Category Archives: book review

Private Eye July

FirstClassMurder_finalUS_200x300Ah, mysteries…I love mysteries.

I finished reading Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz a few weeks ago – a nice homage to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot with an added complication or two.  Then there was The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, another great Ruth Galloway mystery.

And then First Class Murder landed in my holds stack … another homage to Agatha Christie, complete with a trip on the Orient Express with girl detectives, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  Daisy and Hazel started their detective work in a boarding school, and then solved a head-scratcher of  a murder at a country home.  The Orient Express is supposed to get them away from murders, but it never works out that way, does it?

The cast of characters is quirky and interesting, with a Russian countess, her American Pinkerton-obsessed grandson, a spy, a magician, a medium, maids who might be more than they appear, an obnoxious husband and an heiress.  It’s a fun, light read, despite the murder, and Daisy and Hazel’s detection skills are just getting better by the moment.   There are another three already-released-in-the-UK books in the series, so now I’m debating whether to wait for their U.S. release or get them over here now.  Sigh.  So many books.  So little time.

First Class Murder: a Wells and Wong mystery by Robin Stevens

 

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Hell and high water and a whole lot of other stuff

hellandhighwaterI don’t remember how this book ended up on my list.  I haven’t actually been getting much serious (or not serious) reading done lately, although I’ve done a few re-reads of Dumplin’ (awesome as always) and Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen (part of my annual attempt to remember languages I haven’t spoken for a few decades).  Given much thought, I probably would have found something a bit lighter, especially since I usually don’t go for things with puppets of any kind.  They’re a little like clowns to me—kind of creepy and maybe a little menacing, unless they are fluffy, cute animal puppets which are a completely different thing.

Anyhoo, this is a great book.  There are bad guys — rich aristocrats cheating poor people and a few of their own supposed friends, sending the undeserving off to jail or to the colonies – and a few scrappy good guys and a lot of intrigue, action, and close escapes.  Letty and Caleb become friends and partners-in-making-things-right, and you’re with them all the way.  It’s not a happy story, really, but it works.  As a read-aloud, there could be a lot to discuss with the right group of kids: gossip, discrimination, power, women’s roles, poverty, justice.  So take a break from reality and travel back to 1752 for a few hours.  You’ll be glad you did.

Hell and High Water by Tanya Landman

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A new favorite book to give

welcomeNew parents need books almost as much as their babies do.  What’s wonderful about this one is that it’s maybe for the baby, but maybe even more for moms and dads.  There are fantastic mirror-like pages and bright colors for infants to gaze upon, but the words – happy and sad — speak to parents.

You will get it if you read the book, and I fear any attempts I make to describe it further would pale in comparison to the book.  So, just read the book.  And maybe buy a copy for a friend who’s a new parent.  (I did.) They’ll appreciate it.

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems

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How to capture my 13 year old inner dialogue, although maybe you’d rather not

BraveMaybe kids think completely different thoughts these days.  I mean, I wonder sometimes if my youth was so wildly different – no electronics, three tv stations available, bad perms – that I can’t even begin to understand what my kid lives with.  Technology is not a kind beast.

Then I read something like Brave.  Or we find ourselves talking about mean girls.  And I realize that at least for my kid, some things are still kind of the same. Definitely still awful.  Do we all find ourselves feeling isolated, dumb, or out of the loop?  Are we all bad at handling bullies, whether it’s jerks who grab our books and play catch or people who attack us with words?

Maybe.  Maybe not.  Maybe some kids pass blissfully through adolescence without any bumps along the way.  Svetlana Chmakova captures those who don’t perfectly, and really, everyone can benefit from that.  If you’re struggling yourself, Brave makes you feel like you’re not alone.  And in the rare case that you feel like you’re on top of the world, maybe you can see what it’s like for everyone else and feel some compassion.  Maybe?

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

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Friendships, good and bad

real friendsThere are so many kinds of friends, aren’t there?  Sometimes you have a friend who begins to feel like all you need.  Then she moves.  Maybe you manage to end up in a bigger group of friends later on.  There will be a kind of unhappy, mean “friend” somewhere in there who’s more concerned with being first at being someone’s best friend than in being friends with everyone.  Or maybe they make fun of you because you’re different, even though they claim they’re only telling you to help you.

Friendship, like love, is so very complicated, which is why I liked this graphic novel/memoir so much.  It reminded me of many happy, silly afternoons as a child, playing in imaginary worlds with a friend.  It also reminded me of some uncomfortable and painful moments.  Both are important things to talk about with kids, since their lives are as complicated, if not more complicated than ours.

