Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Book Review: Belly Up (middle school mystery, hippo murder, zoo-theme park, Texas)(OT)

Belly Up, by Stuart Gibbs (Simon and Schuster, 2010, 294 pages, $6.99, ages 8+)


“No one tried to kill me during the night and the next day passed uneventfully.” (p. 181)

Unfortunately that is not the opening sentence: if it was, this book would be a thriller indeed. Instead, it is nearly the best kids’ book written. Only Stuart Gibbs’ later masterpieces top Belly Up! (Gibbs also authored the Spy School series*.)

Every Paragraph is a Delight!

I have read and reviewed a book by Stuart Gibbs before (OK, several times previously) but had forgotten just how wonderful his books are, even for adults!

For kids, the fast-pace, the middle-school pranks and budding romance, the absolutely true family life keep them reading. For adults, just add some delightful twists on words and a circuitous plot to keep them reading – almost in one sitting!

It’s Harder for a Kid to Solve a Murder

“When you’re a kid, everyone’s naturally suspicious of you. . . if an adult acts like they belong somewhere, more often than not, no one gives them a second glance. As a kid, you stick out. There are plenty of places you’re not supposed to go. There are plenty of questions you can’t get away with asking. It’s very hard to be taken seriously when everyone’s wondering where your mother is.” (p. 221)

To Set the Stage

"I should have stayed in the soap division. There's no PR emergencies with soap. Soap never tries to kill anyone. The trouble with animals is, they don't know how to behave themselves. They escape. They die. They try to make baby animals. . . . " (p. 211)

Theodore Roosevelt “Teddy” Fitzroy spent the first years of his 12-year-old life living in Africa: his mother is a famous primate researcher and his father, a photographer. Now they have moved to Nowhere, Texas, to live and work on the grounds of the new FunJungle, a zoo and theme park. Teddy is the only kid in 30 miles and thinks the world’s most famous animal, Henry the Hippo, was murdered (this was before the lovely and lovable Fiona the Hippo was born at the Cincinnati Zoo in 2017).

Henry meets Summer, the only 13-year-old daughter of JJ McCracken who created, designed and financed Fun Jungle and a world-famous model. But Summer, even always wearing pink accompanied everywhere by two beefy bodyguards and myriads of paparazzi, has a good head on her shoulders.

Mix in one black mamba snake, escaped of course, plus one hungry tiger and what do you get? A book that kids and even adults simply can’t put down. The first in a series of intriguing plots and real-life characters you will actually like!

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

*Books in the FunJungle series include the following:
1. Belly Up
2. Poached (with trailer here)
3. Big Game
4. Panda-monium
5. Lion Down
6. Tyrannosaurus Wrecks

Books in the Spy School series include the following:
1.     Spy School
2.     Spy Camp
3.     Evil Spy School
4.     Spy Ski School
5.     Spy School Secret Service
6.     Spy School Goes South
7.     Spy School British Invasion
8.     Spy School Revolution

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Book Review: Murder on the Potomac (OT)

Murder on the Potomac (Capital Crimes Book 12), by Margaret Truman (Fawcett, 2014, 354 pages, $21.00)

The Plot

Two high-powered Washington lawyers change careers and marry each other. Mac becomes a law professor and Annabel runs an art gallery, specializing in pre-Colombian objects. Both become enmeshed in one murder after another.

Mac witnesses a young child fall into the falls and has nightmares which come to fruition when the body of the assistant of a prominent Washington board member is found washed up on the edge of an island in the Potomac. Annabel is on the same board and Mac is a friend of the board member. Clues lead to an affair or two plus some money-lifting.

When numerous people enter the fray, including a comely female detective student of Mac’s who is finishing her PhD, an adopted Chinese young man also with a PhD who may be dealing in nefarious characters, a reenactment of a famous killing followed by a black-tie dinner, a young woman wanna-be actress who is the delivery person of unknown objects for her brother who is deeply in debt (gambling), Mac and Annabel are reluctantly drawn into the fray and happen upon the clues that lead to a dangerous solution.

The Author

Yes, the author was the daughter of Harry S. Truman, an only child, well-thought of and a talented classical soprano, actress, journalist, socialite, media personality, and writer.

