Category Archives: thriller

Next time, just run.

van gogh deceptionThere is a lot of running in this book, mostly from bad guys.  Throw in a little amnesia, a lot of police officers, art thieves, and the occasional tranquilizer gun, and you’ll be swept up in it.

“Art” is a boy found in the National Gallery with no memory of his parents or why he’s there.  Over the course of a few chapters, we realize he’s somehow connected to a thrill-seeking bad guy who’s set up a plan to create what might just be the biggest fraud in history.  Fortunately, Art comes across Camille and her mom, and eventually figures out why people are trying to kidnap him.  Whew!

Definitely a fun, fast ride, and there are all kinds of mentions of great art and artists to boot.

The Van Gogh Deception by Deron Hicks

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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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Prepare for Exclamation Points and Action. Lots of Action.


If you are looking for heady emotional drama or a realistic portrayal of an average teen, don’t get this book.  That’s just not what it is.  Oh sure, there are moments of big drama.  A mother is kidnapped, a girl is suffering from injustice under a far-off dictatorship, and then there’s that time they jump down into a river with rapids, and – wait for it – yes! – a waterfall.  There are also teenagers in a high school, doing high school things.  But this is not your average group of teens.  This book has so much action that exclamation points somehow aren’t enough to convey the level of excitement.

It’s fun.  It’s fast.  There are secrets and lies and hacking and even an autumn dance.  Ok, that sounds silly.  But it’s a quick thrill ride with a teenaged superspy, and that can’t be all bad, right?

Ryan Quinn and the Rebel’s Escape by Ron McGee

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Friendship in gray zones

cloud-wallfish“It was like going from a color movie into a black and white one.”

If I sat down and made a list of reasons I loved Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet, this line would be right at the top.  Why?  It’s such a simple thing, this description, but it fits 1980s East Berlin perfectly.  Nesbet goes on to talk about how gray it seems to young Noah/Jonah, and that’s true, too, or at least that’s how it felt to me when I was there in 1987, just a few years before the Berlin Wall fell and Germany was reunified.  The grayness was almost a physical presence lingering around you: buildings, people, sky, things you could buy in the store.  I only stayed a day, but it was long enough.  On the way back through the checkpoint, when the guard questioned me about why I didn’t look anything like my passport – really, I didn’t? – I was unsettled enough that I took it as a good omen when the sun shot through a cloud and almost blinded me for a moment when I got back to the West Berlin side.

Noah goes there willingly, too.  His parents pile him into the car one day, announcing that they are leaving immediately for East Berlin, and that his life in the U.S. must be reshaped into the life of a child his age named Jonah so that his mother can complete her doctoral research.  What?  Something fishy is going on, but Noah, now Jonah, gamely complies.  He follows the Rules, never talking about anything important inside, keeping quiet, laying low.  He manages to make a friend in Claudia; her parents have died or disappeared or something.  He’s never really sure of anything – his parents’ motives, who he can trust, why his teacher doesn’t want him to talk, what those tiny pieces of paper his dad keeps dropping are.

The questions pile up and eventually Jonah’s friendship with Claudia causes problems for both of them. No matter how pure their feelings for each other are, the edges blur when outsiders look in.  What is right?  What is the truth?  How can Jonah keep everyone safe?  Or can he?  Read on.

Cloud and Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

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A Study in Scarlet…er…Charlotte

study in charlotteCharlotte Holmes is a piece of work – drug user, teen scientist, consultant to Scotland Yard, and stuck in a sort-of-smartypants boarding school in the U.S. because her family is frustrated with her. James Watson, rugby player, descendant of the famous Watson, and angry young man, has ended up at the same school.  He finds Holmes fascinating and kind of scary.  It’s clear from the beginning that they’re meant to be together as friends, colleagues, or maybe more?

If you liked the Benedict Cumberbatch Sherlock, you’ll also like this fast-paced teen thriller/mystery.  There are dead bodies, poison, snakes, a homecoming dance, and allusions to the original stories, as well as some good old sleuthing.  Charlotte is mercurial, bewitching, and possibly crazy.  James doesn’t always like it, but he’s along for the ride, and so are we.  There are just enough crazy complications and creepy moments to make it original, so you keep wondering (and reading) up to the very end.

