* “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”

Poached

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.

 

* Murder in School

It’s not what you think!  I’m innocent!

Murder in School is the second in a fantastic detective series by Bruce Beckham.  Murder in School

DI Daniel Skelgill is the unlikely name of the Cumbrian Detective who reminds me very much of Sherlock Holmes.  Skelgill is simply brilliant, and of course, totally eccentric  He doesn’t much care about social skills but inspires fierce loyalty in his two assistants, DS Jones and Leyton.  Skelgill has an insatiable appetite for bacon biscuits and tea, often at Leyton’s expense.  He is an avid fisherman, solid bowler (in cricket), and expert climber/rescuer of the Lake District.  Skelgill is often acerbic and swings wildly between humility and pride.  He’s one of those men who seems old before his time, perhaps because of his expert knowledge- or is it because he is rather set in his ways?

Murder in School showcases Skelgill’s oblique but intuitive approach to solving mysteries.  He is called upon to investigate the apparent suicide of a master at Oakthwaite School, which is followed by yet another suicide, with no shortage of possible suspects.  The situation worsens when the Chief’s son disappears and a hooded figure reveals a century-old cabal.  We watch Skelgill, such a humorous and sneaky bugger, reconnoiter crime scenes, scarf scones, and race the clock to rescue that poor student.

I greatly admire the writer, Bruce Beckham, who not only brings the Fells to life, but animates this page-turner with clever characters, wry humor, and an ending that defied my imagination.

I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!

* All the Little Children

All the Little Children,” by Jo Furniss, is fantastic.  You might think that an apocalyptic plot is overused these days, even passé, but this book will blow your socks off.  The story is set in northern England.  It could have taken place this week.  Marlene and her sister-in-law, Joni, have ventured on a camping trip deep in the woods with their kids.  The trip was precipitated by Marlene’s selfish husband’s need to have them “out of his hair” while he packed up to leave the family.   Marlene, a successful businesswoman, has always placed her work and her needs above those of her kids.  She’s even trying to hide in the trees, talking to a partner in China, when her phone stops working.  Then Peter climbs a tree and sees “volcanoes” across the countryside.  Their magical trip is transformed into a nightmare.  People are dead, animals are dying, and some local children- Wild Things- are left to fend for themselves.

All the Little Children

This is a book of stark contrasts, of lyrical writing amidst the buzz of flies on dead bodies.  Of selfishness and incredible sacrifice.  Of Lord of the Flies and the humorous antics of little kids.  I must share a quote to give you some sense of the author’s gift to her readers, of her ability to breathe vivid imagery into every moment.  Marlene tells the story as she searches for some Wild Things:

We traveled a land of little terrors, a place where one misstep might kill; one gulp of tainted air, one wound we couldn’t treat, one single bullet.  Death would be small.  Tiny.  It would snatch us in the space between one breath and the next.

All the Little Children” recounts Marlene’s transformation as she shepherds Joni and all the little lost ones.  As she is accused of murder by the very kids she struggles to save.  This is a terrifying book.  We see the world through Marlene’s eyes and wonder how we might cope in that wasteland.  The book ends abruptly but with hope.

And I do hope the author is working on another amazing story!

 

* Mark of the Plague

mark of the plague

A student just finished “Mark of the Plague,” the second in Kevin Sands’ Blackthorn Key series.  What a winner!  As in the first book, Christopher, an apothecary’s apprentice, gets caught up in mystery and death, with self-sacrificing best friend, Tom.  Christopher also renews a casual relationship with Sally, another former orphan from Cripplegate.

The year is 1665, the city is London, and the plague death toll is already 30,551.   The wealthy folks of London have fled and the remaining population lives mostly indoors, in dread of contracting “the sickness.”  Christopher is struggling to make ends meet after the death of Master Benedict and reverts to his usual love of pyrotechnics.  When an old friend, Isaac, gives them a paltry sum for shopping, he also describes a prophet who’s come to London, some extraordinary figure who can predict the course of the plague.  Isaac also shocks them by revealing that Master Benedict has left Christopher a hidden treasure, one that must be solved by following impossibly cryptic clues.   The boys head to the market, eventually rescuing Sally from ruffians on the streets, at least temporarily.  While at the Exchange, they are amazed by an apothecary, Galen, who claims to have a free plague cure.  From that point on, the three young friends find themselves in serious danger from all sides.

