This is the second Chet and Bernie mystery, about a P.I. and his dog, who form a team to investigate crimes. The books are narrated by the dog, Chet,...moreThis is the second Chet and Bernie mystery, about a P.I. and his dog, who form a team to investigate crimes. The books are narrated by the dog, Chet, which sounds like it could be very "cutesy" but actually is really well-done and laugh-out-loud funny, if you're a dog person. I love the way the author captures the personality of the dog. For example, he'll be in the middle of telling about something, and then, he'll digress into seeing a cat, and how he doesn't like cats, etc.! Very light murder mystery--not very violent either. This one focuses on the dog show world--kidnapping of both a show dog and its owner, done in a very comic way.
Good light summer reading, especially for dog people.(less)
Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown have written a unique illustrated young adult novel that is difficult to categorize. It's...moreRecommended for ages 12 and up.
Adele Griffin and Lisa Brown have written a unique illustrated young adult novel that is difficult to categorize. It's carefully researched historical fiction but also a ghost story and a mystery with graphic novel elements as well. With illustrations that mimic the look of a Civil War scrapbook kept by our heroine, our story is told in the first person by orphan Jennie Lovell, who together with her twin brother has been raised for the last four years by her aunt and uncle alongside their two sons, Will and Quinn. Before the novel opens, Jennie and Will have fallen in love and become engaged.
Jennie's girlish dreams of happiness vanish as all three young men in the household go off to fight for the Union cause. First her brother dies of disease (which killed many more soldiers than did the battles themselves), then her cousin Quinn staggers home with a terrible wound to his face and the news that her fiance, Will, has died in combat. Or has he?
There is certainly no shortage of novels for young people about this period, but Picture the Dead, with its genre-bending story, makes an important contribution to Civil War novels and would be an excellent purchase for school or public libraries, as well as for any reader who enjoys a good mystery and ghost story.
What is unique about this book is the way the author/illustrator integrate both spiritualism and photography into their tale, both of which played a critical role in this time period. (less)
Zora and Me by debut novelists Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon is one of the most anticipated children's releases this fall, and has already received a...moreZora and Me by debut novelists Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon is one of the most anticipated children's releases this fall, and has already received a starred review in Kirkus and was selected for both the Kids Indie Next List and the Fall Okra List from the Southern Indie Booksellers.
The novel is inspired by the childhood of noted novelist and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, perhaps best known for her novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. I must admit that I have never read any of Zora Neale Hurston's novels, and had no preconceived notions about her life and work before reading Zora and Me, but considering that the novel is aimed at middle grade readers, we must assume that they would have little familiarity with Zora Neale Hurston's works either, except perhaps with some of the folktales that she collected, which have been published as children's books.
The authors use Carrie, a fictional best friend of Zora, to narrate the story, which is set in Eatonville, the all-black community in Florida where Zora Neale Hurston grew up, in the year 1900. Zora, even in fourth grade, is famous for her storytelling, or her lying, depending on how you look at it. Or maybe she's just "crazy as a hoot owl," as she is described by one town resident. But when she starts to tell wild stories of their reclusive neighbor Mr. Pendir being half alligator, half man, her classmate Stella has had enough.
"You are too lying," Stella snapped. "You the lyingest girl in town! You are so lying, even when you tell the truth, it comes out a lie!"
But no one cares, since "we all knew that nobody could tell a story better than Zora." In fact the authors give us many clues that Zora is no ordinary child. Carrie tells us that Zora "had a way of giving personality to everything in Eatonville. Flowers alongside the road weren't just flowers. One day they were royal guards saluting us on our walks home...that's how Zora saw things. Everything in the world had a soul, and a soul to her meant being more than anyone counted on." And she burns with curiosity, "shooting questions...like she was a popgun."
The authors at first seem to paint an almost idyllic picture of life in the Jim Crow South, with scenic ponds for swimming, old ladies who have "conjure power," plenty of time to wander in the woods finding baby pigs with their friend Teddy, and free licorice sticks from Joe Clarke's general store. But when Old Lady Bronson falls off a ledge at the Blue Sink fishing hole, Zora is convinced that Mr. Pendir--transformed into an alligator--is somehow to blame. The mystery deepens when a decapitated body is found by the railroad tracks that the children recognize as that of a stranger, Ivory, they had met in the woods. Zora believes that she knows who--or what--killed him--the gator-man hybrid she has conjured up in her imagination. But the real solution to the mystery is much more ordinary, as well as more frightening, than the children think--and it's wrapped up in the intricacies of race relations, where the color of a person's skin could make "one woman worth protecting, while it made another man fit to die."
