The Black Book of Buried Secrets by Mallory Kass

October is Puzzling
One of my favorite genres of middle school fiction are the puzzle books. You know, the ones you get to decifer secret clues or codes along with the characters? If you love mysteries or a good guessing game, these are for you!

This a bonus book to the 39 Clues series, focusing on each branch of the Cahill family: the Lucians, the Tomas, the Ekaterinas, the Janus, and the elusive Madrigals. Each branch of the family is known for their particular skill set.

The Lucians are decendants of Luke Cahill, the oldest child of Olivia and Gideon...and rumored to have caused the explosion that killed his father. Innocent of their accusations, he vowed revenge and to collect all the clues for himself. He became King Henry VIII's right hand man, and Lucians have held powerful positions in government ever since then. The Kabras, Ian and Natalie, are in line to succeed their leadership of the Lucians from their parents. Some of the most famous Lucians have included Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, Winston Churchill, and Anastasia Romanov.

The Tomas branch is decended from Thomas Cahill, 2nd son of Gideon and Olivia, who fled with his sister Katherine after the death of their father. Later, the siblings parted after Katherine stole one of Thomas's clues. Their branch is known for their physical prowess and legendary warrior status. Some of the youngest Tomas' agents are the Holt kids: Hamilton, Regan, and Madison. Among their famous members are Annie Oakley, Shaka Zulu, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and the team of Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea.

The Ekaterina branch is decended from Katherine Cahill, the 3rd child of Gideon and Olivia. She escaped with her brother Thomas after her brother Luke allegedly killed her father. She grew impatient after Thomas postponed their search for clues after falling in love, and resolved to continue the search without him...after she stole one of his clues. The leadership of the Ekat branch has passed to Alistair Oh after the incarceration of his uncle Bae. The Ekats are known for their intelligence, creativity, and ingenuity. Some of their most note-worthy members have included Thomas Edison, the Wright brothers, Abraham Lincoln, and Marie Curie.

The Janus branch is descended from Jane Cahill, the 4th child of Gideon and Olivia. She was only 10 years old when her father was killed, and was devastated at the departure of her brother Luke. She struck out on her own, but found it difficult to make it as an artist AND a she improvised. The Janus branch is made up of artists, actors, singers, and other creative types. Jonah Wizard, world-famous rapper, and secret Shakespeare lover is one of the up and coming younger members of the Janus crew. Well known Janus members include Thomas Jefferson, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, and Mozart.

The Madrigals are decended from Madeline Cahill, the 5th and youngest child of Gideon and Olivia. This is the only branch of the family which requires you to pass a test to gain membership. The newest members, of course, are Amy and Dan Cahill, along with their au pair, Nellie Gomez. Some of the most famous Madrigals included William Shakespeare, Amelia Earhart, and Florence Nightingale.

This branch of the family is dedicated to keeping the balance of power, and uses their influence to keep any one branch from gaining too many clues. This has often required agents to work undercover, or pose as a threat. Additionally, Amy and Dan have been given the task of attempting to unite the branches of the family. Can it be done? It sure seems impossible, given their several hundred years of fighting...

Throughout the book are codes you must decipher to learn what the next series featuring the Cahill family will involve. And yes, all you 39 Clues fiends, they are planning more books! This is a great series for reluctant readers, and includes an online game component for those who can't get enough Cahill action. Watch out, the Vespers are coming...

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
Vespers Rising by Rick Riordan, Peter Lerangis, Gordon Korman, Jude Watson (April 2011)
The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
The Alchemyst: the Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott

The Genius Wars by Catherine Jinks

Cadel is back for book 3 of this series. (Book 2 Spoiler Alert!!!) After the Genius Squad is exposed as a front for Prosper English, formerly thought to be Cadel's biological father, goes into hiding once again. Saul and Fiona decide to officially adopt Cadel. In exchange, Cadel stays out of trouble, puts anything related to his old life of crime behind him, and tries to be a normal kid.

Cadel finally has a real home, with real parents and friends. He even goes to a real school, that doesn't teach anything crazy, like how to poison someone. They've worked out a deal so he can attend the University of South Wales, and avoid criminal charges. In fact, several of the old Genius Squad members are doing the same: Sonja and Hamish. Judith has taken in Sonja, and even hooked her up with a really high tech wheelchair. The chair interprets brain waves, and translates them into simulated speech, as well as direct her chair to move where she wants.

Cadel wants to make life for Sonja as easy as possible, so he comes up with the idea to use the wheelchair tech to control other things, like elevator buttons or crosswalks. So...maybe this isn't entirely 100% legal, but he decides that the breakthrough will be beneficial - not just for Sonja, but for other handicapped people. Maybe his ideas can be implemented into technological shortcuts for others? This is not like what he did with Prosper, or Genius Squad, this is for helping people, right?

Just when he thought Prosper was out of his life, Saul calls him. Apparently Prosper has been caught on CCTV (closed circuit television, used for police surveillance). All Cadel can think is "Why?" What possible motive could Prosper have for coming back to Sydney? Prosper only stands to be imprisoned if he's caught. Why take the risk? Cadel is shipped off to a safehouse "for his own safety," and it's just like all the other times: Prosper is ruining his life.

Everything is going smoothly, until the time comes to try out his idea on the school elevators. Suddenly, Sonja's wheelchair is out of control, barrelling straight for him. He jumps out of the way, only to watch in horror as Sonja and her chair careen down the stairs.

