Archive for the ‘Mystery/Suspense’ Category

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein  code name verity

This is a must-read for teens. And for adults. It’s no more only a ‘teen book’ than The Book Thief is a ‘teen book.’ Never mind how the publisher describes it. Read it.

Since Code Name Verity deals with espionage, it is hard to give you too much summary—this is one book that will be ruined by that. So—I want you to trust me. There’s everything to love here. Oh—trust the Printz Award Committee as well—it’s a Printz Award Honor book.

The basics: A couple of young women become great friends in World War II. They are British—but don’t call the Scottish girl English of you’re in big trouble. One is a pilot, who normally taxis planes for the male pilots, who use them in battle. The other is a telegraph operator. But both are required to serve both secretly and dangerously as the war effort becomes a struggle and Nazi Germany may well overcome all of Europe. Britain is Europe’s final hope.

In a flight over Nazi-occupied France, the fighter plane that the young women are in crashes. The survivor is held captive by the Nazis and tortured for information.  She is required to write information down, but she includes a narrative of how she and her friend arrived at the moment of the crash.

This book is about true bravery—courage in the face of incredible adversity, and not just of the two main characters, but of all sorts of ordinary British servicemen and citizens as well as ordinary French folk who aid the French Resistance. And even a few double-agent Nazis.

Sometimes we say there is a breathtaking moment in a book or a movie, and we don’t mean it literally. In Code Name Verity, think of literally sucking in your breath at the shock and being unable to let it out.

Code Name Verity deals with individual acts, courage, and moral ambiguity.

High school housekeeping: I recommend this book for all readers. You’ll learn something about WWII in Europe and the roles of both women and men. The afterword by the author, where she tells us about how she did her research, and how she decided which scenes would be credible and which scenes would have to be left out,  is great stuff. You can use this as a fictional springboard to do your own research on many issues from WW II—the Royal Air Force, the French Resistance, women in WW II, fighter pilots, Britain during the war, etc.

A little note on the use of the word ‘fag’ in the novel: As you are American teens, you may wonder at the word ‘fag’ used throughout the book—how people are trading them, giving them as gifts, etc. No worries—in Britain (and I believe this is still true) ‘fag’ is a common term for cigarette. In fact, there’s a history behind that use and the derogatory use of the word for a gay man. You could research it. Very sad.


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Ontario City Library and Best Buy Children’s Foundation

are sponsoring another Teen Book Fest!

May 11, 2013

9:00 AM-5:00 PM

Merton E. Hill Auditorium

(on the Chaffey campus–next to the district offices)

211 W. Fifth Street, Ontario

You must reserve a ticket, but it’s free. Call 909-395-2225.

Doors open at 8:30. Come early and buy a book

so that you can have the author sign it!

This year’s authors include:

Carrie Arcos–Out of Reach

Leigh Bardugo–Shadow and Bone

Jennifer Bosworth–Struck

Jessica Brody–My Life Undecided

Stephen Chbosky–The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Sara Wilson Etienne–Harbinger

Suzanne Lazear–Innocent Darkness

Marie Lu–The Legend series

Morgan Matson–Amy and Roger’s Epic Detour

Gretchen McNeil–Ten and Possess

Gregg Olsen–The Empty Coffin series

Andrew Smith–The Marbury Lens and others

Ann Stampler–Where  It Began

Lex Thomas–Quarantine: The Loners

See you there!

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Envy by Gregg Olsen  envy

Katelyn Berkley dies in a freak accident. She is electrocuted in the bathtub when her expresso machine either falls into the water or when she threw it in. Or when someone else threw it in.

Katelyn is a ‘cutter’ whose many serious problems included an alcoholic mother. So is her death a suicide or an accident? Or maybe even murder?

Port Gamble is Katelyn’s home. It’s a seemingly perfect historic town in Washington with a lot of rules—the past has to be preserved—and a lot of secrets. It’s called “Empty Coffin” as a nod to an old tale about the mysterious disappearance of a body that was supposed to be buried at sea.

Katelyn’s death occurs just before the tenth anniversary of a horrific bus accident in which several Port Gamble children were killed. Thrown from the vehicle, Katelyn survived the bus accident only to later meet her bizarre fate in the bathtub. Two other girls, twins Hayley and Taylor Ryan, also survived the accident, but their survival was implausible. They had been plunged into a freezing river. They remained in comas for a month before waking. Now, no one talks about what happened.

