The Case of the Missing Marquess (an Enola Holmes Mystery)

The mother of Sherlock Holmes has vanished, leaving her teenage daughter (Sherlock’s much younger sister) alone and bewildered. When her stuffy older brother Mycroft arranges for Enola to go to boarding school, the smart and sassy Enola runs off to London in search of her mother. While en route she becomes involved in solving the case of the kidnapped Marquess.

The author’s vivid descriptions of 19th century London, Victorian culture, and cameos by Sherlock and Mycroft, provide readers with a stylish and absorbing read. Enola is a charismatic and likeable heroine, but her modern thinking conflicts with the traditional Victorian female roles of her era, putting her into dangerous situations that include some situational ethics (fodder for discussion).

You won’t have to twist arms to read this book, the story is well plotted, mysterious and quite interesting. With her strong intuition and reasoning skills, Enola proves she is in every way a true-blooded Holmes. Any one who likes a good mystery will enjoy The Case of the Missing Marquess.

Author biography below.

Related website: http://us.penguingroup.com/nf/Author/AuthorPage/0,,0_1000015705,00.html

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The Book of Mordred

The Book of Mordred is told from the point of view of three different women (Alayna, Kiera, Nimue), all of them having a certain connection to Mordred – who seems to be more of a supporting character rather than the “main” man of the book.

Arthur fans may be disappointed by the representation of some of the traditional legendary characters. Lancelot is not a hero, and Mordred is simply a misunderstood, strong, charismatic, and likeable old fellow. The story is action-packed, with a substantial amount of sorcery, and deaths that include some graphic and disturbing descriptions of violence. Not a bad read, just far from my favorite.

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The Bark of the Bog Owl (Book One of The Wilderking Trilogy)

Here’s what Wayne had to say about book one:

…It is easy reading for pre-teen and early teenage boys, many of whom resist reading anyway, and is filled with illustrations of good character traits for boys such as courage, perseverance, and trust in God, although I think many girls would like it too. It would make a great family read aloud. There is one reference to drinking ale. Language level: nothing objectionable. My rating: EXCELLENT.

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The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker

It’s mid 19th century and 12-year old Lucas Whitaker has just buried his mother, who like his father and siblings, died of consumption (tuberculosis). Devastated and alone, his pain is only intensified when he hears too late about a cure that might have saved his family. Burdened with survivor guilt, he leaves the only home he’s ever known and travels the countryside. After many nights of weary travel and sleeping in barns he eventually finds work as a physician’s apprentice. The doctor takes Lucas under his wing, and Lucas’ life is changed forever.

The book offers a fascinating look at medical practices and beliefs of the day. Consumption was literally consuming the population and conventional medical treatments were unsuccessful in curing the disease. People were so desperate to save loved ones they were willing to try anything, even digging up bodies and burning their hearts so the sick could breathe in the smoke. Ghoulish, but many people believed the practice could cure their sick. Lucas wanted to believe this controversial treatment worked as well, though the wise doctor gave it no credibility.

The author does a phenomenal job of helping you understand why God-fearing people could believe in and actually practice such a primitive ritual.

I love to give my boys books like this that weave history, period detail, rich characters, and good writing into an interesting story. However, beware this book is not for the squeamish; besides descriptions of dead bodies and heart excisions, there are other unpleasant scenes such as an amputation and a painful tooth extraction. I’ve got at least one boy in our family who has no tolerance for blood or dissecting anything that was once alive, so I won’t be passing the book on to him. Your budding scientists and future medical practitioners in the family should really enjoy The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker.

The book, first published in 1996, is the recipient of numerous awards including a 1997 Parent’s choice award.

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The Amulet of Samarkand (Bartimeous Trilogy Book 1)

Nathaniel, a magician’s apprentice, learns the way of the craft-but it’s hardly common parlor tricks like pulling rabbits out of hats and slight of hand illusions. Magicians in this story summon demons using pentacles, candles, and incantations. Precocious and impatient with his training, a humiliating event only hastens Nathaniel’s growth into a vengeful, self-centered young man. After summoning a 5000 year old sarcastic demon/djinn to help deal out some serious retribution, Nathaniel is caught in a tangled web of evil.

Nathaniel makes Harry Potter look like Winnie the Pooh. This is book is not appropriate for Christian kids. No need to say more.

Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style

How do you evaluate the success of your home school?

Is it by awards, SAT scores, college acceptance, scholarships, or winning the local spelling bee or art contest? Sure, those are measurements of success, but beyond those tangible rewards, it’s seeing first hand the fruits of your labor; watching your children take what you’ve taught them and run with it.

It’s seeing them use the tools they need to teach themselves.

They discover.

They reason.

They apply.

That’s the trivium.

