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Book Review: *The World in Half* by Cristina Henriquez

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  • The World in Half by Cristina Henriquez
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover (April 2, 2009)
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594488559

Back of the book blurb: Miraflores has never known her father, and until now, she’s never thought that he wanted to know her.  She’s long been aware that her mother had an affair with him while she was stationed with her then husband in Panama, and she’s always assumed that her pregnant mother came back to the United States alone with his consent.  But when Miraflores returns to the Chicago suburb where she grew up, to care for her mother at a time of illness, she discovers that her mother and father had a greater love than she ever thought possible, and that her father had wanted her more than she could have ever imagined.

In secret, Miraflores plots a trip to Panama, in search of the man whose love she hopes can heal her mother—and whose presence she believes can help her find the pieces of her own identity that she thought were irretrievably lost. What she finds is unexpected, exhilarating, and holds the power to change the course of her life completely.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: In The World in Half, Crisitina Henriquez delivers a delight of a debut novel, a lovely story of self-discovery.

Mira straddles two, or more, worlds; that of a typical 20-year-old college student, that of a a responsible adult caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s Disease, and that of a person searching for her “true self” – biologically and emotionally.  The contrast offered by the various settings – a university near Chicago, the suburbs in which she was raised, and the country of Panama – neatly support her various personas.  Mira may find a way to blend these into her one true self.

When Mira’s mother becomes less and less able to function due to her illness, Mira spends more time at home caring for her.  Early in the novel she discovers a stack of emotion-laden letters addressed to her mother from her biological father, whom she thought was only a brief physical affair.  These letters are the catalyst that send Mira to Panama, searching for the man who once loved her mother, and who may still care for her.

What results in this trip involves an unlikely but wonderful friendship between Mira and a local who sets out to help her.  While some readers might shake their heads and think “this would never happen!”, I was so taken with Henriquez’ prose and the fully-fleshed character development, that I didn’t put the novel to this litmus test.  I found The World in Half, like life itself, to leave me content to wonder “what next”; that the novel stayed with me as I pondered the possibilities is a coup for the author.

Mira is a student of geology, and Henriquez uses scientific metaphor to introduce passages, and in Mira’s voice as she eloquently explains her quest.  This is a lengthy quote, but it is so beautifully written that I must include it in its entirety:

The earth used to be one continent.  And over time, that continent, carried on the backs of thirty different tectonic plates, broke apart.  Even now, the plates are moving under our feet.  The continents are on a collision course every second of every day.  The earth was born and every time a volcano erupts or a plate shifts, the earth is born again.  It keeps reordering itself, it keeps trying new patterns, it keeps meshing one piece with another piece, and then another piece, and then another piece.  I like to imagine that the reason behind all of that relentless effort is that the continents are yearning to come together again, as they were in the beginning.

Humans try to be like the continents.  We stumble and crisscross and stagger all over the world in an effort to find our way back to one another.  It seems to be the main business of life sometimes: our disordered attempt to bump into other people.  Straining, straining, just to touch.

Another, shorter, phrase that struck me is that “hope is a very, very fragile thing, and when you steal it from someone, it can be like stealing their soul.”  Metaphors involving the Panama Canal, including naming conventions and even the goal of cutting “the world in half” are thoughtfully placed, not overdone.  Even the chapter divisions are carefully named, and follow Mira’s path (Origination,  Orientation, Absorption, Crystallization, Erosion, Vibration, etc.)

I do recommend The World in Half, and am eager to visit Cristina Henriquez’ previously published short fiction collection, Come Together, Fall Apart, which I understand is also set in Panama.

3-Day Thursday: who am I walking for?

