Greenglass House by Kate Milford

Setting: Wintertime, almost Christmas, in an old four-story smugglers’ inn at the top of Whilforber Hill near the village of Nagspeake. Each floor of the inn has a beautiful stained glass window, and the guest rooms also have greenglass windows and old-fashioned, but comfortable furniture. There’s an attic full of treasures and junk, and the inn has outbuildings and a garage to explore, too. Plenty of room for mystery, treasure-hunting, and clues.

Characters: Milo Pine, the innkeepers’ adopted son, Mr. and Mrs. Pine, Milo’s parents, and several mysterious, unexpected guests.

Plot: Milo and his friend Meddy attempt to solve the mystery of Greenglass House and its history by taking on roles as players in a role-playing game. Milo is a blackjack, and Meddy is his scholiast.

Almost every review I read of this little gem of a book compared it either to The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin’s Newbery winner and mystery classic, or to Agatha Christie. And without having read those reviews beforehand, I also thought of The Westing Game and of Christie’s The Mousetrap or other books where the cast is snowed in or otherwise isolated (And Then There Were None). Greenglass House is not your typical children’s mystery story. In fact, you can read about three unspoken rules that author Kate Milford breaks in her novel, to the betterment of the story IMHO, in Betsy Bird’s insightful review at A Fuse #8 Production

I noticed, and enjoyed, the loving and involved adoptive parents. Mr. and Mrs. Pine are very busy with their inn and their unexpected guests, but not too busy to check on Milo and to do things with him and for him to make his Christmas special. I also liked the fact the the story is set at Christmastime. And it feels like an old-fashioned Christmas with a Christmas tree, a Christmas Eve gift for Milo, father/son sledding, hot chocolate by the fire, and story-telling. The setting is indeterminate, sort of Victorian with no cell phones or computers in evidence, but also modern with an electric generator for back-up electricity and up-to-date speech patterns and behavior. So that gives Christmas at Greenglass House a timeless feel.

Milo is a great protagonist, too. He’s very conscientious; he does all of his homework on the first day of vacation so that he can have the rest of the holidays to play. He’s resistant to change, but also intelligent and adventurous. He and Meddy make a good team since she inspires and encourages him to step out and use his imagination to solve the mysteries that the two of them encounter.

Greenglass House would be a lovely Christmas read-aloud book for a class or a family in the holiday mystery mood. I recommend it.

Nagspeake Online: The Nagspeake Board of Tourism and Culture.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click on a book cover here to go to Amazon and buy something, I receive a very small percentage of the purchase price.
This book is also nominated for a Cybil Award, but the views expressed here are strictly my own and do not reflect or determine the judging panel’s opinions.

Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne

This 2014 middle grade adventure is a companion novel to the author’s Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking, a book I read and enjoyed last year when it came out. In this “14 Day Mystery” Moxie’s friend Ollie steps up and becomes the featured character and detective and lead treasure hunter as he searches for pirate treasure at his Wilderness Scout camp.

There’s danger, boy pranks, camping stuff, and island adventure. Ollie goes to Wilderness Scout camp to get himself out of the media spotlight after his and Moxie’s solving of the (in)famous Gardner art heist. I wanted to adopt Ollie in the first book, and in this one he just gets better and more adorable. He’s a little bit tired of being seen as the sidekick, so when one of the adults at camp asks him to help find a pirate treasure, he can’t really turn down the opportunity—’cause after all, it’s pirate treasure!

The book includes some boys-will-be-boys sneaking and pranking that didn’t offend me, but might be too much for some adult readers. And the whole finding of the long lost pirate treasure rather easily and accidentally is a little bit unbelievable. But hey, go with it and enjoy the ride. How many books have you read lately about kids and pirate’s treasure?

You can go back into the out of print archives:
Mystery in the Pirate Oak by Helen Fuller Orton. I used to read Ms. Orton’s mysteries when I was a kid of a girl. Good children’s mystery books.
Ghost in the Noonday Sun by Sid Fleischman. Oliver FInch, because he was born exactly at midnight, has the ability to see ghosts. And the pirates who kidnap him need his help to to get to a treasure guarded by ghosts, of course. Fleischman wrote lots of funny adventure stories just right for a rollicking good time.
Captain Kidd’s Cat. The True Chronicle of Wm. Kidd, Gent. and Merchant of New York as narrated by His Ship’s Cat, McDermott, Who ought to know by Robert Lawson. Not as well known as Lawson’s other animal-narrated historical chronicles, Ben and Me and Mr. Revere and I, but this story of Captain Kidd is written in the same style and just as fun and informative. By the way, I think I may be related to Captain Kidd. At least I have some Kidds in my family tree.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. Classic story of the boy, Jim Hawkins, and the pirate, Long John Silver.

