she suspects to be innocent.

I didn't realize it was a novella when I ordered it, and I'm not fond of novellas.  Nevertheless,  Sister Frevisse is an interesting and capable protagonist who solves the murder by using the tried and true cui bono method.

Medieval Mystery.  2011.  Print version:  52 pages.


Both novels read in March.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Two Very Good YA Novels

Crossing  by Andrew Xia Fukuda 

 I'm really unsure of what to say about this YA novel.  I was mesmerized throughout, then when it was over, stunned.

Fukuda examines the immigrant experience through the voice of Xing, a high school student who wants to be called Chris.  He feels alienated from his peers, retains some guilt about his father's death, and feels a subdued anger toward his mostly absent mother, who must work more than one job to support them.  His best friend is Naomi Lee, another Chinese immigrant, but one who has managed to "belong" in spite of her Chinese appearance.    

When students at Xing's high school begin to disappear, the suspense mounts.

Original.  Ambiguous.  Intriguing.  

Read in March.

NetGalley

YA/Suspense.  2010.  Print version:  255 pages.




The Adoration of Jenna Fox  by Mary E. Pearson

Who is Jenna Fox?  Well, that is exactly what Jenna Fox wants to know.  When Jenna Fox awakens from a coma, a year after an accident, she has no memory of her former life.  Her adoring parents, however, had plenty of home movies, and Jenna watches them, trying to recover the missing years of her life.  She recognizes herself, and occasionally remembers a few details, but still feels emotionally removed from the girl in the home movies.

As some memories are recovered, they seem to create more questions.  Her parents are not entirely forthcoming with answers, however, especially about the accident that put Jenna in the coma in the first place.  

What I liked:  I liked Jenna's efforts to recover her memories, and her self-questioning about who Jenna Fox really is.  How important are memories?  Is she the same person she was before the accident...or without her memories of her previous life, is she a blank slate to be created through what she experiences in the present.  I like the way Pearson builds the story and the way Jenna resorts to a dictionary to recover the meanings of words.  I like some of the bigger questions about what is necessary to be human, and in the case of one character, what is lacking.  I liked Lila, the initially stand-offish grandmother.

I liked a lot about this YA novel.  The only thing that truly bothered me on finishing the book has to do with a feeling of incompleteness about the conclusion.  There have been follow-up books that I hope (eventually) to pursue, but the conclusion to this book seemed a bit abrupt.

Read in March.

YA/Science Fiction.  reprint 2010.  Print version 288 pages.

Both of these books are thought-provoking and raise as many questions as they answer.

In the Mail

Some of the ARCs that have arrived in the mail in the last several weeks.
The Hurlburly's Husband by Jean Teule (trans. by Alison Anderson) is described as "'Bawdy romp one minute, a gruesome tragedy the next. The writing is beautiful, witty, grisly and moving.' Sunday Telegraph 'If you liked The Other Boleyn Girl then this book is certainly one to adore.' "  
From Gallic Books.

Acts of God by Ellen Gilchrist: "In Acts of God, master short story writer Ellen Gilchrist has crafted a collection that takes us into eleven scenarios in which people dealing with forces beyond their control somehow manage to survive, persevere, and even triumph."

A Dangerous Age by Gilchrist:  "A Dangerous Age tells the story of the women of the Hand family, three cousins in a Southern dynasty rich with history and tradition who are no strangers to either controversy or sadness. By turns humorous and heartbreaking, the novel is a celebration of the strength of these women, and of others like them. In her characteristically clear and direct prose, with its wry, no-nonsense approach to the world and the people who inhabit it, Gilchrist gives voice to women on a collision course with a distant war that, in truth, is never more than a breath away."
From Algonquin Books.

My friend Suzie is a devoted reader of Gilchrist, so these will probably go to New Orleans when I finish with them.

The Man with the Lead Stomach by Jean Francois Parot: This is the second volume of the Nicolas Le Floch Investigations.  
From Gallic Books.

 I read the first book in the series last year and found the writing a bit stilted, but this book has a different translator, so I'm eager to see if there is any difference in style.

My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer:  "A moving, lyrical memoir about how an American essayist fell in love with a Libyan-born Muslim man and learned to embrace the life she made with him."  From Algonquin Books.

I tried the last two (The Face Transplant and Will Shakespeare and the Ships of Solomon) when they arrived and both can be cast aside after only a few pages.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Dirty Book Murder: An Antiquarian Book Mystery by Thomas Shawver

The Dirty Book Murder    

Not your typical dirty books, but books of erotica that any antiquarian bookseller would covet come up for auction.  Michael Bevin discovers exquisite Japanese scrolls in the lot, then Gareth Hughes, a fellow dealer, points out a first-edition by Colette with an inscription by Hemingway.  What a magnificent haul.  Bevin and Hughes are then surprised when a third bidder upsets their plans.  And then a fourth.  The price goes up beyond the means of Bevin and Hughes.  

