“The driveway leading to the family home wound its way through a thick forest of tall hardwoods and then a large rolling field. Golden bales of freshl“The driveway leading to the family home wound its way through a thick forest of tall hardwoods and then a large rolling field. Golden bales of freshly cut hay peppered the landscape. On both sides of the road, a low-stacked stone wall corralled the vehicle as it sped toward the large brick Victorian resting at the edge of the pasture.” - from Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave
Letterford & Sons might not be the largest publishing house in the world, but it is widely considered to be the most prestigious. For over four hundred years the firm has passed from eldest son to eldest son, owned and controlled by one Letterford for the benefit of the entire family. The affable and scholarly Mull Letterford runs the firm currently and, though Mull is dedicated to the business and very good at what he does, the firm has recently been plagued by a series of bizarre accidents and unforeseen events which have threatened the bottom line. Now a distant cousin is launching a hostile takeover and Mull could lose control of the grand old firm forever.
Enter Mull's twelve-year-old daughter, Colophon. Exceedingly bright for her age and blessed with a mind for puzzles, Colophon is determined to keep her father where he belongs, at the head of Letterford & Sons. When her father's eccentric cousin Julian tells Colophon the tale of a long hidden family treasure, she decides to help him find it. A treasure will make it possible for her father to buy out the rest of the family and keep the publishing house in his hands. For his part, Julian is just odd enough to welcome the help of a mere school girl. He cares little for the value of the treasure, he just wants to prove that it exists. But dark forces are aligning against the mismatched duo - can they complete their quest before it's too late?
I've read a few critical reviews of this charming novel and I'll admit they have me puzzled. Some have said that it's unreasonable to believe that a mere girl could succeed where generations of her family's grown men have failed. Does Colophon unravel clues that have stumped adults for hundreds of years? Yes, of course she does. That's what happens in most middle grade mysteries. Nancy Drew, for instance, routinely proved more clever than the entire River Heights police force. What matters is that Colophon is likable, intelligent and devoted to her family - in short, a worthy successor to the likes of Nancy and Trixie Belden.
The characters are certainly a highlight here: Colophon, her studious father and sometimes jerky older brother (that pair have some hilarious adventures of their own), the disheveled Cousin Julian and the delightfully sinister Treemont . They all contribute to the mystery's clever plot. The real stars here, however, are the wonderful settings. From Le Mont Saint Michel in the prologue to the Letterford's grand ancestral London home in the ultimate chapter, every scene is lovingly described and brought to glorious life by Hicks' lively prose. The language is rich and always exactly right at all times and the quirky illustrations by Mark Edward Geyer enhance the story at every turn.
I thoroughly enjoyed this, the first book of the Letterford Mysteries and I await future installments in happy anticipation....more
On a world endless galaxies away, the peaceful realm of the Valorim and the Ethelim is under attack, falling to the great betrayer, Lord Mondus. BackeOn a world endless galaxies away, the peaceful realm of the Valorim and the Ethelim is under attack, falling to the great betrayer, Lord Mondus. Backed by the Faceless O'Mondim and surrounded by the Faithless, Mondus is in the last stages of his coup - the destruction of the gentle Valorim and all they hold dear. It is in these last desperate moments that Young Waeglim, Master of the Forge, fashions the Art of the Valorim into a single chain and sends it out into the universe, thereby preventing it's capture and misuse by the evil conqueror. Once the chain leaves the ravaged world behind, it flies past stars and great empty spaces until it comes to a smallish, wheeling galaxy and, circling a star on the edge of that galaxy, a blue planet. There, on that planet, the chain comes to rest, slipping quietly into the Ace Robotroid Adventure lunch box owned and despised by twelve-year-old Tommy Pepper.
If Tommy doesn't notice the chain right away, well, he has his reasons. For one thing, its his birthday, the first he has celebrated since his mother died two hundred and fifty-seven days ago in a car accident Tommy is pretty sure he caused. Now his little sister no longer speaks, his father is sad and distracted and a local real estate agency is trying to take away the Peppers' home.
It might have taken Tommy a while to notice the chain, but even with everything that is going on in his life it would be hard for him to miss the frightening and alien minions of Lord Mondus who are intent on claiming the chain and the Art for their overlord. Soon Tommy will have to defend his home, family and friends from a danger he doesn't fully understand using a power he doesn't know he has.
Only the brilliant Gary D. Schmidt could have written this book. Essentially, What Came From the Stars is comprised of three intertwined plots: the story of the Pepper family and their struggle to come to terms with the terrible tragedy that has befallen them; the tale of the Valorim's fall & the rise of the Ethelim (told in alternating chapters); and the narrative that brings those two plot lines together - how Tommy Pepper found the Art and defended it from those who would use it for evil. Like all of Schmidt's novels, What Came From the Stars is beautifully written, honest and faithful to the lives and emotions of its young characters.. Schmidt does an especially good job with Tommy Pepper, whose grief and guilt are both wholly believable. This novel is sometimes poignant and sometimes outright funny, but always compulsively readable.
I do have one reservation about this book - just a small one. The alternating chapters dealing with the struggles on the Valorim Home World are intricate and often complex and are filled with an alien language (a glossary is provided). Impatient readers and those that struggle with high fantasy might find these sections to be a bit of a chore. Still, everyone else should love What Came From the Stars.
P.S. If you've never read Gary D. Schmidt before, you don't know what you're missing. I recommend The Wednesday Wars, Okay For Now and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy....more