Summer Reading – Week 2

This week I’m reviewing a series rather than a selection of books from this week’s picks. I read this series a while back and decided to get them again to enjoy.

Enola is alone spelled backwards. And that is exactly what Enola is: alone. With her independent mother suddenly missing and her brothers trying to force her into finishing school to be squeezed into the monstrosity called a “corset”, Enola Holmes is on the run. With the help of gifts left behind by her mother, her ingenious brain, and a certain amount of deductive reasoning like her brother’s, she’s navigating London and solving crime – all whilst trying to solve the mystery that’s most important to her. What happened to her mother?

This series is loads of fun to read. It’s told from the perspective of an enigmatic and sympathetic character who manages to survive by her wits and solves mysteries while doing so. I also love that this series centers around Enola Holmes, who is quite as brilliant as her brother and shows a keen affection for him. The humanization of Holmes in any series is welcome as I have mentioned before and I happen to love the voice of Enola Holmes.

The one thing I will say is that I was dissatisfied by the ending to the series. I felt that the ending did not quite satisfy the frustration and anxiety of the main character’s hopes being thwarted again and again in previous books. I won’t say anymore; it’s up to you to find out why and make your own decision. 

Otherwise, this series is fantastic! It’s highly enjoyable, easily readable, and only a little bit of knowledge is required to read these books.

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Summer Reading – Week 1

With so much reading going on this summer, I’ve got too many books to post a review of just one book a week. So I’m doing a quicker review of selected books from my 50-book list of the week. This week’s three book picks all seem to correlate on the genre of mystery, all cleverly told in their own way.

First up is Effie Starr Zook Has One More Question. When Effie moves to Penn Creek to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle, she discovers family secrets and strange incidents. For example: Who are the Yonders? What does Mr. Odbody, the bookstore owner, know? And why does everyone seem to be hiding a secret that they’re not telling her? This book is sweet, funny, and well-told. Effie is a very relatable heroine and Penn Creek – secrets and all – sounds like a very quaint place to live.

Next is Spy on History: Mary Boswer and the Civil War Spy Ring. This book is superb in that it features audience participation. The readers – with the help of a spy decoder, acetate, maps, a page from Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and queerly cut vellum – are invited to solve the mystery of Mary’s past. With the help of the clues on the page, the story, and their handy-dandy tools (included in the book), they can decipher what the answer is to the Vigenere cipher and where Mary’s hidden diary is. This book also includes the story of Mary Bowser, as she risks her life to discover the plans of Confederate president Davis. It’s a thrilling ride through history, earlier spydom, and mystery that will keep readers engaged and interested in reading more on all subjects.

This last book is my personal favorite, because it is a gift from my generous Tia Nene. May I present: The Lost Files of Nancy Drew! This book is similar to the ‘Ology books (Pirateology, Wizardology, Spyology, etc.) in that it is more of a scrapbook, with things to read, pull out, flip open, and explore. But I love it for that! This book is so great because it talks about the classic books, the evolution of Nancy, her tips and tricks, and features vintage art that is irresistible. Seriously, the inside of these pages is just a treasure trove of colorful illustrations and fun wonders to find. I own half if not more of the Nancy Drew series already, so I really am enjoying owning this “companion” book. It definitely makes me think about the books more when reading them. Once more a shoutout should go to my amazing aunt for giving me this book. She is too amazing and I can’t thank her enough for this book.

Well, that’s all for this week, folks! Along with these three books, I will be submitting about thirty or forty other books for collection on my Summer Reading list at the library. Yikes! Hope I can keep up the pace all summer long.

What’s on your summer reading list?

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School’s Out!

With the end of the school year – the official one, not ours – coming around, it’s time for us to pull out those dusty water guns, throw those bathing suits in the laundry, and check to see what days are free for the beach. It’s finally summer!

When I was little, summer was unlike most kids’. Though we got the two months, those two months were filled with academic activities to stimulate my mind and keep me active until we could return to “actual” learning. For the most part, this wasn’t too bad. To a six, eight, and then ten year old, this arrangement worked fine for me. But when my siblings got older, my mom noticed we weren’t retaining information as well as we should. Except for the basics and the portions we really loved, that year of schooling was just flitting away. So she made a decision, one that I imagine would be hard for any parent or teacher, especially the parent who loves their kid.

She decided to nix summer break.

