Monday, July 27, 2020

MMGM: The Case of the Perilous Palace

After reading the first book of the wonderful Aggie Morton series, I had a hankering to read another historical mystery. The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series came to mind. I'd really enjoyed the first book but hadn't finished the whole series. Unfortunately, I was only able to get number 4, since 2 and 3 were at other libraries. But never fear, you can skip around in this series, and not lose your way.

If you like feisty, smart girls, the Regency era, and allusions to math, science, and literature, this series is for you.

Synopsis from Amazon:

The history-mystery-science series continues as the Wollstonecraft Detectives--Ada Byron Lovelace and Mary Shelley--take on a case by royal request.

Ada's imperious grandmother has absolutely shut the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency down--until they get a case from a princess, that is.

The princess Alexandrina Victoria, age 9 (who will grow up to be Queen Victoria), is the most closely watched girl in England. She is never alone. Every morsel she eats is catalogued. Every visitor overseen. Every move noted down. She has but one thing of her own--a sketchbook she uses as a secret diary, where she records her private thoughts in code. But now, somehow, that sketchbook has disappeared.

And so the princess enlists Ada and Mary to figure out what has happened to the sketchbook without arousing the suspicions of her minders. A most clandestine case indeed! One that will involve breaking into Kensington Palace and uncovering a host of surprising royal secrets...

This funny, Christmas-time romp of a caper will delight history and mystery fans alike.

What to love:

1.  Princess Victoria! I find Princess Victoria’s story absolutely fascinating. This great queen of England was watched and controlled so closely as child. I really enjoyed seeing another take on her life—in this book she’s age 9.

2.  A nice balance of logic and emotion: I like how the two characters, Ada and Mary, are opposites and how their different ways of looking at the world balance each other out. We need people who can use reason and emotions to solve problems, like these girls.

3.  A mystery without any violence or gore: Like the Moonstone book (first book in the series), there is no murder in this book and it’s relatively short. I think this makes this series ideal for kids who are just dipping their toes into mysteries or maybe younger kids who are advanced readers.

4.  Humor: From the parrot who mimics everyone to Sir John Conway who suffers from using malapropisms (saying the incorrect word) to the final solution to the mystery, this book doesn’t take itself too seriously.

5.  Nods to other historical figures/settings: Stratford includes a who’s who at the end of his book explaining who the persons were in real life, since he did change the timeline a bit. I really enjoyed reading that the Paragon, where Mary lives, was mentioned in Bleak House, a Dickens novel I read this spring. If you are a fan of the Regency or Victorian time period, you’ll find lots of your favorite persons between these pages!

If you like reading about Princess Victoria, please see my post about YAs featuring Victoria.

To read more MMGM reviews, please visit Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle.

Have you read any good historical mysteries lately?

Monday, July 20, 2020

MMGM Hodgehodge: Local Reading Challenge and Picnic Projects

A few of the of MG books I own that I haven't read yet.
With inter-library loans not available this summer, I’ve been thinking of setting a new challenge to try to read more locally. By local, I mean my own bookshelf. Some people do a "pantry challenge" to try to just eat the food they've already purchased. This is my version for bibliophiles.

I’m probably going to tackle Nicholas Benedict first, since it's a prequel to the wonderful The Mysterious Benedict Society, and then there’s 100 Cupboards, which my kids told me has a tie in to Narnia. I loved The Invention of Hugo Cabret, so I hope I will enjoy Marvels and Wonderstruck. I didn't like the Wonderstruck movie, but I'm hoping for better things with the book. Books are almost always better! I've read the Shakespeare Stealer (and loved it!), but haven't read the sequels in this volume. Have you read any of these titles? Which do you recommend?

I’m also doing a shout out today to another MMGM poster, June McCrary Jacobs, and her new nonfiction release, Kids Love to Stitch--Book 1.

I learned to sew in elementary school and really enjoyed home ec in junior high. It's too bad I still don't have my purple and white striped wind sock! I still like doing the occasional project. I’ve sewn some decorations for our house and even a few clothes for myself.

What I really liked about this book is that June devotes a good amount of the book to basic sewing instructions, including safety instructions. Her advice on not listening or watching something else while sewing is very good, especially for beginners!
Star pocket--a perfect spot for holding treasures

Her two projects are simple and easy for beginning sewers. I’m partial to the star pocket, which would be great for holding silverware for summer barbecues, but I probably would've kept my collection of shells in it as a kid. The tic-tac-toe game provides hours of crafting and playing.

