Overlong and underthought, it’s a mystery best left unsolved.

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BLUR

From the Blur series , Vol. 1

A teenage girl is found dead in the local lake. There’s no sign of foul play, but Daniel Byers has a hair-raising experience that causes him to think there’s murder afoot.

When Daniel attends Emily Jackson’s funeral, the last thing he expects to see is her ghost pleading with him to solve her murder. After this supernatural opening, Daniel embarks on a clunky whodunit that scarcely raises the pulse. The key to a good mystery is pacing and stakes, but instead, James provides uninspired melodrama and red herrings to spare. It is never clear why Daniel needs to solve this case, and the hocus-pocus that prods him along comes off as hokey rather than eerie. As sleuths, Daniel and his friend Kyle make for a dull pair. Inane girl troubles and run-of-the-mill family issues are poorly integrated, feeling like padding that distracts from the maniac on the loose. The book’s lone highlight is the ending, when all is revealed in an absurd confrontation that cribs from the best pulp noirs of the 1930s and ’40s. This ending jars with the rest of the book, but the camp on display supplies a much-needed shot in the arm.

Overlong and underthought, it’s a mystery best left unsolved. (Mystery. 12-16)

Pub Date: May 27, 2014

ISBN: 978-1477847275

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Skyscape

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

From the Peculiar Children series , Vol. 1

Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.

The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end. (Horror/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.

TEEN KILLERS CLUB

An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Slow off the mark and gratuitously violent but cooking with (nerve) gas by the end.

THE TRIGGER MECHANISM

From the Camp Valor series , Vol. 2

With help from a reclusive billionaire, teen supersoldiers tackle a cyberterrorist in this sequel to Camp Valor (2018).

The main suspense comes from wondering when the chases and firefights are finally going to start. Traumatized by the discovery that he’s been duped into mowing down a crowd of real pedestrians in what he thought was a virtual truck, online gamer Jalen Rose is recruited by Valorian agent and co-protagonist Wyatt to join him in an unauthorized mission to find the instigator, Encyte. There are suspects aplenty. Their patron, tech tycoon John Darsie, points them toward one possibility: his own employee Julie Chen, a brilliant (not to mention “tough and a little boyish, but cute”) 14-year-old gamer and software designer. Despite a series of cyber exploits, including a high-casualty riot fueled by pheromones, there are so many distracting subplots—notably the hunt for a traitor from the first volume, the arrival of a government official who orders the camp shut down because she can’t see the value of a cadre of secretly trained child warriors (go figure), and a developing relationship between Jalen and Julie—that the pedal doesn’t really hit the metal until some time after the real villain makes a tardy first entrance. Jalen is African American and Wyatt is white.

Slow off the mark and gratuitously violent but cooking with (nerve) gas by the end. (Paramilitary thriller. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-08825-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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