Posts Tagged ‘mystery’

Cannonball 20: The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

The Moving Toyshop (Classic Crime) The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Confession: I love watching crime procedurals.

There’s something so fascinating to me about the mystery behind a crime: Whodunnit? Howdeydunnit? Whydeydunnit? Whodatdere?

Most of all, I like that they require little to no commitment to the show to watch — you don’t really need to know much about the detectives to understand the gathering of clues and the eventually nabbing of the perpetrator.

But, as a result, crime procedurals usually feel pretty one-dimensional — bad guy commits crime, good guys pick up clues along the way, sometimes in really geniusy ways, good guys figure out what happened, find bad guy, bad guy goes to jail or is punished in some other way.

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin reminded me a lot of a run-of-the-mill crime procedural in book form.

The mystery begins when a young poet, Richard Cadogan, decides to take a trip to Oxford to visit his friend, Professor of English Gervase Fen. Cadogan somehow finds himself in a toyshop, where he stumbles upon the body of an old woman. He’s then knocked out by an unseen assailant and, when he tries to lead the police back to the scene of the crime, he finds that the toyshop is nowhere to be found.

Fen is actually the protagonist of the book, but it took me a while to come to this conclusion because so much of the beginning of the book focused on Cadogan. It really wasn’t until I was a good third of the way through the book that I figured out that Fen was the sleuth, here. Those with snarky predilections might point out that I might not be enough of a sleuth myself to truly enjoy the book, to which I will retort that if I seem unenthusiastic about the book, it’s because I’m too much of an English major.

He can solve my mystery any day.

The sleuthing was decent; Crispin did a fair job of setting up the investigatory part of the book. And I did rather enjoy Fen’s witty banter with Cadogan — in my mind, the part of Fen is being played by a re-Englished Hugh Laurie. There were some entertaining chase scenes and a colorful cast of characters.

Maybe it’s because I’m the jaded product of an over-entertained generation, but the action was pretty flat to me. The big reveal was a huge letdown. When an author promises a mind-blowing mystery, then the reveal had better live up to the build-up. Unfortunately, Crispin’s big reveal left much to be desired.

That was my biggest problem with the book. It just didn’t deliver what it promised. It was an entertaining, mercifully quick read, but I doubt I’ll be picking up another Gervase Fen mystery anytime soon.

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Cannonball 12: The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues #3) by Peter Lerangis

The Sword Thief (The 39 Clues, #3) The Sword Thief by Peter Lerangis

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When I was younger, I used to despise Koreans. I would get really embarrassed when all the other Korean kids started drawing Korean flags on their backpacks and notebooks and writing “KP” (“Korean Pride”) on everything they owned (I still think I was a tiny bit justified in that embarrassment. That’s pretty lame, yo).

But, as I grew older, I realized that, whether I liked it or not, being Korean was part of my heritage, and trying to cut that off was like cutting off my nose to spite my face. I learned to accept the good things that came with the culture (the emphasis on diligence, integrity, and respect) and to watch out for the bad (arrogance in achievement, undue emphasis on success in the eyes of the world, and the tendency to bury emotions and affection down where no one can find it, not even you).

Besides that, I realized that Koreans have the best cuisine in the world. Seriously, Korean food is tha BOMB.

And then I read The Sword Thief and now I hate Koreans again.

The third book in the 39 Clues series (I can’t believe I’m only one-thirteenth of the way through this series. Kill me now) contains two elements that I find absolutely repulsive. The first is a mysterious Korean uncle to two white kids (you still haven’t explained this to my satisfaction, writers), who alternates between wanting to help the kids and wanting to hurt the kids to help himself. Through it all, he’s creepy as creepy gets, and the picture of an actor posing as him on one of the collectible cards was even creepier because the book makes him sound like an old man, but the man in the picture was youngish. Creepy uncle of eternal youth? Creepy.

And his name is supposed to be Alistair Oh? Shenanigans. Strike three, writers.

