Category Archives: mystery


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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Not much of a review – more of a rant

truly dYou’ve been warned.

Fortunately I didn’t read the inside flap of this book until I was halfway through it.  The first of a murder-mystery trilogy?  Grrr.  I am so tired of trilogies and duologies and sequels right now, mostly because they mean I have to wait!  Grrr.

And then when the new book comes out, I have to decide if I’m going to reread the previous one or just trust that the author can whip together something to remind me of all the important stuff without weighing the first five chapters down with explanations.  Not many people can do that well, you know.  And then there are the cliffhangers, which sometimes don’t age so well during the wait.  Maybe a character escapes or disappears towards the end – are they dead or just plotting an evil return?  Who knows?  Do I care?

Is this delicious and wonderful to someone?  I sometimes end up feeling like I’m just being played, and not in a brilliantly twisty, sneaky way.  It doesn’t really make me inclined to gush about a book and wait enthusiastically for the next one.  Honestly, this is the whole reason I quit reading Rick Riordan’s myth-inspired books.  The afternoon my son binge-read one of his newer books and came out annoyed about the obvious ploys to set up the next book – well, that was the day I quit reading them.  I like those books; really, I do.  But the author lost me as a reader when I understood I wasn’t the only one who felt completely and obviously manipulated.

But this is not about Rick Riordan, is it?

Truly Devious will apparently be a trilogy, and if it were all out now, I’d just charge ahead and read the next two.  Why?   Despite everything I said up above, it sort of won me over.  It’s a wonderful homage to classic mysteries – the isolated location, the quirky characters with lies and secrets strewn behind them, an imperfect but brilliant detective,  a creepy rhyme or two, and oh, so many twists and turns.  I read the whole thing in less than a day, and I loved it, right up until the point when someone conveniently disappears through a secret passageway, and one final big surprise is cast at our feet.  But will either of those things bother me?  I guess I’ll have to read the next one to find out, won’t I?

Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

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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


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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