Puzzle Mania!

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

Happy holidays, everybody! My gift to you this week is a recommendation to read one of the best books I read in 2017: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Historical fiction doesn’t get any better than this, and I highly recommend the audio version for added entertainment.

Seventeen year-old Henry “Monty” Montague could have any lady of his choosing. He has the looks, charm, money and family name to woo any girl in 1700’s England, but Monty has eyes only for his male best friend Percy. Monty isn’t sure if Percy feels the same way, but they’ll have the whole year on tour of Europe together to sort it out before Monty becomes his father’s apprentice and Percy heads to law school.

Their tour, of course, doesn’t go as planned. Monty’s hateful father assigns Monty, Percy and Monty’s sister Felicity a “handler” who forces them to partake in educational experiences and forbids the boys from their favorite nighttime activities: drinking, gambling and romancing. Thinking the situation can’t get worse, the group is nearly scared to death when their coach is attacked on a rural road in France, and Monty, Percy and Felicity become separated from their staff and must wander the country penniless and with only the clothes on their backs. Monty quickly realizes their attackers are after a puzzle box he stole from an enemy he made at Versailles, and the contents of the box must be very valuable indeed.

The trio’s quest to open the box and access its treasure takes them to a spooky house in Spain, on a pirate ship and to a sinking island in Italy. There is plenty of action, intrigue and humor in every chapter, and it’s impossible to predict what trouble Monty will get into next. This wild adventure tests Monty and Percy’s love for one another and the sacrifices they are willing to make to be together.

Puzzle Mania

As I read this book, I was fascinated by the concept of the Baseggio Box and its Lazarus Key which are central to the story’s action. I’d heard about puzzle boxes in the past, but I’d never come across one myself. Through a little Google searching, I located a retailer called The Puzzle Warehouse in St. Louis. It is the self-proclaimed, “Largest jigsaw puzzle store in the USA!” I grabbed my puzzle-loving pal Ali Jean, and we headed to the store, a legit warehouse FULL of every kind of puzzle you can imagine, including puzzle boxes.

Let me back up for a second because when Ali Jean and I arrived at The Puzzle Warehouse, we laughed at the signs in the parking lot which limited shoppers to two hour parking. Who could spend TWO HOURS in a puzzle store, we scoffed. You know who? Us two. We had the time of our lives in there, and we ended up with a shopping cart packed with puzzles. If you are a friend of family member of ours, there’s a pretty solid chance you got a puzzle for Christmas. You’re welcome!

Yup, we’re full fledged puzzle lovers.

Check out our cart. We may have gone a bit overboard.

Anyway, The Puzzle Warehouse has an awesome variety of wooden puzzle boxes.  I didn’t end up buying any of these, but seeing them up close gave me a better idea of what the Baseggio Box must have looked like. I’m thinking a DIY puzzle box might be fun to add to a Breakout Box game at school.

This puzzle might be smarter than me. . .

This one seems like something you’d find at Cracker Barrel. No?

Ali and I spent the rest of our time browsing the endless aisles of puzzles where we found everything from 3D puzzles to puzzles with googly eyes and 40,000+ piece puzzles! Now you know how we spent two hours there. . .

Why must I have this?

This baby has 40,320 pieces! You will spend a small fortune on it, and you’ll be old and grey when you finish.

They have everything!

As a Christmas gift, I bought my dad a 4D puzzle of Budapest since Mike and I had the amazing opportunity to travel there with him and my mom this summer. A 4D puzzle, folks! Mind blown!

That’s my dad on Christmas morning!

Serious puzzling happening here.

I can’t wait for the sequel/companion of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue to drop. Narrated by Monty’s sister, Felicity, it’s called The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. Look for it in October 2018.

Happy reading (and puzzling),


Family Ties

Inherit Midnight by Kate Kae Myers

If you were a fan of the 39 Clues book series, this 2017-18 Gateway Nominee might be a perfect choice for you.

