The Ravens of Solemano or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Blackby Eden Unger Bowditch
Meet Woody Robins, a bon vivant, devil-may-care wine guru who specializes in investigatory work involving rare artifacts of a vinous nature. Amidst the backdrop of world-famous Napa, California wine country, and upbeat, cosmopolitan "city by the bay" San Francisco, Woody finds he's bitten off more than he can chew when hired by a wealthy grape grower to retrieve his stolen, rare, priceless, large bottle of red Burgundy that once belonged to the French emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Tested by a colorful cast of characters, deceit, blackmail, intrigue, dealings with the mob and even murder ensue. With the help of his dozy boyhood chum, girlfriend, aunt and detective buddy with San Francisco's finest, he eventually manages to unravel the case, but not before he learns a thing or two about himself. Edward Finstein, aka "The Wine Doctor," is an internationally recognized wine expert. He is the award-winning author of "Ask the Wine Doctor." A TV and radio host, he is a renowned journalist writing for numerous newspapers, magazines and on the Internet in North America and abroad. As an international wine judge, he travels the world judging in competitions. Edward is also a Professor of Wine at George Brown College's School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts, a wine consultant, wine appraiser, wine tour guide, and former V.P. of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada. "Doc," as he is known, believes wine should be fun, and he preaches the gospel with a sense of humor and whimsy. He lives in Toronto with his wife Jo Ann and their cat Pepper. You can reach him through his website www.winedoctor.ca or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the middle volume of a planned trilogy, Bowditch's Young Inventors Guild travels to an ancient Italian village, unearthing more questions than even an international team of geniuses can answer. It's 1903, and for a moment, Jasper, Lucy, Faye, Wallace and Noah (five brilliant children) have everything: longed-for parents who've magically returned to them, well-stocked labs, and their faithful teacher, Miss Brett. But the children are devastated when, whisked away by their darkly clad guardians, they see all they love explode. The story starts fast, generating many questions: Why is villain Komar Romak still after them? Why do their diaries vanish? And are the men in strange black garb friends or foes? Despite that quick start and some engaging ideas (explosive mirages, a meeting with Nikola Tesla, an escape in a ship-turned-submarine), the book slows when the travelers reach Solemano. There, the plot bogs down amid myriad details, including descriptions of a snowball fight and baked delicacies, childish squabbles, and unresolved emotional dramas (where have the children's parents got to?). Like its guild members, this story seems to lack a clearly defined mission; there's just too much for readers (especially those new to the series) to keep track of. The pace quickens in a suspenseful end that answers many questions but leaves others unresolved for the conclusion. Despite an engaging start and intriguing finish, Book 2 suffers from an overloaded middle that lessens the punch of its plotline. (Fantasy. 11-13)
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The Ravens of Solemano or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Black
The Young Inventors Guild, Book 2
By Eden Unger Bowditch
Bancroft PressCopyright © 2013 Eden Unger Bowditch
All rights reserved.
BEFORE THE BIG BANG OR EMPTY SPACE
Before the enormous explosion, there was calm. For the passengers on the train, this was a lovely calm.
This was not the kind of train one takes from town to country and back. It was not the kind of train one rides to work or to the fair It was not the kind of train one takes across the continents or for holiday abroad. This train, unlike others, was, well, very much unlike others.
This train had a grand salon with a fine fireplace that warmed the whole car. On this train there was a spectacular laboratory filled with tools of invention. There was a grand observatory with a high glass-domed ceiling and telescopes with gears that allowed levers a great range of movement. There were beautiful sleeping compartments for each of the traveling families. And for several days, since the travelers first climbed on board, the train had made no stops. In fact, besides the few who were traveling together there were no other passengers aboard at all.
But there was a dining car. Without a doubt, that car was a delicious experience of taste and smell. Before the explosion, five children and most of their parents sat around the long dining table.
"Well, this looks familiar," said thirteen-year-old Faye Vigyanveta with a groan, looking out the window. The rain had stopped and the land was wet—brown and wet for miles and miles. A smallish man, dressed in black with a frilly apron and a chefs hat, stood beside her. He picked up a cinnamon stick with a pair of pincers and placed it beside her cup. Faye did not thank him or look up to acknowledge this presentation. She simply picked up the cinnamon stick and began to stir her tea. She looked at the boy across the table and rolled her eyes.