Before the winning dealer can collect the books, Hughes covertly pockets the Colette.  Big mistake.

The first in a projected series featuring Michael Bevin, The Dirty Book Murder has a surplus of eccentric characters.  Unfortunately, one of the most interesting is Gareth Hughes, who is murdered.   Bevin becomes a person of interest because of a public argument and finds himself caught up in trying to determine who really killed Hughes.

I wish Shawver had kept Hughes around for future books, but be that as it may, there are plenty of other strange suspects to consider.

I liked the premise and the odd assortment of characters, but was much less interested in Bevin's relationship with his daughter.  The plot got a little wild at the end, but overall it was an interesting mystery about a subject that I enjoy.  

Read in January.   Post scheduled for April 14, 2014.

NetGalley/Random House/Alibi

Mystery.  May 6, 2014.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Bred in the Bone by Christopher Brookmyre

Bred in the Bone is an intense police procedural that is complex, intelligent, puzzling, and riveting.

Part of a series featuring private investigator Jasmine Sharp and Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, Bred in the Bone functions as a stand-alone, but makes me want to read the previous books for some back story.

The story is revealed in alternating chapters about Jasmine Sharp, Catherine McLeod, and a young girl whose name is not given.  "Past is prologue" to current events.

Information is divulged little by little, keeping the reader in suspense and continuous speculation.  This is so skillfully done that you feel as if you are the fly on the wall, observing behaviors and conversations, accumulating information.  It isn't so much the use of red herrings, as the lack of information or awareness required to fully evaluate.  You get the knowledge when the characters do, and  you have more than one character to rely on, yet solving this mystery necessitates following the pace set by the author until the conclusion.

The beginning is a bit slow, but once the initial chapter is out of the way, the novel moves quickly from one character to another as both Catherine McLeod and Jasmine Sharp investigate the murder for different reasons.  

Setting is uniquely important in some novels, and the Glasgow underworld is essential to the success of Bred in the Bone.  Brookmyre's Glasgow is dark enough, but not as dark as Denise Mina's Glasgow.  Brookmyre manages to present the sinister world of Glasgow's criminal society with enough detail to make it abhorrent, but he is also able to put human faces on even the villains.  

While it is apparent that some of the characters and situations have been introduced in the previous novels, the author provides enough information for clarity in subtle ways, avoiding long information dumps.  A skillful writer, Mr. Brookmyre leads without condescension--keeping the reader guessing, putting together facts and circumstances, and "participating" in the situations is no minor feat.  

The novel has side stories that must unite for a clear picture, but the author deftly steers the reader through the details, hints, and innuendos.

Highly recommended.

Read in November, 2013.  Blog post scheduled for May 14, 2014.

NetGalley/Grove Atlantic

Crime/Police Procedural.  May, 2014.  Print version:  416 pages. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Far Gone by Laura Griffin.      

Detective Andrea Finch was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  When a teenage assailant pulls a gun in a restaurant and threatens his girlfriend and possibly anyone else he can,  Finch shoots him.  She is now on leave and her job in jeopardy.

If things aren't bad enough she is afraid her younger brother is in some serious trouble.  At least she has plenty of time to investigate this situation.

There is a romantic interest that develops between Finch and an undercover FBI agent who is interested in what her brother is up to, as well.   I didn't find either the romance or the plot terribly interesting.

NetGalley/ Gallery Books

Crime.  April 15, 2014.   Print version:  384 pages.

Two by Jason Vail

The Girl in the Ice is the first book I read in the Stephen Attebrook series by Jason Vail.  I liked it, but it wasn't a book that I loved.  It is the latest in the series, and it appears that this one of those series that need to be read in order.  I decided to begin at the beginning.


I found The Wayward Apprentice, the first in the series and discovered that I liked it much better than The Girl in Ice.  Was it because I already had some familiarity with the main characters?  Or is it really a better book?  I think it is the better book, and there is a little more back story, but not a lot.  

The Wayward Apprentice introduces the character of Stephen Attebrook, a knight who has lost almost everything but his horses and his armor.  After nearly ten years fighting the Moors in Spain, a Moor with an ax cut off half of Stephen's foot.  The injury prevents him from being terribly effective on horseback in a close battle, so his military days are over.

He is a second, and not favored, son.  His opportunities for advancement were looking quite good in Spain until his injury.  Then his wife dies of a fever, and somehow, not yet explained he loses the riches he had gained.

