* To prep or not to prep

I just greedily devoured the five Alex Fletcher books by Steven Konkoly. Ooh-rah! I am ready to stockpile food and water and toilet paper. In the first book, The Jakarta Pandemic, Alex struggles through PTSD to save his family from the collapse of American society. His innate paranoia kicks into insane levels, but Konkoly makes the plot eerily realistic. Just how do you survive a contagious virus that triggers mass hysteria and a loss of infrastructure? I’m thinking a chocolate stash…..

Konkoly draws upon his military experience for amazing realism in The Perseid Collapse, an “event” that forms the basis for the final four books of the Alex Fletcher series. This event crumbles the United States, which had barely recovered from the pandemic of a few years before. Alex is better prepared this time but the stakes are higher. The event, which many speculate is an EMP, or asteroid, leads to a collapse of all the major cities, electronics failure, and a flood of refugees. Alex is on a mission to rescue his son from Boston, getting trapped between hastily assembled marines and militias.

The final three books remind me of Tom Clancy’s or Robert Ludlum’s style in their complexity and global focus, with heroic characters giving their all as the world changes mightily after the collapse of the US. And Alex continues his single-minded focus on saving his family and friends. Konkoly creates a well-developed character in Alex Fletcher, along with a wide cast of supporting folks. An interesting theme in these books is the conflict between “government conspiracy” folks and the military. I don’t know how such an apocalypse might fall out (pun intended), but our house is not prepared for any of it. I’m off to buy some chocolate.

* More on the good news about misbehavior

I am still processing the excellent book, “The Good News About Bad Behavior,” by Katherine Reynolds Lewis. Lewis describes four types of parenting styles (and I like to think of them as teaching styles, too): authoritative, authoritarian, indulgent, and uninvolved.

If you are a parent or teacher, which style best describes you? Do you use punishment and rewards to control your kids? Do you try to be their best friend? Are you distant or spend most of your time at work or away? Are you mostly concerned about “covering the material” without connecting emotionally?

Lewis argues that an authoritative parenting style is most effective. Could you be described as a calm adult who holds kids responsible but allows them to learn from mistakes? Do you refrain from criticizing while allowing kids to experience natural consequences?

One important takeaway from examining parenting styles is that it’s okay to be our imperfect selves. When upset, we are more likely to regress to the type of parenting style we experienced, which may have been authoritarian or indulgent. If we are honest with kids, admitting that we messed up or missed what they needed, we teach them that we can learn from mistakes- and so can they. We are modeling a healthy response to imperfection.

Notice that communicating about problems is key to effective parenting and teaching. More on that next!

* “The Great Shelby Holmes”

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The Great Shelby Holmes,” by Elizabeth Eulberg, is a terrific mystery for upper elementary and middle school students.  It’s a semi-spoof of Sherlock Holmes, but the characters and plot are definitely a stand alone.  Set in Harlem, John Watson and his mom (former army doctor in Afghanistan) are starting a new civilian life.  John’s parents have just divorced, he’s living off-post for the first time, and their arrival at their new apartment is met with a BANG!  Shelby Holmes, a 9-year-old prodigy going into 6th grade, has conducted a “harmless” experiment in her apartment at 221B Baker Street.  And it gets more complicated from there!

John is a budding writer who will be attending an arts-focused charter school.  Until he met Shelby, his journal had been bare for the past few months.  The changes in his life have been painful, he hadn’t made any friends, and school will start in a few weeks.  He is amazed at Shelby’s deductive abilities (so was I!) and ends up entangled in the mystery of a missing dog.  Their adventure reignites John’s interest in writing as he chronicles the amazing ups and downs of this complex mystery set in New York City.

John and Shelby could not be more different.  He is a social kid, eager to make new friends, and Shelby is an odd individual who appears to disdain social norms.  This mystery, with its hilarious events, uncertain relationships, and tender moments, is a life-changing experience for both Shelby and Watson (a moniker used by Shelby since he’ll be the third John in their class).  John must come to grips with his parents’ divorce, caustic remarks by Shelby, and the conflict surrounding this unusual mystery.  Shelby is also forced to confront her asocial behavior and perhaps admit that she actually needs John’s help.

One aspect I especially enjoyed about this book is its racial perspective.  Readers with the “white privilege” perspective may be surprised that John is black.  And just as I often hear white folks describe that “black doctor” or that “black kid,” John does refer to “white kids” but makes no special reference to black folks.  It would be perfect if none of us felt the need to make those distinctions, but it’s refreshing to see the world through nonwhite eyes.  More on that in the next book in this series, “The Great Shelby Holmes Meets Her Match.

I highly recommend this entertaining and thoughtful book.  It will keep you guessing- and laughing- throughout!

