Tag Archive: mystery


from norvelt to nowhere

From Norvelt to Nowhere by Jack Gantos

Halloween has come to Norvelt right at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Jack dresses up as the local serial killer to trick or treat, but no one finds him funny.  Even Jack loses his sense of humor when another old lady is killed right in front of him from a poisoned cookie.  Miss Volker, the last surviving original Norvelt woman, takes the murder very personally since the serial killer had been killing in order to marry her.  She is intent on revenge and takes Jack along with her on a cross-country journey to settle the issue once and for all.  But all may not be as simple as it seems as Jack finds himself with plenty of potential killers riding on the same train with them. 

Gantos won the Newbery Medal with the first Norvelt book and it was spectacular.  This book is more of a bumpy ride.  There are moments where Gantos reaches the same smart mix of serious heartfelt writing and humorous situations.  Then it can drag a bit as historical lessons are shared.  But the good thing is that those good parts outnumber the slowdowns and the humor still shines.

A large part of what makes the book work are the characters of Jack and Miss Volker.  This wonderful pairing adds to the fast pacing of the novel, move the story forward and are a pleasure to spend time with.  The book tends to slow when Miss Volker is more quiet and contained.  When she is unleashed, the story is exceptional. 

Fans of the first book will want to read the second and I’m happy to travel along with Jack and Miss Volker anytime.  Appropriate for ages 10-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Review: Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

burning blue

Burning Blue by Paul Griffin

Nicole was a beautiful girl, the prettiest in the school.  But that all changed when someone threw acid in her face at school.  Nicole didn’t know who did it, because she didn’t see anything other than the bottle aimed at her face.  Her boyfriend was nearby, the janitor seemed to know not to touch her, and a teacher was around too.  Quiet loner, Jay decides to figure out who did this.  He sees beyond her wounds, realizing that there is a lot more to Nicole than her lost beauty.  Jay is a hacker, able to get into government databases and trace people’s activities online.  As he gets closer to the truth of the attack, he and Nicole grow closer too.  Now he has everything to lose, especially as Nicole seems to be a suspect herself. 

Griffin nicely creates a lot of tension and mystery in this story of disfigurement and beauty.  Told from Jay’s point of view with insets from Nicole’s journal, this novel asks difficult questions about beauty, what lies beneath it, and the envy that it produces.  The question of who attacked Nicole stays in Jay’s focus, but the reader will equally enjoy the growing relationship between Jay and Nicole.

Jay is a fascinating character.  He is a hacker who pretends to know nothing about computers.  Some of his online conquests seem a bit to simple and easy, but with that aside, the hacking forms an intriguing basis for a detective to work from.  He is able to make breakthroughs and discover information that otherwise would be impossible.  But beyond the actual hacking, Jay lives a tattered life with his father after his losing his mother, and struggles with epileptic seizures.  His is a life lived alone by choice, until Nicole enters it.

A strong introverted and geeky character at its heart, this novel is a fine mystery but much more too.  Appropriate for ages 13-16.

Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.

cavendish home

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand

Victoria has always tried to be the best that she can be with her perfect hair, great grades and neat room.  So when she gets a B in music, she is distraught and refuses to show her parents her report card.  Lawrence, her one and only friend, doesn’t have the same appreciation for perfection.  He’s a musician who is often untidy and has a habit of humming constantly.  As Victoria obsesses about her grades, she starts to notice that strange things are happening around town.  Some of the students at her school have disappeared and no one seems to care.  When Lawrence disappears and his parents are unconcerned, Victoria realizes that there is something horribly wrong.  She knows it must have to do with the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, an orphanage which never seems to have any children around.  In Mrs. Cavendish, Victoria finds another person with a will for order and perfection.  In Victoria though, Mrs. Cavendish may have met her match.  As this book turns from mystery to horror, readers will taken on a frightening ride.

