Tag Archives: genre: mystery

The Miserable Mill Review

ASOUE_4The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Bret Helquist

HarperCollins, 2000. 978-0064407694

Synopsis: When the Baudelaires are sent to Paltryville to work in a lumbermill, things begin to spiral downward quickly. Not only are they only allowed a stick of gum for lunch and paid in coupons they are unable to use, their guardian (whose name is apparently unpronounceable) seems to have little to no problem ignoring child labor laws. Plus, there is that mysterious structure on the main street that looks like an eerily familiar tattoo of a particularly monstrous villain….

Why I picked it up: The macabre humor seems to be growing on me.

Why I finished it: I don’t think I would still be four books into a series if I weren’t getting some sort of enjoyment out of it, but the notion of enjoying a series that highlights child abuse (among other things) still seems to be a bit uncomfortable to me. The macabre humor is definitely not for everyone, and I do feel somewhat better about my own life whenever I finish one of these books, which is probably part of the point. I don’t know of a reader that could claim their life is worse than that of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, but I digress. I appreciated the bit of irony of paying the lumbermill employees with coupons they are unable to use due to a lack of money and I was glad to see that there were at least a couple of characters that the children interact with that seem to be competent (gasp!). Mr. Poe is unfortunately still somewhat dull and aloof despite getting a promotion at the bank; probably part of the story, but I had hoped that perhaps we would see a little bit more character development – then again, there’s a few more books left to go in the series, so we’ll have to see. The books definitely give the intended audience a sense of empowerment, encouraging them to rely on their wits and come up with their own solutions to tricky problems much as the Baudelaires do, and for that, I have to give Snicket a lot of credit. Yes, children’s literature is supposed to convey some sort of subtle message to the reader and yes, the reader wants to be able to read about kids their own age having fabulous (or in this case, not so fabulous) adventures because it helps us relate to the rest of the world. The reader perhaps relates to Violet, Klaus, and Sunny because they feel ignored or stifled in some way and want to be able to show they are more than just whatever label they have been given. I’m starting to have more and more doubts about this having some sort of kind ending for our orphans, but perhaps I’ll be surprised.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Academy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

 

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The Reptile Room Review

ASOUE_2The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist

HarperCollins, 1999. 978-0062796035

Synopsis: Now that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are no longer living with Count Olaf, they feel like things are looking up. But their happiness is short-lived when they discover that Uncle Monty’s new assistant Stephano is Count Olaf in disguise – and he is still as determined as ever to get his hands on the Baudelaire fortune!

Why I picked it up: It makes me somewhat uncomfortable, but I’m somehow invested in finding out about the fates of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny.

Why I finished it: It seems natural to feel badly for the Baudelaires, since all of these terrible things keep happening to them and they appear to have little or no control over any of it. It’s a very literal case of the question of why bad things happen to good people. Sure, it is a thing that happens, but the Baudelaire children are truly getting the rough end of this whole orphan deal. And yet, the trio seems to persevere through the terrible circumstances that take place over the course of the plot. Like its predecessor, it has an ending that could be interpreted as somewhat happy, but since there are eleven more books to go that are all filled with equally horrible and harried adventures, the reader knows that there is still a long way to go. It may be true that Violet, Klaus, and Sunny can never really find a happy ending, especially with their hopes constantly hanging by a thread. I think what really keeps me reading is the fact that the reader can’t help but root for the orphans. They are intelligent and likable characters that somehow find the strength to keep going just one more step forward. Helquist’s art is a delightful mix of gothic and steampunk-ish, evoking images of a somewhat Carnie nature. The sketches throughout each chapter provide a nice break from the text and help to illustrate the people and places in which the Baudelaires find themselves. It’s a great mystery-horror novel that will no doubt captivate readers of all backgrounds.

Other related materials: The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Acedemy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

 

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The Bad Beginning Review

ASOUE_1The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 1) by Lemony Snicket, illustrations by Brett Helquist

HarperCollins, 1999. 978-0064407663

Synopsis: When Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire are suddenly orphaned when their parents are killed in a house fire, they are sent to live with their next living relative: a mysterious and cruel man named Count Olaf. The Count is intent upon stealing the children’s substantial fortune and has made no secret of wanting to do away with the children after he has acquired their money.

