Books by Joan Lowery Nixon

LAUGH TILL YOU CRY by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Nov. 9, 2004

Cody and his mom have moved to Houston to take care of his grandmother. As if being the new kid in school isn't enough, he must also contend with his cousin Hayden and his cohorts who bully him at every turn. The situation turns serious when Cody is blamed for several dangerous pranks. As the problems escalate to include stolen homework projects and secret plots, he tries to shield his grandmother from Hayden's involvement. An understanding police officer offers support and friendship as Cody solves the mystery of the pranks and forms a truce of sorts with his cousin. Nixon has crafted a lively, fast-paced tale with an intelligent young hero who is creative, courageous, and compassionate. He is surrounded by multidimensional supporting characters who add depth and complexity to a deceptively simple plot. A fine addition to Nixon's long and distinguished career. Published posthumously, with a moving tribute from Mary Higgins Clark. (Fiction. 10-14)Read full book review >
NIGHTMARE by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 9, 2003

Teenager Emily Wood has had a recurring nightmare involving a place she cannot name, a dead woman, and a menacing presence. Although she's deeply frightened by it, she feels unable to share the details with anyone. At school she lurks in the back row, hides behind a curtain of hair, and is labeled an underachiever. Her concerned parents are now sending her to a special summer camp where a renowned educator promises to "cure" her. The camp and the people who work there turn out to be the participants in Emily's nightmare and she is in danger from the murderer. Eccentric new friends help her find the answers. Nixon lays out the clues cleverly without resorting to overloading the reader with red herrings. The adult characters are somewhat one-dimensional, but after all that's how teenagers see them. A taut, well-constructed mystery by a writer who will be missed. (Fiction. 12+)Read full book review >
THE TRAP by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 10, 2002

The retirees are pluckier than the plot in award-winning Nixon's (Gus and Gertie and the Lucky Charms, 2002, etc.) latest whodunnit. This has the usual trappings of a mystery with two deaths, some thievery, and the requisite red herrings. The characters, however, are bland and the story sluggish, with only a few taut moments thrown in. Julie is delegated by her family to spend the summer at Rancho Del Oro (a retirement community) to help care for her great uncle Gabe, who has broken his ankle in a fall. Upon her arrival, she learns that Gabe is convinced that his fall was no accident. Believed to be the delusions of a doddering old man, only Julie gives his story credence and she begins poking around. The ranch is remote, and creepy at night. Valuables begin disappearing and then two residents die. Murder? Well, Julie believes so. Spurred on by her friend via e-mail and her own imagination, Julie continues to investigate. As the story unfolds, it seems no one is above suspicion what with resentful ranch hands and friends who show up at all the wrong times. But it's only when Julie receives threatening e-mails that readers will find a pulse in the story. As a 16-year-old, Julie doesn't ring true, but a teen reader can identify with her resentment of feeling strong-armed by her family. Julie is ultimately reminded of the importance of a family's love and loyalty, but nice lesson aside, this mystery is too formulaic to rattle any nerves. (Fiction. 11-14)Read full book review >
THE MAKING OF A WRITER by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: May 14, 2002

Veteran author Nixon (Gus and Gertie and the Missing Pearls, 2001, etc.) offers a lighthearted biography, with each chapter connected to something she's loved or learned about writing. She grew up in Los Angeles in a duplex occupied by her grandparents as well as her own parents and siblings, and evokes an idyllic childhood. She loved words from a very early age, recounting her mother's story that before she could even read or write, she would come to her mother and say, "I have a poem, Mama. Write it down." She loved hearing family stories and radio dramas, learning pacing and dialogue, and did puppet shows for neighborhood children using her mother's scripts and the portable stage built by her father. In high school in the '40s, she and her friends wrote many letters to servicemen in the war, most of them barely older than she was. She tells, with exquisite timing, how she got her first payment for something she wrote, and how it felt. Young readers (and would-be writers) might be most interested in the last chapter, her Top Ten Tips for Writers, which includes such basic advice as "Read!"; "Show, don't tell"; and "Trust your characters." It's a bit preachy in spots, and even her large fan base might not be completely engaged, but it is a nicely focused take on something about the author. (Biography. 10-12)Read full book review >
PLAYING FOR KEEPS by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Aug. 1, 2001

