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Mo & Dale Mysteries #1

Three Times Lucky

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Newbery honor winner, New York Times bestseller, Edgar Award Finalist, and E.B. White Read-Aloud Honor book.

A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.

312 pages, Hardcover

First published May 10, 2012

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Sheila Turnage

15 books384 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,983 reviews
Profile Image for Sps.
592 reviews8 followers
July 12, 2012
There are things precocious children say, there are things quaint children say, and then there are things that children's literature authors make up which even the quaintest and most precocious child would not say, and this book's full of them. Children's literature protagonists seem to have remarkable abilities to say full (and highly quotable) sentences to all and sundry. They do not um, err, quote from pop culture, swear, or get tongue-tied, like the children I know in real life. This makes them more interesting to read about, I guess, combined with the drama of their underparented lives and the quaintness of their settings and the sheer absence of screen time in their lives (also totally unlike the children I know in real life.)

While far more fun to read, this book shares many tropes-of-predictable-Newbery-winners with Summer of the Gypsy Moths. Kinda Higher Power of Luckyish too. To wit:

-absent parents
-rocky relationship with a nemesis child, guaranteed to blossom into "uneasy alliance" and area of growth for both children
-quaint setting
-beloved text of some kind to provide solace and charming phrases (Rather than a text per se, Mo and her guardian use military terminology.)
-wise, quirky older adult-friend to provide counsel (in this case Mo's two current guardians and neighbors)

At least in this book I can be grateful for the following did-nots:
-Turnage did not make auto racing or military discipline into an extended metaphor for life.
-Turnage did not make absolutely every wise, quirky, older adult-friend turn out to be just as doggone honest and caring as they seem at first. Surprise!
-She did not resolve the central absent-parents issue too neatly. (Emotionally neatly, yes, but in terms of plots and hard facts, nah.)

Profile Image for carol..
1,574 reviews8,226 followers
January 11, 2021
Occasionally I dip my toe into the waters of middle-grade fiction, hoping for that playful feeling of reading The Size of the Truth the first time, or perhaps even recapturing the glow of The Westing Game back in the day. Three Times had an enthusiastic review by a friend, cover art that reminded me of Castle Hangnail, was available as a download from my library, and --this cannot be underestimated--recent events led me needing something fun.

Ex-orphan Moses LoBeau, from Tupelo Landing, NC, is doing her fifth-going-into-sixth grade summer thang with her bestie, Dale. When one of her guardians takes off unexpectedly, as each is wont to do, she finds herself canceling a fishing trip with Dale so they can open her family's diner. (As the Colonel has ordered her not to touch the grill, they go with “offering a full line of peanut butter entrées”). Alas, Dale might have "forcefully borrowed" Mr. Jesse's boat for the trip, and when Mr. Jesse turns up dead, it looks newcomer Detective Joe Starr might have Dale pinpointed as chief suspect.

Quite possibly, some people might find it a little too adorbs; I can see that being an issue. It rides the line between that of the unself-conscious child--twelve might be a touch old for some of the things Mo gets away with, like the peanut butter specials--but then again, small town living. And while we are in Mo's head, Turnage does not over-explain, letting the reader work out some of their own reasons for Mo's thoughts. So for me it worked. But if you know the overly-adult precocious twelve-year-olds, you might find your beliefs tested.

I liked the sexual innocence of Mo and her crush on Lavender. Otherwise, much of it felt gender-neutral, with an absence of overly female-sexualized traits. ("Lavender, who I will one day marry, believes in NASCAR Zen"). As is appropriate for rural south, there is a fascination with NASCAR/racecar, although it mostly exists in the realm of older brothers.

There's a solid mix of adult and youth characters, and I do admire the unique takes they all have. These aren't kids who are running amok on their own--Dale's mom ends up taking a firm hand in the situation. In a show of small-town support, she even volunteers Dale's voice at the funeral.

"As far as I know, this is the first time an alleged suspect has soloed at the funeral of the Dearly Departed."

But the kids are trying out identities and problem-solving, which I can completely support, even if they do use more unorthodox methods. After Mo and Dale form a detective agency to clear him of the murder ("We just opened a detective agency. Maybe you’ve heard of us? Desperado Detectives?"), one of Mo's steps is to check in with Skeeter for legal services, who offers a special deal:

"Rumor has it she’s already written to Matchbook University for a paralegal course under an assumed name. She won’t say if that’s true or false, only that unsubstantiated rumor won’t hold up in court...

“In addition to standard services,” Skeeter said, “we offer unlimited access to the Cousin Information Network.”

I thought it was quite fun. It's always a delicate balance to have a real death in your middle-grade book, but I thought it was handled well, with a good balance between serious and kids' caper. Your mileage, as always, may vary. But the end of book punchline made me laugh out loud, and that ain't nothing in the week of an insurrection.
Profile Image for Betsy.
Author 8 books2,836 followers
May 3, 2012
The Southern Girl Novel. It’s pretty much a genre in and of itself in the children’s literary world. Some years produce more of them than others but they all tend to follow the same format. Sleepy town plus spunky girl equals mild hijinks, kooky townspeople, self-awakening, etc. After a while they all start to blend together, their details merging and meshing and utterly impossible to separate. I’m just mentioning all this as a kind of preface to Three Times Lucky. Sure, you can slap a Gilbert Ford cover on anything these days and it’ll look good. It’s how the insides taste that counts. And brother, the one thing I can say with certainty about Three Times Lucky is that you will never, but ever, mistake it for another book. We’ve got murder. We’ve got careening racecars. We’ve got drunken louts and amnesia and wigs and karate and all sorts of good stuff rolled up in one neat little package. I’ve read a lot of mysteries for kids this year and truth be told? This one’s my favorite, hands down.

It was just bad timing when you get right down to it. Dale just wanted to borrow Mr. Jesse’s boat for a little fishing and his best friend Mo LoBeau would have accompanied him if she hadn’t been working the town’s only café while her two guardians (the elegant Miss Lana and the amnesia-stricken Colonel) were unavailable. Then Mr. Jesse offered a reward for the boat, and that seemed worth taking advantage of. That was before he ended up dead. Caught inadvertently in the middle of a murder mystery, Mo decides to help solve the crime, hopefully without making Detective Joe Starr too angry in the process.

