Posts tagged ‘Mystery’

The Book of Secrets

Book of SecretsTitle: The Book of Secrets
Series: Mister Max #2
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
ISBN: 9780804122078 (audio), 9780307976840 (hardcover)
CDs/Discs: 8 CDs, 10 hours
Pages: 355 pages
Publisher/Date: Listening Library, c2014 (Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2014.)

He asked, “You’ve heard about the recent vandalism?”
Max nodded. “There have been fires as well.”
The Mayor nodded. “I suspect—I strongly suspect—that something is going on. For one thing, it’s always some small shop that gets broken into, or where a fire breaks out. Greengrocer, cobbler, newsagent . . .” He looked out over the water, recalling. “A bakery, a milliner, a fishmonger. Is that eight?”
“Six,” said Max, who had been counting.
“There are two more.” The Mayor thought. “A butcher and—there was one that surprised me, you’d think that would be the easiest to remember . . . Yes it was a florist.”
“What was surprising about the florist?”
“The shop was outside the gates, not in the old city. Granted, it’s only four steps beyond the West Gate, but still . . . All the other victims are in the old city.” […]
“What do the police say?” he asked.
“That’s the problem. The police don’t have anything to say.” The Mayor sighed and told Max, “They’re suspicious, of course, but nobody will talk to them. Nobody has filed a complaint. Not one.” (71-72)

Secrets are surrounding Max as word spreads about his reputation as a Solutioneer, a detective or investigator of sorts who tries to solve people’s problems. A small boy wants to know where his father disappears to at night. A mysterious woman appears that no one knows anything about. And the Mayor of Queensbridge has enlisted Max’s help in uncovering the identity of an arsonist on the loose, without jeopardizing the upcoming visit of the king. However, he’s made little progress on his own problem, discovering how to get his parents back from their forced extended stay overseas, especially after he and his grandmother are informed they have become monarchs in the foreign, civil war-torn country of Andesia. Now his own grandmother may be keeping secrets from him. Instead of his own intuition and disguises, Max may find himself relying on his expanding number of accomplices, as the Mayor’s problem is the most dangerous yet, risking his own life in the hands of the criminals.

Another engaging novel from author Cynthia Voigt. Readers will have to be as attentive as Max to keep track of the ever-expanding cast of characters. Voigt doesn’t skimp on realistic details, including filling the town with a variety of townspeople. I appreciated the efforts to flush out the setting, which you don’t often see in stories. Most frequently in books, you’ll only interact with the main cast, but this isn’t the case here. The back stories, especially involving some of the secondary characters, are more told than shown, which can get tiring, especially when paired with heavy-handed and thinly veiled discourse about moral quandaries. Those questions about right and wrong could pair well with discussion questions, but most of the discussion has already occurred in the novel. The laying-out of these details comes in handy when attempting to come up with a solution, and the solutions come in clever unexpected twists that readers might be surprised by. The arsonist plot line does get slightly more violent than previous cases that the Solutioneer had worked on, which previously involved lost dogs and missing heirlooms. I’m curious to see if this progression in seriousness will continue in the final volume as they take their show on the road, which we get a glimpse of in an included excerpt.

The audiobook is just as well done as the last one. An even pacing lays out the thoughtful and introspective nature of the story. Paul Boehmer distinguishes between the major characters, not so much with different voices, but with different pacing. The minor characters have slightly less distinction, but Pia’s parts invoke the impatience and distracted energy necessary, Grammie has some English school-teacher inflection, Tomi has a more know-it-all and scratchy staccato quality, and Ari has a slower and rounder, stretched out vowel sounds. Fans of the series won’t be disappointed by this latest installment, and the sequel, The Book of Kings was just released last month.

The Chicken Squad: The First Misadventure

Each month for a previous job, I wrote a maximum 150 word review of a new book that came into the library during the month. I’ve expanded that idea to the blog in a feature I’m calling To the Point Tuesdays. If you want to play along, just post a link in the comments and I’ll add them to the post.

Chicken Squad First MisadventureTitle: The First Misadventure
Series: The Chicken Squad (#1)
Author: Doreen Cronin
Illustrator: Kevin Cornell
ISBN: 9781442496767
Pages: 112 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, c2014.

