Category Archives: mystery

Upstream mothers and Bluebeard’s treasure

finderskeepersMo LoBeau is one of those fierce, brash, occasionally wrong-headed, middle grade characters who make a little rainy day reading a treat.  She lives in a cozy community of people who love her fiercely despite her faults, along with a few more who are a bit shifty, vinegar-ish, or cranky.  There’s always something going on.

In her previous adventures (Three Times Lucky, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and The Odds of Getting Even), she was solving mysteries with the Desperado Detectives and spending a lot of time thinking about her Upstream Mother, the one who attached newborn Mo to something floaty during a massive storm.  Fortunately for her, Miss Lana and the Colonel came across her and made a home for her in Tupelo Landing.

This time, there’s a pirate treasure to be found, some matchmaking to do, and adventures galore.  (Do you often use the word “galore”?  Really, today’s discourse is lacking without it.) This one isn’t a heavy read or one loaded with social issues or especially deep thoughts.  But that’s ok.  You might just need a break from the real world, and this could be the perfect pirate treasure chest to crack open.

The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage


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Completely ridiculous

mac bDid you ever imagine yourself – back in 3rd or 4th grade – as a spy or a detective or some other cool secret person?  Would you be like Encyclopedia Brown, taking on the neighborhood bullies?  Or would you indulge in a little international intrigue?  Give me a fake passport, a ticket, and some spending money, and, obviously, I’d be on the plane to France.  Tout suite, people.

Clearly Mac Barnett was better connected or luckier than most of us.  The Queen wasn’t seeking out Kansas girls for any of her detecting needs during the Cold War.  But Mac B. picks up the phone one day, and it’s her, The Queen, and the crown jewels are missing.  The President of France will make an appearance, as will the KGB.  It’s completely ridiculous.

Still, jealous as I am, it’s delightful.  Silly.

Mac B. Kid Spy: Mac Undercover by Mac Barnett and Mike Lowery

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Twisty, Christie-like mystery

prisoner macnealI have a fondness for mysteries and nonfiction around World War II, so I have enjoyed all of Susan Elia MacNeal’s Maggie Hope mysteries.  They blend in with the nonfiction I’ve read about the era perfectly and always have such helpful author notes at the end.

The Prisoner in the Castle landed on my desk, and I was stoked.  Maggie’s sent away to a mysterious island with a bunch of other ex-spies?  Cool!  Mysterious deaths start piling up.  All right!  References to Agatha Christie everywhere.  Excellent!

About a third of the way in, I started wondering, “Where is the supposedly-dead-but-not-really-dead person?”  Then I got caught up in trying to winkle out which ally was going to turn out to be a traitor.  Could Maggie be the actual killer?  And what about that weird local family?  Are they just traumatized or super evil?  Suspects galore.  Creepy shadows.  Mysterious locked rooms.  U-boats and Nazi spies.

A delightful Sunday afternoon.

The Prisoner in the Castle by Susan Elia MacNeal

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History…mystery…count me in

A_Baby_s_BonesWhether or not you are a fan of Indiana Jones and that sort of adventure archaeology, there is something super cool about what things from the past tell us about who we were and who have become.

Some years ago, a reader’s advisory goddess at my local library suggested the Elly Griffiths mysteries, which do such a great job of mixing the real history with present day puzzles.  I like learning about the past even from my fiction and mystery excursions, and I always have.  Parallels between the past and the present can fold wonderfully into quite a tale in the right hands.

So it’s a treat to come across a new character – Sage Westfield – who’s an archaeologist doing some research near a mysterious cottage.  She’s got bunches of flaws and stands out as an outsider in more than one way, but she’s observant and serious and quirky.  Go Sage!

A perfect fall read – atmospheric, slightly dark, sometimes quiet, sometimes hopeful.

A Baby’s Bones by Rebecca Alexander

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Does it matter that they’re cheerleaders?

cheerleadersPopularity means so many different things.  Does being “popular” mean you are loved?  In high school, it might mean the opposite.  On social media, it can mean a whole range of things – you could be liked, loved, loathed, observed.

So when the people who have died are cheerleaders, who are often considered “popular” but just as often are stereotyped as mean girls… well, popularity can be a bad thing.  Being popular, beautiful, cheery– that might just get you some unwanted attention.

That’s really neither here nor there in this book, though.  the fact that the victims are cheerleaders adds layers to a twisty teen mystery – sometimes those layers are red herrings and sometimes they all tie beautifully into a bigger picture.

You might not want to relive high school, but I think adult mystery and thriller fans would enjoy this one just as much as teens.  Take a look.

The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas

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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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