Book Review: Mysteries According to Humphrey (According to Humphrey #8)

Mysteries According to Humphrey

Mysteries According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A mystery is like a puzzle. It can be something unsqueakably scary, like a thing that goes THUMP in the night.

Synopsis: It’s hamster Humphrey’s second year in room 26 of Longfellow School, and by the beginning of October, he’s getting to know his new classmates. Mrs. Brisbane has just started reading “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, and Humphrey is just as disappointed as everyone else when she stops in the middle of the story to move on to another lesson. Disappointment turns to dismay when Mrs. Brisbane doesn’t return to school the next day, then is replaced (temporarily, Humphrey hopes!) by a substitute teacher named Mr. E., who seems to want to play with the students instead of teach them. Humphrey decides to follow the example of Sherlock Holmes and sets out to investigate Mrs. Brisbane’s disappearance as well as a few other mysteries as only a determined class pet in a cage with a lock-that-doesn’t-lock can. And, maybe, along the way, he’ll find out just what happens in that story about the man with the red hair.

Review: This is the eighth installment of the “According to Humphrey” series, and he is just as charming as ever. Fans of the series will enjoy this new adventure, but reading all the previous volumes isn’t strictly necessary. At the end of each short chapter, Humphrey shares something he’s learned in his “Detectionary”, and there is a list of the “Top 10 Tips for Beginning Detectives” at the end of the book.

Recommend to: Middle grade readers looking for a fun and funny light mystery, as well as fans of books in this series and other animal fiction series.

Source: E-book checked out from my public library (via Overdrive).

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Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Please allow the SPFD to welcome you more formally. Go to The Dancing Men (if you’re hungry, they make an excellent ploughman’s lunch) and ask for a saucer of milk for your snake. Then all will be revealed.

Synopsis:
Twelve-year-old Xena is sitting on the front steps of a London hotel with her little brother, Xander, when a strange man presses a note into her hand. The kids barely have time to read the peculiar message before the ink disappears from the paper. Once they learn that “The Dancing Men” is a nearby pub (and that a “ploughman’s lunch” is something they might actually like), they can’t ignore their curiosity about it. The clever siblings might be a bit more curious than most, though, since they happen to be the American descendants of the famous Sherlock Holmes. After inheriting his casebook of unsolved problems, they quickly find themselves on the trail of a century-old mystery the Great Detective himself never solved.

Review:
Barrett introduces a pair of protagonists with immediate appeal for young readers. Like any siblings, Xena and Xander occasionally bicker and even embarrass each other, but when push comes to shove, each has the other’s back. Because they are American kids newly arrived in London, explanations of British culture and customs come up naturally in the narrative, rather than as awkward exposition for the reader. Nods to the original Sherlock Holmes stories are sprinkled throughout and sometimes explained (the saucer of milk for snake reference slips right by, but the Irregulars get a quick description). The mystery itself is very simple, and the characters never face any real danger or violence, making this a great selection for newly independent chapter-book readers as well as slightly older mystery fans. Once they’ve finished this quick-paced adventure, readers can continue to follow the Holmes siblings in three more series installments: The Beast of Blackslope, The Case that Time Forgot, and The Missing Heir.

Recommend to: Fans of mystery and adventure ages 8-12.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Flannel Friday: Monkey Face by Frank Asch

I am always late to the party, so it should come as no surprise that the first time I make a Flannel Friday post, I’ve got a story that Cate did at Storytiming back in 2011, Sharon did at Rain Makes Applesauce in 2012, and Bridget did just this past January.

What can I say? It’s a good story!

aschcover

Monkey Face, by Frank Asch, was published in 1977 and is way out of print. My library system doesn’t have a copy at all. I’m pretty sure I first encountered the story as a whiteboard draw-and-tell. I’ve been meaning to flannelize it for a while, and since the theme for next Monday’s Storytime/Craft program is Wild Animals, it was a perfect fit.

I started with the Bongo Monkey image from Ben’s Coloring Pages as a template for the original face, and then I cut the rest of the pieces without a pattern.

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The story goes like this:

Little Monkey drew a picture of his mother. He took it home from school to give it to her. He was so proud of his drawing.

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Along the way, he saw his friend, Owl. Owl said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the eyes should be a little larger.”

So, Little Monkey made the eyes a little larger.

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As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Giraffe. Giraffe said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the neck should be a little longer.”

So, Little Monkey made the neck a little longer.

