YA Mystery

ALL FALL DOWN by Ally Carter

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Everyone thinks Grace is crazy, but she’s not.  She saw the scar-faced man shoot her mother.  She knows the fire wasn’t an accident.  But the lack of a bullet wound in the coroner’s report and the lack of evidence on security cameras led to years of shrinks and being shuffled from school to school.  Now she’s been sent to Adria to live with her grandfather the ambassador who hasn’t seen her since her mother’s death.  After so long away, Adria is both familiar and foreign, and reminders of her mother are everywhere.  But when Grace stumbles into a secret meeting in the abandoned Iranian embassy, she recognizes the scar-faced man instantly.  Dismissed by her grandfather as fatigued and confused, Grace must seek the help of new friends and friends from her childhood to navigate the hidden tunnels of Embassy Row and find her mother’s killer before he kills again.

This fast-paced, suspenseful mystery features a spirited and mischievous heroine and a cast of colorful supporting characters.  The gradual revelation of clues and an unreliable narrator make the ending difficult to guess but allow the reader to remain constantly involved in puzzling out the mystery.  A thrilling start to what promises to be a compelling series!  This book will likely appeal to mystery/thriller loving teens of a variety of ages.

THE HAUNTING OF SUNSHINE GIRL by Paige McKenzie

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Sunshine doesn’t mind moving from Texas to Washington State. She has to leave her good friends behind, but she still has her best friend–her mother–and she is thrilled that her mom got this awesome new job opportunity. But when they arrive in their new house, it quickly becomes clear to Sunshine that something is wrong. There are strange noises in the night, and unexplained occurrences that can only mean one thing: ghosts. But her mother doesn’t believe her. And worse than that, something seems to be taking hold of her mother’s mind and changing her. With the help of her new friend Nolan, Sunshine races to find out what is happening to her mother before it is too late, and in the process, stumbles upon a secret about herself that she never could have imagined.

I never got into the web series, of the same name but I loved this novel adaptation, which has a quicker start, more character development, and a fleshed-out plot.  It has all of the elements of a creepy ghost story, as well as the start of a suspenseful fantasy series with an endearing heroine. I highly recommend it to teen readers to enjoy ghost stories, coming-of-age stories, and suspense!

TWISTED FATE by Norah Olson

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Ally has always been the sweet, perfect one in the family.  So it is not surprising to her younger sister, Syd, when she begins baking blueberry muffins for the weird new guy next door. She seems to see only the good in him. But Syd can tell that there is something sinister in Graham’s past. His obsession with film-making is not just artistic; it’s creepy.  But Ally fails to see Graham’s dark side, and the closer she gets to him, the more certain Syd becomes that she is in great danger.

GENERAL SPOILERS FOLLOW IN MY ASSESSMENT

It is rare that an ending causes me to strongly dislike a book that I had been greatly enjoying. Unfortunately, that was the case with this novel. That said, I do think that this book will find its readers. It is written in a very suspenseful style which makes it difficult to put down. But because of the ending, it will be best for people who enjoy crazy random twists in their books. I like twists sometimes, but I felt that this particular twist took away from what had been a very intriguing suspenseful plot.  For those who are really into twists, though, it may just seem like an added bonus.

THE BOOK OF LIES by Mary Horlock

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The police think that Nicolette’s death was an accident—a drunken teenager wandering too close to the edge of the cliff.  They are wrong.  Cat killed her—a fact which still surprises Cat, to some extent.  It shouldn’t surprise her, though.  It was her fate as a Rozier.  Ever since the German occupation of their Guernsey Island home, Roziers have been falling into dangerous friendships with fatal consequences and covering it all up in blankets of lies.  But now Cat is ready to uncover the truth, both about Nic’s death and her Uncle Charlie’s experience with the Nazis.

This intriguing novel is part historical fiction, part mystery, and part angsty-and-self-destructive-rebellious-teen fiction.  Both the contemporary and historical plots keep you turning pages.  The novel is marketed for adults, although some teens will certainly enjoy it as well.  I would recommend this book to readers who are interested in WWII historical fiction and readers who like suspenseful stories about dysfunctional families/friendship drama.

