[Book Review] The Talking T. Rex (A to Z Mysteries, #20) by Ron Roy

Meet Tyrone the Tyrannosaurus, Green Lawn’s newest–and biggest!–visitor. The kids’ old friend Jud Wheat is in town, and he’s raising funds for a dinosaur museum by taking the T. rex on tour. But after the show in Green Lawn, all Jud’s money disappears! Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose track down the cash and rescue Jud from this prehistoric pickle?

In The Ninth Nugget, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose visited a dude ranch in Bozeman, Montana, where they meet Jud Wheat, the son of the ranch owners. Now, Jud Wheat returns to the series when he visits the kids in Green Lawn… and he’s got a massive surprise in tow. Jud and his friend, Dean Whitefeather (who is obviously intended to be Native American, but whose race/ethnicity is never specifically mentioned), are touring the country with Tyrone, an animatronic Tyrannosaurus rex, in order to raise money to build a family-owned dinosaur museum back in Bozeman. With them is Scoop Raker, who’s helping arrange and manage their trip.

Once again, Ruth Rose and Josh’s younger brothers get some pagetime; the parents are mentioned, but don’t get any dialogue. And as usual, the kids handle the mystery–the disappearance of the money Jud and Dean have raised so far–on their own, though Officer Fallon is again seen working in the background. (You know, at this point, he should just hire these kids. Their improbable competence would save the police department a lot of time and money, I’m thinking.)

Anyway, it’s another fun mystery for chapter book readers; fans of dinosaurs in particular should get a kick out of it, though I also highly recommend it to mystery lovers and young readers in general.

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[Book Review] The School Skeleton (A to Z Mysteries, #19) by Ron Roy

It’s a bona fide mystery at Dink’s school. Some sneaky soul has stolen the skeleton from the nurse’s office! The principal promises free aquarium tickets to the savvy students sleuths who can track down poor Mr. Bones. Soon mysterious clue are showing up all over the school. It’s up to Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose to follow the clues and put those old bones to rest.

After solving another mystery book in New York, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose return to Green Lawn to find another case waiting for them. “Mr. Bones”, the school’s skeleton, has disappeared from the nurse’s office, and the entire school is tasked with tracking him down. Like the master sleuths they are, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are on the case even before the announcement… but that reward sure would make their victory sweeter.

This time, there’s a school full of suspects and a short series of clues to follow… but it turns out that this mystery is bigger than just, “where did Mr. Bones go”? It’s a fun story a twist ending that’s either unexpected or obvious, depending on how old you are when you read it; regardless, considering that most of the A to Z Mysteries plots are played completely straight, I think it’s fairly clever and cute to have this one turn out to be an April Fool’s Day prank.

I think it’s one of the better mysteries in the second half of the series, and I definitely recommend it to young mystery readers. Fans of the Cam Jansen series, Capitol Mysteries series, kidlit Nancy Drew spin-offs, and all the other big mystery series for kids should definitely add this one to their reading queue.

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[Book Review] The Runaway Racehorse (A to Z Mysteries, #18) by Ron Roy

And they’re off! Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are excited to see Uncle Warren’s new racehorse, Whirlaway, in action. But the night before the big race, the horse disappears! He shows up the next day, just in time to lose the race. Why is Whirlaway suddenly so slow? Can the kids figure it out–or is Whirlaway out of the winner’s circle for good?

Once again, the A to Z Mysteries kids are visiting Dink’s Uncle Warren in New York state. This time, they’re off to Saratoga Springs to watch Warren’s new horse, Whirlaway, race. But before the horse gets a chance to compete, he goes missing… and then mysteriously returns, having manifested a sudden fear of his jockey. So what’s up?

It’s a simple mystery for children; rather than setting up a series of clues for readers to dissect, as mysteries for slightly older audiences will, Roy introduces his mystery, then a clue or two, and then lets his protagonists unravel the mystery with an epiphany and a Chekhov’s gun. It’s a quick, fun way to introduce children to the genre, and (as I’m sure you can tell), I have some serious nostalgia for the series. I highly recommend it to any parents or teachers interested in getting their young kids started on mysteries.

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[Book Review] The Quicksand Question (A to Z Mysteries, #17) by Ron Roy

Everyone in Green lawn is in a quake about the ducks that keep crossing River Road. Just when the town raises enough cash to build a special duck bridge, the money is stolen! Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are on a quest to find the culprit. But to catch their quarry, the kids will have to go wading… through quicksand!

