Monday, July 30, 2018

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl - Her Second Prose Novel! 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl returns for a second novel, once again written by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale.  It is unbelievable how popular this character has become over the past few years, having suddenly obtained a surge in popularity, so much so that not only does she have her own ongoing comic book series, but also, apparently, this young adult book series.  I'll admit, I jumped on the bandwagon, having fallen in love with this character while she was a member of the GLA (that would be the Great Lakes Avengers), and have been enjoying her stories every since.  She is fun, and she makes reading comics (and books!) fun again.

That being said, I have to say that 2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious was not quite as good as the first book.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but it felt somewhat slow, somewhat padded, and, well, to be honest, the story probably could have been told better if it were about 75 or so pages shorter. I think it's the same problem I have with many comic books today - they are padded to tell 6-issue story arcs (to fit the trade paperback format), when really, many of the stories could be told in just 2 or 3 issues.  That is what it felt like as I was reading the book.  There seemed to be a lot of repetition and more "pre-teen drama" than necessary.

The story centers around a new mall being built between Shady Oaks and its sister town, Listless Pines.  There is something not quite right about it.  Squirrel Girl's BHFF (best human friend forever), Ana Sofia suspects there is Hydra involvement, but no one believes her.  Not even Squirrel Girl.  But then again, Squirrel Girl has other problems she is dealing with in her personal life - her teacher at school hates her, she's finding it difficult to balance life as a middle-schooler with life as a super-hero wannabe, and to top it all off, she's having difficulty maintaining her friendship with Ana Sofia, who she seems to be unintentionally offending at every turn.

The first three quarters of the book seems to be build up, with a lot of what I call "fluff" to pad out the story - Squirrel Girl/Doreen's constant self-doubt regarding her friendship, and Ana's doubt about whether Doreen/Squirrel Girl is really her friend or like everyone else she has known, etc. etc.  And, yes, this is a young adult book, and perhaps my perspective as an adult male skews my view on it, but the first book was no so heavy-laden with this type of material.  It was more about Doreen coming into her heroic side and finding that friendship with Ana Sofia.

However, there were elements of the main story interspersed throughout, with the ever-energetic Bryan (you can call him "Bry"), who works overtime to build up excitement about the new mall, going so far as to offer a contest to the neighboring cities to see what the mascot will be - a dog or a cat?  What starts out as a friendly challenge, though, ultimately becomes a brutal battle, particularly when Dog-Lord shows up in Shady Oaks with his robot puppies and Miss Meow shows up in Listless Pines with her deadly claws.  When Doreen's faithful furry friend, Tippy Toe, discovers a basement in the mall that shouldn't be there, and Ana Sofia discovers some disturbing plans on the dark net, Doreen - or rather, Squirrel Girl - realizes that some action needs to be taken to protect the good people of Shady Oaks and Listless Pines!

The Hales once again tell the story through multiple eyes (so to speak) - through the POV of Doreen, Squirrel Girl, Ana Sofia, Tippy-Toe, Text Conversations, and at one point, through the eyes of the villain himself!  And while I am normally not a fan of books where the POV changes with each chapter, it doesn't really bother me so much with Squirrel Girl - perhaps because this is more of a light-hearted adventure than it is a serious story.  Plus, the footnotes (relaying Squirrel Girl's observations of the story and the characters in it) are pretty humorous at times.

The book wasn't a complete loss, but it's definitely one I would recommend picking up in paperback and not spending the money for the hardback edition.

RATING:  6 basement barnyards out of 10 for remaining mostly true to the good-hearted, fun-loving nature of Marvel's surprise breakout character!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Short Lived Comic Series #8 - DC Comics' Starfire

 No, not that Starfire.  This was long before Marv Wolfman and George Perez introduced the world to the orange-skinned, scantily-clad alien in the New Teen Titans.  No, back in the mid-1970s, DC was publishing a lot of new and unique comic book titles in an apparent attempt to vary their titles beyond the superhero, war, and horror stories currently being published.  The first issue, cover dated September 1976, introduced readers to the newest sword and sorcery heroine - Starfire!