This was sort of a shock, but luckily we were all at that perfect age where we weren’t too little or too old to get upset about something like that. According to Mom, we were losing our summers to give way to – hold on – another school year. Yup, that’s right. My ice-cream-eating-Beach-Boys-listening-pool-swimming-time was being given up to go right back to school. We’d have a three week-break, she explained. And every six weeks we’d get one week of break. It was a perfect arrangement and in the long run it gave us more breaks, she insisted.

Looking at the decision from a few years down the road, I can see her point and actually enjoy doing our year this way. It isn’t such a long haul from one break to the other and it gives us something to look forward to by the fourth week (my brother repeatedly asks my mom every week how much more until break). This also works well because we get bored easily. Getting past that first perfect golden week of device-and-sleeping-in-filled euphoria, we find ourselves quickly wanting something to do. A standard conversation goes like this: “M-om, I’m bored.” “Why don’t you read a book?” “I’ve read all my books”. “Why don’t you play outside or paint or”-  -“I don’t want to do that. I’ve done all that.” “Well then what do you want to do?” “I don’t know. Do something?”

It’s funny reading it, but this is the truth of the situation. We’re homeschooled kids. We’re used to always being active, always participating in some kind of fun activity, always learning. After the first week, our eager minds are looking for the next challenge.What challenge is that? Who knows! For now, I plan to spend my first week of break pretending I’m taking a vacation. Who knows, we may get around to taking a weekend trip somewhere in the three weeks.

Chime Time! Do you do year-round schooling? If so, how? If not, what do you do to keep your kids active?

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Lock and Key: the Initiation

James Moriarty is one of the greatest criminal masterminds the world has ever known. But before he became the scheming, remorseless villain he is now, he was just my older brother, James…At Baskerville, an elite private boarding school founded by our ancestors, James started drifting to the darkness. It was there he met his roommate, the insufferable Sherlock Holmes. From the very beginning, the two were at each other’s throats, literally and figuratively. But as much as the two frustrated each other, an incident at the school – and some would say destiny – forced the two together. 

One fateful day, during a vicious game of hide-and-seek (played the Moriarty way), Moria – along with her big brother James – hears something secretive being moved around in their father’s study. After an attack on the house, their father sends them to Baskerville Academy with instructions for Moria should the worst happen to him on his “travels”. But what travels would send kidnappers, a secret society, and mysterious thieveries into their lives? Meanwhile Baskerville Academy has its own brewing trouble. What with the impetuous Sherlock Holmes on the move, a seedy headmaster, and more family secrets, Moria isn’t sure who to trust. It’s a shadowy game against time, mysterious players, and uncertain forces that ends in a fantastic conclusion that will have you begging for more.

I should have reviewed this book before as I enjoyed it so much. I devoured it in one day, completing it despite the fact that we were out from about eight to three in the afternoon. It was so good and had me hooked from the first look (I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but…). This book is so well-told and actually sort of funny in some ways. I already am a fan of Ridley Pearson, having read Peter and the Starcatchers many, many times. I’ve also read Kingdom Keepers a lot – probably more than the previous series – so I was looking forward to the contents of this book. I was not disappointed.

The contention between the ever-darkening James, know-it-all Sherlock, and clever Moria adds to the story and I found it interesting that the author does emphasize the point that many of us think about Holmes: he’s intolerable. Don’t get me wrong; he’s a brilliant detective. But as a person, it’s hard to like him for the way he acts. He is insensitive and often rather annoying in the fact that he always presumes to know things (though even more frustratingly, he’s usually correct). So I thought it interesting that not only is it James who can’t stand him, but Moria as well. I thought it even more intriguing that she finds herself trying to prove to both Holmes and James that she is more than – in her brother’s mind at least – a stupid girl. Her relationship with Holmes (that of him annoying her and yet still giving her credit where credit is due) is also intriguing because Lock and Key shows us a side of Holmes that is less puffed up. The fact that he becomes friends with Moria makes him more human, which is to be appreciated.

As for readers, I think you will highly enjoy this. I believe there are a couple cuss words, so parents be forewarned. However, for older kids or parents, this is a highly enjoyable book with twists and turns that will keep you guessing until the very end and begging for a second book.

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Willy’s Stories

Every week I walk through these doors and something incredible happens. I go on amazing adventures. 

Come with me and I’ll show you…

With colorful images and a fun, quizzical way of telling the story – or stories, one might say
– Anthony Browne’s Willy’s Stories is a wonderful book. As usual, I found this book while volunteering. This book is whimsical, well-paced, and interestingly told. It caused me to think and I’m sure it will cause you as the reader to want todo a little research. As with next week’s pick, this book really shows us the power of a good story. I know I am as captivated as this monkey when I read.