From the endpaper that is designed with bugs to the bugs scattered along randomly inside the book, readers will realize that this is a little darker than most mysteries.  It begins as a classic story of a girl who is top of her class and fairly self-centered.  She is likeable despite these faults thanks to her natural inquisitiveness and bravery.  As the book becomes more dark and creepy, Victoria rises to the challenge, turning into a heroine before your eyes.  It’s a credible and impressive transformation.

Legrand slowly builds the tension in the book, creating a story that you can never quite relax into.  A great example of this is on page 83:

Outside, the streets glistened. Storm clouds sat fat, black, and heavy all along the sickly yellow sky. Victoria wondered if they would ever break or if they would just keep spitting bits of rain forever when no one was looking. She tightened her grip on the umbrella beneath her raincoat and tried not to think about how it felt like the trees were watching her.

It’s a book that twists and turns, becoming the unexpected. At several moments, I thought I had figured it out and the doubted that that would be the outcome in a children’s book.  Children will delight though in realizing that Legrand does not shy away from the horrid, the frightening and the disgusting. 

This is a wild ride of a book clothed in a classic mystery disguise.  Get it into the hands of children who enjoy a good shivery read.  It’s perfect for reading at night under the covers, if you are brave enough.  Appropriate for ages 11-13.

Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

amelia anne

Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone by Kat Rosenfield

When the girl is found dead on the highway near Becca’s small hometown, the entire town is enveloped in the question of who she was and who killed her.  All Becca knows is that she is going to leave town at the end of the summer, and leave her boyfriend behind too.  But then her boyfriend breaks up with her right after they have sex, and Becca’s world shifts.  She too becomes captured by the drama of the murdered girl and finds herself unable to move forward with her plans to head to college.  Amelia Anne, the dead girl, was already in college.  Caught with a boyfriend who no longer understands her, Amelia continues to date him waiting for the best time to break up.  Two girls who end up in the same small town for very different reasons, one at the beginning of her life and the other at the end. 

Rosenfield’s writing is unique and heady.  She writes with all of her senses, creating a feeling that is almost smothering at times, flying high in others, and always remarkable.  Her writing is best when creating a world for just two people, something that happens often here.  Those dynamics ring true and painful and wistful. 

Her writing about the small town and its history of death is also beautifully done.  As readers, we inhale along with the characters, breathing in the scents of the woods and the roses.  We witness the fact that small town knowledge can also kill, work through grief with people, and jump to the wrong conclusions.  It’s an exhilarating ride of a novel that also takes the time to truly create its own setting and history.

Amazing writing, a violent mystery and a small town setting create a book that is impossible to put down, yet invites you to linger with it longer.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Dutton Books.

mr and mrs bunny detectives

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny – Detectives Extraordinaire! by Polly Horvath

Madeline has always taken care of her parents rather than the other way around.  She knows they won’t come to her school events, not even the graduation ceremony that Prince Charles will be attending!  Because they aren’t interested, she has to find a way herself to get the required white shoes for the ceremony.  But when she returns home after waitressing, she discovers that her parents have been kidnapped by foxes!  The only one who can help them is Madeline, who will also need help.  She finds it in Mr. and Mrs. Bunny who have just become detectives, having purchased the necessary fedoras for that sort of work.  The three set out to solve the mystery and rescue Madeline’s parents.  On the way, they have to consort with garlic-bread munching marmots, stand up to the Bunny Council, learn to drive a car wearing disco shoes, and become fast friends.

Horvath takes a clever premise and allows it to twist and turn in her hands, creating a book that is quirky and ultimately lovable.  Her writing is uproariously funny, taking modern culture and making wonderful fun of it along the way.  At the same time, this remains a talking animal book, retaining all of the warmth and charm of that sort of tale.  So there is also plenty of tea, hot soup, and even prune cake to go around.  Think of it as a cozy mystery for children.

Blackall’s illustrations add to the warm but quirky feel of the book.  Scattered nicely throughout the book to encourage young readers, the illustrations have a modern edge but also pay homage to old-fashioned children’s books.  She was the perfect pick for the book.

An ideal read aloud for elementary classes, this book also makes a cozy read all on your own.  Appropriate for ages 8-11.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade Books.

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