But for contemporary piratical adventures, I’m drawing a blank. (I did find my review of Deadweather and Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey, but it’s not exactly set in the twenty-first century, more Dickensian.)

Do you like to read treasure hunt adventures? Do you know of any good pirate treasure books I didn’t mention?

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing by Sheila Turnage

The author of 2013 Newbery Honor winner Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage, has a new book set in Tupelo Landing and featuring the world famous Desperado Detective Agency, run by detective Moses (Mo) LoBeau and her sidekick Dale Earnhardt Johnson III.

Mo is a high-powered, rush in where angels fear to tread, dynamo of a sixth grade detective, and her partner Dale, who must be told when not to answer rhetorical questions, “has a flair for the obvious.” Together, they bait a bona-fide ghost girl, search for a still-working still, and talk straight to some very crooked crooks. While Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacy accidentally purchase a haunted and dilapidated inn, Mo and Dale try to interview the ghost for extra credit on their history project. And somehow the new boy in town, Harm Crenshaw, becomes a friend and ally in their interview and detective endeavors.

I’m now anxious to go back and read the first novel featuring Mo and Dale, Three Times Lucky, so I guess that’s as good a recommendation for this one as there could be. The ghost in the novel is a real ghost, so if you don’t believe in ghosts or if you just don’t want them in your children’s books, this one would be a skip. However, I’d recommend swallowing the ghostly visitor, not to mention the ghost cars that I hadn’t mentioned yet, whole, for the sake of the characters and the descriptions.

Here’s a few samples of Mo’s take on life, and love, and detecting, exerpted from the text nearly at random:

“Anna Celeste liked Dale for a few days this summer and then dumped him like a truckload of bad meat. She about broke his heart.”

“‘Rat Face,’ I muttered. I would have said more, but Miss Lana don’t allow cursing. She does allow the creative use of animal names.”

“Friday evening, as I sat in my room contemplating the evils of fractions in general and common denominators in particular, my vintage bedside phone jangled. ‘Mo’s flat, Mo speaking,’ I said. I possess killer telephone skills.”

“When it coms to homework, the only excuse Miss Retzyl takes is Precise Death–death that happens to the Precise Student and not to a relative. If they have known relatives.”

“When the lunch bell finally jangled, I cut Dale from the stampede and edged him toward the hall. I didn’t ask about the test. Dale is to word problems as ship is to the Bermuda Triangle.”

“Usually I have a river of words flowing in me. Now my river ran dry.”

“Before long, we all got good. Lavender looked like a movie star, dancing with Miss Retzyl’s sister, and then with every woman and pre-woman there—including me. ‘You look beautiful, Mo,’ he said, holding out his hand. ‘Dance with me?’
Even the stars smiled.”

Like the samples? You’ll like the book. It’s got what Mo would call “voices smooth as butter and moves sweet as Miss Lana’s blackberry jam.” You won’t want to miss it.

QOTD: Do you like ghost stories? What’s your favorite ghost story?

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

There are a few authors I could read all day, all week, and never get tired of their books, their characters, and their writing style. Whereas some authors I read and enjoy but then need a break—Dickens or John Grisham or even Tolkien. Others are so delightful and amusing and light-hearted that I could take a steady diet and not feel too over-filled or burdened. P.G. Wodehouse, Jan Karon, Agatha Christie (well, maybe not “light-hearted”), and Alexander McCall Smith fall into the latter category.

Mr. McCall Smith has written several series of novels set in various locales, and I’ve enjoyed at least a few of the books in each series:

Corduroy Mansions in London
44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh, Scotland,
The Isabel Dalhousie novels, also in Scotland,
Professor Dr. von Igelfeld novels in Germany and other settings,
and of course, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency set in Botswana, Africa.

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon is the latest, and perhaps greatest, of this best-selling detective series. I enjoyed the contrasting of modern ways and the old conservative ways of traditional Botswanan culture—and the compromises between the two. I enjoyed the two mysteries and their cozy solutions. I enjoyed the continued unfolding of the friendship between Precious Ramotswe and her assistant Grace Makutsi. And Mma Ramotswe’s husband Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni continued to work in this book as in others at loving and caring for his traditionally built and professionally astute helpmeet. The supporting cast in this series also make an appearance and add to the story, each in his own way: Mma Potokwane, Phuti Radiphuti, and the apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell.

A couple of quotes, just to brighten your day and give you something to think about:

On forgiveness:
“She had forgiven him, yes, but she still did not like to remember. And perhaps a deliberate act of forgetting went along with forgiveness. You forgave, and then you said to yourself: Now I shall forget. Because if you did not forget, then your forgiveness would be tested, perhaps many times and in ways that you could not resist, and you might go back to anger, and to hating.”

