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Friday, December 20, 2013

Alexis Tappendorf and the Search for Beale's Treasure by Becca C. Smith ~ Review

This post may contain affiliate links. MHZ Book Reviews and Giveaways received a free e-copy of Alexis Tappendorf and the Search Fro Beale's Treasure so we could provide and open and honest review. We received no monetary compensation and all opinions are our own.






BLURB:
Alexis Tappendorf is about to be abandoned in Virginia for the summer by her parents, George and Jenny. They’re leaving for a mysterious job they can’t tell anyone about, which annoys Alexis to no end! And what’s worse is the fact that they’re dropping her off with Great Aunt Mae, a woman in her seventies that Alexis has never met!

Upon arriving in Virginia, Alexis discovers that for the last hundred years the townspeople of Summervale and Bedford County have been searching for a lost treasure buried somewhere in the area by a man named Thomas J. Beale. More importantly, the only clues to finding the fortune are in the form of cryptograms, codes that, when properly translated, tell the exact location of the bounty. 

In a heart-pounding race to Beale’s Treasure, Alexis and her new friend, Olivia Boyd, join forces to solve the Beale ciphers before the dangerous family, the Woodmores, beat them to it – a seemingly impossible task since they always appear to be one step ahead of the girls at every turn. 

Unless Alexis and Olivia can decipher Beale’s cryptograms in time, the treasure will be lost forever or worse—it will end up in the hands of the evil Woodmores…




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BIO:
Becca C. Smith received her Film degree from Full Sail University and has worked in the Film and Television industry for most of her adult life. In 2010 Becca published her first novel, Riser followed by the sequel, Reaper, in 2011, and the finale, Ripper in 2013. In 2012 Becca wrote the children’s novel Alexis Tappendorf and the Search for Beale’s Treasure. She is also the co-author of the teen graphic novel Ghost Whisperer: The Haunted. Becca currently lives in Los Angeles, CA with her husband, Stephan and their two cats Jack and Duke.




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CHAPTER ONE:
Really?

Alexis Tappendorf thought to herself.

She stared out at the landscape through the window of her parents’ beat-up sedan with disdain.

Trees and grass for miles and miles.

What had her parents gotten her into?

