Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Twisted Summer by Willo Davis Roberts

This book was written by the author of Don't Hurt Laurie, but I gave it a rating of three out of five. Cici's family always looks forward to summer vacation at the lakeside cottage with grandparents and cousins. The family wasn't able to visit last summer, and they just found out that a girl was murdered by the lake. Brody, the brother of a boy that Cici likes, was convicted of the crime and is now in prison. Cici decides that the evidence doesn't make sense, so she plays detective to discover the real murderer. However, she is surprised by some of her discoveries, and the murderer may know what she's up to. That can be deadly!

The plot was interesting, but I never really felt the suspense of the mystery. It seemed like Cici's detective work arose out of curiosity, so I didn't feel the conflict as much. The climax offered some tension, but that was during the last fourth of the book. There was an unexpected twist during the resolution of the plot.


The Calder Game by Blue Balliett

This book was written by the same author as Chasing Vermeer, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Calder and his two friends enjoy finding adventure and looking for patterns in their lives. Calder was named after a famous artist, and many of the artist's sculptures start appearing all over the place. Calder and his father travel to England where they discover a new sculpture by the artist has recently been erected in a small village. Several days later, Calder and the large sculpture disappear. There are no clues as to what happened, and no one knows if the two disappearances are related. Calder's two friends are flown overseas to help the police find him. The more days that pass, the less chance there is that he will be found alive.

The plot was interesting, because Calder went from being the main character to the main conflict in the story. His disappearance is the main focus for the second half of the book. Readers will find themselves trying to figure out the location of the missing sculpture, and they will also start thinking like Calder to try to find him. The plot moved a little slowly for my liking, but having the main character disappear was unusual.

The lexile level from lexile.com is 830.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Max Cassidy: Escape From Shadow Island by Paul Adam

I found this on a recommended summer reading list, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Max is the son of a world-famous escape artist, and he's following in his father's footsteps. However, two years earlier, his father turned up missing in Santo Domingo, and his mother was convicted of his murder. A mysterious man tells Max that his father is still alive, but the man turns up dead before Max can get more details. Max heads to Santo Domingo to find information about his father's disappearance, but the local police are corrupt and try to force him back to England. Max figures out that the secrets he needs must be found on Shadow Island, and he's not going to leave until he finds some answers.

This plot is similar to the Alex Rider and Young James Bond books. Max doesn't have any super powers or fancy inventions, but he has the escape skills of his father. I enjoyed how he used these skills to escape from the corrupt police force and other dangerous characters. The action moved along nicely, and the author did a nice job of making the conflict grow as Max got closer to the truth. He was threatened, arrested, imprisoned, and nearly died while trying to escape. You should be prepared to read a sequel to this book, because Max is left with more searching to do after the story's resolution.

The Stalker by Joan Lowery Nixon

The StalkerNixon is a classic mystery writer for teens, and I gave this book a rating of four out of five. The mother of Jennifer's best friend is murdered, and the police arrest her friend for the crime. Jennifer doesn't believe it, so she convinces a retired police officer to help her find out the truth. They uncover some secrets about Stella Trax, the deceased mother, and find a number of other people who might have wanted to kill her. However, the killer knows what Jennifer is up to and is ready to stop her.

An interesting style to this book concerns the point of view. The odd number chapters tell the plot of the story in third-person, limited omniscient. The even number chapters are written in first-person from the killers point of view. This allows the reader to know the murderer's thoughts as Jennifer collects information. It's evident that the killer becomes more worried and threatening as Jennifer and the retired detective get closer to the truth.

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael Beil

The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of RocamadourThis book was suggested by one of my students and our school librarian, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Sophie, Margaret, and Rebecca are in school one day when Sophie notices a mysterious face looking at her from the building next door. It turns out the face belongs to an older woman with a mystery. Her father left her daughter scavenger-hunt clues to find a birthday gift, but he died before giving them to her. And that was about fifteen years ago. The husband was an archaeologist, and he said the gift would be a "treasure". The three girls follow the clues leading to the treasure, but they discover someone else is looking for it too. The treasure could be worth millions! The mysterious rival could be the ex-husband, the snoopy housekeeper, or someone else the kids don't suspect. To complicate things, a cute boy is involved which creates some conflict and distraction.

This book won't appeal to everyone. I found the clues interesting, because they seemed almost impossible to solve. I liked how the author made each clue related to a different school subject area. The setting was mostly in a school and the church next door, so that tended to decrease the suspense a bit. There were a couple of places where the author described the solution to the clues, almost like lessons in school. The climax was creative, and I liked how the author happily resolved all of the problems.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes Book Two by Catherine Sadler

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's the Adventures…This book is an adapted version for adolescent readers, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. The book contains several short mysteries, and the main character is the famous, fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. In the first story, a man wants to give a young woman half of a lost treasure, but his brother is killed and the treasure is lost. The second mystery concerns a stolen gem that turns up in the stomach of a goose, and the third mystery is about a girl who is murdered inside of a locked room.

Sherlock Holmes's strength is his ability to make inferences from his careful observations. Other characters see the same things, but he is able to make connections and deductions from them. For example, by looking at an old pocket watch, he was able to figure out that a man had inherited it from his father, had done well financially but had fallen on hard time, and had been a drunk. The story is narrated by Holmes's long-time assistant, Dr. Watson. This book is a nice bridge to the more sophisticated mysteries of Sherlock Holmes.

Strike Three You're Dead by Josh Berk

Strike Three, You're DeadThis book was recommended from our school library, and I gave it a rating of four out of five. Lenny, Mike, and Other Mike (that's what they call him!) love baseball and the Phillies; actually, Other Mike is not as obsessed as Lenny and Mike. Lenny wins a contest and gets to announce one inning of a Phillies' game, but the game never lasts long enough for that to happen when the 19-year-old pitcher dies on the mound. The boys, along with an unlikely helper, are convinced the pitcher was murdered, so they set out to find the killer. Unless the killer kills them first.

The plot was easy to follow, and it was fun to read about the interaction of the boys. The suspects kept switching around as the boys found more clues, but I had a hunch about the killer's identity early in the plot. There were many references to baseball, so baseball and mystery fans can both enjoy this book.