Archive for the ‘Mystery’ category

The Limit by Kristen Landon

February 9th, 2011

When you read stories like reporter Dan Harris going undercover to buy a child slave for $150, books like The Limit stick with you.

Main character Matt lives in a family that spends money faster than they earn it. This is a very realistic problem in the United States right now, since as a nation we owe billions of dollars in credit card debt (that’s different from the national debt). In the novel’s alternate future, the government has set up work houses for children to work as slaves to pay off their family’s debt. The children fight an uphill battle as every single meal they eat, item of clothing they wear, bed they sleep on, are taxed from their paychecks. The facility is hyper-controlled to keep the kids in and working for as long as they can.

It fits that Margaret Peterson Haddix is quoted on the cover. It’s similar to the Shadow Children series in that the children must uncover a deep conspiracy in a mega-organization. Even though it’s a concept we’ve seen before, Landon does a great job with making the children believable. Adding the economic twist was what made the book a winner for me.

It’s another dystopian world, but as long as the real world has injustice we will continue to see these dark warning books that challenge how we live our lives.

The Last Shot by John Feinstein

January 6th, 2011

The Last Shot is a book to read with a Google search at your fingertips. One of the techniques that Feinstein uses is bringing in his connections from the world of nonfiction sportswriting to add plenty of realism to the narrative. Dick Vitale is, oddly enough, not a work of fiction and Feinstein characterizes him perfectly. Talk show hosts from ESPN banter with each other like they do in real life.

This is a YA book, so the heroes are teenagers. More than once the protagonists have to smooth-talk their way past guards and NCAA officials. In reaity, the teens would be pushed aside pretty quickly and, although that does happen in the book, the teens always find a way out of the complication. That’s the only part for me that broke the realism, even though Feinstein includes plenty of plot to explain how the kids rationalized their actions.

I appreciated a different perspective on sports. This was not the stereotypical “new kid comes to school and makes friends/saves the day through sports” type of book. The world of sports reporting is not one that is explored much in YA fiction even though many of our students want to pursue that as an occupation. Deadlines, working with an editor, and searching for interesting details are all shown in the story.

For being 250 pages, it’s a very quick read and I read the book off of the recommendation of students and teachers at our school. It’s definitely worth a checkout.

The Crossbones by Patrick Carman

September 15th, 2010

Sarah Fincher goes on a road trip.

The characters from Skeleton Creek get to branch out from their small town and explore some of the haunted places around the United States. Ryan has found a piece of paper with a series of clues on it and he sends Sarah thousands of miles to go find out more information about the different locations.

The Crossbones is different than the first book. Students, let’s make that clear. There are videos and the journal, but the focus in book three is more on uncovering The Crossbones’ secrets. There is one part where I did jump, even though I was sitting in the library, but the action here is more of a National Treasure variety. (Although being stuck in an underground tunnel with a potential killer is right up there with being stuck underground with a ghost. Both are situations I’d rather not be in.)

Book three is also different because they have a new person playing the part of Sarah. That’s my guess, since she’s no longer on camera and her voice is different. The videos are also more professional looking, which I think takes away from the realism. Sarah’s talented, but I liked it when she was dropping the camera on the dredge floor. That’s no knock on Jeffrey Townsend – the videos look great; it’s just a style thing for me. Most of the passwords on the site now link to three types of video: footage from Sarah, a polished documentary, and rough reel-to-reel film from a member of the Crossbones.

The places that Sarah visits are real, which is great because students can research the history if they want to learn more. There’s even a map of the trip that she takes, in case you want to plan a family vacation around centuries-old conspiracies.

The main mystery, when solved, was an, “Oh. I didn’t know that.” moment for me. The real kicker was discovering the hierarchy of the secret society and wondering how involved Ryan’s family is in it.

The Crossbones is different, but it’s still a good read. It could be read as a standalone novel, but I think you need the first two books to truly connect with the characters.

Personal note: Ryan has to drive a minivan that leaks oil and has bad tires. I’ve done that and can relate. A funny comment in one of the videos is a Crossbones member talking about how it wasn’t until Andrew Jackson that they found a president they liked.

Trackers by Patrick Carman

June 28th, 2010

Students know how much I enjoyed Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine. Back in 2008, before the books came out, I had heard about the mix of video and print and knew it was going to be a hit at our school. I feel like Patrick Carman took a risk with the format of Skeleton Creek and now people are copying the pioneer.

What I love to see is an author that continues to improve throughout their career. Trackers is proof that Carman still takes his craft seriously.

This is a caution to students, though – don’t sit down expecting ghosts to jump out at you. I did and it took me a couple of videos to realize that Trackers has a different tone. It’s the story of a high tech team of teenagers that get caught up in an Internet crime scheme that is much larger than they can handle individually. Patrick Carman’s research/previous knowledge concerning technology is appreciated and it comes out in realistic dialogue between characters (and great passwords for the videos – the majority are computing superstars like Babbage and The Woz).

