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I see London, I see France

14 Dec

In the third installment of his Blackthorn Key series, The Assassin’s Curse, author Kevin Sands moves the actions from England to the court of Louis XIV, in Paris.

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Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this third novel of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series.

Wherever Christopher Rowe goes, adventure—and murder—follows. Even a chance to meet King Charles ends in a brush with an assassin.

All that’s recovered from the killer is a coded message with an ominous sign-off: more attempts are coming. So when Christopher’s code-breaking discovers the attack’s true target, he and his friends are ordered to Paris to investigate a centuries-old curse on the French throne. And when they learn an ancient treasure is promised to any assassin who succeeds, they realize the entire royal family is at stake—as well as their own lives.

In the third heart-pounding installment of the award-winning Blackthorn Key series, Christopher, Tom, and Sally face new codes, puzzles, and traps as they race to find the hidden treasure before someone else is murdered.

Of the three, this is my least favorite, but I still enjoyed it. I think one of the problems was that I listened to the audio version, and the recitation of some of the code-breaking was tedious. I would rather have looked at it than listened to it. That said, there was all the action and mystery of the first two books. I like that we learned a little more about Sally, the Hermione to Christopher and Thomas’ Harry & Ron. The change of venue was interesting, too. The book was, once again, left open enough for a fourth book, If there is one, I hope they return to England, where I think they fit best.

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An unlimited tale

20 Nov

I wanted to read Jane, Unlimited before I knew there was a basset hound in it.

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When I realized the basset hound was a very important character, I was ecstatic. I looked at Lucy, and wondered.

Let me also say that this one works way better in print than audio. There are a lot of details at the beginning that become important. If, like me, you sometimes listen to audiobooks while doing other things, you might miss something important. The audiobook is excellent, I am simply saying that you need to pay attention if you listen.

Publisher’s Summary: An instant New York Times bestseller—from the award-winning author of the Graceling Realm series—a kaleidoscopic novel about grief, adventure, storytelling, and finding yourself in a world of seemingly infinite choices.

Jane has lived an ordinary life, raised by her aunt Magnolia—an adjunct professor and deep sea photographer. Jane counted on Magnolia to make the world feel expansive and to turn life into an adventure. But Aunt Magnolia was lost a few months ago in Antarctica on one of her expeditions.

Now, with no direction, a year out of high school, and obsessed with making umbrellas that look like her own dreams (but mostly just mourning her aunt), she is easily swept away by Kiran Thrash—a glamorous, capricious acquaintance who shows up and asks Jane to accompany her to a gala at her family’s island mansion called Tu Reviens.

Jane remembers her aunt telling her: “If anyone ever invites to you to Tu Reviens, promise me that you’ll go.” With nothing but a trunkful of umbrella parts to her name, Jane ventures out to the Thrash estate. Then her story takes a turn, or rather, five turns. What Jane doesn’t know is that Tu Reviens will offer her choices that can ultimately determine the course of her untethered life. But at Tu Reviens, every choice comes with a reward, or a price.

 

This week’s book talks 10/23-10/25

25 Oct

It is parent teacher conference time. Only three days of school means only three booktalks. They all cam from the “Mystery and Adventure” section of my classroom library.

Monday…..I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest.

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Tuesday… Mission Mumbai by Mahtab Narsimhan

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Wednesday…Raising Rufus  by David Fulk

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Happy Book Birthday

24 Aug

On Tuesday, along with other members of the Beaverton Education Association executive board members, I attended a district event for new teachers. We greeted them, provided coffee, snacks and swag, and our president told them about how the union works. While handing out swag, we veteran teachers reminisced about teachers we’d mentored and how we feel like part of their family.

It is not unlike being a member of YALSA’s William C. Morris Committee. I feel as though I have a connection to the five authors we chose as finalists, and that is why I am excited to tell you that it is the book birthday of one of those authors.

Stephanie Oakes’ second novel, The Arsonist,  was released this week!

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Publisher’s Summary: Code Name Verity meets I Am the Messenger in this riveting YA novel from Morris Award finalist Stephanie Oakes, in which three points of view are woven together in a story that’s part Cold War mystery, part contemporary coming-of-age, and completely unputdownable.

This is a complex story. As each character narrates, your mind is trying to figure out how it all works. Oakes is crafty, telling us just enough from one character’s point of view in a chapter, then switching to another – a move that kept me reading.
Like her previous book, The Secret Lies of Minnow Bly,  the ending isn’t necessarily a happy one. But it is maybe the most realistic outcome we can hope for in a work of fiction.

A Classic Neighborhood Mystery

17 Aug

Summer is a time to curl up with a good mystery. Middle grade mysteries are not like BBC police shows. They are infinitely less gruesome, but they are as cerebral.

The Goldfish Boy, written by English author Lisa Thompson, is reminiscent of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.  In both tales, a person confined to a room, observes his neighborhood, and digs deep when a crime is committed.

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Goodreads Summary:Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

Because it is a middle grade novel, it wraps up happily and satisfactorily.

The families we make

17 Jul

I’ve been thinking about starting  Mock Newbery Club at my school next year. Rather than being a year-long club, it would begin in October and the students in the club would initially read off a list I suggest, but they would be free to add titles too.

One of the titles that will appear on that list is Beyond the Bright Sea  by Lauren Wolk, who wrote last year’s Newbery Honor book,  Wolf Hollow

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Publisher’s Summary

Each new bit of information Crow learns about her origins only raises more questions. But Crow is determined as she peels away the layers of mystery to get to the heart of the matter: love makes a family.

The difficult second book

17 Oct

So often, the second book in a series disappoints. It fails to live up to the expectations of the first. Or, maybe it fails to cover new ground, while maintaining the energy and character of the first. Kevin Sands has managed to do all three in The Mark of the Plague,  sequel to The Blackthorn Key.

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Publisher’s Summary: Christopher Rowe is back and there are more puzzles, riddles, and secrets to uncover in this follow-up to the Indie Next pick The Blackthorn Key, which was called a “spectacular debut” by Kirkus Reviews in a starred review.

The Black Death has returned to London, spreading disease and fear through town. A mysterious prophet predicts the city’s ultimate doom—until an unknown apothecary arrives with a cure that actually works. Christopher’s Blackthorn shop is chosen to prepare the remedy. But when an assassin threatens the apothecary’s life, Christopher and his faithful friend Tom are back to hunting down the truth, risking their lives to untangle the heart of a dark conspiracy.

And as the sickness strikes close to home, the stakes are higher than ever before…

I really liked this first book and, though prepared to be disappointed, I was entranced by the second. There are several reasons why I liked them both.

First, they are set in Restoration London. That’s the period marked by the return of Charles II as king (1660–85) following the period of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth.This is a setting rarely explored in children’s & YA lit, so more power to Sands for choosing an interesting time and place.

Second, they both have mysteries involving codes and ciphers. I had a period growing up when I was obsessed with codes and ciphers and checked out the few books our small library had multiple times. I know that there are many middle grade readers out there who feel the same, decades after my youth.

Third, Christopher is an apothecary’s apprentice. The whole apothecary thing is interesting. In fact, several other book series for this age group are about apothecaries:

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Forest of Wonders by Linda Sue Park and the Apothecary  series by Maile Meloy.

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Finally, I love the fact that Christopher is an apprentice. Although we have lots of stories of cruel masters, Christopher found an excellent one in Benedict Blackthorn.

Like The Blackthorn Key,  the problem is wrapped up in  The Mark of the Plague. Both books could be read as stand alones. I don’t know if there is a third book in the works, but, based on these two, I would read whatever Kevin Sands publishes next.

Jone Rush MacCulloch

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