Back in England, he is forced to take the position of deputy coroner to the king in the small village of Ludlow.  

When summoned to hold the inquest of a carter who is believed to have drowned, the verdict is that of an accidental death.  Later, however, when the widow in preparing the body for burial, she discovers a knife wound.  (The historic details concerning the duties of the coroner, the inquest, the way the legal system functions, the fees owed the king, etc.  are all interesting and easily woven into the story.

There also develops another plot concerning the runaway apprentice of a rich merchant named Baynard that brings in the political divisions of the time between Henry III's supporters and those barons who support Simon de Montfort.  Owing allegiance to the wrong side can be deadly, and though Stephen doesn't want to be caught up in the various plots, his position as coroner pulls him into some perilous situations.  And when Baynard is murdered, Stephen must attempt to clear the young apprentice of the charge of murder.

A good mystery with the historic elements important, but not distracting.  The characters are well developed, each having secrets and complex personalities.  I was quickly drawn into the world of Ludlow, forming affection for some characters, and antipathy for others.

As soon as I finished, I downloaded the next in the series.



Baynard's List takes up some of the plot strands developed in the previous novel.   The major plot thread in this novel concerns the list that the merchant Baynard kept.  There was a list of Baynard's spies (Baynard supports the king) and a list of men believed to support Simon de Montfort.  Both sides badly want the list.

If either side gained the list names, the result would be many deaths.  

An old nemesis of Stephen's, Ademar de Valence, is the Crown Justice who desperately wants that list to gain favor and influence for himself.  He takes Stephen's young son as a hostage to force Stephen to find the list and deliver it to him.  Stephen's efforts involve him in a web of deceit, intrigue, and murder.

I thought this one was even better than The Wayward Apprentice;  a satisfying plot, further development of the characters already introduced, and the addition of several new and interesting characters.

For some reason, all of these are 99 cents at Amazon.  I consider myself lucky!

Read in March.

Medieval mystery.  2011.  Print version: 219 pages.










Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Wizard's Promise by Cassandra Rose Clarke

The Wizard's Promise     

I wanted to like this book.  It's beautiful cover seemed so promising, but The Wizard's Promise failed to keep its promise.

It isn't that the book is awful, by any means.  It is, however, slow...and a little dull.  None of the characters have any depth to them, and Hanna, the protagonist, is not very sympathetic, even the "exciting" adventures lacked real tension.  

I wish I could have liked it better, but I know the next in the series will go on without me.

Read in March; review scheduled for April 12.

NetGalley/Angry Robot

YA/Juv./Fantasy.  May 6, 2014.  

Friday, April 11, 2014

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Chasing Vermeer   

What a fun mystery for middle schoolers!

Book Description:  This bewitching first novel is a puzzle, wrapped in a mystery, disguised as an adventure, and delivered as a work of art.

When a book of unexplainable occurences brings Petra and Calder together, strange things start to happen: Seemingly unrelated events connect; an eccentric old woman seeks their company; an invaluable Vermeer painting disappears. Before they know it, the two find themselves at the center of an international art scandal, where no one is spared from suspicion. As Petra and Calder are drawn clue by clue into a mysterious labyrinth, they must draw on their powers of intuition, their problem solving skills, and their knowledge of Vermeer. Can they decipher a crime that has stumped even the FBI?

What a fun mystery for middle schoolers!  I ordered this one for Mila, but I had to read it first.  I know, I know--but the book is not hurt in any way from pre-reading.

Art history, mathematical puzzles, problem solving, intriguing characters in Petra and Calder, and suspense are all included.  

I even ordered a set of pentominoes to go with the book.  We all played with the puzzles, although Mila didn't start the book because she was to involved with one of The Land of Stories books.

Ever wonder what inspired Tetris?


Did you know that Arthur C. Clarke included pentominoes in Imperial Earth?  

From the Amazing Mathematical Object Factory:  
The pentomino puzzle is a popular choice for a classroom manipulative to facilitate learning how shapes can be transformed or arranged in a predefined shape and space by simple rotation, reflection, and translation. The pentomino puzzle is readily available and also easy to make. It is a fun way for students as young as grade 3, to learn the basic concepts in tranformation of shape and space.

Want to try some pentominoe puzzles?    online puzzle form Scholastic        

I liked the book, the art connection, the introduction to pentominoes, the mystery, the characters.  It is a great book for the 10-12 age range, but I thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

My favorite mysteries for this age group remain The Westing Game Ellen Raskin and The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, but this one was fun, too.

Read in March

Middle School.  2012.  304 pages.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Fairy Tales and Poetry

In the past, I've sometimes connected National Poetry Month with the Once Upon a Time Challenge.  It is a way to celebrate both poetry and fairy tales.