"Nixon (Will's Story, not reviewed, etc.) has built a solid reputation as a master of mysteries for young teenagers, and in spite of its flaws, this one is sure to please her fans. (Fiction. 12-14)"
Sixteen-year-old Rose Ann, on a Caribbean cruise with her grandmother, becomes involved in the political intrigue surrounding the defection of Enrique, a teenaged Cuban baseball player. His uncle, a well-known major-leaguer who had previously defected from Cuba, has smuggled him on board. Rose discovers the plan and enlists the help of other teenagers to keep Enrique safely under wraps so that he can set foot on American soil. If he's captured at sea, he must be returned to Cuba. This is no lighthearted romp, for Enrique's entire future (and possibly his very life) is at stake. Cuban officials attempt to frame him for a murder, so they might arrest him and remove him from the ship. Other murders are committed and must be solved. Sprinkle in parent problems, romance, and a little teen angst and you have a fast-paced, engaging mystery. It is by no means a perfect example of the genre: some of the clues are a little obvious and several of the characters are one-dimensional. Story elements are introduced and then dropped with a thud, violating even the most basic concept of the red herring. However, Rose is a delightful character. She is observant, intelligent, compassionate, and downright plucky. Enrique's situation is compelling and timely. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 2001

Multiple Edgar Award-winning Nixon plunges her penguin sleuths (Gus & Gertie and the Missing Pearl, 2000) into a chilly new case. Clad in complementary flowered, rubber swim caps, Gus and Gertie make their way through a tent crowded with feathered and furred athletes to register for the Animal Winter Olympics—only to discover that synchronized swimming is not a winter event. Worse yet, Gertie's lucky fish pin vanishes in the hubbub—as do all of the contenders' lucky charms. Sharp-eyed camera bug Gus fingers (okay, flippers) the culprits—a pair of pack rats named Mugs and Thugs—thanks to a set of revealing Polaroids, then joins Gertie in a wild chase down snow-covered slopes to recover the loot. Not only are deGroat's brightly colored illustrations just as action-packed as the plot, but she strews them with visual clues for alert young detectives to pick out. Gus and Gertie may not achieve their Olympian dream, but they'll give Nate the Great, or Cam Jansen, a run for their money any day. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

Vacationing penguins Gertie and Gus arrive at Holiday Island dressed in their best, only to find themselves at seedy OTEL, where the Bad Guys Club meets, rather than the elegant Hotel de View, which they'd booked. It's not long before the "rascally rowdies, wretched wharf rats, riffraff, and ruffians," including the wily weasel, the agile alligator, and other alliterative animals, rip off Gertie's "beautiful, valuable deep sea pearl." Enter the Law, spectacularly depicted as a mirror-sunglassed, motorcycle-riding, mean-looking warthog. Questioning ensues, during which readers can spot the miscreant in an array of arresting, clue-filled watercolors based on camera-happy Gus's Polaroids: "See this picture of a cowboy boot with a bulge in it?" Gus asks, and the chase is on. Far be it from bad guys to pass up a ride in an officer's sidecar, but Gertie wants speed and tosses them out. The "scummy scallywags" pursue the Law to the Hotel de View and help catch the thief, adding to a high-spirited denouement, in which deGroat (One Small Dog, p. 1118, etc.) illustrates her ability to lampoon snobs as well as lowlifes, a satisfying conclusion to an adventure that shows there's no place like home. Here is high action, deft characterization to the depth needed, lots of brightly colored pictures, and built-in interactivity in a first chapter book for young mystery fans. (Fiction. 7-9)Read full book review >
GHOST TOWN by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 1, 2000

A well conceived (and titled) collection of middle-of-the-road, mildly chilling short stories, almost all of which involve a modern day boy or girl's encounter with a supernatural entity in an old ghost town. In "Buried," an adolescent girl traveling with her parents is able to help a little-girl ghost psychologically so that she can rest in peace. Two runaway boys encounter several ghosts in "The Intruders," whose scary presence teaches them that they are too young to be on their own. "Payback," which reads like a contemporary fairy tale, tells the story of a boy's reward for coming to the defense of a downtrodden ghost dog. The most engaging story in the book is "Trade-Off," in which a ghost protagonist gets the opportunity to switch places with a live boy and join a real human family. The majority of the stories are gently instructive in that they teach an ethical lesson or have some kind of moral dimension. Additionally, the format gives Nixon the opportunity to painlessly slip in a little historical data about the various ghost towns. Each story is followed by a succinct history of the ghost town it is set in, directions for getting there and other information for children who want to explore the topic more deeply, including books and selected Web sites. Although the bulk of the stories are conventional and competent rather than weirdly thrilling, Nixon has put together a clever package for youngsters interested in ghosts and ghost towns. (Short stories. 8-12)Read full book review >
NOBODY’S THERE by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: May 1, 2000