Ten-year-old Wallace Banneker, descendant of the great Benjamin Banneker and Louis Latimer, adjusted his glasses but said nothing. He looked down at the eggs on his plate. He knew what his father was going to say about a boy and his appetite, but Wallace was already full from the toast and jam.
This was not the case for the boy next to him. "I'll have another crumpet," said twelve-year-old Noah Canto-Sagas before swallowing the three he had in his mouth. "And the apricot jam, too ... please?" He reached across Wallace's plate, barely skimming the jiggling eggs as he tried to grab the jam pot, which was just beyond his fingers. Wallace moved the pot closer so Noah could take it.
"Honestly, Noah." Faye shook her head as Noah poured the jam onto his crumpets. Noah smiled a food-filled smile at Faye. Faye again shook her head, long, dark chestnut hair falling freely down her back and over her shoulders.
"Can you pass the other pot of jam, Lady Faye?" Noah asked. Faye showed a look of disgust, but did, indeed, pass the jam.
Before they'd all gathered for breakfast, Faye had been working on her wing design, and Noah had been working with twelve-year-old Jasper Modest on a mechanical chess set. Jasper had been caught between fits of laughter with Noah and quick glances at Faye.
As he worked, Jasper tried not to stare, but Faye always looked so beautiful when she was concentrating. Her green eyes seemed to get even greener. He liked to watch her when her passion was pleasure. When she was, instead, angry, those green eyes could burn a hole right through you. Ever since the children had recovered their missing parents, Jasper had noticed that Faye had her mother's eyes—or rather, she shared the color. But Faye's eyes were like no others. No one had eyes so intense, so beautiful. While her mother was American, blond and tall, Faye's father was from India and gave Faye her beautiful bronze skin. Jasper noticed that, too.
As they sat around the table now, Jasper stole a glance over at Faye. She looked back, and her wrinkled nose at Noah turned into a disarming smile at Jasper. Blushing from his belly to his ears, Jasper quickly stabbed himself in the cheek with his fork, then knocked over his glass and dropped his napkin into his cocoa.
"It's because of the little bunny hole he makes in the softness of the sand. See?" came the voice of Lucy Modest. Lucy had followed Faye's gaze as she looked out the window. "Yesterday it wasn't as big, but we certainly did pass by his house."
"Quelle mémoire!" said her mother, Dr. Isobel Modest. "My girl does remember everything." And this was true. Lucy could remember everything. It's just that sometimes, things could be lost in the translation from Lucy's brain to a language anyone else in the world could understand.
"What house, Lucy?" asked Wallace, who saw no house.
"Is it an imaginary house?" asked Noah. "Or is it just invisible? Maybe you need to go back to sleep."
* * *
Earlier, Lucy had been like a sleeping kitten in her mother's lap. But Lucy had not been asleep. Not really. She had decided to pretend to sleep. This way, she could feel what it was like simply to sleep within her mother's grasp. Getting her mother all to herself was a rare and special thing for Lucy, and because this was so rare and special, she didn't want to miss it by sleeping. So there she had lain, experiencing the joy of her mother's slender legs against her almost seven-year-old cheek—at least until the train had lurched as it came to a curve around some rising hills on the plains.
"I hope nothing's tumbled over," Faye's mother Gwendolyn had noted as she straightened her skirt and adjusted strands of her blond hair that had come undone from the large bun at the nape of her neck.
Suddenly, Lucy had jumped up from her mother's lap. She looked around, her special bracelet in her mouth, and ran out of the room.
Lucy had then run through the doors and into her family's sleeping quarters. She opened the door to the room she shared with her parents and Jasper and quickly climbed onto her bed. She reached under her pillow and sighed with relief. The journal, she found, was safely tucked away. She leaned over and kissed it and straightened the ribbon that kept it closed.
This journal was precious to Lucy. In fact, it was precious to them all. But Lucy felt responsible, for it was her role to hold it and keep it safe. The lurching of the train might have sent her pillow flying, and then the journal could have flipped out of the bed and been torn—or even slipped out the window! She was glad it was safe and, checking once again that it was still beneath the pillow and hadn't disappeared (since things and people often did in Lucy's life), she then hurried back to the others.
