The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery by R.M. Clark

The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery by R.M. Clark
Publisher: MB Publishing
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Contemporary, Paranormal
Length: Short Story (130 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Twelve-year-old April O’Day’s summer has gotten off to a flying start. As the new bat retriever for the Harpoons, her hometown’s minor league team, she’s fetching bats and doling out great advice to players and coaches alike. In a word, she’s becoming indispensable. But mysterious things are happening at Haney Field, which April and her best friend – and fellow baseball enthusiast – Darren Plummer are determined to uncover. As they quickly learn, this is no ordinary season. In fact, it’s a whole new ball game.

Sometimes the past refuses to stay buried.
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I liked April immediately. It was nice to meet a young adult character who doesn’t have any special powers or access to magical devices. April is quite well-read for her age, but other than that she’s a completely ordinary girl who has to rely on her own intelligence and resourcefulness to figure out what’s happening on Haney field.

It seemed odd to me that April had such a hard time finding out more information about the Negro Leagues at first. It would have made more sense a generation or two ago, but the Internet is full of people who are avid fans of all kinds of things. I’ve discovered blogs and websites about much more obscure historical events than this one. This is a minor criticism of an otherwise compelling story though.

The baseball glossary was a nice touch. I know almost nothing about that sport and would have had some trouble figuring out what certain characters were talking about without it. The concepts it discusses seem to be fairly basic, but it’s a good tool for those of us who need that kind of refresher.

The age recommendation for this tale needs an explanation. April is twelve, but she comes across as someone younger than that because of what she is and is not interested in. Eight is the youngest age I’d recommend this book to, though, due to some paranormal themes that might be a little too frightening for younger readers.

The Secret at Haney Field: A Baseball Mystery is a great choice for anyone who loves baseball or a spooky ghost story. I had a good time reading it and will be recommending it family members and young friends in this age range!

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston
Published by Razorbill (Penguin Group)
Genre: YA, Action/Adventure
Length: Full Length (352 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A hidden laboratory…

A brilliant invention…

A team of quite unusual creatures…

But can they save the department?

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Beneath the glass towers and glittering skywalks, there’s a rambling old mansion from which all the company’s amazing inventions spring forth. And no one except Uncle Archie knows what’s behind the second-to-last door at the end of the hall.

Until Elliot and Leslie are invited to take a glimpse inside.

They find stooped, troll-like creatures with jutting jaws and broken teeth; tiny winged things that sparkle as they fly; and huge, hulking, hairy nonhumans (with horns). It is unlike anything they’ve ever seen!

But when Chuck Brickweather threatens to shut down the DENKi-3000 factory if a new product isn’t presented soon, the creatures know they are in danger. And when Uncle Archie vanishes, it’s up to Elliot, Leslie, and every one of the unusual, er, “employees” to create an invention so astonishing it will save The Creature Department.

Information has taste? Robert Paul Weston’s The Creature Department is one delightful and utterly unpredictable idea and event after the next. We should expect nothing less from a book with a glow-in-the-dark cover!

Elliot Von Doppler accepts an invitation from his (rather mysterious) uncle to visit a research and development department at a local factory and…all at once… the summer doldrums have ended. He and pal Leslie are confronted with the inexplicable, the somewhat disgusting but otherwise-quite-nice, and quite desperate group that are in charge of company inventions. Herein we are catapulted into a world that we can make sense of, but certainly cannot predict. It’s a fun romp with odd creatures (and a few great illustrations) odd inventions, and odder executives. Science and creativity meet and so much fun erupts! Loads of humor collide with some slimy descriptions, and manage to create a mild level of suspense from one scene to the next.

All age readers will enjoy the ideas about friendship, loyalty, and a sense of the ridiculous; and likely share a great desire to try out the famous dim sum recipes, too. Although this story is meant for Middle school readers – this adult reader was completely entertained from start to finish.

My Recommendation: buy this for the young reader on your list, but read it yourself before you pass it along!

The Mystery of the Purloined Chocolate Bar by Wayne Greenough

The Mystery of the Purloined Chocolate Bar by Wayne Greenough
Publisher: Devine Destinies
Genre: Young Adult, Suspense/Mystery, Historical
Length: Short Story (35 pages)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 3.5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Cousin Alice’s chocolate bar has been purloined. Petey has six hours before his stern Aunt Jennifer returns from shopping. It’s panic time for him. He was supposed to take care of Alice. Can he save the day by finding the missing candy?Cousin Alice’s chocolate bar has been purloined. Petey has six hours before his stern Aunt Jennifer returns from shopping. It’s panic time for him. He was supposed to take care of Alice. Can he save the day by finding the missing candy?

Aunt Jennifer doesn’t accept anything other than your very best effort. For Petey this is becoming a huge problem.

