No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

No Such Person, by Caroline B. Cooney, was published in 2015 by Delacorte.

Murder. One of the Allerdon sisters has been charged with a premeditated killing and taken to jail. It doesn’t seem possible—but it’s happening. What was supposed to be a typical summer is anything but for this seemingly ordinary family. Shortly after the Allerdons arrive at their cozy family cottage on the river, Lander meets and is smitten with a handsome young man, and they begin to date. Miranda has a bad feeling about her perfect sister’s new boyfriend. And when the family must suddenly deal with an unimaginable nightmare. Miranda can’t help feeling that the boyfriend has something to do with it. The police say they have solid evidence against Lander. Miranda wants to believe in her sister when she swears she is innocent. But as Miranda digs deeper into the past few weeks of Lander’s life, she wonders why everything keeps pointing to Lander’s guilt.

Rating: 2/5

Caroline B. Cooney was one of my favorite authors of my teenage years, offering the sort of mildly dark and angsty reads that I devoured at the time. I’ve wanted to return to her older books as an adult to see if my perception of them has changed any, but one of her newer books caught my attention instead.

No Such Person is a murder mystery, and a fairly tame one at that despite some of the more intense scenes at the end. Unfortunately, it’s pretty predictable, especially once some more details are revealed throughout the investigation. I started losing interest in the book once it became obvious what exactly had happened and the characters were still floundering around trying to figure it out.

The strongest aspect of the book is probably the setting and the characterization and interaction. Lander doesn’t do much but cry the whole time (I guess that’s not surprising, considering her position), but I liked the riverside interactions and the whole idea of the tranquil river community shocked by murder (a common trope in murder mysteries, but still done well here).

However, since this is a murder mystery, the atmosphere and setting of the book were not enough for me to think particularly highly of it. I liked it, yes, but I found the motive and the “behind the scenes” of the murder to be, if not far-fetched, at least poorly executed and a little random. I love intricate, detailed plots in mysteries, and No Such Person has no such thing. It’s simplified for the audience, perhaps, but I’ve had better murder mysteries in books like Between and even Before I Fall. This one was a little tame in comparison.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Young Adult

She wants to warn her sister again—to cry out, He’s bad news! Stay away from him!

But her sister is so happy.

And their mother, seeing this happiness, also lets it go. Lander’s happiness is worth a lot to her.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2vR43Hy

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Poison is Not Polite by Robin Stevens

Poison is Not Polite, by Robin Stevens, was published in 2016 by Simon & Schuster. It is the sequel to Murder is Bad Manners.

When Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong visit Daisy’s sprawling countryside estate for the holidays, Daisy’s mother throws her daughter an extravagant birthday tea party. Then one of the guests falls mysteriously ill—and everything points to poison. With wild storms preventing anyone from leaving (and the police from arriving), Daisy’s home is suddenly a very dangerous place to be. Everyone is keeping secrets. When someone very close to Daisy look suspicious, the Wells and Wong Detective Society must do everything they can to reveal the truth…no matter the consequences.

Rating: 4/5

Poison is Not Polite (Arsenic for Tea in the UK) continues the fun, charming yet surprisingly deep at times story that I found so delightful about Murder is Bad Manners. Daisy and Hazel are back with another murder mystery, this one establishing a bit more character for Daisy as her family members are all suspects.

I didn’t know whether or not I liked Daisy in the first book, and although this book gave her a bit more development I still don’t know how I feel. I found her a little less annoying in Poison because I understood her character better, but she’s not a character type I’ve ever really liked so the jury’s still out on her. Hazel, however, is delightful and Kitty and Beany are great additions to the detective society as well.

I found the mystery in this one a little more obvious than Murder—as well as some of the other reveals—but I also fell into the same kind of thinking that Daisy and Hazel did, which meant the reveal was still a surprise, if only in its execution as opposed to its “whodunit” value. Stevens is a remarkably good mystery writer, not just in putting together the pieces of a puzzle but also in having her characters figure it out. Hazel and Daisy never take logical leaps or stretch the evidence more than is warranted; everything is carefully thought out and executed by Stevens, which makes for a nice, natural flow to the book as a whole.

I’m still going to hold out on a 5/5 rating for this series until one of the books completely blows me away. Poison is Not Polite is great, but not excellent, and even though I’m thoroughly enjoying the series so far, the “wow” factor is not quite there yet. Good mystery and characters aside, there’s still something missing—and I’m not quite sure what it is yet.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade

“How handsome!” Aunt Saskia was staring at the watch, and her eyes were glinting. She looked as though she wanted to lick her lips.