A game to make and play

Books that teach how to make things are important. Working with your hands is very rewarding and satisfying, and the more digital life becomes, the more important it is to find ways to work with our hands. The ability to sew is a great life skill that can also save money.

So if you have a kid in your life that needs something to keep them busy this summer or you think would enjoy learning a new skill, check out June's new book.

Do you like to sew or work with your hands? What books are on your summer reading list?

To check out more MMGM titles, please go to Greg Pattridge's Always in the Middle blog.

Monday, July 13, 2020

MMGM: Wrong Way Summer

I was so excited to receive Wrong Way Summer in a giveaway by the wonderful Rosi Hollinbeck. When I read her review, it sounded like a lovely book about a family and an interesting road trip. But, wow! It was so much better than that.

Maybe you had similar experiences to Claire, the main character in the book. I have. I’ll never forget coming home one day from high school to find my dad in tears. He’d lost his job, and little did I know then that it would be a year before he’d find another. And it’s probably a testament to my dad’s ability to always look on the bright side, that I remember that year as one of the best years ever—not only was he around more, but he learned how to make the best homemade granola!

If you like realistic middle grade fiction with a lot of heart, you will love this book!

Synopsis (from Amazon):

A moving summer road-trip story for fans of Crenshaw and The Someday Birds

Claire used to love her dad’s fantastical stories, especially tales about her absent mom—who could be off with the circus or stolen by the troll king, depending on the day. But now that she’s 12, Claire thinks she’s old enough to know the truth. When her dad sells the house and moves her and her brother into a converted van, she’s tired of the tall tales and refuses to pretend it’s all some grand adventure, despite how enthusiastically her little brother embraces this newest fantasy. Claire is faced with a choice: Will she play along with the stories her dad is spinning for her little brother, or will she force her family to face reality once and for all? Equal parts heartwarming and heartbreaking, Wrong Way Summer is a road-trip journey and coming-of-age story about one girl’s struggle to understand when a lie is really a lie and when it’s something more: hope.

What I loved:

1.   This book is a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to struggle financially. I thought Claire's description of the unevenness of her friendships and  being aware of what things cost really rang true to me. Unemployment and poverty is isolating, especially if you are surrounded by others who are doing better, and Lang captured this well.

2.    The Dad! His ability to weave stories to keep his kids’ hopes high reminded me of the dad who tells his son stories to keep his hope up in a concentration camp in the Italian movie Life is Beautiful. I don’t know if I’ve every experienced such a larger than life parent in middle grade fiction.

3.   Well drawn characters: Each character in this novel was memorable and true to life. I think I will be studying this book for its character descriptions. Even minor characters, like random dog walkers, stood out and were well-drawn.

4.    Middle School Crushes: Usually I’m not a huge fan of how middle school crushes are handled in kidlit, but this one was so realistic with the sister spilling the beans, and the awkwardness that ensued. I also loved how Claire’s other crush was handled—and what the author showed so well: always trust the awkward boy over Mr. Slick.

5.    A heartfelt message: This book exuded hope, which every good middle grade should. I really liked Claire’s character arc, and how she came to understand her dad by the end. The stories we tell ourselves matter.

6.    Extra stories: I loved how the author wove the stories that Claire and her dad told into the book. These tales added a richness and depth to the novel—and were hilarious!

If you like road trips, realistic middle grade, and larger-than-life characters, treat yourself to Wrong Way Summer. It’s a wonderful summer read.

Have you read any good summery books lately?

*I may be late in returning comments, because my husband's birthday is on Monday. But be assured, I read each and every comment, and will make return visits as soon as I can.

Monday, July 6, 2020

MMGM: Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano

The one type of movie or TV show my husband and I both love is a mystery,. We've enjoyed the Dorothy Sayer's Peter Wimsey series together. We’re also fans of the Monk TV show and the PBS Poirot series with David Suchet.

So, I was extremely excited to read a new middle grade series that imagines Agatha Christie (neƩ Morton) as a 12 year old girl whose sidekick is Hercule Poirot.

If you like mysteries, especially historical mysteries (like the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency series), you will enjoy Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: The Body Under the Piano.