Teaching the Trivium is an outstanding resource that explains what Christian homeschooling in a classical approach is, and models how it’s done.

Using her 20 years of experience, Laurie Bluedorn’s own successful, talented (now adult) children are testimony to the success of her use of this approach to homeschool education, and serve as encouraging role models for those of us with growing children.

Part one of the book explains what classical education is; giving a good argument for why home is better than a classical classroom setting, and provides the what is/how to of teaching grammar, logic and rhetoric.

Part two explores the practical trivium, breaking the application into the developmental stages of your child up to college age.

You’ll find everything you need to teach the trivium, such as suggested schedules, course of studies, and a great chapter on principles for the study of literature.

The appendix has very helpful articles including a comparison of ancient alphabets, and the history and research on the teaching of math.

Whether you’re new to the classical style of teaching, or have been doing it from the start, there is something for every homeschooling family in Teaching the Trivium.

This phenomenal resource is one of those books you will be reading and re-reading over and over again. Don’t wait for it to show up at a used curriculum sale-I can’t imagine anyone parting with it.

Related website: http://triviumpursuit.com

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Sword of the Rightful King

Though a shadow of Mallory’s La Morte D’Arthur is present, Ms. Yolen delivers a distinctively unique and refreshing interpretation of the classic tale. Focusing on only a season of Arthur’s reign when the Knights of the Round Table were just forming, Arthur shares the limelight with Gawain, Agravaine, Merlin, wicked Morgause, and a boy who remains a clever mystery until the end.

There is a smattering of violent acts, but no lengthy descriptions or battle scenes, and a few swear words (tended to be used in conjunction with Morgause).

With its alluring characters and sharp storytelling, Sword of the Rightful King is a noble read that will likely please old and new Camelot fans alike.

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Stormbreaker (Alex Rider adventure book 1)

A late night knock on the door propels Alex Rider from everyday teen-age boy to British Intelligence spy. After his uncle is killed, the government coerces Alex into continuing the uncle’s espionage work. Armed with metal-sizzling zit cream, a game-boy x-ray/computer device, and a power yo-yo, Alex goes undercover to expose a deadly terrorist plot.

Everything you’ve come to love (or hate) with the James Bond moves (minus the gadget techno car and romantic interludes), can be found in Stormbreaker. The story moves fast with continuous action/adventure as Alex is forever working his way out of a tight spot. Any boy with dreams of being a secret agent would think this a cool read; but parents should beware. I came across a few swear words (h***) and epithets, but mostly there is a plenteous amount of violent action. It’s too bad the author included so much brutality. The book would have been fine without it.

There are 5 more sequels to this adventure, and Stormbreaker the movie is currently in production.

Here’s a clip for the movie trailer and the Author’s official website.

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Spider Sparrow

Shortly after a compassionate shepherd and his wife adopt an abandoned and feeble newborn, they begin to see their son “Spider” is physically and mentally different from other children. The townspeople are quick to cast the odd boy aside -until his unique talents surface. His unusual ways transform attitudes and hearts, and land him the important job of “crowstarver”.

The story is set in 20th century rural England, at the start of WWII. The regional dialect, simple talk, and farmer’s customs give the story believability and depth, and the characters credibility. (You may want to be aware early in the book the author uses a crude word to describe spider’s assumed illegitimacy.)

Young readers will admire the humble and heroic Spider Sparrow; though will be saddened by the ending. This bittersweet story is told with such grace and dignity; kids will likely understand, and accept Spider’s story as simply a real part of life.

Dick King-Smith has written many wonderful books for children, with Babe being his most recognized.

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Skellig

10-year-old Michael is dealing with difficult times – a move to a run-down house where the previous owner died, and a newborn baby sister with serious health problems. It’s no wonder he’s on the verge of emotional breakdown. When he finds a mysterious “man-bird-angel” being in his garage, he wonders if he can trust his eyes, or if it’s the stress making him imagine things that aren’t there. He confides in his new friend Mina, who sees the creature too. Together they rescue it, and in the process Michael finds emotional healing.

Mina, a libertarian homeschool student, believes in evolution and sees the creature Skellig as the proof. Besides the evolution agenda and the author’s stereotype of homeschoolers, there is some swearing and name-calling in the book (ie: Michael likes to call his father fatso). The writing is in nice prose, and the story is interesting; but, I would suggest readers be of a mature enough age to be discerning with Skellig’s content.

Related website: http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780440229087&view=rg

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Speak

Speak is a painfully insightful and disturbing look into a teenage girl’s thoughts and experience as a freshman outsider in public high school. Anderson explores the cliques, atmosphere, politics, and the frightening reality of what can, and does happen in school; things parents, teachers, and school administrators are apparently oblivious to. Though a fictional character, in reality, Anderson’s 13-year-old protagonist could have been any number of girls I walked the halls with in my high school.

