Francie may not be a real detective, but she is so confident that there’s never really any doubt of her eventual success,...

ENCHANTMENT LAKE

A NORTHWOODS MYSTERY

From the Enchantment Lake series , Vol. 1

Preus, author of the Newbery Honor–winning Heart of a Samurai (2010), is known for her engrossing historical fiction. Now she changes pace and offers a mystery set in the present.

Francie, 17 and fresh off a television gig in which she played a teen detective, is frantically called back to her lakeside childhood vacation home in northern Minnesota. Her two great-aunts, flaky but endearing, who own the isolated cottage, believe someone is murdering their neighbors in an effort to gain access to a large tract of real estate. They’ve represented Francie as a real New York detective, a lie the townspeople somewhat implausibly buy into, and she begins a halfhearted investigation. Effectively combining some mildly scary treks through the dark woods, a growing sense of peril and a dash of romance in the form of handsome Nels, this mystery will keep readers engaged even though it lacks the punch of previous works. The body count is high, but the actual deaths aren’t depicted, minimizing their potential menace. When the truly malevolent surprise perpetrator is finally revealed from among a group of red herrings, the threat is swiftly eliminated; a minor mystery remains unsolved, suggesting the potential focus of the sequel.

Francie may not be a real detective, but she is so confident that there’s never really any doubt of her eventual success, making her good company but perhaps not riveting reading for hard-core mystery fans. (Mystery. 11-16)

Pub Date: March 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8166-8302-4

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Univ. of Minnesota

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli.

DEAD WEDNESDAY

For two teenagers, a small town’s annual cautionary ritual becomes both a life- and a death-changing experience.

On the second Wednesday in June, every eighth grader in Amber Springs, Pennsylvania, gets a black shirt, the name and picture of a teen killed the previous year through reckless behavior—and the silent treatment from everyone in town. Like many of his classmates, shy, self-conscious Robbie “Worm” Tarnauer has been looking forward to Dead Wed as a day for cutting loose rather than sober reflection…until he finds himself talking to a strange girl or, as she would have it, “spectral maiden,” only he can see or touch. Becca Finch is as surprised and confused as Worm, only remembering losing control of her car on an icy slope that past Christmas Eve. But being (or having been, anyway) a more outgoing sort, she sees their encounter as a sign that she’s got a mission. What follows, in a long conversational ramble through town and beyond, is a day at once ordinary yet rich in discovery and self-discovery—not just for Worm, but for Becca too, with a climactic twist that leaves both ready, or readier, for whatever may come next. Spinelli shines at setting a tongue-in-cheek tone for a tale with serious underpinnings, and as in Stargirl (2000), readers will be swept into the relationship that develops between this adolescent odd couple. Characters follow a White default.

Characters to love, quips to snort at, insights to ponder: typical Spinelli. (Fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-30667-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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