Chime Time: Which stories with anthropomorphic characters have you read with a fun twist?

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Cleopatra in Space

What do you get when you take one of the most famous characters in history and mash it up with science fiction? Cleopatra in Space

The first graphic novel in the series introduces us to our spunky heroine, depicting her discovery of a mysterious tablet which jets her into space thousands of years in the future! With no way to get back home, Cleo must try to navigate her way through an intergalactic military school, a prophecy surrounding her, and the looming threat of evil aliens on the horizon.

Book two picks up almost immediately after, giving us more information on the prophecy, the sword of Kebechet, Octavion (hint: he’s the evil mastermind), Cleo’s best friend Akila, and more! Packed with a ton of action and an amazing library, Cleopatra in Space: The Thief and the Sword is a sequel that will not disappoint!

As usual, I found this series while volunteering at our local library. The colorful art caught my eye and I was delighted to see after finishing the first book that it was a series. This comic series is extremely interesting, funny, and well-told. I also like that the artwork is highly saturated. Sadly, I have only been able to find the first two of this series, though there are four books out. Like The Nameless City I’m still waiting for the rest of the books to come to our library.

Your Turn! What odd genre mashup have you ever read and enjoyed?

 

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Ivy

In the charming, perfect little town of Broomsweep, magic is underfoot. Ivy and her grandmother are healers, and they welcome everyone into their home. Even magical 51nlUjeQS7L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_beasts. When an injured griffin crashes onto their doorstep, pixies flit in, and a dragon with a cold drops by, the people of Broomsweep demand Ivy and their grandmother demand they turn their queer patients out. Ivy has grown to love the sweet Cedric, wise Balthazar, and the pixies in her garden, but with the arrival of the new queen and a pack of mischievous trolls on their way, what can Ivy do?

This book was so cute and so enjoyable! Written by Katherine Coville, wife of Bruce Coville (I reviewed his book from The Magic Shop series HERE), this book is filled with whimsy, sweet moments, and a valuable lesson. I loved the characters and the small illustrations throughout. It’s a short enough read for younger readers to enjoy as well. I recommend it highly; you will not be disappointed.

Chime Time! What magical creature would you want to take care of?

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Missy Piggle Wiggle and The Whatever Cure

Dear Missy, As you know, my husband, Mr. Piggle-Wiggle was called away some years ago by the pirates. After waiting so long for him to return, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and find out what happened to him. I’ll be leaving tomorrow. While I’m gone, could you stay at the farm and live in the upside-down house?

With this note from her aunt clutched in hand, Missy Piggle-Wiggle arrived in Little Spring Valley. Here in this world of magic and childish pleasure, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has worked her magic again and again. Now it’s her niece’s turn. Along with Lester the pig, Wag the dog, Penelope the parrot, and Lightfoot the cat, Missy Piggle-Wiggle takes her aunt’s place to fix all of Little Spring Valley’s mischief makers and mend all of the town’s bumps. In this volume Missy provides the “Whatever Cure”, the “Know-It-All Cure”, the “Gum-Smacking Cure”, and more!

9781250071699_custom-ae79202f54eba232b3596cb464a3f4d0d733066f-s400-c85I don’t know about you, but when I was little, there were several fictional women I had great respect for. I believed Mary Poppins was magic, that Nanny McPhee was scarily amazing, and that Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle was trouble’s worst enemy.

So imagine my delight when I discovered that there was a book titled Missy Piggle-Wiggle. It’s a fresh start on one of my favorite children’s series, but I have to admit, I was slightly nervous when picking it up. We own all four of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books and I was sincerely hoping that this new author would respect the delightful books preceding it. I was pleased to see that Ann M. Martin honored the spirit of the original books with a wonderful book. This book is a fount of enjoyment. Families can read this, kids can read this, adults can read it. Anyone can sit down with this book and enjoy the simplicity and time-old wisdom of small-town America. It’s fresh, funny, and above-all a sweet ride with manners, kindness, and just plain quirkiness throughout.

I highly recommend this book and commend the authors and illustrator for creating such a lovable read. I will surely be looking for a sequel in the future.

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Happy Easter!