Mary Margaret Truman, known as Margaret, authored a book about her father, another about her mother, and one about White House pets. Her name is also on this slew of ghostwritten murder mysteries set in Washington, DC, that are fabulous, as you can see.

The Setting

If you live or work in DC or have ever visited the city, you will select a particular Truman mystery that has meaning to you to become enmeshed in first. Perhaps you were in the military (Murder at the Pentagon). Perhaps you are interested in diplomacy (Murder at Foggy Bottom or Murder on Embassy Row),
or the arts (Murder at the Kennedy Center), or the law (Murder in the Supreme Court, Murder at the FBI, or Murder in the House).

But, trust me, if you are merely a connoisseur of a good murder mystery tale, you will not become bogged down in the history of our nation’s capital. On the other hand, there are just enough tidbits of the famous landmark to bring back memories and educate the political novice. The pace accelerates. . . .
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Other titles in the series of 31, in order:
Murder in the White House, 1980
Murder on Capitol Hill, 1981
Murder in the Supreme Court, 1982
Murder in the Smithsonian, 1983

Murder on Embassy Row, 1984
Murder at the FBI, 1985
Murder In Georgetown, 1986
Murder in the CIA, 1987
Murder at the Kennedy Center, 1989
Murder at the National Cathedral, 1990
Murder at the Pentagon, 1992
Murder on the Potomac, 1994
Murder at the National Gallery, 1996
Murder in the House, 1997
Murder at the Watergate,1998
Murder at the Library of Congress, 1999
Murder in Foggy Bottom, 2000
Murder in Havana, 2001
Murder at Ford’s Theater, 2002
Murder at Union Station, 2004
Murder at the Washington Tribune, 2005

Murder at the Opera, 2006
Murder on K Street, 2007
Murder inside the Beltway, 2008

Monday, July 13, 2020

Book Review: Murder Yet to Come (MBTI, Broadway play, Baltimore Pike)(OT)

Murder Yet to Come, by Isabel Briggs Myers (A. L. Burt Company, 1929, 244 pages)


Will a murder be solved by logic or by a hunch? Or, was it a murder after all or merely an accident? Or a murder arranged to look like an accident? And how on earth do the protagonists figure that a second murder will take place?

The Author

Isabel Briggs Myers, one half of the team* that created the personality questionnaire, the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), quickly penned a mystery and entered a contest, which she won, beating out Ellery Queen! If you are familiar with the MBTI, perhaps you will recognize some of the letters in the characters depicted: at least perhaps S and T and J (Sensing, Thinking, Judging).

The Setting

Reminiscent of the tales of Miss Marple or Detective Poirot or even the great Sherlock Holmes, Murder Yet to Come is set in an old mansion on the Baltimore Pike in a different era – an era of stay-at-homers and servants, back in the 1920s. The cast stars a playwright of mysteries on ‘vacation’ from Broadway with his side-kick in tow who narrates the tale. Toss in a first–rate detective, an astute observer and our crazy playwright along with an old hag of a cook, a Hindi servant, revenge, a jewel, a will, an insane asylum, love and marriage, a possible kidnapping – sound like Alfred Hitchcock before he became famous?

The Plot

An Armistice Day (subsequently known as Veterans Day) annual get-together takes two of the characters away from New York City for a weekend right before a Broadway play opens. They end up in a pub in Pennsylvania and are hoodwinked into helping kidnap a 17-year-old girl so a 39-year-old can marry her.  Upon arrival at the mansion, they find a death to solve that takes a few days and many many up’s and down’s. The playwright of mysteries is our hero but he often does not know what to think of the goings-on: in this, he is more human than some detectives.

The Style

Author Myers’ first and only stab at fiction that still survives** is quite the success if you can accept the way wealthy people lived in the 20s. The writing style is almost contemporary. The page count is rather short but the reading requires concentration, due to the number of characters and the incredible convoluted plot. You will be drawn into the second half, though, and things do fall into place with plenty of clues that are later explained in this very satisfying tale.
Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

*Our author, Isabel Briggs Myers, is the daughter half of the team that also includes her mother, Katherine Briggs.