This can't be happening. Could it have been his fault? Was it a glitch in the system he created that caused her wheelchair to malfunction? It seems that Sonja will be okay, but her fancy chair is toast. Cadel decides the best defense is a good offense, and convinces Saul to let him be on the team looking for Prosper. He recruits his new computer professor and some of his best students to start trying to find Prosper's hideout, but things get a little out of control. Some unlikely cast members reappear to help him out.

Will Cadel be able to outwit Prosper, and live a normal life? Or is "normal" just not in Cadel's vocabulary? Great final chapter to this series. While there are no in-book puzzles, the level of deduction and twists and turns will keep any puzzle loving reader entertained.

" 'No. You don't understand,' the agent snapped. 'You are in deep shit, kiddo. Not only with your poor old dad, but with the Department of Homeland Security, and with the Federal Buereau of Investigation, and with the entire Australian police force -'
'I had to do this!' Cadel cried, flushing. 'Prosper English is trying to kill me! I have to track him down!'
'You have to track him down? ... Because no one else can? ... You might want to listen to yourself,' he rapped out. 'You might want to consider what you sound like when you say something like that,' " (Jinks pg. 289, 2009).

*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
The Reformed Vampire Support Group by Catherine Jinks
I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception (book 4) by Eoin Colfer

Jinks, Catherine. (2009). The Genius Wars. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

October is Puzzling 
One of my favorite genres of middle school fiction are the puzzle books. You know, the ones you get to decipher secret clues or codes along with the characters? If you love mysteries or a good guessing game, these are for you!

Ruthie makes an amazing discovery while on a class field trip to the Art Institute of Chicago: the Thorne Minature Gallery. Ruthie can't believe all the intricate details of each room, and is amazed that each room was created to be a historical replica of an actual time and place. Mrs. Narcissa Thorne spent years collecting or commissioning tiny dollhouse sized pieces to fill her rooms. The rooms represent part of Europe back in the time of knights, all the way up to early America.

Jack, who's mother is an artist, has seen the rooms before, but understands Ruthie's fascination with them. The scale is 1 foot to 1 inch, and the tiny clothes, the chairs, the carved baseboards and elaborate miniature art pieces are truly a sight to behold. (Can you tell I've actually been to see them?)

One of the guards notices their interest, and lets Jack and Ruthie take a peek behind the scenes. In the corridor behind the exhibit, Jack finds a beautiful gold key. He decides to follow the "finders keepers" rule, and takes it home. It isn't until later when he shows it to Ruthie that they realize the key is no ordinary key. As soon as Ruthie touches it, she starts to shrink! They experiment with it, and find that only Ruthie shrinks.

They quickly hatch a scheme to use the key to get back into the Thorne Rooms, and explore the rooms. Ruthie can't wait to explore the elaborate settings for herself. Her only reservation is that Jack can't come with her. They hatch a plan to sneak in and stay overnight, only to find that there may be more magic than they first realized!

Another great "I don't know that I'm learning" book, highly recommended.
Instead of a quote, go check out the Thorne Rooms here.
"She stopped and looked at Jack, who gazed back at her as if to say, You need my help for this! He gingerly picked her up between his thumb and first finger and set her down again," (Malone pg. 42, 2010).

If you liked this, check out:

Malone, Marianne. (2010). The Sixty-Eight Rooms. New York, NY: Random House.

The Name of This Book is Secret! by Pseudonymous Bosch

You know you've stumbled on a good read when the first thing the author tells you is to put the book down. There's just something about doing something against the rules that I like, especially when it isn't too bad ... like reading a book.

Cass is a survivalist, well ... as much of a survivalist you can be at age 11. She is on constant watch for possible disasters, like the risk that her school was built on a toxic waste dumping ground, and they could all be poisoned at any second! Ok, when she noticed the dying grass, and the dead rats, she may have jumped to conclusions ... a little.

Max-Ernest has an as yet undefined condition characterized by excessive talking and question asking. For instance, he asks everyone in his entire class the same riddle separately, hoping to make someone laugh (he is an aspiring comedian) ... but sadly, no one does laugh. Although, Cass is the first one to point out that his riddle isn't really a joke. Maybe that's what brought them together. They both needed a friend.

The second thing that brought them together? The Symphony of Smells, a cool box of vials with different liquids of various scents, each labeled with a corresponding word. While neither of them is quite sure what the purpose of this is, they are convinced that it has something to do with magic. They got the box from a magician's house, after all! They decide to investigate further, and come across his (very tricky) notebook.

It tells the tale of Pietro and Luciano, twin brothers who experience synethesia (which is tricky to describe, but mostly means they can hear colors, smell words, their senses are all mixed up!). They join the circus together at a young age, and use their talents to wow the audience. One day, however, the evil blonde lady comes and steals Luciano away! Pietro searches, but never sees him again.

Cass and Max-Ernest can hardly believe it! Such a story! Most of all, they want to help Pietro...but they aren't sure how to go about it. That is until Cass comes up with a crazy plan...which I can't tell you about. Why? Because it's SECRET!

Great puzzle elements embedded within, along with fun facts that enable learning. I played along and figured out (almost) every code. The last one is trickier. I can't wait to read the sequel!
"Generally speaking, books don't cause much harm. Except when you read them, that is. Then they cause all kinds of problems," (Bosch, 2007).
*Library Link*

If you liked this, check out:
If You're Reading This, It's Too Late by Pseudonymous Bosch
NERDS: National Espionage, Rescue and Defense Society by Michael Buckley
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

Bosch, Pseudonymous. (2007). The Name of This Book is Secret. New York, NY: Little, Brown.