Tag Archives: mystery

Book Catch-Up 2011 Part 1

A lot of the books I read in 2011 have gone unreviewed. I had grand plans to give each one the proper treatment, but that’s never going to happen. So here’s some brief thoughts on five

Bunheads by Sophie Flack: This is a little reminiscent of the movie Center Stage, but I enjoyed it. Ms. Flack is honest about the life of a dancer: the time devoted to the craft, the toll it takes on the body, the love/hate relationships among competitors, and the passion that keeps dancers going. Having interned at The Juilliard School for a year, I enjoyed recognizing Lincoln Center. A fun book for anyone interested in dance and/or the life of a NYC performer.

Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins: LOVE! I have to admit that Lola falls a little short of the glory of Anna and the French Kiss, but it is still fabulous! Lola crosses paths with Anna and St. Clair so you do get an update on those two. Lola is a fun, unique girl. She has two gay dads, and I love that this is not a “thing.” Ms. Perkins writes angst and tummy-flip-flop scenes like no one else.

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin: I picked this up specifically because of the blurb on the cover promoting it to Downton Abbey fans. The time period is similar, but not much else. It reminded me more of Brideshead Revisted then Downton, just because of all the angst and need for appearances while still misbehaving. (This is not destined to be a classic like Brideshead.) The characters aren’t very likable, which is another reason I didn’t see a Downton similarity. The main character, Cora, ends up being pretty sympathetic, if not likable, which was surprising because I expected to find her shallow. The best character is Bertha, Cora’s maid, who moves to England with Cora to continue in her employment. She is African-American and gives a unique perspective on the difference between discrimination in the United States and England. Despite the unlikable characters, I could not put it down; the plot kept me enthralled. The details about daily life in the time period are especially enjoyable.

The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson: Very fun suspense novel! Rory is an American attending a boarding school in London, and some of the book is devoted to character development and Rory’s adjustment to boarding school.  The mystery builds when Jack the Ripper copycat murders are happening in the city, and Rory could be the only person who has seen the murderer. The details about the real Jack the Ripper mystery make this especially interesting. This is the first in a series – can’t wait to read more!

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: Set in NYC in the late 1930s, it centers on Katey, a young lady in a secretarial pool. She hits the jazz clubs with Eve, her boarding house roommate at night, counting out their nickels and dimes to buy drinks and still have a late night snack on the way home. The two young ladies befriend Tinker, a wealthy young man, one night; the three friends are soon partying with lots of society-types. I really enjoyed this. The time period is an interesting one: the Depression has been around for a while, and the reader knows WWII is coming. NYC is so well-depicted it is a main character. I liked experiencing Katey’s life; she’s ambitious and works hard, but also enjoys a good time. When a wrench is thrown in the works, the escapades of the three friends are not meant to last. I always enjoy a novel that gives insight in to the lives of the early 20th century wealthy: the loyalties, betrayals, scheming, and lush details.

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Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer. To be published by Harcourt Children’s Books in September, 2011. Read in August, 2011. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Annual.

Description from GoodReads:

Willa is lucky: She has a loving blended family that gets along. Not all families are so fortunate. But when a bloody crime takes place hundreds of miles away, it has an explosive effect on Willa’s peaceful life. The estranged father she hardly remembers has murdered his new wife and children, and is headed east toward Willa and her mother.
Under police protection, Willa discovers that her mother has harbored secrets that are threatening to boil over. Has everything Willa believed about herself been a lie? As Willa sets out to untangle the mysteries of her past, she keeps her own secret—one that has the potential to tear her family apart.

I was excited to read Blood Wounds as I am such a fan of Pfeffer’s “Moon” books. I found the set-up of Blood Wounds unique: dealing with a murder that impacts a character’s life even though said character does not know the victims. There is a lot going on in this book, though, and I don’t think that is good. Willa’s unknown past, fear of the murderous father, death, long-lost family, blended family balance issues, financial strain, divorce, cutting…all brought up and resolved in 248 large print, wide-spaced pages. (In the ARC, of course; the published version could change.) All the different plot points come fast as a rolling boil, yet never blend together to form a solid story. And like a rolling boil, the heat is quickly turned off and things are resolved in a way that feels too sudden.

Because there are so many issues, the characters suffer and are rendered weak with little dimension. For example, I never was able to nail down the individuality of Willa’s two step sisters. When Willa decides she must visit her birthplace – the town where her father committed the murders – I had a very hard time believing that a mother would let her teenage daughter travel to the site of the crime so soon after their lives were at risk. It was all too convenient.

I think some readers will enjoy the book, especially because it is fast-paced and a quick read. I can see the possibility of using it to engage reluctant readers because there is so much going on, and will buy it for my school library. I think readers who appreciate a book with depth and three-dimensional characters will be left unsatisfied.