Racism is ever present--and not only among the whites. When Zora brings up the topic of the murder at the family dinner table, her father flies into a rage. "Do you--do you think you white?...wanting to talk about death--right here at the dinner table! That is the kind of thing white folks do!" And when they go shopping in nearby Lake Maitland, Zora's mother pretends she's running errands for white people instead of shopping for herself. Carrie complains: "It picked at my spirit that the surest way for Negroes to get along was to pretend we were only ever running errands for white folks. Didn't people like Mrs. Walcott think anything belonged to us?" The only white person Carrie and Zora seem to have a positive relationship with is old Mr. Ambrose, a kindly old white man who helped at Zora's birth and affectionately calls her "Snidlets."
This book is all about the power of storytelling, or "explaining our lives through a story," whether it's the Southern folklore about gator kings that Zora finds or the stories she invents herself to explain her world. Oddly enough, as I was reading this novel, I kept thinking about Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables, another child of great imagination who believed in the power of stories. Zora and Me also speaks to the power of love, and belonging to a family and community. As our narrator Carrie asks, isn't "sticking by the people you love...the easiest choice of all?"
The authors successfully capture the voice of the different characters, creating a real feel for language of the region and the time period. With the colorful language and manageable length (the narrative runs 170 pages), the story almost begs to be read aloud, although its complex racial themes would make it a challenging read-aloud for most school classrooms. Nonetheless, it would be an excellent book to read aloud at home, and could spark some thought-provoking discussions on the various themes dealt with in the story.
The novel includes an annotated bibliography of the works of Zora Neale Hurston, a short biography of the writer, and a timeline of her life. It is the first work not written by Hurston herself to be endorsed by the Zora Neale Hurston Trust. A detailed website for the book offers a wealth of supporting material, including background on Eatonville, age-appropriate activities related to the book, and additional background on Zora Neale Hurston.
Sherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved fictional characters ever created, and the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories remain popular, as do many s...moreSherlock Holmes is one of the most beloved fictional characters ever created, and the original Arthur Conan Doyle stories remain popular, as do many spin-offs in both books and film for adults and young people. A new series by British writer Andrew Lane imagines Sherlock as a fourteen-year old boy solving his first murder mysteries. The first volume in this series, Death Cloud, starts off a bit slowly but soon turns into an intriguing murder mystery.
Andrew Lane writes that his intention with this series is "to find out what Sherlock was like before Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced him to the world. What sort of teenager was he? Where did he go to school, and who were his friends? Where and when did he learn the skills that he displayed later in life – the logical mind, the boxing and sword-fighting, the love of music and of playing the violin? What did he study at university? When (if ever) did he travel abroad? What scared him and who, if anyone, did he love?" Arthur Conan Doyle, notes Lane, gave away little about Sherlock's youth in his published short stories and novels, except a few hints here and there, therefore giving Lane considerable creative license to create the early years for this beloved character.
Set in 1868, when our hero is fourteen, our novel opens with Sherlock at boarding school. But instead of going home for his summer vacation, he finds out from his brother Mycroft that their father has been posted to India, their mother is "unwell," and Sherlock will have to spend the summer with his peculiar aunt and uncle--who he's never even met--in Hampshire. The only bright note seems to be that the food is better than at school.
But things won't be boring for long, as Sherlock makes friends with a local boy, Matty, who's been witness to a strange mysterious smoke and a dead body covered in boils. Has the plague come back? Matty serves as a younger version of Watson in this story, assisting Sherlock with his investigations. Sherlock is also helped by his American tutor and his feisty and independent daughter Virginia, Sherlock is soon involved with fire, kidnapping, espionage, and murder. Will his powers of deduction help him solve his first murder, while uncovering an evil plot to bring down the British Empire? (this seems more James Bond to me than Sherlock Holmes, but perhaps that's just a contemporary perspective!)