A good first page is worth its weight in gold in a children’s novel. I always tell the kids in my bookgroup to closely examine the first pages of any book they pick up. That’s where the author is going to clue you in and give you a hint of how splendid their writing skills are. Heck, it’s the whole reason I picked up this book to read in the first place. I had finished my other book and I needed something to read on the way home from work. Deciding amongst a bunch o’ books, I skimmed the first page and was pretty much hooked by the time I got to the bottom. It was this sentence that clinched it: “Dale sleeps with his window up in summer partly because he likes to hear the tree frogs and crickets, but mostly because his daddy’s too sorry to bring home any air-conditioning.” Aside from the character development, I’m just in awe of the use of that term “too sorry” which sets this book so squarely in North Caroline that nothing could dig it out.

Turnage’s writing just sings on the page. Naturally I had to see what else she’d created and the answer was a stunner. Mostly she’s done standard travel guides to places like North Carolina (no surprise) and some haunted inns. The kicker was her picture book Trout the Magnificent. It was her only other book for kids so I checked to see if my library had a copy. We most certainly do . . . from 1984. To my amazement, Ms. Turnage has waited a whopping twenty-eight years to write her next book. The crazy thing? It was worth the wait. I mean, I just started dog-earring all the pages with great lines. Here’s a sample:

- “I wouldn’t say stole . . . But I did borrow it pretty strong.”

- “By 7:30 half the town had crowded into the café and rising seventh grader Skeeter McMillan – tall, slender, freckles the color of fresh-sliced baloney – had claimed this counter’s last spot.”

- “The stranger looked slow around the café, his eyes the color of a thin winter sky.”

- “Miss Lana’s voice is the color of sunlight in maple syrup.”

- “Mr. Li started Karate Night at the café two years ago . . . I enjoy kicking others but would do better in an art that allows spitting.”

- “I used to think Dale was clumsy. Then I realized he only got clumsy when Mr. Macon took drunk.”

- “My voice is like a turkey gobble crammed in a corset, but nobody’s told me to stop singing, and I ain’t shy.”

- “Dale can choose not to worry like he chooses not to wear socks. Miss Lana says I have more of a Jack Russell brain. I think things apart for sport.”

- “I never forgive. I like revenge too much.”

I’ll stop there but you’ve got the gist of it. Woman knows how to lay two words together, you’ll give her that.

I’ve been reading a mess of children’s mysteries lately and there’s a trend amongst them that tends to bug me. I can understand why an author would hate the presence of cell phones in this day and age. Peril is so much less perilous when cops and parents are a mere dial tone away. To combat this potentially plot-sinking element, some authors set their books in the distant past (Two Crafty Criminals) and some just sort of try to pretend that cell phones don’t even exist (Ruby Redfort: Look Into My Eyes). I am a fan of neither one of these methods. What I am a fan of is how Ms. Turnage chose to diffuse the situation. Mo tells it to us straight right at the start. Cell phones aren’t used much in Tupelo Landing because the town is so backwater that reception is spotty at best. Suddenly landlines make a lot more sense and the tension can be beautifully ratcheted up at a moment’s notice without the inconvenient convenience of portable electronics.

As for the mystery itself, I liked it. I think a kid paying attention could identify the baddie if they wanted to and the ending is a slam-bang action finale, which is nice. The dead body was an interesting touch. Actual dead bodies in children’s books are always interesting. Kids love murder mysteries and that’s the long and short of it. They like Encyclopedia Brown and Cam Jansen just fine but if you ask them if they’d like those books a lot more if there was a corpse thrown in there every once in a while I suspect the answer would be a rousing yes. Trouble is, corpses by definition aren't exactly “Ages 0-12” friendly. Even when you get one in a book for kids it’s usually a stranger. The idea of having a walking, talking character with a name and a personality show up dead by the hand of another in a book for children? Turnage throws that element into her book without so much as a bye-your-leave and darned if she doesn’t get away with it too. You know the guy who gets killed. Heck you even know who it will be by the end of the book's first paragraph. Meeting him in retrospect makes the murder all the more interesting, and worry not squeamish parents. You never actually see the body itself. Just the murder weapon (mwah-ha-ha-ha!).

You can get a very different reading of a book by a 34-year-old woman and by a 12-year-old kid. For example, let us examine the case of the Colonel and Miss Lana. Turnage does not apprise us of their situation right off the bat. Reading this story makes you feel like you’re teasing facts out of the characters slowly. All we know at the beginning is that Mo is an orphan and lives with a guy named the Colonel and a woman named Miss Lana. That’s pretty much all a kid is going to care about, since it’s not like the personal lives of adults are all that much fun. But for adults like me? Heck, I was just dying to figure out what the nature of their relationship was. Are they shacking up together? They sure sound like an old married couple, though they’re certainly not together in that way. What is the deal? By the time you get to the end and all is explained you feel a bit baffled (and indeed one of the plot points doesn’t make a lot of sense when the secret is out) but I'm game and willing to go along with it.

The nearest equivalent that I’ve found to Turnage’s writing style isn’t a children’s author but the Southern novelist Bailey White. Turnage taps into that same kind of humor and drawl that White has perfected over the years. I didn’t even know we needed a kid-equivalent of Ms. White until I read this book. Now I’m wondering what can be done to up the number of Southern girl novels out there. As I mentioned before, in the past they’ve all sort of melded together in my brain. Now with the delight that is Three Times Lucky I’m going to hope for a kind of Southern kid Renaissance. Let’s see what we can’t do about getting more books like this one into the hands of children from all over the country. It’s got a murder for crying out loud. That’s gotta be good for something. A novel that hits on all cylinders. Grab it, read it, enjoy it, and find a kid to thrust it upon. Worth discovering.

For ages 9-12.
Profile Image for Laurel.
Author 34 books764 followers
August 17, 2012
It's got drinking and cussing and bad parenting and neglect and murder and child labor. It's also perfect. Every word counts. We need more books like this.
Profile Image for Francisca.
189 reviews83 followers
October 21, 2020
I just loved this one!