First introduced in The Trouble with Chickens, Dirt, Sweetie, Poppy and Sugar now take a starring role in the first book in this spin-off series. They might be chicks, but they aren’t chicken when a scared squirrel named Tail barges into their coop. After running from the big, scary thing in the yard, Tail is not much help (he keeps fainting out of fear) and the chicks come to the conclusion they must save their mother from the danger at hand. Filled with expressive illustrations and hilarious hijinks, the quartet use camouflage and deductive reasoning to discover what has invaded their turf and chase it back to where it came from! Readers might come to an alternate conclusion in this slapstick comedy of errors that proves things aren’t always what they seem.

Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things

Mister Max Book of Lost ThingsTitle: Mister Max: The Book of Lost Things
Author: Cynthia Voigt
Illustrator: Iacopo Bruno
Narrator: Paul Boehmer
ISBN: 9780375971235
Pages: 367 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., c2013.

“No Flower of Kashmir is presently berthed in my harbor. What’s her country of registration?”
“India,” Max guessed confidently.
“Nor are there any Indian registered vessels. We have, presently, one American, one Moroccan, one Dutch, one Canadian, and that’s all of them.”
Max considered this. “Which vessels sail at noon?” he asked.
“None, as it happens. Though three left their berths by ten-thirty this morning, so as to catch a favorable tide out of Porthaven.”
Something was very wrong here. (32)

Max’s parents are owners and actors in a renowned theatrical company that has just been invited by the Maharajah of Kashmir in India to establish a theater company for him. But when Max arrives at the designated dock to take the trip with his parents, there is no boat and no parents. Returning to his home, he alerts his Grandmother of the problem and the worrying begins. What is Max going to do for income to take care of himself? Max starts using his acting and observation skills and markets himself around the neighborhood as a problem solver, being hired to find a missing dog, a lost spoon, among other things. But the question he really wants to answer is where are his parents? Are they safe?

Max’s grandmother is the voice of reason among the excitement of the invitation to India, but of course no one listens until it’s too late because their egos are so inflated that dissenting opinions can’t reach their ears. The mysteries are lightly intertwined, and the clues are all there for listeners to discover the answers before being revealed by Max in flourishes that mimic his father’s theatrical style. Max’s independent thinking and unique problem solving skills make me think of an earlier Encyclopedia Brown or a younger Sherlock Holmes. His ideas are complemented by a young girl named Pia’s insistence at being his assistant, a much more loquacious version of Holmes’ friend Watson. Max ascertains “whatever she might claim for herself, her real talent was for asking questions. The girl was always asking questions, and some of them were just what Max needed to hear in order to discover his own ideas.” (259) We’ll have to keep asking more questions as this story continues.

Paul Boehmer’s booming voice serves Cynthia Voigt’s descriptive text well, setting the vivid scenes for listeners. His fully voiced narration distinguishes between Max, each of his parents, his grandmother, and the colorful cast of characters that Max interacts with as he searches for his parents and the things he is hired to find. But like so many of the audiobooks I’ve recommended recently, if you pick the audiobook you’ll miss out on the illustrations by Iacopo Bruno. I’ll be recommending this series whole heartedly, and the second book in the trilogy, Mister Max: The Book of Secrets, will be released in September 2014.

What We Saw at Night

What We Saw At NightTitle: What We Saw at Night
Author: Jacquelyn Mitchard
ISBN: 9781616951412
Pages: 243 pages
Publisher/Date: Soho Teen (an imprint of Soho Press), c2013.

All I could see was white. One massive room: white walls, white carpeting, white woodwork. Except . . . right in the middle of the floor, next to the sliding doors, a young woman with dark hair–probably not much older than we were–was on her back. She wore only a bra. A man with his back turned to us was leaning over her. He seemed to be kissing her, then slapping her, then trying to pull her up. […]
I said, “That girl looked dead.”
“Dead drunk maybe,” Juliet dismissed, drying her camera with her shirt.
“He was doing, like CPR, right?” I asked, mostly to myself.
“Good date gone bad,” Juliet replied. Her voice was flat. “It scared the hell out of me, though, when that light went on.”
The lightning crashed again. We heard a hollow boom–a tree or a light pole down. It happened all the time.
Then Rob said, “Who has a date in a room with no furniture?” (38-39)

Allie and her friends Rob and Juliet all suffer from a fatal allergy to sunlight called Xeroderma Pigmentosum, which relegates them to sleeping during the day and living in the night. Juliet, the more mysterious and adventurous of the three, discovers the sport Parkour and convinces the other two to begin practicing the free-wheeling jumps and leaps, utilizing their nightly sojourns as private practice in their urban playground. During their first attempt at something big, the three witness what appears to be a murder. While Rob and Juliet convince themselves otherwise, Allie pursues the deadly alternative that a murderer is loose in the city. Her investigation isolates her from her friends and also puts her in real danger as she plays detective at a time when most people are safely asleep in their beds. Sometimes the buddy system really is best, and as Juliet pulls further away the closer Allie gets to the truth, and Allie is forced to question who she can trust.

