Trouble Makes a Comeback

troublemakesby Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “I don’t believe in Happily Ever After.”
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Others in the series: Trouble is a Friend of Mine
Content: There’s some drinking by other teens in the book, but it’s mostly off-screen. The book is in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Digby has been gone for six months and Zoe’s moved on. Popular friends at the school, dating a football player, living the “life”. And then, Digby shows back up. (Of course.) Still looking for his sister, he’s back in town to, well, stir up some more trouble. And, of course, he ropes Zoe into it. While the over-arching plot is trying to find out what happened to Digby’s sister nine years ago, there’s a nice little subplot involving a steroid ring on the football team. So, with two mysteries to solve (one of which they do, and the other they get closer to figuring out), Zoe and Digby are on the case again.

Much like the first book, this was a lot of fun. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud fun, but it was entertaining. I like the Zoe-Digby push and pull, and I like the way Tromly handles the situations she puts the two of them into. It’s nothing deep (though the unfolding story surrounding the sister’s disappearance is turning into a sad one), but it is entertaining.

Which is really all anyone can ask for. Right?

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Creeping Shadow

9781484709672by Jonathan Stroud
First sentence: “I knew at once, when I slipped into the moonlit office and eased the door shut behind me, that I was in the presence of the dead.”
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Others in the series: The Screaming Staircase, The Whispering Skull, The Hollow Boy
Content: This  is not for the faint of heart, but rather for people who like to be scared. Still, lots of action, and if you don’t mind the scary stuff… It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Lucy has left Lockwood and Co.

Let that sit in for a minute.

There was a poltergeist at the end of The Hollow Boy who told Lucy she would be responsible for Lockwood’s death, and that spooked her so much that she couldn’t stay. She didn’t really leave on the best terms, and since then she’s been freelancing for other firms. It’s not ideal. But she (and the Skull, who is really one of my favorite characters) is managing alone.

Until a case — of the ghost of a cannibal — comes that Lockwood needs Lucy’s talents for. She goes to help — as a consultant, only for a night — and they successfully catch and eliminate the ghost. But things go wrong from there. The skull is stolen, there’s a collector who is buying up strong sources, there’s a Creeping Shadow terrorizing a nearby town. And all those things lead up to something Very Big and Very Wrong. And Lockwood and Co are the only ones who are equipped to deal with it.

I feel like a broken record: read these! They’re awesome! The mystery is intriguing, the characters are fantastic, and it’s spooky without being gory. It’s fast-paced, and action-packed, with tons of funny elements. It’s just SO good. The whole series. I love how they’re all inter-connected, but also individual stories. And Stroud just knows how to tell a story.

Just read the series, already. It’s that good.

With Malice

withmaliceby Eileen Cook
First sentence: “I’m not a morning person.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s a handful (less than six) of f-bombs, some reference to teen drinking and sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Jill wakes up in a hospital, with no memory of anything in the past two months. She’s told two things: she was in a car accident on her school trip in Italy and her best friend, Simone, is dead. Oh: and she’s being investigated with murder.

It’s a simple plot, as we go through Jill’s recovery and her attempts to reclaim her memory. We read through police interviews with people who were close to both Jill and Simone and with those who were on the Italy trip with them. We go through blog posts for people who believe that Jill is guilty, and see the spin that the expensive lawyer Jill’s dad hires puts on everything. What we don’t have is Jill’s experience in Italy.

Which means, while this book doesn’t have much going for it with plot, it’s still incredibly gripping. Even though it’s a first person narrative, because of the accident, you don’t know what’s truly a “memory” for Jill, and what she’s just recreated from what other people have told her. It really is left up to the reader to decide guilt or innocence, and it’s a fascinating experience.

I couldn’t put it down.

Driving Heat

drivingheatby Richard Castle
First sentence: “The last thing Nikki Heat expected when she received her promotion to captain of the NYPD was how much the proud expression on Rook’s face in the audience would make her want him.”
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Others in the series: Heat Wave, Naked Heat, Heat Rises, Frozen Heat, Deadly Heat, Raging Heat  (Yes, I really have read the whole series.)
Content : Loads of f-bombs (though less than other books, I think), plus some tasteful sexytimes. It’s in the adult mystery section at the bookstore.

I realized, at some point while reading this, that I don’t actually remember much of what happened in the 7th season of Castle (not its best season) and I waited a lot longer before getting around to this one, so I really didn’t pick up on all the show references in the book. Which means, I was forced to take it on its own merit.

Nikki Heat has been promoted to captain and has to deal with the new pressures that come with that job. It doesn’t help that she catches a high-profile case right off the bat: the murder of a police psychologist, Lon King. HER psychologist. It’s not an easy death for Heat to deal with, especially since King had been helping her deal with her feelings about her impending marriage to Jamison Rook.

But, things aren’t always as it seems, and soon one murder turns into five (and the entire NYPD gets hacked)  as Heat and Rook try and solve this case.

Y’know, on its own merit, these still aren’t bad. The mystery was complex enough that I didn’t quite figure it out (though it did leave out one crucial piece of information, I think, in order to fully solve the mystery)  but it wasn’t super out of left field when they finally figured it all out. The plotting’s good, the writing’s not half-bad (I’ve read worse), and aside from a few editing mistakes (c’mon editors, get your act together. I know you’re trying to churn these out but, take a deep  breath and double check your work), it really is a halfway decent (if pulpy) mystery series.