Mo, named Mosses because the Colonel—something like Mo's adoptive father—thought she was a boy when he first found her as a baby in the middle of a flood, is the fantastic protagonist of this Southern Girl Middle Grade Cozy Murder Mystery (what a mouthful of a description, I know).

Dale—Mo's best friend and a boy from a family where men all have really good hair but are jail-prone—is about the best side-kick I'd have the pleasure to meet in a long time. And Miss Lana, owner and server of the one tiny Cafe in Tupelo Landing, with her many wigs, keeping old Hollywood glamour alive, is the great sort of adoptive mother for Mo that comes to complete a character ensemble that's about as delightful as they get.

Now, beware, there's parental neglect in this book. And child labor. And children getting into terribly dangerous situations. And heartbreakingly sad situations. But that's all good, because that's what makes this story so worth reading, and besides, if you're thinking two 12 year-olds can go around solving murders without any of the previous occurrences happening, well... I'm sad to say that I think the kind of fiction you are looking for is more of the nonexistent type.

Now, full confession, I don't know how, being the fan of murder mysteries I am, it took me so long to find this one, because it's so very good and fun. No wonder it became a New York Times Best Seller and the winner of the Newbery Medal Honor Book in 2013.

This little Middle Grade mystery does many great things. First, it never talks down to the children it was written for, which is one of the reasons why even adults—me, to be more precise—find it so entertaining and smart. It uses clichés, yes, but only to subvert our expectations, offering a very satisfying ending to its many loose threads. Now, if you're one of those adults that needs children to speak with perfect grammar all the time, and to behave like little adults or genious savants, you will detest this book, because Mo and Dale are not like that. But if what you want is to read children that sound like children, and act like children and imagine solutions and crazy adventures like children do, then you'll like this one, I guarantee it.

And yes, there are things we can figure out ourselves along the trip. But, it's my feeling, that such happy discoveries are there by design, to hook us, pulling us even deeper into the mystery bringing big city Detective Joe Starr to Tupelo Landing.

If you have a child that likes to read, this one is one for laughs and little jumps, totally worth the read. But if you're an adult in search of good entertainment, this one may be just the thing you're looking for.
Profile Image for Parmida R. A. .
98 reviews81 followers
November 12, 2021
Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel--a café owner with a forgotten past of his own--and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Three Times Lucky is a 2013 New York Times Best Seller adolescent novel by author Sheila Turnage. Three Times Lucky was a Newbery Medal Honor Book in 2013. The novel was a kind Southern-style with a strong plot, representing the value of friendship, family, and love.

Honestly, I had never imagined I would find friends in this book!

Jee! During the times that I had faced hardships, this book was a miracle for me. When I was suffering and shattering from inside, it made me forget all my pains. When my sanity was on the verge of collapse, it took my hand and brought me out of the darkness.
After reading a few chapters, I became a part of the small community of North Carolina. Our shared interest and personality made Mo LoBeau my close friend. As a tomboy girl with a love of mystery, adventure, fighting, Southern life, and old classic icons, I felt so close to the story as if it was written for me.

100% recommended!! ;)))
Profile Image for Abigail McKenna.
582 reviews113 followers
February 3, 2021
"Never underestimate the power of stupid, Dale."

Finding a new favorite book from a random peruse of my library's audiobook offerings is one of my favorite things to do. I never know what I'm going to find. Middle-grade murder mystery wasn't on my list, but gosh I adored this soooo much. I haven't so desperately wanted a book to be adapted into a movie in a while.

Things I loved:

- The way the town just goes with Mo and Dale being in charge of the diner like it's no big deal.

- Just how the whole town loves Mo and Dale, heck, it's so cute.

- Mo and Dale's friendship? is so important to me??

- Both the Colonel and Ms. Lana are #iconic

- Lavender is so sweet to them and I can't handle it.

- Seriously, Lavender is too young for me now but 12-year-old me would have been swooning.

- The way Mo talking to the kidnapper just turns into "I am a child why are you so stupid"

- Skeeter's mama's broccoli casserole "death dish" cracked me up

- Dale's whole "town full of nobodies" speech (like it hurts but it's so good?)

- "If he tries that around me, I'll take him down. I'm a born scrapper, and I've got karate skills."

- The Colonel's EPIC entrance WOW

- The way Dale sings to calm himself down heck I love this kid ;-;

- "Wow," Dale said, "even dead guys get their lights turned back on before we do!"

- No matter where Mo is, she can find an extension cord to tie up a bad guy.

- Dale: "I have boy scout skills." Mo: *squints* "riiight"

- I literally had no way to predict how insane and epic the ending would be what the heck

- Dale: "killing people is mean." Mo: "and also stupid."

- Starr: "I must be getting old, I never saw that one coming." Mo: "you are getting old. But don't feel bad, I'm only 11 and I didn't see it coming. Did you Dale?" Dale (stuffing his face with a dead man's Cheetos): "nope"

- The reveal of the Colonel's identity made me LAUGH oh my WORD

- Miss Rose is my hero.

So all that to say I really loved this book, it's one of my new favorites, and when bookstores are open again I might just have to get myself a physical copy. I can't wait to read the next one. Five stars from me. Highly recommend (and highly recommend the audiobook).

Re-read 2021: I love this book with my whole heart and it's truly one of my favorites. I spent this read with my physical copy underlining my favorite bits and there is a lot of underlining... oops, lol.

"I'm Mo LoBeau of Desperado Detectives. I was used to Mr. Jesse and I'll miss him," I said. "I'm sorry he's dead, but I'm glad I found the murder weapon."
"Nice," Dale whispered.
"One thing I learned from him was even if you're stingy, tip good. Finally, I'd like to say that if you are the murderer," I said, looking around the church, "Desperado Detectives will hunt you down like the dog you are. Thank you."
"Straight from the heart," Miss Lana said.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
254 reviews47 followers
October 17, 2020
Somehow the story did not come together for me, despite many strengths. I’m not even sure I want to speculate what went wrong because it may just come down to individual tastes, individual reactions to the particular mix.