* Panda-Monium

Panda-Monium, the 4th mystery in Stuart Gibbs’ FunJungle series, tops them all!  Teddy Fitzroy is back, this time with a girlfriend, in another hilarious and complex plot.  FunJungle is eagerly awaiting the arrival of Li Ping, a panda on loan from China.  Imagine their horror when the carefully designed truck arrives and Li Ping has disappeared!  This time, Teddy is relieved to take a back seat to the FBI investigation.  Or so he hopes.

Teddy’s nemesis, Marge O’Malley (the security officer who has been forever accusing him of every mishap at FunJungle), blackmails him into searching for solutions.  Marge is desperate to show up her pompous and condescending sister, FBI agent Molly O’Malley.  What are the odds that these two would end up at the same crime scene?  Teddy has faced black mambas, tigers, and sharks in previous FunJungle books, but Panda-Monium takes danger to a whole new level.  And the catastrophes are truly uproarious.  Although written for middle schoolers and above, I was also laughing wildly at Teddy’s adventures with dolphins and polar bears.

Stuart Gibbs continues to weave in other topics of interest to his readers, including bullying, friendships, and school cultures.  All of these are painted with the same outrageous humor but keep the book grounded in relevant topics.  Teddy is at his most determined, insightful, and clever, but I’ll leave you to enjoy the unveiling of the villains.  I will say that one of my favorite scenes was Marge driving a golf cart wildly through FunJungle, with poor Teddy and Summer hanging on for dear life.  Or maybe it was the polar bear disaster, which reveals a better side of Marge while still reminding us that she is clueless.

Panda-Monium has “perfect-for-a-movie” written all over it.  I hope you enjoy it!

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*** I only review books which I can highly recommend.  I read a lot of 3 -and 4-star books, but it’s the 5-star winners which make it to my blog. ***

* Before you self-publish

By Derek Haines on Just Publishing Advice: Before you self-publish your new book, make sure you are ready Too often, new authors get carried away with all the excitement of becoming a published author and rush way too fast into self-publishing. When this is done, without working on building the necessary marketing and promotional tools […]

via What You Need To Do Before You Self-Publish Your First Book… — Chris The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Thanks to Chris The Story Reading Ape for sharing this helpful post.  I’ve read a number of books that completely skipped step one- ouch!  That error ruins a book for me.

* “Blood on the Tracks”

Blood on the Tracks

Blood on the Tracks” is a gripping thriller by Barbara Nickless.  It’s the first in a series featuring Sydney Rose Parnell, a Denver railroad police officer (and who knew that occupation even existed?).  Sydney Rose is not your average cop.  For starters, she was a Marine who served in Mortuary Affairs in Iraq.  That meant scooping up what was left of soldiers after IEDs.  In her case it also meant PTSD, which included seeing the ghosts of those who died.  When her special ops boyfriend had been blown to shreds, she inherited his Malinois, Clyde, a military working dog also suffering from PTSD.

Sydney Rose is on the trail of The Burned Man, a badly scarred veteran aimlessly riding the railcars of the west.  He is suspected of murdering Elise, a kind-hearted woman who befriends hobos.  Sydney Rose teams up with Detective Cohen in this page-turning, heart-pounding novel.  The author skillfully weaves a memorable story through and around the Iraqi war and its fallout.

Each chapter begins with a written quote from Sydney Rose, usually a paragraph from her journal, a newspaper interview, or a class paper.  Written in first person, we see the world through Sydney Rose’s compelling lens.  She is a courageous woman, invariably employing dark humor in her fight for sanity, her quest for normalcy.  “Blood on the Tracks” will challenge and grip you, right to the end.  Enjoy!

*** I only review books which I can highly recommend.  I read a lot of 3 -and 4-star books, but it’s the 5-star winners which make it to my blog. ***

 

 

* The Assassin’s Curse

The Assassin’s Curse,” the third book of the Blackthorn Key series by Kevin Sands, is another winner!  Christopher Rowe, apothecary apprentice, has been drawn into a complex and dangerous mission.  His friends, Tom and Sally, accompany him to the king’s chambers in England and onward to the Louvre in France.  Christopher’s mission?  Solving a centuries-old curse on the French throne.  This Blackthorn Key book will continue to delight middle school readers (and adults!) with its twists and turns, wild antics, and unusual cyphers.

The Assassin's Curse

From the outset, Christopher and his accomplices battle an unknown assassin, a man of great strength and cunning.  Christopher relies heavily upon his poignant memories of Master Benedict for strength and insight in a race to save the entire royal family of France.  Kevin Sands weaves a complex plot through the streets of Paris, its nasty cemetery of rotting bodies, and the bizarre adoration of Louis XIV.  Yes, we get to watch the Sun King as he awakens and eats breakfast.  Yikes!  And yes, there are deaths in this book (although not as many as in Mark of the Plague!).