Why I picked it up: I wanted some context before I dove into the Neflix series, which I have been told by friends is pretty good.

Why I finished it: As promised on the cover, this is indeed not a happy tale or even a tale with a happy ending. Then again, a series entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events can’t necessarily have a terrible lot of positive things happening to the characters. The Baudelaire siblings seem to be heading down a path of obvious troubles and yet, the children can only rely on their wits, cunning, and each other if they are going to be able to escape from Count Olaf. The Count is clearly unfamiliar with child-rearing in any way, shape, or form, as is evidenced by the fact that the three siblings are given only one bed and a pile of rocks to play with. He also has a somewhat villan-ish appearance and manner, evidenced by the numerous references to his shiny eyes, greasy hair, and his house full of unsettling eyes. I was also somewhat disturbed by the lengths to which the Count is willing to go in order to keep the children living in fear, at one point leaving baby Sunny locked in a cage at the top tower of the house. Snicket has a rather unsettling gift for the macabre, and I have to admit that I was a little bit creeped out; yet, that’s part of the idea. We read about the unfortunate orphans and perhaps begin to think that our lives are not so bad, being as most readers’ parents are still living and they live in a nice house with a clean bed and lots of toys to play with. But as I said before, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are extremely clever children and so we have to hope that they will be able to find a better life away from Count Olaf and that despite the unfortunate things that happen to them, they have each other. I’d probably give it to a reluctant reader, those who are fans of a good ghost story, or readers that enjoy a mystery.

Other related materials: The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 3) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Miserable Mill (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 4) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Austere Acedemy (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 5) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Ersatz Elevator (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 6) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Vile Village (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 7) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Hostile Hospital (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 8) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Carnivorous Carnival (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 9) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Slippery Slope (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 10) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Grim Grotto (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 11) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Penultimate Peril (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 12) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The End (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 13) by Lemony Snicket, illustrated by Brett Helquist; The Beatrice Letters by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Brett Helquist; Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Autobiography by Lemony Snicket; All The Wrong Questions series by Lemony Snicket; The Composer is Dead by Lemony Snicket; illustrations by Caron Ellis, music by Nathaniel Stookey; The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart, illustrated by Carson Ellis

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Night of the Frankenfrogs Review

creeps_1Night of the Frankenfrogs (The Creeps #1) by Chris Schweizer

Harry N. Abrams, 2015. 978-1419717666

Synopsis: In Pumpkins County, weird things happen every day, but nobody ever makes a fuss. Nobody, that is, except the Creeps: Carol, a big-city girl new to Pumpkins County, who finds kindred spirits in Mitchell (monster expert), Jarvis (military brat with logistics know-how), and Rosario (girly girl on the outside, muscle underneath). The Creeps are on the case to figure out the spooky mysteries and still get to class on time. Last week it was a pudding monster. This week, it’s killer frogs—reanimated from the team’s biology class dissection experiment. Who’s behind the Frankenfrog attacks? The Creeps will track down the answers! from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: It’s the time of year for some creepy/scary stories!

Why I finished it: Schweizer has a gift for creating memorable and realistic characters that seem to jump off the pages and his first book in The Creeps series is no exception. Set in a town where the strange, kooky, and spooky go largely unnoticed, four brave sleuths are out to save their town from the odd creatures that would seek to overtake it. It was amusing to me that Carol, Mitchell, Jarvis, and Rosario seem to operate with a sense of disbelief that the citizens of Pumpkins County would let such creatures as a Pudding Monster go unchecked. But what our gang lacks in support from their peers they more than make up for in their uncanny ability to connect all of the proverbial dots. The art is bright and fun to compliment the prose, and the use of pseudo day-glo colors makes the book wacky, humorous, and a quick read that will get you in the Halloween spirit!

Other related materials: The Trolls Will Feast (The Creeps #2) by Chris Schweizer; Curse of the Attack-O-Lanterns (The Creeps #3) by Chris Schweizer; The Crogan Adventures series by Chris Schweizer; The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings; Brain Camp by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan, and Faith Erin Hicks; Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi; Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier; Harry Moon books by Mark Andrew Poe; Honey Moon books by Sofi Benitez; The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; A Tale Dark & Grimm by Andrew Gidwitz; In A Glass Grimmly by Andrew Gidwitz; The Grimm Conclusion by Adam Gidwitz

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The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas Review

BSI_1The Fall of the Amazing Zalindas (Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Case Book 1) by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin, illustrations by Greg Ruth

Orchard Books, 2006. 978-0439828369.