In The Quicksand Question, Green Lawn is almost finished with its year-long fundraiser to build a bridge to help the local duck population safely cross River Road on their way from their nests to the water. Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose have been saving up for the year and are just about ready to contribute their savings to the “duck bank” at the fire station; the night before they plan to turn in their money, they have a sleepover in the Pinto’s barn. But Dink awakens in the middle of the night and spots an arsonist… and so the mystery begins.

As it turns out, the fire in the meadow by the Pinto’s house was a decoy, and while the firefighters were busy, someone swiped the duck money. There aren’t really any suspects; instead, the witness testimony has the gang looking for a mystery man with “ears like mushrooms”. And their search leads them right into a perilous encounter with some riverside quicksand.

Published after I outgrew the series, The Quicksand Question was never one of the A to Z Mysteries books I read as a kid, but I’m sure I would have loved it. It’s a reasonably clever mystery, at least as far as the intended audience is concerned, with an endearing touch of humor and environmentalism.

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Quotable Thursday

[Quotable Thursday] The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #2) by Lemony Snicket

Quotable Thursdays is a meme created at Mo_Books.

The Quote

I haven’t participated in Quotable Thursday before, but when I came across this passage in The Reptile Room, I just had to share it.

When you were very small, perhaps someone read to you the insipid story–the word “insipid” here means “not worth reading to someone”–of the Boy Who Cried Wolf. A very dull boy, you may remember, cried “Wolf!” when there was no wolf, and the gullible villagers ran to rescue him only to find the whole thing was a joke. Then he cried “Wolf!” when it wasn’t a joke, and the villagers didn’t come running, and the boy was eaten and the story, thank goodness, was over.

The story’s moral, of course, ought to be “Never live somewhere where wolves are running around loose,” but whoever read you the story probably told you that the moral was not to lie. This is an absurd moral, for you and I both know that sometimes not only is it good to lie, it is necessary to lie.

 Why I Love This Quote

I know this is totally snark on Snicket’s part, but I absolutely agree that the supposed moral of The Boy Who Cried Wolf is absolute bullshit. I’ve previously discussed my disdain for “never lie” morals, but I think this fable/folktale is among the worst.

As a kid, it was just a stupid story; reflecting on it now, though… it’s kind of disturbing, honestly. A child plays a prank, gets killed because the adults in his life no longer trust him, and somehow the moral is supposed to be “don’t cry wolf”!? Are you kidding me? How about “when a kid screams that they’re in mortal peril, always go make sure they’re not about to be killed, even if you’re annoyed with them at the moment”.

I mean, damn. The kid pulled some pranks, so he deserves to be eaten? That’s harsh, bro. I totally get that it’s a product of its time, and that when the Aesop’s Fables first came about, it was perfectly reasonable to teach kids not to feign danger–and waste precious time and resources–for attention. But it’s an ancient Greek story; it’s so out-of-date that, when taken literally, it has no resemblance to modern life. No one fears that they’re going to be eaten by a wolf. Their livestock, maybe. But not their children.

So look at it from a modern perspective; update that predator to one that’s still a threat in 2014. Take the ever-popular (and yet utterly flawed) “stranger danger” concept as an example. Hypothetically, imagine that there’s a child who, when s/he goes to the park, often reports being watched by a stranger… but the stranger always turns out to be some harmless parent. Do you stop listening to the kid after this happens a few times? Do you cease to so much as glance at the person he or she is talking about, just to make sure that nothing inappropriate is happening? I certainly hope not.

Cause, like… lives are on the line here, folks. Pay attention to your kids, and instead of trying to scare ’em straight with crap like The Boy Who Cried Wolf, maybe try, I don’t know, addressing the kid’s need for attention in a healthy way so that they don’t feel the need to scream bloody murder for people to notice them? Maybe talk to them about why metaphorically shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater can be dangerous and irresponsible?

At the very least, maybe try to scare them with something a little more relevant than wolves!?


[Book Review] The Panda Puzzle (A to Z Mysteries, #16) by Ron Roy

There’s pandemonium in Green Lawn! The town is building a new park for a panda and her baby. But as soon as the pandas arrive, the baby is stolen! All the panda-nappers want in return is a million dollars… Can Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose collar the culprits before Green Lawn has to cough up the cash?

In The Panda Puzzle, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are back in Green Lawn for the first time since The Lucky Lottery, and there are two other new arrivals to the town: a mama-and-baby set of pandas named Ping and Winnie. But the little cub is only in town for a single day before he’s kidnapped for a million dollar ransom.