I should disclose that I have not read any of the original Sherlock Holmes stories, but that may be the case as well with the intended audience for this series, teens and tweens. This new series is not the first about Holmes to be aimed at teen readers, but is the first such series endorsed by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate. (A different series for teens,the award-winning The Boy Sherlock Holmes, by Shane Peacock, was first published in 2007 by Canadian publisher Tundra Press and has four volumes to date. I have not read any of the titles in that series but it would be interesting to compare and contrast how both authors imagine Sherlock as a youth). And then of course we have the acclaimed Enola Holmes mystery series by Nancy Springer, concentrating on Sherlocks' much-younger sister, Enola, a talented detective in her own right.
Lane's series offers plenty of action, as well as laying the ground work for Holmes' later powers of deductive reasoning (we can see the beginnings of his talents in this book). It's a good entree into the Victorian stories for younger readers, and may get them interested in exploring the originals. (less)
Eleanor Updale, the award-winning author of the popular Montmerancy series, takes us to England in 1929 in her newest historical mystery novel for you...moreEleanor Updale, the award-winning author of the popular Montmerancy series, takes us to England in 1929 in her newest historical mystery novel for young people. Our hero, Johnny Swanson, is an engaging young boy who finds himself mixed up in a murder mystery--and his own mother is the suspected murderer! Johnny's sure as can be that she's not guilty, but no one will believe him and the police seem to have already made up their mind. Can Johnny save her before it's too late?
There seem to be three interrelated stories going on in this novel--the above-mentioned murder mystery, the tuberculosis epidemic in England, and Johnny's many schemes to make money to help out his mother. Johnny is enticed by a newspaper advertisement promising the "secret of instant height," just what he needs to stop the bullying at school because of his small stature. When he discovers the ad is a hoax, he decides he can play that game also, and soon is concocting schemes to put advertisements in various publications and collecting small sums of money for bogus answers to problems. As you might imagine, Johnny becomes hopelessly entangled in a comical web of lies around his business, this part of the story very much reminded me of the classic Great Brain series by John D. Fitzgerald that I enjoyed as a child.
At the same time, a TB outbreak is plaguing England, and Johnny's neighbor, Dr. Langford, just might be working on a secret vaccine for the disease. This work turns out to be dangerous, indeed--for Dr. Langford and maybe for Johnny too, as he learns more than he should know about the undercover work.
Johnny makes an appealing boy detective--a character who's far from perfect, but whose good intentions shine through as he works to help his mother, first through his financial schemes, and then to save her from the hangman's noose. The author combines humor and suspense--a winning combination for young mystery fans. Perhaps we will see more adventures of Johnny Swanson in the future!(less)
It's June, 1956, and school's just about out for the summer. Teenage Nora and her friends have a party with a few boys, dance, hang out and drink too...moreIt's June, 1956, and school's just about out for the summer. Teenage Nora and her friends have a party with a few boys, dance, hang out and drink too many beers. But none of them can imagine that their lives are about to change forever because of a shocking murder.
The next day, the bodies of two of the girls from Nora's group, Cheryl and Bobbi Jo, are found shot to death in the woods near their house. Everyone thinks that Buddy, Cheryl's ex-boyfriend, who looks like an imitation of James Dean, must be guilty of the brutal crime. But when no conclusive evidence is uncovered, he's released by the police, although everyone in the town still assumes he did it, and worse yet, that he got away with it.
This excellent mystery, written from the point of view of Nora, her friend Ellie, Buddy, and the actual guilty murderer, takes place in a time that seems so innocent now--a time of listening to Elvis records with your girlfriends, worrying what would happen if a boy touched your knee, and having ice cream sodas at the neighborhood drugstore. But with the murders life changed for all the teens in the story.
What would it be like to have your friends murdered, begin to question not only your Catholic faith, but your very belief in God, and not know how to go on living? And what if everyone in town thought you were a murderer? This is different from other Mary Downing Hahn books I've read--not a ghost story, but a story nonetheless of how the dead can haunt us in other ways. It's a coming-of-age story as well as a mystery and a real page turner. Highly recommended.
Note: the novel is inspired by a similar crime which took place when the author was a teen; the author knew both girls who were the victims and remembers vividly being at a friend's house when the bodies were discovered. She writes in an afterword that the event has haunted her for years.(less)
Another fun story about Mma Ramotswe and her life. In this one she and her Associate Detective sidekick meet the author of the private detective handb...moreAnother fun story about Mma Ramotswe and her life. In this one she and her Associate Detective sidekick meet the author of the private detective handbook that serves as their Bible in solving cases. (less)