I, thank goodness, never had to navigate friendship by way of social media.  I screwed up a lot of things, but no one was saving screenshots of my mistakes.  Maybe there are damning pictures out there somewhere in a shoe box, but my biggest humiliations only take up space in my memory.

I prefer to remember the happier times: building forts under the picnic table, having dance contests at slumber parties, and lying in the shade of the big tree looking at the clouds shaped like turtles and whales.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

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Are Colette’s pants on fire? Or is she just blessed with an awesome imagination?

colettes lost petPerhaps a little of both.  Colette might be wanting a pet.  A LOT. Other neighborhood kids seem to be looking for something to do.  Clearly they don’t have 24/7 access to electronics, because so many of them are playing outside.  Before you know it, they rally to look for the pet, not even seeming especially bothered by the Colette’s announcement later on that her pet bird became so large it wouldn’t fit in the house anymore.

It might be an interesting book to read with a child who has a flimsy grasp on honesty.  How would they react to Colette’s story?  Or you might just like to read it for its whimsical and imaginative journey through an afternoon with some neighborhood kids.  It’s a sweet read either way.

Colette’s Lost Pet by Isabelle Arsenault

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The sparkling eyes of Mary Alice

ghost shipA ghost ship.  An evil tech gazillionaire.  A missing girl.  One boy in a red shirt.

There are so many details that add to and flesh out the characters in this excellent graphic novel – small things that quickly begin to link together everyone and everything in this book.  It’s a joy to read, quick but full of wonderful small moments – John Blake talking to the ship, shipmates who’ve escaped from other places and times. Fog fades in and out, and there’s time travel, long lost families and friends, debts to pay.

One storyline has ended, but there will be more, right?  Please?

The Adventures of John Blake:  Mystery of the Ghost Ship by Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham

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3 simple reasons to give York a look

york

  1. Puzzles — also clues, ciphers, and  mysteries to solve.
  2. Quirky public transportation options and elevators that go sideways.
  3. Kids out to save their world from an obnoxious developer.

Fun, fun, fun.

York: the shadow cipher by Laura Ruby

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A B for you, an Ethel for me

Did you take the B from my –ook? is one of those books that speak directly to the reader, engaging them in the storytelling and creating some silly situations.  “Here’s a pair of –lue –oots” and so on.

It’s kind of like something we used to do when our son was little.  We’d make every word of a story start with B – maybe that’s where all those missing Bs went! – so that you’d have “Biddle Bed Biding Bood”.  Bandma had all kinds of boblems, you know.

Fun and silly, and the simple drawings add to the wackiness of it all.

Fortunately, Jennifer Black Reinhardt was not missing a B when she wrote Blue Ethel.  Ethel is an old, fat, black and white cat, who’s somewhat set in her ways and enjoys a good roll on the sidewalk before taking her afternoon nap.  One day, she rolls as she usually does and becomes blue.  What kind of horrible industrial accident or plague has hit?  (It’s a picture book, so rest assured, it’s probably just some especially powerful sidewalk chalk.)  The effects don’t seem lasting, however, and Ethel finds that being colorful is pretty cool.  The word play and illustrations are a joy, and Ethel is delightful.

Did you take the B from my –ook? by Beck and Matt Stanton

Blue Ethel by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

 

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Beware of plankton and reach for the stars

I’m always looking for smart, science-based picture books.  Being an adult has not stopped me from wanting to learn cool things about the world and occasionally bolster my decades-old knowledge of biology a bit.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams is really perfect for that particular reading mood.  There are child-friendly (and beautiful) explanations of evolution and how food chains work.  If the sharks go away, all kinds of environmental chaos might ensue.  Coincidentally, I heard Paul Nicklen, a conservation photographer, speaking on a very similar topic on NPR’s Fresh Air just a few days ago. It’s definitely worth a listen, too, if you need any reminders of how fragile our life on this planet is.

Meanwhile, over at NASA in the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton was figuring out how to use computers to get astronauts into space and land the lunar module.  Having questioned why girls were not expected or sometimes even allowed to do certain things at a young age, she charged ahead and rose to the top of her profession, becoming a role model for many women in computer science and engineering.  This is an especially fun read for kids who like thinking outside the box and challenging stereotypes.

If Sharks Disappeared by Lily Williams

Margaret and the Moon: how Margaret Hamilton saved the first lunar landing by Dean Robbins and Lucy Knisley

 

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