On beauty:
“You could be very glamorous and beautiful on the outside, but if inside you were filled with human faults—jealousy, spite, and the like—then no amount of exterior beauty could make up for that. Perhaps there was some sort of lemon juice for inside beauty . . . And even as she thought of it, she realized what it was love and kindness. Love was the lemon juice that cleansed and kindness was the aloe that healed.”

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This Sherlock Holmes tribute starts off slowly, but the pace picks up about halfway through when the author has finished setting up the relationship between Holmes and his teenage, female apprentice, Mary Russell. Mary, a sharp-eyed, feminist mirror image of Holmes himself, is, from the beginning of their acquaintance, mach more actively involved in Sherlock Holmes’ experiments and detection than was the ever-admiring, but frequently dim-witted Watson. Russell, as Holmes calls her, becomes Sherlock Holmes’ protege, and eventually his equal partner in sleuthing as the two of them face off with an enemy even more subtle and diabolical than the deceased Moriarty.

I had a good friend in high school/college days who was a great fan of Sherlock Holmes. I preferred Nero Wolfe or Miss Marple. I wish I knew where Winona was. I would definitely recommend The Beekeeper’s Apprentice to her—and to any other Sherlockian mystery fans, at least those who aren’t offended by the non-canonical addition of a female genius apprentice who sometimes outdoes even the Great Sherlock Holmes himself in her deductions and observations.

I’m in the middle of the second book of the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, and the feminist themes are definitely predominating in this one. However, the plot and characters and the writing are all stellar, and I’m definitely in for the long haul, unless the quality goes down or the feminist* propaganda gets to be too much. I’m looking forward to getting to know Ms. King’s version of Sherlock Holmes and his (now) partner, Mary Russell, over the course of twelve books.

*I would never use the word “feminist” to describe myself because the term has way too many connotations and associations that are anti-Christian and anti-male. However, Mary Russell’s version of feminism, so far (only in the second book), has much to recommend it. Ms. Russell is an independent and highly intelligent young woman who is learning how to relate to and older male mentor in a way that is dignified and and at the same time grateful for the things that he is able to teach her. So far, I like Mary Russell very much.

Andi Unexpected by Amanda Flower

51FJbLEKjeL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Andi Unexpected reminded me of the simple mystery stories I read when I was nine and ten and eleven years old, nothing profound or even memorable, just a good solid mystery story for middle grade kids who like that sort of thing.

After the death of their scientist parents in the jungles of Central America, Andi and her older sister Bethany move in with their Aunt Amelie. While cleaning out the attic, Andi discovers a hidden closet and a mystery. Who is the mysterious Andora, who shares Andi’s name? Why does no one want to talk about her? Why are the local museum director and a history professor from the nearby college so interested in Andora’s story?

I felt as if a few of the plot points were a little rushed or unexplained. Andi says at one point that Andora is her great-aunt, but I wasn’t sure how she knew this bit of geneological information. I never understood how Andi’s parents decided to name her Andora after a mysterious woman that, according to the story, no one really knew by that name. Nevertheless, for fans of The Boxcar Children or series mysteries of that genre and reading level, Andi Unexpected may be just right. It looks as if Andi Unexpected is itself the beginning of a series.

Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner

51bBg4pRNuL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Quentin, Sarah, Ben and Cat are kids with one thing in common: they each experienced a head injury that brought them to the International Center for Advanced Neurology (I-CAN) to try to recover their brain and themselves. As Cat says, “The most terrifying thing about hitting your head so hard is when you wake up missing a piece of yourself. . . Things you could once do–kick a soccer ball without losing your balance, play air guitar with your best friend, climb in a kayak, or stand steady on the houseboat deck to pinch dead blossoms off the geraniums–all gone. Erased. Whole pieces of you are missing because your brain bumped against your skull.”

I still remember reading the best-selling medical thriller Coma by Robin Cook back in 1977 or 1978 when it first was published. It may have been that book plus a few personal experiences with doctors that made me lose faith in the medical profession. Since then, lots of “medical thrillers” have been written and consumed both by me and by the general reading public. And we probably trust doctors and the entire medical profession only a little more than we trust the government and politicians. All this to say, Wake Up Missing is not going to help the younger generation to become any more trusting than I was/am.

It’s a middle grade novel, but it is scary. “Something about this clinic isn’t right,” and Cat and her new friends may not be well enough in the brain to figure out what’s wrong before the evil mad scientist doctors mess up their brains for good. It’s a tad on the unbelievable side, but with some willing suspension of disbelief, it’s an enjoyable ride.

If you like this book, then I’d suggest:
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Stewart.

The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester.

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen.

The Storm Makers by Jennifer E. Smith.

