Book Review: Mysteries According to Humphrey (According to Humphrey #8)

Mysteries According to Humphrey

Mysteries According to Humphrey by Betty G. Birney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A mystery is like a puzzle. It can be something unsqueakably scary, like a thing that goes THUMP in the night.

Synopsis: It’s hamster Humphrey’s second year in room 26 of Longfellow School, and by the beginning of October, he’s getting to know his new classmates. Mrs. Brisbane has just started reading “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, and Humphrey is just as disappointed as everyone else when she stops in the middle of the story to move on to another lesson. Disappointment turns to dismay when Mrs. Brisbane doesn’t return to school the next day, then is replaced (temporarily, Humphrey hopes!) by a substitute teacher named Mr. E., who seems to want to play with the students instead of teach them. Humphrey decides to follow the example of Sherlock Holmes and sets out to investigate Mrs. Brisbane’s disappearance as well as a few other mysteries as only a determined class pet in a cage with a lock-that-doesn’t-lock can. And, maybe, along the way, he’ll find out just what happens in that story about the man with the red hair.

Review: This is the eighth installment of the “According to Humphrey” series, and he is just as charming as ever. Fans of the series will enjoy this new adventure, but reading all the previous volumes isn’t strictly necessary. At the end of each short chapter, Humphrey shares something he’s learned in his “Detectionary”, and there is a list of the “Top 10 Tips for Beginning Detectives” at the end of the book.

Recommend to: Middle grade readers looking for a fun and funny light mystery, as well as fans of books in this series and other animal fiction series.

Source: E-book checked out from my public library (via Overdrive).

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Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret (The Sherlock Files #1)

The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Please allow the SPFD to welcome you more formally. Go to The Dancing Men (if you’re hungry, they make an excellent ploughman’s lunch) and ask for a saucer of milk for your snake. Then all will be revealed.

Twelve-year-old Xena is sitting on the front steps of a London hotel with her little brother, Xander, when a strange man presses a note into her hand. The kids barely have time to read the peculiar message before the ink disappears from the paper. Once they learn that “The Dancing Men” is a nearby pub (and that a “ploughman’s lunch” is something they might actually like), they can’t ignore their curiosity about it. The clever siblings might be a bit more curious than most, though, since they happen to be the American descendants of the famous Sherlock Holmes. After inheriting his casebook of unsolved problems, they quickly find themselves on the trail of a century-old mystery the Great Detective himself never solved.

Barrett introduces a pair of protagonists with immediate appeal for young readers. Like any siblings, Xena and Xander occasionally bicker and even embarrass each other, but when push comes to shove, each has the other’s back. Because they are American kids newly arrived in London, explanations of British culture and customs come up naturally in the narrative, rather than as awkward exposition for the reader. Nods to the original Sherlock Holmes stories are sprinkled throughout and sometimes explained (the saucer of milk for snake reference slips right by, but the Irregulars get a quick description). The mystery itself is very simple, and the characters never face any real danger or violence, making this a great selection for newly independent chapter-book readers as well as slightly older mystery fans. Once they’ve finished this quick-paced adventure, readers can continue to follow the Holmes siblings in three more series installments: The Beast of Blackslope, The Case that Time Forgot, and The Missing Heir.

Recommend to: Fans of mystery and adventure ages 8-12.

Source: Checked out from my public library.

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Five-Star Reads: 2012 Edition

A few stats on my reading in 2012, according to my GoodReads account.

  • Total books read: 122 (up 13 from 2011)
  • Books for Kids: 49 (down 13 from 2011), 40% of total
  • Books for Teens: 49 (up 18 from 2011), 40% of total
  • Books for Grown-Ups: 24 (up 11 from 2011), 20% of total
  • Library Books: 92 (up 15 from 2011), 75% of total
  • ARCs (including E-ARCs): 21 (up 5 from 2011), 17% of total
  • E-Books (including E-ARCs): 19 (up 5 from 2011), 16% of total

Just like in 2011, I’m resisting the urge to create a list of the Top 10 Books I Read in 2012 or somesuch thing. Instead, I give you the 26 books I gave 5 star ratings on GoodReads in 2012.

Books for Kids (15):

Storybound (Storybound #1) by Marissa Burt The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis Bink and Gollie, Two for One by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee Sadie and Ratz by Sonya Hartnett The Elephant Scientist by Caitlin O'Connell Wonder by R.J. Palacio Above World (Above World, #1) by Jenn Reese Blackout by John Rocco May B. by Caroline Starr Rose Drawing from Memory by Allen Say The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict (The Mysterious Benedict Society, #0.5) by Trenton Lee Stewart Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy's Parade by Melissa Sweet Path of Beasts by Lian Tanner Diego Rivera: His World and Ours by Duncan Tonatiuh 8 Class Pets + 1 Squirrel [Divided By] 1 Dog = Chaos by Vivian Vande Velde

Books for Teens (8):

Wanderlove by Kirsten Hubbard Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin, #1)by Robin LaFevers  (37 Things I Love (in no particular order) by Kekla Magoon Incarnate (Newsoul, #1) by Jodi Meadows A Million Suns (Across the Universe, #2) by Beth Revis Under the Never Sky (Under the Never Sky, #1) by Veronica Rossi Past Perfect by Leila Sales Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Books For Grown-Ups (3):

Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender by Nick Krieger The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

2011 Cybils Finalists

The Cybils Finalists have been announced!

