Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

Review of The Ambrose Deception, by Emily Ecton

Tuesday, May 26th, 2020

The Ambrose Deception

by Emily Ecton

Disney Hyperion, 2018. 359 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#7 Contemporary Children’s Fiction

This book opens with three unlikely candidates from three different Chicago schools being offered a $10,000 scholarship opportunity. When Melissa Burris, Bondi Johnson, and Wilf Samson arrive at the office, they’re first made to sign a form saying they won’t discuss the clues with absolutely anyone. Then they’re given an envelope with three clues and told to take a picture of the clue solution. They are also given a cell phone, a camera, a debit card – and the use of a car and driver to take them anywhere in Chicago city limits.

Now, the kids are pretty sure something’s fishy. Given the title of the book, the reader is pretty sure, too. Wilf decides to enjoy the car and driver while he has them and plans a list of fun activities in Chicago. But Melissa and Bondi start seriously tackling their three clues.

So begins a clever and inventive puzzle novel. The clues all lead to locations in Chicago – and they are clues that require some thought. I now wish I’d tried to solve some using the internet – but I was reading the book in bed and didn’t bother. I imagine kids who live in Chicago might have an advantage, but this is still a legitimate puzzle that you feel like you as a reader can solve along with the characters.

I like the way they repeat the clues periodically – so you don’t have to keep turning back in the book.

I like that the characters are pretty ordinary kids, each with their own quirks. In fact, the drivers also have their own quirks. Wilf is a real slacker, trying to take advantage of this. Melissa is very suspicious, not wanting to even use the debit card or the car and driver. Bondi is a take-charge kind of kid, but he jumps to conclusions in a few spots.

I won’t say what the “deception” is in the title, but it’s all very satisfying when it works out. A puzzle novel with ordinary kids cast as the solvers, kids whom adults had written off.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/ambrose_deception.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Truly Devious, by Maureen Johnson

Tuesday, April 28th, 2020

Truly Devious

by Maureen Johnson

Katherine Tegen Books (HarperCollins), 2018. 420 pages.
Starred Review
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#5 General Teen Fiction

This book is a little unfair. There’s no Book One printed in bold on the cover – so how dare it finish up with those dreaded three words, “to be continued”? Well, it does.

Stevie Bell is a junior in high school, and she’s been invited to attend Ellingham Academy, where an eccentric millionaire established a school for bright kids and gives them a unique education – for free.

But Ellingham has a mystery associated with it. 80 years ago, the wife and child of the eccentric founder were kidnapped, and the wife’s body was found. One of the students as well was found dead – but the daughter was never recovered. The kidnapper sent a note signed “Truly, Devious.”

In the present day, Stevie is obsessed with true crime – and she wants to solve the mystery of Ellingham Academy.

The mystery and the story is woven well. Every few chapters, we’ve got a flashback to a scene that happened in 1936, when the kidnapping took place.

Stevie’s obsessed with the old mystery – so she’s not exactly prepared to find the body of one of her fellow students.

Now, there’s a fun surprise at the end, but I can’t exactly tell you if the clues are helpful or how well the mystery is woven – because of those dread words, “to be continued.” I am very annoyed that I can’t read the second volume right now. [Reader, the good news is that since I couldn’t post this in 2018 when I read it as part of my Newbery reading, now all three volumes are published, and you can read them all together!]

But I will say that I enjoyed every minute leading up to those dread words. (The surprise at the end is perfect!) The characters are quirky. The setting is well-drawn. Stevie even gets to look at some papers and other items from the time of the kidnapping.

Here’s the letter from Truly Devious:

Look! A riddle! Time for fun!
Should we use a rope or gun
Knives are sharp and gleam so pretty
Poison’s slow, which is a pity
Fire is festive, drowning’s slow
Hanging’s a ropy way to go
A broken head, a nasty fall
A car colliding with a wall
Bombs make a very jolly noise
Such ways to punish naughty boys!
What shall we use? We can’t decide.
Just like you cannot run or hide.
Ha ha.
Truly,
Devious

I can’t wait to get more clues in the next book!

maureenjohnsonbooks.com
epicreads.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/truly_devious.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Christmas Gathering, by Anne Perry

Friday, December 27th, 2019

A Christmas Gathering

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2019. 193 pages.
Review written December 27, 2019, from a library book

Reading an Anne Perry Christmas Mystery has become a fun tradition for me, one I didn’t get to indulge in when I was on the Newbery committee, and this year put off because of Cybils reading. So I read this one a couple days after Christmas, but it still gave me a nice cozy and short mystery to put me in a vacation mood. Today the weather was even warm enough, I read most of it out on my balcony with my feet up. Maybe that doesn’t feel like winter – but it does feel like vacation.