3day_ambassador_badgeIt’s Thursday!  Time for another 3-Day update from Madame Ambassador!  Stick around ’til the end; this is an audience-participation post …

Many people have asked me “why are you doing this?!”  They want to know why I’m choosing to walk 20 miles a day for each of 3 days.  I have two answers:

The first is that the Walk is symbolic of my fundraising efforts.  It attracts a lot of attention to the Breast Cancer 3-Day cause, which in turn may interest people in supporting the group.  In order to participate as a walker, I’ve committed to raising at least $2300; 85% of the net proceeds will benefit Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the remaining 15% benefit the National Philanthropic Trust.  Both group support breast cancer initiatives, including research, treatment, prevention, and education.  So, I’m walking in order to raise funds.

The second reason is that I have too many friends, families of friends, neighbors, former co-workers, etc., who have been affected by breast cancer.  I’m walking for them.  I’m walking for the 1 in 8 American women who will be struck with breast cancer.  I’m walking for those I’ll walk beside during the Breast Cancer 3-Day; those women (and men!) wearing the pink “survivor” t-shirts.  I’m walking in honor of, and in memory of, many wonderful people.  I’m walking for my two daughters, that a cure may be found, and they never have to face this disease.

I’ll walk with their names on my own shirt over the course of the three days (or on my white butterfly wings, if my walking partner convinces me to wear them!).question-t-shirt

Here’s where you come in:  please leave a comment with the name of someone you’d like me to walk for.  It can be a first name or nickname (Suzy, Grammy Lee, Auntie Beth, etc.).  I’ll add their names to my t-shirts (or wings!).  If you don’t want to leave the information publicly, you can send it to me via e-mail at dawn [at] sheistoofondofbooks [dot] com .

Thanks for your help!  I will, of course, post pictures of the t-shirts/wings.  I’ll be wearing them 3 weeks from tomorrow, the countdown is on!

p.s.  you can check my progress at my 3-Day participant page.

Spotlight on Bookstores: four treasures in “the hinterlands”

sob1Miriam Parker works for a publishing company, has a blog and is working on her novel Book People in Southwest Virginia.  After knowing Miriam online for many, many months, I was so happy to finally meet her at BEA!  In this Spotlight post she gives the scoop on four lovely bookstores far outside New York City, which is widely considered the center of publishing.  Her opinions are her own and no way reflect those of the company she works for.

I consider myself a New Yorker through and through.  I grew up in a town many think to be fake called Hastings-on-Hudson, went to college at Columbia, and I work in book publishing, the most New York of all industries.  And New York is a great book town.  I have spent MANY an hour perusing literary journals at the St. Mark’s Book Shop, wishing I was just a LITTLE bit smarter at Book Culture (the bookstore formerly known as Labyrinth) and mourning the loss of Shakespeare & Company from the Upper West Side and Good Yarns from my little ole hometown.

But now that I live in the hinterlands, I have discovered that there are some INCREDIBLE stores outside of New York run by the most devoted people.  And, I have come to appreciate, outside of New York, a great bookstore is a real treasure.  While literary events are happening willy nilly on the streets of Manhattan, the folks out HERE have to work extra hard to get great writers and speakers into their stores, and I so appreciate what they do.  So here are a few stores that I have come across in my travels over the past few years that I am completely hooked on.

Square Books: Oxford, Mississippi

square-booksI might be a BIT biased because the same day I found Square Books was also the day I met my long-time boyfriend Matt.  BUT regardless of associating it with very happy thoughts, it is one of the most well-curated and gorgeous stores I’ve ever been.  And it has the most glorious second floor veranda (balcony? porch?) where I could sit all day long.

Pomegranate Books: Wilmington, NCpomegranate

I got my MFA at UNC Wilmington and Pomegranate Books was the best bookstore we could have ever asked for.  They stocked our literary journal.  Sold books at our events.  Let us have readings in their beautiful store.  Oh and not to mention recommending great books for us to read and give as gifts that we might not have found otherwise.

Faulkner House Books: New Orleans, LA

faulkner-houseThis is one of the most unique stores I’ve ever been to.  First, it is TEENY and hidden in an alley behind Jackson Square.  But it has the most lovely (and clearly curated) selection of books I’ve ever found.  Plus, it looks like the library you wish you had in your house.  I could have stayed there all day.