Abbie Thompson is having a rough year—her professor father has left Abbie's mother for a younger woman, her mother is depressed, and her little brother is angry all the time. To top it all off, Abbie is being punished for one of the stupidest things she's ever done in all of her 17 years. After following her father to his girlfriend's house and seeing them kiss, Abbie angrily threw rocks through the girlfriend's window, smashing the glass and getting herself arrested. The judge assigns Abbie, a conscientious and usually law-abiding girl, to a volunteer program that matches up teenagers with elderly women to keep them company, help them run errands, and generally keep an eye on the older women. Perhaps to remind Abbie that this is meant to be punishment, Abbie is assigned to a particularly cantankerous, demanding old woman, Edna Merkel, who makes Abbie's life miserable with her demands and unpredictable moods. When Mrs. Merkel becomes involved in a group that sets out to thwart con men who target senior citizens, she puts herself and her young companion in danger. While the story is fast-paced and involving, many of the characterizations are weak and one-dimensional. Abbie is too much of a pushover, letting herself be manipulated by Mrs. Merkel to an unrealistic extent. The father is so insensitive and so uncaring about his children that it strains credulity; and Mrs. Merkel is so nasty, rude, and selfish that it's hard to believe anyone would put up with her behavior for more than a few days. A readable story, but certainly not Nixon at her best. (Fiction. YA)Read full book review >
MURDERED, MY SWEET by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 1, 1997

An overweening mother who's meant to be scatterbrained and a murder that never matters are at the center of this clichÇ-filled mystery from Nixon (Search for the Shadowman, 1996, etc.). Jenny Jakes and her mother, the famous mystery writer Madeline Jakes, are in San Antonio for a visit: A distant cousin, billionaire Arnold Harmony, plans to celebrate his birthday by having his will read aloud to the beneficiaries. His plans are interrupted when his son, Porter, is murdered at the hotel. Madeline's fans believe she can crack the case, but Jenny knows better: Her dithery mother considers herself an expert on the criminal mind, but can't figure out a mystery she didn't create. Instead, Jenny solves the murder, always careful to credit Madeline as the sleuth. The premise of Jenny's covering for her mother is funny, but it goes so smoothly that it becomes boring; when the murder is reported in the newspaper, Jenny's bell-hop romantic interest, Carlos, also ensures that the story spins Madeline's way. Nixon treats the San Antonio setting as a place readers know, dropping names without describing the place; meanwhile, the characters simply chase around inside the hotel. For savvy mystery-lovers, the detective work is sloppy: The murder scene isn't sealed off, the real detective puts up with contemptuous witnesses, and he allows Madeline (and Jenny and Carlos) in on his investigation. That no one thinks to protect Logan, a character who announces that he knows all and is then murdered, is irresponsible. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 1, 1996

The sleepy Texas town of Hermosa where Andy, 12, lives has harbored a shameful secret for more than a century; when Andy starts to research his family history for a school assignment, he becomes intrigued by the status of one of his ancestors, who has been scratched out of the family Bible and of whom no one—not even Great- Aunt Winnie—will speak. Apparently Cole Joseph Bonner committed a deed so dastardly that he was disowned. Andy tackles the secret with the help of his best friend, J.J., the town librarian, Mrs. Alonzo, and genealogy experts he contacts on the Internet. Once he solves the mystery of Coley Joe, who is said to have stolen the family fortune, but who was really shot in the back and robbed by the founding member of one of Hermosa's fine old families, Andy realizes that to reveal what he knows will harm other people. Hooey. Readers will never buy that all these years later; Andy, by fudging his findings publicly, commits the same sin of covering up that the murderer did. From veteran Nixon (Spirit Seeker, 1995, etc.), this is a bland, homespun mystery without enough suspense to lace a shoe, let alone a history project. The feuding of two old women (almost as interchangeable in personality as in their names—Miz Minna and Miss Winnie) never gains credibility, and the linking of the old (genealogy) with the new (the Internet) feels like a gimmick. (Fiction. 8-12) Read full book review >
SPIRIT SEEKER by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 1, 1995

Nixon (The Shadowmaker, 1994, etc.) crafts an emotionally charged thriller about a teenager who proves her friend innocent of his parents' murders. When Cody's parents are stabbed to death, the circumstantial evidence points to him, and only Hollyhis closest friend and the daughter of the homicide detective on the caseis convinced that he didn't do it. As the case against Cody solidifies, Holly's belief becomes an obsession that drives her to skip school, defy her parents, and grasp at straws; with the aid of a clairvoyant, she even slips into the Garnetts' blood-spattered living room to call on the victims' spirits for help. Nixon misdirects readers with her usual expertise, building suspense with each twist of the plot and so thoroughly incriminating Cody that she has to resort to an ancient clichÇthe real killer explains himself to Holly and Cody while a tape recorder's runningto bring out the truth. No matter: Enriched with family troubles, guilty secrets, and a whiff of the supernatural, this page-turner will please the legions of Nixon fans. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >
SHADOWMAKER by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: May 1, 1994