Synopsis: When a murder at the circus unravels another, far more treacherous crime, the master detective and the boys of the Baker Street Irregulars must pursue terrifying villains to solve this mystery, dodging danger at every turn…. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: I was in a Sherlock Holmes sort of mood while browsing through the stacks at my local library.

Why I finished it: The Baker Street Irregulars are a group of recurring characters in the classic Conan Doyle detective stories that are Holmes’s eyes and ears on the streets of Victorian London. There’s a host of books out there that sort of take on the Sherlock Holmes universe and revamp it in new and interesting ways, but only a few that I have seen really deepen the existing tales of mystery. I loved the notion of a story that surrounds the supporting characters and gives us further insight into how Holmes was often able to gather so much information pertaining to a crime. It’s fun for me to get to know the boys better and actually get a better feel for who they are beyond being members of the Irregulars. While not all of the boys play a larger role in the story, I’m sure that over the course of the other three books the reader will get to know each of the Irregulars. Ruth’s art is reminiscent of police sketches: short, broad strokes that bring out the minute details in the landscapes and portraits that are interspersed between the pages. I appreciate the research done by the authors and the manner in which they treat their characters as real people, similar to the Holmesian Speculation put forth by fans of the original works of Conan Doyle. Holmesians/Sherlockians and even casual fans of the series will enjoy this fast-paced mystery adventure.

Other related materials: The Mystery of the Conjured Man (Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Case Book 2) by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin; In Search of Watson (Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Case Book 3) by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin; The Final Meeting (Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, Case Book 4) by Tracy Mack and Michael Citrin; The Sherlock Files books by Tracy Barrett; Stoker & Holmes novels by Colleen Gleason; Charlotte Holmes series by Brittany Cavallaro; The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes edited by Chris Sasaki, illustrated by Lucy Corvino; The Extraordinary Cases of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introduction by Jonathan Stroud; The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, introduction by Joseph Delaney; Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud; H.I.V.E. series by Mark Walden

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Zombie Mommy Review

zombie_mommyZombie Mommy (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson; illustrations by Kurt Cyrus

Beach Lane Books, 2011. 978-1416986416

Synopsis: Not wanting any harm to come to her daughter, Mrs. Gefelty decides to take a vacation in Todburg, town of the Undead. She’s very concerned that Lily is going to end up sad and alone without a mother like one of the characters in all those assigned reading books she’s given at school. But upon her return, Lily finds that her mother isn’t actually her mother at all – she’s been possessed by a ghost who yearns to stage a stage and screen comeback that’s  (hundreds) of years overdue! Will Jasper’s new Astounding High-Pressure Holy Water Extruder Gun be enough to extract the ghost? How could Drgnan not realize that he and Katie were going out?! Is Katie’s cousin Madigan Westlake-Duvet part of the problem or part of the solution?

Why I picked it up: I’m enjoying the very serious degree to which this series takes its humor.

Why I finished it: If Agent Q was a spoof on spy novels, Zombie Mommy is a take on horror novels (evidenced at the start of Chapter 23, in which our author/narrator tells the reader this is, in fact, a horror novel. In case we hadn’t picked up on that in the previous 22 chapters.). The hilarity seems to ensue much faster than in the previous books, starting with the awkward conversation Lily and Mrs. Gefelty have about BOOKS and progressing to the rather haphazard journey Mrs. Gefelty takes to Todburg (which involves a lot of narrow escapes, mostly from a rather put-out tarantula). After a possessed Mrs. Gefelty’s return to Pelt, our heroes must go to Todburg themselves in order to investigate what exactly happened, in which more hilarity ensues – this time involving an unfunny comedian, the cast of Warm Bodies, and our same perturbed tarantula. I continue to be amused by the random footnotes and the wall breaks within the text that are likely intended to give the reader clarification, but the good intention is lost and the reader is left with a humorous anecdote instead. One particular gag involves Madigan’s clothing, which must be described in exact detail by a man who may or may not have his shirt on backwards. The action and the anecdotes are well timed, providing a sense of foreboding as well as hope that our heroes can find a way to exorcize the ghost inhabiting Mrs. Gefelty.  Cyrus’s illustrations continue to haunt and amuse the reader, using thick lines to give the art a somewhat gothic feel. Fans of the series will continue to enjoy the further adventures of Lily, Jasper, and Katie as they continue to fight for truth and knowledge…or something like that….