“Oh—this?” asked Mr. Curtis jauntily. “A memento. I do like having beautiful things around me.”

“Do you indeed?” asked Uncle Felix, in his most silky voice.

They stared at each other down across the table. Everything had suddenly become very tense.

“Goodness!” cried Lady Hastings. “What has got into you all? We ought to be celebrating. Let’s have a toast. To the party! May this weekend be absolutely perfect!”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2sybnmL

Murder is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Murder is Bad Manners, by Robin Stevens, was published in 2015 by Simon & Schuster.

When boarding school students Hazel Wong and Daisy Wells set up their very own secret detective agency, they struggle to find any exciting mysteries to investigate. (Unless you count the case of Lavinia’s missing tie. Which they don’t.) Then Hazel discovers Miss Bell lying dead on the gym floor. Before Hazel can tell anyone what she’s seen, the body mysteriously disappears, seemingly without a trace. Now Hazel and Daisy not only have a murder to solve—they have to prove a murder happened in the first place….Can the Well and Wong Detective Society get to the bottom of the crime before the killer strikes again? And can Hazel and Daisy’s friendship stand the test?

Rating: 4/5

Murder is Bad Manners, also published as Murder Most Unladylike (a title I like better, actually), is everything that I love about MG or YA mysteries. The characters are interesting, the murder is intriguingly complex (if a little obvious, but I’ll put that down to me reading lots of mysteries), there’s humor sprinkled amidst the tension, and it’s the sort of book that sucks you in right away and makes you not want to put the book down until you’re done.

To be honest, the only reason I didn’t give it a 5/5 is that I want some room for the other books in the series. Also, there were some bits in the middle that I didn’t like as much as the rest because they seemed a trifle clumsy.

Oh, and Daisy drove me a little crazy at times, so there’s that. She was arrogant and dismissive of Hazel’s talents one too many times for me to really like her, and throughout the entire middle portion of the book, I kept rooting for Hazel to dump her as a friend since Daisy was an awful one. But Stevens does a good job of redeeming Daisy, at least a little, and implying that a lot of how Daisy acts is a persona she uses to hide her true self, as young people often do. So, by the end of the book, I had thawed slightly towards Daisy, although I still think she’ll need a lot of redemption for me to truly like her as a character.

Murder is Bad Manners is the first book in what I hope will continue to be an intriguing, fun, complex mystery series. I love a good mystery, especially when the audience of the book doesn’t bring down the intricacy that a mystery plot requires at times.  Hopefully, the other books in the series are as fun, charming, and engaging as I found this one.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade

“A teacher!” I gasped, horrified. “That’s why they’re all pretending that nothing’s wrong!”

“Well, not all of them did it,” Daisy pointed out. “But the one who did—whoever it was—has managed to bamboozle the others with that note. That’s what Mamzelle meant about not ‘prying into Miss Bell’s affairs.’ This is really it, Hazel. This means that it’s up to us! If the Detective Society doesn’t do something, nobody will!”

I had a momentary un-detective-like pang. “Are you sure we shouldn’t just go to the police?” I asked.

“Don’t be stupid,” said Daisy severely. “We don’t have any evidence yet. We don’t even have a body. They’d simply laugh at us. No, we’re on our own. And anyway, this is our murder case.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2r1j5UY

The Magician’s Tower by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The Magician’s Tower, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, was published in 2013 by Egmont. It is the sequel to The Wizard of Dark Street.

Despite her extraordinary magical abilities and sleuthing skills, Oona Crate’s detective agency has failed to take off. Bu a new challenge captures her attention—The Magician’s Tower Contest. Held every five years, no one has completed the array of dangerous tasks (such as racing on flying carpets or defeating a horde of angry apes). As the competition commences, a case emerges. A rare punchbowl—one with unparalleled magical powers—has disappeared from the carnival surrounding the Magician’s Tower. If Oona can find the culprit, she could use the bowl to answer her questions about her mother’s and sister’s tragic deaths so many years ago—was she really at fault?

Rating: 2/5

The Magician’s Tower is an underwhelming sequel to The Wizard of Dark Street. As much as I had my problems with the former, I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed the latter. The main problem, to me, is that Odyssey didn’t seem to have a set goal in mind for the sequel, so he cobbled together a few random things and threw in some old villains and ridiculous capers. The thing that redeemed The Wizard of Dark Street for me was the mystery; The Magician’s Tower mystery was set aside for some strange contest and its weakness showed in the rushed and contrived way it was explained, investigated, and solved.