The best word I can use to describe this book is enigmatic. By the end of the book, you’ve followed Allie’s convoluted detective work and Juliet’s inability to answer a question to a suspect, but really no solution. I did not expect the ending, at all, which usually I’m praising because it surprises me. But then there’s a second curve ball after the first, and eventually the book and it’s questions only leaves my head spinning. The three friends seem to be really only friends because they are the only ones who can be friends with each other, due to their unique allergy to the sun. While I can understand that friendship lasting for a little while, I really question why Allie and Rob didn’t cut Juliet loose a long time ago due to frustration of her behavior. It exasperated me that we never got a straight answer of what happened, and by the end I didn’t really care about the characters all that much. They were underdeveloped and I had a hard time relating to their situation, even with all the information provided about their disease and situation.

The one thing that really did intrigue me was the portrayal of Parkour, which I’d heard of previously but never fully seen developed in a story until now. Unfortunately, it seemed like Allie and Rob only picked it up in order to keep their eye on unpredictable Juliet, and we never really find out what prompted Juliet to take up the sport. Besides referencing some Youtube videos, Mitchard does talk about what structures are used and portrays the characters building some core strength and exercising properly before attempting anything elaborate. It’s not a skill that can be gained overnight, and the dangers, illegality, and injuries of the sport are also portrayed realistically without getting preachy or didactic. Stories about mainstream sports abound, so this one peaks my interest and will probably stay with me because of its inclusion of Parkour. Otherwise, the too many questions and not enough answers story line leaves little for me to hold onto until the sequel arrives in December.


SketchyTitle: Sketchy
Series: The Bea Catcher Chronicles: Book 1
Author: Olivia Samms
ISBN: 9781477816509
Pages: 236 pages
Publisher/Date: Amazon Publishing, c2013

A light floods my rearview mirror, shining bright in my eyes. What the . . . ? I adjust the mirror and see a car behind me. The lights barrel toward me, pulling up close.
“Shit,” I say out loud. “What’s their hurry?”
I speed up, thinking I’m driving too slowly. But the car speeds up with me and is now tailgating me–dangerously close.
My street is coming up ahead, on the right. I wait until the last second, without turning my blinker on, and pull the steering wheel hard to the right. My tires screech and fishtail as they follow my order. The car behind me turns and screeches along with me, speeding up, getting even closer. The bright lights shine and flicker in my eyes.
“OH MY GOD! It’s going to hit me!”
I abruptly turn left, careening into my driveway. I slam on my brakes with both feet, and the menacing car speeds off into the darkness.
Holy shit. I try to collect my breath.
My cell rings in my purse. My heart won’t stop racing.
I take a deep breath and answer. “Hello.” The phone wobbles in my shaky hands.
A slurred voice. “Monday, before school at seven. The antique barn on Lilac Lane. Meet me–”
“Willa? Is that you? Was that you following me?”
She hangs up. (78-79)

Seventeen-year-old Bea Washington is starting over at a new high school near Ann Arbor, MI after getting kicked out of Athena Day School for Girls. Just coming out of rehab, no one trusts her and she’s struggling to make friends while fighting the call of drugs and alcohol. It doesn’t help when she discovers a secret that could ruin Willa, the perfect head cheerleader and newly crowned homecoming queen. Maybe Willa knows more than she is telling police about the man who killed two women and left Willa for dead. Bea’s mysterious artistic ability could aid in the investigation, so long as it doesn’t first draw the killer’s attention. Whoops, too late.

Amazon has entered the publishing business. I guess it was only a matter of time before the retail giant started producing its own products. Big name author James Patterson provides a glowing recommendation on the cover, and is thanked in the acknowledgements (along with two other people) for “reading my pages, encouraging me to continue, and slipping them onto [agent] Lisa’s desk.” Maybe here are some previous connections at work, but a blurb from a big name is impressive for anyone’s first book. To be honest, I didn’t expect quality, suspense, or high-interest writing from what I though of initially as a self-publishing enterprise. I was happy to be proven wrong.