Trackers takes on a neo-noir feel. Much like detective stories from the 30s and 40s, main character Adam doesn’t know who to trust (one character, Lazlo, shares a name with someone from Casablanca). His confusion grows when he’s distracted by a beautiful girl who quickly betrays him. The focus of the book is figuring out who is tracking the Trackers and what they can do to reverse the situation.

So, instead of being afraid that Joe Bush is going to stalk you from the dredge, you’re now more paranoid about going online. If you liked the movie Eagle Eye, Trackers should already be in your queue.

It’s told in an interrogation format, so the whole time you’re trying to figure out who has brought Adam in for questioning. This is book one and obviously so (well, besides it saying that on the cover), but in great Carman style he leaves you hanging at the end of the book.

Online supplemental materials are becoming a requirement for books, especially teen ones. Many have games associated with them, like P.J. Haarsma’s Rings of Orbis game (Haarsma is another digital pioneer, an author who also creates his own tech content). Patrick Carman understands technology, especially engaging technology, and offers the videos but also a very challenging Glyphmaster game. You try and organize the icons to spell a sentence. I found myself saying, “Just one more round.” My recommendation is to make it a Facebook game.

Librarians, you need Trackers. Kids will read it. But what was awesome is that he included a transcript of each video in the back of the book. This helps students who are reading in class. You can’t interrupt silent reading with a video of Finn crashing on a ramp at the local skateboarding hangout. Now students can get the info and watch the video later. Many of mine had to come in at lunch and hope the district Internet filter hadn’t blocked the Skeleton Creek site. This streamlining of the experience is one sign that the author is growing and improving.

And, like any book that involves Jeffrey Townsend, I stay up too late wanting to keep reading.

The alternative reality missions are releasing later today. While I read the book, I had my laptop next to me so I could look up any sites mentioned. I hope to see more from the missions. I can easily see the lines of fiction blurring under Patrick Carman’s expert use of media.

Heist Society by Ally Carter

January 7th, 2010

I welcomed in 2010 (or MMX, as I’m going to call it) by finishing Heist Society by Ally Carter. I’m a huge fan of the Gallagher Girls series, so I was very interested to see how this new set of books would play out.

It is a new series, to be clear. Cammie does not show up at all, although I think a Cammie vs. Kat showdown (in the same degree as a Batman vs. Superman, Spider-man vs. Wolverine conflict) is in order. Kat demonstrates the same strong protagonist characteristics as Cammie. I would argue Kat shows even more.

The set-up is that Kat has left the family business of thieving and has tried to pull off the ultimate con: live a normal life at a boarding school. News of her father’s trouble reaches her and she must get back into the game to save her dad.

If you are a fan of movies like Oceans 11 or The Italian Job, this is a must-read. Kat has to assemble her crew and each contributes their special abilities towards the goal of robbing the Henley. You’ve got your tech person, your pickpocket, and your diplomatic “face”. How the crew cases the museum is pretty funny and the tone highlights the fact that these characters are not the villains of the book, even if they are trying to steal thousands of dollars worth of paintings. There is genuine concern for the characters’ safety, but not to the extreme of Hunger Games/Catching Fire.

I feel like Kat has more focus on her objectives than Cammie did. Cammie could be distracted very easily by Zach and Josh. Kat still has two boys to try and figure out, but her long-time friend Hale outclasses Nick the pickpocket by far. (I know that this point will become an issue of debate in February when Heist Society hits the shelves, but come on! Hale is awesome.)

The book does have a more mature feel than the Gallagher Girls, a fact enhanced by Kat’s level of maturity. It’s not like there’s any questionable content; you can just tell that Kat has seen more of the world. The author mixes references to historical events and actual locations with fictional characters, locales, and pieces of art. It’s a great world that Ally Carter has envisioned.

What’s really exciting is to see Ally Carter mature as a writer with each book she creates. It would be easy for a series writer to slack off with one of the books ([cough]Final Warning[/cough]) and many times I finish book one to a series thinking that more plot could have gone into the first book. Heist Society has great pacing and can stand alone as its own book. You definitely want to hang out with the likes of Uncle Eddie and Bobby Bishop more (and figure out who framed Kat’s dad), but you could stop at Heist Society and know you’ve enjoyed a complete story.

I wouldn’t recommend stopping after just one book, though. Ally’s currently working on book two while we wait for GG4: Only the Good Spy Young to come out in June. Make sure you grab a copy of Heist Society in February (librarians, you’ll want multiple copies).

Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman

September 3rd, 2009

I must be honest and admit that I am a huge fan of Skeleton Creek and, as such, have high expectations for the sequel.

To talk about the sequel, though, I’m going to need to talk about some details from Skeleton Creek. To avoid ruining the surprises, I’m going to place a giant picture of a crow here to warn you of spoilers.

Spoiler Alert!
I see Ghost in the Machine by Patrick Carman as an alternate ending to the first book.