That’s not to say I disliked The Magician’s Tower. I didn’t hate it. I didn’t want to stop reading it. But I thought Odyssey was simply rehashing a lot of things that had already been accomplished in the first book, and the villain reveal felt forced. Not to mention Oona seemed slightly less likeable in this book, or maybe I simply got more impatient with her “I know everything and only I can do things the right way and I won’t accept help” attitude.

I liked the eventual connection to the world and plot revealed in The Wizard of Dark Street, but I was hoping that Odyssey would do more with that than what he did. I wish there had been more overall setup to the contest as a whole, rather than a very rushed explanation at the beginning of the book. I wish that the entire book didn’t feel like some magical escapade meant to be funny but failing, with a weak mystery trying to thread its way through the nonsense.  Most of all, I wish that The Magician’s Tower felt less like a sequel written because the first book was popular and more like a sequel that actually wants to continue the story and expand on it.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade

“Oh, now, Samuligan, look what you’ve done,” said the Wizard, who had been drenched with tea and dribbled some of his pie down his beard.

True to form, Samuligan reached into his pocket and pulled out an entire mop, which he proceeded to use to clean up the spillage.

“Is that what you are brooding about?” the Wizard asked Oona as Samuligan dabbed at his beard with the mop head. The Wizard swatted it away. “That business with the missing crystal ball?”

“It wasn’t a crystal ball,” Oona said irritably. “It was called the Punchbowl Oracle.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2kyLyO2

“Why is This Night Different from All Other Nights?” by Lemony Snicket

“Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2015 by Little, Brown and Company.

Train travel! Murder! Librarians! A Series Finale! On all other nights, the train departs from Stain’d Station and travels to the city without stopping. But not tonight. You might ask, why is this night different from all other nights? But that’s the wrong question. Instead ask, where is this all heading? And what happens at the end of the line?

Rating: 2/5

I thought it appropriate to finish this series out today since I also finished A Series of Ufortunate Events on Netflix (an excellent adaptation. They also reference this book series in it).

“Why Is This Night Different from All Other Nights?” was a little disappointing, which perhaps I should not have found surprising considering my problems with The End. However, I enjoyed the previous two books enough that I was hoping for more than what this final book gave me.

I enjoyed the semi-tribute to Murder on the Orient Express that this book gives, and more than anything I enjoy the way Lemony Snicket is fleshed out from a shadowy, mysterious figure in A Series of Unfortunate Events to a real-live person in these prequels. The choices he has to make, particularly in this book, are not easy, and the results of those choices are not easy to deal with. I wish that the “am I a villain?” doubting path had not been taken, though, since Violet, Klaus, and Sunny wonder the same thing in ASOUE and it only reminded me how these books pale in comparison.

Above all, this book is mostly too predictable and strange to make me feel great about it. It was blindingly obvious who Hangfire was, as though Snicket had gotten tired of throwing out obscure clues and had given up even attempting to hide Hangfire’s identity in this final book. And the thing with the Bombinating Beast at the end was strange and didn’t really fit the nature of these books, at least in my opinion. Also, I’m still mad at what that implies about what happens to the Quagmires in The End.

Overall, I thought All The Wrong Questions, as a whole, starts out weak, has good parts in the middle, and ends weak, with many questions resolved but almost no satisfaction in their resolution. Also, I thought for sure that Snicket’s obsession with Ellington would mean she would be revealed to be Beatrice at the end, but maybe that was just supposed to be a precursor or a hint at Snicket’s future and how he acts around certain people.

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Children’s

“But what will you do when he’s here?” I asked, after a sip of fizzy water. “Ornette’s creation looks very much like the real statue, but once it’s in Hangfire’s hands he’ll know it’s a fake.”

“Once Hangfire comes aboard,” Moxie said, “he’ll be caught like a rat in a trap. The Thistle of the Valley won’t stop again until it reaches the city, where all the prisoners on board will be brought to trial. I have all our notes on what Hangfire’s been doing in this town. Once the authorities read my report, they’ll arrest Hangfire, and Dashiell Qwerty will go free.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2iQsLwF

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” by Lemony Snicket

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2014 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to “When Did You See Her Last?”.

