Tag Archives: genre:mystery

Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside

Bad-Machinery-5Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison

Oni Press, 2016.  978-62010-297-8

Synopsis: Love seems to be in the air for Mildred and Sonny. He’s fallen for a girl that seems to have literally stepped out of the ocean and she’s developed a crush on a boy she met in Saturday detention. On the other side of the equation, Linton and Jack want to do is play video games with their mate while Lottie and Shauna are offering Mildred different opinions about what to do and say to Lee. And who exactly is the wild man in a fur cloak and what does he want with Sonny’s dream girl?

Why I picked it up: I’m totally, utterly, and completely addicted to this series.

Why I finished it: I’ve noticed that the last few volumes that Allison has been branching out and featuring different members of the mystery-solving sextet, this one shining a spotlight on cousins Mildred and Sonny. What was most amusing to me was the difference in the family dynamics in the Haversham/Craven households versus that of the Wickle, Finch, and Grote homes. Mildred’s parents are activists that seem to buy into just about every sort of ‘necessary’ lifestyle change (Mildred isn’t allowed to play video games, she needs to observe a strict vegan/vegetarian diet) and sheltering their daughter from the world around her. Sonny’s parents appear to be more laiez-faire in their parenting style, allowing their son to spend an afternoon at a local swim park with his friends by themselves. And though all teens think their parents are on the weird side, it’s easy to see that their motives are driven by love. This volume is perhaps more angst-y in its portrayal of teenage love exuding a sort of Romeo and Juliet motif – it’s not tragic, per se, but both Mildred and Sonny’s relationships do seem to have some element of fate attached to them, particularly in relation to Ellen (Sonny’s mystery girl) and Lee’s sort-of ex-girlfriend Sasha. Allison also adds a mythical element to the story by playing on the legend of the Selkie, a creature most commonly found in Scottish folklore. As an American reader, the Selkie legend was somewhat foreign to me, but fortunately it’s easy to grasp (unlike trying to figure out the family trees of Greek and Roman gods – that’s a mental work out….) and Allison does a superb job of intertwining the tragedy of the Selkie legend with that of the exploration of teenage love.  Those readers who are already fans of the series will likely eat up this novel as eagerly as the previous four; it’s a quick-witted, fun, fantastical, and sometimes dark look at how we are shaped by the world around us.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

 

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Bad Machinery Vol. 3: The Case of the Simple Soul Review

bad-machinery-3Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison

Oni Press, 2014. 978-1620101933

Synopsis: The Tackleford gang is back with a new case that demands solving! When Tackleford’s derelict barns begin going up in flames, Linton and Sonny are on the case with a moderately mysterious new friend. Paths cross, however, when Lottie and Mildred meet a terrifying yet misunderstood creature living beneath a bridge! Throw in an overly enthusiastic Fire Brigade, a transforming skate ramp, and a new French teacher and you’ve got the kind of charming genius that can only be found in John Allison’s BAD MACHINERY. – from Amazon.com

Why I picked it up: This was a splurge purchase at a book sale after trying (and failing) to remember the name of the comic.

Why I finished it: I was hard pressed to find the actual mystery in this installment of the series. The mysterious barn fires start out as a prevalent plot point, but it sort of fades into the background behind the other plotlines. Granted, the case does get solved in the end, but it doesn’t seem like our sleuths really have much interest in solving the case that they seem to have happened upon. Mildred, Charlotte, Linton, and Sonny all spend a significant amount of time trying to fill the void left in their groups by Shauna and Jack, who are now dating (and they are totally my OTP of this series). So in that aspect, Simple Soul is more about transitions than it is about finding an arsonist. Allison has found a different rhythm for his characters this time around, showcasing their struggles with the end of the year at a new school, changing friendships, new romances, and the general angst that comes from being an almost teenager. Yet, the comedic timing and the offbeat humor continue to shine through which is what makes the comic so likable. The volume also includes another edition of Charlotte’s explanations of British Idioms and a collection of hand-drawn husbands by Charlotte and Mildred. Overall, it’s a great, fun read that continues to see our characters growing up and learning more about life – which, it turns out may or may not be hazardous to your health.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 7: The Case of the Forked Road by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

 

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Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy Review

bad-machinery-2Bad Machinery, Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy by John Allison

Oni Press, 2014. 978-1620101148

Synopsis: Toddlers are going missing all over Tackleford and witnesses report they are being carted off by a mysterious beast. Meanwhile, another mystery beast appears in Mildred’s backyard – but at least this one appears to be friendly…and polite…and able to drink tea from a cup? Is it in any way related to the ‘dogs’ the girls drew with Mildred’s supposed magic pencil? Can Jack and the boys find the beast before Jack gets too beat up by the school bully? Will Shauna and Jack ever have a date?