Carman gained a huge amount of respect from me by how he left Ryan and Sarah in the dredge in the first book. To think that they would be trapped there forever left me in the same level of awe as when Anthony Horowitz shot Alex Rider at the end of Scorpia (and we knew that he was moving on to the Raven’s Gate series, so we thought that was the end of Alex…Ark Angel and Snakehead took some effort to exceed that feeling of “wow”).
Update: I just talked with a teacher at lunch. She laughed with excitement to hear that Ryan and Sarah had made it. I guess I have too much English teacher running through my blood; I enjoy it when characters die.

Frankly, I was disappointed to see Ryan’s name on the journal.

But then I realized that there were so many questions left unanswered: who’s left of the Crossbones, what’s up with the alchemy, and will Ryan and Sarah ever hook up?

It was in the quest to find those answers that I really enjoyed Ghost in the Machine. This book takes on more of a murder mystery/conspiracy theory style to it.

There are still the suspenseful videos. In fact, I don’t think I learned from my experience of sitting alone in the dark with my MacBook watching the videos for the first book. One in particular, where a character is breaking into someone’s house in the middle of the night, has the whole Rear Window/Disturbia “No! Get out of the house!” vibe to it.

What makes the experience work is that Patrick Carman is a talented screenwriter on top of novel author. His choice of director doesn’t hurt, either.

One part that I liked is a scene where they parody the creepy videos (and an Internet trend) to release some stress during the investigation. Even though I saw the joke coming, it still made me crack up.

It’s a great book that students will enjoy. I don’t see anything wrong with students watching the book’s videos during lunch in the library. The screaming heads may be disruptive to a silent reading program, but I have seen groups of students get behind the first book and catch up on the videos during their off hours. (And I think that’s one of the concepts that I appreciate about Patrick Carman’s experiment. These students are using their own free time to explore more of the story.)

I’m an official fan now. We have a Patrick Carman category on the site.

Mysterious messages from authors

August 22nd, 2009

Check out the Twitter messages from Anthony Horowitz:

AnthonyHorowitz: The man in the telephone box left a white card in the window. A single word. REEVER.

and from Ally Carter:

OfficiallyAlly: I know a secret.

It makes me question their inspirations for their books. Real-life spies?

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman – Only if you don’t want to sleep tonight

January 23rd, 2009

I’m watching the final video and it’s cool to finally see Ryan, the narrator. Skeleton Creek is a stepping stone to change how stories are told.

This is not an ordinary YA book. Sure, you’ve got the boy and girl who have been forbidden to see each other. You have the adults who have no clue/you can’t trust. But the execution of these elements is what’s beautiful from Patrick Carman.

Have you seen his virtual touring? Intriguing…

Skeleton Creek is set up in part as Ryan’s journal. It’s from here that you see his thoughts and feelings on the situation. There is some plot, but for the most part it is character development as we see him interact with the people around him while he’s injured.

The creepier parts of the book, for me, were the online videos hosted at (if you have an ARC, it’s not I freaked out that I might miss some videos.) The craziest video is the last video, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. Showing some of the earlier videos to students and staff made them jump. Mission accomplished.

The premise is that there’s a land-based dredge used in a small town to dig for gold. One of the workers may have gotten caught in the gears and could be the cause of the Old Joe Bush ghost stories. Ryan and Sarah are trying to investigate the dredge, but Ryan is seriously injured.

What’s crazy is that with so many sites out there and with the ability to put anything online, we don’t know how much is history and how much is Carman’s story. (Unless you use

It’s for that reason that I jumped at the videos (picture no soundtrack but only frogs, wood creaking, and trickling water). I love the ending, but you can’t skip to it. The only hang-up that I can think of would be if your school has a silent reading time and you’re not able to get to the computer to watch the videos. You can still piece together what happened from the journal, but you definitely can’t miss the first and last videos.

Update: One of the Science teachers took home my copy of the book over the weekend. She was just going to read a couple of entries and then spend the rest of the weekend working on grades. Instead, she read the whole book.

This is a must-have for your library when it hits in February.

Palace of Mirrors by Margaret Peterson Haddix

November 24th, 2008

This one’s set in the world of Just Ella, but you don’t need to have read it to understand Palace of Mirrors.

We’re now in the rival kingdom following a peasant girl named Cecilia. Cecilia goes about her normal peasant-type chores during the day, but at night she is trained by one of the King’s Order in the ways of being a princess. Cecilia is in hiding for her protection while a decoy princess sits on the throne.

This fits right in with Haddix’s mystery and hidden agendas. Just like with Found, there’s a surprise at the end that ties everything together. This surprise was told to me ahead of time (thanks, Ms. Standhart…) and I still was able to enjoy the book.

There is a romance, but it’s more of the close-friends type through most of the book. If you’re looking for a light fantasy, with people kissing frogs and all that, this is probably not your choice. Castle life is rough, with lots of betrayal and murders. If you like mysteries and intrigue, you’ll like Palace of Mirrors.

Something Rotten for Free

October 14th, 2008

Alan Gratz’s great mystery, Something Rotten, is now free. Check out the great Scribd version of the book.