Tag Archives: mystery

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

by E.L. Konigsburg
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I remembered loving this one as a kid and the re-read did not disappoint. I was a sucker for kids running away and specifically their economy (The Boxcar Children, My Side of the Mountain, and even on the economy side, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, were in this category). I loved Claudia and Jamie’s story, and remembered it better than I did Harriet the Spy, but still forgot details like the fact that they had two whole other brothers. (I also didn’t remember how well Claudia and Jamie complement each other, but that’s sort of beside the point.) I loved especially how they hid in the bathroom stalls after the Metropolitan Museum of Art closed and then slept in the antique beds. They were very clever and I also loved the mystery of the angel statue and how Claudia and Jamie eventually figure it out, though I have to say that I did not recall them taking a taxi to Mrs. Frankweiler’s house and basically accosting her. But overall, except for a few things, it holds up well and is clearly a classic for a reason.

The Case of Windy Lake by Michael Hutchinson

9781772600858by Michael Hutchinson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Turns out this might be the second book in the Mighty Muskrats mystery series, but it didn’t bother me at all to jump right in. Chickadee, Atim, Otter and Sam are four cousins growing up in a First Nations community. Native values infuse the story, from the attitude toward Elders to protecting the land to watching the birds to solve the crime to smiling and nodding a lot (the effect of which is to make me feel like they are not real kids, but it’s also possible Native kids do that and I just don’t know. Overall I liked the story and I liked learning more about Native culture as it’s lived now, with computers and internet and not always talking about historic trauma inflicted on them by white people as is the trend right now. I do think it’s important to learn about the boarding school traumas and abuses that raged through Native communities in the US, not to mention the other atrocities throughout history, but I’m glad we’re starting to have more of a range of representation in children’s literature.

YA Graphic Novels like whoa, part 2

9781596436206Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity by Dave Roman
Overall: 1 out of 5 stars (unfinished)

I had to stop reading this one because it gave me a headache. I mostly picked it up on a recommendation from a colleague, and because Roman was married to Raina Telgemeier (not just gossip – this GN spree was brought to you by a spunky 8-year-old who loves Raina so I’ve been looking for other graphic novels that she could read while she waits for Raina’s next book HURRY UP RAINA). Anyway, plot. Was there a plot? I’m not sure. A kid starts school at Astronaut Academy. There are other kids. There are teachers. There are dinosaurs you learn to ride…? There are magic flying buses that join up Power Ranger / Transformer style to create Metador. I couldn’t really follow what was going on because it reads like a little kid wrote it and makes no sense. But maybe some kids would like that? Probably kids who like Captain Underpants. I feel no need to finish this.

9781608868988Goldie Vance, Volume 1 by Hope Larson and Brittney Williams
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Goldie Vance has been compared to Nancy Drew, and very rightly so, but with a modern feel. Goldie still lives in the 1960s, but is interested in (and holds hands with) a girl. She is very precocious and also a very good detective. She gets into far more action-movie sequences than Nancy, which were exciting to read (if you like suspending belief). Goldie is also in high school (she works as a valet at the hotel her dad runs) and has a vendetta with the daughter of the owner of the hotel. She races cars like in Grease, which was also fun. I liked that the mystery wasn’t straightforward and took actual brainpower and observational skills to solve.

9780375865909Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Peanut tells the story of Sadie, who wants to stand out at her new high school and decides to tell everyone that she’s deathly allergic to peanuts. However, her lie soon gets much more complicated than she imagined, having to lie about epi-pens and reading ingredients carefully and even keeping her boyfriend away from her mother. Eventually, as you might guess, she gets caught in rather a dramatic way when someone catches her eating something suspected to have nuts in it. EMTs are called and the school nurse and teachers are panicked. Sadie, who has wanted to come clean at least with her close friends, is left a laughingstock, especially by the popular girls she had once wanted to befriend. The story ends with hope, though, of her earning back her boyfriend’s trust, if not exactly all her new friends. I thought this made for an excellent cautionary tale about the very likely outcome of a lie like this. The flipside, where real allergies are not taken seriously, is not really addressed, which is too bad. I was right with Sadie as she made every decision and felt for her desire to fit in, even as I knew where this was heading. We squirmed uncomfortably together as she realized how much she had to lose by confessing her lie, and just had to sit and watch it play out.

Monday’s Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson

9780062422675by Tiffany D. Jackson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When I first finished this book, I would not have given it 5 stars, but after pondering it for a while, I overcame most of my beef with the nonlinear way in which the story is told. Claudia tells the story of the disappearance of her best friend, Monday Charles, and how she discovered what happened to her. I normally really dislike nonlinear narratives but Jackson executes this one, if not flawlessly, then at least brilliantly. Chapters are titled The Before, The After, A Year Before the Before, Two Years Before the Before, and then a series with month titles, moving presumably through one of those years/times, though it is unclear when. When I finished reading, I felt like I still didn’t know a lot and had a lot of questions, so I went back through and re-read just the After chapters in order, and things made a lot more sense. And Jackson had to tell the story in that way in order for you to really experience how Claudia experienced the story. I’m reluctant to give away too much of the story because Jackson’s reveal of the plot is excellent, but I will say that my poor sensitive soul was WIRED reading this too late at night, so tread gently. Once I got into it though, I devoured it, so maybe devote a weekend day to it. I will also say that I was extremely glad to read that part of Claudia’s (and others’) healing at the end included going to therapy.

