Monday, November 25, 2019

The Rosie Effect

The Rosie Effect
by Graeme Simsion
Recommended Ages: 14+

This sequel to The Rosie Project finds differently-wired Australian geneticist Don Tillman and his grad student wife Rosie living in New York City, where the discovery that she is pregnant throws Don and their relationship into uncharted territory.

His proven strategy of changing himself to become what Rosie needs begins to backfire when an attempt to study children in their natural habitat gets Don arrested at a school playground on suspicion of being a pedophile. Hoping to reduce stress in Rosie's life, he tries to keep this a secret from her – resulting in a series of deceptions that goes wildly out of control. Meanwhile, he hooks onto a research project by and about lesbian mothers, commandeers a parenting class and undergoes group and couples therapy (with the wife of a friend impersonating Rosie), all just to sort out whether he can be the kind of father Rosie expects for their child.

Those who have followed this series from the start have been rooting for Don and Rosie from the minute he called her (inside his own head) the most beautiful woman in the world. His difficulty communicating what he feels will ensure that every step of their journey as a couple is fraught with errors and emotional pitfalls. But now that there's a child on the way, the obstacles to their happiness together seem increasingly insurmountable.

Meanwhile, Don intervenes in the father-son affairs of his rock-star landlord, helps one of his best friends save his business, tries to help another friend put his broken family back together, and lets his mouth get him in trouble in more than one situation. The plot complications and misunderstandings pile on deeper and deeper until Don's pursuit of the woman he already married reaches the tipping point between heartbreak and hilarity.

Audio-book reader Dan O’Grady’s voice acting has just the right comic touch, enhanced by a down-under accent and a firm but not unkind grasp of the main character. The series continues in The Rosie Result.

The Odds of Getting Even

The Odds of Getting Even
by Sheila Turnage
Recommended Ages: 11+

In the third of (so far) four Mo and Dale Mysteries, the Desperado Detectives of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina pick up a third partner – a charming boy named Harm, introduced in The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing as a possible rival to Miss Moses "Mo" LoBeau as the smartest kid the sixth grade class. He sort of becomes a rival in another way, as Mo feels the title of Dale's best friend slipping in Harm's direction – and at one point, the boys even vote her out as the detective in charge of their current investigation. But Mo kind of has it coming, assuming that Dale's daddy Macon is whodunit just because all the evidence points that way – and doubting the feeling in Dale's heart that tells him that Macon is not guilty.

What is Macon guilty or not guilty of? I mean, the guy escapes from jail in the middle of his trial for kidnapping Mo's guardians, part of a criminal conspiracy two books ago. Now there are clues that point toward Macon stealing the collection plate from the town's Baptist church, starting a fire that threatens his older son Lavender's life, breaking into the Johnson family's house and more sinister doings. Everyone thinks Macon has come back to town, perhaps threatening some kind of revenge against his estranged son, and is up to no good.

Poor Dale, who believes in his dad's innocence in spite of everything, would just like a reason to know Macon loves him – or that his friends trust him. Meantime, everyone in town seems to be turning against him and his family. Dale's plight and this rocky patch in his friendship with Mo are the stuff of a surprisingly moving, human story threaded among the humorous pranks, mysteries and manners of a small, southern U.S. town. Adding color to the adventure are a suspicious lady reporter from the big city, the pregnancy of a family dog, dirty tricks on the racetrack and the meanest old lady on the eastern seaboard. It's a fun, worthwhile return to the familiar world of Mo and Dale.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Three Times Lucky

Three Times Lucky
by Sheila Turnage
Recommended Ages: 11+

Moses LoBeau, 11, is a precocious young lady who has been raised, since the day she was born, by the folks who found her riding a piece of floating wreckage in the wake of a flood. For a father figure, she has the Colonel – an erect, nameless man who slings hash at the town's diner and calls Mo "soldier." For a mother, she has Miss Lana – a woman who impersonates actresses of bygone decades and fancies herself on a first-name basis with Bill (Shakespeare) – You know, the guy who said, more or less, "All the world's a stage, sugar, so hop on up there." Her grandma figure is the richest lady in town. And her knight in shining armor is a 19-year-old racecar driver named Lavender, who always kids with her when she says she's going to marry him someday – "You? You're a baby!"