I’ll spare a little time though, describing it, in case you can ascertain where you’d stand. Many people seem to love this book, though a sizable few appear more ambivalent, like me.

Good things include a strong, active main character, Mo LoBeau. There is also a murder, and the writing is colorful. Other advantages are the small town Southern setting and the rest of the cast: best friends, detectives, cafe patrons.

Yet aspects of many of these things did not appeal to me. None of it alone was a show-stopper, but I guess it added up. I read aloud and mostly enjoyed. My daughter listened and mostly enjoyed. But I asked her what she thought of it the day after we finished and she too had reservations, mumbling something about “parts of it” and giving it 3 stars out of 5.

To me, the plot shifted midstream. The events, taken one at time, remained interesting, but the sequence and direction took a turn that did not jive, not sure why but I think it would be a spoiler to dig deeper here. The writing was rich in similes, but they sometimes distracted me, making the voice just a little too self-consciously folksy. Some characters went missing before the ending, and I really think they needed to stick around. Without them, the ending was incomplete and less satisfying.

Finally, I loved Mo but agree with the reviewers who found her thoughts and utterances occasionally too, not too mature but, considering her age, too perfect-and-too-from-and-for-an-adult-perspective.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,211 reviews104 followers
September 7, 2019
When I am reading a first person narrative piece of literature (and in particular, when I am reading prose), first and foremost and with neither exceptions nor ifs, ands or buts generally accepted and allowed, permitted by me, the (and of course usually main) character giving his or her personal (I-pronoun) account of the story at hand absolutely must be talking according to the proper envisioned age group (in other words, in a novel or a short story with a first person narrator, if said character is an adult, the utilised voice must naturally be that of an adult and if said character is a child, the utilised voice must be that of a child).

But sadly, and very much annoyingly and frustratingly (as I was actually very much looking forward to reading Sheila Turnage's 2013 Newbery Honour winning Three Times Lucky), when I started reading the latter early yesterday morning, I almost immediately and very much painfully became aware of the supremely problematic fact that while main protagonist and first person narrator Miss Moses (Mo) LoBeau is supposed to be an eleven year old child, she actually tends to sound more like (and actually, if truth be told, she totally sounds like) not a child at all, but rather like an adult, and not even just any old adult, but indeed, to and for me like a university educated adult with at least an MA in English (so yes and really, Mo narrates very much like the author, like Sheila Turnage, like an adult masquerading as a child and indeed a rather annoying one).

And sorry, but with first person child narratives that do not sound authentic, which sound not childlike and of their proper age, this type of writing style gaffe, it really and utterly does generally tend to get to me, it really and utterly infuriates me and indeed, it usually also makes me so angry and frustrated that I simply have to stop reading (which is also what I ended up having to do with Three Times Lucky, stopping my perusal after the first few pages, because I could just not handle the artificially adult voice of the narrator, who just did not and does not at all feel authentic and like a realistic child would and should).

Therefore, while I do freely admit that I probably have not read enough of Three Times Lucky to be able to adequately judge and discuss Sheila Turnage's characterisation and how content and theme-wise she has conceptualised her story, I do know that from a writing style point of view, Three Times Lucky has absolutely both been a one star (and totally disappointing and annoying) reading experience for me and as such also a reading experience I could not be bothered to continue with (unless I wanted to torture my reading self).
Profile Image for Chelsea.
1,144 reviews593 followers
February 11, 2019
This is one of those series where I feel slightly apprehensive calling it one of my favorites of all time. I adore it so much, but it’s somewhat silly and young and so much more optimistic than the books I normally fall head over heels for.

But y’know what? I love these stupid, amazing books with my entire heart.

“Except for that, everything is going great. Well," I added. “There’s been a murder and we’re out of soup."

This middle grade series follows the Desperado Detectives, Mo LoBeau and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. In the first novel, Mo and Dale take on a very traditionally set up murder mystery. What ensues is a perfect collection of snarkiness, action, and a whole lot of heart.

Three Times Lucky probably comes out as my second favorite in the series, though it’s pretty neck and neck with the fourth, The Law of Finders Keepers. Both are 4 1/2 star reads for me.

This book stands out in the series as the one with the most solid story structure. It’s the perfect arc; a perfect amount of time dedicated to introducing the large cast of characters, a strong build, an absolutely fantastic, tense climax, and one of the best concluding chapters I’ve read.

The town of Tupelo Landing, along with its citizens, is so, so charming.
It reminds me of a southern Stars Hollow. I love that there are all of these quirky townsfolk, each hilarious in their own right and equally vivid each time they step onto the page.
“They’ll try me as an adult. I know they will,” he said, his voice bitter. “I’ll get twenty years at least. I’ll be...” His eyes glazed over as he tried to add.
“Thirty-one?” I guessed, locking the door behind him.
“Thirty-one,” he wailed, sinking to the floor. “That’s almost dead.”
I sighed and opened my order pad. “We’ll need an official description.”
“Cat,” Thes said. “ Orange hair, green eyes, chunky body.”
Spitz, I wrote. Looks like Thes.

Mo, obviously, is one of the best parts of this series. She’s headstrong and hilarious. I also quite like that she actually has some negative qualities, like her tendency to speak without thinking and her lack of sensitivity at some points. Her flaws make her all the more fantastic of a main character to follow.

Mo’s found family dynamic with Lana and the Colonel is so sweet, if a bit confusing at times (all of my initial confusion is cleared up throughout the course of the series). Mo’s missing mother, who she refers to as her “Upstream Mother” is not just a mystery to be solved; the book actually allows Mo’s lack of biological parents be a sad thing, and it adds so much to the series.
Dear Upstream Mother,
Miss Retzyl claims my vast experience in discovering where you’re not helps me zero in on you. But frankly, my map can’t hold many more pushpins. Neither can my heart. 11 years is a long time to search. Drop me a line or pick up the phone. I’m on the verge of puberty.

We’re throwing a funeral for Mr. Jesse. You’re invited. I’ll look for you there, just like I look for you everywhere. Last week, in Kinston, a woman stared back at me and I thought it might be you.

