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Charmed lives

18 Apr

If you are a frequent reader of my blog, you know that I don’t read scary books. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a spooky cover and a promise of a haunted castle, so I opened it with great trepidation.

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Fortunately, the cover is the scariest part of the book, which mixes an old Scottish Castle, Nazis, the Enigma machine and magic. Although all of these have been covered in other books, in other ways, this book provides a fresh take on all of them.

Publisher’s Summary: “Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.

A great book for middle readers. You can check out the book trailer:

 

Happy birthday, Sherlock Holmes

6 Jan

I discovered Sherlock Holmes around grade 8 and become something of a fanatic. I watched all the old 20th Century Fox movies featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

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When I think of Sherlock and Watson, theirs are the faces I see.

I believe my first real encounter was reading a dramatic version of The Red Headed League  in our 6th grade reading textbook. Then, maybe in the summer after grade 7, I chose The Hounds of the Baskervilles as my summer reading program prize at the public library. Sometime in 8th grade, I got my own copy of one of the story collections that had the famous Sidney Paget illustrations.

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I became a fan. I could quote passages of text well enough that, when I sat down to read Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a very popular book in 1980,

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I recognized that certain passages seem lifted right from Holmes stories and decried it to all who would listen. There were not many. In high school, the quirky teen that I was wrote a biography of Holmes for an English class. I can still tell you that Holmes, who was rather a good musician, wrote a  monograph entitle The Polyphonic Motets of Lassus.

Holmes has been an inspiration to many authors for young people and continues to be so. here are some recent entries into Holmesian inspired literature for young people.

images-1 The Every series by Ellie Marney

Unknown-2 Lock and Mori by Heather W. Petty

Unknown-3 The  Enola Holmes  series by Nancy Springer

images-2 The Young Sherlock Holmes  series by Andrew Lane

Even Disney has been inspired by Sherlock Holmes and released The Great Mouse Detective in 1999. It has the special distinction of also including a basset hound!

 

EVERY WORD Blog Tour

18 Nov

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Today, I am one of several bloggers taking part in Ellie Marney’s North American blog tour, celebrating her latest novel, Every Word.

Every Word

This is the second book in a series, by Australian Ellie Marney,  that riffs on Sherlock Holmes and follows James Mycroft and Rachel Watts as they travel (separately) to London to investigate the theft and readers learn about Mycroft’s tortured background.

Publisher’s Summary:James Mycroft has just left for London to investigate a car accident similar to the one that killed his parents … without saying goodbye to Rachel Watts, his ‘partner in crime’.

The theft of a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio, the possible murder of a rare books conservator, and the deaths of Mycroft’s parents…. Can Watts help Mycroft make sense of the three events – or will she lose him forever?

Sparks fly when Watts and Mycroft reunite in this second sophisticated thriller about the teen sleuthing duo.

Every Word is intelligent reading and even better than the first book. Mycroft and Watts fit the Holmesian models of complicated and brilliant sleuth with a loyal and logical partner. There is some romance between the two, but the mystery is definitely front and center.

Both books are told from Rachel’s point of view. She is a tough, down to earth character, who begins competing in roller derby in this second book. Just as Watson grounds Holmes, Rachel grounds Mycroft. She knows he is a flawed boyfriend, but is willing to make the effort.

“I’ve nursed sick animals before, and sometimes they just give up. Their eyes fill with this helpless lethargy, and there’s not a lot you can do after that. Now I’m filled with the same awful feeling — that whatever’s broken inside Mycroft might well be beyond my ability to fix. “

The first book, Every Breath,  was enjoyable because of its Australian setting and the publisher’s decision to keep the language authentically so. Every Word, set in London feels equally as authentic and the pace of the story is right on, making it tempting to read the book in a single sitting.

Although I recommend reading Every Breath  before Every Word, you could conceivably read them out of order. This pair of mysteries would be excellent holiday gifts for a young adult reader who loves mysteries.

Every Breath Every Word

The Dark Side Down Under

12 Aug

The art deco font on the front cover called to me.

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And I wondered, what could be inside this marvelously designed book?

I checked it out, having skimmed the description on the inside flap and had a vague notion that it was a steampunk novel. It wasn’t. It was something way cooler.

Razorhurst,  by Justine Larbalestier, is set  Sydney Australia”s deadly Razorhurst neighborhood in the early 193o’s. Kelpie, a street urchin, stumbles upon a murder and the book is about the 24-hours following this event.

Goodreads summary: The setting: Razorhurst, 1932. The fragile peace between two competing mob bosses—Gloriana Nelson and Mr Davidson—is crumbling. Loyalties are shifting. Betrayals threaten.

Kelpie knows the dangers of the Sydney streets. Ghosts have kept her alive, steering her to food and safety, but they are also her torment.

