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?

Framed: A TOAST Mystery

framedby James Ponti
First sentence: “My name’s Florian Bates.”
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Content: The names might be tough for younger/not as strong readers to manage, but other than that, it’s great for the 3rd to 5th/6th grade range. It’s in the Middle Grade section of the bookstore.

Florian has this theory he calls T.O.A.S.T, which stands for Theory of All Small Things. The idea is this: if you observe the little things, it adds up to the bigger things, which helps you make deductions of situations. So, yeah, Florian is pretty much Sherlock Holmes. Which comes in handy when he and his parents move to Washington, DC, and get involved — with Florian’s new friend, Margaret — in helping the FBI solve an art heist at the National Gallery of Art.

Oh, this was so much fun! Seriously. No sick or dead parents (though Margaret is adopted). A pretty straight-forward mystery to solve, with clues along the way. A bit of action — Florian does get kidnapped at one point — and some intense moments, but it was never really dark. And I loved the friendship between Florian and Margaret. They make an excellent team. I’m sure I’m not the first one to come up with the Sherlock Holmes comparison, but that’s really what it reminded me of. There’s not a lot of really good middle grade mysteries, and so this one definitely fills a hole.

And it’s a lot of fun.

The Secret Keepers

secretkeepersby Trenton Lee Stewart
First sentence: “That summer morning in the Lower Downs began as usual for Reuben Pedley.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher. Full disclosure: I had dinner with the author at Children’s Institute, and think he’s delightful.
Release date: September 27th
Content: There’s a few scary moments, and it is long (500+ pages), so it might be intimidating for young/reluctant readers. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Reuben has perfected the art of being invisible. He can sneak in and out of places, and knows just how to go unnoticed in a crowd. And then, one summer day, he climbs up to a ledge (just because he can) and discovers something Wonderful: an antique pocket watch shaped like a globe in a wooden box engraven “Property of P. Wm Light”. It’s cool enough as it is; but once Reuben (accidentally) discovers that it can actually turn him invisible, he’s thrilled. Except the watch is wanted by the big mob boss in town, a man known as The Smoke. And suddenly Reuben isn’t quite so invisible anymore.

So Reuben sets off to solve the mystery of the watch: where it came from and why does The Smoke want it so badly. And in doing so, he not only makes several friends for life, he discovers that he is much more than he originally believed.

Even though this is a big book, and starts slowly (I’m not sure we needed Reuben’s entire backstory, as well as the backstory of the watch, but I’m not the editor here…) I was hooked by the middle and sold by the end. (The end, especially.) Stewart knows how to write a puzzle that readers want to solve, and how to keep them guessing along the way. I honestly didn’t know what would happen, at times, and I thoroughly enjoyed finding out. And the best part? It’s not a series (yet). Definitely a fun read.

And Then There Were None

andthentherewerenoneby Agatha Christie
First sentence: “In the corner of a first-class smoking carriage, Mr. Justice Wargrave, lately retired from the bench, puffed at a cigar and ran an interested eye through the political news in the Times.”
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Content: Well, there are murders, but all are off-screen, and none are grisly. There’s no swearing. It’s in the mystery section of the bookstore.

This is one book I remember reading as a kid. I was probably 12 or 13, and I discovered Agatha Christie, and thought that she was just brilliant. Such a great writer! Such a clever mystery!

I haven’t revisited it in years, and with the “classic mystery” square on my book bingo I thought I’d take the time to revisit it.

And. Well.

The writing’s okay. Christie does have a knack for moving the plot along (thank you!), with lots of dialogue and without a lot of exposition (which really comes at the end). But it’s not brilliant writing. And the characters are all kind of stereotypical (the nervous younger woman, the prudish old woman, the handsome young man, the nervous doctor, the bullish judge). There’s no time to connect with anyone (perhaps that’s the point?) so you don’t really feel any shock at their deaths.

But the thing that bugged me was that I couldn’t figure it out. She made a completely unsolvable mystery (perhaps the point, again), and then hands you the solution at the end: Aha! Here it is! You missed it! I felt cheated that I couldn’t figure out WHO was behind this. There were really no clues. And I found that irritating. (I like to think that if I were a smarter reader, I’d catch all the clues, and maybe I just missed them, but I really don’t think so in this case.)

So, while I liked it well enough, it didn’t live up to the hype that I had built up in my own mind over the years. Which is too bad.