While the truth about Katelyn’s death is surfacing, a nosey reporter is also uncovering some uncomfortable truths about the twins. Taylor and Hayley prove to be the snoops who take it upon themselves to investigate strange occurrences, to dig into the uncomfortable past. This seems natural for them. Their mother is a psychiatric nurse; their father is a writer of true crime books, a man who researches the lives of serial murderers; the girls themselves have a powerful paranormal connection and can visualize letters and words which they must deconstruct to get clues to the crimes.

Envy is the first in the Empty Coffin series. An important element of the book is based on a true cyber-bullying story. If you are one to follow big news stories, you’ll guess pretty quickly some of what happened to Katelyn—although knowing this news story won’t resolve the circumstances of her death, so you’ll still be in for some surprises.

Envy name drops many pop stars and current TV personalities, which may date the novel quickly. And some of the characters are one-dimensional. The twins are unrealistically sweet; opposite them is the super-witchy, egocentric Starla. She’s the school’s queen bee and cheerleading beauty, who had formerly been Katelyn’s BFF, but has dropped her for some reason. She’s the girl we’ll love to hate as the series moves forward. Still, the book is a lot of fun. It reminds me of the old TV series Murder, She Wrote because of the small town setting. But the twins have a lot more teen appeal than Jessica Fletcher. Maybe they are a super-updated version of Nancy Drew.

If you like quick murder mysteries with topical themes (like cyber-bullying or cyber-stalking), you’ll enjoy this who-done-it. If you are a fan of the Dead Is series, you’ll appreciate the paranormal element. A quick read for any teen.

Note: Author Gregg Olsen will be at the Teen Book Fest on May 11. Tickets are free, but to go, you need to have a ticket. Call 909-395-2225 to reserve one.

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beautiful creatures  Ethan’s family has lived in Gatlin, South Carolina, “the epicenter of the middle of nowhere,” for generations. The town is full of history and superstition, as Ethan believes can only happen in the South. The neighbors are obsessed with the Civil War, which they call (like many Southerners) “The War of Northern Aggression.” His dreams of a mysterious girl become reality when he begins his sophomore year at Stonewall Jackson High and sees Lena for the first time. And this new girl is special—not only is she a break from the extraordinary boredom of the town (finally!), but she has extraordinary powers.

Lena’s big problem seems to be that she is old man Ravenwood’s niece. As the relative of a shut in who makes ‘Boo Radley look like a social butterfly,’ she is prejudged as a social nobody. She plays the haunting song of Ethan’s dreams “Sixteen Moons.” She also comes to school in a hearse. But much worse is in store for Lena than being shunned by the cheer squad. She’s a Caster (think ‘witch’) and has no control over whether, on her sixteenth birthday—coming soon—she will be changed to dark or light, good or evil. If she goes dark, she won’t retain any compassion or love for others (that, of course, includes Ethan). It’s what happened to Lena’s cousin, Riley, a year earlier. And Riley is one scary witch.

Ethan is energetic, funny, and escapes the boredom of his town life through books. If he were a girl, you’d call him sassy. I related to him immediately. It’s fun that he narrates the book because Gothic romance almost always has a female narrator.

I’m pretty late in realizing that Beautiful Creatures was becoming a movie. I ran out and got a few more copies for each of my schools, and then read it as quickly as possible. I usually have complaints about Gothic/fantasy books because they repeat themselves so often, but not so in Beautiful Creatures. It’s a long book, but we regularly get new information and the story moves along. It’s true that a few big scenes are pretty straight steals from Stephen King’s Carrie (another big dance gone wrong!) and the “Harper Valley PTA” song, but I enjoyed the writing, the characters, and the setting. When people act out of character, there is a reason, revealed in the book’s climax. The fact that it’s multigenerational—information about Casters and Seers comes from aunts, uncles, grandparents—adds to the fun of the mystery and gives us more people to worry about when the spells and supernatural evil starts flying.

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dust & decay    Dust & Decay by Jonathan Maberry

So, I know this isn’t a real review because it’s a labor of love and I’m a bit overwhelmed (or not feeling the love—or something) BUT—

Still the best zombie apocalypse ever!

Before reading Dust & Decay, you should read the first title in the series, Rot & Ruin, because you don’t want to miss any of the action.

I don’t always read full series, even when I really like the first book, because my goal is to get students started on something they like and hope they will continue. I have to move along to other titles. But sometimes, I just have to keep going. That’s the case with Benny Imura.

We readers thought we got rid of Charlie Pinkeye, the Motor City Hammer and Gameland at the end of book one. But Gameland is back and this time takes center stage, with its gladiator-style contests of teens pitted against zoms—while folks who are otherwise considered pillars of the community lay their bets.

Something I was afraid was going to happen did happen. Heartbreaking.