This series never dumbs anything down for younger readers, and I love it for that. There’s a lot of adult humor and references to things I know I would not have picked up on when I was younger. There’s some slight examination of religion and belief in God. There’s even some excellent commentary on murder, abuse, and abandonment.
I glanced out the window, Mr. Jesse’s lights flickering a couple hundred yards down the creek, like they had every night of my life.
It’s funny, the things you think you'll always see again.

“Congratulations on achieving your dream,” she told Lavender. “That must feel great.”
Lavender spooned green onions onto his turnip greens. “It does, but dreams are shape shifters. Get close, and before you can lay a hand on them, they change.”

Is it the most realistic book in the world? No, but it’s no less realistic than any of the countless police procedurals on television.

The only thing I’m a bit iffy on is a plot point involving Lana and the Colonel.

Either way, I am in no way ashamed to proclaim my love for this book. It’s one of those books I am drawn to when I need something warm and hopeful, though it’s certainly unafraid to shy away from darker subjects. It’s not the deepest of my favorite books, but my connection to it certainly runs deep.
Profile Image for Destinee.
1,608 reviews150 followers
October 15, 2012
Mo LoBeau is a rising sixth-grader in the tiny town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina. She's a slick talking girl whose best friend is a boy named Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. Mo lives with adoptive parents: Miss Lana, a wig-wearing eccentric cafe owner, and the Colonel, a man with no memory of his past who calls Mo "soldier" (affectionately) and hates lawyers. Mo and Dale decide to become detectives when a local man is murdered and the only suspects seem to be Dale and the Colonel.

Sheila Turnage's first middle grade novel is exciting, funny, suspenseful, and full of super loveable characters. I can only talk about the flaws in the books by mentioning spoilers, so I won't.

Actually, I will here:

A few notes for future reference:

1. Dale's father is an abusive drunk. Pretty heavy topic for an otherwise mostly lighthearted book. Actually, what's lighthearted about trying to find a murderer?

2. I guess the best way to describe the tone of the book would be heightened realism. There's no magic or anything, but could a baby really wash up in a hurricane? Is any kid as clever and silver tongued as Mo? Would a sheriff (or any grown-up) really let kids get involved in a murder investigation?

3. Mo is always writing her to "upstream" mother AKA her biological mother who either abandoned her or lost her. Part of Mo's journey is accepting that she has loving adoptive parents and she doesn't always need to be searching for her "real" family.

4. Mo's super crush on Dale's older brother Lavender is completely adorable. She's sure she's going to marry Lavender and he is completely crush worthy.

5. I absolutely adore a quirky and memorable narrator, which Mo totally is. Her voice, which is funny, clever, spunky and full of Southern charm, will stay with me.

6. Read-alike authors (funny, clever, quirky): Frank Cottrell Boyce, Ellen Potter, Jack Gantos, Polly Horvath

7. I loved Mo's voice so much, I went out and got the audiobook, which was fantastic.
Profile Image for Hilary.
441 reviews3 followers
September 18, 2012
Trouble drove into Tupelo Landing in the form of a Chevy Impala and a man named Detective Starr. Mo Lebeau's own detective skills and power of deduction know that car and it's driver are trouble the moment it pulls up to cafe that she works at with her adoptive mother, Miss Lana, and the mysterious "Colonel". Shortly after the car arrives, there is a murder, and Mo sets out with her friend Dale to try to solve the mystery before Detective Starr can.
I found this book to be a little scatterbrained. What's the deal with Miss Lana and the Colonel? Why can't they stay in the house for more then a few days with one another? Where do they go? Why does Miss Lana wear all those weird wigs? The explanation at the end felt like it was plopped in to satisfy those questions, but it didn't! Why have the main character be a detective without really ever doing any real detective work? She seems to know a lot about what's going on, but you never actually see how she comes about her information (the serial numbers on the money, for example - she give is to her "lawyer", but the "lawyer" never comes back with the information for her). Who is Priscilla? She seems to play in at the end, but I don't recall her being mentioned in any sort of detail at any other point. Characters are all kind of kookie caricatures - Miss Lana and those damn wigs, the colonel and his rigid militariness, the town drunk abusive father and too many half characters pepper the book (did I mention Priscilla?) - there are too many to keep track of. The mystery element was too abruptly solved at the end as opposed to clues being strung out through the book to keep a reader guessing - there were no clues, or very few clues, you're just told at the end, point blank, what happened. Sigh, everyone seems to love this book, but it just did nothing for me.
Profile Image for Mid-Continent Public Library.
591 reviews195 followers
November 9, 2021
Miss Moses LoBeau (Mo for short) and her best friend Dale have opened a detective agency in their small town of Tupelo Landing, North Carolina to help people find their missing items such as missing cats, shoes, and most importantly, the mother Mo has never met. When a detective shows up to investigate a local murder, Mo and Dale decide to take their business to the next level. Enjoy this one now by checking out a copy on Mymcpl.org or searching for it on Overdrive! - Reviewed by Stephanie at MCPL Reading Rocket
Profile Image for Wendy.
951 reviews137 followers
July 6, 2012
No one could be more surprised at how much I liked this book than me. As a rule I loathe folksy narrators and down-home settings and quirky casts of characters. When I saw this book listed on a Newbery-possibility list, I cringed and hoped no one else would recommend it. Eventually I saw it in too many places and had to put it on hold.

This book is the real deal. Is it folksy and quirky? Does it have a lot of country/Southern speech? Yes. But it is never, ever cloying or irritating, because it seems to flow smoothly from the author's pen and from the characters' mouths. While the book is purposely over-the-top, I got the feeling that this is, more-or-less, how the people who live in the area actually talk, right now.

The characters, style, and setting are done with lovely, intriguing detail. I did think it got a bit long in the mystery department, and I'm not sure the plotting holds up to Newbery scrutiny. But my plan is to reread in a few months--something I rarely make time for in Newbery Season--and see if this might make it into my top picks. It's lighter than many of the other books this year, but it does have something special.
Profile Image for Donalyn.
Author 9 books5,947 followers
May 20, 2012
This book has garnered so many accolades that I feel confused by how mediocre I thought it was. It's true that I have a chip on my shoulder about portrayals of Southerners as ignorant, poor hicks, but I just didn't think the writing was that great.