There are great books on these lists, and I’m not just saying that because I helped make the one for Middle Grade Fiction. (Speaking of which, if you followed the link from there to Points West to here, Hi! Thanks for coming by!) I was happy to see that one of my very favorite apps – The Monster at the End of this Book – is a finalist in Book Apps.

Winners to be announced on February 14th. I can hardly wait!

2011 End of the Year Survey

Saw this at A Room of One’s Own and liked the format so much I just had to steal copy use it, too:

2011 in Review:

How many books read in 2011?


  • 90/109 – fiction (83%)
  • 19/109 – nonfiction (17%)

Male/Female authors?

  • 28/109 – male (26%)
  • 80/109 – female (73%)
  • 1/109 – multiple authors (1%)

This one required a little detective work, since two of the books were under ambiguously-gendered pseudonyms (and both turned out to be male).

Oldest book read?

Newest book read?

Longest book read?

Shortest book read?

Any in translation?

Best book read in 2011?

  • I have to pick one? Sorry, can’t do it. But here are my 5-Star Reads.

Most disappointing book in 2011?

Most beautifully written book read in 2011?

This was a tough one! In the end, I have to go with Henkes’ lovely prose. But I have to give Franny Billingsley’s Chime some love here, too.

Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2011?

This is a hard one for me, since I read a whole bunch of books that I liked much more than I expected to. (Thanks, people who nominated them for the Cybils!) But I’ll pick two:

Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2011?

  • Shine by Lauren Myracle  – As I said when I reviewed it back in January, I was up until 1 in the morning finishing the last few chapters; I just couldn’t put it down.

Book that had a scene in it that had me reeling?

I’d like to say Tabitha Suzuma’s Forbidden, but I kind of knew what to expect before I started reading. So, I think I’ll have to say Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy.

Book(s) I most anticipated in 2011?

Most memorable character in 2011?

How many re-reads in 2011?

Just one:

  • Almost Perfect by Brian Katcher – it was actually a re-read within the year, since I read the book after it won the Stonewall Award early in the year, and then I listened to the audiobook when I was assigned to review it toward the end of the year. It turned out to be a good thing, since I really disliked the book on the first reading, but I found it growing on me the second time.
  • I also started re-reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods in the new anniversary edition, but I didn’t finish before the end of the year.

Book I read in 2011 I’d be most likely to reread in 2012?

Hmm. I don’t really expect to re-read any of them. There were several first-in-series books that I’m planning on reading sequels to, though, so I might go back and re-read Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Bumped by Megan McCafferty (especially as I just purchased an e-copy in HarperCollins’ 99-cent sale), Delirium by Lauren Oliver, and/or The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens.

Book I recommended to people most in 2011?

A book I read this year that was recommended by a blogger?

I think most of the books I read this year originally came to my attention on one blog or another, not to mention that whole slew of Cybils nominees.

Favorite new authors I discovered in 2011?

Some who were new to me this year and whose books I’ll be looking for in the future:

  • Kirsten Hubbard
  • Megan McCafferty
  • Kate Messner
  • Lauren Oliver
  • Cat Patrick
  • Time Pratt
  • Beth Revis
  • Wendy Wan-Long Shang
  • Tabitha Suzuma
  • Lisa Yee

Most books read by one author this year?

2: Two books about Alvin Ho by Lenore Look, and two books from the Lucky trilogy by Susan Patron. And I read the Brian Katcher book twice.

Favorite cover of a book I read in 2011?

Oh, like I could pick just one! How about one for kids, one for teens, and one for grown-ups?

That sheep in a scarf and hat just cracks me up!

Favorite passage/quote from a book I read in 2011?

  • Ben wished the world was organized by the Dewey decimal system. That way you’d be able to find whatever you were looking for, like the meaning of your dream, or your dad. – Brian Selzick, Wonderstruck
  • Like all fourteen-year-olds, I used to be a nine-year-old. In retrospect, I was an annoyingly perky and enthusiastic nine-year-old. In fact, I’ve been enthusiastic my entire life, up until this fall, when high school sucked every last ounce of enthusiasm right out of me. – Frances O’Roark Dowell, Ten Miles Past Normal
  • Taking up yoga in the middle of your life is like having someone hand you a dossier about yourself. A dossier full of information you’re not really sure you want. – Claire Dederer, Poser

Did I complete any reading challenges or goals that I set for myself at the beginning of the year?

Yep. Two out of three, anyway:

Book I can’t believe I waited until 2011 to finally read?

Looking ahead to 2012:

One book I didn’t get to in 2011 that will be a priority in 2012?

Book I’m most anticipating in 2012?