Third Place Books: Seattle, WAthird-place

A new discovery for me: Third Place Books is kind of the perfect bookstore.  It’s full of great recs, new releases and a REALLY nice travel section.  But it also has a food court.  Seriously.  If you want an enchilada with your copy of Into the Beautiful North or a sushi roll with your new Banana Yoshimoto, you can have one.

I can’t wait to find more stores in new places I visit!  See you soon!

Book Review: *Resistance* by Anita Shreve

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  • Resistance by Anita Shreve
  • Paperback: 284 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books; 1st Pbk. Ed edition (January 1, 1997)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316166584

Back of the book blurb: This tale of impossible love unfolds in a Nazi-occupied Belgian village where the wife of a Resistance worker shelters a wounded American bomber pilot in a secret hideaway.  As she nurses him back to health, Claire is drawn into a passionate love affair that seems capable of conquering it all – until the brutal realities of war shatter every idea she ever held about love, trust, and betrayal.

She is Too Fond of Books‘ review:  When my neighborhood book group selected Resistance a few months back, I thought, sure why not?!  I had recently read Testimony, which I liked because of the various points of view Shreve employed, and I had vague but fond memories of reading some of her other novels, including The Pilot’s Wife, Sea Glass, and The Weight of Water.

It wasn’t until I was about 50 pages into Resistance that I realized I had read it before.  That’s not a good sign, not remembering that I previously read the novel … it must not have made a deep impression, positive or negative.  I feel the same way after reading it for a second time.

My own fault, really, for not paying attention to the book blurb – this isn’t so much a novel about the Resistance movement during WWII as it is a love story.  It’s set in German-occupied Belgium, and the premise is that an American bomber crashes.  Pilot Ted Brice is taken to the home of Henri and Claire Daussois, where Claire slowly nurses him back to health while Henri goes off to seek additional intelligence about what the Germans know of the situation.  It’s the perfect set-up for two lonely people who are shocked by what they’ve witnessed, and seek comfort in each other’s arms.

I felt most drawn to the passages that considered the characters’ feelings about the war, rather than the personal love story.  For example, Henri contemplates how he got involved in the Resistance movement, out of a sense of obligation, rather than a true desire to aid:

Who knew what would be left when the Germans were through with them?  He’d known nothing would be the same since the day Antoine had come with the news Belgium had fallen,  and then had asked him to join the Maquis.  You couldn’t say no.  If  you were asked, you had to join. …when this goddamn war was over he wanted to have done the right thing.  Not the same as wanting to do the right thing.

And this quote, in which Ted, the American soldier, wonders how he can live the rest of his life with what he has witnessed:

Once a man had seen such things, he asked himself, how did he then erase them from his memory?  He thought of the men who returned from missions seemingly unscathed – their footsteps still jaunty, eager for whatever small pleasures the base or the town could provide them, wisecracks spinning around their heads.  Somehow these men had done what he had failed to do:  They had had the same visions and had dismissed them.  Or did they, too, have visions in the night?

Ultimately, though, Resistance is a love story, a nice predictable love story which will perhaps make the reader sigh.  Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood; there was  little too much mention of Ted Brice’s eyes, which were “startling, a remarkable sea green with flecks of gold.”

I did find discussion questions for Resistance online.  Reading these after finishing the novel reminded me that, even though it was perhaps lighter than I preferred, Shreve’s novel is a good way to introduce the concept of resistance fighters to those who are unfamiliar with the movement, and to open up discussion around the fictional incident.  This may make a difficult period in our history easier to discuss than a personal connection to actual events.

