A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.

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SAMANTHA GREEN AND THE CASE OF THE HAUNTED PUMPKIN

Allen’s debut children’s mystery, the first installment of a planned series, introduces a likable kid detective as she takes a case involving unwanted jack-o’-lanterns.

As the story begins, the narrator, 10-year-old detective Samantha Green, mentions a series of previous neighborhood cases that she and her yellow Labrador retriever, Murphy, have solved, including one involving a missing bike and another a lost cat. These successes earn her a new case: Samantha’s spooky neighbor, Mrs. Finkel, has been receiving threateningly carved pumpkins on her front porch, sometimes with even more alarming notes attached. At the same time, Mrs. Finkel finds that broken items in her house are being mysteriously repaired; the home’s familiar creaks and cracks have somehow disappeared. She attempts to enlist Samantha’s help in solving the mystery, but the unkempt woman’s reputation as a witch—suggested by her shapeless black clothing and bloodshot eyes—makes the young detective hesitant to take on the investigation. The Halloween-themed narrative brings to life the novel’s detailed setting and richly developed characters, including Samantha’s goofy little sister. Samantha’s teenage babysitter encourages her to never to judge people by their appearances. After the detective accepts this sage advice, she begins to unravel Mrs. Finkel’s mysteries—including the true story behind her witch-like appearance. Samantha eventually solves the case, but the resolution has no major twists or shocking revelations and may not surprise serious young readers. However, the novel’s emotional depth, engaging prose style, appealing characters and witty protagonist overcome the story’s predictability.

A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478160236

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2013

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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Full of puzzles to think about, puns to groan at and references to children’s book titles, this solid, tightly plotted read...

ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO'S LIBRARY

From the Mr. Lemoncello's Library series , Vol. 1

When a lock-in becomes a reality game, 12-year-old Kyle Keeley and his friends use library resources to find their way out of Alexandriaville’s new public library.

The author of numerous mysteries for children and adults turns his hand to a puzzle adventure with great success. Starting with the premise that billionaire game-maker Luigi Lemoncello has donated a fortune to building a library in a town that went without for 12 years, Grabenstein cleverly uses the tools of board and video games—hints and tricks and escape hatches—to enhance this intricate and suspenseful story. Twelve 12-year-old winners of an essay contest get to be the first to see the new facility and, as a bonus, to play his new escape game. Lemoncello’s gratitude to the library of his childhood extends to providing a helpful holographic image of his 1968 librarian, but his modern version also includes changing video screens, touch-screen computers in the reading desks and an Electronic Learning Center as well as floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stretching up three stories. Although the characters, from gamer Kyle to schemer Charles Chiltington, are lightly developed, the benefits of pooling strengths to work together are clear.

Full of puzzles to think about, puns to groan at and references to children’s book titles, this solid, tightly plotted read is a winner for readers and game-players alike. (Mystery. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-87089-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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