The author directly confronts social outcasts, depression, poor self-esteem, bullies, and rape. She uses frank talk and some swearing, but through it she brings a voice that is impossible to ignore. Speak is not a lighthearted or uplifting read, but it is a very validating one. This book is brilliant, and there certainly is an appropriate audience for Speak; it’s just not home-schooled students.

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Sarah, Plain and Tall

This 1986 Newbery winner, geared to your 4-8 year olds, is a nice alternative to A House of Tailors.

Its’ simple, poetic style tells the story of a 19th century mid-western widower, his two children, and the woman from Maine who answers his classified ad for a wife. This endearing tale was made in to a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie in 1991.

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Sabriel (Book 1 of the Abhorsen trilogy)

In this dark fantasy, the dead walk among the living, and you can be sure they aren’t visiting friends to catch up on old times. Necromancers are a gifted few who protect the living by using charter magic and enchanted bells to bind the “unsettled” spirits. Sabriel is the 18-year-old daughter of The Abhorsen, the necromancer who has been keeping the dead where they belong for a good many years. At the start of the book a violent and powerful spirit traps The Abhorsen in death, and Sabriel must journey there to rescue her father.

Sabriel is a good book in that it is skillfully written, and keeps your interest from the get-go. Sabriel makes a strong, and decent heroine, and readers will find a clear distinction between good and evil. But, I found the story ghoulishly scary. Then again, it doesn’t take much to scare me. I can’t venture down into our basement after dark without suddenly remembering every haunting movie I’ve ever seen. I blame my irrational fears on my childhood exposure to shows like Dark Shadows and stories that like Sabriel, involve demons, or other frightening specters. My boys aren’t young adults yet, but even if they were, I doubt they’d be reading titles from the horror genre. Besides the macabre violence, Sabriel has some brief sexuality thrown in. This trilogy will conflict with any Christian’s world (and afterlife) view. Use your discernment.

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Running out of Time

It’s 1840; or so the children of Clifton village and the book’s readers are lead to believe, till the first plot twist reveals the year is really 1996.

Clifton was meant to be a utopia for it’s residents-a secluded, authentic historic village, a safe place to raise a family, and a “living history museum” for neighboring cities. Two-way mirrors and hidden cameras provide visitors to the preserve a chance to watch 25 families live seemingly normal 19th century lives. All villagers were led to believe they could leave Clifton voluntarily at any point, but when children begin dying from a diptheria epidemic, they find nothing could be further from the truth. They are little more than prisoners, and unknowingly victims of a greedy “mad” scientist’s experiment. The action starts when 13-year-old Jessie learns about the “real world” and escapes to it to get help.

Running out of time may not be a completely original story (ie: Truman show) but the plot twists, action and basic history lessons will keep your kids interested. This was Hadddix’s first novel, and I think her best. It supports more clear morals, and pushes less buttons than her later Shadow children series. The City of Ember by Jeanne Duprau is a similar read. (visit our homeschoolbuzz reviews for this title.)

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Ruby Holler

Twins Dallas and Florida have led an unfortunate, desolate life in the Boxton Creek Home Orphanage. For 13 years they’ve endured abusive and unbelievable treatment, until an older couple come into their lives and invite the twins to their picturesque home in enchanting Ruby Holler.

The story is well told with a unique array of characters. The twin’s personalities take a little adjusting to – Florida’s favorite word is “putrid” and her negativity did get tiresome. But, the history of abuse would explain their cynical and guarded hearts (note this past abuse, and the mention of another orphan’s death may disturb some sensitive readers). The plot had some unexpected twists, a lot of comic relief, and a good old-fashioned happy ending.

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Rowan of Rin

This tale of quest and danger will no doubt entertain children and please parents with its daring mission, mysterious riddles, and conceivable characters.

The village of Rin’s very existence has been threatened by a sudden disruption in the water supply. The problem lies at the top of Rin’s dreaded mountain, where a terrifying dragon is believed to reside. Young Rowan is the only one who can read the magical map that reveals the way to the top. Being a timid, quiet boy who serves the village as a lowly “buksha” keeper, he must face his greatest fears in order to restore the water supply and save the village.

Rowan is a believable character-a boy who is scared, awkward, and modest. He faces his fears despite his weakness, and toils through adversity to come out a humble, and likable hero. You can feel comfortable giving this book to your younger readers, knowing they will be reading a fine story with no unwanted surprises. This series will appeal most to 7-9 year olds; older kids will still enjoy the stories, but may find the sequels too predictable. Overall, Rowan of Rin is a winner!

Several books in the Rowan series are listed below.

