J Mystery

INSPECTOR FLYTRAP by Tom Angleberger and Cece Bell

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Inspector Flytrap is a BIG DEAL detective. He only takes big deal cases. Missing pickle paper weight? Not a big deal. A caper at the art gallery?   Now that sounds more like it! With his trusty skateboard and his assistant goat, there’s no case too big for this plant!   So why don’t his clients seem grateful?…

 This very quick, very silly read features short chapters, comical illustrations, and a ridiculous plot that will most likely appeal to readers in grades 2 and 3.  It may grab some reluctant readers. It is unlikely, however, to appeal as much to older readers  or the established Origami Yoda fan base.   Although nominally a mystery, it is really just  humor.   If you’re looking for a humorous noir-style mystery series for younger readers, I would recommend the Chet Gecko  series–noting that the reading level on Chet Gecko is slightly higher.

GHOST KNIGHT by Cornelia Funke

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Jon is being sent to boarding school, and it’s all because of The Beard. John had hated his mother’s new boyfriend since the moment he moved into the house. He had done everything he could think of to get rid of The Beard–pranks, open cruelty, trying to turn his little sisters against him– but it is all to no avail. The end result is that Jon get sent to boarding school while The Beard stays in his home. Jon is determined to hate his time in Salisbury. But he never imagined that Salisbury could be a dangerous place for him. His first night in the boarding school, however, convinces him otherwise. He peers out the window and sees four blood stained ghosts on horseback, the marks of a hangman’s rope about their necks.  The next day at dusk the horsemen chased him across the school grounds. They call him Hartgill, his mother’s maiden name, and vow that just as they have slain his ancestors, they will not rest until Jon is dead. The only person who believes Jon’s wild tales of murderous ghosts is Ella, whose grandmother leads Salisbury’s ghost tours.  Not only does Ella believe him, she knows who can help: William Longespee a 12th century Crusader whose ghost still lives in the cathedral.  But John soon learns that William has a tragic and bloody history of his own.

This book wasn’t quite what I was expecting. Its macabre spectres fall easily into the horror genre, yet there is humor in this book, and Jon’s evolving relationship with his future stepfather is central to the fantasy plot–far more than a framing device.  Perhaps the most fascinating element of this story is the medieval history that Funke weaves so seamlessly into Jon and Ella’s lives.  At times it seems like there are three plots running concurrently through this book. The plot that I had initially thought to be the primary one is wrapped up about two thirds of the way through the book, while the other two continue. It is an unusual way to create a story arc, but I did not dislike it. I found myself so invested in William Longespee’s story that I was eager to keep reading even after the murderous ghosts were vanquished.  This book will have crossover appeal for middle grade fans of either horror or fantasy.  I highly recommend the audiobook.

If you liked The Ghost Knight, you might like Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

Anticipated Sequels of 2014–Updated

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There are some cliff-hangers just itching to be resolved this year!  Here are some of the 2014 sequels and series finales for books that I’ve blogged the past couple of years.

Hollow City by Ransom Riggs — released January 2014
The long, long, long awaited sequel to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children has finally arrived!  I just started it, and a quick piece of advice–make sure you either remember Miss Peregrine really well or you reread it before you start Hollow City.  The sequel picks up exactly where book one left off and it doesn’t give you many reminders.  I know those cheesy shoe-horned in summaries used to drive me nuts when I was a kid (“The main character thought back on his previous year, which had included so many important plot points, such as. . . . “), but now that I don’t have time to reread an entire series every time a new book comes out I’m kind of lost without them.  Just one of the many downsides of adulthood.

The Boy in the Smoke by Maureen Johnson — February 24, 2014
What we really want is a sequel to The Madness Underneath because of the cliff-hanger-of-shock-and-weeping.  But instead she’s giving us a novella prequel to tide us over.  At least we’ll get to hear about Stephen’s childhood.  Not that it will be so much comforting as increase our anxiety and anticipation for . . .

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson — September 16, 2014
Ok, Maureen.  Make with the resolution already.

File Under: 13 Suspicious Incidents by Lemony Snicket — April 1, 2014
Speaking of prequels and teasers, 13 short mystery stories starring detective Lemony Snicket will be coming out this April.  But what we are really waiting for is . . 

Shouldn’t You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket–September 30, 2014
Book three in the All the Wrong Questions series.

Blood of Olympus by Rick Riordan — October 7, 2014
Percy Jackson’s final installment (take two) will be released this fall and answer all of our burning questions.  Will Gaea’s evil plan succeed and the mortal world perish!?  Ok, we can probably guess the answer to that one.  But is he going to kill off one of the demigods?  I don’t know about you guys, but that prophecy has me kind of antsy… Any guesses about who might break their oath with a final breath?

HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISMS: MAGIC, MYSTERY, AND A VERY STRANGE ADVENTURE by Lissa Evans

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Stuart Horten is devastated when his family moves back to his dad’s hometown right at the start of summer vacation.  What will he do for months living in a strange place where he doesn’t know anyone?  But soon after he arrives, he stumbles upon a family mystery.  His great-uncle, the magician Teeny-Tiny Tony Horten disappeared decades ago, leaving behind the legend of a hidden workshop and magic wishing well.  When Stuart discovers a secret stash of gold coins in the bottom of a trick box that Uncle Tony willed to Stuart’s father, Stuart begins to follow a mechanical trail to uncover the mystery.  His only concern is that April, May, and June—three ten-year-old “investigative journalists”—seem to keep getting in his way . . .

If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society and/or the new Lemony Snicket series, All the Wrong Questions, check out this new series!  There are plenty of riddles to solve and puzzles to piece together in this gadget-heavy fantasy.  Horten’s Miraculous Mechanisms is followed by Horten’s Incredible Illusions.  

THE EAR, THE EYE, AND THE ARM by Nancy Farmer

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Tendai, Rita, and Kuda are bored with living in the compound.  In 2194, Zimbabwe is a dangerous place and their father (Zimbabwe’s chief of security) insists that they stay behind the high locked walls and never venture outside.  But curiosity leads the three children to sneak out to explore the slums.  Unfortunately, their sheltered life has not prepared them for the world outside and almost immediately, they are kidnapped.  Frantic, their parents resort to hiring Zimbabwe’s most talented detectives: three mutant outcasts known as the Ear, the Eye, and the Arm.  As the detectives use their special abilities to track the children, Tendai, Rita, and Kuda attempt to escape from their captors and wind up on a wild and dangerous adventure all across the impoverished country.

The dystopian worldview and suspenseful plot of this 1995 Newbery Honor book will be appealing to many fans of the Hunger Games and similar sci-fi novels.  In addition to crafting an exciting plot, Farmer uses the extreme division of classes in her futuristic world to explore the tension between progress and tradition as well as themes of social responsibility.  This book has been one of my favorites since my childhood, and I highly recommend it to middle grade and teen sci-fi fans.  

“WHO COULD THAT BE AT THIS HOUR?” by Lemony Snicket

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Thirteen-year-old Lemony Snicket had an unusual education that prepared him for anything—from solving dangerous and convoluted crimes to gracefully escaping from one’s parents through a bathroom window.  But unfortunately, Snicket’s preparations are thwarted when the chaperone to whom he is apprenticed changes her plans and takes him to an obscure seaside village–away from the city where the rest of his colleagues were counting on his help with something big, important, and (as most things in Lemony Snicket’s life are) mysterious.  In the small village of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, however, Snicket seems to have stumbled into another mystery, far too complex for his bumbling chaperone to solve.  It will be up to him to figure out who stole an ancient, worthless statue and why someone would say something was stolen when it was never theirs to begin with.  Unfortunately, he keeps asking all the wrong questions. . . .

Although the Series of Unfortunate Events was not my favorite series, Daniel Handler (the author behind the “Lemony Snicket” pen name) also wrote the YA novel Why We Broke Up, which became one of my favorite books the moment I read it.  So I was excited to give his newest Lemony Snicket series a try.  The writing style of this new series is contrived and difficult to follow, but this is clearly intentional on Handler’s part to help create an over-the-top noir mystery atmosphere.  Though it was not an instant favorite, the plot is intriguing, and I am excited for the release of book two of the All the Wrong Questions series in October 2013 to find out what happens next!  I highly recommend this book to fans of the Series of Unfortunate Events and of M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts and to readers who like noir mysteries, such as the Chet Gecko books.

EMMY AND THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING RAT by Lynne Jonell

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Emmy used to be happy, back when people noticed her, before her parents got rich and forgot she existed, traveling sometimes for months at a time and leaving Emmy with her terrible new nanny, Miss Barmy.  Now the students in her class seem to look right through her; her teacher can’t even remember her name.  In fact, the only creature who notices Emmy is her class pet rat–and for some reason, Emmy can hear him speak.  One day, in a fit of rebelliousness, Emmy sets her rat free and decides to skip her gymnastics class and explore her town instead.  That is how she happens upon Professor Vole’s rodent shop and sees Miss Barmy place a mysterious, secret order for rodents.  What’s more, she finds a caged rat in the shop that is identical to the rat she set free.  And the twin rat, along with all of the other rodents, are labeled with strange special powers.  Sure that something sinister is happening, Emmy is determined to find out the secret of the rats and to stop Miss Barmy and Professor Vole from whatever evil they might be plotting.  Unfortunately, Miss Barmy is on to her and it will take all of Emmy’s cleverness–and a lot of help from her friends Joe and the Rat–to solve the mystery before it’s too late.

This book is a fun, silly, and suspenseful story.  It has plenty of mystery and intrigue to keep you turning pages, as long as you have a taste for the absurd and unbelievable.  Personally, I enjoyed it and would recommend it to middle grade readers who like fantasy set in the real world.

If you liked Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat ,you might also like Mousenet and Whales on Stilts