A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro

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When do you become the person you want to be?

girl blue coat

There are moments throughout life when we might stop and think about this question.  Maybe it’s a brief moment when we decide not to let the bully keep persecuting the outsider.  Maybe it’s the moment when we turn away.

Hanneke’s life seems to be an unending series of these moments.  Is buying and selling on the black market during a war bad if it means her parents can eat?  Did encouraging her boyfriend to join the military mean that she’s responsible for his death?  Will she try to help someone who can put her life in danger?  Will she betray a friendship to save a stranger?

World War II fills this story with a lingering suspicion, intrigue, danger and fear, even in its happier moments.  (There aren’t many of those; this one’s pretty dark.) The story moves quickly, but there are stops and starts around Hanneke’s feelings about the world she lives in and what she can do to change it.  She wants to protect her family (and her own life) and also save others from the Nazis who have ruined her world.  But if she can’t do it all, will she be able to accept the person she’s become?

An interesting one, especially if you’re a fan of World War II stories.

Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse

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It’s going to be a bumpy ride: alternative history meets The Hunger Games

wolf by wolf
Yael is a death camp survivor in a world where Germany and Japan won World War II.   It’s not a nice place. Hitler and Emperor Hirohito are still in charge, women are expected to stay at home and raise racially pure babies, and millions of undesirables in Europe, Africa and Asia have been “removed.”

Before escaping the camp, a researcher had subjected Yael to a series of injections, so she is able to skinshift or change her appearance. After connecting with what’s left of the resistance and training for a few years, she will become Hitler’s assassin, replacing an unusual young woman who managed to win the Axis Tour – a cross-continent motorcycle race. Becoming Adele, Yael will have to fool Adele’s brother, a former boyfriend, and possibly even Hitler. She’ll have to cross deserts, escape kidnappers, and figure out who’s trying to poison her, too.

There’s a light touch on most of the moral issues here. Yael is focused on avenging those she lost in the past and doesn’t spend much time worrying about those she might be injuring in the present. It’s a fast and bumpy ride, splattered with a big “what if?” at every turn. In the right environment, it might provoke some really interesting conversations, but it’s a good read even if that doesn’t happen and one I can see appealing to a lot of teens.

Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin


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Masterminds and other suspenseful reads

masterminds Gordon Korman’s new book, Masterminds, is full of intrigue, suspense and danger.   Eli and his friends live in a perfect little town with perfect people who never seem to lie or cheat. It’s the best place to grow up until Eli’s bike ride at the edge of the city limits turns into something much bigger, complete with security forces descending from a helicopter, secrets overheard, and the feeling that everything they’ve always known might not be what it seems. This book is the beginning in a series, so the ending doesn’t really resolve anything. It just ends, leaving the biggest question still open – what will they do now?  However, like Korman’s other thriller series — Kidnapped, On the Run, Titanic, Everest, Dive – I expect this series will draw readers in for a happy thrill ride. Looking for other middle grade suspense or thrillers? Try these: Missing on Superstition Mountain, Elise Broach — The Barker brothers and their friend Delilah uncover dangerous mysteries while trying to figure out what’s really going on up on Superstition Mountain. The mysteries continue in Treasure on Superstition Mountain and Revenge of Superstition Mountain. Belly Up and Poached, Stuart Gibbs – Both follow the misadventures of Teddy at FunJungle, a zoo/theme park. They’re more funny than scary and share exciting chase scenes and elements of danger. Among the Hidden, Margaret Peterson Haddix — This dystopian series is a great introduction to the idea of worlds gone wrong. Haddix’s Found series is a nice follow-up once you’ve worked your way through the Among books. Abduction and Stolen Children, Peg Kehret — Peg Kehret is a favorite of many of the kids I see at school. She’s got great characters, action, suspense and provides a way to talk about a lot of larger issues, too. Navigating Early and Moon Over Manifest, Clare Vanderpool – Both connect characters in different times and places to a larger mystery in a way that’s challenging and satisfying at the same time.

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