Friday, June 2, 2017

Mysterium #1: The Black Dragon by Julian Sedgwick

The Black Dragon (Mysterium, #1)My name is Danny Woo, and I don't really know what's going on. Aunt Laura brought me to Hong Kong to see where my mother was born, but now my aunt's been kidnapped. She was writing a story about a violent gang called the Black Dragon, but Zamora and I have heard stories about a super-secret international crime syndicate called the Forty-nine that may be controlling all the gangs in the world. I'm still trying to get over the sudden deaths of my parents, but I'm slowly realizing that my dad may have had a secret life. He was too careful to make a mistake and drown during his most famous escape trick. Isn't it suspicious that my mother died in fire less than a week later? The gas explosion at my school now doesn't feel like an accident. Is someone out to get me? I'm not sure who I can trust in Hong Kong, certainly not the police. What about Sing Sing and the man in the white suit? I must find some way to rescue my aunt.

This book was a pleasant surprise from my local library. Danny's parents were performers in the Mysterium circus, and the book frequently brought up memories from that time. Some were pleasant, but others revealed questions about his parents deaths. Danny learned magic tricks, escape skills, and other circus hints from his father that were used throughout the plot. However, his escapes were literally life or death. Zamora was a dwarf strongman in the circus, and he protects Danny during the frequent dangers. He likes using his muscles, so Danny usually comes up with the safer ideas. The book is full of adventure, as the pair follows clues all over the city. The added twists of a corrupt police force and shady characters caused me to doubt the motives of almost everyone. The leader of the Black Dragon was a bit of a surprise. I'm still not sure why criminals want Danny so badly, so I hope to get more clues in the sequel.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Mysterium #2: The Palace of Memory by Julian Sedgwick

Mysterium: 2: The Palace of MemoryMy name is Sing Sing, and we still don't have any idea why the Forty-Nine want Danny dead. I found him in Barcelona where the Mysterium circus is being revived, and now someone has attempted to kill his best friend Zamora, the strongman dwarf. Danny is convinced the same person who killed his father is responsible, and he thinks decoding his father's messages will help solve the mystery. Danny also thinks someone in the Mysterium is involved; I agree his suspicions about the Klown may be correct. It wasn't until later that we learned a hired assassin has been stalking Danny, and she has never failed an assignment. However, the secret uncovered in his father's hidden stash is a life-changer!

I think followers of Alex Rider and Young James Bond will enjoy this series too. Danny is a normal kid with unusual talents who is caught up in dangerous adventure. He's developed his skills by growing up in the circus family, and his abilities to escape locks, mesmerize people, and notice details come in very handy when solving the mystery. The book doesn't utilize the special weapons of Alex Rider novels, but Danny's talents seem almost magical. Zamora was his main sidekick in the previous book, but Sing Sing fills the role this time. She was raised by an "uncle" and learned to practice kung fu, but she also has unknown circus talents that are useful. She didn't say much about her family, but this book uncovered a big secret about her mother. The resolution of the plot still didn't explain why the Forty-Nine are so determined to kill Danny, so it looks like that will be the on-going conflict throughout the series. It seems the books were actually released in Great Britain, but they're slowly being published now in the United States. I recommend the series, but I'm not sure when the next book will be available.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Murder Is Bad Manners by Robin Stevens

Murder Is Bad Manners (Wells and Wong, #1)My name is Hazel Wong, and the Wells & Wong Detective Society has uncovered its first murder mystery. Don't tell anyone, but I found the body of Miss Bell on the academy's gym floor, but it was gone moments later when I returned with Daisy. The staff thinks Ms. Bell hurriedly quit and left the school, so there's no police investigation. Daisy and I were still sorting out suspects when Ms. Tennyson was murdered too! Does this have anything to do with the student found dead in the gym last year? The killer must be a staff member, and several teachers have motives and were around the gym when Ms. Bell died. I can't believe any of them would actually kill a person, but one of them obviously did it. We are getting closer to solving the crimes, but are our lives now in danger?

This book would make a nice starter story for young readers who are interested in moving up to a murder mystery. The case is easy to follow, and clues pop up everywhere. However, experienced readers of mystery won't care for it. Daisy makes many assumptions about evidence that real detectives would never make. Ms. Bell must have died from a fall off the balcony, because her body was right below it. One teacher couldn't be a suspect, because Daisy didn't think there was any way the teacher could hurt someone. Hazel and Daisy make a good team, although I don't like Daisy's character. Daisy is bossy, doesn't respect Hazel's ideas, and makes the evidence fit her preconceived notions. It's not until later in the book that Daisy realizes Hazel has some insightful thoughts and considers the evidence like a detective. Their investigation becomes much more focused and logical once Daisy starts listening to Hazel. Cute title for a book!

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Falcon's Malteser by Anthony Horowitz

The Falcon's Malteser (Diamond Brothers, #1)My name is Nick Diamond, and my brother is the worst detective in the world! Luckily, he has me to help. A dwarf paid us $500 to hold an envelope for him, but then the Fat Man threatened our lives and the dwarf ended up dead. The envelope holds a box of Malteser candies, but how can it be the key to finding five million dollars? I located the dwarf's girlfriend but she was captured, my brother got himself arrested for murder (it looks bad when you're holding the smoking gun), and I've almost been blown up by a grenade. 