Starfire only lasted eight issues.  Whether this was due to the numerous changes in the editorial and writing staff in those few issues, or whether the comic fandom of the mid- to late-70s just wasn't ready for a female-led sword and sorcery title (hmmm, Red Sonja anyone?), who knows?  But the character was DC's second, out of three, to carry the name Starfire.  The first was the Russian superhero introduced in Teen Titans #18 back in 1968, and the third (and probably most famous) is the alien Koriand'r from the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans series of the '80s and beyond.  After the cancellation of her series, Starfire seems to have been lost to obscurity, appearing only a few random times over the past 40 years (the most notable appearance being shortly after the cancellation of her title, she appeared in Star Hunters #7 in 1978).

As with comics back in that day, Starfire's origin story did not take 6-issues to tell.  In the first issue, readers quickly learn that Starfire was a slave who, upon her eighteenth birthday, was to become a concubine for the slavers, an alien race known as the Mygorg.  She attempts to escape, but is quickly caught - at least, until the human priest, Dagan, shows up and rescues her!  Knowing nothing but slavery, she assumes Dagan is her new master - - but he teaches her not just what freedom means, but how to fight for it!  In just one issue, readers discover not only Starfire's origin, but the background of her planet, the slavers, and the humans' fight for freedom from the Mygorg and their enemies, the Yorg.  But as with any freedom, there is a price to pay, and by the end of the first issue, Dagan is killed and Starfire cries out for vengeance of her fallen love.

The first issue of Starfire was written by David Micheline with art by Mike Vosburg and Robert Smith.  Micheline and Vosburg stayed for the second issue, but Smith was replaced by Vince Colletta.  By the third issue, Micheline (one of Starfire's creators) was gone, replaced as writer by Elliot Maggin (known later as Elliot S! Maggin - don't forget the exclamation point!).  These three managed to hang on to the title through issue five, but with the sixth and seventh issues, Steve Englehart took on the writing chores, while the eighth and final issue was written by Tom DeFalco.  Thus, while the art team remained consistent with issues two through eight, the title seemed to have a rotating door of writers, which I'm sure played a small part in the title's early demise.

While there is a continuing story of Starfire's journey to free her world (which, by the way, is NOT planet Earth, as is stressed a number of times in the letter columns - but sadly, we never get to learn exactly what planet it is, and whether it is past, present, or future, as the series ends before those secrets are ever revealed), each issue does have a self-contained story.  Starfire also gains some supporting characters, but the only ones who remain with her to the end are the somewhat self-serving Moonwatcher and the silent giant, Thump.  Ultimately, Thump's backstory plays an important part in Starfire's fight against the Mygorg and Yorg, but I have to wonder if that was the original author's intention when the character first appeared (since writers changed to often throughout the 8-issue run).

The first issue totes the series as "A New Epic of Swords & Science," and by the end of its short run, readers do get their fill of not only sword-fights, but sorcery and science as well.  In fact, when Starfire and her team finally locate the lair of the Lightning Lords, it becomes clear that this world is not a true barbaric world after all - - at least, at time it was not.  It would have been interesting to see what other revelations we would have learned about the world, the time, and the people had the series been given a chance to continue.  But, alas, Starfire's ultimate fate, and that of her world and fellow humans will forever remain a mystery, lost in the world of comic purgatory...

RATING:  6 oily bath pellets out of 10 for taking a chance on a female-led comic book at a time when there were very few such comics on the shelves!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Occult and Battery - the second Bay Island Psychic Mystery

Finding a book, or a series of books, that you enjoy so much that you can't put them down is a bittersweet, two-edged sword.  On the one hand, you love it so much you can't wait to read it.  On the other hand, once you've read it, you know it's over or you have to wait who knows how long for the next book in the series!  Such a quandary - - read it, knowing how good it is but also that once done, you'll have to part with your literary friends; or put off reading it, building the anticipation for getting together with those characters you love so much.

The second book in the Bay Island Psychic Mystery series is just such a book.  I was pleasantly surprised at how much I loved the first mystery, with its almost grown-up Nancy Drew feel to it, and so picking up the second book to read left me with that quandary.  But I didn't wait long, because once I read that first page, I was hooked yet again.

Occult and Battery finds former psychatrist Cass Donovan looking for a way to earn money to keep her shop open over the winter months (since Bay Island is not exactly a tourist destination with all the cold, ice, and snow), and she may have found it with the opportunity to do a "psychic weekend" at an abandoned mansion (supposedly haunted) being re-opened as a bed and breakfast resort.  With plans for a group reading, individuals readings, and even a seance, Cass and her friends are excited about the opportunity - - well, Cass and Stephanie are excited.  Bee, as usual, is a bit reluctant to go anywhere near a place that might have actual ghosts, even though he doesn't believe is such nonsense.  At least, so he says...