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May you be blessed today as we celebrate the bringing of new life and new hope. I hope we would all remember the real reason to be joyful this fine Sunday: Jesus’ gift of salvation. Whatever traditions you might hold or memories you might cherish, I pray we bring them before the Lord as we remember everything that he’s done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you.”  – 1 Peter 1: 3-4

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The Adventurer: Staff of Emperors – A Fan Fiction Sequel – Part 4

Here’s part four of my fan fiction sequel.  Next week I will be returning with regular book reviews, but for now I’m going to do the lazy thing and post something I’ve already written.

Hope you guys enjoy it.

 

That night, Mariah woke to hear strange noises.

He lay still, listening. The clatter was quiet enough that he might mistake it for the staff down in the kitchen; but they had all left. He sat up, grabbing his bedrobe and shrugging it on before stepping out of the room. The hall was quiet and dark, but he could hear furniture moving around downstairs. Was Mrs. Prewitt still here?

He kept going, pausing when he heard a creak at the door to the stairs. His breath pounded in his ears, even as a voice inside chided him for being ridiculous. There was another noise, this time from behind. He turned, breathing out when he saw it was just the open window. Turning back to the door, Mariah reached out, fingers closing on the cold knob and pulled quickly, hoping to catch the perpetrator off guard.

To his surprise, Felix was on the other side of the door, finger held to his lips. The younger boy crept to the banister of the stairs, where the loud noises were more evident.

“Someone’s downstairs,” he hissed. “They’re looking for something, I heard them.”

The scepter. They were looking for the scepter. But they wouldn’t find it.

“We have to get out of here, all right?” Mariah whispered.

Felix nodded and turned to move when they heard a rough voice from below, calling to an accomplice to check out the rooms up the back way. That meant they’d reach Sacha’s room first. They had to get to her.

Motioning to his brother, Mariah led the way towards her room, looking back just long enough to hear heavy footsteps in – He tripped right over the upper table. The urn fell to the ground as if in slow motion, shattering. The sound rocked in Mariah’s ears. He paused, breath catching.

The sounds below were quiet. For a dark moment, he wondered if they were coming up, but then he heard the slam of the pantry door below. Good, they hadn’t noticed. The two boys kept going. They were just near Sacha’s room when a large man stepped out from the back stair.

He was large, towering over Mariah, with a blemished right cheek and twitching left eye.

“Got ya then,” he leered.

The two stopped. Mariah felt his brother’s frightened grip on his arm. His gaze flicked from the stair to the bedroom door back to the man. Even if he could make it, Felix couldn’t. And he wasn’t about to leave him again.

“What do you want?” He demanded, though he knew full well.

“Just your li’l package,” the stooge smiled.

Behind him, Sacha’s door opened. She held her heating pan, quietly creeping behind him. Mariah’s gaze flicked from her to the goon before him. Behind him, Felix’s grip on his arm tightened.

“Sir,” the older boy started.

The man grunted.

“Have you ever been hit by a heating pan?”

A confused expression crossed the man’s face. “Wha’?”

Sacha swung, the pan connecting perfectly. With a dazed eye roll, the man slumped on to the floor. Mariah and Felix stepped over him, the former taking the heating pan from her and looking down the back way.

“We have to leave,” he whispered. “Stay behind me.”

The other two nodded as he descended down the dark staircase.

Below, the kitchen was dark, the noise of a search coming from the sitting room. A muffled thud came from their left, behind the pantry door. Mariah approached, opening it quickly. Mrs. Prewitt was laid on her side, gagged and bound. Sacha gasped, reaching down to help untie her feet. They removed the kerchief from her mouth, indicating she be quiet. The older woman was breathing heavily as she got back onto her feet.

“What happened?” Sacha asked, looking at her with concern.

“I don’t know,” the older woman shook her head, looking close to tears. “They just came from behind and shoved me inside.”

Felix looked at the kitchen door worriedly as Mariah instructed her to get the police. While he helped Mrs. Prewitt quietly escape through the back door, Sacha and Felix were searching for some kind of light and weapon.

“I don’t understand,” Sacha hissed as Mariah came over. “Why do they want that scepter so bad? What does it do?”

Felix looked up, eyes big as he waited for the answer.

“I don’t know,” the older boy replied honestly. “I think”-

Sacha shushed him, holding a finger to her lips. There was no noise coming from the next room. Felix quivered, waiting. They relaxed when they heard the thud of footsteps on the stairs. The second man had gone up then. They straightened and turned.

Sacha yelped.