The second creepy-as-all-get-out element is Amy Cahill’s crush on her COUSIN. Ew, ew, and EW. I don’t care that they’re probably not that closely related. There’s even a scene where Ian Kabra, the handsome cousin (GAG) “lightly brushes her lips with his” or some crap like that. EEEWWWW!!!! Excuse my while I puke!!! That is so not appropriate, I don’t know what to say. And the worst part of it is that it’s not even being played for laughs, or with any hint of irony. When the writers of “Arrested Development” put romantic tension between George Michael (the adorable Michael Cera) and his cousin Maeby (the also adorable Alia Shawkat), at least there was a chance she was adopted and it was all played for laughs anyway. But The 39 Clues is taking this über-seriously. As serious as the hereditary diseases that result from inbreeding.

Other than that, the adventure part of this novel was pretty much the same old schlock I’m getting used to seeing from this series. Kids race around exotic foreign location, avoid baddies, run into baddies, somehow elude their grasp and manage to be the first to find the next clue in the series.

Three down. Thirty-six to go. *sigh*

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Cannonball Read 9: One False Note (The 39 Clues #2) by Gordon Korman

One False Note (The 39 Clues, #2) One False Note by Gordon Korman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I firmly believe that writing for kids should still reflect good writing.

Just because they’re kids doesn’t mean that you should throw in a bunch of explosions or fighting to keep them interested. No, I believe that children, like adults, learn how to write from what they read. I’m not just talking about grammar, here. I’m talking about style, descriptions, expression — the whole shebangbang.

And the better the writing is now, the better it will be in the future, when today’s kids grow up and write books of their own.

This is why I’m so disappointed with this book. Gordon Korman wrote This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall when he was only twelve — it was published when he was fourteen. The Bruno & Boots series was full of fun and energy — I wanted to move to Canada and attend Miss Scrimmage’s Finishing School for Young Ladies so that I could engage in shenanigans with the boys at McDonald Hall. His characters were believable and had a lot of depth under all the fun.

How can it be that Korman’s writing got worse as he got older?

After reading The Maze of Bones, the only things that made me read the second book in the series were that: A. my nine-year-old buddy BN was looking forward to lending it to me, and B. the second book was written by Gordon Korman. I figured that if anyone could rescue this series from a crappy second installment, it was Korman.

I was wrong. I was so, so wrong.

The second installment in the series takes the kids from France to Austria to Italy. This time, they’re chasing Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. We get a lot of nice Mozart factoids along the way, but I’m dubious as to the accuracy of some of them. For example, the book claims that Mozart had a twin sister. He did have a sister, but they weren’t twins. What’s up with that, Korman?

But my biggest beef with this volume wasn’t the inaccuracies. It was the lack of style.

Maybe it’s because he was given such crappy characters to work with in the first place, but the book was just as two-dimensional as its predecessor. I guess I was expecting too much — if Korman read Rick Riordan’s installment and then tried to copy his (flat) style, then he did too good a job. Korman, sometimes, it’s okay to turn down a job.

Really, the only thing One False Note really does is get the Cahill kids from France to Italy, from whence they will fly off to Japan. *sigh*

Man, I miss Ellen Raskin so much.

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Regular Read: Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

Eleven Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I’ve been reading a lot of mystery lately.

I’ve probably read more mystery in the last month than I have in the rest of my life combined.

And I think I like it.

But this is my one caveat: if you’re going to promise me a mystery, then you’d darn well better deliver the goods. If you’re going to present a twist, then it had better leave me open-mouthed, doubled over, and gasping.

Eleven by Patricia Reilly Giff left me shaking my head, rolling my eyes, and feeling cheated.

The premise of the book is that a young boy who lives with his grandfather begins to have strange dreams and memories of his past. He remembers the number eleven, which he thinks is because he’s turning eleven years old. But (dun-dun-DUN!): It’s not!

Possibly because of the previous trauma in his life, Sam is having a hard time learning how to read. He’s the only kid in his class that can’t read very well. One day, he’s in the attic and finds Mack’s secret stash of Sam mementos (“What is this fascination with my Forbidden Closet of Mystery?” – points if you can name that quote), amongst which is a newspaper clipping with a picture of Sam with a headline stating that he’s missing – and has a different last name!!

Intrigue!!

Since he can’t read the rest of the article, he makes friends with the new girl at school, Caroline, who helps him to read the clipping and research what really happened to him.

I won’t spoil the rest of the mystery, but I will say this: some mystery.

The ending of the book to me was like going to a mystery dinner theater and having the host declare: “And the murdered is someone in this very room!!”
(The audience gasps.)
“By the way, the victim of the murder isn’t actually dead. This is just pretend, people.”