This is a murder mystery, so needless to say a body turns up.  A vicious winter snow storm traps all of the attendees in the old Madison Estate, and soon enough, the body of Conrad Wellington is found hanging from the rafters.  But is it suicide, or was it really murder?  The question is first and foremost in everyone's mind, and Cass's gut reaction tells her it was murder.  But why?  Conrad was certainly not the most pleasant of people, but was it simple greed that provided the motive, or something more sinister?  And how to Cass's ex-husband and ex-best friend (with whom she caught her husband, which precipitated the divorce) figure into things?  When Cass catches her ex-husband in the deceased's room, wiping down everything, her suspicions go into overdrive.

Then Cass crashes her car into a snowdrift outside the mansion, and she finds herself alone in the mansion with Conrad's younger brother, Jim.  And that's when she discovers the second body, that of Conrad's money-hungry, nasty witch of a wife, Joan.  But how can she tell the police without them asking why she was snooping around in the house again, after she was specifically told to stay out of it?

Author Lena Gragory provides plenty of motives, plenty of suspects, and plenty of red herrings in this well-written, engaging, and sometimes laugh-out-loud mystery.  There's a haunted house, long-lost relatives, a missing deed, even a death threat or two!  Plus, there's a determine amateur detective with her two faithful sidekicks - the loyal encourager and helper, and the sometimes timid but surprisingly capable when need be flamboyant one!  Sound a bit like Nancy Drew?  Well, the fact that the book is devoid of any swearing, the romance is kept clean, and the amateur detective doesn't even pick up a gun - I'd say this book definitely has an old-time Nancy Drew feel to it, which only adds to its charm.

Take all of this, and add in an oversized, lovable, not-so-obedient dog, and you've got a great book that any mystery-lover will absolutely enjoy!  Now comes the hard part of waiting to read the third book and hoping a fourth is in the works...

RATING:  10 dog-eaten engagement rings out of 10 for keeping me guessing right up to the very end on this one!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

A Wells & Wong Mystery, Book 4 - Jolly Foul Play

After an eventful summer (detailed in the previous two books, Poison is Not Polite and First Class Murder), Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong return to school, only to find the services of their Detective Society is once again needed - this time to solve the murder of a fellow student!

Robin Stevens' fourth novel in the Wells & Wong Mystery series takes the two aspiring detectives back to Deepdean school for girls to find that much has changed.  And, as is the case in the lives of real friends, it is not only the relationships at school that have changed.  Jolly Foul Play finds the friendship between Daisy and Hazel strained.  Daisy remains the same determined, often unemotional, quick-thinking, and unafraid of facing danger girl that she has always been; Hazel, however, has begun to change and grow, emotionally as well as physically.  Plus, her newfound friendship with Alexander (the Junior Pinkerton that Hazel and Dasiy met on board the Orient Express in the last mystery) has continued via correspondence, and Daisy seems none-too-keen on the idea that Hazel is sharing her attention with someone else.

But those feelings are put aside when the Head Girl is discovered dead on the night of the Guy Fawkes Day celebration, in what appears to be a horrible accident.  Daisy and Hazel, along with their newest members of the Detective Society - dorm-mates Lavinia, Kitty, and Beanie, quickly realize that it was not an accident at all, but a murder.  But who would want to murder Elizabeth Hurst?  Well, considering she was the most vicious, spiteful, hateful Head Girl that Deepdean has ever seen, just about everyone!

Stevens writes another great murder mystery, in which just about anyone could be a suspect.  Daisy and Hazel, when they aren't mad at one another, ultimately agree that the murder has to be one of the five prefects - the five Big Girls who oversee the girls in the lower grades (and, under Elizabeth's direction, have been none-too-kind about it).  Like everyone at Deepdean, each of the five Big Girls has a secret that they don't want revealed.  With Elizabeth dead, it would seem those secrets would be safe.  At least, until pages from Elizabeth's "Scandal Book" start showing up around school, making known secrets of the girls in the lower grades - secrets so devastating that one girl runs away!  Daisy theorizes that if they can discover the Big Girls' secrets, they can uncover the identity of the killer.