One thing I hope to accomplish or do in reading/blogging in 2012?

  • I’d really, really like to complete the Off the Shelf Challenge this time
  • I’m also just looking forward to reading lots more good books, writing lots more reviews, and getting to know other book bloggers better in 2012!

One More 5-Star Read

Welcome to Bordertown

Here’s the trouble with putting out that 5-Star List before the year actually ends. I should have known I’d end up adding one more!

Just as well, since I think Welcome to Bordertown deserves special attention, anyway.

The first three Bordertown anthologies – Borderland, Bordertown, and Life on the Border – came out in the mid-80s and very early 90s, just early enough to have passed out of print right at the time I would have loved them as a teen. (The Essential Bordertown came out later and is still in print, so I don’t really have any excuse for having missed it.) So, I’m a latecomer to the party. The one good thing about that is that I have some great books to track down and read now, and it looks like the editors are working on getting e-book editions out.

This is an absolutely fantastic collection. There’s a bit of everything: short stories, poems, a comic, even a faerie jump rope chant. My expectations were high going in, since the list of contributors includes some really big names, and I was not disappointed. My personal favorite was Tim Pratt‘s “Our Stars, Our Selves”. I love when an anthology introduces me to a great author I somehow missed. I love the whole world of Bordertown.

Reading Challenge Wrap-Up: E-Book Reading Challenge 2011

When I joined in the E-Book Reading Challenge, hosted at Ladybug Reads, I didn’t make a list of titles. I just put my name in for 12 books.

So, how’d I do?

The Goddess Test Science Fair Season: Twelve Kids, a Robot Named Scorch . . . and What It Takes to Win Junonia Invisible Inkling This Girl Is Different Bumped Shine Delirium Bird in a Box Jane Austen: A Life Revealed Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home The Rise of the Dorkasaurus The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks The Hunchback of Neiman Marcus: A Novel About Marriage, Motherhood, and Mayhem

14/12 (117%) – Not bad at all.

Thirteen (93%) were e-ARCs courtesy of NetGalley. One (7%) was a library book. This tells me two things: (1) I really should take advantage of the e-books my library has, and (2) I really should read some of the books I’ve purchased (or downloaded for free). I did use my Nook quite a bit to read the New York Times Book Review. Between the Les Mis Read-Along and the fact that I’ll be doing more traveling in 2012 than I did in 2011, I think my Nook will be getting more use next year.

Because lots of people knew I had the Nook, I tended to get referred questions about e-readers. As the prices have come down, more library patrons have been getting them, and the library/e-book check-out isn’t quite as user-friendly as it could be. So, I sort of had to stay on top of how it worked, even though I didn’t use it much myself! (I used it a bit more than my one book up there would indicate, since I checked out a few e-books that I didn’t finish. At least they return themselves!)

Will I be doing the E-Book Challenge again (hosted for 2012 at Workaday Reads)? Absolutely! And I’m planning to get 25 e-books read this time.

Reading Challenge Wrap-Up: Debut Author Challenge 2011

Last November, I tossed my hat into the ring for my very first Reading Challenge. To complete the Debut Author Challenge, hosted by The Story Siren, I was supposed to read 12 debut MG/YA novels. So, how’d I do?

The Mostly True Story of Jack I Am J The Goddess Test You Will Call Me Drog Ten Miles Past Normal Charlie Joe Jackson's Guide to Not Reading Like Mandarin This Girl Is Different Bumped Sparrow Road The False Princess Forgotten What Can't Wait Across the Universe The Great Wall Of Lucy Wu The Emerald Atlas Rival

17/12 (141%) – Pretty well, I’d say! Seven of them were from my original list. Three more were Middle Grade Fiction Cybils nominations (Lucy Wu was a fourth nomination, but also on my original list).  I posted reviews of twelve of them here, plus one more at GoodReads that never showed up on the blog (oops).

This was a fantastic challenge, and I loved finding new authors. Aimee Carter, Tommy Greenwald, Kirsten Hubbard, Megan McCafferty, Cat Patrick, Ashley Hope Pérez, and Beth Revis all have books slated for publication in 2012, too.

Will I do this challenge again in 2012? Of course!

In My Mailbox

“In My Mailbox” is a weekly meme hosted by The Story Siren to highlight books received during the week.

A few Cybils nominees arrived:

Actually, Hound Dog True came twice, since another judge sent me her copy, too.

On Monday, I took a trip to my favorite used bookstore and came home (as usual) with a few things.

I’ve been slowly acquiring the hardcover British editions of the Harry Potter books. I have book 6, thanks to a donation to the Friends of the Library’s used book shop, and I have a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, thanks to a friend in the U.K. Three out of seven; nearly halfway there!

I’ve been stalking the Writing Reference shelves for several books recommended in a Writing for Children class, and this is one of them. One of these days, Picture Writing is going to show up, I know.

My obsession with appreciation of Mr. Gaiman’s writing is not news to anyone who knows me. This might just tip me over the edge into signing up for one more challenge for 2012, though.