Why I picked it up: I loved the first volume and was eager to read more about Shauna, Mildred, Charlotte, Linton, Jack, and Sonny’s mystery-solving exploits

Why I finished it: Allison has created a wonderfully diverse world filled with marvelously fleshed out characters whose interactions remind us of our own adventures and misadventures. Shauna, Mildred, Charlotte, Jack, Sonny, and Linton could all very well be people we know, and the reader is instantly drawn into the group, looking for clues about what currently plagues their small town. There’s somewhat less interaction between the girls and the boys in this volume, since each of them seems to have stumbled upon their own separate mysteries. The bit with Jack being bullied is poignant without detracting from the main plot. Bullying is a big deal no matter your age group, and Allison addresses the issue in a way that seems to spark something in the reader. We can get called out on the fact that we’re in trouble, but it’s often hard to admit that we need help, that we can’t handle it ourselves. I also appreciated that the adults are just as snarky as the teens, walking a fine line between being a disciplinarian and being an advocate. It gives us a different look at our own lives and our own world without detracting from the fun and quirky nature of the comic itself. And again, there’s a helpful glossary in the back of the book to help readers with the idioms of British English.

Other related materials: Bad Machinery, Volume 1: The Case of the Team Spirit by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 3: The Case of the Simple Soul by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 4: The Case of the Lonely One by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 5: The Case of the Fire Inside by John Allison; Bad Machinery, Volume 6: The Case of the Unwelcome Visitor by John Allison; Scott Pilgrim books by Bryan Lee O’Malley; The Adventures of Superhero Girl by Faith Erin Hicks; The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Prudence Shen; Adventure Time comics by Ryan North, illustrated by Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb; Adventure Time Volume 1: Playing with Fire by Danielle Corsetto; Adventure Time: Marceline & The Scream Queens by Meredith Gran; A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle, illustrated by Hope Larson; Lumberjanes comics by Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, and Grace Ellis

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Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans at Fort Canning Review

sherlock_sam_2Sherlock Sam and the Ghostly Moans in Fort Canning by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape

Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2016. 978-1449477882

Synopsis: On a class trip to Fort Canning, a base used by British troops during World War II, Sherlock Sam and his friends discover a hidden escape port that appears to be haunted. Desperate to prove that there is no such thing as a ghost, Sherlock, his robot Watson, his sister Wendy, Sherlock’s dad, and his friends Jimmy and Nazhar set out to discover the real source of the moaning within the historical monument.

Why I picked it up: I was eager to read more about Singapore’s Greatest Kid Detective!

Why I finished it: In Sherlock’s second case, he’s forced to confront the idea that something illogical could be the most logical solution. But Sherlock isn’t willing to accept that all signs point to the supernatural. Sure, there are plenty of ghosts in Peranakan and Asian culture, but those are just stories; stories like that couldn’t possibly be real. Then again, belief in the supernatural is different from person to person…. Readers get to know a little bit more about Sherlock’s dad, as he joins the gang to help his children and their classmates solve the mystery behind the ghostly moans coming from the hidden escape port. It’s easy to see where Sherlock gets some of his hobbies and quirks, evidenced in the plot and by the accompanying illustrations. I liked the additional character development because now the parents don’t feel like such flat characters. They do have a role, and it’s not just to cook food, tell them to do the dishes, and lecture them about getting to school on time. Husband-wife writing team Felicia Low-Jimenez and Adan Jimenez have started to develop a little bit more of their style with this book. The plot remains somewhat formulaic (as mysteries tend to be), but they throw in enough twists to keep the reader guessing and keep things from becoming predictable. They have even thrown in some universal cultural references to ground non-Asian readers in the story. drewscape’s drawings continue to enchant, focusing more on the little details in the background for this installment that not only brings the characters to life, but gives us a better idea of their personalities as well. It’s fun, humorous, and just the right amount of scary. And be sure to check out Sherlock Sam’s Blog and Facebook page for even more of the boy detective.