* * *
Now, Lucy looked out the window at a stand of trees she knew they had passed before.
"There's the house, near the trees," she insisted, pointing in the direction
Faye had been looking.
"There's no house, Lucy," Noah said.
"Silly, of course there is!" Lucy pointed more emphatically, her finger wagging.
"It's not there," Noah said, buttering another scone.
"Yes, it is quite," said Lucy. "He's dug it out himself. Oh, I hope his ears didn't get wet in the rain."
Noah threw a look at Jasper. "Rabbit?" Noah mouthed silently. Jasper nodded.
"We've passed this way exactly seven times," said Lucy. "There's the sand cherry turning red." Lucy identified a tight clump of bushy plants that had, in fact, turned a deep but mottled red. The last time, just days before, the leaves hadn't yet turned—or, at least, Faye didn't remember seeing anything so colorful from the window.
"It feels as if we've passed this way a hundred times," groaned Faye, pouring milk into her tea, "no matter what color the leaves are."
"As we must," said Dr. Rajesh Vigyanveta to his daughter. "It is for our own good."
"And what is that supposed to mean exactly, Father?" Faye asked. "How is any of this for our own good?"
"Faye, dear," said her mother soothingly, "there are things that just must be because ..." Looking at her husband, then the other adults, she simply said, "Because they must be. It is for the best." Gwendolyn Vigyanveta smiled at her daughter. Faye looked at her mother, who sounded more like a small-minded country girl than the world-class scientist she was.
Faye opened her mouth to argue, but caught Jasper's eye. She knew what he was saying with that look. He was right. There was no point complaining. Had Faye gotten anywhere complaining? At best, she simply failed. At worst, her complaining got them all into trouble.
Faye threw an angry glance at the mysterious man in black bringing a pot of tea to the table. At this point, she had no choice but to agree that the mysterious men in black (in their bunny ears, or frocks and pinafores, or bloomers and frilly bonnets) were likely there to guard them and meant no harm. Still, Faye saw them as her jailers. They made her furious, these horrid men with their lunatic dress and bizarre speech. To Faye, they had been kidnappers, stealing her from her life on the estate in India, taking her from her own home and her own creatures and her servants and her laboratory
The other children and their parents, too, had all been dragged from their homes—Jasper and Lucy from London, England; Noah from Toronto, Canada; and Wallace from Long Island, New York, here in America.
Faye had to admit that life before—before the farmhouse outside Dayton, Ohio, before the train, before Miss Brett—had been lonely Captive as she was, she was now among friends. Friends are the one thing she had never had before. But she could not believe that this was all "for their own good," as her parents seemed to believe. At least they tried to convince her of it, whether or not they really believed it themselves.
Noah, with his mop of red hair, pulled a small white chess pawn from his pocket. He attempted to balance it on his nose. Either by intention or misadventure, he flipped it into his not-yet-empty cup. With a shrug, he picked up the cup and slurped, finishing every last drop, except for the pawn. Faye made a grimace, placed her own cup daintily into its saucer, and tapped the cinnamon stick gently on the rim of her cup before putting it, too, on the saucer. Noah, who still had a full plate, reached for yet another crumpet from the basket of hot fresh treats being placed on the table by the man in black bunny ears. His mother, Ariana Canto-Sagas, her beautiful platinum necklace sparkling on her neck, picked up the basket and moved it out of reach of her son's hunting fingers.
The door to the salon opened, and Dr. Banneker appeared, filling the doorway with his brawny form. Stepping aside, he gestured and Miss Brett entered. All the children were delighted to see her. As always, their teacher looked lovely. She was so pretty and kind, and her smile brightened the room. Like everyone else, she seemed to have relaxed tremendously now that all the families were finally back together again.
Miss Brett had been with the children in confinement and isolation at Sole Manner Farm. She had been there when they first arrived, unsure of why they had come. She had been there, with them, as they feared and fretted, not knowing where their parents were.
And she had been there when he had come—the mysterious and terrifying man who had threatened all their lives.
