The Mysterious Benedict Society
by Trenton Lee Stewart
The Mysterious Benedict Society was another recommendation from my teenage brother. He consistently gets me hooked on series, and this is yet another start to a series. I was very excited to start this book, but found myself stalling about a third of the way through. It wasn’t boring, but there was nothing super gripping. I kept plugging away and about halfway through there was an amazing twist which got me totally sucked in for the remainder of the book. Surprise, surprise, I’ll be continuing to read the series!
The Mysterious Benedict Society follows the life of young orphan, Reynie. Reynie is quite bright and gets an opportunity to go to a specialized school if he can pass a series of tests. The tests are unusual and seem strangely easy for Reynie, who passes one after another. Two other children pass as well: Sticky and Kate. At the end of the final test, they meet their benefactor: Mr. Benedict, and get some answers. The school he wants to send them to is actually the front for an evil man who is trying to take over the world. Mr. Benedict needs clever children to attend as undercover agents in order to learn the full plot. Reynie, Sticky and Kate will team up with one other remarkably small child, Constance. Spoilers: they successfully infiltrate the school by performing well in their classes and impressing the director, Mr. Curtain. They ultimately determine that Mr. Curtain is Mr. Benedict’s twin and is trying to take over the world through radio signals carrying hidden messages. He has the ability to wipe memories as well and has done so with former agents so that they cannot expose him. Mr. Curtain has a machine that sends all the radio messages out. He sits on one side and thinks his obscure phrases that then a child sitting on the other side repeats (a child’s mind is the only way to get the messages broadcast). They know they need to destroy the machine and figure out how to have the memories returned. In the end, Constance (who is unbelievably stubborn because it turns out she is a toddler) sits in the machine and refuses to comply with Mr. Curtain’s thoughts and thereby breaks the machine. Mr. Curtain escapes, but they have enough evidence to pursue him and convince authorities of the plot. The children also find out that the memories can be coaxed back and Mr. Benedict has figured out how to do that. There is a very happy ending as one of the agents remembers his past and it turns out that he is Kate’s dad who has been missing. Sticky gets reunited with his parents who have been distraught over his disappearance (he left after a misunderstanding). Reynie realizes that their work is far from over (since, Mr. Curtain escaped), but they enjoy a few moments of happiness before this sinks in.
Summing it up: While this took me a little bit to get into, in the end, I really enjoyed the twist, the characters and the book! I definitely recommend it.
All the best, Abbey
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
by Robert C. O’Brien
I’ve heard about Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH here and there over the years. I didn’t know anything about it except that it was well-known and had won an award (a Newberry Medal). I ended up sitting down and reading it this summer and I loved it! I thoroughly enjoyed the storyline, writing, and characters. It was a simple story with endearing values. I loved all the things that Mrs. Frisby did for her children. She really went to lengths to help her children. There was a bit of a puzzle at the beginning of the book involving Mrs. Frisby’s husband, and I really enjoyed seeing all the pieces fall into place about his backstory as the story went on. It was very creative and unexpected. The ending was a little vague, which was sad and a little frustrating. But the rest of the book was so good that I’m overlooking that. I enjoyed the process of reading this book and I really look forward to reading it to my boys.
Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse left to take care of her young mice children. Spring is on the way and she needs to move her family to their summer home. However, one of her sons is sick and cannot be moved. This puts the whole family at risk of death because their home is in the field of a farmer who will be ploughing soon. In an act of desperation, Mrs. Frisby goes to visit the wise owl in the woods. He tells her to ask the Rats of NIHM (who live nearby the farmhouse). Mrs. Frisby is terrified, but as a mother is willing to do whatever she needs to for her children. She then embarks on a journey full of terror and suspense. Spoilers: her adventure is fraught with intrigue and discovery, from meeting the rats, to learning that they were great friends with her late husband, to working with them to move her house around a rock to be protected from the plough. She also learns about her husband’s past and how he became friends with the rats. He and other mice, along with a group of rats, were captured and brought to a science lab where they were experimented on. The great experiment? To see if rats and mice could learn to read. The answer? Yes. Soon the rats and mice outsmarted the scientists and escaped, however only two mice survived, including Mrs. Frisby’s husband. They founded a society of sorts and settled by the farm house where they established a high tech home with running water and electricity. The rats are very smart and hope to build a new home where they will not be stealing resources from the farmer. By the end of the book, the rats successfully help Mrs. Frisby and she in turn helps them by discovering that the scientists suspect the rats’ location and warning the rats. They are able to move in time, but loose a few of their people. The vague ending is that you’re not totally sure which rats don’t make it, and it might be one that is very likable. That being said, it is a mostly happy ending.
Summing it up: I really enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it!