Dymphna is Gloriana Nelson’s ‘best girl’, experienced in surviving the criminal world, but she doesn’t know what this day has in store for her.

When Dymphna meets Kelpie over the corpse of Jimmy Palmer, Dymphna’s latest boyfriend, she pronounces herself Kelpie’s new protector. But Dymphna’s life is in danger too, and she needs an ally. And while Jimmy’s ghost wants to help, the dead cannot protect the living . . .

The novel is inspired by real events which Larbalestier describes in her blog. This is the history of Australia that we never hear about. Fortunately, Larbalestier’s writing really gives you a sense of what it was like to live in that particular time and place. There are some very bad people, but Kelpie’s blend of street-wisdom and naiveté soften the edges.

This is a very serious novel. If it is too much for you, you might prefer seeing Australia’s underside in the Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries series, which is set in the 1920’s. I had this in my mind as I read Razorhurst.

So, as summer vacation winds down, think about taking a last-minute murderous vacation Down Under through a book or television.

Marvelous

27 Jul

Another fantastic ARC I got at the ALA conference was The Marvels by Brian Selznick!!!

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Unlike The Invention of Hugo Cabret and  Wonderstruck, where the pages of illustration alternate with the text, in The Marvels,  Selznick begins with 400 pages of a story told through illustration alone. This story follows five generations of a legendary family of actors, beginning with young Billy Marvel, the lone survivor of a shipwreck.  It is followed by about 200 pages of text which centers on a boy in 1990 who runs away from school to his estranged uncle’s enigmatic London house. Then there are 50 more pages of illustration. The two stories seem to be unrelated, but are brought together in the brief, but powerful conclusion.

The story was inspired by Selznick’s visit to the Dennis Severs’ House in London and Selznick provides an explanation about this strange inspiration in the Afterword.

I am excited that I have this copy that I can out on the shelf of my new classroom in September.

Modern myths and fairy tales

13 Jul

Finn was the only person who witnessed the kidnapping of  beautiful  Roza, at the spring festival. Finn O’Sullivan  is the main character of Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap.

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The story begins as if it were a realistic novel about the aftermath of a crime. But as we read this novel, we see glimpses of subtle magic and realize Bone Gap  is much, much more.

I started this book a few weeks ago and abandoned it. I decided to give it another chance and I am so glad I did. Roza hasn’t been kidnapped by an ordinary man. Finn can’t describe the kidnapper. Other characters, human and animal, seem to be just a bit shy of ordinary. Bone Gap appears to be an ordinary small town, complete bullies,eccentrics, rumors, affection, and intimacy. As Finn looks into Roza’s disappearance the book transitions seamlessly from ordinary to extraordinary.

The book has overtones of Greek mythology and fairy tales, none of it spelled out in detail. Ruby lets the reader draw on their one knowledge of these things and connect the dots. Whoever you imagine the kidnapper to be, you will not regret reading  Bone Gap.

Detective Duos

18 May

First there was Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Then, we had Mike Stone (Karl Malden) and Steve Keller (Michael Douglas) in The Streets of San Francisco. If you mashed up Stone & Keller with Frog & Toad, you’d have  Detective Gordon and Buffy, the heroes of  Detective Gordon: The First Case written by Ulf Nilsson and illustrated by Gitte Spee

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Detective Gordon is an aging detective, fond of cakes, and prone to falling asleep. Buffy is his new assistant, eager and anxious to get out the pistol. They are working together to solve the mystery of the nuts that are disappearing all over the forest. Detective Gordon, though getting older, has learned important lessons.

I was a little concerned at first with the pistol that was locked in the cabinet. Buffy keeps asking if they are going to use it. Detective Gordon keeps telling her “no”. Finally, he explains,

“To take the pistol one must be very wise and very careful. It’s dangerous.”

Buffy jumped up and down angrily. The thieves were disappearing between the trees. But she badly wanted to have the pistol.

She would have it.

“But you are very wise and very careful, chief.”

Detective Gordon held up his finger. He had something very important to say.

“The one who is really wise and very careful doesn’t take it with him!” said the detective. “It’s dangerous.”

Far, far away, they could hear the thieves laughing. But Buffy wouldn’t give up.

“Why is it in the glass cabinet then? Why don;t you throw it away?”

“In case someone finds it and hurts themselves. It is safest locked up in the police station.”

The entire book is full of philosophical conversations like that. But what makes me really love the book is the stamp.

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Every paper the detective duo write on requires an official stamp. The stamp they use has a crown in the center, through Detective Gordon doesn’t really know why “but it seemed powerful and no one had questioned it”. It makes a satisfying KLA-DUNK sound and that is good enough.

This is a charming  book for readers just venturing into chapter books.

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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