Related website: http://www.scholastic.com.au/titles/rowanofrin/

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Redwall (Book Series)

Has your family discovered the Redwall books yet?

These epic novels have kept our boys busy for over a year.

Our introduction to Redwall came when our local PBS station featured the animated series of the same name. The broadcast only last a few short months, and although the guys were extremely disappointed, they were ecstatic to find the books. We are also enjoying the companion audio books, featuring a full supporting cast and narration by Jacques himself.

Set in Medieval England, and centered around the Redwall Abbey, peaceful moles, mice, and squirrels encounter all sorts of adventures as well as the evil side of the animal world. There are battles, sea journeys, riddles, celebrations, and feasts. War is necessary to protect themselves and the abbey, so expect fighting and casualties in nearly every one of the stories. The books aren’t exactly light reading, with each novel about 400+pages. Each book in the series is adventurous, suspenseful and captivating, and well worth the investment of time. Jacques delivers with outstanding narration and story telling, with just the right amount of humor. Plots are never boring, with ever changing twists and turns. The characters are strong and bold-even their names are exciting-Martin the Warrior, Matthias, Triss, Baby Rollo, and Mariel are some of our favorites.

The book series debuted in 1986 and Jacques keeps them coming, nearly every year a new edition to the Redwall library hits the bookshelves and into the hands of the fans screaming more, we want more! With the addition of High Rhulain in 2005, the number of books in the Redwall library stands at a whopping 18.

To learn more about Jacques or the Redwall books check out the link below.

Related website: http://www.redwall.org/dave/library.html

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Raven’s Gate (The Gatekeepers book 1)

Fourteen-year-old orphaned and delinquent Matt is sent to a remote village for “rehabilitation” for his juvenile offenses. Soon after his arrival, freaky things start happening, and Matt gets the feeling he’s not in “Kansas” anymore. Unbeknownst to him, he is the central force needed to stop a group of 21st century witches from unleashing an ancient evil.

Why Amazon.com picked Raven’s Gate as one of the 10 best books of 2005 is beyond me (actually all their picks were questionable-see link below). It had multiple, violent deaths, no creative depth, and a terribly predictable plot. Truly, there is nothing good in this book for your kids.

See Amazon’s Best Books of 2005 Top 10 Editors’ Picks: Middle Readers

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Project Mulberry

Classmates and best friends Julia and Patrick team up for a school project on silkworms.

Through the project’s conception to its conclusion, the author explores family relationships, friendships, cultural differences, and racism, while giving readers a fascinating education on silkworms. The author draws on her own childhood experiences and upbringing to offer a first-hand look at Korean Americans and their customs. She also addresses racism in a non-threatening manner, and opens a door of opportunity for discussion.

My only grumble with the book was Julia’s attitude towards her little brother. Her nickname for him was “snotbrain”, and she was always moaning about how much he bugged her (granted, her attitude did improve some by the end of the book). Evidently the character Julia did her own fair share of bugging people, as seen by the “creative dialoguing” between her and the author at the end of each chapter. Mrs. Park happens to live in our hometown, so we went to hear her speak at the library recently. She explained this character Julia drove her crazy, and was constantly talking to her as she wrote the story. She included several of these comical “conversations” in the book.

It was a thrill for our family to actually meet Linda Sue Park – it’s not often my kids and I get the chance to meet the writers of the books we’re reading. I was impressed by Mrs. Park’s sweet and humble spirit, and am looking forward to reading her latest release: Archer’s Quest.

Linda Sue Park is the author of several books for children, including 2002 Newbery Winner A Single Shard.

Mrs. Park, an avid reader, has an archive of the books she’s read on her blog.

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Princess Academy (Newbery Honor Book)

It’s time for the prince to marry, and when the kingdom priests foretell that his future wife will come from the Eskel highlands, all eligible mountain girls are sent to a special academy for grooming, and training in the ways of “princessdom”. While there, 15-year-old princess candidate “Mirra” blooms from young girl to heroic maiden in this sweet coming of age story.

Mirra is a realistic, likeable character that wrestles with self-doubt, and feelings of inadequacies, but her good heart, common sense, and quick thinking propels her through all her adversities. Girls of all ages will relate to her, and enjoy the story’s emphasis on friendships.

The mountain people use “quarry speak”; a unique way to transfer thoughts, needs or commands to each other using mental telepathy. The story would have been fine without it, but hey, this is fiction. The quarry speak was a convenient tool to help Mirra get out of some difficult situations, and except for using it to “help” the other girls ace their final academy exam, she used this gift honorably. The author also includes an excellent lesson on diplomacy, and adds a few twists and turns to keep readers guessing the outcome of the story. Overall, Princess Academy is a fine book, worthy of a Newbery honor.

Related website: http://www.squeetus.com/index.asp

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