Monday, March 16, 2015

MMGM- The Sweetest Heist in History

It's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday at Ramblings of a Wannabe Scribe and What Are You Reading? day at Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers. Nonfiction Monday also occurs today.

20791091Spencer, Octavia. The Sweetest Heist in History (Randi Rhodes, Ninja Detective #2)
March 31st 2015 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline

Randi finds life in Deere Creek, Tennessee pretty boring, since the only mysteries to solve are things like Amber-Grace stealing office supplies from the bank her father ran. When her aunt Gigi offers to have her spend a weekend in Brooklyn, and she's able to travel there with her friend Pudge's family, she gladly accepts. When they get there, Pudge's family agrees to let him stay , too, and they proceed to find mysteries everywhere they go. DC also ends up in town at a martial arts competition his father is supposed to be judging, but he doesn't manage to see his estranged father. The Russian men moving into the building where her aunt lives are immediately suspect, especially since the art museum has a display of Faberge eggs. Since Randi is also missing her mother, who would occasionally travel around Brooklyn in the persona of her father's fictional character, Glenn Street, her aunt fills her in on some information. Using not only her powers of deduction but also her ninja skills, Randi manages to solve the mystery of the missing Faberge eggs.
Strengths: Again, a solid mystery with a nice cast of characters. The activities in the back are rather amusing as well, such as the making of sugar flowers. I can see myself begging my mother to do these things after reading the book.
Weaknesses: It would have been more interesting if Randi's mother were alive, had stopped her activities as Glenn Street, and was a mild mannered mother. THEN, when Randi went to Brooklyn, she and her mother could have investigated things together when they got over Randi's head. Far more satisfying, but a little late, now that she's been killed off.

20971477Blume, Lesley M. M. Julia and the Art of Practical Travel
March 10th 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers

When Julia's grandmother passes away, and she and her aunt Constance are forced to sell their Hudson Valley house and all its contents. Constance decides that the two should find Julia's mother, who ran off several years back to pursue a hippie lifestyle. Since it's 1968, they pack up a station wagon with some of their most treasured heirlooms and head off to Greenwich Village with only the vague thought that Rosemary might be there. She isn't, but after consorting with some of the less desirables in the area, they get a clue that she might have gone to New Orleans, and head there. They are able to stay with a family friend at her genteel house, and this friend has links to the voodoo community. A soothsayer tells them to head west. They swing by Texas and spend some time on a ranch, then end up in San Francisco. They eventually find Rosemary, but as the voodoo fortune said, she's not the same person. Constance realizes they must move on without her, and ends up enrolling Julia in the same private school that she attended, while she takes a room at the Barbizon Hotel in New York City. Things don't go well at the boarding school, but can Julia and her aunt find some way that the two of them can be a family?
Strengths: This was a very fun, short read, and I always need books set in the 1960s. This did a good job of bringing in the culture of the times, and even felt a bit like a 1960s book at times-- the mansion in New York start, the scenes in the West, even the California wanderings. Definitely purchasing.
Weaknesses: This fell apart in a big way at the end. Julia was such a delightful, energetic character that I just didn't believe she was too delicate a flower to survive boarding school. I truly believe she would have been the one organizing midnight feasts in defiance of the house mother.
What I really thought: I didn't like that Julia and her aunt needed to be saved by a teacher, and then there is a completely deus ex machine ending. I would rather have seen Julia and her aunt move forward rather than backward. I liked the first part of the book so much that the ending really rather angered me! Adore the cover, but it has a sootlike effect that makes me keep trying to wipe it down!


  1. I've not read either of these and I'm always running into moms who wonder what's on the bookshelf that might be good for their preteen girl. I'm going to take a look also at the first Randi Rhodes novel. Thanks for bringing both of these to my attention. Have a great week!

  2. Thanks for the reviews. How sad that Julia and the Art of Practical Travel was such a disappointment. It sounded great, but I'll take a pass due to the way it ended.

  3. I love how honest your reviews are. I know I can count on them. BTW, it is worth purchasing The Princess in Black in hardcover. Readers from K to 7 have been enjoying it in my library!

  4. Rhodes, Ninja Detective sounds interesting, because I've been looking to read more middle grade mysteries, and I love the sound of the Faberge egg/Russian mystery. But, I do hate it when they kill parents off or make them insufferable.
    Thanks for the honest review about Julia and the Art of Practical Travel. It's just a lovely cover and title, but I am not a fan of deus ex machina endings.

  5. I always appreciate how you highlight the strengths and weaknesses of books. It compels me to keep coming back to your blog. I hadn't heard of either of these books, so thank you for sharing them with me!

  6. Julia and the Art of Practical Travel seems like a fun read. I love the retro cover! Interesting that she was able to bring the feel of the 60s to a book written today.

  7. Hah! From your description and the book covers, I have a distinct feeling my 13 year old daughter would love these two books. Thanks so much for always expanding my reading repertoire through these middle grade titles.

  8. Ninja Detectives is one that I will be watching for. Thanks for the reviews!