This book is a humorous twist on typical mysteries, and it mirrors old mystery novels. It includes gloomy, rundown parts of town, hard-nosed cops, and a classic collection of crooks and thugs. Nick's brother was a terrible cop, and he's a worse detective. Nick's the one interpreting clues and unraveling the mystery, although I was surprised that his brother was in jail as the plot moved on. I would have enjoyed his cluelessness as the truth started to unfold. The plot included a good amount of action and suspense, as Nick unbelievably escaped death several times. Surviving the grenade was a bit lucky, but his escape from the deserted office building was ingenious. The author was able to keep me wondering about the true antagonist, the Fat Man was the obvious choice, but I had doubts about other characters too. I was able to predict which one ended up with the money, although I didn't know the details until the end. This is fun, short mystery!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Snakes & Stones by Lisa Fowler

Snakes and StonesMy name is Chestnut, and my Daddy stole us kids from our Mama. We been traveling around the country for two years now, and I'm gettin' tired of lyin' for him. We live out of a horse-drawn wagon, and he's cheatin' people by selling them his amazin' elixir. Heck, it's just a bottle of water and grass, and Daddy's been beaten by angry mobs when they find out. I don't know why he took us from Mama, but I know things'll be okay if I can find her. Daddy'd be plenty angry if he knew I been hangin' posters around towns we been in, but I know Mama will see'm and find us. I already know he don't love me, and he don't need any more reason to get mad at me. But we just met Abraham, a colored man from Daddy's past, and he sayin' things about Daddy that don't make any sense. He sayin' Daddy's a kind man who gives money to orphans, but that ain't right, is it?

This book told a nice story of a young girl who wanted nothing more than to be reunited with her mother. She was obsessed with it but didn't really understand the whole situation. Her father was a con man, and she didn't feel much love for him. He always provided for Chestnut and her siblings, but she didn't feel any closeness to him. The introduction of Abraham created new issues for her, as he described her father as a kind and generous man. The color of Abraham's skin also opened her eyes to injustices in society, as she saw how people treated him. In the end, it was pretty clear that Chestnut's plans to reunite her family was going to backfire. The only question was how bad would things get?

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Blind Guide to Normal by Beth Vrabel

A Blind Guide to NormalMy name is Ryder, and I have my eye on you, ha ha! My right eye is fake, and some people freak when I pop it out (like my homeroom teacher!) I'm starting eighth grade at a new school, I'm living with my wacky grandfather, and my worst handicap might be myself. Things I'm thinking sometimes jump out of my mouth. On the plus side, Jocelyn, the girl next door, is gorgeous, but her boyfriend, Max, is the most popular, perfect kid at school. That doesn't stop me from hating him. I don't know why I feel so angry all the time, but my great sense of humor covers it up, right? I now know how Jocelyn's brother died and why Max is always protecting her. My grandpa thinks taking karate lessons from Max's dad will be great for me, but I'm not so sure. I'm enjoying the lessons, but my feelings are even more mixed up seeing Jocelyn and Max there too.

I didn't read the first book, but this book was great! Ryder has a wacky sense of humor (he calls his fake eye Artie), but I enjoyed how he tried to work through his issues. Middle school kids, actually everyone else too, have issues and feelings that confuse them. Ryder doesn't understand why he's so angry, but he realizes Jocelyn has problems too. Even grandpa has problems he's been dealing with since Ryder's dad was born, and Max reveals his own demons at the end. Ryder's not sure how to deal with his feelings for Jocelyn. He hates seeing her with Max, but Ryder isn't sure what to do when she turns some kindness his way. The whole story is about Ryder, and his character's personality carries all of the entertainment in the plot. I highly recommend you check out this book, literally and figuratively!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Maniac MageeMy name is Jeffrey, although people on the streets call me Maniac. I first met Amanda in the East End and stayed at her parent's house after they discovered I didn't have a home. People in the neighborhood call me Maniac for catching footballs against high school kids, running on the train rails, untying the legendary Cobble's Knot, and other heroic feats. However, other people think I should go back and live with the "whities", so I ran away and was staying with Earl in a storage room. Now Earl was pretty old, but he told great stories about being a minor league pitcher. We really cared about each other, but now he's dead. I had to run away again, and I'm back on the West End, face-to-face with an old bully "friend".

I read this Newbery-winning book years ago but just realized it wasn't on my blog. Maniac is a wonderful character. He has the confidence to move across the city as the need arises, and he has an innocence to accept people as they are (except for his aunt and uncle). Even though he doesn't understand the racial tensions he encounters, he becomes aware enough to do something about it. His acceptance of others, his kindness, and his sense of humanity allow others to take a liking to him. Even bullies and bigots end up on his side. His "heroic feats" are entertaining and amusing and help to make him an endearing character. His need to run wherever he goes is a unique quirk that adds to "maniacness". The entire plot can be seen as several separate stories, as the settings change between "homes" and cultures. It all comes together in the end, as Maniac finally finds a home.