He cares about his cousin, but Petey has no idea how to solve this mystery in such a short timespan. Alice and Petey have clearly spent quite a bit of time together, and their relationship is closer to being a sibling bond than a cousin one. The best scenes in this book involve him protecting her from dangers imagined and real as they run around their neighbourhood collecting clues.
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I was temporarily caught off guard when Petey misjudges a common disease. His claims about it are no longer necessarily true for people who have this condition under control. While his outdated information provides an important hint about the time period in which these characters live I would have preferred to see an adult correct his error.

Petey is chronologically a teenager, but his interests lie in activities that most of his contemporaries would probably no longer find amusing. He seems to be a late bloomer, and the combination of his playful personality and the subject matter of this tale will make it far more appealing to younger readers even if a few vocabulary words are unfamiliar to the average 8-year-old.

It isn’t easy to write humorous, engaging stories for this age group, but Mr. Greenough makes the process look effortless. This mystery is the perfect first step in any private investigator’s career, and I read all 35 pages in one sitting because I was so interested in figuring out who actually stole Alice’s chocolate. At one point Petey and Alice figure out something the adults haven’t told them about one of their neighbors, and their kind and sensitive reaction to such a serious matter made me wish their adventures would never end.

I was delighted by the hijinks in The Mystery of the Purloined Chocolate Bar and hope to hear more from this cast of characters soon.

Spanky, A Soldier’s Son by S.L. LaNeve

Spanky, A Soldier’s Son by S.L. LaNeve
Publisher: My Climbing Tree LLC
Genre: Action/Adventure, Contemporary
Length: Full Length (251 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 8+
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Stephanotis

Spanky loves snakes, sketching, camping, and, well, maybe girls. While his dad is fighting grown bullies in Afghanistan, school bully, Mack Malone, has Spanky in his crosshairs. Worse yet, whenever Spanky needs to defend himself, help a friend, or. . . OMG. . . save his teacher’s life, he freezes! The overnight Outdoor Ed camping trip is Spanky’s best chance to catch the attention of a special girl. It could also make his dad proud to have him for a son. Turns out, it could get him suspended. Ultimately, Spanky learns to face his fears and what it really means to be a hero.

This is a fun story and not just for children who have a parent in the Armed Services. Lots of the experiences in the book, like facing the school bully and having to make new friends after a move, are topics most children can relate to.

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There are some touching scenes in the story like when he’s at the airport and saying goodbye to his dad. Also, the author created a sense of suspense every time Spanky didn’t hear from his father when he was actually serving in Afghanistan. In the end, I, like Spanky, was hoping that his dad had a safe tour of duty.

In the second part of the story, is the part where Spanky really proves himself and makes his father proud. I won’t give it away but it’s a little slice of adventure within this book that I think young readers will especially enjoy.

I think this would be a fun story for both boys and girls and the ideal read for children whose parents are away on active duty.

Gnit-Wit Gnipper and the Ferocious Fire Ants by T J Lanz

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Gnit-Wit Gnipper and the Ferocious Fire Ants by T J Lanz
Publisher: Happy Gnome Publishing
Genre: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Age Recommendation: 8+
Length: Short Story (17 pgs)
Rating: 3 stars
Reviewed by Aloe

Gnipper is an eight year old gnomish scientist trying hard to earn the community’s respect for her work. She just needed an idea that could benefit everyone and now she has it- she’s going to create a growth serum to fix the gnome’s height issues. Everything is great until she decides to test her product on Chloe, the queen of her fire ant farm. Now she needs to act quickly or the entire community is about to be destroyed by twenty pound, angry insects. Can she save Rosehaven from another one of her mishaps?

Gnit-Wit Gnipper is back and she’s still facing some challenges if she wants to get a real hat instead of a frying pan for her head…

This author has a great imagination and writes a silly, busy story that should grab young ones’ attention and keep them reading to the end. Everything Gnit-Wit does seems to evolve into big trouble. You find yourself waiting to see just how things are going to turn out this time.

All she wants is a cookie. How could trying to reach where the cookies are stored cause a problem? Well, it can if you try to create a growth potion you can use to reach up there and manage to test a drop on your fire ant queen. The potion DOES work and now you have a monster aunt who happens to be pregnant!

T J Lanz’s world of gnomes is fun to visit. Everyone seems to be a bit crazy. Gnit-Wit’s Granny can fly (her plane is out of this world), and her friend, Sam, is part human and part squirrel. With characters like these and a BIG ant that is going to hatch thousands of babies shortly, the action picks up and races through the short story.

Any child who likes silliness, has a good imagination or would just like to be surprised by how a story will enjoy this one. It’s a fast read that could easily work into a fantastic conversation about the things your own child can imagine. Why not let them write their own story and read it to you? I’m sure this author would be pleased to know that his/her work has created another fantasy story.