“Mark of the Plague” is an excellent mystery for middle schoolers and up, with complex characters and a battle against evil machinations and a devastating illness.  There are a number of significant themes in the book, drawn against a backdrop of bizarre plague remedies, minds overwhelmed by grief, and cruel greed.  The author faithfully represents this time of despair while leading his main characters through life-and-death struggles and into a newfound freedom.  Students will marvel at the complexity of the plot, which is equally likely to stump adult readers.  And the ending?  Even more remarkable than the previous book.

I highly recommend “Mark of the Plague” and await the third in The Blackthorn series, “The Assassin’s Curse.”  

* The One True Love of Alice-Ann

Enthralling.  Captivating.  I was shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann.  I could not put it down until I’d read it from cover to cover.  Alice-Ann was more like a movie than a book.  The author, Eva Marie Everson, has created a full screen novel of life in a sleepy southern town in 1941.  When Pearl Harbor was attacked.  When young men rushed eagerly to war.  When an awkward 16 year old falls in love- or does she?  And when the men don’t return, or come back broken in body and spirit.

Why was I shocked by The One True Love of Alice-Ann?  Because romance novels are at the bottom of my reading list.  Give me a detective or legal thriller, please.  Yet this book amazed me.  I crouched in Alice-Ann’s bedroom, watching her weep over precious letters from the man of her fantasies.  I hid behind the door as she tended to a friend who came home blinded and crippled.  I eavesdropped on Alice-Ann’s conversations with her father, aunt, friends.  I heard her crying.  I watched her grow up in a time of great despair.

Alice-Ann was an inspiration to me, and I’m 50+ years older!  She served and loved and judged and prayed and cried.  Wait a minute.  Alice-Ann is not real, is she?  Eva Marie Everson has a gift, folks.  Whatever your preferred genre of books, The One True Love of Alice-Ann should be on your reading list.  Read it in full technicolor.  You won’t be disappointed. Alice-Ann

* The Blackthorn Key

The Blackthorn Key

Written by Kevin Sands, The Blackthorn Key is a thrilling mystery for older kids, set in London in the 1600s.  Christopher Rowe is the main character, a 14 year-old orphan who has been apprenticed to an apothecary.  His master, Benedict Blackthorn, treats Christopher with uncommon kindness and respect while teaching him the skills to become an apothecary in his own right.  Ultimately, Christopher and his friend, Tom, find themselves in a desperate battle against the Cult of the Archangel, which has been systematically murdering apothecaries in London.  The mystery is enhanced by the use of clever ciphers, secret dungeons, and unusual medicinal remedies.  And which of the realistic characters can the boys trust?  Will Christopher decode the clues within clues in time to save himself and others?

I used this book as a read aloud and would not suggest it for kids below middle school due to the graphic violence, which I filtered out.  Axes and swords make for messy battles, along with a brief torture scene using acid.  Kids will love Christopher’s penchant for blowing things up; the tender relationship between him and his master/father figure is a bit of a tear-jerker.  Kevin Sands accurately portrays the era, with its dreadful sanitation, political intrigues, and abuses of power.  We are transported to a time when people used poop on sores and drank poppy tea as a pain reliever.  There are a few anachronistic references, primarily verbal expressions, but this book could easily spark a study of British history, ciphers, and medicine.  And explosives!

The Blackthorn Key is a 5-star read, even for adults.  I’ve already started the sequel, Mark of the Plague, which is another winner!

* Soho thriller

The book I’m reviewing is called “Soho Dead,” but I didn’t want that title blaring across the screen because I have many British readers.  You have suffered so much horror and loss in the past months and we are all saddened on this side of the puddle.  Tough times.

I’ve just finished “Soho Dead” by Greg Keen and now must wait over a year for the next installment of this thriller series.  Boo hoo!  The protagonist is Kenny Gabriel, a far-from-angelic skip-tracer with a core of integrity under a cloud of depression.  We view Soho and its motley citizens through Kenny’s clever, bleak, and self-deprecating humor.  At 57, his bank balance is low, he relies on his brother for a place to live, and has a no-talk, all-sex relationship with Stephanie.

