The Secret Code Menace by Pamela Cosman

The secret code menaceRansom Publishing, UK, 2016

During summer vacation Sara, Daniel, and Jared came up with an awesome secret code. They think it’s the perfect thing to keep parental units, teachers, and annoying little sisters in the dark. The first real test of the new code comes on the first day of school when a harmless message gets changed in transit and puts Sara in some serious hot water at school. Despite that, they don’t give up on the code. Instead the brother, sister, and cousin team get busy finding ways to protect their code from errors that others could introduce. And it’s a good thing they do, because when the local bank is robbed in the middle of Sara and Daniel’s field trip, their code may be the only thing that can get them out of a difficult and dangerous situation.

Pamela Cosman has written a ripping adventure starring a group of ordinary middle school kids. The characters are appealing and real. The stakes are high. And the kids save the day. It’s an engaging story with STEM concepts worked in. The secret code involved is a binary code and useful for learning how computers pass information. The Secret Code Menace takes readers along for a fun ride while clearly showing how engineers solve problems with corrupted information in DVDs, cell phones, and other types of communication so that users may not even notice a problem.

A section at the end of the book gives even more information for kids who are interested in learning about error correction coding in more detail. It also offers solutions to the unsolved puzzles in the story.

Pamela Cosman is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, San Diego. In The Secret Code Menace she uses her considerable knowledge and teaching skills to make engineering concepts clear and fun for upper elementary and middle school readers.

This is the start of a great new series for kids. It will appeal to readers who simply want a good story and also to kids who are fascinated by secret codes and STEM concepts. This is a must-add for classrooms, school libraries, and fun summer reading.

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The Call of Cthulhu, a Graphic Novel by Dave Shephard

Quarto Publishing, 2018.The Call of Cthulhu

In The Call of Cthulhu, Dave Shephard sets a classic horror tale originally written by H.P. Lovecraft into a more linear form than the original story. This works well for readers, using a narrator to help us understand how events at diverse locations around the world are related. The illustrations evoke the darkness of the tale and the horror of the idea of a huge malignant power sleeping beneath the seas. Cult members serve it, and when awakened, Cthulhu will call more aliens from the stars to wreak havoc on humans on Earth.

I think this is a masterful rendition of the story that may well create new H.P. Lovecraft fans. It’s a wonderful addition to the Dark Tales graphic novels series and a great place for readers who love horror to begin their summer reading. The illustrations are detailed and intriguing and the story will spark the imaginations of its readers.

Other books in the Dark Tales Graphic Novel Series from Canterbury Classics include The Call of Cthulhu, The Snow Queen, and Beauty and the Beast.

I received a copy of The Call of Cthulhu from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, a Graphic Novel by Dave Shephard

Dark Tales: The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Graphic NovelQuarto Publishing, 2018.

As a lover of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories, I could not pass up a chance to read this new version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Part of Dave Shephard’s Dark Tales series of graphic novels, The Hound of the Baskervilles was the perfect story to pick as the setting of the miry moor and the tales of a ghost dog make this one of the creepiest of the Sherlock Holmes tales.

Shephard’s pictures evoke the desolate landscape, the old manor, and the complex plot well. Readers who are familiar with the screen and television versions of Doyle’s stories will note with pleasure the visual references to familiar actors and settings.

Other books in the Dark Tales Graphic Novel Series from Canterbury Classics include The Call of Cthulhu, The Snow Queen, and Beauty and the Beast.

I received copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Two Spells by Mark Morrison

51fuRmKahML Twins Sarah and John are off to Wales for the summer to stay with the grandparents they’ve barely met. Almost immediately, even before the family has reached their destination, it’s clear that the area of their mother’s birth isn’t ordinary. A werewolf in the road, a fortress named Two Spells atop a mountain, and a mysteriously dysfunctional GPS that keeps returning them to Two Spells rather than guiding them to their grandparents are merely the beginning of their adventure.

Soon the twins are completely immersed in the world of the magical library—intrigued by the library and the magic within it. Soon enough it is clear that there are forces at work that would destroy the library, and they’re right in the middle of a battle for survival: the library’s and their own.

Mark Morrison’s first book shows that he has a great love of fantasy and magical worlds and a fantastic imagination.

Although I, too, am a fantasy lover, I often found myself disoriented in the complexities of the plot of Two Spells, although your mileage may vary. I also wished that Sarah had a little more agency and a little less help from adults and magical creatures in the resolution.

Though the author puts this book at a young adult level, I’d put it at a middle grade level, as Sarah and Jon seem young for a true young adult book.

The author sent me a copy of the book in hopes of receiving a review.