And Then I Read: THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF THE AGES by Trenton Lee Stewart

Front cover The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Riddle of the Ages by Manu Montoya
Cover and illustrations by Manu Montoya

It’s been a while since I read the previous books in this series, and the cast continues to grow, so it took a few chapters to settle into this new adventure and remember who everyone was. Once I did, it was a great adventure. Mr. Benedict, the founder of the Society, is absent for most of the book, in fact the mission is partly to rescue him. His students have been well trained, and are older now, though still fraught with doubt and anxious about whether they are up to the situation. Their deadly enemies, the Ten Men, have escaped from prison, and are not only intent on finding them but also freeing their worst enemy, Mr. Curtain from his maximum security prison on an island just outside their home city of Stonetown. Mr. Benedict is there with him, the two locked away in separate but adjacent rooms. The Ten Men have a plan to break in, but so does the Benedict Society. Each side has information the other doesn’t, but things are made more complicated by two telepaths.

The Benedict Society are Reynie, a brilliant problem solver, Sticky, a science whiz, Kate, an action-loving secret agent-in-training and Constance, a troubled and angry girl with the ability to read minds. She’s angry because the Ten Men have also found a telepath, and the two of them are in a constant mental battle for information. These four are joined by a young boy, Tai, who has been sent to them for protection because he also has latent mental abilities that must be protected from the Ten Men.

The first half of this book is about the group regathering after going their separate ways for a while and relearning how well they can work together. Then plans must be laid, and clues sent by Mr. Benedict unraveled. Kate has an encounter with some of the Ten Men, who are dangerous indeed. The second half of the book is the caper, as the Society breaks into the prison with all the traps and tests of that before them and the Ten Men hot on their heels. It’s thrilling stuff, and beautifully plotted.

I like the characters and the writing of this series. There are some quirks: there are almost no guns in the world of the story except for one dart gun, and the violence is kept relatively tame, more a threat than a reality. Also, the pun-laced names of some characters and places are distracting at times. On the whole, this is good fun and entertaining for readers of any age. Recommended.

Reviews of previous books in the series:

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Listening to: TOM’S MIDNIGHT GARDEN Audiobook

A favorite book by Philippa Pearce that I’ve reviewed here. A friend who read that review, enjoyed the book, and then found and enjoyed this audiobook version from the BBC sent it on to me. I don’t often listen to audiobooks, but found time for this one. Produced in 2012, it’s on four CDs, total running time two hours.

The book is magical, and of course the audio version can’t get in everything written, but this production does an admirable job of adapting the story, with a fine cast of actors and an excellent script. Reading is the most immersive experience for me, as the words create a world and characters in my mind, but audio, when well done, comes close, usually closer than movies or TV, as the experience still requires mental participation.

Tom has been sent to stay with an aunt and uncle in a boring flat because his brother is ill and contagious. He hates it until one night he hears the old grandfather clock in the downstairs hall chime thirteen. Intrigued, Tom goes down and out into the back garden, which has been magically restored to its glorious Victorian splendor. There he meets Hattie, an orphan girl living in the house at that time who thinks Tom is a ghost. Tom thinks the same of her, but in fact neither are quite right, as the book reveals slowly and masterfully, with many wonderful adventures on the way.

Highly recommended. Look for it wherever you get your audiobooks.

Incoming: THE NEIL GAIMAN LIBRARY Vol. 1

New cover by Fábio Moon

Just arrived, a large, beautiful hardcover collecting four of the Neil Gaiman short story adaptations that Dark Horse has been publishing since 2001. The book style and format is just like DC Absolute Editions with excellent oversize reproductions of each page on thick, matte finish white paper. The only cost-cutting I can see is that the binding is glued rather than sewn.

I lettered two of these and own three, I look forward to reading the one I haven’t seen, “How to Talk to Girls at Parties.” There are ten books in the series that I know of, probably enough for three volumes if they include a few other things too. They’re all well done with excellent art, in this case by P. Craig Russell, Rafael Alguquerque, Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba, Rafael Scavone and Shane Oakley.

Publication date is June 17. Highly recommended.

Rereading: THE BORROWERS ALOFT by Mary Norton

The fourth book in the charming Borrowers series, published in 1961, is framed differently than the previous ones. We have left behind Kate and Miss May. Instead we begin with retired railroad man Mr. Pott and his model railroad exhibit, for which he enjoys building an entire village. The railroad is open to the public, we heard about it in the previous book, The Borrowers Afloat, as a hoped-for destination for Pod, Homily and Arrietty, our family of tiny people. Miss Menzies is a friend of Mr. Pott who helps him with the exhibit and visitors, and she reports that one of the cottages in the village is inhabited, we know by whom. Once again, young Arrietty disobeys Borrower rules and begins talking to Miss Menzies.

Meanwhile, across the river, Mr. and Mrs. Platter have a rival model railroad, copying the idea from Mr. Pott, and enjoying the money they make from visitors. To keep up with his competition, Mr. Platter regularly spies on the Pott village from his boat, and when he learns of the tiny people living there, he’s sure his exhibit is all washed up. Unless, as Mrs. Platter suggests, they can steal the tiny people for their own village.

The Platters succeed, and make Pod, Homily and Arrietty prisoners in their attic while they build a house/prison for them to be used the following summer. Finally we learn how our Borrowers are handling all this (not well at first) and how they plan to escape. A clue is in the cover image above.

Just as enjoyable as the previous books, well written, with great characters and plot. This was meant to be the end of the series, but one more followed years later.

Recommended.

Rereading: THE BORROWERS AFLOAT by Mary Norton

Cover illustration by Beth and Joe Krush

The third book of the charming Borrowers series, first published in 1959, begins like the first two with a framing sequence featuring Kate and Mrs. May, still visiting the cottage Mrs. May is buying, where Kate has been hearing about the Borrower family, father Pod, mother Homily and daughter Arrietty from old Tom Goodenough. Tom was the boy with the ferret in the first book, and lived in this cottage since his boyhood. At the end of The Borrowers Afield, Tom rescued the three tiny people from the gypsy Mild Eye, and brought them to this cottage, where their relatives, the Hendreary family, was already living in the wall.

Pod, Homily and Arrietty are at first warmly welcomed by their relatives, there are six of them, and given two sparse “rooms” to live in above the Hendreary home, but tensions soon rise, as Pod finds his borrowing curtailed, Homily’s old dislike of Hendreary’s wife Lupy returns, and Arrietty misses being outdoors. Arrietty once again turns to talking to the human Tom, something Borrowers are not supposed to do. In the end, their wild Borrower friend Spiller gives them a way to escape, and takes them to his home in an old teakettle at the edge of the nearby stream. For a while things go well until there’s a flood.

Just as much fun as the previous books, recommended. The illustrations are great, too.