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As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Crocodile. Crocodile said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the teeth should be a little sharper.”

So, Little Monkey made the teeth a little sharper.

monkeyface04

As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Rabbit. Rabbit said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – the ears should be a little bigger.”

So, Little Monkey made the ears a little bigger.

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As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Lion. Lion said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – you’ve forgotten her fluffy mane .”

So, Little Monkey added a fluffy mane.

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As Little Monkey continued on his way home, he saw his friend, Elephant. Elephant said, “What a beautiful picture! Just one thing – her nose is much too small.”

So, Little Monkey made the nose bigger.

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Little Monkey didn’t see anyone else until he got home, where his mother was waiting for him. “Mother, Mother,” he said, “I drew a picture of you!”

“I love it!” his mother said. “Just the way it is.”

 

Katie at Story Time Secrets has this week’s Flannel Friday Round-Up. Go and have a look at the fabulous posts! Also check out the Flannel Friday Facebook page and the Flannel Friday Pinterest boards.

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Book Review: Secret Letters

Secret LettersSecret Letters by Leah Scheier

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I knew that Adelaide would wish to visit the detective and present her case to him as soon as possible. And I would be there by her side, of course, to support her as she told her story. But I had my own reason for visiting Mr. Holmes and my own story to tell him, and so I had to reach him before she did — and I had to speak to him alone.

Synopsis:
Since losing both parents to typhoid fever four years ago, Dora Joyce has lived with her Aunt Ina, a very proper Victorian matron determined to mold the inquisitive, headstrong girl in her own image. During the day, Dora has been laced into corsets and taught to waltz, but in the evenings, she’s been studying the adventures of the Great Detective chronicled in the Strand magazine. Following his methods, she has sharpened her observational skills. She has good reason to believe she might be able to emulate Mr Holmes better than most: a deathbed confession from her mother that the detective is Dora’s father. Now, with her cousin facing a blackmailer threatening to destroy her marriage, Dora finally has a reason to seek out the detective in London. The day she arrives at his Baker Street address, however, she is stunned by the headline screaming from the newspapers: Sherlock Holmes Killed in Switzerland.

The detective she and her cousin finally do consult leaves Dora distinctly unimpressed, but his young assistant sparks her interest. His name is Peter Cartwright, he knew Sherlock Holmes, and he seems to find her at least a little interesting, as well. Dora decides that she – with Peter’s help – will go undercover to solve the mystery herself, as any child of the Great Detective would.

Review:
Scheier’s debut novel is a Sherlockian pastiche with a twist of romance in with the mystery. Several mysteries, actually, since the title might refer to a number of letters and a number of secrets, all of which tangle around each other, catching the spirited teenage heroine in the middle. Dora chafes at the restrictions society – by way of her Aunt – places on her, and she longs to be accepted for the person she really is. She finds a true peer in Peter, who looks beyond surfaces just as she does. Class distinctions of the period are explored through Dora’s disguise as a house servant at Hartfield Hall, a role she manages to fill surprisingly (if perhaps a tad unbelievably) well, while she ferrets out clues.

The first few chapters have to introduce a lot of material about the characters and the setting, but the action picks up pace after that. Plots and sub-plots intertwine as ulterior motives abound above and below stairs at Hartfield. Sly nods to the original stories pop up here and there – little Easter eggs for those familiar with the Canon. This is a satisfying blend of mystery, adventure, and romance, with just enough comedic moments (usually resulting from Dora being a bit too clever for her own good) to balance the more serious elements.

Recommend to:
Historical fiction and mystery fans, ages 12 and up.

Twitter-Style Review: Historical mystery with a touch of romance, perfect for the budding Holmesian.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Arthur and the Great Detective

Arthur and the Great Detective by Alan Coren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

“So I have been considering what kind of Englishman goes to America for a very short stay, carries a magnifying glass and a swordstick, and is well known to the New York police, and there was only one-“

“Conclusion,” finished Sherlock Holmes, nodding. “Yes, Arthur, there usually is.”

In the seventh installment of Coren’s Arthur series, young Arthur William Foskett is travelling alone on a transatlantic sailing, headed back to school in England. The early days of the voyage are plagued by bad weather, and most of the ship’s passengers take refuge in their cabins, leaving the dining room to just Arthur and two other men, who turn out to be none other than Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Even after the weather clears and the passengers re-emerge, it’s hardly smooth sailing for the S.S. Murgatroyd, as there is a robbery on board. Not to worry, though: Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Foskett are both on the case.