Is Lemony Snicket a detective or a smoke detector?
Do you smell smoke? Young apprentice Lemony Snicket is investigating a case of arson but soon finds himself enveloped in the ever-increasing mystery that haunts the town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea. Who is setting the fires? What secrets are hidden in the Department of Education? Why are so many schoolchildren in danger? Is it all the work of the notorious villain Hangfire? How could you even ask that? What kind of education have you had? Maybe you should be in school?

Rating: 4/5

“Shouldn’t You Be in School?” is another good addition to the Wrong Questions series, a series that I’m enjoying more with each book. It almost makes me want to reread “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” because I might enjoy it more than I did the first time.

Beyond cameo appearances and explaining more about VFD, this book really cemented in my mind the fact that the Wrong Questions series is really just to show how incredibly clever and resilient Lemony Snicket is. It’s a wonder he never caught up to the Baudelaire children at all (except for possibly The Penultimate Peril, if you believe the theory that he was the taxi driver and took the sugar bowl away from Hotel Denouement) because as a thirteen-year-old he’s outsmarting, in some way, his enemies and his friends. The whole blank-book-library at the end kinda blew my mind a little, even if it didn’t really accomplish anything in terms of giving the protagonists a leg up on Hangfire.

This book also brings back some old, tried-and-true issues: who can you really trust? How far will someone go to protect/find someone they love? How incompent are the adults, anyway? I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how meaty these books have been, despite their silliness. And the mysteries in them are good, as well.

I’m still a little worried that the series will end without complete resolution in terms of the Bombinating Beast, Hangfire, Ellington Feint’s missing father, and all the other numerous little mysteries (Kit! The secret in the library! Ink! The music box! Books!), but I think at this point I’m too invested (and too aware of how these books go) to ultimately care much if it happens. I simply hope that the last book is as fun and as enticing of a mystery as I found “Shouldn’t You Be in School?”

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Children’s

“The arsonist is a moth-hater, all right,” Sharon said, sipping limeade, “and my new best friend Theodora was telling me that she knew just who it was.”

“We saw him this morning,” Theodora said, “swatting moths as usual.”

“You can’t be serious,” I said. “Dashiell Qwerty is a fine librarian.”

“I’m as shocked as you are, Snicket,” Theodora said. “In our line of work we’ve learned to trust, honor, and flatter librarians. But Qwerty is clearly a bad apple in a bowl of cherries.”

“Dashiell Qwerty wouldn’t hurt a fly,” Moxie said.

“You’re not listening, girlie,” Sharon said. “He’s hurting moths.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ipMHcH

“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket

“When Did You See Her Last?” by Lemony Snicket was published in 2013 by Little, Brown and Company. It is the sequel to “Who Could That Be at This Hour?”.

“I should have asked the question ‘How could someone who was missing be in two places at once?’ Instead, I asked the wrong question — four wrong questions, more or less. This is the account of the second.” In the fading town of Stain’d-by-the-Sea, young apprentice Lemony Snicket has a new case to solve when he and his chaperone are hired to find a missing girl. Is the girl a runaway? Or was she kidnapped? Was she seen last at the grocery store? Or could she have stopped at the diner? Is it really any of your business? These are All The Wrong Questions.

Rating: 3/5

“When Did You See Her Last?” is a surprisingly delightful little mystery—after the problems I had with “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” I was expecting the worst. But this second “Wrong Question” was not nearly so jarring as the first book, possibly because I was already prepared. I still think these are not nearly so memorable or as subtly brilliant as A Series of Unfortunate Events, but let’s give credit where credit is due: Lemony Snicket (or Daniel Handler) is good at absurdist humor and makes an absurd world (mostly) work.

For once, I didn’t really question the incompetence of all adults in this book—I think I’ve finally accepted that in Lemony Snicket world, children are the people who get things done and adults are either villainous, incompetent, useless, or plot devices.

I’m very curious to see if Beatrice makes an appearance (or Olaf!), if we find out what Kit was stealing in the museum (the sugar bowl, possibly?), and if these books will turn more towards “let’s reveal lots about VFD” rather than just have VFD as the shadowy organization where you never find out what it’s about or what it wants. And to be honest, I kind of hope it keeps up the mystery of VFD because it fits better with this series than it did with ASOUE. Probably because these books are much more film noir.

Also, it took me far too long to realize that “Partial Foods” was a play on “Whole Foods.”

Recommended Age Range: 10+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Children’s

Hungry’s was a small and narrow place, and a large and wide woman was standing just inside the doors, polishing the counter with a rag.

“Good afternoon,” she said.

I said the same thing.

“I’m hungry,” she said.

“Well, you’re probably in the right place.”