Katie Gillian and her journalist mother have moved from Houston to a small coastal Texas town so that Mom can write a novel in peace. Katie's resentful; she misses her beloved ballet lessons and, at her new school, she's assigned to help Lana Jean improve her English-class journal, which is as strange as the girl herself: it's an account of the activities of Travis, a hunk with whom Lana Jean is infatuated. Meanwhile, the Gillians are plagued by a series of attacks on their house and a burglary. When Katie and Lana Jean go to a carnival, Lana, obviously shadowing Travis once again, disappears. Next morning, a carnival worker is found murdered. Is this related to the violence at the Gillians' home—or to illegal toxic waste disposal by the town's major employer, which Mrs. Gillian has been investigating? When Lana Jean, too, is murdered, Katie realizes everyone's in danger- -and also that Lana Jean's journal (in which Travis is now very interested) may contain a crucial clue. With believable characters caught in a web of violence and intrigue, Nixon is nearly at the top of her form in this smoothly knit novel. Teenage mystery aficionados will love it. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
LAND OF DREAMS by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

In the third in Nixon's Ellis Island series, Kristin Swenson and her parents settle on a Minnesota farm, in a house Mamma fears is haunted by former occupants. Meanwhile (to her parents' distress), the independent-minded 17-year-old absorbs the feminist views of a neighbor's college-educated sister, tangles with the local minister over her modern notions, and strikes up a friendship with another neighbor's son, Johan—who admires her high spirits and free thinking. The cardboard characters here make a flimsy support for an overabundance of historical issues plus some carefully researched details of a Swedish-American community in 1902, while Nixon—though ever a fluent narrator- -stretches credibility with the relationship between Kristin and Johan, who seem more like transplants from the present than young people of their own time. Still, a readable novel that makes an accessible introduction to its period setting. (Fiction. 10-14) Read full book review >
WHEN I AM EIGHT by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Feb. 1, 1994

A self-assured little boy details the grand things he'll do when he's big like his brother: his wheelies will break records; he'll be a champion ballplayer who can retort, ``Who cares?'' when he's told he's too little to play; and (his imagination soars) he'll have a video game with real monsters and a birthday party with a circus, including an elephant. The downtrodden younger sibling's fancies are familiar territory; still, this excursion into it is distinguished by Nixon's deft portrayal of the child's feelings; by Gackenbach's ebullient, cartoony illustrations, subtly capturing his bravado in the face of exclusion—and by the generosity with which, in the end, he imagines turning the other cheek: ``He can come to my party even if he is bigger...Even if he keeps telling me I'm too little...Because he is my brother.'' A likable addition. (Picture book. 4-7) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1993

A curmudgeonly author's luxurious, well-staffed island home- -fortuitously cut off by a storm that lasts long enough for teenage narrator Samantha to make her deductions and confront the murderer before the police can get there—is the setting for this classic tale of houseguests who all have motives for doing in their obnoxious host. The suspects (aging football hero, Hollywood star, romance writer, US senator, etc.) are strictly stock; their reactions to the game Augustus used to lure them for the weekend (if they solve his clues, he'll delete their terrible pasts from his latest manuscript) and to his death are pure fantasy, as is their dimwitted willingness to rely on Sam's help in finding the offending manuscript (they're less worried about who killed Augustus). But the clues (in several batches, individually addressed to everyone concerned)—and the way Sam, with lots of serendipity, puzzles through them—are clever indeed. An entertaining quick read. (Fiction. 10-16) Read full book review >
LAND OF HOPE by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Nov. 1, 1992

``She—Rebekah—was going to have an education and make something of herself. Nothing was going to get in her way.'' Rebekah, 15, has been on the ship only a few days when she hears that America offers Jewish girls opportunities unheard of in Russia and makes her resolve. But though Rebekah is undaunted by the discomforts of steerage and a distressing passage through Ellis Island, she finds the Lower East Side of 1902 harder to cope with. Nothing has prepared her for the crowding, the squalor, or the economic necessity that forces her whole family to work in her uncle's sweatshop. Worst of all is her parents' refusal to educate her along with her brothers. Still, determination wins through; and though not understanding her break with tradition, her family supports her efforts to attend night school after work. Here, unfortunately, the vivid account of the journey and of the new life in ``the golden land'' is marred by overwriting and some triteness; still, with Sachs's Call Me Ruth (1982) out of print, little else is available in quite this vein, and Rebekah's indomitable courage is inspiring. (Fiction. 10+) Read full book review >
THAT'S THE SPIRIT, CLAUDE by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Sept. 1, 1992

