Category Archives: mystery

So many stories, so many mysteries–yippee!

ghosts ofIt’s almost always a wonderful thing to meet up with favorite characters again.  In this case, we’re back at Greenglass House at the beginning of another holiday season with Milo and his family, and eventually, with his ghost friend, Meddy, and some other folks, too.

Where to start on all the cool things in this book?  Milo and Meddy are soon back to their excellent role-playing game, because a mysterious group of characters (from a mysterious place) show up just as some old friends and thieves arrive, so things start happening.  There are smugglers and people pretending to be something they aren’t, some strange injuries and missing items, and just a whole lot of coffee and hot chocolate drinking.

There are a lot of characters and stories to unravel, and at times, I found it hard to keep everyone straight, but that didn’t really dim my enjoyment of the book as much as slow me down a little to figure things out.  It’s 452 pages long in print form, so you have plenty of time to figure out the relationships, the lies, and eventually, the truth.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford

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Lonely ghostly derelict mystery

thornhillWell, I guess I can’t blame my reaction to this one on an irrational fear of clowns.  There are no clowns of any kind in Thornhill, although there appear to be quite a lot of puppets, which in the right light might look creepy.  Who is this girl with the diary, and why has it just been sitting around on a ledge for 35 years?  Who is this awful child tormenting her?  Have the adults in this book had absolutely no training for working with troubled children although it appears to be their line of work?  Really?

There is much to find troubling in this book.  It is riveting and scary and frightening, and you feel one girl’s fear of the THUMP THUMP THUMP intensely.  Frankly, I don’t even know why I read it after seeing the four words above — lonely ghostly derelict mystery — on the back of it, since I am a complete scaredy-cat.  Could I not pick out that it might be a little on the dark and creepy side of things?

However, two things made me read on:  my love of The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman) and my love of Brian Selznick’s work.  This book has a combination of illustrations and text, like Brian Selznick’s work, and it is also a kind of gripping scary, like The Graveyard Book. 

I found the ending very unsettling, and I’m not sure I can say I loved the book, because I am still a little freaked out by it.  But for readers who love ghost stories and chilling evil sorts of things – go for it!  It’s incredibly well-written and plotted, and you certainly won’t forget it soon.  And the puppets are not creepy at all.

Thornhill by Pam Smy

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Fortunately these are not Florian’s glory days

vanished-9781481436335_lgFlorian and Margaret work on “special projects” for the FBI.  They’re still in middle school, though, so they also have to do things like take algebra tests and survive lunch in a Hunger Games sort of cafeteria.  But they exist on two levels – being themselves completely with each other while living in disguise with the people they’re investigating.  Stuff happens to Florian; he’s just not cool, although he’s super smart.  Florian is one of those kids who will wait it out through middle school and high school, and then set his awesomeness free without a glance back later on.  Margaret is a little more able to deflect the slights of the queen bee and school bully in the moment.

It’s a fun read and a fast read.  There are little side plots bubbling along throughout the book, and they come together well in the end.  Kids who enjoy puzzles and mysteries will like this one, especially if they liked Framed! – the first in the series.

Vanished! – James Ponti

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When your parents are kind of homicidal

andthentherewerefour

In this case, “kind of” is generous.  The parents and guardians of these five teenagers want them dead.  When the first attempt fails, managing only to bring the kids together and make them realize something nefarious is up, it’s on, baby.  The parents have a variety of reasons – fear that a child will die of a horrible disease, feeling like their child is becoming too independent, not liking their sexuality, money, just being a psychopath.  Ok, so it’s a little absurd, and there are moments when it’s all just a little too lucky or unlucky, even when you’ve given yourself over to it, but it’s fun in a dark and gripping kind of way.

My first thought after I finished it?  “Well, at least I’m not THAT bad at parenting.”  My son would never have recommended it to me otherwise, right?

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Private Eye July

FirstClassMurder_finalUS_200x300Ah, mysteries…I love mysteries.

I finished reading Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz a few weeks ago – a nice homage to Agatha Christie and Hercule Poirot with an added complication or two.  Then there was The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths, another great Ruth Galloway mystery.

And then First Class Murder landed in my holds stack … another homage to Agatha Christie, complete with a trip on the Orient Express with girl detectives, Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.  Daisy and Hazel started their detective work in a boarding school, and then solved a head-scratcher of  a murder at a country home.  The Orient Express is supposed to get them away from murders, but it never works out that way, does it?

The cast of characters is quirky and interesting, with a Russian countess, her American Pinkerton-obsessed grandson, a spy, a magician, a medium, maids who might be more than they appear, an obnoxious husband and an heiress.  It’s a fun, light read, despite the murder, and Daisy and Hazel’s detection skills are just getting better by the moment.   There are another three already-released-in-the-UK books in the series, so now I’m debating whether to wait for their U.S. release or get them over here now.  Sigh.  So many books.  So little time.

First Class Murder: a Wells and Wong mystery by Robin Stevens

 

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Panda-monium hits FunJungle

pandamoniumThere’s something about a new Stuart Gibbs book that makes me set aside almost anything else on my to-be-read pile.  (If Kathi Appelt, Kate DiCamillo and Stuart Gibbs all had books coming out the same week, I’d have to flip a coin, but how often does that happen?) They’re always full of action.  They always make me laugh.  The characters are quirky, difficult, and smart or vain, prone to accidents, and resourceful.  Or maybe they’re all of these things at once.  Throw in a polar bear exhibit or an air lock in space, and you can count on crazy things happening while you pick up some fun scientific information, too.  They’re 100% fun.