When a police detective rolls into town, Lavender's little brother and Mo's best friend, Dale Earnhart Johnson III, worries that he's going to be arrested for borrowing (without permission) the town miser's fishing boat. Going to jail would be like going to a reunion of the male side of his family, Lavender excepted. Just imagine how scared Dale feels when the old guy turns up dead – murdered. Dale and Mo get ahead of Detective Joe Starr's investigation by starting their own, along with the Desperado Detective Agency. There sure are some suspicious characters in town, any of whom could have done the crime. Unfortunately, one of them is Dale's daddy.

In the little pond of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, Mo is a pretty big fish – albeit in a small package. She has an outrageous mouth on her, and a commanding attitude, and when it comes to sleuthing, she's actually quite good. There is no shortage of quirky personalities around her, though, from the preacher's kid who can't stop talking about the weather, to the little girl who hasn't let age and a lack of a law degree get between her and a career as a lawyer. There's also a kid who likes doing accounting stuff (and who's sweet on Dale), a group of garden club ladies whose gossip embodies the shifting winds of public opinion, and a snotty rich girl affectionately known as Attila Celeste. Some of the guests in town are pretty weird, too – including that cop, Joe Starr, who soon begins to realize that he's met his equal in young Miss Mo.

This hilarious, heart-warming mystery of manners in small-town southern USA was a runner-up for the Newbery Medal. Its (so far) three sequels include The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, The Odds of Getting Even and The Law of Finders Keepers. Sheila Turnage is also the author of a children's book Trout the Magnificent and a couple of non-fiction travel books about the Southeastern U.S.

Holy Ghost

Holy Ghost
by John Sandford
Recommended Ages: 14+

A womanizing wunderkind, a one-legged mayor who campaigned on a promise to do his best, and a shop girl cook up a scheme to bring crowds of the faithful to their small Minnesota town – using high tech to fake a few appearances by the Virgin Mary. For a while, this brings prosperity to the struggling little burg. Then another kind of opportunist takes aim – with a sniper rifle – and Virgil Flowers of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is on the case.

Early in the case, there are some promising suspects – but they come to a bad end, while the shootings go on. It is soon apparent that whoever's doing it has blended into the community so well that his next-door neighbor wouldn't suspect him. A couple of times, Virgil is actually chasing the guy but somehow loses him in streets where the killer evidently knows how to disappear. How can you even be sure he isn't the guy standing on the next stoop, waving and yelling, "He went that way!" It's the kind of Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd scenario that would be funny if people weren't dying.

This is the 11th of currently 12 Virgil Flowers novels by the author of the Lucas Davenport/Prey series, which is heading into its 30th book. That –—ing Flowers (as people generally call him, behind his back) is up to his usual brilliant detecting, but the danger for him and those close to him is real. He takes an arrow(!) in this outing, and half of the golf-hooligan duo of Shrake and Jenkins almost catches his death. A side helping of domestic violence keeps the plot twists nice and violent. But it's the final stalk of the bad guy – or girl – or both – that puts this adventure over the bar in suspenseful, psychologically twisted deviousness.

Book 12 in this series is titled Bloody Genius. Sandford's next novel, due for release April 21, 2020, is the Lucas Davenport novel Masked Prey.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing

The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing
by Sheila Turnage
Recommended Ages: 11+

The tiny town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, isn't too tiny to have its own detective agency. The Desperado Detective Agency, comprising a mouthy sixth-grader named Mo (short for Moses) and her best friend Dale (named after a race car driver), has already solved a murder and now undertakes the ghost-busting of an old inn. The mystery encompasses a girl's death way back when Mo's Grandmother Miss Lacy was a girl herself, stirring up decades worth of guilty consciences, undeclared love, family conflict and a bona fide restless spirit.

Found family seems to be the norm in Mo's small corner of the world. Mo, short for Moses, was found on the day of her birth floating on a makeshift raft in a flash flood. Since then, she has lived with an eccentric couple in the living quarters at the back of the town diner – a man everyone calls the Colonel, because nobody including himself knows his name, and a drama queen named Miss Lana who dresses up as a different movie starlet every day of the week. She writes letters to her "upstream mother" and puts them in bottles for friends and neighbors to toss off bridges when they travel out of town. She tries her teacher's patience to the limit (which is a considerable distance, since she's also a star pupil). She crushes on Dale's older brother Lavender, a real race car driver, and interferes in everybody else's business with a tactlessness that would be horrifying if it wasn't so darned funny.