The Odds of Getting Even

by Sheila Turnage
First sentence: “Mr. Macon Johnson’s kidnapping trial snatched Tupelo Landing inside out sharp as Miss Rose snaps a pillowcase before she pins it to her wash line.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged from the ARC shelves at the bookstore.
Others in the series: Three Times Lucky, The Ghost of Tupelo Landing
Content: There’s some intense situations, but nothing too scary (and only mildly life-threatening). It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Mo and Dale are back again! I can’t tell you how happy this makes me. (I adore Tupelo Landing and want to live there.)

Dale’s no-good daddy is on trial for kidnapping (and other charges), when he disappears from the jail on the way to the trial. If that’s not bad enough, things start happening — break-ins, vandalism, attempted murder — in Tupelo Landing, and everyone (including Mo) is blaming it on Macon. Dale’s the only one who knows his daddy well enough to think that he’s being framed. And it’s up to him (and Mo and Harm) to figure it all out.

First, I’m glad this is solidly back in realistic mystery territory. No more ghosts, thank you. Secondly: the charm of these books is much less the mystery (I kind of figured it out, though not completely) and much more the, well, charm of the characters. Mo’s delightful. Dale’s sweet. Harm even grew on me. There was much less Miss Lana and the Colonel than I would like, but the kids were so delightful that I really didn’t care.

I am completely infatuated with this series and I don’t think I’ll ever get enough.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

by Stephanie Tromly
First sentence: “Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: August 4, 2015
Review copy provided by the publisher rep.
Content: There’s some mild swearing. And inferences about drug use by teens. I think it’ll be in the YA section (grades 6-8) though. (It’s not too bad.)

Zoe is the product of a bad divorce: her Wall Street broker dad cheating on her mom. She generally sided with her dad, but ended up in her mom’s custody, moving to a small podunky college town in upstate New York after the divorce. Zoe doesn’t want to be there at all and when Digby — kind of the high school pariah, of sorts — decides that she needs to be his side-kick (she really doesn’t have much say in it; he really just inserts himself into her life and she doesn’t kick him out) in discovering what has happened to a local kidnapped teenager, she goes along with it. For kicks and giggles.

When the ARC came into the store, it had this sticker on it:

I won’t say it gave me high hopes, but I was expecting some laughs. And there were: Digby has a talent for getting into some very bad situations, and there was some pretty amusing antics trying to get out of them. And Zoe’s mom with her bumbling cluelessness was pretty amusing too. (Though: not as amusing as the mom in Finding Audrey.) But while I didn’t find it funny, I did find it endearingly charming. Incredibly charming. And fascinating. There’s a mystery running throughout — and not just the finding the kidnapped teenager one — that kept my interest, and kept me guessing, which added to my general enjoyment. And I just adored Zoe and Digby and their friend Henry. And all the other people they came into contact with. It was just… delightful.

So, maybe it’s not the hilarious read our rep promised. But it’s still definitely worth the time to read it.

Scarlett Undercover

by Jennifer Latham
First sentence: “The kid was cute.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s a bit of mild swearing (s**t) being the “worst” one, plus some kissing and references to (adult) smoking. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t mind giving it to a savvy 5th grader.

I adored Nancy Drew as a kid. Seriously. I devoured them all. I loved the mystery, I loved Nancy Drew’s pluck. It was what I wanted.

This, however, is Nancy Drew for the Modern Age: she’s sassy, smart, and street-wise. And I loved it just as much (if not more).

Fifteen-year-old Scarlett is many things: an orphan (dad was murdered, mom died because of cancer); brilliant (she graduated from high school two years early); Muslim; and, perhaps most importantly, a detective. No, it’s not really official: she mostly does inside jobs for the Las Almas police department, and sometimes she hustles and gets a case locating something missing. Nothing that prepared her for when 9-year-old Gemma walks through her door.

Gemma’s worried about her older brother: something has happen to change him; he’s become distant, angry, and mean. But, more than that: Gemma’s convinced that her brother is responsible for the “suicide” of his (former) friend. And she needs Scarlett to find out what’s going on. Little does Scarlett realize the rabbit hole that she’s just opened up.

One of the things I loved most about this book was that Scarlett came from a religious family (she wasn’t non-religious; she just wasn’t as religious as her older sister), and there was a huge support in the surrounding community. But, it wasn’t an issue: it was just who Scarlett was. She greeted people in Arabic, she said her prayers, she observed Islamic customs and traditions. And she solved cases. It was so perfect in so many ways.

I also liked that she was sassy. She had an attitude, but one that suited her and the narrative, and it came through loud and clear. If I was my 11-year-old self, I would have adored Scarlett. (Which my mother may not have appreciated it.) I also loved that Scarlett, was capable: she got into some dangerous situations, and she had the know-how (and the tools) to get herself out. It’s really fantastic.

There is a vague hint of the supernatural — talk of djinn and portals and such — but it didn’t develop in a speculative fiction way, which actually made me very happy. I love speculative fiction, but it would have been out of place here.

I’m willing to talk this one up as much as possible; I do hope it finds a ton of readers.