Hold Fast by Blue Balliet

Betsy-bee loves Blue Balliet’s books–Chasing Vermeer, The Wright 3, and The Calder Game— which incorporate art education and mystery and adventure to make up a lovely, colorful mixture of a read. She might like this one, too, even though it’s different. It’s set in Chicago, but it’s not a Chicago of art museums and art thieves. Instead Hold Fast is about a family of four, Dashel and Summer, the parents, and Early and her little brother, Jubie (short for Jubilation). Dash works as library page at the Harold Washington Public Library, and he’s “a man who love[s] language almost as much as color or taste or air.”

“Words are everywhere and for everyone. They’re for choosing, admiring, keeping, giving. They are treasures of inestimable value. . . . Words are free and plentiful!”

51tNF5vxWjL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_The above quote is an example of the way Early’s father, Dash, talks about words and books and learning and, well, life. He’s a whimsical, poetic, word-lover sort of guy, and unfortunately he gets mixed up with a rough crowd by mistake. Early and Jubie and Sum end up separated from Dash and living in a homeless shelter. Everyone, including the police, thinks Dash has run away because he might be involved in criminal activity. But Early knows her father is a man of honor and responsibility. Dash will come back to the family, and they will prove his innocence and fulfill their family dream of having a real house someday.

The book is confusing at first. But if a reader can get past the first couple of chapters, this one is a keeper. Early has a voice that shines, or resonates, or whatever the right word is. And she’s quite as concerned about words and how to use them and treasure them as her father is. I doubt there are many families like Dashsumearlyjubie (yes, that’s what Early calls her family in the book), but I doubt there are many families quite like mine either. Or yours. Happy families are not all the same, no matter what Mr. Tolstoy said, and unhappy families are only happy families that have given up in some way or another. Quirky, unique, eccentric, whatever you want to call us, our families have personalities, too. And I really enjoyed the author’s portrayal of Dashsumearlyjubie and the plot of how they were pulled apart and eventually knit back together through faith and perseverance.

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking by Erin Dionne

Moxie and the Art of Rule Breaking: A 14 Day Mystery by Erin Dionne.

“Early in the morning of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers overwhelmed the security guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and then spent over an hour alone in the building, stealing thirteen pieces of priceless art. These masterpieces have yet to be found.”

51WX81hz2gL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Now, if that’s not a set-up for a middle grade mystery adventure novel, I don’t know what is. I read this one just after reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliet, and I had to keep reminding myself that Balliet’s novel was the jewel heist. This one was by another author, Erin Dionne, and took place in Boston, not Chicago. Nevertheless, fans of Balliet’s Chasing Vermeer or The Calder Game would probably be drawn into this tale of Moxie Fleece and her friend Ollie and their dangerous, but exciting, search for the artworks stolen from Gardner museum more than twenty years ago.

I’ve read a couple of other books by Ms. Dionne, and I really think she’s hit her stride with this story. Moxie is a little too sassy for my tastes, but no worse than my own twelve year old gets sometimes. And Moxie’s friend, Ollie, is a delight: a science geek who’s into geo-caching. I wanted to adopt Ollie.

“It’s a race against the clock through downtown Boston as Moxie and Ollie break every rule she’s ever lived by to find the art and save her family.” (from the cover blurb)

516E9eC3peL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_Other “art theft” middle grade novels:
Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Marvin the Beetle and his eleven year old human friend, James, work together to foil an attempted art theft and forgery of priceless works by the great artist Albrecht Durer.
Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game by Blue Balliet.
Framed by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Framed is a kid caper comedy about Fine Art and Mutant Ninja Turtles. And small town life. And slate mines. And insurance fraud. And family unity.
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
Heist Society by Ally Carter. Katarina Bishop is determined to leave the family business behind, but when the family business is art theft, it’s hard to get away–with anything, including a law-abiding life.
Stealing Magic: A Sixty-Eight Rooms Adventure by Marianne Malone. “Ruthie and Jack thought that their adventures in the Thorne Rooms were over . . . until miniatures from the rooms start to disappear. Is it the work of the art thief who’s on the loose in Chicago?”
The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt. “A never-before-seen Rembrandt painting has been discovered in Amsterdam. The mysterious man that Kari and Lucas observed must have been working on a forgery! Convinced that no one will believe them without more evidence, the teenage sleuths embark on a madcap adventure to find the forger. But is bringing the criminal to justice worth the price of their lives?”
The Mona Lisa Mystery by Pat Hutchins. “Class 3 of Hampstead Primary School takes a school trip to Paris and lands right in the middle of a mystery.”
Vidalia in Paris by Sasha Watson. “Teenage Vidalia’s summer in Paris studying art settles into a stimulating and enjoyable routine until she becomes romantically involved with a mysterious young man who seems to have ties to an art-theft ring.”
(Descriptions of books I have not read or reviewed come from GoodReads.)

A sequel featuring Moxie and her geo-caching friend Ollie is in the works: Ollie and the Science of Treasure Hunting by Erin Dionne, due out summer of 2014.