This is a charming, very funny mystery for young readers, with plenty of amusing references for those already familiar with Holmes. I haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series, but I’m going to be keeping an eye out for copies of Arthur and the Bellybutton Diamond and Arthur and the Purple Panic, both of which also feature Holmes and Watson, and neither of which are held by my library.

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Book Review: Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin

But how was a theoretical physicist supposed to save the world?

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 

 

Three stories weave together here, all of them fascinating in their own right: the story of the scientists at Los Alamos, including Robert Oppenheimer, the man who would become known as the father of the atomic bomb; the story of the Russian spies, including the unassuming Harry Gold, who were hard at work attempting to steal the secrets to building the atomic bomb, and the efforts of Allied forces, including Knut Haukelid and a few other dedicated Norwegian resistance fighters, to prevent the Germans from building an atomic bomb themselves. The names are important, because what Sheinkin does so splendidly is put human faces to the historic events. Literally, in fact, since each section of the book begins with a scrapbook-style double-page spread of photographs. This is an epic story, and Sheinkin lists a number of consulted sources in the back matter, but he picks out details sure to capture and hold interest all the way through.

This is a fascinating read, with appeal for older kids and teens as well as adults. It has great potential for classroom use, perhaps paired with Ellen Klages’ The Green Glass Sea. MacMillan even has a Teacher’s Guide (.pdf) already prepared with pointers to the Common Core State Standards. Also check out the post at Reading to the Core, which says of Bomb, “This is the kind of book you could build an entire curriculum around.” Suggestions for how to begin to do so are included, of course. Don’t limit this book to the classroom, though. After all, who could resist a true story of international spies and “the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon”?

 

Recommend to: Older kids and teens (and adults) who would like a “true story” that reads like a spy thriller.

 

Source: Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney

Stealing a car had been much more fun than stealing a credit card. But stealing a toddler!

 

Janie Face to Face (Janie Johnson, #5)Janie Face to Face by Caroline B. Cooney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Janie Johnson was 15 when she recognized the photo of her three-year-old self on a milk carton and discovered she was really Jennie Spring, whose family had been hoping she would come home ever since she was kidnapped from a mall. Now in college, Janie just wants to put the past behind her, stop being known as “the kidnap kid”, and move on with her life. But as her friends and family are pestered by a true crime writer and his researchers to turn her story into a best-seller, she realizes that someone out there does not want to let things go.

When The Face on the Milk Carton was first published, in 1990, it was a different world. It was a world without the Internet in every home, or a cell phone in every teenager’s pocket, or, for that matter, the Internet on a cell phone in a teenager’s pocket. Even when the fourth book in the series – What Janie Found – hit shelves in 2000, cancelled checks could still play a major part in the story. While 13 years have passed since that book was published, only a few years have passed for the characters when Janie Face to Face begins, with the action of the novel spread over the next several years. Because of this, Cooney spends some time allowing Janie and her friends and family to catch up, pondering the rapid changes since the day Janie used a public pay phone during her search for answers. The tendency to tell, rather than show, what is happening bogs down the pace a bit, already an issue with characters mentally recapping the first four books.

Janie’s story is only part of this fifth (and final) installment of the series. Before each chapter – where the third-person narration is squarely focused on the perspective of Janie or one of her friends or family members – is a vignette from Hannah’s perspective (though still third-person), beginning with “THE FIRST PIECE OF THE KIDNAPPER’S PUZZLE” and counting upward. This is the first time readers get inside Hannah’s mind and find out what really happened that day in the mall. Of course, Hannah’s recollections are neither unbiased nor, perhaps, wholly reliable, although Cooney gives no reason to doubt the sequence of events. Fans of the original series should find satisfying closure.

The first four books in the series have remained popular with a new generation of teens, and they were re-released in 2012 with new coordinating cover art.

Recommend to: Teens looking for suspense without gore, and adults who fondly remember the original series and always wondered about Hannah

Source: Checked out from my public library

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Book Review: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My family name was once Fayleure. But somebody changed it. I’d ask that you get your “failure” jokes out of the way now. I am anything but.

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Timmy Failure has a lot going for him, really. A successful business with an unparalleled partner, his own transportation, and all the answers. Okay, so his business partner is a polar bear named Total, so their business is officially named Total Failure, Inc. And “successful” might be stretching things. And his transportation – the Failuremobile – is his mom’s Segway, which she has said he is allowed to use “Never. Ever. Ever.” And his answers might be a little, well, not quite correct. But he has big plans for the “Timmy Empire” and world domination, if he can just get his business off the ground.