Their first Christmas together, Shirley and Claude's two adoptees are hoping for a visit from ``Sandy Claus''; Bessie has even knitted a Bunyan-size stocking. Sure that Sandy Claus will never make it to Texas, the reluctant Claude (cheered on by Shirley, who concludes each chapter by reiterating the title) puts on his long red underwear and heads for the roof—only to bump into the real article, who takes the size of Bessie's stocking in stride and leaves extra gifts for the family to deliver nearby in the morning. With deft, charmingly funny illustrations and all the comical verve of its predecessors, a winning addition to a much-liked series. (Young reader. 4-8) Read full book review >
THE WEEKEND WAS MURDER! by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: May 1, 1992

Mary Elizabeth (``Liz''), last seen in The Dark and Deadly Pool (1987), is back for a mystery weekend at the Ridley Hotel, orchestrated by a well-known suspense writer and her actress daughter. Each member of the hotel staff is assigned a role, plus clues to divulge to the 150 mystery buffs who've checked in for the fun. A hotel room, said to be haunted, is supposed to be the scene of the faux crime, but Liz discovers a real body there- -setting in motion overlapping storylines involving both authentic clues and false ones, genuine detectives and actors in trench coats. Nixon's many fans will love wading through the myriad details and placing bets on the outcome. Liz, a clumsy, upbeat heroine with a knack for getting in the thick of things, solves the mysteries with aplomb and even manages to put a sad and weary ghost to rest. The complicated story speeds along with a few bumps, but even these are handled with good humor by this reliable mystery writer. (Fiction. 12+) Read full book review >
A DEADLY PROMISE by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: Feb. 1, 1992

In a follow-up to High Trail to Danger (1991), set in the Old West of 1879, Sarah fulfills her father's last wish by clearing him of a murder charge. In the process, she exposes a syndicate of powerful men who are systematically defrauding local, illiterate miners of their fortunes. Meanwhile, rivals for Sarah's heart, Jeremy and Clint, are the targets of her younger sister Susannah's flirtatious advances; Sarah makes a choice between the two, while she and Susannah also decide to reclaim a Chicago property taken over by their relatives. Nixon's hand is surer in this sequel, but the story suffers from the two-volume format: conflicts set forth earlier are artificially drawn out here. It all comes to a tidy finish, but not without exaggerated characterizations that border on caricature (if not stereotype)—a dumb Swede, an interfering landlady, the catty and manipulative younger sister. Despite several forays into historical fiction, this prolific author's forte remains suspense. (Fiction. 11+) Read full book review >
HIGH TRAIL TO DANGER by Joan Lowery Nixon
Released: June 1, 1991

Sarah is the older and dreamier of two sisters who find their family boardinghouse taken over by interfering, greedy relatives in 1879. Their mother recently dead, the girls need to get word to—and perhaps help from—their father, somewhere out west. Alone, Sarah travels by train and stagecoach, breaking conventions and making her own rules for survival. In a slapdash conclusion, she finds her father just as he dies; since no loose ends—romantic or otherwise—are tied up, it will be up to readers to decide whether a sequel is worth waiting for. Simply characterizing a heroine as prim and putting her in a bonnet does not make for authentic historical fiction. Sarah is lively and determined, but she can't save a plot that lacks an ending. A disappointing entry from a usually reliable storyteller. (Fiction. 11+) Read full book review >
Released: April 1, 1991

After overhearing a snatch of conversation at a party, high- schooler Cary Amberson is followed, framed, and terrorized. Cary's father is running for governor of Texas, facing not only a corrupt incumbent but a withering barrage of cruel editorial cartoons, slanted news stories, and crank calls—as well as incidents of vandalism, a home break-in, and Cary's arrest on a trumped-up drug charge. Who's behind this shadow campaign? With the help of a friendly reporter, Cary discovers evidence that one of the governor's cronies has killed a potential whistle-blower. Alerted, she barely escapes being murdered at a crowded fund- raiser. Despite plenty of red herrings, this thriller is more predictable than usual for Nixon, but the suspense is expertly created and drawn out. (Fiction. 12-15) Read full book review >