She gave me a frown and a menu. “No, I mean I’m Hungry. It’s my name. Hungry Hix. I own this place. Are you hungry?”

“No,” I said. “You are.”

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2g8jej8

The Wizard of Dark Street by Shawn Thomas Odyssey

The Wizard of Dark Street, by Shawn Thomas Odyssey, was published in 2011 by Egmont.

Oona Crate was born to be the Wizard’s apprentice, but she has another destiny in mind. Despite possessing the rare gift of Natural Magic, Oona wants to be a detective. Eager for a case she is determined to prove that logic is as powerful as wizardry. But when someone attacks her uncle—the Wizard of Dark Street—Oona is forced to delve into the world of magic.

Rating: 3/5

The Wizard of Dark Street has a good mystery and, although it suffers a little from infodumping and occasional melodramatic description, it’s got enough intrigue to it to make me want to pick up the next book. The world is interesting, even if a lot of information about it is tossed out all at once and the flow never quite seems natural, and Oona, though one of those “brooding, occasionally snarky and perceived as an outsider” protagonists, has her positive moments.

One of my problems with mysteries as a whole, which I also saw in this book, is that there is always some sort of clue that it seems the protagonist should simply not be able to guess based on the information given. Perhaps that’s a mistake in the author’s description, but whenever the novel lingers on gears turning in the mind and puzzle pieces clicking into place, I’ve noticed that what the protagonist figures out because of that is always just a little too perfect. There’s always that one little bit of information that is always assumed that the protagonist has no reason to assume—that is, no reason except that the plot requires it. There was one moment in the book where Oona thinks, “Ah-ha, this! Assumption this! Therefore, assume this and yes, it’s correct!” when there was no reason, that I saw, for her to make any assumption of the sort. Or maybe I’m simply bad at solving mysteries and all the clues make perfect sense and there’s no reason why Oona wouldn’t think and assume what she did based on what she knows…but it still seemed off to me.

The other thing that held this novel back, in my opinion, besides the logical leaps and the infodump worldbuilding, was the incredibly melodramatic descriptions whenever Oona faced something that shocked/terrified/upset her. One point at the end of the book is particularly bad. Perhaps a middle-grade audience needs to have it hammered into their minds with a brick that Oona is feeling this particular way for this particular reason, but for an older reader, that sort of thing grates like mad. That’s the problem with reading middle grades as an adult, I suppose—although I’ve read multiple middle grade books that don’t do this, so really, it’s a writing thing, not an audience thing.

However, despite my complaints, I did come away from The Wizard of Dark Street with a positive impression. It’s a pleasant fantasy mystery, and although I wish the mystery could have been delivered better, I admit that I am perhaps spoiled by the Agatha Christie books I’ve been reading. The humor, on the other hand, was great, especially the broken hip running gag. I’d pick up the sequel just for the promise of something similar.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Mystery, Fantasy, Middle Grade

Presently, the well-dressed, chubby New York boy spoke up. “What precisely does the document say?” he inquired.

“And you would be?” asked Mr. Ravensmith.

“Lamont John-Michael Arlington Fitch the Third,” the boy said. He stared at the document on the table. The contract was so long that it had been rolled into a thick scroll, with only the bottom portion showing, where the applicants were to sign their names.

“I’ll tell you what it says,” said Isadora Iree. “It says if you do not sign it, you won’t get the job.”

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2fUcbuA

The Creeping Shadow by Jonathan Stroud

The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud, was published in 2016 by Hyperion. It is the sequel to The Hollow Boy.

After leaving Lockwood & Co. four months ago, Lucy has become a freelance operative, hiring herself out to psychic investigation agencies that value her ever-improving skills in locating Sources and shutting down Visitors. Her new life of independence, complete with her own studio apartment, would be fine if it weren’t’ for having to work with incompetent agents and answer to meddling supervisors. And it does sometimes get lonely, even though she has the skull in the jar to annoy her with his leers and sarcastic jibes. One day Lucy receives a surprise visit from Lockwood, who tells her he needs a good listener for a tough assignment. Penelope Fittes, the leader of the giant Fittes Agency, wants them—and only them—to locate and remove the Source for the ghost of a legendary cannibal. Throughout this very dangerous undertaking, tensions remain high between Lucy and her former colleagues. What will it take to reunite the team?

Rating: 4/5

I’ve enjoyed each book in the Lockwood & Co. series more and more, and I ate up The Creeping Shadow. Creepy ghosts (seriously, the cannibal one is the creepiest yet), intriguing developments, and cute awkwardness between Lucy and Lockwood led up to an ending that I can say I truly did not see coming—and took the series in a whole new direction for the grand finale fifth book.