Miss Brett had grown to love these children dearly. To her, they were more than pupils, and more than charges. She cared deeply for each and every one of them. She was so very glad to see them basking in pleasure with their parents again.
"Now that looks like a mighty fine spread," said Dr. Banneker, looking at the table. He pulled a chair out for Miss Brett, then went over to Wallace and put a large hand on his son's small shoulder. "You need more meat on them bones, son," he said, patting Wallace's shoulder. The boy winced. When his father wasn't trying to make him grow, he was reminding Wallace that, given all their brownskinned ancestors of scientific fame and glory, he had mighty big shoes to fill. Sitting down beside Wallace, Dr. Banneker piled more eggs and cakes onto his son's plate, then did the same for himself.
"He's, well ... That is certainly a full plate," Miss Brett said. She knew Wallace was not much of an eater, and that he would never finish that plate. That said, Miss Brett did notice how much Wallace had grown already. He was still small for his age, but the slightly pudgy little boy was leaner and taller than when they had met all those months ago.
* * *
Before breakfast, Wallace, like the others, had been working on an invention—actually, an experiment with magnets. At the age of ten, he was quite a chemist.
Miss Brett had been sitting by the fire. "What are you doing there, Wallace?" Miss Brett had asked as she counted stitches. She was knitting scarves for each of the children.
"I've weighed this rare earth element and introduced a small layer of bismuth on one side, since, after consideration, I felt it would be the strongest elemental choice. See ..." Wallace showed how the magnet in his hand caused the thimble on the armrest to roll away from him instead of toward him. "The bismuth has created a diamagnetic reaction," he said, "pushing away instead of pulling toward itself, repelling instead of attracting as one would expect." Wallace adjusted his glasses and looked at Miss Brett, smiling.
Her hands had stopped knitting, and she simply stared. She had become quite used to being told things that were well beyond her ken. She often gazed blankly at the inventions and experiments of the brilliant children in her care. Though she was used to it, there were times when she was still shocked by what they could do.
She realized she was staring with her mouth open. She shook her head to break the spell and smiled broadly at him. "Well, now that is something," she finally said.
Wallace adjusted his glasses again. "I've considered that this would create the strongest magnetic force. We had decided that neodymium might be better than the cobalt." By "we," he'd meant he and his colleague, but before breakfast, his colleague had been busy feigning sleep in her mother's lap.
"How did you do all this?" Miss Brett leaned over to see his magnets.
"We used the small sintering furnace from the laboratory to heat the powder. I combined it with steel." Wallace held the plaster mold in his hand. It had cooled and was ready
"Mmmm," said Miss Brett.
Opening the mold, he had smiled, dropping the magnet into his palm.
"You've made a perfect sphere." Miss Brett was amazed.
Wallace smiled and showed her another he had made earlier. The old one was perfect, too. He polished it against his shirt and nodded to himself. Yes, the alloy would make the strongest magnet. He could already feel it tugging toward the coin in his pocket—the lucky coin his father had finally returned to him.
Wallace had managed to balance the magnet between the iron coils. Then he pulled the coin from his pocket. Carefully, Wallace got it to float between his magnets.
Miss Brett gasped. "Wallace, how clever! It ... it's like magic!"
"It's science," he said.
"To me, science is magic," she said. "And these magnets are amazing."
"I've always loved magnets," Wallace said, "ever since my father read me Gilbert's De Magnete when I was four."
Excerpted from The Ravens of Solemano or The Order of the Mysterious Men in Black by Eden Unger Bowditch. Copyright © 2013 Eden Unger Bowditch. Excerpted by permission of Bancroft Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Eden Unger Bowditch has been writing since she was very small. She has been writing since she could use her brain to think of something to say. She wrote at the University of California, Berkeley, and she wrote songs as a member of the band 'enormous'.
She has written stories and plays and shopping lists and screenplays and dreams and poems--and also books about her longtime Baltimore home. She has lived in Chicago and France and other places on the planet, and has been a journalist, as well as a welder, and an editor, and other things, too.
The Atomic Weight of Secrets is the first installment of The Young Inventors Guild trilogy. The Ravens of Solemano is the second.
