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From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (1967)

I first read From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in fifth grade, so when my son, now a fifth-grader himself, said he needed a Newbery Prize winner for his book report, I was quick to suggest it to him. The adventures of Claudia and her younger brother Jamie are what childhood dreams are made of. After running away from home, the siblings live on their own in a strange and wonderful new city. They uncover a mystery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that they're determined to solve. Their clever sleuthing leads them to discover much more than clues however — it leads them back home.

I enjoyed reading this classic children's book by E. L. Konigsburg just as much as an adult as I had as a child. The audiobook would be great to listen to on a family road trip as well. Check out this article from Smithsonian Magazine for a glimpse behind the story and its author. 


The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Igguldon (2019)

More than 100 years before Alexander, Greek mercenaries from Athens and Sparta join Cyrus, younger brother to the Persian ruler Artaxerxes in an attempt to gain Cyrus' rightful place in the Kingdom. Events do not go well for Cyrus nor the mercenaries and they are left with only Xenophon, a young Greek officer to lead them away from the Persian hordes seeking their destruction. Xenophon reminisces about his earlier conversations with Socrates as he leads the remnants of his army out of reach of the Persians and into the mountains controlled by savage tribes. During their flight, both the Persians and mountain tribes gain great respect for the skill and ferocity of the Spartan warriors.

In his latest epic historical adventure, The Falcon of Sparta, Conn Igguldon explores war in ancient Persia. Readers may also enjoy novels from Bernard Cornwell.



Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson (2019)

Artist Henrietta "Hen" Mazur is convinced her next-door neighbor Matthew Dolamore is a killer. While at Matthew's home for dinner one night, Hen sees a fencing trophy that she believes belonged to murder victim Dustin Miller, who lived down the street from Hen when she lived in Cambridge. Hen isn't sure what to do because she has bipolar disorder and is doing well now, but while in college she had an episode and was arrested for attacking another student because Hen believed the student was a murderer. Hen feels the police won't believe her now, but when Hen begins to follow Matthew, she becomes a witness to his violence and her and Matthew's lives become forever intertwined.

I always look forward to a new Peter Swanson novel and this one doesn't disappoint. Before She Knew Him is a page-turner in the style of Alfred Hitchcock.



Series Spotlight: The Critter Club by Callie Barkley

Four friends – Amy, Ellie, Marion, Liz – have created a club to help "critters" such as pigs, puppies, mice, chickens, and cats. Amy's mother, a veterinarian, is instrumental in helping the girls with their adventures at the Animal Rescue Center in Santa Vista.

Each book features one of the four friends but all four girls are in each book. The Critter Club has problems to solve and they always find a good solution. In Amy on Park Patrol, the girls work to keep the town park for animals—not more stores. The girls help find a home for Plum the Pig in Ellie and the Good-Luck Pig. The girls start a pet sitting service – Critter Sitters – in Liz Learns a Lesson.

This is a great series for a reader who loves helping animals! Each book in the series of 18 books (so far!) is about 120 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages (book 1 is Amy and the Missing Puppy). Sparkles on some of the paperback covers add to the charm of the stories. The Lexile scores range from 460-630.

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Elevation by Stephen King (2018)

Stephen King takes us back to the fictional town of Castle Rock in his latest novella, Elevation, where we are introduced to Scott Carey, a good-hearted, hard-working man, who, as is the case in all of King's works, discovers something rather unusual is happening.

What's most disturbing to Scott is that the unusual thing is happening to him. He's losing weight at a rapidly increasing rate, yet his size doesn't change, ever. No matter how Scott tries to weigh himself down, the number on the scale continues to decrease. As Scott's journey toward weightlessness progresses, the lightness he feels helps him see things more clearly, which inspires the town to go through a kind of lightening as well.

This odd little tale lacks the usual Stephen King horror, so makes for a pretty, quick, dare I say, fun read.


Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (2018)

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes travel to Fascist-controlled Venice to find a patient (Lady Beaconsfield) missing from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem (Bedlam). Mary finds it to be a great lark mingling with the idle rich on Lido beach while Sherlock takes a more serious slant to their search and considers the finer points to their investigation. Yet Mary prevails as Lady Beaconsfield and her nurse attendant also enjoy La Doce Vita and often venture from their island hideaway to join the gang at Lido. Mary concocts a clever scheme to rescue Lady B from her Fascist older brother who is more interested in the Lady's inheritance than her welfare.

Follow the latest adventure of this pair in Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (and to see where it all starts, check out my review earlier this month of The Beekeeper's Apprentice).



A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler (2018)

Alva Smith's family's declining fortunes have ruled out marrying for love. With the help of friend Consuelo Yznaga, Alva settles on rich William Vanderbilt and they soon marry. The Vanderbilts are happy for the union because the Smith's standing in society is long-established and could help elevate the Vanderbilt name.

A Well-Behaved Woman chronicles Alva's life over thirty-five years, from newlywed and mother as she navigates upper-class hierarchy in New York, through her efforts to find a good marriage match for her daughter, ultimately showing how Alva finds love and happiness for herself. A fascinating novel by Therese Anne Fowler that had me intrigued and researching the Vanderbilt family.



Series Spotlight: Ada Lace by Emily Calandrelli

Ada has two turtles: Oxygen and Hydrogen. For children who know why Ada used those names…this is the series for them! Author Emily Calandrelli is a graduate of MIT and works with Bill Nye, The Science Guy. She knows children, science, and technology.