I like the way you can tell these characters have appeared in her regular series books, at least as secondary characters. A Christmas Gathering featured Lady Vespasia and her new husband Victor Narroway. Vespasia is a relative of Anne Perry’s character Charlotte, who married the policeman Thomas Pitt. Vespasia knows that her husband has come to this Christmas party at a country house to do some work for the government, connected with his former position as head of the Special Branch, but he has not told her exactly what he is going to do.

As for Victor, he’s planning to meet a courier and take a package with misleading information to be passed to the Germans as genuine. But the job reminds him of a similar case twenty years ago, when he was much younger and the courier he was supposed to protect was murdered. He hasn’t told Vespasia of that failure that haunts him.

But somebody knows about the intended delivery of the package. Is a young lady courier going to die again?

I like the way that besides the mystery, this book also looks at a marriage late in life, and the motivation for keeping secrets from someone you love. As with many of Anne Perry’s Christmas novels, the importance of forgiveness and mercy toward those we love is emphasized.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/christmas_gathering.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Prime Suspects, by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville, illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Saturday, November 9th, 2019

Prime Suspects

The Anatomy of Integers and Permutations

by Andrew Granville & Jennifer Granville
illustrated by Robert J. Lewis

Princeton University Press, 2019. 230 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/19/19 from a library book

Okay, now I’ve seen everything! This is a graphic novel murder mystery about research mathematics!

The characters have names that play off of the names of distinguished mathematicians. The lead detective uses ideas from his namesake.

The most interesting part is that when the detective team goes to the autopsy of recent victim Arnie Int, lieutenant of the Integer Crime Family, they found everything inside his body has decomposed – except for prime numbers! The apprentice detective pulls a bloody number out of his body and says, “It’s a prime, sir!”

They find the body is similar to a previous victim, Daisy Permutation. I like the scene where the detectives discuss it while playing billiards:

“It’s not a similarity, but in both victims, the internal organs were completely decomposed.
Except that in Arnie Int there was a smattering of primes, and in Daisy permutation, a smattering of cycles.”

“But that’s only to be expected.
Cycles are the fundamental constituent parts of a permutation, just like primes are the fundamental constituent parts of an integer.”

And it’s all done in a dark style, with some clueless videographers to explain things to, and mathematical puns in the background.

The math itself – where they compare the set of integers to the set of permutations – went over my head, and I’ve got a Master’s in Math. I read the back matter where it’s explained, and it still went over my head – though I at least understood what basic concepts were at work. And I did, after reading, understand at least that cycles are the building blocks of permutations as primes are the building blocks of integers.

And I’m still tickled to death that someone made a graphic novel thriller about higher math.

There are fun ads on the inside cover, such as: “Are you looking to get away from it all? Why not come and stay at Hilbert’s fabulous “Infinite Hotel”? There is ALWAYS room for as many guests as want to stay.” And: “RIEMANN’S ROOTS: We’ll plant your organic roots in straight rows. Guaranteed to have at least 41.69% of the roots in a straight line!” And: “Fermat’s Dreams: Truly remarkable ideas for the future which this inside cover is too small to contain!”

The back matter takes up 50 large pages, so it takes as long to read as the 180 pages of the graphic novel part. Yes, it includes the math, but also you’ve got notes on the mathematicians referred to, notes about the references in the art, and an explanation of how the book came to be – beginning as a screenplay (which has been performed in live readings).

Here’s the beginning of that section:

Integers and permutations are fundamental mathematical objects that inhabit quite distinct worlds though, under more sophisticated examination, one cannot help but be struck by the extraordinary similarities between their anatomies. This comic book stemmed from an experiment to present these similarities to a wider audience in the form of a dramatic narrative. In these after-pages, we will clarify some of the mathematical ideas alluded to in the comic book, giving the details of Gauss’s lectures and Langer’s presentation at the police precinct. We will also break down the content of some of the background artwork, explaining how some of it refers to breakthroughs in this area of mathematics, some of it to other vaguely relevant mathematics, while some content is simply our attempt at mathematical humor.

Our goal in Prime Suspects has been not only to popularize the fascinating and extraordinary similarities between the fine details of the structure of integers and of permutations, but also to draw attention to several key cultural issues in mathematics:

— How research is done, particularly the roles of student and adviser;
— The role of women in mathematics today; and
— The influence and conflict of deep and rigid abstraction.