There's also another interesting boy at school, whose grandfather is the curmudgeonly town moonshiner, and whose older brother is part of a group of ne'er-do-wells who are trying to run Miss Lana and Grandmother Miss Lacey out of the haunted inn they impulse-bought at an estate sale. What these conspirators are after and how far they will go to get it is a matter for the police to work out – or for Dale and Mo, if they get there first.

It's a spooky, funny mystery brimming with quirky characters, small-town charm, heart-touching moments of friendship and above all, the exuberant personality of Mo. I would recommend it to readers of all ages who are up for a little kid-friendly romance and a generous serving of laughs.

This is the second of four "Mo & Dale Mysteries." The series started with the Newbery Honor Book Three Times Lucky and continues in The Odds of Getting Even and The Law of Finders Keepers. Sheila Turnage is also the author of a chapter book titled Trout the magnificent and is credited with two nonfiction titles, Compass Guide to North Carolina and Haunted Inns of the Southeast.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Tied in a Bow

Bowfishing. With a bow. From a bow.
I take credit, or blame as the case may be, for the following limerick: "Our tongue's spelling rules beget laughter, But weeping will follow soon aughter. Correctly to draught Is a treacherous craught, To which children are led as to slaughter."

I know, there's something not quite right about that ditty. Maybe it's the spelling errors, meant to point up the inconsistencies in the way similar sounds are spelled in different words. Maybe it's the broken rhyme, resulting from the different ways similar spellings are pronounced. But it's all to the point -- a point that twists in the wounded wits of everyone who tries to read or write in English.

It's hardly news that the pronunciation of "ough" is a tough thought to think through. I remember seeing an "I Love Lucy" rerun in which Desi vented his frustration with that very thing. But I don't think you even need to deal with silent g's or gee-aitches that stand for effs to realize the full horror of the reality we live in every day.

Take, dear reader, the simple three-letter combination "bow." What word is that? Can you tell if it's the "bow" that rhymes with "row," as in "The girl with the bow sits down to row"? Or is it the "bow" that rhymes with "row," as in "The boy takes a bow after winning the row"? (You almost have to be British to get that one.)

Also, notice that even if you do have the pronunciations straight, you still don't know whether to visualize the girl in the first example as wearing a bit of ribbon tied in a bow, or as carrying an archery weapon. Nor can the boy in the second example be relied on as bending at the waist, perhaps with a gracefully extended leg, when he could conceivably be making off with the front end of a boat.

It's the kind of thing that, whether you're reading aloud or just listening to the words in your mind's ear, makes you go back and read a sentence again. And maybe a third time, just to be sure.

But now and again, even the context doesn't help that much. You need to actually hear someone knowledgeably say certain terms to be sure you've got the right pronunciation, because they don't occur in everyday speech outside of certain lines of work.

A sailor, for example, could tell you that the "bow" in the term "bow wave" is the one that rhymes with "how," "now" and "cow," presumably because it's bow of the vessel that produces the wave as it cuts through water, and not because it's shaped like the bow that the girl in the first example must have set down before picking up the oars.

However, the "bow" in "bow window" rhymes with "low," "crow," and "glow," apparently because that one *is* shaped like the girl's bow, and I'm not talking about the one in her hair as she lounges on the window seat. Perhaps the clue to this is that any bow window on a seafaring vessel would most certainly be at the stern, not the bow.

Now, riddle me this: How are we supposed to guess that the "bow" in the word "bowsprit" rhymes with "grow," "flow" and "show"? I mean, a bowsprit is a spar extending from the bow of a sailing vessel.

Another nautical word incorporating "bow" is "bowline," which Merriam-Webster defines as "1: a rope used to keep the weather edge of a square sail taut forward; 2: a knot used to form a loop that neither slips nor jams." If you assume from the "forward" bit that it's pronounced "bow line," as in "a line to the bow of the ship," you're out in your reckoning, sailor! It's "boh-lən" with a schwa in the second syllable. M-W allows "line" with a long i as a secondary pronunciation, but I gather that's an example of over-pronunciation.