Beauty and the Beast: An Anniversary

by Jane Yolen

It is winter now,
and the roses are blooming again,
their petals bright against the snow.
My father died last April;
my sisters no longer write,
except at the turning of the year,
content with their fine houses
and their grandchildren.
Beast and I
putter in the gardens
and walk slowly on the forest paths.
He is graying around the muzzle
and I have silver combs
to match my hair.
I have no regrets.
None.
Though sometimes I do wonder
what sounds children
might have made
running across the marble halls,
swinging from the birches
over the roses
in the snow.
(via Endicott Studio)
-----------------

I really like this one.  Of course, I think Jane Yolen always does a marvelous job with poetry, and I couldn't even begin to choose a favorite.

The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg


The New Colossus by Marshall Goldberg.

Nelly Bly was a remarkable woman for her time.  I mean, at 23 she had herself committed to the infamous Bellevue Hospital insane asylum where she endured the horrific treatment of its inmates for ten days. (When Charles Dickens visited the asylum some 40 years earlier, he commented that it aroused his "deep disgust and measureless contempt.")

When the story was published, the psychiatrists who pronounced her insane (her symptoms were of amnesia, not insanity) were humiliated, the public outraged, and an investigation was prompted into the treatment of patients at the asylum.



And then there was the trip around the world in 72 days, a la Jules Verne in 1889.  She circumnavigated the world (and even met up with Jules Verne in Amiens, France) by steamship and train sending dispatches when she could to Joseph's Pulitzer's The New York World --24, 899 miles in 72 days.

But the book is not about these assignments, although the Bellevue Insane Asylum story gets a bit of coverage.  No, the assignment (for the novel) is one that Joseph Pulitzer gives Bly personally:  look into Emma Lazarus' death and discover who killed her.  Pulizer is convinced that Emma was murdered, and she was a friend that he treasured and respected.

Learning more about Emma Lazarus, the respected poet and protege of Ralph Waldo Emerson, was fascinating.  Her main claim to fame is the poem The New Colossus that graces the foot of the Statue of Liberty, but she was so much more than that.

Lazarus became interested in her Jewish heritage and began advocated for the rights of immigrants, especially those Jewish immigrants escaping the pogroms in Russia, meeting them at the docks and helping them avoid the pitfalls of a new world.

Like Nelly Bly, Emma Lazarus was a remarkable woman in many ways, and I'd love to read biographies about these two women.

Other historical tidbits that kept me returning to Google:

Alfred J. Cohen - psuedonym Alan Dale;  author of A Marriage Below Zero, and the most feared drama critic of his time.

Mention of The Comstock Act - which made pornography a crime, but included in its definition of pornography was any discussion of contraception.

Castle Garden  On August 1, 1855, Castle Clinton became the Emigrant Landing Depot, functioning as the New York State immigrant processing facility (the nation's first such entity). It was operated by the state until April 18, 1890,[2] when the Federal Government took over control of immigration processing, which subsequently opened the larger and more isolated Ellis Island facility for that purpose on January 2, 1892.

Joseph SeligmanDuring the American Civil War, Seligman was responsible for aiding the Union by disposing of $200,000,000 in bonds "a feat which W. E. Dodd said was 'scarcely less important than the Battle of Gettysburg'".[2]  

 In 1877, Judge Henry Hilton, the owner of the Grand Union Hotel in Saratoga, New York, denied entry to Seligman and his family because they were Jews, creating nationwide controversy. It was the first antisemitic incident of its kind in the United States to achieve widespread publicity.
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OK--enough.  There are other names and incidents that were interesting (Pulitzer, Jay Gould, Helena deKay Gilder, the financing of the Statue of Liberty through public donations mostly of one dollar or less, Henry Hilton and A.J. Steward and the Missing Corpse, etc.), but I'm tired of going through my bookmark-riddled ebook.


I thought a novel about Nellie Bly would be fascinating.  And in a way, it was, but the novel portion wasn't very good; the fictional parts of the story, the dialogue, the characters were stiff and unwieldy, and actually, pretty dull despite the murder mystery aspect. 

 It would have been nice if Goldberg was better at writing fiction, but he is damn good at writing history.  If he didn't make the fiction live, he made the historical characters live.  

I spent a great deal of time looking things up to see if events happened, and if they did, did the novel deal with them accurately.  And it did!  In fact, I could have saved myself some time, because the author had his own historical notes at the end.

Although the novel part didn't work for me, I'm so glad I read it!

NetGalley/Diversion Books

Historical Fiction.  2014.  Print version:  303 pages.