I’m not sure everyone will love this book, but I sure do! Sure to be all the rage in graduate wings of math departments across the nation!

press.princeton.edu

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/prime_suspects.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Colors of All the Cattle, by Alexander McCall Smith

Thursday, July 4th, 2019

The Colors of All the Cattle

by Alexander McCall Smith

narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2018. 9.75 hours on 9 compact discs.
Starred Review

I do love Alexander McCall Smith. Okay, he rambles at times, and his characters tend to go over and over their feelings and decisions. But they are delightful people to spend time with, and I lose my impatience when I listen to the books on my commute, since spending time with them makes sitting in traffic a much less odious experience.

This is now the 19th book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. (Wow!) This book had more about Charlie, who was a young apprentice in the first book and is now getting to be a young man. He does some investigating in a difficult case, and we learn more about his private life.

But we also have Mma Potokwami manipulating Mma Ramotswe into running for Council – even though she doesn’t want to at all. She is not the sort of person who likes politics. But her opponent is none other than the villain of every book (Okay, this is always where I roll my eyes) – Violet Sepotho. So of course she can’t simply let Violet run unopposed. At stake is a proposed project to put up the Big Fun Hotel next to a graveyard – which would disrespect all the late people in the graveyard and their families.

As always, this book takes us to the heart of Botswana and shows us the heart of Botswana. It also shows some good people helping other people. And it’s nice to spend time in their company, even if it feels like a little more time than another author would have given the same events. By the end, you’re ready to pull up a chair, drink some red bush tea, and enjoy the stories.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/colors_of_all_the_cattle.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Random House Audiobooks, 2018. 12 CDs.
Starred Review

I’m reviewing another audiobook for adults! Our Newbery committee agreed not to listen to audiobooks of eligible books, since that might influence us one way or the other. So I’m using my commute to listen to books for adults. After reading The Woman in Cabin 10 and thoroughly enjoying spending time with a thriller, I was excited to see the library had an audio version of Ruth Ware’s latest thriller.

The Death of Mrs. Westaway is a completely different story from The Woman in Cabin 10, but it, too, sets the stage, lets you thoroughly understand the characters – and leads up to a completely tense, edge-of-your-seat, the-author-wouldn’t-really-let-her-die-would-she? moment.

At the beginning of this book, Harriet (known as “Hal”) Westaway receives a letter from her lawyer informing her that her grandmother has died and she needs to go to Trepassen House in Cornwall to receive her inheritance.

The thing is – Hal’s grandmother died before she was born. Her mother was single (said her father was a student she had a one-night stand with) and though she was named Westaway, her birth certificate lists a totally different name than the supposed grandmother of the letter.

But Hal is in deep financial trouble. When her mother died, Hal continued her tarot-reading booth on the pier in Brighton. But that’s not a reliable income, and she got in trouble borrowing money from a loan shark after her mother’s death, and now he wants her to pay back several times what she originally borrowed.

What if she just goes to Cornwall and tries to claim the money? They’re rich. Surely it won’t hurt them for her to take a little.

But when Hal gets there, she finds people with faces, not just selfish rich folks. Though there are some disturbing things about the house.

And then she finds out two things. One is that her mother spent time at Trepassen House right around the time Harriet was conceived. The other is that Mrs. Westaway named Hal in her will – and left her the bulk of her estate, passing over her three living children and the missing daughter who had the same name as Hal’s mother.

This book moves slowly, building the scenes and the relationships step by step by step. Which makes it all the more powerful when it comes to the terrifying, but ultimately satisfying, ending.

The narrator is the same one who read The Woman in Cabin Ten — and though Hal wasn’t as desperate a woman as that narrator, I enjoyed Imogen Church’s way of voicing her just as much. Though it’s no secret I’ll enjoy listening to anyone who has a British accent – she does a good job on top of that.

If you enjoy psychological thrillers, here’s another outstanding one.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/death_of_mrs_westaway.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Review of The House of Unexpected Sisters, by Alexander McCall Smith, narrated by Lisette Lecat

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018

The House of Unexpected Sisters

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2017. 9.5 hours on 8 compact discs.

Another book about Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! I keep reading these books (now listening) because the characters feel like an extension of my family. Now that I’m on the 2019 Newbery committee, during 2018 I’m trying not to listen to Newbery-eligible books, not wanting to be swayed by a good or bad narrator. But that gives me one opportunity to “read” books for adults – during my commute. This is a wonderful choice, because Lisette Lecat’s accents make me feel like I’m in Botswana itself.

I wouldn’t, though, recommend that anyone first introduce themselves to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with this book. They only have one real case, and it’s one they don’t get paid for, which makes me wonder how they’re carrying on.

Alexander McCall Smith’s books all seem to progress at a leisurely pace, but this one seemed even slower than usual. I still enjoyed it – because I love these characters. But even I thought of switching to something else a few discs in.