Roy gives his readers three suspects this time around:

  • Irene Napper, a petting zoo employee
  • Tom Steele, the editor of The Panda Paper
  • Flip Frances, whose grandmother’s fortune financed the construction of the “Panda Park”

Meanwhile, Nate Hathaway, Bradley Pinto, and Brian Pinto, the four-year-old younger siblings of Ruth Rose and Josh,  feature prominently in the book, though they don’t get in on the crime-solving shenanigans.

Once again, it’s a bit of a far-fetched premise (Are there really enough pandas in the world that some random petting zoo in Nowhere, Connecticut gets to have their own mother-and-cub pair? And why would anyone ransom a panda cub instead of selling it?), but not in a way that the young children it’s intended for should recognize. To a five-year-old, I’m sure it’ll just come across as a fun mystery a couple of cute pandas.

On nostalgia alone, I highly recommend the A to Z Mysteries series to young readers.

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Thoughtful Thursday

[Thoughtful Thursday] Do you DNF?

Thoughtful Thursday is a weekly meme from Reading is Fun Again.

Do you DNF (do not finish) books? Do you call it that or do you call it something else? Do you tell people when you DNF a book or do you act like you never read it at all? How have your DNF habits changed over the years?

In a word, yes. I have a DNF shelf at Goodreads, and there are currently ten books on it. They’re not all there for the same reason, but more on that in a minute.

For me, DNF means any book I quit halfway through that I don’t consider myself “currently reading”. Now, things tend to linger on my currently reading shelf for quite a while, many long enough that they could be considered on hiatus for large stretches of time… but the difference between a temporarily hiatus’d “currently reading” book and a temporary DNF for me is investment: Do I feel as if I am currently invested in finishing the book? If so, it’s a current read. If not, it’s a DNF.

My DNF habits haven’t changed much, honestly. I’ve never done it much in the past, and I don’t do it often now. My last DNF was at least six months ago, if I recall correctly–possibly a year. In the future, I may fall head-over-heels in love with the convenience of the DNF; for now, though, I definitely prefer to push through boring books. (It helps to be a swift reader with a tendency to binge.)

But like I said, I do DNF, and I have several reasons for doing so. Here they are, in no particular order:

Reason #1: I totally wasn’t enjoying the book and have no intentions of ever picking it up again.

Demon Vampire by Virgil Allen Moore was the first book I ever received for review, and I DNF’d it within the first fifty pages or so. As I explain in my review (also my first!), the lack of editing combined with my lack of interest in the plot made me procrastinate for days, and eventually I simply gave up and admitted my very first DNF–at least, my first DNF after learning that it was a thing.

The other book that falls into this category is The Company by Robert Littell. It was a big fucking book, and from the brief bit I read, it seemed super dense and super dull. I only read a few pages before realizing that sinking my time into reading that 800-page behemoth was probably a bad idea, and I eventually donated the book to a local thrift store. Hopefully whoever grabbed it after me was better suited to it than I.

Reason #2: The book bored me… but I may pick it up again.

The first time this happened to me was with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. I’m honestly not sure how much of the book I got through before I returned it to the library, but I was definitely not connecting with the plot and decided to return the book to the library.

I intend to pick this one back up eventually, but it’s likely going to happen in some far off, distant future. In all honesty, I may never get back to it. I like to think I will, though.

The second example of this for me is Everneath by Brodi Ashton. I believe I got about halfway through the book before I simply lost interest. The plot was boring me, and I wasn’t connecting to the characters. I procrastinated for days, and then the book was due back to the library. I thought about binging on it the night before the due date… but I ultimately decided to DNF, at least temporarily, rather than waste a night on something I didn’t expect to enjoy.

I may pick the book back up someday, but with so many other things on my list that I actually expect to enjoy, I can’t say for sure whether it’ll ever happen.

Who knows, though. Maybe someday I’ll give it a second chance, and it’ll totally click with me. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

The third example is What the Night Knows by Dean Koontz. It was the first Koontz novel I tried, and my interested tapered off about halfway through. I debated finishing it because I don’t recall thinking it was bad… but I ultimately returned it to the library without finishing. I own a bunch of other Koontz novels, though, and after I’m finished reading them, I’m going to reevaluate whether What the Night Knows should stay on the DNF list or not.