**Her second book, Give me Death, stars the same characters but portrays a Southern family that commits suicide one by one as they find out they have some African-American blood in their lineage

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Book Review: Dog Finds. . . . (dogs, dolphins, monkey service animals, land mine finding rats)

Dog Finds Lost Dolphins! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Heroes, by Elizabeth Carney (Scholastic, 2012, 111 pages, 7-10 years, grades 2-5)

Dog School, Monkey University, Rat College?

Yes! Read about the first dog to attend a school for finding beached dolphins (even at night) so they can be pushed back into their ocean home or taken for treatment.

Read about the first ‘service animal’ who is a Capuchin monkey, a very intuitive service animal who will probably live and work longer than a service dog.

Read about the rats that are trained to find unexploded land mines in Africa.

Amazing Heroes

Perhaps you have already heard of land mine rats or animals besides dogs being trained as service animals (mini-horses) or even dogs who locate whales by their floating poop but this book will amaze and keep you reading. Three animals, each with three chapters and author Elizabeth Carney includes not only how the animals were trained and what they can do but also how a specific problem was identified, how various animals were considered and the characteristics needed, and finally how the appropriate species and individual was selected to be the best candidate to train for the job.

Inspiring, Good Read

The book is also a fun read. Each chapter has a wide border in a different colored pattern (stars, squares, jacks), there are lots of photos plus little facts in squares and longer snippets about other animals. A lot better than I expected!

Bonus: a selection from Ape Escapes! And More True Stories of Animals Behaving Badly.

Others in the series include Crocodile Encounters!
and Tiger in Trouble! And More True Stories of Amazing Animal Rescues. 

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.

Friday, July 3, 2020

Book Review: (OT) Dolphin Diaries, Touching the Waves (Key West, sailing, middle-school girls, the drama of growing up)

(OT) Dolphin Diaries: Touching the Waves, by Ben Baglio (Scholastic, 2000, 161 pages, $4.50, grades 4-6, ages 9-12)

A New Best Friend?

Have dolphins replaced horses as Girl’s Best Friend (besides dogs and cats, of course)? Certainly this is the case if the girls live near the ocean, say, in Florida.

Ben Baglio, author of the Pet Finders Club series, the Animal Ark series, and Jess the Border Collie series, has left land behind and branched out into the ocean with the Dolphin Diaries series. Our previous favorite Baglio book was Dog at the Door, about a golden retriever, but now we want to read the entire series of the Dolphin Diaries – all nine of them.

The Story, A Sailing

Jody and her younger brothers (both twins and definitely younger brothers!) are sailing around the world with their scientist parents to research dolphins. What could be more cool than that?

In this second book, the family of five arrives by sea aboard their Dolphin Dreamer in Key West, Florida, for a two-week stay to learn how dolphins can help autistic children - but there are so many characters that adult readers will soon forget who’s who - the scientists and their daughter the family is visiting and their comely assistant, the toddler whose life Jody saves, his wealthy parents, the cook onboard the sailing vessel and the captain with his haughty daughter who joins the crowd against her wishes for a couple of weeks when she would rather be out shopping.

Besides dolphin drama, we have middle school girl drama with jealousy and ‘fitting in’ or not. We witness a lot of growing up  - that subplot only gets better as you read page after page.

As for the dolphins, are they captive or are they really free to come and go as they please, to return to the larger ocean and fight for survival? We meet bottlenose dolphin Apollo and his pod of cetaceans (dolphins), we run into a veterinary emergency and some ecological waste which endangers our sea-living friends. But we also learn that each dolphin has a ‘name’ – a sound that individually defines them. How cool is that?

Being the second book in the series of ten that takes the reader around the world, you will want to read the first book to see how it all starts and then continue on their way to learn more about dolphins and life growing up. Although this one starts out rather ‘sappy’ it does develop into a darn good sea yarn.

Caveat: This book was purchased for review.
All the titles in the series:
1. Into the Blue

2. Touching the Waves
3. Riding the Storm
4. Under the Stars

5. Chasing the Dream

6. Racing the Wind

7. Following the Rainbow

8. Dancing the Sea

9. Leaving the Shadows

10. Beyond the Sunrise