As the book opens, Kenny is trying to decide whether he should take an antidepressant.  In short order, after agreeing to hunt down a missing daughter, Kenny’s life becomes an unpredictable boxing match.  With Kenny wearing a blindfold.  Will he go down for the count?  Kenny’s entangled in his own past relationships and mistakes, all the while hunting for a killer among a diverse group of suspects.  At one point, Kenny himself is charged with murder.  I was stunned at the ending because the author is that clever.  I also like happy endings and this one delivers just enough hope to sustain me until the sequel is published.  Keen lives in Soho, so the book rings true in every scene.  This would make a marvelous movie, in part because the author adds a strong visual component, not to mention action at every turn.

Soho Dead” is a terrific read, perhaps a much-needed distraction for folks in the midst of genuine disasters.

Soho Dead

 

* TToT again!

It’s bad news, good news this week.

#1.  Bad news: After a loooong week, I have been working on paperwork most of the day and my eyes are swimming.  Good news:  I finished a lot of it!

#2.  Bad news:  I lost October 2016.  I mean I lost my lesson plans for a student.  I have the digital version but no notes.  Good news:  I found October!  It was just incorrectly stapled.  More good news:  I threw away some clutter in the hunting process.

#3.  Bad news:  I have not been able to wean my foot from the compression boot.  Good news:  I said, “Whatever!” and tossed the heavy thing aside.  More good news: My foot has been fine all day.

#4.  Bad news:  I did waste a little time playing Mahjong today.   Good news:  I beat an expert level that had defied me for weeks.  Yes, the game was taunting me.

#5.  Bad news:  I did not get much accomplished with my online classes today.  Good news:  Tomorrow is another day.

#6.  Bad news:  My dearest teaching widower had to work all day, too.  Good news:  I was able to help him on a project without getting snappy.  Oh, right, I never get snappy.

#7.  Bad news:  I lied in #6.  Good news:  I only lied about never getting snappy.  I really did help him without getting snappy TODAY.  And I am running out of news, folks.

#8.  Bad news:  There is no sequel to the sequel of The Dying and the Dead.  Good news:  Sequel #1 was great and featured a brave young boy.

#9.  Bad news:  I may not finish the Color Your World blogging challenge.  Good news:  I can try again next year.  More good news:  I have a whole year to take more colorful photos!

#10:  Bad news:  I have nothing else to add.  Good news:  I did not gripe about the clutter in the house, the laundry that needs to be washed, or the pile of mulch in our driveway that needs to be spread somewhere, anywhere.  More good news:  I am reading a cool detective thriller called The Murderer’s Son by Joy Ellis.  A terrific read about a guy who thinks he is a serial killer.  Is he?  I don’t know yet but it will be fun to find out.  Mama was the Blonde Butcher.  Oh dear, what a legacy.

Have a great week, dear readers!

The Murderer's Son

* The Dying and the Dead

The Dying and the Dead.jpg

Oh yeah, zombies at full tilt!  Jack lewis has written a zombie thriller AND it has a sequel!  The Dying and the Dead: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller doesn’t disappoint.  That hideous mask on the cover belongs to Charles Bull, a regular guy turned bounty hunter for the Capita.  In a world full of the infected, those hanging on by a thread (and face masks), and the immune, the Capita is searching for a cure- all the while grasping power by any means.

Lewis heads each chapter with a main character’s name: Heather, Ed, and Charles.  Each person is a complex individual who struggles with the unimaginable (except that we’ve all seen zombie flicks so we know how bad it is).  My favorite is Heather, perhaps because she’s a teacher.  She turns a blind eye as “an immune,” a young student named Jenny, is yanked away from her class by Charles and his soldiers.  Heather feels guilt but rationalizes her indifference.  When her own daughter is at risk, Heather finally engages the enemy.  Heather becomes quite formidable, but saving her child is a long shot.

Ed is a young man who has locked himself away emotionally for years; at first I thought he was autistic.  He cannot hide from the airborne virus that is carried to the remote island where he’s hidden himself away.  And Charles?  His reasons for becoming a monster are also revealed, but I’m not telling.

This horror story is set in England and the landscape reminds me of my childhood days.  Zombie-free, of course.  It turns out that Jack Lewis and I were both born in Lancashire, so perhaps that’s why the book feels like home.  Except for flesh-eating critters.  I’m sure the ending will leave you hunting out the sequel.  I’ve just started book 2 and it promises to be a great as the original!