There were many moments when the book didn't feel like it was written for its intended audience-- like Dale's remark that his brother said he was too pretty to do hard time in prison.

I did like the characters and the sense of community and caring rang true.
Profile Image for Lori.
382 reviews14 followers
October 20, 2013
Three Times Lucky tells the story of Mo LoBeau, a sixth grader with no biological mother in sight. She was sent downstream on a raft during a hurricane and adopted by amnesiac Colonel and his girlfriend Miss Lana. Although she spends most of her time thinking about her "Upstream Mother", Mo finds herself with another mystery at hand when local man Mr. Jesse is murdered. Mo and her best friend Dale act as Detectives to try to solve the mystery of the murder, and encounter a hurricane and a kidnapping while they're at it.

I have to say.... Eh. It took me over a week to get through this book, which, for a 300-page children's book, is rather atrocious. I just didn't care enough about the story. Which is rather interesting considering that this is a Newbery Honor book and a VRC Nominee... but there you have it.

First of all, the characters are not terribly likable. Mo is not a very realistic character, Dale is not developed enough, and the peripheral characters are too stereotypical. Not to mention that "Attila" is not a reference many fifth graders will understand or appreciate. I spent half the book trying to figure out what sort of backwards town this is. It is completely fictional in a too-unrealistic way. Population of 180 and everyone eats at this diner everyday? Everyone pays for PB&J sandwiches for breakfast? No one seems to have a real job. The mayor is elected because he is "the only person who can deal with outsiders". The Colonel has no real motivations, nor does Miss Lana. Their relationship is never fully explained (except for a half-hearted story at the end).

I also couldn't picture the characters. I still have no idea if Mo is black or white. Or Dale, for that matter. Oh, finally they mentioned that his hair was blond, so I assume white. Not that it matters- EXCEPT it's an example of the fact that I have no idea who these characters were really supposed to be. I wanted to guess that Mo was actually Miss Lana's daughter, but didn't even know if that was possible. Everyone is like a super exaggerated stereotype, even down to Mo calling her adoptive parents "Miss Lana" and "The Colonel" instead of Mom and Dad. The Colonel called her "Soldier" and "Sir". But that's never explained either, and his eventual back-story makes NO sense in light of these soldier references throughout the book.

All this to say that I didn't CARE about the characters. They were shallow, under-developed, stereotypical characters. The plot was predictable and tired- and the most exciting part of the story, the hurricane, was only barely touched upon. And of course, everything is wrapped up in a neat little bow at the end.

It just didn't seem like a book that would appeal to kids at all, really. A very superficial "skimming on the top" book, for me. But for all that, I remember several of my students last year telling me that they really liked it, so maybe I just don't understand the story or it's point.

Anyway- it's not the worst book ever written, but it's certainly not my favorite.
Profile Image for Samuel.
Author 2 books30 followers
March 22, 2012
Three Times Lucky reads like a soap opera, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. It's a novel unafraid to go completely over the top, and one has to admire its courage. An orphan washed up in a hurricane, miraculously unharmed? Check. An eccentric man who can't remember his life before a car crash? Check. Kidnapping, robbery, blackmail, murder? Check, check, check, and check.

The result is a book that's almost compulsively readable. The pacing is excellent, and I found it difficult to put down. It was wild, crazy, thrilling, and any number of other book-jacket adjectives. I'm not generally all that interested in small-town books with an ensemble cast of "quirky" characters, but this one grabbed me and didn't let go, despite my reservations about such things.

The last chapter was a bit Now We're Going To Wrap Up All The Loose Ends for me, but I suppose by that point, the reader is just about ready to finally get all the answers. According to her blog, Sheila Turnage has a sequel set for publication next year, and I'm curious to see where she goes with these characters now that many of them (though not, interestingly, the heroine, Mo) have their mysterious backstories revealed.

I had one serious reservation about this book. It's set in a Tupelo Landing, which, though it's fictional, can be placed with some accuracy on a map of North Carolina, roughly between Winston-Salem and Greensboro. And yet, as far as I can tell, the only non-white character is Mr. Li, the karate instructor, who's a very minor figure in the book. I could possibly have missed something, but unless I did, this is a book set in small-town east-central North Carolina that doesn't have a single African-American character in it -- something so unlikely as to stagger the imagination. I noticed this on several occasions, and it stuck out like the proverbial sore thumb.

At any rate though, this is a good book, and one that I expect will attract kids. It's getting excellent reviews from other sources, and I'd keep my eye on it as the year goes on.
Profile Image for Josiah.
3,220 reviews147 followers
September 5, 2019
I was somewhat torn in rating this book. There's a lot of good to it: unexpectedly humorous lines from a variety of sources and delivered in multiple styles, a scene or two of domestic confrontation charged with electric energy, a handful of great characters (Dale and Salamander, especially) I won't soon forget. There's a lot to like about Three Times Lucky, and I would definitely give it one and a half stars. I almost even rounded that up to two stars. So I don't want the apparent one-star rating to be taken as dislike on my part for this book, as that would not be accurate.

Mo LoBeau is an orphan with a family, adopted as a foundling baby into the protection of The Colonel and his partner in business and life, the matronly Miss Lana. The three run a cafe in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, a small town in the boondocks where everyone knows everyone else, and secrets are harder to hold on to than a tiger by its tale. The languid calm of life extends on and on for Mo, her family and friends, except for an occasional incident such as when Mo's friend Dale's father drinks too much and gets rough with his family. But nothing like a murder mystery has ever hit Tupelo Landing; that is, not until a big-city officer of the law named Joe Starr stops by in pursuit of an escaped criminal. Before long, multiple murders have marred the social landscape of Tupelo Landing, and the prime suspect of the police is none other than Mo's best friend, Dale. But Mo knows Dale, and there's no way he could have committed a murder. If Dale isn't involved, though, then who is the killer?

"There's no limit to what some people will say, and what others will believe."