I see on Susan Beth Pfeffer’s blog that she is contemplating a 4th Moon book, and I do look forward to returning to that world.

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Kiss of Death by Lauren Henderson

Kiss of Death by Lauren Henderson. Published by Delacorte Press. Read in May, 2011. ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.

A Fast Five View:

1. This is the fourth (and final) in this series. This is a good thing. The last two books have not been as enjoyable as the first two. For more background, I reviewed the first one here – Kiss Me, Kill Me, and the second one here – Kisses and Lies, but the third didn’t stick with me and I barely mention it here – Kiss in the Dark.

2. The boarding school takes the students on a trip to Scotland, and I really enjoyed the change in scenery.

3. This book requires more suspension of disbelief than the other three did, and I have to admit that I couldn’t get myself to that point.

4. I did enjoy the way Ms. Henderson circled back to address several characters and plots brought up in the previous books. It is a good resolution to the series.

5. Overall, I have enjoyed this four-book series. The books are realistic, and Scarlett is an awesome character. I do recommend starting at the beginning if you plan to read them, and the first two are the best. I am looking forward to seeing what Ms. Henderson publishes next!

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The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting

The Body Finder by Kimberly Derting; read in December, 2009.  ARC provided by publisher.

I am really ashamed to only now be posting my thoughts on Kimberly Derting‘s The Body Finder.  It’s been so long, it’s going to have to be another Fast Five.

  1. I’ll start with the one thing I didn’t like: I had a REALLY hard time believing that Violet could be THAT oblivious to Jay’s romantic interest in her.  She also makes some stupid decisions in the book that, unfortunately, leave her looking like a world-class idiot, but most of the time, she seems like a smart, independent girl.  I could never reconcile this.
  2. That being said, I loved the relationship between Violet and Jay.  LOVED it.
  3. I REALLY loved Jay.  Talk about a boy who makes you feel twitterpated.
  4. It is a great mix of real life, mystery, and fantasy.  I think the book will appeal to a wide range of fans because of the great mix of elements.
  5. Violet’s parents are around (which doesn’t always happen in YA books) and they are aware of her gift.  This made the book feel some what “real” since it wasn’t Violet’s deep dark secret, yet she also doesn’t come from a gifted family.

I’m looking forward to the sequel, Desires of the Dead.

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All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab

All Unquiet Things by Anna Jarzab; read in February, 2010.  ARC provided by publisher at ALA Midwinter.

Description from GoodReads:

Carly: She was sweet. Smart. Self-destructive. She knew the secrets of Brighton Day School’s most privileged students. Secrets that got her killed.

Neily: Dumped by Carly for a notorious bad boy, Neily didn’t answer the phone call she made before she died. If he had, maybe he could have helped her. Now he can’t get the image of her lifeless body out of his mind.

Audrey: She’s the reason Carly got tangled up with Brighton’s fast crowd in the first place, and now she regrets it—especially since she’s convinced the police have put the wrong person in jail. Audrey thinks the murderer is someone at Brighton, and she wants Neily to help her find out who it is.

As reluctant allies Neily and Audrey dig into their shared past with Carly, her involvement with Brighton’s dark goings-on comes to light. But figuring out how Carly and her killer fit into the twisted drama will force Audrey and Neily to face hard truths about themselves and the girl they couldn’t save.

I loved All Unquiet Things.  Anna Jarzab has written a fantastic mystery, and I am not normally a mystery fan.  The story is told from the point of view of two characters: Neily and Audrey.  The perspective changes only after a decent chunk of chapters, giving the reader time to dive into each character’s head and understand them.  The story also moves between the present and the past, which allows the reader to also get to know Carly from both character’s perspectives.  I especially loved getting to see the relationship between Neily and Carly progress until its heartbreaking ending.

The book is set in a wealthy area of California, centered in the private school the characters attend.  Rich teens tends to be overdone in YA lit, but Ms. Jarzab creates a unique setting that never feels like the reader has seen it before.  She also gives insight to the negatives of young adults with lots of money and not much supervision.  There are references to alcohol and drugs, never in a manner that glorifies them.

The mystery development is believable and surprising.  I found myself suspecting just about every character at some point in the book.  The way the two teens investigate Carly’s murder is realistic, which is often what can turn me off a mystery.

While the mystery is page-turning, at heart the book is about relationships, love, and loss.  All three main characters have suffered a big loss at some point, each affected in a different way.  How they each deal with loss and what happens after it is what makes each character realistic and relatable.

All Unquiet Things is a strong, well-written novel that I highly recommend to high school and adults readers.  Definitely one of my favorites of the year.

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