Bea is a likeable, flawed character who is desperately trying to get her life back on track. It was interesting to see a character attempting to recover from an addiction as opposed to spiraling into the habit. While we saw little of the rehab portion of Bea’s recovery, that wasn’t the focus of the book, and we do see symptoms such as taking up another habit (in this case smoking) to replace the drug and alcohol use, being tempted to relapse, and the use of AA meetings and incentives to stay clean and sober. The chapter headings are an account of how many months, days, and hours Bea has been sober. She faces temptation head on, tracking a suspect into a bar and almost giving it all up for a drink with a cute guy. But another very realistic aspect of recovery is finding out who your friends are, and Bea definitely finds a kindred spirit in Chris, who recognizes Bea from an art camp they both attended. Chris is supportive of Bea’s efforts to stay clean, isn’t freaked out by her unique ability, and is a purely plutonic friend due to his homosexual orientation. Oh, if we could all have a friend like Chris.

The mystery isn’t really a mystery like I would think of one, although Bea does have to track down the suspect and the identity of the killer is unknown. It’s a surprisingly light mystery, with the suspense coming towards the end of the book and the crimes taking place primarily “off stage” and Bea learning about them afterwards. Bea is aided in the end by a surprisingly competent police force and caring parents who are not overbearing or apathetic, but care about her well-being and are struggling just like her to navigate the position and situation they’ve found themselves in. I’d like to read more books featuring Bea, and I would like to see further development of the sweet crush that is hinted at by the end of the book. Overall, a really well-written debut novel that proves me wrong about self-publications.

The Peculiar

Title: The Peculiar
Author: Stefan Bachmann
ISBN: 978006219518
Pages: 376 pages
Publisher/Date: Greenwillow Books, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, c2012.

Then a great many things happened at once. Bartholomew, staring so intently, nodded forward a bit so that the tip of his nose brushed against the windowpane. And the moment it did, there was a quick, sharp movement in the yard below, and the lady reached behind her and jerked apart the coils of hair at the back of her head. Bartholomew’s blood turned to smoke in his veins. There, staring directly up at him, was another face, a tiny, brown, ugly face like a twisted root, all wrinkles and sharp teeth.
With a muffled yelp, he scrabbled away from the window, splinters driving into his palms. It didn’t see me, it didn’t see me. It couldn’t ever have known I was here.
But it had. Those wet black eyes had looked into his. For an instant they had been filled with a terrible anger. And then the creature’s lips had curled back and it had smiled. (23-24)

Bartholomew had been told by his mother time and again to not draw attention to himself. He and his sister are Peculiars, half faery and half human, feared and distrusted and occasionally loathed by both races as oddities. So when he gets spotted while observing a beautiful lady, a lady who whisks away a neighboring Peculiar into a whirlwind of black feathers, Bartholomew is understandably concerned. Peculiars seem to be disappearing at an alarming rate, and the skins of their bodies are being found in the river. His concern for his friend turns to fear for his own family as he and his sister might be marked as the next to be taken.

While this book was billed as “part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy, part steampunk adventure”, I really didn’t get a steampunk feel from it. Certainly not in the way the Sherlock Holmes movies or Westerfeld’s Leviathan series is steampunk. Just because there is a clockwork bird and an automaton doesn’t make it steampunk. I’ll agree however about the murder mystery and gothic fantasy. Bachmann knows how to set the scene for the action that follows:

Fog slunk among the headstones of St. Mary, Queen of Martyrs, that night. It smelled of charcoal and rot, and spread in slow shapes down the sloping graveyard. Above, clouds drifted, snuffing out the moon. Somewhere in the maze of streets beyond the wall a dog barked. (205)

Readers might get a little lost in the culture and interactions of faeries and humans, as Bachmann thrusts you into the world from the beginning and worries about explaining things later. While it makes the story flow more naturally, assuming the reader know what they need to know, it helps that Bartholomew and the other main character we see things through, Arthur Jelliby, are somewhat clueless and trying to figure things out as well. Arthur Jelliby is someone who would rather not be investigating the disappearance of Peculiars, as that isn’t really his job, but finds himself being drawn in by coincidences, natural curiosity, and dare I say a sense of duty. I found myself being very sympathetic to both his and Bartholomew’s plight, as the stories intertwine and they are both just trying to get back to normal lives after they unwillingly became involved in this predicament.