Avery VanDemere should want for nothing as she’s the granddaughter of a wealthy business owner with a million-dollar estate. However, Avery can’t wait until she’s eighteen and can run away from the strict household her grandmother runs. Mrs. VanDemere is practically obsessed with her family history and refuses to allow Avery to do simple teenage things like get a driver’s license or invite friends to the house. Avery was born as the result of an affair between her father and the family nanny, and her snobbish relatives refuse to let her forget it. Because her father is a drunk and her mother is deceased, Avery bides her time under her grandmother’s thumb.

Avery’s grandmother surprises her and her relatives, however, when she brings the family together at the estate and remotely invites them to participate in an Amazing Race style competition to determine the sole heir of the family business. Mrs. VanDemere sends Avery and her greedy family traipsing across the globe to compete in challenges that relate to their family history. Avery teams up with young Riley Tate, son of the her family’s attorney, and is determined to win the competition to earn financial freedom. Along the way, however, Avery learns a horrible secret about her past that makes her question the value of winning at her grandmother’s game.

Down the Rabbit Hole

While reading Inherit Midnight, I began to question my own family history, a topic I didn’t know much about. I remembered that my mom’s mother, my grandma, had descended from Lithuania and that her husband, my grandpa, had relatives from England. My dad, however, is adopted, and I knew nothing about his biological family heritage. I decided to tackle this #plotdrivenlife experience in a couple of different ways:

First, I purchased an Ancestry DNA kit from Amazon. This was a pricey purchase at $99, but I was excited about the possibility of learning about my dad’s family history by testing my own DNA. When the kit arrived, I spat a disgusting amount of saliva into the tube and mailed it off for analysis. This was definitely the weirdest thing I’ve sent in the mail!

That’s my spittle, ready for the postman.

I waited about four weeks for my results to come back, and I know my dad was just as excited as I was to know about his ancestors. Interestingly, the results throw some of my mom’s known family history into question. While my relatives were definitely from Europe, the results show that I am only 9% British. Overwhelmingly, my DNA suggested I descend from Ireland. While it’s possible my dad is of Irish heritage, it’s also possible my mom’s family had Irish blood, too, for me to be 34% Irish. Regardless, it was so cool to learn about my ancestors, and I think my results will encourage my dad to test his DNA, too, so he can have more definitive information about his biological family.

Second, I asked my mom for a copy of a family tree created by a relative on my grandpa’s side of the family. I had never seen this family tree, and I definitely got goosebumps when I saw it because it tracks my family back to 1785! While the paper copy of the family tree blew me away, it was when I started building a digital tree on Ancestry DNA’s website that I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. As I added family members, the website connected me to other existing family trees in their database where I could review information about possible relatives and decide if I wanted to add the people or details to my own tree. I opted to access this information for two weeks during my free trial, and I’ll have to decide if I want to pay to continue to subscribe to this service. Right now, I’m still in the process of adding all of my known relatives, and Ancestry DNA has found 99 possible connections to other trees! I feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole. I can absolutely understand how researching one’s family tree can be a lifelong project. I’m now determined to sit down with my living relatives and add as much information as possible to our tree. It’s a powerful experience.

My family tree beginning with my great, great, great, great, great grandparents.

Had I not read Kate Kae Myers’ novel, I’m sure I wouldn’t have tested my DNA or reached out for a copy of my family tree. This project has been eye-opening and humbling. I realize I am one piece of a large family puzzle, and it’s exciting to think I have the opportunity to connect with previously unknown family members online through shared family histories. I’m excited to see where this #plotdrivenlife experience has yet to take me. I wonder if it’s too much to hope that I’ll connect with some of my dad’s family. . .

This week, I challenge you to search out your own family tree and consider adding to it or creating one if it doesn’t exist. If you are a high school student, please consider marking your calendar to participate in this year’s The Great Thanksgiving Listen, an annual project sponsored by StoryCorps. The project is designed to encourage the recording of oral family histories which are then stored in the Library of Congress for posterity. Can you imagine if your descendant was able to listen to your recorded interview of a family member hundreds of years in the future? It gives me chills just to think about it!

Thanks for reading,