Ada, a third grader, uses science to solve mysteries. She keeps a field guide noting what is happening all around her. The field guides are an important tool for Ada. Maybe the reader of these books will start a field guide?

The first book in the series (Ada Lace, On the Case) finds Ada watching Mr. Pebbles' apartment and she wonders…is there a dog in the apartment? Another adventure (Ada Lace Sees Red) finds that Ada has programmed a robot – George – and he does what she asks (think Alexa)…but not without problems. In Ada Lace, Take Me to Your Leader, Ada's neighbor gives her a ham radio. Ada is trying to connect with someone/something. Her friend Nina thinks aliens are answering but are they really?

At the end of each book, a "Behind the Science" section explains several of the issues and concepts in the book. There are five books in the series so far. Each book is about 118 pages with black and white illustrations on most pages. Lexile scores range from 570-610.

And…could there be a connection between Ada Lace and Ada Lovelace? This is a good opportunity to practice research skills!



My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (2018)

Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut novel is a classic tale of sibling rivalry with a dark twist—one of the sisters happens to be a serial killer. In its darkly humorous telling, this book explores universal questions about the relationship between two sisters and how their lives intertwine in ways that can never be undone. My Sister, the Serial Killer is a character study, a love story, and a family drama all rolled into one. Oh, and given that one of the sisters can't seem to avoid murdering any man that shows interest in her, it's also a bit of a crime drama too.

This is a book about love and loyalty that asks the question: How do you choose between doing the right thing and doing what you know to be right?



The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King (1994)

In the first entry in Laurie R. King's series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes, the reader is introduced to 15-year-old Mary as she encounters the retired Sherlock at his country home where he tends to his honeybee hives. Sherlock is amazed at the intelligence of this young girl and soon brings her in as an apprentice for disguise and deduction. Soon the game is afoot as the two work together to find a kidnapped daughter of an American senator and then encounter a descendant of an old foe eager for revenge.

Start with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, and check back later this month for my review of the latest entry in the series.



A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (2018)

Whether your personal beliefs are pro-life, pro-choice, or undecided, you will find this book captivating, heartbreaking, and impossible to put down. A Spark of Light is told in reverse chronological order. A distraught father storms into an abortion clinic in Mississippi, opens fire, and takes everyone inside hostage. Hostage negotiator Hugh McElroy is called in to try to defuse the situation. He quickly finds out, via text, that his own daughter is inside.

The strong bond between fathers and their daughters is a constant theme throughout this book. Also, expect a few surprises at the end. A very good read. Jodi Picoult has once again done extensive research in preparation for writing this thought-provoking novel.



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No Exit by Taylor Adams (2019)

College student Darby is heading home to Utah for Christmas to see her dying mother when she's caught in a blizzard. Forced to get off the road by the bad weather, she ends up at a rest stop thinking she can wait out the storm and then be back on the highway. When she sees a girl locked in a cage in one of the other cars at the rest stop, she wonders which of the other four people trapped there are responsible. Soon, Darby finds herself fighting for both her life and the girl's in order to see justice done.

No Exit by Taylor Adams is a white-knuckled thriller that's hard to put down, but it's not for the squeamish. Try this novel if you enjoyed Harlan Coben books or Greg Iles' 24 Hours.



The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah (2018)

greatErnt, a former POW in Vietnam, takes his family to Alaska in an effort to make a new start after losing job after job in the lower 48. The long summer days and the helpfulness of neighbors allow the family to adapt to their new wilderness home, but as winter and darkness descend, the father’s demons begin to show.

His teenage daughter, Leni, makes friends with her desk-mate at school, but he is the son of a longtime resident with whom her father has issues. As time passes, darkness descends as both the days shorten and the family’s troubles multiply.

Kristin Hannah follows up her WWII blockbuster The Nightingale with the 1970s-set The Great Alone.

All We Have Left by Wendy Mills (2016)

all_weThe September 11 terrorist attacks are one of those significant moments in history where you remember where you were and what you were doing when it happened. This novel is told from two teen girls' perspectives, fifteen years apart: Alia in 2001 and Jesse in 2016. Alia, a Muslim, going to the North Tower to see her father when the plane hit, and Jesse, whose older brother somehow ended up at the Twin Towers that day and lost his life, significantly altering her family in the process.

The two stories eventually intertwine, and if you are like me, All We Have Left will have you on the edge of your seat as piece by piece you learn how Alia's and Jesse's experiences are connected. All We Have Left by Wendy Mills is a nominee for the 2019 Lincoln Award (PDF), the Illinois teen readers' choice award.
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The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson (1959)

hauntingA short, spooky novel that will have you sleeping with the lights on, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House brings together four strangers to investigate reported paranormal activity at an unoccupied dwelling. The house itself is curiously constructed with a labyrinth of rooms and towers that seem to creep around corners all on their own. Ghostly events occur shortly after the guests arrive and each visitor has their own individual experience even when in the presence of the others. Hill House is alive. It breathes and sighs. It is as much a character of the book as the strangers it traps inside.

This classic was first published in 1959, adapted to the big screen in 1963 and again in 1999, and most recently released as a Netflix series in 2018. Read it before you binge watch—it’s a great story to curl up with on a cold winter night!
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