Unlike many children's mystery series, Daisy and Hazel and all of their friends (and enemies) age, mature, grow, and change, and it's refreshing to see how this aging and these changes affect their relationships.  These things definitely affect the way the girls react to things, as well as the way they interact with one another during the course of the investigation.  And while Stevens certainly integrates the girls' personal lives into the story, she never lets the reader forget for one second that the main focus is the murder mystery.  (It is also nice to see elements of previous stories intertwined into the current mystery, and how things that have gone before still have an affect on things now.)

With four solved murders under their proverbial belt, there's no doubt that the girls' trip to Cambridge, where they plan to meet up with Alexander and his fellow Junior Pinkerton, George, will lead to another murder to solve!  Can't wait to read that one!

10 burnt and chopped up hockey sticks out of 10 for proving the young adult mystery genre is still alive and kicking and doing quite well!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Doctor Who: Tales of Terror

Most days, I still can’t believe what a fan of Doctor Who I’ve become.  From those days of listening to my best friend talk about it (and me sitting there letting it go in one ear and out the other), to now, when I know all about the different incarnations of the character, the actors who have portrayed him, all his various companions, and the villainous creatures he has faced over the years.  It’s definitely surprising, but in a good way.

This newest anthology of stories, Doctor Who: Tales of Terror, I purchased for one reason and one reason only – it has a story where Donna Noble is the Doctor’s companion.  As soon as I saw her name on the pages of the 10th Doctor’s story, I knew I would be buying this book.  But, since I bought it, I was determined to read all twelve stories, not just the one about my all-time favorite companion.  And while the tales may have been written to terrify the readers, they did the exact opposite for me – they thoroughly entertained me.

From the 1st Doctor’s face-off with the Toymaker (with the help of Steven and Dodo), to the 2nd Doctor’s battle with a dark creature from the time vortex (alongside Ben, Polly, and his latest companion, Jamie), to the 3rd Doctor and Jo Grant’s encounter with one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies. Sarah Jane and Harry find themselves in danger that only the 4th Doctor can save them from, while Tegan and Turlough are saved from the Mara by the 5th Doctor’s genius nature.  The 6th Doctor finds himself haunted by his past, and the 7th Doctor and Ace confront a haunting in the past.  The 8th Doctor discovers that everyone is not who they seem onboard a pleasure cruise, and the 9th Doctor reveals where everyone that has disappeared from a travelling circus have really gone!

Then there’s the 10th Doctor and Donna Noble.  The story I was waiting for.  The sole reason I bought this book.  And author Richard Dungworth did not let me down.  The Doctor-Donna team play a deadly game with the ever-vicious Family of Blood, who have discovered they no longer need the Doctor to find immortality, but rather, his TARDIS.  Dungworth captures the clever dynamic that make the Doctor-Donna so enjoyable to watch and read, and I could almost hear Catherine Tate’s voice speaking the somewhat put-off, never one to be put-down lines of Donna every time she thinks the Doctor is getting the better of her.  And her snipes to the Family are spot-on!  Of course, it goes without saying that they outwit the Family and reunite them in a fitting punishment before the dynamic duo head off for their next adventure…

Leaving the 11th Doctor to dispel the purple haze that nearly places a family in mortal danger at the hands of the Weeping Angels, with the 12th Doctor rounding things out as he puts an end to Nestene’s attempt to raise an army of autons to take over the Earth!

Each story has a pen and ink illustration that highlights the “monster of the tale,” so to speak, and while some do include and Doctor and his companions, sadly, the Donna story does not – we simply get a taste of how innocent real horror can be when it wants to be!  Although I’ve finished these twelves tales of terror, I know it won’t be long until the newest Doctor hits the small screen (and if I can’t wait, well, I still have a few more Doctor Who books that I haven’t read yet to tide me over until then…)

RATING:  10 games of twenty questions out of 10 for reminding readers that no matter which Doctor you like, ultimately, there’s no villain too terrifying for the Doctor and his companions to defeat!

Friday, July 6, 2018

Green Lantern, Earth One - Volume One

Three volumes of Superman.  Two volumes of Batman.  Two volumes of Teen Titans.  One volume of Wonder Woman (with another on its way).  And now, DC has added a  new character to its realm of "Earth One" graphic novels, and that is the Green Lantern.