There's apparently room for disagreement about how to pronounce the words "bowdlerize" and "bowdlerization." Merriam-Webster allows the "ow" to be pronounced either as "oh" or "au." Never mind the fact that the word originated with Thomas Bowdler's 1818 expurgated edition of Shakespeare's plays, and that (according to Wikipedia) the guy's name was pronounced with the "au" option.

There's a college in Maine called Bowdoin. If you've never been there, you're probably making up your own unique pronunciation in your head. Does the first syllable have an "oh" or an "au"? That part's easy: it's "oh." But then there's an additional concern: Does the second syllable end in "oyn" or a nasalized "wa," like a French word? Answer: Neither. It's just a schwa with a good, old fashioned n at the end. Boh-dən, the same vowels as in "bowline."

What about that 19th century mathematician who revolutionized celestial navigation and pioneered the noble calling of insurance actuary? Nathaniel Bowditch, right? Well, that guy's "bow" rhymes with "scow," "brow" and "wow." As in, if you haven't kept up with your Bowditch (the navigational guide he published, an updated version of which is still in print and is informally named after him), why, you might just put your bow into a ditch.

Every boy's dream, by the "Dangerous Book for Boys" value for the term "boy," is to possess a bowie knife someday. But how is said boy supposed to pronounce the item when the time comes to boast about it? Well, that depends. Apparently it could go either of two ways: "oh" as in "mow" or "oo" as in "boo." Wait, what? That's a third possible prounciation of the letter combination "bow!" And it's maybe the right one, since it's more likely that the bowie knife was named after Jim Bowie (late of the Alamo) than David Bowie (late of The Man Who Fell to Earth).

"Bow" obviously isn't the only "ow" word with these issues. We've already seen that "row" could go either way, as could "sow" - rhymes with "cow" if it's a female pig, and with "sew" if it means to plant seeds. I'm sure there are other "-ow" words, whether of one syllable or more, that may surprise you as to how they are officially pronounced - such as dhow or trow (both "oh"). But I won't go into them now. Instead, you can look them up either here, a sovereign site for discovering Scrabble words, or some other online dictionary.

Perhaps another time we can laugh about some of the -augh and -ough words that make life in the English-speaking world so rough. There are definitely examples I can name off the top of my head that I wouldn't have known how to pronounce if I hadn't looked them up - for example, lough (lock or loch), sough (sow, as in female pig) and slough (which can be either sluff or slau or sloo). Lord, have mercy on us.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase

The Candymakers and the Great Chocolate Chase
by Wendy Mass
Recommended Ages: 12+

In the sequel to The Candymakers, four friends from diverse backgrounds, chaperoned by a teenage spy, go on a road trip to promote the musical candy bar they invented together in Book 1. Secretly, they are really searching for the secret ingredient without which their contest-winning recipe will be disqualified. But along the way, they find a lot more than that. They find, for example, lost family members, a barking cat, lots of shooting stars and a magical place that needs protection by just such a group of friends as they have become.

After briefly sampling the "same events told from four different points of view" effect that made up the best part of the original book, the sequel continues from the foursome's combined point of view. In addition to the wonderful world of candy, it further explores one kid's brilliant musical mind, another kid's fascination with maps, the talents and gadgets of two teenage spies, the strain of competition and the heartwarming and heartbreaking ties of family and friendship.

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good book, though it didn't hold together as tightly as the first one. There seemed to be room at the end for a third installment, and I'd definitely read it. That says something, I think, about the quality of the characters and relationships developed in this book, earning the reader's trust and affection. Also, it's funny, quirky, magical, and full of delicious (on the mind's palate) candies and treats.

Wendy Mass is also the author of four "Twice Upon a Time" books, reimagining fairy tales and folklore; five "Willow Falls" books, starting with 11 Birthdays; six "Space Taxi" books co-authored with Michael Brawer, including one titled B.U.R.P. Strikes Back; four "Time Jumpers" books, including Dodging Dinosaurs; and a few other books. I think some characters from at least one of them, A Mango-shaped Space, find their way into this book.