With so much to enjoy, I especially appreciated Master Benedict’s legacy of love for Christopher, the resolution that Sally finds in Paris, and the delightfully complex clues which lead our valiant threesome into a fight for their lives.  The Assassin’s Curse is played out on a vast scale but still highlights Tom’s loyalty, Christopher’s sharp mind, and the dark humor which will have you laughing out loud.  The ending is intense and the outcome seems dire.  It’s a masterpiece of mystery, of a battle between good and evil.  To cap it off, the author leaves us hanging….  There MUST be a fourth in this series!

 

*** I only review books which I can highly recommend.  I read a lot of 3 -and 4-star books, but it’s the 5-star winners which make it to my blog. ***

* “The Naturalist”

What a terrific thriller!  Dr. Theo Cray is The Naturalist, a bioinformatics professor.  A computational biologist.  Huh?  Trust me, you’ll find out what that means.  The author, Andrew Mayne, lets Theo tell the story from his brilliant, socially awkward perspective.  The action begins with a flashback to a savage animal attack in Montana; in the next chapter, unsuspecting Theo sits with plastic bags on his hands at the police station.  And it goes downhill -and uphill -from there.

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Theo keeps telling himself to stay clear of the murderous tangle in a backwoods town, but he can’t help himself.  The police wish he would just clear out, but Theo keeps the body count rising.  He is willing to sacrifice everything to save others and bring an evil creature to justice.  Theo’s clever mind and computer analyses detect patterns which expose horrendous events and put him in grave danger.  Even so, I laughed out loud at his perspective, even in the most suspenseful scenes.  The Naturalist is so unusual, yet incredibly realistic, that I also found myself giggling with anxiety as Theo prepares for his own death.

It’s hard to describe The Naturalist without spoiling the wild plot.  If you enjoy science, thrillers, brilliant deductions, and things that go bump in the night, this book’s for you!

* “Skywalkers”

Skywalkers: Mohawk Ironworkers Build the City” is not about Luke or other sci fi characters.  It’s a terrific nonfiction read on the role of the Mohawk people in building our country’s skyscrapers- and much more.  Written for middle to high school plus, this book is a surprising page-turner.  The author, David Weitzman, takes us from the early culture of the Mohawk people to their present day role as ironworkers and bridge builders.

Skywalkers

This book is fascinating, with marvelous photographs dating back to the 1800s.  Weitzman’s use of primary source info, such as interviews and written commentaries, bring each chapter to life.  For kiddos who are curious about construction, native peoples, bridge disasters, and more, this book is riveting (pun intended)!  The author explores myths and legends about the famous Mohawk ironworkers, including the sobering realities of building our cities.  You will be amazed at the skills, the sacrifices, and the grit of these people.  While this book has a social studies emphasis, it also presents the complex math of construction and the role of engineers and architects.  “Skywalkers” will forever change the way you view our city skylines.

In case you’re wondering how I found this gem, it was recommended reading for Camp Wonderopolis 2017.  You can check out that site for other books with a STEM focus.

* “Poached”

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Poached” by Stuart Gibbs is a middle school kid-friendly mystery on steroids! The second in Gibbs’ FunJungle series, Teddy Fitzroy continues to run amok while being accused of stealing Kazoo the koala.  The book rocks with slapstick comedy, unexpected twists, complex characters, and loads of suspects.  Gibbs seamlessly includes an abundance of interesting info on animals in the context of the fictional FunJungle, a state of the art animal theme park/zoo.

Why is this a significantly improved follow-up to the original, “Belly Up?”  First, the author now steers clear of profanity, which is totally unnecessary in a kids’ book.  Second, we follow Teddy as he actually leaves FunJungle to attend school (OK, the other book took place during the summer break), where a bullying gang selects him as a prime target.  The school setting allows Gibbs to both strengthen his characters and introduce topics of interest to middle schoolers, including cliques and crushes.  Vance and his twin accomplices (cleverly named TimJim) coerce Teddy into pranking at FunJungle, although Teddy has always been quite mischievous without any pressure.  Another improvement in Poached is the author’s deemphasis on the weight of characters.  The first book made fun of obesity, which is a no-no in my opinion.  Teddy’s parents do a lot more than just listen to him in this second mystery; not only are their jobs are on the line if Teddy has poached Kazoo but they are acting more like responsible adults.  Finally, Gibbs has amped up his clever array of suspects, keeping us in suspense until the very end.

I used the first book as a read-aloud with a lot of on-the-spot editing, but wouldn’t have any qualms about this book in the hands of middle schoolers.  It’s a 5-star read with a very satisfying conclusion.