Summervale, Virginia. Very different from Los Angeles, California. First off, it was green. And second off, there wasn’t a glimpse of civilization anywhere.
Being eleven-years-old was a major disadvantage to Alexis at this point in her life, seeing as she had absolutely no say whatsoever in how or where she was going to live.
Alexis pulled back her long sandy blonde hair and tucked it behind her ears. She had been growing her hair out for the last year, now it was just past her shoulders. Alexis had an oval face with bright blue eyes and a straight nose that was lightly sprinkled with freckles. Right now her blue eyes were staring daggers into her parents’ backs.
Alexis sat in the back seat and kept quiet, knowing full well how upset it was making her parents, George and Jenny Tappendorf. They were guilty of the unforgivable:  exiling their only daughter into the hands of “ Great Aunt Mae.” At least, that’s how it felt to Alexis. No matter how many times they explained it to her, it still felt like abandonment.
George glanced back at Alexis through the rear view mirror and winked, but he was rewarded with a glare. With one hand on the wheel he ran his other hand through his pepper-colored hair that was receding a little too fast for George’s taste. He was also carrying a few pounds more than he’d like as well, but he hid it with over-sized Hawaiian shirts and khaki shorts. Her father’s eyes matched Alexis’s down to the very round shape, but his nose was slightly crooked due to a bowling accident. (George was so focused on his “bowling form” that once he swung the ball up to launch it down the lane he ended up smashing his nose. Five stitches, a particularly large splint and two black eyes later, her father swore off bowling forever.) George Tappendorf’s face was roundish and his smile could melt anyone. Except for Alexis this fine afternoon. She wasn’t budging.
 George was laid off from his job at a beer factory in Los Angeles. That was over a year ago and he had been looking for work ever since. From fast food to retail, nothing lasted long. Alexis didn’t mind so much, it wasn’t as if her parents ever let her starve. In fact, Alexis thought that life was pretty good, even when they were forced to eat hotdogs for an entire month. George grilled everything on a mini-grill they kept on the back porch, a necessity really, since the electricity had been turned off. When it first happened, Jenny told Alexis that it was like camping. Inside. In a one-bedroom apartment. Then she became quiet and spent the next hour in the bathroom.
Jenny tried to break through Alexis’s ice barrier by pointing out a stray cow feeding off the grass. “Look, honey, he looks like Duke.”
Duke was their neighbor’s cat in Los Angeles, who was so ridiculously cute that any adorable animal since was always followed by the sentence, “he looks like Duke.” But today Alexis’s response was a shrug and a sigh.
Jenny turned back around and stared straight ahead. Her pitch black hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail. She had pale delicate skin and a small straight nose and high cheekbones. Her brown eyes were almost too big for her face making her look a little like a Kewpie doll. Jenny was athletically built, but in the last few years she had let her muscles turn soft.
Research. Alexis thought to herself with disdain.
That was all George and Jenny told Alexis about their upcoming six-week absence. No matter how hard Alexis tried, she couldn’t get any more information out of them. She wasn’t even sure if they actually had more information. All Alexis knew was that after six weeks her parents would be coming home with a twenty thousand dollar check.
From research.
Yeah.
Alexis groaned from the back seat as more and more giant pines, oaks, and hickories flew by her window. She missed Los Angeles. Alexis felt happy there. Secure. As if nothing in the world could touch her.
Not like Virginia.
Virginia was beautiful, yes, but it wasn’t where she grew up. It wasn’t where her friends were. It was across the entire country, in the middle of nowhere. And most of all, it scared her. Alexis had never been away from her parents for more than a day, and now they’d be gone for the whole summer! It terrified her. Alone with Great Aunt Mae. A seventy-year-old lady that her parents described as a “barrel of laughs.” Whatever that meant. Great Aunt Mae was Alexis’s grandma’s sister on her father’s side, but when George’s mother died, they drifted out of touch. George had never even seen Mae’s Summervale house. She and her husband, William, had apparently moved there after George was already an adult, and living on the other side of the country made visiting an expense the Tappendorf family could never quite afford.
“Don’t worry, Alex,” George called back from the driver’s seat, “you’ll have a lot of fun in Summerville. Aunt Mae is amazing. She’ll make you feel at home.” Her father was the only one who called Alexis “Alex,” and normally she loved his pet name for her. Today it just made her angry.
“Summervale, Dad,” Alexis said with a huff. “You can at least get the name of the town right. You are abandoning me there after all.” At this point she believed her parents needed to feel as guilty as was humanly possible.
After a moment of disappointing silence, Alexis picked up a booklet full of advanced Sudoku puzzles lying on the seat next to her. It was the best way to take her mind off of her current predicament. And she was quite good at the puzzles as well. Sudoku had become Alexis’s obsession over the last year, her main escape from reality. She liked the way it made her mind work, trying to figure out how to place the numbers exactly so as to solve the riddle. It was one of the few things that Alexis was good at. She whizzed through the beginner books in a matter of days and had been trying to find a puzzle she couldn’t solve. Even the “advanced edition” book she was working on now was too easy for her. Was there such thing as advanced, advanced Sudoku puzzles? If there was, Alexis was sure she wouldn’t be able to find it here in Virginia in the middle of nowhere. She quickly solved the puzzle she was working on, but found to her dismay that the closer they were to Mae’s the less the puzzle distracted her.
Alexis tossed the book aside and stared out the window. If she hadn’t been so stubbornly set on making her parents regret their decision, she probably would have appreciated the countryside more. It really was beautiful, full of lush green hills and deep green forests that looked like an impenetrable fortress of trees they were so close together. Under normal circumstances, Alexis would be ready for an adventure, mapping out the forest, pretending she was in another world, anywhere her imagination would take her. But, these weren’t normal circumstances: her parents were leaving her and that was that.
The car headed over a rise and when they were on the other side there was a large patch of rocks off to the right. A man with a metal detector, dressed in khakis and a floppy sailor hat, was meticulously scouring the rocks like a man possessed.
Alexis thought maybe he lost something important the way he was searching the ground, but before she had time to think on it further they had whizzed by the man.
But her mother had noticed him, too.
“That was weird,” Jenny said. “I wonder what he was looking for?” She said it in an off-handed way, as if she wasn’t really expecting an answer but was just curious herself.
“Maybe he was looking for the One Ring,” George said with a smile making eye contact with Alexis through the rear-view mirror.