Book Review: *The Game On! Diet* by Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson

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  • The Game On! Diet by Krista Vernoff and Az Ferguson
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks; 1 edition (June 30, 2009)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061718892

Back of the book blurbThe Game On! Diet is not a diet. It’s a bold new approach to fitness that turns the latest, smartest, most successful health science into a fun, fierce, and exhilarating game.  Developed by Az Ferguson, to help Grey’s Anatomy writer Krista Vernoff shed forty pounds of post-pregnancy weight, it is the ideal program for busy people who should be working out but have a thousand good excuses not to.

Az keeps you motivated and Krista keeps you laughing as they show you how to organize opposing teams, set goals, and compete to earn points for daily exercise, healthy meal plans, and positive lifestyle changes.  With The Game On! Diet, the process of losing weight, for the first time ever, is actually fun.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: This book had me hooked in the introduction, Az Ferguson (co-author with Krista Vernoff, and a Body-for-Life champion) sums up the philosophy of the plan with this metaphor:

Optimum health is actually our natural state of being; our bodies naturally gravitate to what they need.  Think of a baby in her first year of life.  She eats on a regular basis, lots of small meals.  She gets most of her meals from fluids, which keep her fully hydrated.  She sleeps for large portions of the day to aid her growth and recovery.  And when she wakes up, she’s raring to go!

I want to be “raring to go”, so I continued reading to find out exactly what is involved in getting my Game On!  It’s a healthy competition, which is truly a health competition.  Players earn daily points for:

  • eating 5 small meals
  • exercising 20 minutes
  • sleeping 7 hours
  • drinking 3 liters of water
  • maintaining a new healthy habit
  • dropping a not-so-healthy habit
  • communicating daily with both team-mates and opposition

Points maybe deducted for a variety of reasons, including snacking outside sanctioned meals/snacks and colluding (“let’s both cheat and call it even”).

Scores are tallied, averaged per team, and at the end of four weeks … the team with the highest score wins!  That’s right, not the team with the greatest weight loss, but the team with the most points!  What really appeals to me about Game On! are both the team aspect (support, celebrating victories, troubleshooting), but also that the plan takes into account the whole person – the physical and mental well-being of the players.

The book is co-written by Az Ferguson and Krista Vernoff.  As I mentioned above, Az is a Body-for-Life champion; he knows health and fitness.  Krista is a writer and executive producer for Grey’s Anatomy (and, no, you don’t lose points if you’re not a regular viewer of the show!)  Krista’s tone is funny, blunt, a bit flippant, and very encouraging … she’s like the friend who dares to tell you that, no, that dress doesn’t look good on you, but then she stays by your side as you keep trying on clothes and finally find the perfect outfit.

Here’s how she addresses one of the questions in the Exercise Q&A (note that players earn bonus points for losing 1.0% of their weight in a week; that’s 1.5 pounds for a person weighing 150 at the beginning of The Game).  It’s a cut and dried answer, but not cutting:

Q.  Can I get some of my points if I lost .99 percent of my weight?

A.  No.  Sorry.  We gotta keep the rule clean and clear.  But if you lost .99 percent of your weight, you rock and you know it.  That’s your reward.

The Game On! Diet covers all aspects of the various point-earning categories.  The chapter on Food includes a shopping list, sample recipes, and explanations of why certain foods are penalty-invoking.  Exercise gives ideas on how to add 20 minutes of exercise to your day, and outlines a nicely illustrated example of a High Intensity Interval Training routine.  Sleep explains the rationale behind the 7-hour rule, defines “sleep debt”, and discusses sleep strategies.  Transformation talks about selecting the habit you will drop during The Game, Healthy Habits encourages you to maintain a new positive action for 28 days; it may become a routine part of your lifestyle.

Each of the 18 chapters delivers information about a serious subject with Krista’s frank wit, Az’s viewpoint as a trainer, and opinions of various outside experts (yogis, dietitians, physicians, etc.).