I was not informed that this debut book (which it says in the back jacket Bachmann wrote when he was sixteen) is the first in a series, which proved very frustrating to me. Bachmann has nailed building tension by shifting viewpoints after a suspenseful turn of events or a Hannibal Lecter-esque piece of dialogue, where you know something bad is right around the corner. And that, unfortunately, was how the book ended. I definitely foresee a change of setting for book two as the reason for Bartholomew getting involved as yet to be resolved. (That’s really all I can say without spoiling plot points). The good news is that it appears Arthur Jelliby will be along for the ride as well, and we can only hope that Bartholomew and Jelliby interact a little more in book two.

Horten’s Incredible Illusions

Title: Horten’s Incredible Illusions: Magic, Mystery, and Another Very Strange Adventure
Series: Stuart Horten #2; Sequel to Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms
Author: Lissa Evans
ISBN: 9781402798702
Pages: 349 pages
Publisher/Date: Sterling Children’s Books, an imprint of Sterling Publishing, c2012.

They looked at each other. “Once you start using magic, it’s very hard to stop,” quoted April, her voice breathy. “It’s another puzzle, isn’t it? Another adventure?”
Stuart closed his hand over the star, and felt the six prongs dig into his skin. His heart was suddenly thumping; he felt both excited and slightly frightened, and he knew from April’s expression that she felt the same. The hunt for Great-Uncle Tony’s workshop had been a wild and exciting chase, sprinkled with danger and magic, and now another quest was beckoning. But for what? What was the prize this time? (37-38)

Stuart and April have just finished solving Stuart’s Great Uncle Tony’s clues about where his secret workshop was. While the legal battle ensues over who the contents rightfully belong to, the local museum takes possession of the tricks found inside, and Stuart and April help catalog them. In the process, they find a mysterious six-pronged metal star and a damaged note encouraging them to use it to become the true “owners of the illusions”. Each of the surviving tricks lead them to a magical world of its own, where they must solve riddles and puzzles in order to get back. But when April’s sisters insist on being involved in the secret and cause problems, it becomes Stuart’s responsibility to save the day and get everyone back home safely.

Another fantastic tale about Stuart and April. I almost wish there were more stories about the two sleuths. And maybe there will be, who knows, but the series is well done as it is and I wouldn’t want the author to drag it out unnecessarily. The challenges that Stuart and April face seem almost tailor-made for their strengths and weaknesses, and when Stuart’s father unknowingly becomes involved, it leads an even bigger impression of the magic being malleable. The sheer variety is impressive, with author Lissa Evans proving that she’s able to craft unique and individual tricks and puzzles.

While Stuart’s father is completely clueless as to what’s going on and Stuart’s more observant mother is sent on a business trip, it’s still extremely humorous to see Stuart interact with him. I think I forgot to mention in my review of the first book, but Stuart’s father writes crossword puzzle clues, and talks like a walking dictionary, which can be very entertaining to read.

His father was looking thoughtful. “Do you think it might aid mutual colloquy if I endeavored to converse in a less polysyllabic manner?” he asked.
“What does mutual colloquy mean?”
“Our conversation.”
“And endeavor means try, doesn’t it?”
“So what you’re saying is, Would it be easier for us to talk if you used shorter words?”
Stuart nodded cautiously. “Well, it might speed things up a bit.” (130)

Not only is the dialogue spot on, but the reactions are accurate too. Even if Stuart’s dad is clueless, the triplets’ parents aren’t, and Stuart is often at the mercy of April, May, and June’s parents regarding where they can go or when they can aid him in his search for clues. All three of the girls try to assert their differences from each other, and I’m thoroughly pleased that they each get their own reactions, talents, and personalities when any other writer would lump them into non-descriptive blobs. It’s also perfectly reasonable to expect May and June to insist on being involved in this hunt, and I appreciate the dynamics between the three that we get to witness. I also liked the fact that Stuart only befriended April in the beginning, further emphasizing the differences between the girls.

Observant and intuitive readers might figure out some of the answers before Stuart, but everyone has plenty to look forward to as the book quickly comes to a climax and satisfying ending. All the loose ends are wrapped up in a bow very neatly. A great choice for a read-aloud in a class room or in a bed-time sharing, I charged through it in about three hours, and anyone who finds anything objectionable about this very family friendly read is looking too darn hard. This rollicking good reading series has found a permanent place on my recommendation list.


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