Alexis rolled her eyes, not budging in attitude. He must have thought the landscape looked like a fantasy world too, but Alexis didn’t want to give her father an inch. A part of her felt guilty, he was just trying to make her feel better, but in the end stubbornness won out.
“I’ve had enough of this bratty behavior!” Jenny whirled around with a face that always made Alexis’s heart skip a beat. It didn’t happen often, but when Alexis’s mom was angry, watch out! She could wither you with one look. “If you even try and pull this attitude in front of Aunt Mae, young lady, we’re going to have problems. She has offered her home to you without even batting an eye!  You could at least show a little gratitude!”
Alexis immediately tried to shrink into the back seat. “Y…you’re the one l..leaving me!”  Alexis shouted back and was surprised to find she was crying. She didn’t want her parents to be mad at her: guilty, yes, mad, no. And seeing how upset her mother was made Alexis begin to sob uncontrollably.
Seeing her daughter’s tears, Jenny’s face fell instantly. She reached her hand back and held Alexis’s chin lovingly. “I know this is hard on you, but it’s hard on us, too. This was the last thing we wanted to do. You saw how hard we tried to make it work in L.A. Trust us, we don’t want to go either.” Jenny pulled her hand away and made brief eye contact with George. Something unsaid passed between them.
“See!  Th…that look!  Y…you always give each other that look!  You’re h…hiding something from m…me and I can tell. And th...that’s why I’m so mad. I...I just want you to tell me the t…truth. W…where are you going?” Alexis could barely breathe through her choked tears, but she couldn’t let another one of those looks go by. Then her father spoke.
“We love you, Alex, more than you’ll ever know, but we just can’t tell you. It’s a part of the deal.” George kept his eyes on the road, but Alexis and Jenny both heard the catch in his throat and their hearts broke at the sound. George hardly ever cried. In fact, the only time Alexis ever saw him get emotional was at his mother’s funeral.
Alexis took a few calming breaths and wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m scared,” she admitted.
Jenny looked back at her daughter and gave her a reassuring smile. “So are we, sweetie.”
“We need to stick together if we’re going to get through this,” George added, his voice steady again. “Can you do that for me, Alex?”
All of Alexis’s anger was gone and it was replaced with pain. She really was going to miss her parents, but taking out her frustration on them would only make things worse later on. How would she feel when they were gone and the last words she said to them were in anger? Not very good, she decided.
“I can do that for you, Dad,” Alexis’s voice was barely a whisper. She felt broken, as if by conceding to be civil she was finally admitting that they were really leaving. “And I wasn’t going to be mean to Aunt Mae, just you two.” Alexis realized how horrible that sounded as soon as it left her mouth, but she was surprised to find that her parents actually laughed.
“Well that’s something at least.” Jenny rolled her eyes and smiled at her daughter.
“Aunt Mae is really wonderful, Alex. I know you’ll love her. And if she’s decorated this house the way she did her last one, you’re in for quite an adventure.” George raised his eyebrow to emphasize his point.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jenny looked at him, curious herself.
“Let’s just say, her late husband William was pretty creative in his woodworking.” George enticed them. “And after having a nice dinner with Aunt Mae we’ll leave in the morning,” George said aloud to drive home the reality of the situation.
Alexis’s interest was definitely piqued, as she knew was her father’s intent. “We better make the most of it then,” she said trying to sound more enthusiastic than she felt. But she knew her parents could see right through her fake bravado.
As they drove down the winding road, another man with a metal detector was scouring the side of the road.
“What are they looking for?” Jenny asked.
“Sounds like a mystery.” George looked back at Alexis through the rear view mirror, eyes smiling.
Alexis’s eyes grew round with the faint stirrings of excitement. A mystery. She loved mysteries. Her bag was full of Agatha Christie novels. She was Alexis’s favorite author and she ate up every word Ms. Christie wrote. Detective Hercule Poirot was her favorite character of all time. She loved the way he asked questions and the way he could put seemingly random events together to find the murderer. It was a gift that Alexis related to. Sometimes things or events would appear completely unrelated, but Alexis could see how they connected to each other like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Reading was another one of her escapes in life. Whenever things were particularly bad at home or at school, Alexis would pull out one of her beat up mystery novels and dig in. She loved trying to figure out what was going to happen next. If these men with metal detectors were a part of some bigger mystery, then Alexis was on it.
And, just as Alexis was going to proclaim her interest in solving the roadside mystery, they passed yet another man searching the ground with his metal detector.
“Seriously?! There has to be something out there. Do you think they know each other?” Alexis asked, trying to make some sense of it.
Farther down the road yet another man was searching the ground with a metal detector, but this time two cops were approaching him waving him to stop immediately.
As they drove by, Alexis watched as a tall heavyset man in a suit stood next to the police officers like he was the judge and jury himself. His demeanor scared Alexis in a way she couldn’t verbally describe. It was just a feeling, but the man looked mean. Alexis kept her eyes on the stranger as the cops handcuffed the man with the metal detector and pulled him toward their car. The stranger turned his eyes on her suddenly. For a brief second Alexis was terrified.
“Guess it’s illegal,” George speculated. “I feel sorry for those other fellows. Wish we could warn them.” He apparently hadn’t noticed or cared about the heavyset stranger.
“Maybe Aunt Mae will know something about it.” Jenny turned around to see the wheels churning in Alexis’s head.
For the first time the mention of Great Aunt Mae didn’t make Alexis want to throw something. Mae would have to know something about this, and maybe who the stranger was. After they were far enough away from the creepy man, Alexis relaxed and felt a surge of excitement. Great Aunt Mae would be the first person she’d interview, just like in her Agatha Christie books.
Alexis was determined to solve the mystery of the metal detectors and the identity of the tall stranger.
 


REVIEW 5 STARS

      I've never read any of Becca C. Smith's books before but if they are anything like Alexis Tappendorf and the Search for Beale's Treasure I'll certainly be checking them out! I found myself so many times holding my breath while rooting Alexis and Olivia on, hoping the Woodmores would get what they deserve, for Olivia's Dad and their cross country flee. There are so many ups and downs, twist and turns in this book and it has been left open for a second book, which I can't wait to read. Alexis Tappendorf and the Search for Beale's Treasure is a great middle grade book all about adventure, mystery, and treasuring hunting. While the first 20% - 30% or so of the book was a little slow, once it picked up the momentum it just kept on going straight to the end!