Yup, book two has the same thoughtfulness about life and alliances, good and evil, and (some crazy) religious hypocrisy.

Oh, yeah. And epic zombie action. That’s right, even the surf dudes are getting involved. What next? On to book three, Flesh & Bone.

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Knowing that the Jack Reacher movie was coming out, I decided to try one of the novels—Worth Dying For—just to worth dying forsee if it was something our students would like.

I’d never read a Jack Reacher book before and was a bit surprised that he is 6’5” and Tom Cruise is playing the part. Having only read the one book, I don’t know why Reacher, former cop and war veteran, is a one-man vigilante, bound to seek justice for the little guy (and gal). Whatever the reason, he is certainly good at it. I guess this was sort of Die Hard in a book.

In Worth Dying For, Reacher finds himself in a very small town in Nebraska where the Duncan family plays a local, minor mafia. When Reacher sees that Eleanor Duncan, the wife of one of these bad guys, has an unstoppable bloody nose, he realizes that her husband, Seth, beats her. So he finds Seth and breaks his nose just to give him an idea of what it feels like.

But more trouble is afoot—the Duncans are not only abusive, they are criminals who force the local farmers to use their trucking company to transport their crops. And they seem to have been involved in the disappearance of an eight-year-old neighbor girl 25 years earlier. But why? And where did Seth Duncan, the adopted son of one of the three Duncan brothers, come from? No one is allowed to question them. The Duncans employ former Nebraska Cornhusker football players as henchmen. (I have a feeling that Cornhusker alumni don’t like this book much.) Everyone in the town is so afraid of the Duncan family that they have formed a phone tree to always let one another know what the Duncans are doing.

When Reacher starts snooping around, the Duncans need to have him taken out. As he is too much for the former football players, they seek help from their criminal contacts all the way from Las Vegas. Everyone gets in on the plan to kill Reacher because they all depend on illegal shipments by the Duncan family trucking business. What these shipments are is one of the mysteries for the reader to figure out.

I can understand why some readers would like Jack Reacher novels. Honest. But I hated this one, so it’ll be my last Jack Reacher novel. He gets out of trouble way too easily for me. I wish the author would have allowed him to have a few big fails—the kind that make readers worry about the protagonist and become invested in him.

The other thing about me is that I can only take so many descriptions of how to break noses—and even fewer on how to pop them back into place. Only so many descriptions of kicking and blowing things up—at least ones that include exact measurements of the sizes of all equipment and all body parts involved. How many centimeters between the bridge of the nose and the center of the forehead? I really don’t care.

I also don’t like it when the writing tends toward this sort of thing: ‘A car was coming down the road. It was red, but you couldn’t tell in the dark. It looked blue or gray or black—something not light, like white or yellow. Reacher knew that the car could turn left away from him. He knew that it could turn right toward him.’ (No—not a direct quote, just close.) Honestly, as much action as there is in this book, as much repetitive and gratuitous violence, it was surprising how it just seemed to drag on and on because of the monotony of the descriptions (including all those measurements.) I thought it would never end, but I stuck with it because I had invested so much time in it. By the time I finally finished, the movie had already been out for several weeks.

The end of this book, the disappearance mystery, the revelation of illegal product that the Duncans are transporting—that was very good. And the description of victims is the most understated, best writing in the entire novel. It worked beautifully, and made me wish the rest of the book had been written that way. Good as that ending was, it just took me too long to get there to want to try another book in the series. But, my taste in this matter is probably in the minority. High school guys may like the Jack Reacher books in the same way that they like violent action films. If so, there are many titles in the series available at our local public library.

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Riley Park by Diane Tullson   riley park

Here’s another super-quick Orca Soundings novel that I liked:

Corbin and his best friend Darius are both attracted to the same girl, Rubee, who works at the local Safeway grocery store as a checker. But after Rubee appears to have broken up with her boyfriend, Corbin hesitates to ask Rubee out. So Darius does, making Corbin jealous and angry. Still, they are friends and Corbin loves the way Darius is a risk-taker. He gets Corbin to go along with jumping off a high cliff into the local river. It’s times like this when Corbin feels most alive.

After the jump is over, the two guys argue about Rubee, who has come to the outdoor party near the Riley River to see Darius. Later, when the crowd is gone and just Darius and Corbin are left, they are savagely attacked by three guys with a tire iron. In the hospital before Corbin passes out, he hears Darius’s heart monitor become quiet and flat line. He awakes to brain damage and the question of who attacked the two friends—and why?

This story is an interesting look at what is worth fighting for and what has to be let go

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