Now, from what I can remember when DC first decided to do these "Earth One" graphic novels, they were supposed to be written and drawn by big name creators.  Superman was.  Batman was.  Teen Titans was.  Wonder Woman was.  With Green Lantern, however, I'm surprised to see the creators are Gabriel Hardman (co-writer and artist), Corinna Bechko (co-writer), and Jordan Boyd (colorist).  Do you recognize these names?  I sure don't!  I had to go online and do some searching to figure out who these people were.  It appears Hardman has done some writing and artwork for Marvel, DC, Image, and Dark Horse, as has Bechko.  However, I am not seeing anything stand-out or long-term runs on any titles that would, in my opinion, define the as "big-name creators."

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this first volume of Green Lantern: Earth One. Never have been much of a fan of Green Lantern; however, Hardman and Bechko's take on Hal Jordan (or Harold Jordan, as the case may be in this particular version) is pretty unique and not predicated on the whole "man without fear" thing.  Jordan, in this story, is more of a loner, having walked away from not just the people he knew, but the whole planet!  Interestingly enough, Jordan has been working for Ferris Galactic, mining asteroids, and has not returned to his home planet for nearly ten years.  And just when he thinks he has hit another dead-end with a dead asteroid, he uncovers something completely unexpected.

A spacecraft.

From that point, Hardman and Bechko build a story of adventure, space, and self-realization as Jordan becomes aware of the fact that there is more to the universe than his own little isolated circle of self, and it a true hero's journey.  There's no fancy light constructs, there's no rhyming oath to be said - there are, however, secrets, lies, and ulterior motives that leave Jordan questioning everyone and everything.  Ultimately, though, he sees the light (pun intended!) and makes the choice to save lives, no matter what the cost.

Hardman's art is a bit rough, which, in turn, gives the characters (particularly Jordan) an edgy feel to them.  It works for the space scenes, and it almost has a Joe Kubert-style to it.

There are plenty of plot threads dropped throughout the story that foreshadow things to come, so hopefully this one sells well enough for them to follow up on those.  I'm glad DC is not rushing these Earth One stories, but letting the creators take their time with them, so that readers get really good stories and some fantastic art.  Quality is definitely more important that quantity in my book!

RATING:  8 alien skin grafts out of 10 for showing how to re-imagine a character and story and do it right!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Greetings from Somewhere, Book 10 - The Mystery of the Secret Society

Italy, France, China, Kenya, India, Peru, Australia, Alaska, and now Greece - these two young twins, Ethan and Ella Briar, have certainly traveled the globe with their parents, as their mother continues her assignment as a travel writer for their local hometown paper, the Brookeston Times.  And, since this an early readers' mystery series, it seems at every port, the twins stumble across a new mystery.  This last book in the series is certainly no different.

And yes, you read that correctly.  This tenth book in the "Greetings from Somewhere" series is the last book to be published, having come out in March 2016.  Not sure why the series ended - if it was because of poor sales, or perhaps the author just ran out of ideas, or what.  It's a shame, really, as these were great early reader books that could certainly have been a stepping stone into the world of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys.  But, alas, the series is gone, and I haven't seen them on the shelves at Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million in quite a while.

Nevertheless, if the series was going to conclude, The Mystery of the Secret Society was certainly the way to do it.  The Briar family visits Athens, Greece this time around, and while the parents are helping Dr. Pappas with an archaeological dig, Ethan and Ella are pretty much left to their own devices (doesn't every pre-teen wish they had such freedom?!).  Before they can even leave the dig site, they stumble across a hint of the mystery to come - two images on one of the ancient walls - a hawk and a globe.  Ethan immediately recognizes them as the same images on the two sides of the coin their grandfather gave him wayyyyyyyy back in the first book of the series.

Is there a connection?  If so, what does it mean?

Enter: Dimitrios, a volunteer at the dig.  At first, he is gruff, but within moments, he warms to the children and leads them out of the cavern in which they had become lost.  The twins aren't sure what to think of him, but back at the hotel, they are more concerned about telling their grandfather about their find.  They e-mail him right away, hoping to get a response.

It soon becomes clear that there is more to the images than they first thought.  Dimitrios makes more and more appearances, leaving Ethan and Ella to wonder if he is following them.  Their grandfather is remaining unusually silent, with no e-mail responses, which is unusual for him.  Then, there is the strange crack in the wall with the two images.  And when Dimitrios volunteers to have the twins sit in on a Greek-language class he is teaching, they discover what type of person he really is, for instead he leads them back to the dig site, demanding they show him what they found!  The only problem is, they haven't found anything.  Or have they?