I am Princess X

iamprincessxby Cherie Priest
First sentence: “Libby Deaton and May Harper invented Princess X in fifth grade, when Libby’s leg was in a cast, and May had a doctor’s note saying she couldn’t run around the track anymore because her asthma would totally kill her.”
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Content: It’s a bit intense at times and there is some mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Libby died three years ago in a car accident. May knows this. She’s moved on (sort of). But, when she’s back in Seattle the summer before she’s 17, she starts seeing stickers around town. Ones of a princess in a pink dress, red Chucks, and wielding a katana sword. The spitting image of the comic that Libby and May created in fifth grade. At first, it seems like a coincidence: maybe someone got a hold of all the pages Libby left when she died. Or, maybe — just maybe — Libby’s still alive.

After reading the webcomic, May is convinced of the latter. She’s convinced that Libby’s mom was murdered, that Libby was kidnapped, and that she’s the only one who can find Libby. She enlists the help of a recently-graduated computer geek (with a bit of a dark side), Patrick, and together they follow the clues May says are left. The thing is: what started out as an innocent investigation becomes increasingly more dangerous the further they get involved.

Ohmygosh! I don’t know why this took me too long to read this!

Seriously though, people: it’s a tight, interesting thriller, one that kept me guessing along as May and Patrick figure out and follow the clues. It gets intense at times and it definitely kept me turning pages.  THIS is what a good YA mystery is about. No extra lame love story. Cool characters. A fantastic mix of graphic and prose. So, so very good.

Can you tell I liked it?

These Shallow Graves

theseshallowgravesby Jennifer Donnelly
First sentence: “Josephine Montfort stared at the newly mounded grave in front of her and at the wooden cross marking it.”
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Content: There’s some mild swearing, murder, and some questionable situations. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 7th or 8th grader, who was interested.

Josephine is a thing that an 1890s socialite isn’t supposed to be: curious. She’s supposed to obey her parents, be elegant and ladylike, and marry a wealthy, eligible bachelor of her parent’s choosing. But, when her father unexpectedly turns up dead, supposedly having shot himself, Josephine won’t — can’t — settle for that. She heads out, teaming up with a reporter by the name of Eddie Gallagher, to find the Truth.

Thus starts a winding, sometimes scary, path that will lead Josephine down paths that would scandalize her family if they knew, but ultimately opens Josephine’s eyes and changes her forever.

I’ll be honest: the mystery was kind of predictable. I guess who it was fairly early on, as well as guessing the “big secret”. I didn’t have the how and why, but eventually, I figured out that too. The thing that kept me reading was Jo herself. I enjoyed the push and pull she had with Upper Crust New York Society, how she was willing to go against the expectations of her family. I found it all fascinating, and found Jo a character worth spending time with this.

Which made it worth reading.

Friday Barnes, Girl Detective

fridaybarnsby R. A. Spratt
First sentence: “Friday Barnes was not an unhappy child.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy snagged off the ARC shelves at work.
Content: There’s some biggish words, and a bunch of swoony 7th-grade girls, but other than that’s it’s aimed toward the 3rd-5th grade crowd. It’s in the middle grade section of the bookstore.

Friday Barnes excels in going unnoticed. In fact, she prefers it that way. She prefers just sliding through school, being little noticed. She also is incredibly observant, so when her uncle (who’s a private investigator) needs some help solving a bank robbery, she helps, solving it. Which means she received the $50,000 reward money. She uses that to go to a posh boarding school, mostly because she wants a change.

What she gets is a brilliant but absent-minded roommate, some ditzy teachers, and a few mysteries to solve (she makes a tidy profit doing so, too.)

It’s not a bad book. I like that Friday is a girl, and that she uses deductive reasoning to solve cases (kind of like Sherlock Holmes, or Encyclopedia Brown). And while the mysteries were run-of-the mill, I didn’t catch the clues enough to solve it myself, so they were pretty smart. That said, the stereotypes drove me nuts. The absent-minded smart girl with the dumb jock brother. The silly 7th grade girls who swoon over a hairy mystery guy in the forest because “hairy guys are cute”. The super hot boy who’s got it out for Friday. Yeah, it’s all supposed to be funny, but it kind of just fell flat. I’d love it if authors stopped using silly stereotypes for humor.

So, in the end, while I like the idea of this one, I didn’t really like the book.