My fourth and final example is The Alienist by Caleb Carr. I tried to read this on the recommendation of a teacher when I was fourteen, and in retrospect, I simply wasn’t mature enough for the book. At the time, the themes made me very uncomfortable, and I abandoned it within the first few chapters.

I definitely intend to give this one a second chance, now that I’m equipped to handle the subject matter. I have no idea if I’ll enjoy it, but that’s an entirely different matter.

Reason #3: It was a school-assigned book, and I lost interest partway through. I’ll revisit it someday.

You know the whole “brilliant but lazy” trope? That was me in high school. I took the advanced level classes and kept my grades in the A-B range… but I also didn’t actually do much work. (Kind of makes me wonder what my grades would have been if I’d had even the slightest motivation.) The structure of the classes made it absurdly easy, especially on Lit tests; a brief overview of what happened in a particular book and the ability to use context clues in the questions/prompts was enough to create the appearance of having read the book. And once I figured out that I didn’t actually need to read them, I just kind of… didn’t. Assigned reading is the only boring kind of reading, at least to me.

Two of the assigned books that I started reading and abandoned fairly quickly because they didn’t capture my interest were Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Both, coincidentally, were assigned as summer reading… and I had much better things to do with my few short weeks of warmth, sunshine, and freedom.

I intend to get back to both of these books, eventually. I didn’t even abandon them because I disliked them; I simply disliked being told what to read, and that cast a serious shadow over both experiences. I definitely plan to pick these up again on my own terms, and I hope to enjoy them.

Because, seriously, assigned reading sucks the fun out of books.

Reason #4: It’s on temporary hiatus.

This would be where Paradise Lost by John Milton falls. I started reading it during homeroom toward the end of my sophomore year of high school, and before I got very far into it, it was time to turn in our textbooks. As it was in my Lit textbook, I lost access to my copy… and somehow getting my hands on another never made it onto my list of priorities. I kept saying I would do it, and now here I am five years later, with Paradise Lost still marked as a DNF.

Hopefully it won’t take another five years for me to finally get to it. (There’s just so much other stuff to read!)

Reason #5: The Unwilling DNF

How do you DNF something unwillingly, you may be wondering. Easy! Lose access to your copy of the book. Lose access to the only copy of the book available to you.

That’s what happened to me with Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet by Suzanne Gordon. I received a copy through my state-wide library database and binge-read it the night before it was due (I tend to procrastinate with library books, so this isn’t unusual for me), but I only managed to get halfway through before I was simply too tired to read any more. I intended to request it again.

When I went to make the request a few days later, however, I was immensely disappointed to see that the library that owned the only copy had marked it non-requestable for state-wide patrons. Since I didn’t–and don’t–have the leisure cash to spring for a copy from, say, eBay… I’m out of luck, I suppose.

My library has recently changed their ILL system, though, so perhaps it’s time for me to try once again?

Waiting on Wednesday

[Waiting on Wednesday] Party Games by R.L. Stine

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that
Spotlights eagerly anticipated upcoming releases.
The graphic above uses public domain clip art from Open Clip Art.

I don’t believe I’ve ever participated in Waiting On Wednesday before, but since there are a few upcoming titles on my to-read lists over at Goodreads, I figured I’d give it a go!

My choice for this week is Party Games: A Fear Street Novel by R.L. Stine, which will be released September 30th, 2014 by St. Martin’s Griffin. I was totally shocked to see that this book was coming out, considering how many years it’s been since there’s been a new Fear Street book. (It’s been almost a decade, right?)

Goodreads has a “teaser premise” up, ostensibly from Stine, which reads:

It’s about girl named Rachel, who Brendan Fear invites along with a bunch of other people to the Fear’s summer house on Fear Island, in the middle of a lake. They’re 17, in high school. It’s Halloween time, and they’re reopening the summerhouse just for this party. Brendan invents games, he loves games, and one by one the guests start getting murdered—every murder is attached to a game. One girl is found all folded up and there’s a note that says, ‘Twister, anyone?’ They’re trapped on an island, and there’s a killer there who wants to kill everyone.

So we’ve got our Final Girl already, and I assume Brendan’s either the LI, the villain, or the obvious red herring (or a combination of such). It sounds vaguely reminiscent of Diane Hoh’s The Invitation, in which a group of unpopular kids is invited to the “party of the year” for a humiliating and deadly “game”, but more fun… assuming Stine can pull it off.