A gun was held to their faces. Behind the older two Felix cried out as the second man grabbed his shoulder. Mariah stepped forward and pulled his brother towards him, glaring darkly at the two men. The second scowled back, a large lump on the side of his head.

“So.”

They turned to look at the first man, a smaller, more smoothen-shaved sort. He smiled nastily as he pointed the gun.

“Here’s what we’s gonna do,” he smiled. “You tell us where the scepter is and we don’t hurt your li’l brother and girlfriend. Clear enough?”

Mariah’s throat felt closed up, no words available even if he were to speak. Felix spoke first, blurting out the words.

“It’s in our parents’ room!” He spilled. “We thought no one would look there!”

Sacha looked quickly from Felix to the man.

The first man grinned at Mariah. “Seems your brother is the smart one in the family, ain’t he?”

Whistling, he motioned for the second man to go upstairs. They sat there, waiting nervously for him to come back down and affirm that there was no such package. Mariah had hidden the scepter under the bed in his room. He was sure that they would have no trouble picking off one of the three before they’d gotten the answer.

Just as he was starting to think the other man had left, the stooge appeared, holding a golden rod in his hand. Mariah’s heart sank until he realized that it was not the scepter they had receieved that morning. It was not even a scepter. It was a rod carried by an Egyptian priest, one of the many prized artifacts their parents had kept.

“Found it,” he said, a proud smile on his face.

The first man looked at it, then looked at the three, who tried to look blankly back at him.

“You have your package, now leave,” Mariah demanded.

The thug grinned. “You think I’m some kind of dope? I know what’s what and that ain’t it.”

“Well if the likes of you two keep searching, you’ll never find it,” Sacha stated matter of factly.

Felix glanced at her, with a mixture of pride and shock that she had spoken up. The second man looked stung, but the first simply smiled, pointing his gun at her instead.

“I’ll take care of you jus’ for your smart mouth,” he said. “Unless you’re willing to tell me where that scepter is.”

Sacha recoiled, putting her hand on Felix’s shoulder.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Righ’. Well, then. Say your last goodbyes, precious,” he returned, squeezing the trigger.

Just then there came a sharp rapping on the front door.

“POLICE! OPEN UP!”

The two men glanced suspiciously at the kids, backing up towards the staff door.

“Keep quiet, ya here?” The man with the gun ordered.

He opened the door and turned to run, only to find himself staring at an official uniform. The goon started to run the other way, but was stopped by the men who had come through the front door. It was over.

Mrs. Prewitt rushed into the kitchen, sobbing tears of relief. As soon as she’d seen they were free of bullet holes, she went to the iron stove and began to toast some bread. Putting the kettle on seemed to be the housekeeper’s answer to everything, Mariah thought, amused. She related her adventures in a hushed tone, like that of an adventuress. She gabbed on and on about her harring escape and the daring plea she made to the bobbies. Mariah noticed several men politely rolling their eyes.

Once they’d taken the criminals away, the police came back to ask a few questions. Sacha and Mariah were seated in chairs in the sitting room, while Felix comforted Rishi, whose screeching had apparently annoyed the neighbor so much that he’d called in.

“No, we don’t know who they are,” Mariah answered for the third time.

“Can you think of any reason as to why they’d attack you?” The lietuenant asked, jotting notes down.

“No.”

The three had already agreed that they were not going to give away the reason. If pressed they would assert that they had assumed them to be common thieves.

“And you, miss, did any of these men have a connection to you?”

Sacha shook her head. “I told you before. I don’t know why they came.”

As the questioning continued, Felix fed Rishi some left over scones from the afternoon’s tea. The tiny monkey dove to the floor for the remaining crumbs, then scampered off towards something white on the floor at the doorway. The boy followed, watching his pet excitedly pick up what appeared to be paper. He unfolded the letter, reading quickly.

“Mariah!”

The older boy stood, concerned. “Felix?”

“Look at this,” his brother enticed, holding it out eagerly.

Sacha stood first, taking the letter from his hand and scanning it. Her eyes widened slightly as as she read.

“You’d better see this,” she agreed.

He stepped over, the officer watching with curiosity as the young man took the scrap of paper. On one side was a name, or part of it at least:

He stared at the slashing tail of the G, so severe and dark. Turning the paper over he saw part of a letter, but only the left side of the first paragraph. It mentioned a scepter and then, two lines down, a name. Or rather, the name of two very distinguished people no longer of “worry to them.”

Mundhi.

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