Panda-monium is no different, and although you won’t actually see much of the main animal character, you will get more adventures and mystery at FunJungle with Teddy and his friends and foes.  And you’ll learn some interesting panda facts and find out why you’ll never want to become too familiar with polar bear enclosures, too.  Read on!

For more on Stuart Gibbs’ other books, see my posts on Big Game and Spaced Out.

Panda-monium by Stuart Gibbs

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When your whole world is complicated

goldfish boyOne line on page 79 is what did it for me.  Matthew is watching the neighbor’s grandchildren playing outside.  Casey, the little girl, has drowned her doll in a wading pool.

“She is one scary kid,” I said to the Wallpaper Lion.

Matty talks to a scrap of wallpaper, but he’s judging Casey?   Excellent.

To Matty, world outside is maddening.  His Wallpaper Lion and obsessive hand-washing make sense.  Others in the neighborhood also have their quirks – Old Nina leaves a light on all the time, Melody saves notes to the dead and so on.  It turns out, Matty understands more about what’s really going on than most of the neighbors do.

There are more moments like this throughout the book, moments when Matty calls out the crazy in other people while clinging to his own as if his beliefs are rational and the others aren’t.  It’s done so well that you find you’ve entered into Matty’s world completely, and it does make sense.  Maybe he’s on to something?

Take a look.

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

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Join the Parade

harlem-charadeHarlem is full of history, street life and art, and it’s endangered by a city councilman who’d like to turn it into a theme park.  A bit hard to imagine at first, but maybe not as crazy as it sounds.  Jin, Alex and Elvin come from different backgrounds, but they (and some of their family members) will lose if the theme park succeeds, so they band together and start peeling back the layers of a decades-old mystery.

It’s a perfect combination of classic kids’ mystery, middle grade friendship, and a walk through a big city with a little bit of history thrown in.  As the author notes, the people and some places are fictional, but there’s a lot about The Harlem Charade that rings true about big city life and kids who are becoming more independent.

What’s really wonderful about this book is the depiction of friendships, new and old.  It’s hard making and keeping friends, and we’re all imperfect in some way.  It’s not just Jin, Alex and Elvin who are working through lies of omission, hurt feelings, and moments of anger.  The adults in the book have their own struggles and moments of insight, too.  In the end, the hard work is worth it, the mystery is solved, the theme park is stopped, and friendships are strengthened.

The Harlem Charade by Natasha Tarpley

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What’s personal is political

dreamlandWill and Rowan are separated by close to a hundred years, but their efforts to confront racial discrimination and adapt to society’s expectations for them are strangely similar.  In the 1920s, Will has a tough time resisting the verbal and physical threats of Ku Klux Klan members who will eventually burn down the African-American part of Tulsa.  In the present day, Rowan isn’t sure she’s the right person to stand up, either.  Both characters make mistakes, alienate friends, and eventually find their way.

I’ll be interested to hear how readers who are African American or Native American see this book.  For me, it started a little slow, but became very compelling, especially since both sections mirror real history and current events.  I don’t know a person who hasn’t messed up something in adolescence, immediately regretted it, but then struggled with how to fix it.  It could provide a great starting point for discussions on race, expectations, and how we make choices.  The parallel lives also do a nice job of illuminating how much and how little changes over what seems like a long time.  It worked for me.  Give it a look.

Dreamland Burning  by Jennifer Latham

For another perspective, see this review at American Indians in Children’s Literature.

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A priest, a doppelgänger and a gorilla go into a bar…

murderers-apeActually, it’s mostly just the gorilla.  But while reading this book, I was reminded so strongly of two other great, complicated, similar stories that I’m including all three in my intro.  This one’s just for me, people.

The Murderer’s Ape is shelved with the teen books in our public library, but I don’t remember any teens or children in it.  (It’s kind of unusual to have a middle grade or teen novel populated almost entirely by adults.)  The book is narrated by Sally Jones, a gorilla who understands human languages and is something of a mechanical genius.  She also plays chess, reads and writes, types, and appreciates Portugese Fado music.  She travels the world and solves tricky and dangerous mysteries.  In 588 pages, there is a lot to keep track of – political intrigues, lost loves, the majaraja’s wives and mother, untended graves, how to build an accordion.  I could feel the real world falling away as I read, leaving Sally Jones and her friends and the quest to free an innocent man.

It was a bit of a slow start, but once it got going, it reminded me of Timothée de Fombelle’s Vango series, which I happened across a few years ago and was just thinking of re-reading not long ago.  Between Sky and Earth begins with Vango (a seminarian about to become a priest) escaping from the police just as he’s about to make his vows in Notre Dame de Paris.  It’s an absolutely wonderful adventure, crossing oceans in zeppelins, avoiding Nazis, protecting the innocent, revealing corruption and honoring friendship.  The story continues in A Prince Without a Kingdom.  Find them if you’re looking for an epic escape.

And then there’s an even more obscure story, The Saxonian Affair.  Some years ago, my husband told my son stories during the time they spent together commuting, always coming to a cliffhanger as they pulled into the garage.  In it, a detective who isn’t really a detective finds out he looks exactly like Prince Ruprecht of Saxonia.  Marco’s adventures take him across several continents at different points.  We finally self-published the first group of stories just for us.  Once in a while, I tell my husband he should really write down the rest of them, since the world (mostly me) is really missing out on the lesser known characters of Alice Dodds and General Tostito.  But at least we’ve got Marco, Princess Marie, and all the others – it means I love the Vango stories and The Murderer’s Ape even more.  So, I might be biased.  No, really, I am biased, but I still think you’ll love this one. 

The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius

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