Other related materials: Whales on Stilts! (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; The Clue of the Linoleum Lederhosen (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; Jasper Dash and the Flame Pits of Delaware (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; Agent Q, or The Smell of Danger! (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; He Laughed With His Other Mouths (A Pals in Peril Tale) by M.T. Anderson, illustrations by Kurt Cyrus; The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron; Franny K. Stein, Mad Scientist books by Jim Benton; Cardboard by Doug TenNapel; The Wild Robot by Peter Brown; Ungifted by Gordon Korman

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Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex Review

artemis_fowl_7Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex (Artemis Fowl, Book 7) by Eoin Colfer

Disney-Hyperion, 2010. 978-1423128199

Synopsis: When Artemis commits his entire fortune to a project he believes will save the planet and its inhabitants, both human and fairy, it seems that goodness has taken hold of the world’s greatest teenage criminal mastermind. But the truth is much worse: Artemis is suffering from Atlantis Complex, a psychosis common among guilt-ridden fairies and most likely triggered in Artemis by his dabbling with fairy magic. Symptoms include obsessive-compulsive behavior, paranoia, multiple personality disorder and, in extreme cases, embarrassing professions of love to a certain feisty LEPrecon fairy. Unfortunately, Atlantis Complex has struck at the worst possible time. A deadly foe is intent on destroying the actual city of Atlantis. Can Artemis escape the confines of his mind-and the grips of a giant squid-in time to save the underwater metropolis and its fairy inhabitants? – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: After the cliffhanger in the previous book, I was eager to embark on another cat-and-mouse chase.

Why I finished it: Surprisingly, the plot doesn’t continue where it left off in the previous installment. Instead, we find our young genius suffering from a fairy form of PTSD, which unfortunately wasn’t that interesting of a plot. Coupled with the second storyline of a former criminal seeking to stage an elaborate prison break to get back to his family, this novel was sort of a disappointment. It’s important to have an awareness of mental disorders, like those Artemis is experiencing with the Atlantis Complex, but the way Colfer executed that bit of the story felt flat to me. Yes, we do get some Holly/Artemis shipping, but this book didn’t feel like it tied in very well with the rest of the series so far. Adding another criminal to the mix could have made it more exciting, but with the multitude of other characters in the Artemis Fowl universe it merely seemed lazy – almost like Colfer was running short on ideas. Colfer is at the point in the series where he isn’t pulling any punches with his readers: he’s assuming we’re already well acquainted with the general workings of this universe and we have a good understanding of the characters. So when the author introduces a new idea and a new character to the mix, we’re expecting more than the anti-climactic ending that we receive. If not for the Atlantis Complex bit, this book could have been a one-shot or a companion story that helped to further flesh out our heroes. As it is, the reader does get a sort of one-off feel from the story, but not one that satisfies the heightened sense of adventure or drama that in one of the hallmarks of the series. I’m hoping that the final stand-off we’re anticipating is better executed in the final book.

Other related materials: Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, Book 1) by Eoin Colfer; The Arctic Incident (Artemis Fowl, Book 2) by Eoin Colfer; The Eternity Code (Artemis Fowl, Book 3) by Eoin Colfer; The Opal Deception (Artemis Fowl, Book 4) by Eoin Colfer; The Lost Colony (Artemis Fowl, Book 5) by Eoin Colfer; The Time Paradox (Artemis Fowl, Book 6) by Eoin Colfer; The Last Guardian (Artemis Fowl, Book 8) by Eoin Colfer; Artemis Fowl: The Graphic Novel adapted by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin, art by Giovanni Rigano, colors by Paolo Lamanna; Artemis Fowl: The Seventh Dwarf by Eoin Colfer; W.A.R.P.  books by Eoin Colfer; The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer; Max Powers and Project Gemini by Keith Philips; The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud; H.I.V.E. series by Mark Walden; Inkheart by Cornelia Funke; Inkspell by Cornelia Funke; Inkdeath by Cornelia Funke

 

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