Read the book. You’ll see what I mean.

Ms. Giff got me all riled up for nothing. She promises this huge payoff by working up all this intrigue and tension, and she simply doesn’t deliver.

And this book doesn’t even count as a Cannonball Read because it’s not long enough.

Phooey. I’ll be sticking with Trenton Lee Stewart and Ellen Raskin, thanks.

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Cannonball 4: The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues #1) by Rick Riordan

The Maze of Bones (The 39 Clues, #1) The Maze of Bones by Rick Riordan

My rating: 2 of 5 stars
So, it’s already been established why I like reading children’s books.

One of my favorite book buddies is my eleven-year-old friend JN, who introduced me to Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.

I enjoy borrowing books from JN because it’s fun to see his eyes light up when we talk about books together. And it certainly doesn’t hurt my street cred amongst the younger generation.

When his little brother, nine-year-old BN, wanted to lend me a book, I nearly died at how adorable it was. “Miss Jeena, you have to read The 39 Clues! It’s so good!” All italics and enthusiasm, God bless ‘im. So of course I agreed to read the first installment of the series, The Maze of Bones, so that I could see the same light in his eyes that I saw in his brother’s when we discussed our favorite parts of the books.

Alas, young BN, how will I face you on Sunday? I must give you back your book and tell you honestly that I thought it was… *gulp*… just okay.

The Thirty-Nine Clues is a mystery series by Rick Riordan. Quite frankly, it’s a sloppy re-tread of The Westing Game (still the best children’s mystery EVER!! If you haven’t read it, get your hands on a copy! Post-haste!) with a dash of The Mysterious Benedict Society and none of the style of any of its predecessors. There are clues, there is intrigue, there is sabotage, good guys and bad guys – all of the ingredients for a successful children’s mystery serious.

So what’s missing? Two words: character development.

Dan and Amy Cahill are orphans. They, along with a bunch of relatives (all of whom happen to be evil), have forfeited their $1 million (each!) inheritances in order to participate in their recently deceased grandmother’s inheritance competition. Nobody knows what the prize is, but Grace Cahill promises fame and intrigue for the winners! No money, though! But fame! And intrigue!

Since we no longer live in the days of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (another book superior to this one. *sigh*), Dan and Amy can’t very well go gallivanting off to trot the globe unaccompanied. Enter Nellie, their equally two-dimensional au pair. Nellie is half French and half Spanish. She’s trilingual and listens to loud rock music and probably cuts herself when she thinks the kids aren’t looking. She worries herself to a frazzle when they ditch her, and they ditch her quite often.

As for Dan and Amy themselves, they’re supposed to be fourteen and eleven, but they act more like they’re nine and six. Heck, Olive has more self-control than they do, and she’s supposed to be twelve.

(Sidenote: I must confess that, after reading this book, I began to wonder if Olive, Henry, and Sting argued too much. But the truth is that we did argue about stuff like this. It’s very gritty and real for elementary school kids.)

They’re constantly bickering about the stupidest stuff – and at the most ridiculous times. If you’re being chased by murderous relatives, the last thing you’re going to do is say, “Hey, I want to stop and make a charcoal rubbing of a tombstone!” It makes me think that Riordan is allowing his characters to act stupid just to move the plot along, which smacks to me of lazy writing.

And all of the villains are flat, two-dimensional evil. Why would these two supposedly smart kids fall for the obvious traps that these villains set for them? Lazy writing strikes again.

There are a few redeeming qualities to The 39 Clues. The first is that it’s fairly educational – compared to, like, Goosebumps and whatever other crap kids are reading these days (HEY! Get off my lawn!!). You learn a lot about Benjamin Franklin from this book – that is, if you never had to do a report on him in fifth grade (truth: I learned a lot more from the report. But what you learn about him in The Thirty-Nine Clues is better than nothing).

The second is that there’s an online community (www.the39clues.com) for readers of the series. Each book comes with a few collector cards in it, and you can enter the secret codes on the cards at the website and actually win prizes and money by playing! Say what you will about Rick Riordan’s writing, but this is a cool idea. If his writing wasn’t so awful, I might actually visit the website.

All in all, there’s worse crap out there that a kid could be reading. At least this series encourages a bit of critical thinking.