Crunch by Leslie Connor


by Leslie Connor
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I was so smitten with Perry T. Cook that I’m now officially on a Leslie Connor kick. Crunch tells the story of 14-year-old Dewey Marriss and his four siblings: oldest sister Lil, younger brother Vince, and 5-year-old twins, who are left to run the house and their family’s bike repair business one summer. There is a fuel crunch, stranding people everywhere, including their parents, and making bikes suddenly invaluable. The Bike Barn goes into overdrive and for a while they really can handle things. But things start to go missing and business really ramps up and soon Dewey is over his head, and Lil too. Lil refuses help from well-meaning neighbors and friends until they reach a breaking point.

This is a really satisfying story, at least while Dewey has things under control. I love a job that is very tangible – you can count the number of bikes you’ve fixed and gotten back to customers; you can count the cash in your tin can “register” at the end of the day. The three older siblings really get a taste of adult life this summer and are quite mature – until they’re not. When things get tough, they fall apart like the kids they are, and it feels really realistic. [Spoiler: the parents come home just in time, but the kids do figure out who’s taking their stuff. There’s a new adult friend in their life that I have to admit I was suspicious of being some sort of bad influence, but who turned out okay.]

I also liked that the premise was very believable, and explored the repercussions of an energy crisis. The image of people walking and biking the highway will stick with me a long time. Dewey and Lil’s resourcefulness reminded me of such classic characters as Dicey Tillerman of Homecoming / Dicey’s Song and Francie Nolan of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Because of the prominence of bicycles in the story, it’s unclear when this is supposed to take place: the 1970’s, now, the future? Again, classic.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor


by Leslie Connor
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Perry’s mom was pregnant when she came to Blue River Correctional Facility. Because it’s a minimum security prison, she was allowed to raise Perry beyond the 2 years sometimes afforded to incarcerated mothers (he’s now 11). Now the new District Attorney has caught wind of his unusual upbringing and is trying to stop it. However, Perry’s mom is up for parole soon and her case seems to be slowed up by something. It turns out that the DA is keeping her from reaching parole. Perry is trying to fill in the holes in his mother’s story and also reunite with her as soon as humanly possible.

I appreciated learning Perry’s observations of his life both inside and outside the prison, and what was surprising to him. He’s gone to public school since Kindergarten, so he’s been out in the world plenty, but it sounds like he’s never been inside a house or lived a normal life on the outside. He’s met his best friend, Zoey’s, mom, but neither she nor Zoey have met his mom. As part of a school project, Perry is determined to learn his mother’s story, and share it, along with the stories of some of his other friends who are also “residents” of the prison.

I was really hoping we would learn the full truth about Perry’s family, especially who his father was, but on balance it is more realistic this way. One thing that bugged me was a stiffness to the writing, especially a distinct lack of contractions in the dialogue. (There were some, but not as many as would be realistic.) Also funny was that Perry sometimes refers to Zoey by her full name, Zoey Samuels, and I wasn’t quite sure why. But those were really very minor. Overall this is a gripping story and when the plot hit its stride it was hard to put down! (It’s not really a mystery, but there is a very compelling situation that needs to be discovered, so that’s why I tagged it mystery.)

Bob by Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead


by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Ten-year-old Livy comes back to Australia to visit her grandmother. Her last visit was five years ago, which she doesn’t remember at all. She also doesn’t remember the friend she made then, and that is because he is partly magic. His name is Bob and he’s been waiting in Livy’s closet for five years, because she told him to. He is crushed that she doesn’t remember him, but it turns out there’s a reason for that. While solving the mystery of who Bob is and how to get him back home, Livy rekindles her friendship with Sarah, her grandmother’s neighbor and learns about memory and friendship and water.

I love these two writers and am always intrigued by collaborations, mostly because it involves a meshing of two processes, which generally authors get pretty used to doing very much on their own. I spend a lot of time wondering who wrote which lines or chapters, what their process ended up looking like, when they laughed or yelled at each other, and whether they were satisfied with the final product. This story is pretty seamless so I’d like to think that the process went pretty well for them! I did have trouble not picturing Bob as Roger the alien from American Dad, but that might just be me. Nicholas Gannon‘s sparse, sepia-toned illustrations definitely helped.