Presently, Eden lives with her family (husband and three children) in Cairo, Egypt. But that's another story entirely . . .
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Did I enjoy this book: You know how a few months after you settle into a relationship you start to notice all the annoying stuff your loved one does? I mean sure, you still adore him, but you really wish for the love of Pete he’d just STOP MAKING THAT NOISE WHEN HE CLEARS HIS THROAT ALREADY. Yeah. Book 2 of YIG was kind of like that for me. I still love the series–I’m going to put it right next to Harry Potter on my bookshelf–but there are just a *few* things that annoyed me this time around: 1. Lucy. Lucy is, by far, my favorite character. I love her. I want to snuggle her and bring her home with me. I also, though, want to sit her down and keep talking to her until she tells me all the, “Oops, I didn’t know this was important” bits of information she strategically reveals throughout the book. Yeah, I know it’s a plot device, and yeah, most of the time it works, but it just felt like a little much this time. You’d think at some point someone would think to just ASK her instead of waiting for her to blurt out life-saving information at the last minute. 2. The Language Barrier. So we’ve got these mysterious Men in Black who speak some sort of wibbly-wobbly English-type language that, despite her fascination with languages, Faye shows no interest in learning. We’ve also got Lucy (again), who for some mysterious reason seems able to successfully converse with the Men in Black, but who for an even more mysterious reason, no one thinks to ask for help when they need information from our black-clad friends. I might be overestimating the intellect of a group of kids, but then again, they did invent an airplane in the first book. 3. Safety. I suppose this ties in with #2 a bit, but here goes. If you, say, belong to an ancient, mysterious order founded around the idea of protecting, well, to be vague, knowledge, and if, say, the current manifestation of that protection included five young children and their teacher, would you really give them important tools and not tell them how to use them? Would you continually move them from location to location without giving them enough information to keep themselves safe should you, you know, have to use the loo (Oh, BTW, there’s a giant wild boar in the cave somewhere. No biggie, but try not to wander . . . )? Would you give them vague, barely comprehensible instructions and then let them wander around an obviously confusing location while a killer was blowing things up all around them? …I mean, wouldn’t you at least send a guy with them? 4. Passivity. Ms. Bowditch lets a bit too much passive voice slip in this time around. Would I recommend it: Yes. Absolutely. It’s wonderful, I loved it, and I absolutely recommend it. I’m critical of the things I love, you see. As reviewed by Melissa at Every Free Chance Book Reviews. (I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)
Harry Potter crossed with Steampunk, and Catching Fire for kids: Yes, kids can read long novels (Harry Potter, anyone?). And yes, they can enjoy tales with multiple characters. And yes, The Ravens of Solemano, or the Order of the Mysterious Men in Black is a thoroughly enjoyable, pretty long novel with lots of characters, many children, plenty of character, and the sort of premise that will have you going out to find book one in the series if you’ve not already read it. I’m certainly searching for a copy now. Start with a group of children, all extra intelligent in the same way that Harry Potter and his friends were extra magical. Separate them from their parents—with a train ride here instead of a boarding school. Give them one person to love and trust—their teacher, Miss Brett. Then leave them wondering who’s really on their side, and surround them with threats and mystery. The result is a charming, fun, exciting novel where each child quickly comes to life, each one’s weaknesses balanced by another child’s skills. Jumping to conclusions proves as dodgy as you’d expect it to be. And those mysterious men in black provide an intriguing mix of comic relief, threat and promise. The story weaves through disasters and happenstance on its way to the raven’s abode, and readers will switch from guessing meanings to identifying with feelings, then back to calculating explanations again. There’s a pleasing sense of steampunk in the wholly rational approach to the irrational. Genuine knowledge and intelligence smile from the page, with history and science woven seamlessly into the fabric of the tale. Plus there are shocks and scares aplenty. Yes, I will buy book one. And yes, I will eagerly await book three. This novel surprised me the same way the first Harry Potter novel did. Catching Fire for kids perhaps. Harry Potter for scientists and historians. Or just plain good old-fashioned, wholly up-to-date reading... with two titles because there's an uncertain duality to everything, isn't there? Disclosure: I was given a free copy to review during the author’s blog tour.