One place where I laughed out loud – not in a good way – was when something villainous came up and you-know-who was involved – Yes, none other than Violet Sepotho! It’s getting a bit silly how much she gets around. I remember at the beginning of the series, there were some very creative puzzles. Instead of having the main mystery be how did Violet Sepotho cause trouble this time?

But the part I enjoyed most was the part that related to the title – discovering unexpected sisters. I won’t say more, because I’ll let you enjoy what drama there is. It is truly a surprise – but ends up (no surprise there) being a delightful one.

recordedbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/house_of_unexpected_sisters.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

The Woman in Cabin 10

by Ruth Ware
read by Imogen Church

Encore (Simon & Schuster Audio), 2016. 9 discs.
Starred Review

While I’m reading lots and lots of children’s books for the 2019 Newbery Medal, during my commute I indulged in a thriller for adults. This book is so intense, I can’t promise that it didn’t mess with my driving.

We’ve got a wonderfully unreliable narrator. Lo Blacklock is a travel writer, and she gets an opportunity to go on a luxury cruise on a small lavish ship while her boss is on maternity leave. But a few days before the trip, she suffered a break in, and she’s very much on edge. And then, yes, she had quite a bit too much to drink the first night of the cruise.

So when she wakes up suddenly in the night to the sound of a body thrown into the sea, we definitely wonder if that’s really what she heard. But there must be an explanation for the fact that before dinner, there was a woman in Cabin 10 who gave Lo mascara when she asked to borrow some, and didn’t want it back. After Lo hears the splash in the night and calls security, there is no one in Cabin 10, and she’s told that the person who booked that room never came on the cruise at all. So who did Lo see and talk with?

The security staff don’t believe her. The reader isn’t sure we should either. The ship keeps traveling on.

But some more odd things start to happen.

This book does a wonderful job of setting a puzzle which I not only couldn’t solve, but I couldn’t imagine how the author could possibly solve.

Let’s just say that the author did make the puzzle work – with plenty of life-and-death danger and suspense along the way.

The narrator was fabulous. Though I have to say that I’m easily pleased by anyone with a British accent – but she did a good job and was a delight to listen to. Lo’s precarious mental state was communicated often by the tone of voice, sounding somewhat desperate when called for, or bewildered, or simply exhausted.

This was one of those audiobooks I eventually brought into my house to finish, because I couldn’t stand waiting until my next commute. Highly recommended for a version of a locked-room mystery – at sea.

audio.simonandschuster.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/woman_in_cabin_10.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Precious and Grace, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, January 14th, 2018

Precious and Grace

by Alexander McCall Smith
narrated by Lisette Lecat

Recorded Books, 2016. 9.75 hours on 8 CDs.

Here’s another book about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, with co-directors Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi. The main puzzle of the book involves a Canadian lady who wants to find the place where she grew up in Gabarone and the lady who cared for her. But Mma Ramotswe senses there’s more to the case than meets the eye.

Other plot threads involve a stray dog befriended by Fanwell and a business scheme which Mr. Polopetsi falls for. And guess who’s up for Woman of the Year? It’s Grace Makutsi’s nemesis, Violet Sepotho.

It’s interesting that this one doesn’t have a surprisingly amusing title, but boils the work down to a story of friendship between two interesting ladies, Precious and Grace. They have their difficult moments, but ultimately they help people solve their problems. The book is filled with the usual gentle philosophy.

I’m now enjoying listening to these in audiobook format, getting more of the flavor of the book, as well as correct pronunciation, with the skilled narration and lovely accent of Lisette Lecat.

There’s nothing really new in this installment. But if you’ve come this far, you’ll enjoy another installment of philosophy and friendship with Precious and Grace.

alexandermccallsmith.com
recordedbooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/precious_and_grace.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?

Review of A Christmas Return, by Anne Perry

Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

A Christmas Return

by Anne Perry

Ballantine Books, 2017. 176 pages.

Anne Perry’s Christmas murder mysteries have become a holiday tradition for me. They’re cozy; they’re short; and reading one is a nice way to indulge myself as Christmas approaches.

A Christmas Return features Charlotte Pitt’s grandmother Mariah Ellison, who is asked for help with a striking message – a Christmas pudding with a fake cannonball inside. She’s being told that someone is digging up the case about an old friend who was killed when his bookcase fell over and a decorative fake cannonball struck him, which happened twenty years before.

The dead man’s grandson is asking for her help. He was only ten years old when the death happened. Now he wants Mariah’s help clearing his grandmother’s name. Mariah was there at the time, so she alone can help.

These Christmas mysteries are short, but Anne Perry gives us enough back story to care. And there’s something nice at Christmas about seeing justice done and good people vindicated.

anneperry.co.uk
randomhousebooks.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/christmas_return.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library book from Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

What did you think of this book?