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Fear Street. They’re sort of a guilty pleasure of mine, though perhaps that’s not the word for it; I certainly feel no guilt about reading them… I just don’t particularly enjoy them. They’re kind of fun in a “this is a cheap, rather tasteless donut, but I like donuts, so I’m going to eat it” sort of way.

…donut metaphors aside, I’m hesitantly looking forward to Party Games. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Fear Street series resurrected, but I don’t exactly expect the quality to be vastly improved from the 90s stuff. At the very least, though, it should be fun seeing the concept updated for a 2014 audience. Will it be full of modern pop culture references, the way the 80s books were always name-dropping 80s icons? Will there be smartphones and tablets and social networks all over the place instead of private phone lines and VHS tapes and cassettes? I kind of hope not… but I’ll be amused to find out.

So, what do you think about Fear Street‘s resurrection? Good thing? Bad thing? Non-thing? Let me know below!


[Book Review] The Orange Outlaw (A to Z Mysteries, #15) by Ron Roy

An art thief is on the loose! Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are visiting Dink’s Uncle Warren in New York City when a painting is stolen from his apartment. A trail of orange peels and an orange hair are the only signs that someone was there. DO the kids have enough clues to catch this crafty–and hungry–crook?

For The Orange Outlaw, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose return to New York City for another visit with Dink’s Uncle Warren (last seen in The Jaguar’s Jewel). This time, they’ve arrived just in time for a local block party that’s fundraising for the Central Park Zoo. Meanwhile, Uncle Warren is art-sitting a Monet for a vacationing friend.. and I’m sure we all know where this is going.

When the four of them return from the block party to find the Monet gone (and the fruit bowl ravaged), Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are on the case. Roy gives his sleuths and his readers a handful of suspects in this one: Mrs. Booker, the building manager with “wild orange hair”; Roger, the doorman who was previously introduced in The Jaguar’s Jewel; Mrs. Cornelius, an elderly former actress who lives in the apartment beneath Uncle Warren’s and claims to have glimpsed the thief on her balcony; and a trained orangutan.

Unusually for an A to Z Mysteries book, the kids consult the adults before barreling into the climactic sting operation, and they have the help of the police and a primate specialist. Ultimately, the culprit is sent to an orangutan sanctuary where he will be prepared to reenter the wild, and Polly the pony is adopted by the Pintos (making this the second pet Josh has inherited from criminals he’s busted).

It’s a cute story, though a little far-fetched, and it progresses the Green Lawn universe/canon forward a bit with the introduction of Polly. This is the first of the series that I didn’t read as a child, but it still qualifies as a favorite, and I highly recommend it to youngsters interested in mysteries.

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[Book Review] The Ninth Nugget (A to Z Mysteries, #14) by Ron Roy

Dink, Josh and Ruth Rose are spending a week at a dude ranch. Everything is normal in a cowboy sort of way–until Josh finds a huge gold nugget! Just as the kids are deciding what to do with their newfound riches, the nugget disappears. Will the kids be able to track down the thief before it’s time to mosey on home?

As a reward for helping Lucky O’Leary track down his stolen lottery ticket in The Lucky Lottery, Dink, Josh, and Ruth Rose are on a complementary trip to Wheat Ranch in Bozeman, Montana. There, they meet the Wheat family–Ma, Pa, and Jud–their cook, Lulu, and their hired hand, Thumbs. Meanwhile, the ranch has several other guests that help build up a much larger suspect pool than is typical for A to Z Mysteries books. These characters include Ed Getz, a magician who wants to be an actor; Fionna Nippit, a nurse; and Seth and Bonnie Clyde, a pair of honeymooners.

Before the mystery gets underway, two nights pass at the dude ranch. On the first day, Jud tells the kids a campfire story about a vengeful grizzly stalking the ranch… and on the second day, Josh finds a huge nugget of gold while he and the other guests are learning to pan. But on the third day–about halfway through the book–the mystery arrives on the scene when Josh’s gold is stolen from the ranch’s safe. Atypically for the series, there are, as I’ve said already, a whole slew of suspects, one of whom is an incredibly obvious “choice” (which, of course, means that he’s a red herring). Amusing, there’s also a red herring thrown in for adults. You’d think the character called “Bonnie Clyde” would turn out to be a crook, right? As it turns out, nope–for once, the character with the crime pun for a name didn’t do it.

As usual for the A to Z Mysteries series, it’s a cute story that the target audience should find sufficiently mystifying, and any adults reading along won’t be excruciatingly bored. Highly recommended to mystery fans and young readers.

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