Book Review: American Sherlock

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious–some would say fatal–flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon–as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

 February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

My thoughts:

Oh, how I adore CSI and all that goes along with it. I read this at an absurdly slow rate (for me). In this book, you get to know Heinrich’s life story and hear about his personal life as he basically invented crime scene investigation as we know it today.

 Heinrich’s methods of handwriting analysis, laboratory testing of trace evidence, blood evidence observation, deductive reasoning, and other techniques that made him a criminal investigator ahead of his time.

 He was also an early adopter of victim profiling, and victimology has taken on an increasingly important role in identifying unknown killers. He used photomicrographs –magnified photos were taken through microscopes — and turned them into comparison shots to be used in court to depict significant differences to juries, a method still used today.

All the science is fascinating, and then the narratives of each crime and trial made this book read like a marathon of Law and Order for me.

All in all, I’d give it 5 stars. (Note that I’m not going to rank in stars this year unless it is a 5 star ranking from me.)

Book Review: Homerooms and Hall Passes (Homerooms and Hall Passes #1)

In the mystical realm of Bríandalör, every day the brave and the bold delve into hidden temples or forgotten dungeons, battling vile monsters and evil wizards to loot their treasure hoards for sweet, sweet magic items.

But in their free time, our heroes—Thromdurr the mighty barbarian, Devis the shifty thief, Vela the noble paladin, Sorrowshade the Gloom Elf assassin, and Albiorix the (good!) wizard—need to relax and unwind.

That’s why they meet up once a week to play Homerooms & Hall Passes: a role-playing game where they assume the characters of average American eighth graders.

But when the five young adventurers are magically transported into their H&H game by an ancient curse, they must band together to survive their toughest challenge yet: middle school.

Who knew that battling ogres would be easier than passing algebra or navigating the cafeteria social scene? They must use what they’ve learned from playing Homerooms & Hall Passes to figure out how to save their game world (which might actually be real…).

Published October 8th 2019 by Balzer + Bray

What I think:

The very premise of this story had me giggling like I was a pre-teen. I mean, magical creatures playing at Earth Life? Sign me up. There is so much discussion fodder packed into this middle grade fantasy novel.

This would be a fantastic read aloud for families with kids of all ages who will get the idea behind the story. The plot rolls along quickly with no slow sections at all. Thank goodness it isn’t a stand alone as I have some real questions about both realms (ours on Earth and theirs)

I stole the book description above from the publisher but: It won’t spoil it if I tell you that the kids encounter a cursed object and then get transported straight into Suburbia where things happen.

You don’t have to have played D&D to think this book is hilarious, but if you are familiar with the world building involved this will have you rolling on the ground laughing.

Book Review: Yes No Maybe So

This is a teen Rom-Com type book with an unusually meaningful plot. Jamie and Maya start out canvassing for a political race mostly for something to do. I thought this would sort of a light novel full of funny situations and teen shenanigans. Instead, I found it to be realistic and relevant to our current political situation in the United States today.

Jamie (a Jewish American) and Maya (a Muslim American) used to play together as toddlers, and now their Moms’ encourage them to canvas for a local political race. There is a special election coming up for the state’s house. If they can get the democrat to win, they flip the house. The chapters are in an alternating viewpoint, beginning at the start of Ramadan, which is their first misunderstanding. Jamie is used to fasting for one day, and he doesn’t realize Maya can’t eat anything- not even goldfish crackers.

Maya is told that if she canvasses with Jamie, she’ll earn a car at the end of the Summer. Her parents are recently separated, and she is unsettled in general. In the end, she really cares about the policies and the car becomes a non issue. Awkward Target loving Jamie wants to volunteer as long as it is behind the scenes. He does want to be a politician someday, and so when called upon to go door to door, he does it, knowing it will help him in the long run. His Grandma is a social media enthusiast, and her handle is InstaGramm! I loved how she breaks the older people hate technology stereotype.

This story also spotlights how much teens (and adults) don’t know about different religious belief systems. The characters suffer from discrimination, particularly Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, that is ever-present in America today. The romance between Jamie and Maya is sweet, but seeing two young become educated and involved in how our country works was satisfying on a whole other level.

There is plenty of representation of all ages, religions, political parties, and even a bit of LGBTQ rep to round things out. A couple things that could be improved- it’s a long book. I almost started skimming towards the end. You don’t find out if Maya’s parents get back together. 😦

If you thought Red White and Royal Blue is a bit too mature for your 12-13-year-old reader, this book is the perfect substitute. It contains all of the political setting, discussion fodder, and a bit of light romance. I may buy a finished copy for our shelves.