SHE IS NOT INVISIBLE by Marcus Sedgwick

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Only at Heathrow airport does Laureth realize the gravity of what she has done.  Technically, she has kidnapped her seven-year-old brother, Benjamin.  But it was all for good reason.  Laureth is convinced that her father is in danger in America.  A stranger found his notebook of writing ideas just lying on the ground next to a railroad track–and Laureth’s father never goes anywhere without his notebook.  When her mother won’t listen to her concerns, Laureth decides to take matters into her own hands and travel to America to find him.  But she can’t do it on her own.  Laureth is blind, and she needs someone to help her navigate through the airport and the city.  So Laureth and Benjamin arrive in New York City and begin the search for their father.  But when a series of coincidences complicate their search, they begin to wonder if their father’s obsession with writing a book about coincidence has led him down a dangerous path.

This novel is part thriller, part mystery, and part treatise on the theory of synchronicity (coincidence).  It definitely kept me turning pages.  But in the end, the stakes were not actually very high so the conclusion was not overly satisfying.  Still, an intriguing read for teens who like character-driven mysteries/thrillers.

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?

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Arthur Conan Doyle

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The death of Sir Charles Baskerville would seem on the surface to be nothing more than an old man’s heart attack.  But the look of terror on Sir Charles’ face, the nearby paw print of a giant hound, and the ancient legend of the Hound of the Baskervilles which has plagued the family for a century are enough to prompt Dr. Mortimer to call in the assistance of Sherlock Holmes.  After an initial study of the case it is clear to Holmes that Charles Baskerville’s death was murder and that the new tenant of Baskerville Hall, the baronet Henry Baskerville, may be in grave danger.  So it is that Dr. Watson travels to Baskerville Hall with Sir Henry and the most famous and terrifying of Sherlock Holmes adventures unfolds on the dark moor.

For lovers of mystery and horror, The Hound of the Baskervilles remains a classic.  Through Watson’s recollections, diary entries, and letters, the suspenseful mystery comes together and the reader, along with Dr. Watson, is challenged to sift through the many complications and red herrings to tease out the true culprit and motive.  A great book that may even be of interest to advanced 5th-6th grade readers, as well as teens and adults!

THE NAME OF THE STAR by Maureen Johnson

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After growing up in a small town in southern Louisiana, Rory is excited to spend her senior year of high school studying abroad in London.  It is a big change—living in a new culture with a strange academic system and attending a boarding school where you are stuck living with everyone in your class, whether you like them or not.  But Rory gradually finds good friends in Jazza and Jerome, and her life settles into a comfortable rhythm.  That is, until Jack the Ripper shows up.  The murders occur on the anniversaries of Jack the Ripper’s infamous attacks, and they mimic his style exactly.  But no one can see the murderer—not even on camera—except Rory.  Now her life is turned upside down as she has to figure out who the Ripper is, how she can see him, and most importantly, whether she and her friends are in danger.

What begins as a simple, realistic fiction about girls at boarding school ends a suspenseful supernatural thriller.  Starting about halfway through, I couldn’t put it down!   As usual, Maureen Johnson was spot on in her portrayal of teen relationship angst and dorm-life drama.  And her descriptions of Rory’s life in England took me back to my days of studying abroad in the UK.  This book was right up my alley—a fast-paced, character driven, fantasy-but-almost-sci-fi murder mystery.  I highly recommend it to teens who enjoy books in any of these genres!

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.  

THE WESTING GAME by Ellen Raskin

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Sixteen seemingly unconnected people are invited to live in Sunset Towers, a strange apartment building with the West wall made solely of window glass, looking out toward the beautiful sunsets and millionaire Samuel Westing’s old mansion.  But when several of the children sneak into the Westing house on a dare and discover the millionaire’s dead body, the sixteen strangers learn that they are not unconnected after all.  They are all named as heirs in Samuel Westing’s will.  The will itself, however, is unconventional to say the least.  It claims that Samuel Westing was murdered by someone in Sunset Towers and challenges the heirs to find the murderer in order to inherit the $200 million fortune that Westing left behind.  The heirs divide into eight teams, and each team receives a different clue.  Now the race is on to discover who killed Samuel Westing and nab the $200 million before the mysterious killer strikes again.

Anyone who enjoys the Thirty-Nine Clues series should check out this 1979 Newbery Award winner.  Although similar in plot, however, the style could not be more different.  Sixteen eccentric characters compete in a bizarre and confusing game that will keep the reader as invested as the characters in puzzling it out.  Ultimately, however, the point of the story is not the murder mystery but the development of the characters individually and as a community.

If you liked The Westing Game, try The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  If you enjoyed the somewhat eccentric characters, you may also enjoy A Wrinkle in Time and Saffy’s Angel.