The plan is solid, fun, and do-able!  My only quibble with the book is the title; I’m not crazy about the word diet.  We have a 13-year-old daughter, and I’m very aware of the messages we send to our girls (and boys!) about body image.  I’m participating in the Game On! Lifestyle Challenge, which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but the phrase works better for my family (hmm, maybe there’ll be an online addendum to address the vocabulary hang-ups of people like me!  I’m sure Krista would address my concerns and have me laughing!)

Yes, I’m participating in The Game!  We have three groups of bloggers who will begin the 4-week program on June 29, 2009.  We are,

  • The HoHos:
  • Kathy from The Brain Lair
  • two of Kathy’s IRL friends who will be updating their progress on Facebook

gameontileYou can follow our progress by searching Twitter for the #gameondiet hashtag.  We’ve been burning up the tweet-waves as we get ready to start the competition.  Already we’re encouraging each other, and learning that opinions vary as to which aspect of the Game will be most challenging.

My habits?  I have to admit that I spend far too much time online, responding like Pavlov’s dogs when I hear the ding of new email; I’m staying off the computer between 6 and 8 each night — I’ll have to turn off my laptop to do it, but I’ll do it!  My new healthy habit is keeping paper clutter down (which will result in lowered stress levels); I will sort/file/recycle every piece of mail and the newspapers daily.

There will be prizes for the team that wins the Game, I’ll announce those on the blog next week.

Just for fun: stress test

Look at the three pictures below.  In each, are any of the objects moving, or are they perfectly still?

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stress-2

stress-3

These pictures are used to test the level of stress a person can handle.

The slower the pictures move, the better your ability to handle stress.

Allegedly, criminals that were tested see them spinning around madly; however, senior citizens and children see them standing still.

None of these images are animated; they are simple bitmap files.

Now tell me – how stressed are you??!

3-Day Thursday: How to pack without being a pack-rat

3day_ambassador_badgeHello!  Yes, you!  You with the rolling suitcase, the garment bag, the two pair of shoes for every outfit, and a bathing suit “just in case” … oh, wait, that’s me and my luggage for a typical weekend away.  Not this time!  I, and all the other 3-Day walkers, are under strict packing instructions and limitations; no need for heels, swimsuits, or little black dresses!

Here’s an idea of what needs to fit in my duffel, which can weigh no more than 35 pounds fully loaded.  Oh, and there’s no room for vanity in that luggage – no electric outlets at the campsites means no hair dryers!:

  • two pair of walking shoes that I have trained in
  • t-shirts, shorts, underwear, sports bra, two pair of socks for each day
  • long comfy pants (sweats or flannels)
  • waterproof jacket (a true raincoat if the day starts with steady rain; a small light poncho for waist-pack “just in case”)
  • warm fleece or sweater
  • sleepwear
  • shower shoes or flip flops
  • sleeping bag, air mattress (battery-powered!), and pillow
  • plastic sheet or tarp
  • flashlight (the small “miner’s” light that wraps around the head with an elastic cord keeps hands free)
  • towels and washcloth (I opted to pay $12 for towel service – fresh dry towels every time I need shower)
  • basic toiletries – toothbrush and toothpaste, hairbrush or comb, shampoo, deodorant, moisturizer for face and body, sunscreen, insect repellent
  • other necessities – ear plugs (? my tent-mate promises she doesn’t snore, but what about the person in the next tent!?), Advil
  • waist-pack with water bottle(s)suitcases

And what goes in the waist-pack?:

  • i.d./license, money, credit card, insurance card
  • sunscreen and lip balm
  • phone/camera
  • sunglasses
  • rain poncho
  • tissues
  • handi-wipes or Purell

I’ll be wearing the waist-pack when I arrive at Opening Ceremonies at (yawn!) 6:00 a.m. on July 24.  I’ll also have on my sports watch and hat, perhaps sunglasses, obviously a pair of shoes and … some clothes!  When I pack for a trip I have a list for WEAR, a list for PACK, and a list for CARRY (waist pack); the 3-Day will be no exception.

