Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scottish Mystery

Something Wicked: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz (NY: Dial, 2008).

Horatio lands in the middle of another dramatic murder mystery when he travels to a Scottish Highlands summer festival on a mountain in North Carolina with his friend Mac (whose girlfriend's name is....yes, Beth). While he resists wearing a kilt, Horatio can't help but investigate when Mac's grandfather, the founder of the festival, Duncan MacRae, is stabbed to death in the family tent. Duncan's son seems to be the culprit, but the evidence starts pointing in another direction, eerily in sync with the predictions of what Horatio had assumed was a fake psychic.

Danger, romance, bagpipes, and men in skirts--not to mention Shakespeare allusions--this mystery has it all! Great reading for tweens and teens, grades 7 & up. A bit of gore, sexual situations, language.

Friday, January 29, 2010

13 Reasons

Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher (NY: Razorbill, 2007).

Some books should come with a warning label: Do not start reading unless you have several free hours. This is one of them. Asher masterfully grabs the reader and does not let go in this compelling tale of teen suicide and its aftermath.

Everyone loves receiving an unexpected package, so Clay Jensen thinks nothing of opening up the box addressed to him that he finds propped up against his front door when he arrives home from school. In it he finds seven audiocassettes that suck him into a vortex of circumstances that have ended in the death of a classmate. Hannah narrates the thirteen reasons she ended her life, each reason being a different person, each person being sent the tapes sequentially to hear his or her role in Hannah's death.

Clay knows Hannah. He thinks he loved her; he even kissed her at a party and assumed something about him made the relationship wither. He does not want to listen to the tapes, afraid of what he might hear, but at the same time, he has to. Using a map that had appeared in his locker a few weeks before Hannah died, Clay revisits the places and events in Hannah's life that led to her decision. We feel his pain and regret, and Hannah's as well, as Asher vividly evokes adolescent intensity--the way rumors and gossip can lead to pain and destruction. It's easy to dismiss it as overdramatization, but the realism of this novel makes it all too plausible.

Sexual situations, language, disturbing theme. Grades 7 & up.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Latest from Grafton

U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton (NY: Putnam's, 2009).

I've liked almost all the books in this series, and this installment struck me as particularly good. Although Grafton goes forward and backward in time with characters who seem unrelated at first, the story comes together well. Set in 1988, it revolves around solving the kidnapping and presumed murder of a four-year-old girl nearly twenty years ago.

Kinsey Millhone, now almost thirty-eight years old, has aged well and remains an engaging character who deals sharply with a variety of situations. I look forward to seeing if she can adapt to computer technology, which is just on the horizon for her if the series continues to Z.

Adult themes, language, and situations; high school readers on up will find the book accessible.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dramatic Mystery!

Something Rotten: A Horatio Wilkes Mystery by Alan Gratz (NY: Dial, 2007).

Denmark, Tennessee, really stinks. That's Horatio Wilkes's first impression when he and his friend Hamilton Prince (get it??) go to visit Hamilton's family. But it's not just the toxic Elsinore Paper Company, which the wealthy Prince family has operated for years, dumping loads of smelly pollutants in the Copenhagen River. Hamilton's dad, Rex, has recently died and his mom Trudy has married his father's brother, Claude. In a security video the guys view shortly after their arrival, a ghostly Rex infers that he's been poisoned. By whom? Horatio sets out to investigate.

Aside from the obvious (and fun to detect) parallels to Shakespeare's Hamlet, Gratz's mystery offers nonstop action and an intriguing plot with a witty protagonist. No language or sex, just grisly family affairs.....