I said it in The Hollow Boy and I’ll say it again here: adding Holly to the picture and making Lucy leave Lockwood & Co. was truly a good thing for the series, which felt a little stagnant to me after the second book. I was ambivalent about Lucy in the first two books, grew to like her in the third, and now am vehemently behind her in the fourth. And her camaraderie with the skull (who I’ve found annoying in the past) works, so that her going after it made complete sense character-wise.

The plot revelations in this book were good, too—and reminded me strongly of Stranger Things, as any book with other dimensions will now do—and although I knew who the villain would be based on what happened in the third book, I was not expecting the Big Reveal at the end—and it was a fantastic whammy of an ending, too.

The supernatural/horror genre really is not my cup of tea, so it’s a testament to just how good Stroud is that I’m enjoying Lockwood & Co., in all of its spooky element, so thoroughly. I can’t wait for what the last book will reveal for these characters that I’ve grown to love.

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Supernatural, Mystery, Young Adult (maybe mature Middle Grade if they can handle scary)

He was here! Why was he here? Excitement and incredulity kept smashing together, like waves colliding at a jetty. There was so much noise going on in my mind that the first priority—making small talk—was a bit of a problem.

“How’s business with Lockwood and Co.?” I asked over my shoulder. “I mean, I see you in the papers all the time. Not that I’m looking for you, obviously. I just see stuff. But you seem to be doing okay, as far as I can gather. When I think about it. Which is rare. Do you take sugar now?”

He was staring at the clutter on my floor, blank-eyed, as if lost in thought. “It’s only been a few months, Luce. I haven’t suddenly started taking sugar in my tea…” Then he brightened, nudging the ghost-jar with the side of his shoe. “Hey, how’s our friend here doing?”

“The skull? Oh, it helps me out from time to time. Hardly talk to it, really…” To my annoyance, I noticed a stirring in the substance that filled the jar, implying a sudden awakening of the ghost. That was the last thing I wanted right now.

You can buy this book here: http://amzn.to/2ffJ6ym

Absolutely Truly by Heather Vogel Frederick

Absolutely Truly, by Heather Vogel Frederick, was published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.

At almost six feet tall, twelve-year-old Truly Lovejoy stands out in a crowd where she likes it or not. (She doesn’t.) So when her family moves to teeny-tiny, super boring Pumpkin Falls, New Hampshire, Truly doesn’t stand a chance of blending in. But when helping out at the family bookstore one day, Truly finds a mysterious letter inside an old copy of Charlotte’s Web and soon she and her new friends are swept up in a madcap treasure hunt around town. While chasing clues that could spell danger, Truly discovers there’s more to Pumpkin Falls than meets the eye—and that blending in can be overrated.

Rating: 2/5

Absolutely Truly is a decent middle grade mystery, although I prefer mysteries to be a little more complicated and less “let me tell you about all the thinking my character is doing complete with comparison to fitting pieces into a jigsaw puzzle until it all clicks together.” Frederick relies a little too much on overused mystery tropes and the entire thing stands on very shaky ground for me. I don’t believe that an envelope survived for twenty-ish years taped to a bridge, exposed to the elements as it was (and if the bridge was covered, how did Truly fall off of it anyway?).

The family aspect of the plot was okay, although I wish Truly’s dad hadn’t been the stereotypical military dad type and that Frederick had dwelt a little more on how Truly feels about her place in the family. There are several times where she feels unappreciated and invisible, but it’s never resolved or brought up again at the end. The end bit with her dad was nice, though, if a little cheesy.

Absolutely Truly isn’t that bad of a book—it just didn’t hit the right notes for me. The mystery was too simple and unoriginal, a lot of the elements of it didn’t make sense to me from the start, and overall it felt merely average. A good book for kids, but I would give them better mysteries to read.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: Some implied PTSD and mentions of IEDs.

Genre: Mystery, Middle Grade, Realistic

It was sealed shut, and as far as I could tell had never been opened. Why would someone leave a letter stuck in an old copy of Charlotte’s Web? Had they meant to mail it, and forgotten? Or had they left it there deliberately for someone to find? There wasn’t an address on the envelope, or even a real name—just the capital letter B. But the envelope had a stamp on it, like it was all ready to send.

So why hadn’t it been?

You can buy this here: http://amzn.to/2d40RyN