—Miss Lana, Three Times Lucky, P. 123

Mo has had enough of sitting back and letting things come her way in her life up to this point. Enlisting Dale's help to clear his own name as well as uncover the true identity of the murderer, Mo launches into an odyssey that will teach her much about the life she has forged for herself in Tupelo Landing while awaiting the return of the mother who mysteriously left her eleven years ago. What does it truly mean to be part of a family? Friends like Dale may grow to feel like a matter of routine in our lives if we don't work hard to maintain an appreciation for them, but they aren't a birthright. One can lose even a best friend through neglect or disinterest, and doting parents can be taken by sudden tragedy. One must appreciate the people one has in life, recognizing how important they are before it's too late. This is what Mo will learn as she works beside Dale to solve a mystery decades in the making that could cost her and the entire town of Tupelo Landing a lot more than some damaged private property. But will Mo put the pieces together in time to help prevent disaster?

"We can't change the past...We can only be grateful for the life of a new day, and move on."

—The Colonel, Three Times Lucky, P. 286

Three Times Lucky was recognized with a Newbery Honor citation for the year 2013, finishing behind Newbery Medalist The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. I can't say I would have given Three Times Lucky an Honor ahead of such luminous eligible offerings as Will Sparrow's Road by Karen Cushman, The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis, Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead and Wonder by R.J. Palacio, none of which were honored by Newbery in 2013, but this is an interesting book, and I'm glad I read it. I look forward to more of author Sheila Turnage's creative output in the future.
Profile Image for Linda Lipko.
1,904 reviews43 followers
February 3, 2013
Well deserving of the 2013 Newbery honor, I loved this laugh-out-loud creative book.

During a hurricane, baby Mo (Moses) LoBeau was found floating in Tupelo Landing, North Carolina by a quirky man named The Colonel. From henceforth she was raised and loved by The Colonel and Miss Lana.

Now at eleven years of age, she renders all tempest tossed should they cross her path. She is witty, intelligent, snarky and down right loveable.

When a body is found, she and her friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, decide to open a detective agency to find the murderer.

Mo believes she will marry Dale's older brother Lavender, and passages in the book regarding her reactions to him are side-splitting funny.

While surrounded by love, still, she writes notes to her "upstream mother" and places them in bottles to float along, with the hope they will be found by her biological parent.

Helping Miss Lana and The Colonel run a small cafe, we learn of the frequent visitors to the cafe and their personalities. As the local gossip twirls in the air, the cafe becomes a meeting place for discussion of who done it theories.

This is a story of love, of friendship, of mystery, of small town camaraderie, and the definition of family.

I encourage you to read this for the sheer joy of words that are twisted and turned creatively, leaving the reader marveling at the beauty.

Mo describes her thought process as akin to a Jack Russel Terrier who picks things apart for the spirit of it.

She states that while some people look like they were born on a clothes hanger, she looks as though she was born in a dryer. Her voice is "like a turkey gobble crammed in a corset."

When Mo and Dale find they are in over their heads and in the path of danger, as the murderer nears them, symbolically there is another hurricane.

This time, Miss Mo LoBeau is in control as she steers through the murky waters and advises her friend Dale to "never underestimate the power of stupidity."

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for thefourthvine.
575 reviews202 followers
August 26, 2018
This is very much a traditional children’s mystery. It’s got the spunky protagonist, the limited parental oversight, your world where the internet and computers and screens don’t exist, the amusingly named and eccentric minor characters, and of course the child nemesis. But what I found myself noticing is what it doesn’t have: any characters of color, as far as I could tell, or any queer people at all. Because at the heart of this book is the Small Southern Town with a Heart of Gold, where everyone knows everyone else’s business and everyone cares — and it is telling, at least to me, that the author could only imagine that in a world where everyone’s white and no one is different.

And that really does get at the heart of the problem. If Turnage had made this book representative, with characters of color and queer people and all, then she would have had to navigate the concepts of racism and homophobia (in addition to the classism she mentions but doesn’t explore). And if she’d done justice to that, then her glancing looks at child abuse (the main character’s best friend’s father is an abusive alcoholic), bullying (because that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about “child nemeses”), and poverty would have all started looking like what they are: shallow mistreatments of deep and painful subjects. And then this whole book would have disintegrated under its own weight.

And, honestly, I think that’s what should have happened here. Because while this is pleasant and readable, it’s dishonest and empty where it counts. Compare this book to, say, The Westing Game — a children’s mystery that is a genuine classic, that understands racism and sexism and classism and ableism and never flinches, but still manages to be lighthearted and fun. And then write off this book altogether.
Profile Image for Mary.
856 reviews
February 18, 2013
Meet the latest member of juvenile fiction's Feisty Females Hall of Fame: Mo LoBeau, an eleven-year-old cafe manager, martial arts expert, detective, and "goddess of free enterprise." Her adoptive dad is The Colonel, a man who lost his memory and found Baby Mo in the course of a single hurricane. Mom is Miss Lana, a free spirit who daily gives the family's cafe a new theme according to her whims. While Mo attempts to locate her birth mother, she eventually discovers that it's love that makes a family--and The Colonel and Miss Lana love her to pieces.

Trouble comes to their hometown when grouchy Mr. Jesse winds up dead, and a cop from the big city of Winston-Salem shows up asking questions. Naturally, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, open their own detective agency to get to the bottom of things.

This highly lauded novel won a 2013 Newbery Honor, and was one of AMightyGirl.com's featured books for its celebration of a smart, confident, and courageous girl. It offers a little something for everyone: mystery, laugh-out-loud humor, and even a hint of first love in the form of Mo's crush on Dale's big brother, teenaged race-car mechanic Lavender Shade Johnson. Local readers will particularly love the uniquely Southern setting and sense of humor. Only a born and bred Southerner like Sheila Turnage could have created a town like Tupelo Landing, North Carolina, and its colorful characters. Highly recommended for Mighty Girls ages 10 and up.

