Category Archives: mystery

The mean girls of Deepdean

Jolly_us-200x300Wells and Wong are back again, uncovering secrets and solving mysteries.  This time, an especially horrible and mean Head Girl and her minions are terrorizing the girls at Deepdean Academy, until the meanest of them dies in an “accident” or something set up to look like an accident.

Amid the bunbreaks and late night escapades, dangerous and upsetting secrets are revealed, girls go missing, friendships are tested, and probably no one is getting their French homework done. But do we mind?  We do not.

Jolly Foul Play by Robin Stevens

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Finding new readers for old stories

aaron bloom “Thinly disguised” is what caught my eye in the two lines of a book review I could see in my Google search for this book’s cover.  “Thinly disguised what?” I wondered.

Yes, I could see the long list of publications before the title page.  No, I haven’t read anything by this author before.  I usually avoid reading others’ reviews of books I plan to blog about, and this is why.  I like to form my own impression of something before I read what other people think.  (Throw this out the window when it comes to talking about books, however.)

Apparently, A. E. Hotchner must have written on this time and place before.  Does it affect my reading?  Obviously not.  I don’t know his work.  Maybe I’d feel different after reading his actual autobiography, but this is a historical fiction sort of mystery, not an academic research paper.

It’s a fine and generally sweet story, too.  Aaron’s dad is caught up in a jewelry store heist, so Aaron must find and use all the connections a twelve-year-old could access in Depression era St. Louis in an effort to set him free.   There are bad guys and good guys and child welfare ladies on the hunt for him, but with the help of some news boys and people living in the Hooverville, you just know he’ll succeed.

The Amazing Adventures of Aaron Bloom by A.E. Hotchner

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When you just can’t take it anymore

Hope Never Dies_final_72Here’s the thing, people.  I can’t even turn on the news with my kid in the car anymore.  I just can’t be sure I won’t let out a string of curse words about the latest stupid and awful thing going on.

But then one night I’m browsing the ebook offerings at my library in the middle of the night – they’re wonderful, by the way – and I come across this one.  I admit that I put it on hold just because it’s so darn goofy-sounding.  Joe Biden as a detective?  Barack Obama as his buddy/sidekick?  You might not think it would work.

But hey, having read it, it’s not bad.  And you know, in Midwestern English, “it’s not bad” can mean anything from “not so sure about that” to “awesome, dude.”  It’s pretty awesome.  Really.  If you’ve spent any time listening to Joe Biden talk (see below), you’ll laugh.  If you miss the buddies, you’ll have some fun.

Keep in mind, though, that Joe Biden is one of my fondest Iowa caucus memories.  My family and a friend from Turkey went over to someone’s backyard to meet Joe in 2008.  My son was a little guy and more interested in the hot dogs and balloons than Joe. (Great campaign staff, nice balloons, not enough stickers.)  Our friend from Turkey was impressed at how much Joe knew about the rest of the world but alarmed that anyone who believed in the Armenian genocide could run for president.  You clearly could ask Joe anything about the rest of the world, and he could hold forth for a half hour about it without making stuff up.  He might have had his imperfections, but you didn’t feel like World War III would start on his watch.  Ah, simpler times.

Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer

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Alcatraz, oh, Alcatraz

If you’ve been longing for a little break from reality and favor prison stories and mysteries, especially if you are already a fan of the Book Scavenger series or Moose & Natalie’s Al Capone adventures,  you’ll want to check out these two.  Both take place at Alcatraz.  Both bring back favorite characters solving new puzzles, while dealing with self-doubt and growing up.  Both are a nice escape from reality and offer some insight into the history of Alcatraz.  Summer reading, anyone?

The Alcatraz Escape (Book Scavenger) by Jennifer Chambliss Bertmann

Al Capone Throws Me a Curve  by Gennifer Choldenko

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Friend of Agatha, not to be missed

wordismurderI was putting together a book display a while back and realized we have a pretty large collection of murder mysteries that feature authors, booksellers, editors and librarians.  Also cats.  A lot of them have cats on the cover, which I take to be a sign that it’s sort of a cozy book, much like the shirtless, buffed guy might signal a romance.  Maybe I’m reading that part all wrong.  I’m wrong about a lot of things these days.  You’ll know what I mean if you live with a teenager.

Anyway, apparently readers, writers, and publishers can all imagine pretty easily how violent death might waltz into their lives.  And if you’re going to grab a writer to stick right in the middle of it, I’d choose Anthony Horowitz just about any day.  In addition to writing the Alex Rider teen series, he wrote Foyle’s War, one of my favorite TV mystery series ever.  He’s also written a Sherlock Holmes mystery and The Magpie Murders, which is very Agatha-esque and delightful.

And now this one.  Agatha Christie would be writing this book if she were alive now and Anthony Horowitz hadn’t beat her to it.  It’s such a great mixture of red herrings, unhappy people, social commentary, lies, deception, acting and more.  More interesting stuff.