Author Harper Paris rounds out this series with a great little mystery that, in some ways, ties the books together in an unexpected way and a final farewell statement as the Briar family "headed out into the bright, sunny day.  A day full of mysterious possibilities."

As usual, Marcos Calo provides illustrations throughout the story, and as much as I hate to do it, I have to be nit-picky with one of the drawings.  On page 42, the text indicates that Greece is seven hours ahead of the Briar's hometown of Brookeston - yet, in the drawing of the two clocks at the top of the page, Greece shows the time as a little past 1:00, while Brookeston shows the time as a little past 8:00 - which is only five hours behind!  However, with 10 books and literally hundreds of illustrations, I suppose I can't blame him for one snafu!

I'll miss this little series, and it's a shame that young readers won't get to enjoy any more adventures of Ethan and Ella Briar as they travel 'round the world.  Bon Voyage, my little friends, and thanks for the mysteries you did share!

RATING:  8 broken statues of Greek gods out of 10 for making the fun of mysteries accessible even to the early readers!  (Greetings from Somewhere, you will be missed!)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Samantha Wolf Mysteries, Book Four - The Heiress of Covington Ranch

This series grows on me more and more with each book I read.  I still do not like the "present tense" writing style, but I'm gradually getting to the point where my mind is automatically changing it to past tense as I read it.  Not sure why some of the current authors are writing in present tense these days, but for me, it's distracting from the story and forces me to concentrate a bit more on the words and verb tense as I'm reading, rather than simply enjoying the flow of the story.

Aside from that, this fourth Samantha Wolf mystery is by far the best in the series so far.  The Heiress of Covington Ranch definitely hearkens back to the days when children's mystery stories told the tales of secret messages, hidden clues, and missing relatives.  Author Tara Ellis continues the timeline for her aging characters, as summer is over and Samantha ("Sam") and her best friend, Ally, begin middle school.  As I'm sure all of us can remember, starting a new school, where we may know a few kids from the previous school, but having to be in separate classes from our friends, the fear of finding classes and making new friends - well, that is an experience in and of itself.  But Sam and Ally quickly make friends with newcomer Cassy, who is a lot less fortunate than her classmates - she wears the same clothes, her lunches brought from home are not as healthy or filling as everyone else's, and she is very reserved, not letting anyone else get close.  Until Sam and Ally convince her that none of that matters - and particularly when Sam stands up to some girls who try to bully Cassy.

As with any good mystery, what starts out innocent enough soon reveals secrets and a long-kept mystery that Sam can't resist sticking her nose into.  One of their new teachers, Miss Covington, is seen crying in her car - and after a football game, she is seen fighting with a man in the parking lot.  Sam's mother warns her not to get involved, but when has any good sleuth followed her parent's warnings?  Soon enough, Sam discovers that Lisa Covington is the heir to the Covington estate, which includes a valuable jewel, the Eye of Orion.  But the Eye was stolen years ago, and Miss Covington was accused of playing a part.  She claims she is innocent, that she was duped by her boyfriend - but that, and the fact that she was adopted and her formal adoption papers could never be found, prevented her from claiming her inheritance, which included the now abandoned Covington Ranch at the top of the hill where Sam and Ally have grown up riding their bikes and following trails.

This mystery definitely has it all - the missing adoption papers, the lost family heirloom, the looming loss of the family homestead, a greedy uncle intent on taking it all away, a desperate search to save Miss Covington's legacy, and a surprising secret that affects more than just Sam and Ally's teacher!  And Sam is her determined self, doing whatever she needs to in order to help Miss Covington - and her quick wits and riddle-solving mind are put to the test with this one, that's for sure.  I do love, though, how she stands up not only to bullies at school, but also to Miss Covington's overbearing uncle and the bad buys at the end.  She may be a middle-schooler, but Samantha Wolf definitely has the makings of a fine Nancy Drew-esque detective!

If it hasn't been clear before, I'll make it abundantly clear now - I would highly recommend this series to any fans of Nancy Drew and similar series - Ellis certainly honors those series with this one!

RATING:  9 brown bag lunches out of 10 for keeping the traditional children's mystery series concept alive and well without resorting to "sabotage" as the trope of choice.