Note: Parents may wish to know that Dale and Lavender's father drinks and is abusive. This is a minor theme in the book, and only one incident of mild violence occurs. Rest assured that all characters recognize that Mr. Johnson's behavior is wrong, and he eventually does have to pay consequences for his crimes.
Profile Image for Betsy.
194 reviews3 followers
April 10, 2012
At 10am I opened “Three Times Lucky” by Sheila Turnage, and by 4pm that same day I closed “Three Times Lucky”. And this may sound bad that I am closing the book so soon, but it’s not. I couldn’t put it down for the life of me! Turnage created a town and family of sorts in Tupela Landing, a town only 2 blocks long, but with a story a nations worth.

I’m not sure were to start with this review. The story goes through sort of a maze of side stories to come up with it’s final resting place. Each person in Tupela Landing has a story to tell, but they don’t seem to know it themselves. I know, I know, I’m confusing you already. But I love it when a mystery of tales all come together to create an incredible ending.

Usually when I read of small towns in a book, I get a feeling of naiveness, but Tupela was far from naive. Turnage did a superb job of creating a closeness, and love for each and everything in life, and especially in Tupela Landing.

And once again you have no idea what this story is about. But, let me see! It’s a child’s novel, written for about 10-12 year olds, but most definitely suited for teens, and adults. It’s a mystery, and a story of loss, and love.

When trying to think how to describe it I keep coming up with “Because of Winn-Dixie”, and “Moon Over Manifest” in my mind. The stories run along the same lines, but are all great in their own way.

Turnage caught my attention, and I hope she catches yours as well!
Profile Image for Barbara.
13.2k reviews277 followers
May 16, 2012
I guess I'll be going against the crowd on this one--possibly because I have a lot/hate relationship with how writers often depict the South and the quaint Southern towns in which so many eccentric characters with odd names live--names like Dale Earnhardt Johnson III and Lavender Shade. While I liked a lot of things about Moses including her created family of the Colonel and Miss Lana and her constant search for her mother by sending off messages in bottles, I also disliked the haste with which the mystery of Jesse's death is resolved so neatly. It wasn't always clear just who had established the Colonel's reputation or what connections he and Miss Lana had other than love for Mo. What made Miss Lana and Dale's mother bond so easily? What took Slate so long to come after the loot? Small towns such as Tupelo Landing tend to be insular, requiring generations before accepting newcomers so I don't know how easily the Colonel would have been able to fit in, especially considering the rumors that swirled about him. While there are some particularly well-written passages concerning throwing away the individuals in our lives as well as some describing Mo's longing to have resolution about where she came from, a mystery unlikely to ever be solved. I also wondered how likely it would be that a baby could survive a hurricane while floating through torrential water. I suppose it could happen. Stranger things have, but that fact gave me some pause.
Profile Image for Angie.
3,637 reviews45 followers
June 18, 2012
Mo (short for Moses) lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana and is very lucky. She washed up during a hurricane when she was a baby and was discovered by the Colonel. Mo has her best friend Dale and the Cafe her family runs in Tupelo Landing, NC and life is pretty good. That is until a lawman comes to town and Mr. Jesse ends up murdered. Suddenly Dale is a suspect, the Colonel and Lana are missing and Mo has to solve the mystery of what is happening around her.

This was a delightful story. Mo is a wonderful small town girl with a lot of gumption. I loved her and Dale as the Desperado Detectives trying to solve the murder in town. The mystery is a good one; you have murder, kidnapping, bank robbery, amnesia. Sounds like a lot, but it does work and Turnage ties it all together nicely. The only thing that doesn't get solved is who Mo really is, but we don't really need to know that. She discovers that she doesn't need to know who her Upstream Mother is. She has a mother and father and family right where she is.

Is this book over the top? Yes! The author takes Southern to a whole 'nother level. The names are ridiculous and so are the characters at times. But does it take away from the book? Not really. You get used to it after a few chapters and it just becomes part of the story.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher at PLA 2012. Thank you!
Profile Image for Raina.
1,610 reviews128 followers
September 6, 2013
Kids still like an old-fashioned yarn.

I was tempted to not take this one out to the elementary schools on my pre-summer reading program visits this year. It's much thicker than I usually shoot for, and it's already getting attention since it won a bunch of honors during book award season.

But the kids really responded to this bright cover and old-fashioned story.

Mo lives in a tiny town in the south. She and her parents (nontraditional though they might be) run the local diner where everyone in their community comes to gossip. So, when a murder is committed, Mo is one of the few people in town who knows the characters and circumstances behind the murder.

Personally, as a long-time mystery lover, I found this truly engaging and fun to read. I also really enjoyed hearing about how the diner worked (realistic or not though that might be). I was much more interested in Mo's relationships with her adoptive parents than her interest in her biological mother, but that may be my own special fascination.

A great choice if you enjoy interesting vocabulary, regional culture, hilarious and unique characters, and setting-rich mysteries.
Profile Image for Kris Patrick.
1,502 reviews75 followers
January 17, 2016
I'm not a fan of romanticized small town living. Or town folk-turned-detective. Especially ones that are twelve.

I know that I revisit this often in my shouty reviews... If me, Kristin Marley Patrick, who has been working in children's books for 15+ yrs with a graduate degree in library services for children...who has taught children's literature at the graduate level, teacher of reading and writing... has difficulty following the narrative in a novel written for kids, how in the h e double hockey sticks is a 10 year old with limited schema and experience as a reader supposed to follow the storyline?!?? This drives me nuts.

On another note:
Here's a tip. Principals don't like it when the word murder is mentioned on the morning announcements when promoting a title for the upcoming Scholastic Book Fair.
Profile Image for Nolan Mitchell.
15 reviews10 followers
December 5, 2018
Three Times Lucky is about a girl named Mo who figures out that she was found drifting down stream on a make shift raft during a hurricane. Throughout the book she sends bottles with letters in them addressing her ''Up Stream Mother''. The book started off slow but towards the end it started to get more interesting. I won't tell you the important parts of the story, but there is a criminal on the loose named Slate who later kidnaps the Colonel and Miss Lana, Mo's care takers. Mo and her friend Dave will have to solve it them selves throughout the book. It wasn't the best book, but it was overall ok .
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