I was given some great advice for packing:  put each day’s clothing (underwear to outerwear) in a separate Ziploc bag marked with the day or “evening after shower”.  Easy to just grab the individual bag and get dressed, and the clean and dirty clothes stay separate.

All those individual bags go in a kitchen trash bag, as does my sleeping bag and pillow.  All these bags will be tucked inside a large industrial-size trash bag, and the whole lot will at last be put into my duffel bag.  Yes, there’s a lot of plastic involved, but we want out clothes and supplies to stay dry!

Comments?  Questions?  If you think I left anything off my list, please let me know!

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Personal update:

Thanks to everyone who left messages of encouragement on my post about walking solo.  I have great news to share!  My former team-mate introduced me to a woman in town who is also walking the 3-Day in Boston; she has walked the event before in another city, so she is experienced and enthusiastic.

We went for a wonderful 10-mile training walk last weekend: Alewife station into Harvard Square, down along the river crossing into Boston, up thru the Comm Ave parks, thru the Public Gardens and Common, past Gov’t Center and Quincy Market … we were heading to the North End for lunch, but got sidetracked by the colorful displays of produce at Haymarket.  Grabbed ourselves some strawberries (“Strawberries!  Fresh strawberries!  Dollah a box!”), blueberries, corn, and cherries, then headed back to the T at Park Street.

It was one of the few not-so-wet days Boston has seen in the past month; we walk at about the same pace, and found plenty to talk about along the way.  We decided to sign up as tent-mates for the 3-Day.  It was like a blind date and audition rolled into a training walk!

Spotlight on Bookstores: *Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe* in Richmond, Virginia

sobAttention all fans of science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery – you’re in for a treat!  This week’s Spotlight on Bookstores is submitted by Pamela K. Kinney, an author of published horror, science fiction, fantasy, horror, poetry, and so far, two nonfiction books, Haunted Richmond, Virginia and Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths and True Tales, both published by Schiffer Publishing.  Using the pseudonym, Sapphire Phelan, she has published erotic and sweet paranormal/fantasy/science fiction romance, also poetry and a couple of erotic horror stories, including the current ones, erotic urban fantasy, Being Familiar With a Witch by Phaze Books and erotic Lovecraftian horror novella, Unwitting Sacrifice, by Under the Moon.  She also has done acting on stage and in films.  Find out more about her at her website or at either the MySpace pages for Pamela Kinney or Sapphire Phelan.

She admits she can always be found at her desk and on her computer, writing.  And yes, the house and husband sometimes suffers for it!photo-of-me-at-hanover-book-festival (photo below is of the author at the Hanover Book Festival)

There’s something about an independent bookstore, especially one that deals with the genres you not only write, but read as well.  Instead of a bunch of workers like in a big chain, you have the owner, plus maybe one of two workers.  Knowledgeable about the books in the bookstore, can even suggest some titles when you aren’t sure of what to get.  And not only do you find the current books that just got released in this smaller bookstore, but you find the older ones by the authors too.  You can talk for hours with the owner or the workers about everything under the sun about not only the books, but about the genre TV shows and movies you have seen.

creaturesSuch a bookstore is Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe in Carytown in Richmond, Virginia.  Such an owner is Lelia Taylor.  When I first spied this place in its first location in the Steinmart shopping Center on Midlothian Turnpike, I was excited.  A bookstore that deals mainly in science fiction, fantasy, horror and mystery—how cool is that?

Even greater, it was getting to know Lelia.  She was easy to talk to and very helpful in suggesting any titles.  She even started some reading groups, one for the mystery buffs, the other for the scifi, fantasy and horror fans.  I joined the second group and found other Richmonders who loved to read these genres–making some great friends.  The bookstore became a home away from home.

Then Lelia and Creatures ‘n Crooks moved to its current spot in Carytown a few years ago.  Nestled snug between a place that sells smoothies and Subway, this was done in hope for more foot traffic.  Something that was impossible in its old spot.  In Carytown, people living nearby took walks in evenings and on weekends, even during the daytime during the week, visiting all the unique shops.