Well, and his mom’s Segway out of the hands of his arch-nemesis.

To tell the truth, when I first saw this cover, I rolled my eyes a bit. Another Wimpy Kid read-alike, I thought. But Timmy has a certain charm in his complete obliviousness of the world around him, and his irrepressible optimistic nature. He is absolutely determined that he is going to conquer the world. He is convinced that he is the smartest detective ever, even though the reader can hardly help but laugh out loud at the conclusions Timmy draws from the clues he gathers. Pastis slyly reveals the reality of Timmy’s life at home and at school, as much as Timmy lives in denial of the facts, and the side of Timmy that is a really sweet kid underneath his tough talk. By the end, I was completely won over, and I can hardly wait to get this first volume of the series into the hands of middle-graders at my library (not mention my own hands on volume two).

On shelves: February 26, 2013

Source: ARC provided by the publisher at ALA Midwinter Meeting 2013

 

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Review: The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman

Girls should never be born in the year of the Fire Horse; they are especially dangerous, bringing tragedy to their families.

 The Fire Horse Girl
The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jade Moon dreams of leaving home, of escaping the tiny Chinese village where she lives alone with her father, her grandfather, and their faithful servant, surrounded by gossiping “Aunties” who are all too familiar with her many faults: clumsiness, stubbornness, and – perhaps worst of all – a longing for independence. All she can see is a future married off to a local brickmaker, but that changes with the arrival of a stranger. Sterling Promise arrives from Hong Kong with news that an uncle Jade Moon never knew she had passed away recently, leaving behind papers that could allow Sterling Promise and Jade Moon’s father into the wide open promised land of America. If she could just get to that new country, Jade Moon thinks, what possibilities could await her?

The United States of 1923, though, is wary of admitting more Chinese immigrants, and Jade Moon’s long sea journey is followed by detainment on Angel Island. Getting to San Francisco will take cunning and bravery, and surviving there will be even harder.

Fire Horse Girl is a complicated piece of historical fiction. Honeyman explores the life of a girl in early 20th-century China, the San Francisco of the 1920s, and the Chinese immigrant experience on Angel Island, a bit of American history little known outside the West coast. The stories aren’t so much woven together as tacked onto one another, which may be why the pace drags in places. Jade Moon is a likeable character because of – rather than despite – her prickliness, as the independent nature that seems to offend her contemporaries has strong appeal for twenty-first century readers. Story-telling is a theme that recurs throughout her narration, and she is determined to tell her own story.

A lengthy author’s note tells how Honeyman came to the tale and provides further information on the historical events, people, and places that inspired her, as well as a paragraph on Chinese astrology. “The next Fire Horse girls,” she notes, “will be born in 2026.”

Recommend to: teens who like strong heroines and a mixture of action and history with a dash of romance.

Source: e-ARC via NetGalley

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Waiting on Wednesday: Shade of the Moon

New WoW

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event hosted at Breaking the Spine to spotlight highly anticipated titles.

I don’t participate every week, but I was catching up on my blog feed and saw Susan Beth Pfeffer‘s entry about getting the official ARC back copy for a book I’m really looking forward to reading:

The Shade of the Moon (The Last Survivors, #4)
The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

According to her blog the back of the ARCs will say:

It’s been more than two years since Jon Evans and his family left Pennsylvania, hoping to find a safe place to live, yet Jon remains haunted by the deaths of those he loved. His prowess on a soccer field has guaranteed him a home in a well-protected enclave. But Jon is painfully aware that a missed goal, a careless word, even falling in love, can put his life and the lives of his mother, his sister Miranda, and her husband, Alex, in jeopardy. Can Jon risk doing what is right in a world gone so terribly wrong?

Don’t miss the first three books in this riveting series!

The first book in the series, Life As We Knew It came out in 2006, and I really liked it and its companion novel, The Dead and the Gone. I waited for what felt like ages for the sequel, This World We Live In to be released in 2010, checking Pfeffer’s blog for details all the while. I don’t think it was even being called the “Last Survivors” series yet, and all indications were that it would be just the three books.

And then she had to go and write a fourth book. It’s due to hit shelves on September 3, although it looks like those lucky enough to attend the International Reading Association conference in April might get to snag a signed ARC. The rest of us, I’m afraid, will just have to wait for September.

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