Tag Archives: mystery

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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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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Prequel? Do I care?

pearl thief cover USA_0Well, it depends.  This one, a prequel to Elizabeth Wein’s excellent Code Name Verity, was one I waited for, wondering if it would really match up with what I remembered of a character, her situation, and a time period.  Then, about five chapters in, I realized I didn’t really care if it was a prequel or not.  It’s just a good story.

Why?  The mystery involved in a missing man, a body, the Water Bailiff, and a family of aristocrats reminds me of great English mysteries where thin layers are peeled back, one after another, to reveal all kinds of ugliness, bitterness, secrets, and even good.  Julia Beaufort-Stuart is bold and afraid, cautious and confident, aware of her privilege but limited by its demands, too.

This book may explain a lot about the character she becomes in Code Name Verity, but while the connection is wonderful, it’s not necessary.  Julia and the story are enough.   Wonderfully enough.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

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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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Return to Pumpkin Falls

yours-truly-9781442471863_hrI like Truly Lovejoy.   She reminds me of mystery heroines I read when I was a kid – Nancy Drew, for one – but without some of the added baggage.  (Mainly Ned Nickerson.  I never warmed to Ned.) Truly is a swimmer, a poor knitter, and has a big family plus relatives, friends and local characters to keep her life interesting.  Truly is not some genius spy and often misreads situations, but she has a cell phone and some friends, so mysteries don’t need to stay that way, even if they’re more than a hundred years old.

It’s a quick and cozy read – no shooting, no violent stalkers, no evil villains out to take over the world.  But it’s a sweet break from reality, and one I was happy to take.

Yours Truly: A Pumpkin Falls Mystery by Heather Vogel Frederick

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For friends of Jane

secrets-in-the-snow-coverMurder.  Social climbers.  Love.  Jane Austen references.

Jane Austen is one of my go-to authors if I’ve just had too much of anything – teen drama, fast-moving action thrillers, strange stories that start off one thing and end up another.  Once in a while I enjoy reading the various offshoots of her work, which either use Jane as a character or set stories in the world of her characters.  There are modern romcom versions, graphic novels, zombies.  Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James is a favorite of mine. The Stephanie Barron Jane mysteries and Curtis Sittenfeld’s updated Pride and PrejudiceEligible— are also good examples.

Secrets in the Snow is a new addition to this collection, focusing on a teenaged Jane Austen.  Michaela MacColl has taken bits and pieces of Jane’s life and her books and thrown in a murder, and it works.  There are lies and secrets and love… everything you’d expect.  It’s a good read for a cold, snowy day (which would match the cover) when you need a break from the real world.

Secrets in the Snow by Michaela McColl

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Why you should read another 500+ page book

mark-of-the-plague-9781481446747_lg Sigh.  I really liked The Blackthorn Key.  You can read my review of it here if you didn’t get to it last year.  But a 529 page follow-up?  That’s a lot of pages, Kevin Sands.

Still, I have been waiting for Mark of the Plague.  I liked the characters, especially Christopher and Tom.  I liked the way they worked together to solve a mystery and stop bad guys.

So if you’re not in the mood for turning a lot of pages, or you don’t feel up to setting aside your device for a few hours, or you’d rather finish up the yard work or pay your bills, DO NOT PICK UP THIS BOOK. Once I got three chapters in, that was it for me.  You may have stronger will power than me — really, who doesn’t? — but you won’t be able to resist this.

There are exciting escapes, treasures to be found, tragedy, friendship, bad guys, loads of action…  For the historian and scientist in you, there’s information about the plague, how it works, what it did to the community.  For conspiracy theorists, there are red herrings and twists and turns to keep you guessing.  Give it a whirl, and you’ll find yourself avoiding your chores and staying up too late.

Mark of the Plague: A Blackthorn Key Adventure by Kevin Sands

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Finding bodies in middle grade – more from Wells and Wong


Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong are back!  Yay!  Last year I was all charged up about Murder is Bad Manners, the first book in the series.  Now we’ve moved from a boarding school murder to an English country house party murder.  Woo hoo!

Hazel is spending the holidays with Daisy and her family when Mr. Curtis, a creepy friend of Daisy’s mother appears.  He manages to make more than a few enemies very quickly, falls ill after tea, and then dies from what might be dysentery.  Or is it arsenic poisoning?

Daisy and Hazel charge right into investigation, bringing along two school friends to help observe the suspects.  Will someone close to Daisy be the culprit?

It’s all good fun for mystery lovers.  It’s a quick read and not too easy to figure out, making it better than the average middle grade mystery.  If you missed Murder is Bad Manners, go back and read it first.  You don’t have to read them in order, but you’ll be glad you did.  More mystery?  More fun!

Poison is Not Polite—a Wells and Wong Mystery by Robin Stevens


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Read all about it! Spunky girl detective, Al Capone’s Chicago, tough female reporters…

isabelfeeneyLooking for strong characters?  Action?  Clever retorts?  Friendships that aren’t sappy?  Oh, this one’s perfect for you!

Isabel Feeney is an exceptionally plucky newsgirl, trying to help out with the family finances after her father has died in the Great War.  She dreams of being like the lady reporters who do more than write about fashion and society news.  Her idol is Maude Collier, a Tribune reporter who writes about crime, bringing to light the good and bad about the murderesses and other criminals so prevalent in Chicago at that time.

Then one night, one of Isabel’s regular customers is too close when her criminally connected boyfriend is shot and killed.  Did Miss Giddings do it?  Isabel arrives just after the shots are fired, doesn’t believe it, and with the help of Robert, Miss Giddings’ son, and Flora, daughter of the deceased, she sets out to prove it.

Their friendship is not an easy one, but it’s often hilarious and full of snappy dialogue.  Isabel’s got theories, tons of them, and she ropes in anyone close by to help her pull apart what really happened.  Maude realizes Isabel’s got a nose for stories, even as Detective Culhane dismisses her, so she helps.  Nothing stops Isabel from confronting people who might have been out to harm Miss Giddings or Charles “The Bull” Bessemer, and while you might clue in to who did it before the end if you read a lot of mysteries, it doesn’t dampen the joy of the ride with these characters.  Sassy, spunky, 100% fun.

Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey

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