Other related materials: Sherlock Sam and the Missing Heirloom in Katong by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Sinister Letters in Bras Basah by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Alien Encounter on Pulau Ubin by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Vanishing Robot in Penang by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Cloaked Classmate in Macritchie by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Stolen Script in Balestier by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Fiendish Mastermind in Jurong by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Obento Bonanza in Tokyo by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Sherlock Sam and the Comic Book Caper in New York by A.J. Low, illustrations by drewscape; Waylon! One Awesome Thing by Sarah Pennypacker, pictures by Marla Frazee; Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective books by Donald J. Sobol; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; The Chicken Squad books by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornell

 

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Murder at the Oaklands Mansion Review

murder_at_the_oaklands_mansionMurder at the Oaklands Mansion by Melinda Richarz Lyons, illustrations by Charisse Richarz

TreasureLine Publishing, 2012. 978-1617521317

Synopsis: Brooks Martin and his Aunt Mandy love having adventures – the more wild and daring the better! They also love history and trivia, especially about their hometown of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When a Civil War reenactor is shot and his last words are to Brooks, Brooks and Aunt Mandy find themselves determined to solve the mystery of his death and his incoherent mutterings. Can they get to the bottom of the case or will they be dismissed as “just a kid and an old lady”?

Why I picked it up: The combination of historical fiction and murder mystery was something I didn’t want to pass up.

Why I finished it: This is a delightful read for both middle graders and their families. It highlights the strong bond between a young boy and his eccentric great aunt, and the love that they have for pushing themselves to be better and better. They have a thirst for knowledge that sometimes leads them into super crazy situations. I was instantly endeared to these characters and the relationships that continue to build as the plot moves along. I liked that the story kept up a steady pace throughout that made it easy to follow along and put together the clues alongside Brooks and Aunt Mandy. And I loved that Lyons devotes a couple of chapters to a research session in the library. Plus, it highlights the fun of knowing local history and exploring the towns in which we live, even if they might not be as historically exciting as Murfreesboro. The book may seem somewhat simplistic, but this makes it ideal for reluctant and struggling readers to read by themselves or out loud. It’s an intriguing, nail-biting read that will keep readers hooked and hoping for more.

Other related materials: Cynthia’s Attic series by Mary Cunningham; The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin; Encyclopedia Brown books by Donald J. Sobol; Nancy Drew books by Carolyn Keene; Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew book by Carolyn Keene, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan; The Hardy Boys books by Fanklin W. Dixon; The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Chandler Warner; Nate the Great books by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, illustrated by Marc Simont; The Samantha Wolf Mysteries series by Tara Ellis, illustrated by Melchelle Designs; Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein; Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics by Chris Grabenstein; The Book Scavenger series by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

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Splendors and Glooms Review

splendors-and-gloomsSplendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz

Candlewick Press, 2012. 978-0-7636-5380-4

Synopsis: Clara Wintermute, the only child of a wealthy doctor, would love nothing more than to have puppet master Gaspare Grisini come to perform at her birthday party. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall, two orphans apprenticed to Grisini, live in fear of the puppeteer and aspire to do something more with their lives. When Clara mysteriously disappears after her party and Grisini is blamed, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall become involved in a much larger mystery that will uncover a dark secret and ultimately lead them to the key that will help them in finding Clara.

Why I picked it up: It popped up on Amazon while I was researching books to read and the title caught my attention.

Why I finished it: The book draws on the Victorian Gothic tradition to create a tale that is both dark and comic. Schlitz’s plot unfolds slowly, first establishing Clara and then moving gradually from Lizzie Rose to Parsefall to the puppet master Grisini. The mystery portion of the plot is equally tantalizing, keeping the reader guessing and putting together all of the pieces of the puzzle along with the characters. Lizzie Rose, Parsefall, and Clara are engaging as individuals, but some of the best portions of the story deal with the three of them as a whole. Their personalities complement each other and balance out the ‘good’ equation, with Grisini being decidedly evil and underhanded. I was also drawn in by the historical elements of the story; as overused as I feel the Victorian Era might be in literature, it makes for a perfect setting for Schlitz’s tale of magic, mystery, and finding hope in the face of adversity.

Other related materials: Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz; A Drowned Maiden’s Hair: A Melodrama by Laura Amy Schlitz; Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage; The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate; Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz; When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead; Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin; The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech; Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai; Jinx by Sage Blackwood; Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool; The Apothecary by Maile Meloy; Abel’s Island by William Steig

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