All the best, Abbey
by Johanna Spyri
I remember reading Heidi as a girl and really liking it, though I couldn’t remember quite how it ended and what exactly happened (yes, a common theme for me, which is why I started this blog). My book club was reading it, so I was very excited to reread it. True to my memory, I loved this book all over again. It is a very simple story with morals and heartwarming events. Heidi goes through ups and downs and you ride them right along with her. There are strong religious themes throughout the book, which is nice to read. Sometimes it was a little much for me, so I skimmed a bit, but it doesn’t take away from the book by any means. It is refreshing to read a novel that is sweet and uplifting. Another theme that I absolutely loved was the power and importance of learning, specifically for reading. I am an advocate for education and the power of reading, so I loved this theme. The Grandmother in the story says to Heidi, “You see that picture with the shepherd and the animals – well, as soon as you are able to read you shall have that book for your own, and then you will know all about the sheep and the goats, and what the shepherd did, and the wonderful things that happened to him, just as if some one were telling you the whole tale.” She encourages Heidi to learn and is instrumental in helping Heidi become educated.
Heidi is an orphan girl who is staying with her aunt. However, her aunt gets a job and must leave Heidi with her reclusive Grandfather on the top of a mountain. Heidi is a cheerful, loving little girl and immediately adapts to her Grandfather’s simple, quiet life and falls in love with him, his cottage, and his goats. Heidi’s aunt feels horribly guilty, so unbeknownst to Heidi or her Grandfather, she agrees to place Heidi in the home of a wealthy man and his daughter, Clara. Clara is a cripple and needs companionship. When Heidi first moves in with them she is heartbroken (having just been torn from her Grandfather), but she does her best to be good and soon becomes friends with Clara. During this time, Heidi meets Clara’s Grandmother, who encourages Heidi to learn and read and trust in God when she is sad. Spoilers: Heidi’s depression deepens and she becomes weaker and weaker. After a scary episode of sleepwalking, the family doctor is called and he diagnoses homesickness, recommending that Heidi return to her Grandfather as soon as possible. Clara is heartbroken, but her father realizes the harm that has come to Heidi and personally takes her home. So Heidi returns home and is beyond happy. After a little while it’s arranged for Clara to journey up and stay with Heidi. She is weak, so it is quite the endeavor to bring her up in her wheelchair, but they do it. Peter, the shepherd boy for the Grandfather’s goats and good friend of Heidi’s, is very jealous of Heidi and Clara’s relationship so he maliciously wreaks Clara’s wheelchair. It all gets discovered when his conscience can no longer bear it. Happily it all works out because Heidi is forgiving and Clara (thanks to the fresh mountain air) recovers her strength and learns to walk again. It is a very happy ending, which was a little schmaltzy for me, even though I like happy endings.
Summing it up: this is a sweet, beautiful story that I definitely recommend!
All the best, Abbey
by Sara Pennypacker
illustrated by Jon Klassen
Pax was another recommendation from my brother. This time though it wasn’t my favorite book. It was sad (which he forewarned me about by saying to read it with a box of tissues), the father was awful, and the ending left several plot lines unfinished. While it was beautifully written, I was ultimately a little disappointed.
Pax is the story of a young boy and his pet fox who have been together since Peter found the kit all alone. Peter named his fox Pax and all Pax has ever known is Peter and life as a domesticated fox. Their life is turned topsy turvy when Peter’s father enlists and makes Peter return Pax to the wild. Peter’s mother is dead, so he will be living with his grandfather. It is a sad day when Peter tricks Pax into leaving by dropping him off at a wood and throwing Pax his toy to chase before driving away with his dad. The rest of the story follows Peter and Pax as they struggle to live apart. Spoilers: as soon as Peter leaves Pax, he knows he did the wrong thing and plans to go back and find him. He runs away from his grandfather and before long breaks his foot and is found by Vola, a former soldier who lost her leg and now lives alone in the woods. They form an odd pair as Vola nurses Peter and Peter draws Vola out of her shell and back into society. Meanwhile, Pax figures out what Peter did and is lonely and confused. He’s never lived in the wild and is frightened by the environment and strange noises. He is determined to wait where Peter left him, knowing that Peter will return. As the days pass, Pax becomes dehydrated, hungry and discouraged. One day an older fox finds him and he gradually becomes integrated into his pack with a female fox, Bristle and her brother, Runt. He begins to bond with them and immerse himself into the life of wild foxes. Their life is full of heartache as their home is being overtaken by the army, which causes the older fox to die when he steps on explosives. Pax bonds more and more with Bristle and Runt through all their difficulties. In the end, Peter recovers enough to search for Pax and after traveling a few days, he finds him in the woods with Bristle and Runt. Pax recognizes Peter and runs to him, but they both realize that Pax belongs in the wild with his new family. The ending was fitting, but sad. My biggest complaints were the father . . .he was checked out the entire time and had no support or understanding for his son. And there were several loose ends. What about the grandfather: did he ever look for his grandson or care that he was missing? And Vola? Did she integrate with society or go back to being a hermit?