Spoiler: I loved the ending, and who Bob turns out to be, which is a well dweller, and his absence has caused a drought in Australia. When a well dweller gets too far away from the well, he forgets where he came from. A small detail I bet I’ll forget is that Livy has named her baby sister BethAnn, and it turns out that Bob has two sisters named Beth and Ann. Some small things do get lodged into her memory somehow, and these echoes make lovely little details for the story and even help it along. Most adults can’t see Bob at all, it seems, though Sarah’s little brother, Danny, can. I think he sees him as a chicken, because of 5-year-old Livy’s improvised chicken suit that he wears, which is a hilarious image. I loved that Bob reads the dictionary and rebuilds a Lego pirate ship and counts to 987,654,321 six times in the five years between Livy’s visits. But mostly I love that he forgives her and that they are friends again, easily.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson


by Varian Johnson
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

When I came across a new book by the author of the Great Greene Heist, I had to put my name on the waiting list – especially when I learned that it was about puzzles and mysteries! It would be perfect for one of my patrons who’s really into Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Book Scavenger.

What a rich, complex story this is! The main storyline is that 12-year-old Candice and her mother move to her grandmother’s old house in South Carolina from Atlanta for the summer while her parents separate. Candice discovers that her grandmother, Abigail, had been knee-deep in solving an old mystery and picks up where she had left off, with the help of 11-year-old Brandon who lives across the street. In solving the mystery and all its accompanying puzzles, they learn a lot about the history of the city and Candice’s grandmother’s involvement. The reader is privy to relevant scenes from the past, which are printed on gray pages, and some pieces of the story from Abigail’s point of view, which are printed on black paper with white letters, and which all come together at the end.

But this is so much more than a simple – or even complex – mystery story. It’s also the story of Candice and Brandon’s personal and family struggles. It’s also overwhelmingly a story of identity, particularly racial identity, both from the 1950s and present-day. There’s so much to chew on that I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time. Some of the parts about race relations seemed a bit heavy-handed to me as an adult, but I have a lot of context and it’s probably just right for kids, especially white kids, who may have no context for it. I really appreciated that Johnson included extensive notes at the end about Jim Crow, the end of segregation, and present-day police brutality. As I said, it’s about so much more than the core storyline, and it’s an important story to have today.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood by Lucy Strange


by Lucy Strange

Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Ok, this one comes with some caveats. Yes, it was very well written, but OH MAN am I not sure this is a book for kids. It is super dark in terms of mental health stuff and asylums. But let’s back up a sec.

Henrietta and her family move from London to a small town in 1911 after a tragic incident in which her brother died. The nanny takes care of Henry’s baby sister, born just after, when neither of Henry’s parents can deal with life. Mama has never held the baby and slowly goes down a dark spiral in her own mind, overcome with grief and unable to heal. Father just plain leaves, escaping to Italy and his work. Eventually the sinister-seeming doctor manages to wrest Mama away from the house and up to the asylum; he then sets his sights on Henry and the baby, whom the family calls Piglet because she accidentally got named Roberta after her brother, Robert). Dr. Hardy takes Piglet to his house for safety and then seems to indicate he would like to sedate and lock up Henry, too. But before he can, she calls on the mysterious woman living in the woods behind the house for help.

I liked that there were a lot of layers to this story, and lots of bits of information to put together, some doable, some not. The upsetting, more adult-oriented, nature of the story reminded me strongly of Nest, though I think the historical aspect (of both stories but especially this one which feels much more dated) helps to temper it a bit. People are generally not sedated and carted off to asylums in straitjackets anymore, so this seems a bit more far-fetched and not quite as “gonna happen to me” scary. I also like that Henry saves the day in a more or less believable way. I also loved the relationship between her and the cook and her husband, and the lawyer handling the rental of the house they’re staying in. All sorts of help from good grownups to balance out the bad few.

Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore


by Kristin Cashore
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

I was intrigued by this advance review in an email newsletter from Publisher’s Weekly, which described it this way: “Kristin Cashore’s first novel in five years is a fantasy—and a science fiction story, and a thriller, and a mystery, and a horror story. JaneUnlimited unfolds during a highly eventful weekend at an island mansion, in five different genres.” By the time the hold came in for me, I had (as usual) forgotten that premise, remembering only that something about it had intrigued me. In most cases, that’s fine, but in this case, I would have found a refresher on this premise very helpful. So my advice to anyone just picking this one up is to keep this in mind: Jane has five parts, each intended to be written in a different genre. Because the first genre was mystery, I read the next few expecting them to also be mysteries and to interlock with the first one in different ways, so it was a bit jarring when they each just… ended. But at some point I caught on and was much more satisfied once I did.

One thing I really liked about this book was how it challenged many of my assumptions at every turn. In terms of sexuality, race, and class, Cashore does a masterful job of addressing each in ways that poke at the status quo. One of the first things I noticed, for example, was that characters’ descriptions included race, even if they were white. (WHAT?!?!?! I know. But white people are the default, right? Why should we specify unless they’re not white???) It’s something I think about often, and I’m glad to see a writer putting this into practice. I’m also sad to realize again that it’s not anything I’ve seen before, but I do look forward to seeing it more in the future.

Jane has a romantic interest in several of the stories (the same person) and it was cool to hear her reflect in one of them that she couldn’t see herself jumping into bed with another of the characters, and why, and that she was comfortable with that expression of and attitude toward where she was with sex at that point in her life (18 years old). It was also interesting that she ended up with the same person each time, and one of many many things that this book gave me to chew on for a while.