Sorry, BN. Wish I could say I liked it more. But crazy, old Auntie Jeena will take “well-written” over “adventure-filled” any day.

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Cannonball 3: The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma (Audio CD) The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma by Trenton Lee Stewart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The Prisoner’s Dilemma is the third book in the Mysterious Benedict Society series.

For those not in the know, The Mysterious Benedict Society is a children’s series by Trenton Lee Stewart. It follows the escapades of four specially gifted children as they work with their mentor, the wise and benevolent Nicholas Benedict, to thwart the plans of his evil twin brother, Ledroptha Curtain.

I think it’s easily the best new series to hit children’s lit since the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary (that’s right, J.K. Rowling. I’m dismissing Harry Potter into the annals of crappy children’s lit – where it belongs) and the best mystery for kids since Ellen Raskin’s The Westing Game, which, in my mind, is the best children’s mystery novel of all time.

The kids are usually somehow separated from all of their adult friends and must band together to figure out what Mr. Curtain is up to and stop it. Usually, the reader can play along by trying to decipher the clues that the MBS get.

But my favorite thing about this series is not the mystery. No, that’s just the meat sauce covering up all the carrots and spinach that Mom snuck into the spaghetti. My favorite thing about Stewart’s series is that the kids are refreshingly good.

I don’t know when it became okay and even respected for kids to sass their parents and treat one another like crap. Characters in books don’t say things anymore. They scream them. It’s like they’re constantly yelling at one another because of the terrible burden of whatever mission it is they’re trying to accomplish.

But the kids in MBS only shout when they have to in order to be heard. They do get annoyed with each other, but they *gasp!* do their best not to show their annoyance. That’s, like… mature behavior! I hope to God that some of the celebutards out there will someday read these books and think to themselves, “Hmm, I should exercise some self-control every now and again.”

And the kids don’t just refrain from treating one another badly. When one of them makes a mistake, instead of sniping at one another and pointing fingers, the others leap at the opportunity to encourage their teammate. Each of them has a different skill: Reynie is a critical thinker, Sticky has a photographic memory, Kate can climb anything and outrun most adults, and Constance has the gift of extraordinary stubbornness. Oh, and ESP.

Each of them may have a special talent, but they all know that they need to work as a team in order to succeed. There’s no “lone wolf” mentality in these books. They encourage community and teamwork and friendship.

In this specific installment of the series, the evil Mr. Curtain is after Constance for her ability to read and control minds. The plot involves a power outage, a showdown, and some fun clues to figure out (they’re doable if you’re well-versed in riddling).

This installment was just okay, but the series as a whole still gets a solid rating from me.

I’d highly recommend this series to anyone with kids ages nine or ten and up. Screw the wizards. I want to be a secret agent.

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Life is a Mystery: The Busman’s Honeymoon

Busman's Honeymoon Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Confession: I’m not into mystery.

I’m not just talking about handsome, brooding men with a secret past (although I’m not really into that, either. Except maybe the handsome part. Secret pasts and brooding, though: no, thank you). I’m talking about the literary genre.

To be fair, my lack of enthusiasm has more to do with my lack of exposure to the genre. I refused to read science fiction until a coworker forced me to read Ender’s Game, which is now one of my favorite books of all time.

A friend that I know, love, and trust is a huge Dorothy Sayers fan, and she happened to have an extra copy of The Busman’s Honeymoon. Apparently, a “busman’s holiday” is a working vacation, more or less. I’d never heard the term before this book.

Lord Peter Wimsey has just been married and whisks his bride off to her childhood home in the country for a secluded honeymoon. Things take a turn for the worse when the previous owner of the home is found dead in the basement.

The mystery part of this book was decent – I think I’ve been spoiled by too many plot twists, which is de rigeur in both lit and film these days. But the dialog was clever, and the cast of characters is tons of fun.

It did take awfully long to get to the mystery, though. I counted over a hundred pages before the body was finally discovered. If (like me) you haven’t read the series from the beginning, you might find this part a wee bit dull.

The book was a solid train read, but I do kind of wish I’d read the other Lord Peter Wimsey books before reading this one. There’s kind of a huge spoiler in the beginning, which takes away half the fun. But if you’re looking for a gentle introduction to the mystery genre, then I’d say that this series is a solid pick.

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