A huge plus were the charming illustrations:
Summing it up: I enjoyed reading it to an extent, but in the end, I was sad and disappointed. I’m on the fence for recommending it, since it wasn’t “bad,” but it wasn’t amazing.
All the best, Abbey
by R. J. Palacio
I’ve seen Wonder in the library for ages and the cover always caught my eye. However, I wasn’t compelled to read it because of my huge piles of books at home. But when the librarian said, “you have to read it” and my brother also said it was good, I decided to add it to my pile. I’m happy I did (my usual refrain, I know). I loved Wonder. It was beautiful, moving and inspiring. I loved the characters, the tone throughout the book, and mostly I loved the message.
Wonder is about a fifth grade boy, August, who was born with a grossly deformed face. For his whole life he’s had surgery after surgery and has been homeschooled. Now he’s at the point where the surgeries have died down and his parents think it’s a good idea for him to get out more and choose going to school as the best way to do so. At first August is apprehensive, but after visiting the school and meeting a few students who aren’t repulsed by him, he accepts it and starts to enjoy. Things are very difficult though, from bullying to betrayal to constant guarded looks and whispers (spoilers: Julian is a nasty bully starting the game, “plague” which says that anyone who touches August needs to wash their hands immediately so they don’t get the plague, and Jack Will befriends him, but then admits that he did it only for show). There are high points as well from his sister’s love and parents’ encouragement, to making true friends, to gaining respect from those around him (spoilers: his true friends are Summer who liked him from the start, Jack Will who realizes he genuinely likes August not just because he was asked to, and eventually the school as a whole who rally around him after he gets bullied by older kids). At the very end, the principle is speaking at the fifth grade graduation and quotes J. M. Barrie’s book The Little White Bird saying, “Shall we make a new rule of life . . . always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary.” I love this quote and it sums up the message of the book, which I adore. I am inspired to be kinder than is necessary after reading this beautiful book. And I hope that you are too.
Summing it up: I simply loved this book and I highly recommend it.
All the best, Abbey
Horten’s Incredible Illusions
by Lissa Evans
After finishing the first Horten book (Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms), I was excited to start the second one, Horten’s Incredible Illusions. As expected, it was just as cute and clever as the first. I think I actually liked this one a little better. I already loved the characters and it was a little easier of a plot to follow. I especially loved the ending.
We find Horten right where we left off. He found his great uncle’s magical workshop and his 5 illusions, along with a metal star. The local museum takes in the illusions to make an exhibition out of them and the curator makes Horten a junior curator, putting him in charge of making plaques with descriptions. The only problem is that Horten doesn’t know what each illusion does, so he enlists April and they get to work. Spoilers: they figure out the pattern: they must learn how each illusion works, then find a star indentation to place the star, they magically get transported to a different place and must solve a puzzle in order to return home. Each time, the star loses a limb, and after each puzzle is solved a letter appears. The goal is to find each letter in order to find Tony Horten’s will (whoever finds it will be the owner of the illusions). The puzzles get more complex until in the second to last one, April and her sisters get left behind. In the last one, Horten must solve the final puzzle in order to rescue the 3 girls and Uncle Tony’s dog. It gets down to the last second, but Horten does it (and grows an inch and a half in the process). While all this is going on, Horten gets calls from a mysterious old lady who wants to buy the illusions after Horten finds the will and becomes the legal owner. She wants to make him exceedingly wealthy, which is very tempting. When he and April finish putting together all the letters from the illusions, they find the will in the Wishing Well and take it out together in order to be co-owners. The old lady’s lawyer confides in them, explaining that her client’s great grandmother wanted her to buy them, melt them down, and put them at the base of a statue of herself (the great grandmother was the Mayor from the first book). Once this is clear, April and Horten refuse to sell, instead giving the illusions to an up and coming magician (Clifford, the one who was duped into taking magic class after class by the Mayor in the first book). Because of their generosity, Clifford and his lighting assistant, Elaine (who is soon to be his wife) go on to have great success in their magic act! It is such a sweet, cute ending and a very fun and clever plot. I really loved it!
Summing it up: I highly recommend this cute, clever book, especially if you read the first one!
All the best, Abbey
Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
by Newt Scamander (aka J. K. Rowling)
I finally got a hold of Fantastic Beats & Where to Find Them. It was so exciting to fall back into Harry Potter’s world. I loved this little book and reading about all the magical creatures Newt Scamander came across. That is essentially the plot. Scamander, a wizard, traveled the world finding magical creatures and then wrote a book on them, classifying them based on how dangerous they were. I loved the key to rate their danger level.
Also, Harry’s notes were hysterical. I’m once again floored by Rowling’s writing ability and imagination.
Summing it up: I definitely recommend this book!
All the best, Abbey