Synopsis (from Amazon):

A smart and charming middle-grade mystery series starring young detective Aggie Morton and her friend Hector, inspired by the imagined life of Agatha Christie as a child and her most popular creation, Hercule Poirot. For fans of Lemony Snicket and The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency.

Aggie Morton lives in a small town on the coast of England in 1902. Adventurous and imaginative but deeply shy, Aggie hasn't got much to do since the death of her beloved father . . . until the fateful day when she crosses paths with twelve-year-old Belgian immigrant Hector Perot and discovers a dead body on the floor of the Mermaid Dance Room! As the number of suspects grows and the murder threatens to tear the town apart, Aggie and her new friend will need every tool at their disposal -- including their insatiable curiosity, deductive skills and not a little help from their friends -- to solve the case before Aggie's beloved dance instructor is charged with a crime Aggie is sure she didn't commit.

Filled with mystery, adventure, an unforgettable heroine and several helpings of tea and sweets, The Body Under the Piano is the clever debut of a new series for middle-grade readers and Christie and Poirot fans everywhere, from a Governor General's Award--nominated author of historical fiction for children.

What I loved:

1.    Characters that acted like their time periodWhile some characters in MG historicals read like time-traveling modern kids, Aggie’s understanding of the world fit with her era. Jocelyn even  added a note at the end of the book to explain that while the words used to tease Poirot might not be used today, they are historically accurate, and she included them to show how lonely he would’ve felt.

2.    A rich setting and lots of details: This is what you’d expect from a historical, but I loved the details about the Princess Pier, English tea parties, and Morton’s pet cemetery. You feel like you’re in turn-of-the-century England.

3.    A main character with a stellar imagination. Of course, I love a main character who wants to be a writer, but I especially loved how Aggie’s thoughts were portrayed in purple prose as she often imagined her life as scenes in a murder mystery. This technique brought a lot of humor. And it caused the adults to not take Aggie's sleuthing seriously, which is essential in MG mysteries!

4.    A very unique and authentic friendship. The friendship at the center of the novel was very interesting, because Aggie and Hercule couldn’t be more different: she is headstrong, messy, and a bit flighty, and he is neat, polite, and thoughtful. But I loved how they managed to work together, which is such a great message for kids (and adults).

5.    A great, twisty plot with a surprise reveal. Just like Christie’s books, you might think you have it all figured out and them—boom!—a new twist is revealed. Although the mystery left a few loose ends at the end, it was a very satisfying read.

And guess what? This is just the beginning. In September, the sequel is coming out: Aggie Morton, Mystery Queen: Peril at Owl Park. With its British Christmas setting, this sounds just perfect for fall!

 For more Marvelous Monday Middle Grade posts, please check out Greg Pattridge's blog Always in the Middle.

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

ISWG: To Write in Summer

I don’t know about you, but I always make big writing plans for summer.

I used to read Dr Seuss' Please Try to Remember The First of Octember with my kids when they were little. In this hilarious book, the narrator keeps suggesting different outlandish wishes (like a skateboard TV?), and promising to deliver on the “First of Octember.” My boys loved it!

Sometimes I think summer is my Octember. Throughout the school year, especially in busy spring, I tell myself that I will have all the time in Octember the summer to finish that novel, write numerous short stories, submit my work, or [fill in the blank]. When June comes, my list of dreams is sky high.

But then August appears out of nowhere it seems, and I’m disappointed. I haven’t crossed everything off my “wait till Octember Summer” list.

I'm starting to realize my dreams are doomed to fail whether I call someday summer or Octember or retirement. If I put things off to some far off date, I'm not taking small steps now.
Who would not want to drink doodle delight?

So, my goal this summer is to set manageable goals. I will continue to revise my MG fantasy chapter by chapter revise. I'll do my short bursts of writing, like this blog and responding to writing prompts (my new favorite thing). And if I make some progress by August, I’ll call it good.

But even better, I won’t have worn myself so ragged that I will be able to continue those baby steps into September.

How do you pace your writing in the summer months?

This month’s question: What changes in the industry would you like to see?
I come at this from a reader's perspective: More middle grade stories that are geared to boy readers, more stories that appeal to kids (and not just teachers and librarians), and less darkness/political correctness.

For more information or to sign up for ISWG, go HERE