Anthony Horowitz as the character of the author is just about as perfectly snobby, anxious, smart, and reckless as you’d expect any of us armchair detectives to be.  His detective is also flawed and difficult and, like some book characters, frustratingly uncaring about details we as readers think matter.  This is the kind of manipulation that’s so masterfully done that you have to appreciate it.

I’d still like to have more of Foyle, but really, maybe, it’s just more of Anthony Horowitz’s storytelling I’d enjoy.

The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

This book was released in 2017 outside the U.S.; the American edition was released June 5, 2018.

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charlie and frogIf you throw in Charlie, too, it’s probably super excellent.

Charlie is just an afterthought for his globe-trotting, animal-saving parents and the tv-obsessed grandparents he’s been left with until he hops on the gondola – A GONDOLA, people! – and goes across the river to Castle-on-the-Hudson, where the Castle Family runs a school for the deaf.  The village is full of folks who can sign and/or speak, helping Charlie and his new friend, Frog, communicate and start to unravel a mystery.

The Castles — Frog’s family – are getting ready for a big school event and Charlie’s grandparents are more interested in infomercials than him, so Charlie and Frog have the freedom to roam the village, investigate the graveyard, ask questions and observe.

It’s a sweet and fun mystery, both because of the veiled references to Nancy Drew and other kid crime-fighters and because of the opportunity to see hearing and deaf characters interact so realistically in an adventure.  Signing is always an ability here rather than the result of the opposite, and that is great for both the hearing and the deaf kids who might read it.

Charlie and Frog by Karen Kane

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Throw it all in a blender

The-2BParker-2BInheritance-2Bfinal-2Bcover-2B-25281-2529-202x300History, mysteries, love, friendship, sacrifice, mistakes, an homage.

I’m telling you, people, I think I’m out of superlatives for this one.  That’s why I had to start with a list.  There’s so much in it – from today’s bullies all the way back to those from the past, choices we make every day to stand up or shut up, right on down the line to lost love and finding the people who become your family.

This one’s a keeper, and its love for one of my favorites – The Westing Game – is just one more way it reached out and grabbed me.  Books like this are gateways to all kinds of things – learning about the real history that inspires them, reading other books of all kinds, asking questions about our own families and who we are – and it’s all good.  It’s all good.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

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Maisie Dobbs, back again

to die but onceMaisie Dobbs is one of those characters I almost wish I’d found after the series was done.  But that would mean I’d missed her all these years and that the series was done, which would be awful.

I always look forward to new Maisie adventures, even knowing that I have left many mystery authors behind after things just drag on too long.  I’m not sure how Maisie has missed this – we’re on book fourteen now, after all.  Some of it might have to do with the way she and the other regular characters have developed over time.   Time has passed in the novels, too, from her early days after World War I to this latest entry, which takes place at the beginning of World War II.

Whatever it is that keeps me with her, I’m grateful for the chance to reconnect with her for the brief time I can dive into a new story.  To Die But Once moves Maisie and the other characters towards new personal challenges while linking them to the changing times and storm clouds ahead.  To say much more would mean I’d be here for pages and pages.  Wonderful.

And now I wait.  Again.

To Die But Once by Jacqueline Winspear

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A big house with a great library and a bit of mystery…

WinterhouseColorCover.inddAnd an orphan and an almost-orphan, as well as some super creepy people, an enigmatic host, and various adventures.

With all of this, we have what we need to solve a few puzzles, uncover family secrets, and oh, maybe also raise the dead.  That last bit was a surprise, although not an entirely unexpected one.

Fortunately, the orphan has a heart of gold and something of a destiny to live out before she can find out more about who she is and who she might become.  At 370 pages, it’s hitting the upper end of my middle grade brain, but for an avid reader, this one’s a treat.

Winterhouse by Ben Guterson with illustrations by Chloe Bristol

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off + Chasing Vermeer + some bonus inheritance drama

ambrose-deceptionI am a fan of most books with puzzles or mysterious clues or codes.  Something exciting happens when your brain makes all the connections and you think, “NOW I get it.”

It’s really why I love mysteries, and if you’ve got a clever writer with a plot and some details that are just complicated enough but not so overwhelming that you can’t keep the characters straight – well, you’ve done something wonderful as far as I’m concerned.  There’s really nothing better for me than being surprised by a twist I didn’t see coming, since it doesn’t happen often.

Seeing some of the solutions in advance doesn’t always work against a book, however.  I’ve visited Chicago just often enough for some of the details and clues in this one to mean something to me, but not enough to help me solve anything.  That didn’t really bother me as a reader, however, because the characters bring you along as they’re figuring it out, and their talents and flaws are engaging, too.  The way the story is told also reminded me of several other middle grade puzzle-solvers.  After you’ve read this one, they might be the perfect follow-up.

The Ambrose Deception by Emily Ecton

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