Release date- February 4, 2020

Book Review: City Spies

So much fun. The best kind of adventure ride possible. You’ve got mystery, intrigue, picturesque settings, smart kids, what’s not to like? This is the first of a trilogy (or more!), and for your middle-grade readers, it is what “fun ” reading should be. This book is made for a day off on the sofa, slurping down tea and cookies while you fly through the story.

The story begins with Sara; she is both a foster kid and a hacker. She’s in court when instead of a public defender, someone else volunteers to represent her provided that she trusts him and plays along with whatever he says in court. It doesn’t take her long to agree, and soon she finds out that he isn’t even a real attorney and works for MI6 as a spy. Also, now she does too!

She joins a group of misfit teens from around the world on a secret team of spies. This story is full of all the twists and turns of an adult spy novel, and your kids will love it!

The teens work together to solve a mystery in Paris, and I’m hoping each book will center on a different worldwide city. You get to know each of the teens a bit, and I can’t wait to read more.

Release Date: March 10, 2020

Book Review: We Could Be Heroes

Oh, my heart. Even if you don’t usually read Middle-Grade novels, this one will yank your heartstrings in the best way. This is an unusual book as the characters are in fourth grade and act more like maybe seventh graders in their actions? In some ways, that will increase the readership range, and I think people on the autism spectrum will enjoy it any age. Although technically it is not a #ownvoices novel, the author does have a daughter with both autism and epilepsy, and both are featured in this story.

The story begins with Hank hating the World War II book that his teacher is reading his class. You can tell right away that he’s a kid filled with empathy, and those books where someone nearly always dies can be rough to navigate at any age. He steals the book, heads to the boys’ bathroom, and sets it on fire, which obviously, was not a great idea. He gets justifiably suspended. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Hank has loving, involved parents, and even with them, and plenty of support from his doctors and the school life is difficult for him.

When he heads back to school, Maisie (a classmate) takes him under her wing and befriends him. It seems like she is the first friend, and their friendship is bumpy as they both make some not wise decisions spurred on from good intentions.

I think the fact that neither Hank or Maisie is mean, or destructive tempers the fact there are a lot of actions in this book you won’t want your kids emulating. But, the love that they show their families and neighbor is both sweet and genuine. They are kids who think a little differently and jump to conclusions that maybe other kids wouldn’t. I thoroughly enjoyed this tale and would recommend it up through eighth grade.

Release Date February 25, 2020

Book Review: On Snowden Mountain

Note to parents: We’re using it in our 8th grade Home Ed curriculum this year. I’ll write up a post over at GoodEnoughHomeschool.Com with a book list this weekend.

I adore historical fiction. I’ve based my entire home education program on intertwining great stories with factual spine books, so that my kids not only get the facts of history but the heart of how people were feeling and thinking at those times.
This World War 2 story set in the American Appalachian Mountains is a quiet, moving tale of families at home. Twelve-year-old Ellen knows enough to call for help after her Dad leaves for the War and her Mom won’t get out of bed. What she didn’t realize is that Aunt Pearl will insist on moving both of them from Baltimore to Snowden Mountain. She doesn’t want to move, and yet there is no alternative.
Ellen goes through a bit of culture shock. The mountain world is new and backward to her: outhouses, the one-room schoolhouse, and the lack of electricity are just the beginning. Nearly everything is different from her life so far.
This is a middle-grade book, but I’d lean towards the older end of that age range due to some of the heavy topics that are central parts of this story. Ellen’s new friend Russell has an alcoholic, violent father, and Ellen’s mother’s mental illness is pretty much unavoidable if you are reading this aloud.
I would hand it to a kid struggling with any of these issues at home as the kids and adults involved handle the situations creatively and thoughtfully. Ellen holds a genuine fear that she may inherit her mom’s mental illness, and even though the setting is long ago, that’s still a fear of kids today.

Publication date: October 2019

Book Review: Don't Read The Comments

Don’t Read The Comments is a YA gaming centered novel. Most teens online game in some way or another, and they will relate to both the fun and hassles involved navigating both online friendships and harassment.

I liked both Divya and Aaron and loved the dynamics that each of them had with their families. The story is told in alternate POV chapters and you’d think that the author is female, because Eric captured the fear that women feel when being challenged online very well.

This was a quick read for me and I loved being entrenched in the gamer girl world. I think you could hand this to kids as young as thirteen with no problem. If they’ve gamed online there isn’t anything in this story that they don’t know.

It was super well done. I’m recommending it to my own gaming teen reader.

Publication date- January 28, 2020