I had to drive farther to get my books and for my reader’s group, but I did so.  I even joined the writer’s group that met there one Thursday a month.  Nothing could be better than this.

haunted-richmondThen I began to get published.  Short stories and poetry at first, but then my first book all by myself, a nonfiction ghost book, Haunted Richmond, Virginia, published by Schiffer Publishing.  When it was released June 15, 2007, the first bookstore to have it for sale before all others was Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe.  They had the couple of copies by the cash registers.  It was so cool.  I snapped a picture and posted it on my blog.  Eventually, weeks later, Barnes and Noble and others in town got it, but this indie bookstore beat them all.  That following October, I had a book signing there.

This bookstore will always have a place in my heart.  I can’t get out there as I used to these days, with rising gas prices and all.  But I always try to get out there to buy books and chat with Lelia.  I recommend her to anyone who wants not only my books, but any other they’re looking for.

So if you’re in Carytown and come to the Cary Court Park & Shop shopping center, check out the candy store, the French restaurant and other shops in it, but most of all, do stop inside the cool interior of Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe.  I guarantee you’ll feel you came home.

Find Creatures ‘n Crooks Bookshoppe at 3156 West Cary Street Cary Court Park & Shop Richmond, VA 23221.  The phone number is 804-340-0277 or toll-free (888) 533-5303. Their website is cncbooks.com.

Book Review: *The Crypto-Capers: The Case of the Missing Sock* by Renee Hand (middle reader)

  • The Crypto-Capers: The Case of the Missing Sock by Renee Hand
  • Reading level: Ages 9-12
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc. (October 1, 2008)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0878393046

crypto-capers-cover-pic-001Back of the book blurb: The Team:  Siblings Max and Mia Holmes, along with their good friend Morris and their flamboyant Granny Holmes, are known as The Crypto-Capers.  They are a group of detectives who unravel crimes by solving cryptograms that criminals leave behind.  Mia is an expert puzzle solver.  Max is great at deduction and reasoning.  Morris is a computer genius, and Granny . . . well, Granny is the muscle of the group.  Don’t let her size or age fool you, she is quite handy.   The Stolen Items: An antique sock (just one) and Prada sunglasses.  The Assignment: The Case of the Missing Sock leads the Crypto-Capers to Florida, where they are hired by a Mr. Delacomb.  The mystery leads the team to different locations.  Clues flourish throughout the mystery.  Suspects by the handful seem to pop up at every turn, but who committed the crime?  Help the detectives solve the case by solving the cryptograms and puzzles.

She is Too Fond of Books’ review: Renee Hand has written a book that will satisfy readers in a wide range of reading and puzzling skills.  What middle reader wouldn’t want to slip into the guise of one of the child detectives, working for Scotland Yard, traveling the world, and playing with all kinds of high-tech gadgetry?!  The characters are a bit quirky, and are equally appealing to boys and girls.

My 11-year-old son enjoyed reading/solving the book, and I did a shared read-aloud with my almost-7-year-old, who was especially excited about solving the six cryptograms in the book.  The last puzzle doesn’t have an accompanying key; it’s a lead-in to the next book in the series.  Solving this last puzzle was a task all three of us dove in to … and were finally successful after a few false starts.  It was a good exercise to learn about frequently-used letters of the alphabet, searching for patterns, etc.  We would have liked to have more of these “keyless” puzzles (perhaps with an answer key in the back, so no one gets too frustrated!)

The Crypto-Capers: The Case of the Missing Sock is a very fun interactive book that involves the reader in solving the mystery by combining clues the detectives uncover, solving cryptograms which lead to additional clues, and a little lucky guesswork.  We’re looking forward to reading The Case of the Red Rock Canyon, which was published on June 1, 2009.

Renee Hand keeps a blog at The Crypto-Capers Review.  A third book in the Crypto-Capers series is due out in the fall of 2009.