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Category Archives: Mystery

Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle: A Mystery with Spy Cameras, Code Wheels, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are back in this third installment of the series. They are suspicious of people spying on them because of the secret held by their parents, who are supposedly studying soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan, but with the help of their friends and their clueless but intelligent scientist Uncle Newt they will learn the identity of the spies. It could be anybody: Newt’s unusual new apprentice, the old ladies hired to clean Uncle Newt’s messy house, or the exterminator.

The kids will try to find out the truth about a lot of things, including who is placing spy cameras around their uncle’s house, why all of these different strangers appeared at their house on the same day, but especially more of the truth about their missing parents.

Themes: The love of family is a common theme through all of the Nick and Tesla books, and Secret Agent Battle is no different. Uncle Newt cares for Nick and Tesla, but the twins show us the great love of siblings for each other through protective actions.

Nick and Tesla have learned to be suspicious of everybody, especially since they suspect people wish them harm. Their parents obviously sent them to live with their uncle for a reason, and somebody is spying on them. It’s only a matter of finding out who it is. That’s where the science comes into play.

Pros: Secret Agent Battle tells us a little more about Nick and Tesla’s parents, even hearing from their mother via voicemail confirming the assumptions already made about their soybean irrigation research from the previous two books. With the many suspects available on who is spying on them, the amount of peril is kicked up a notch from the previous two books.

Cons: Everything in the story happens in one day, so while the pacing is fast, the writing felt a bit rushed. The books are a little formulaic with the same structure in each one with a minor mystery followed by a science project as a solution, rinse, then repeat. I also fear the holding back of information about the kids’ parents might drag on if we don’t finally learn much more in the next book.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle has the wonderful combination of giving more information about the kids’ family than in the previous two books, with more fun and creative science projects to try with your own kids. This third book begins to reveal some things about the twins’ parents that we already suspect, but I wish it would have given us a little more since we already waded through two other books before getting here. It’s not really necessary to read the first two books to know the background of these kids and their scientist uncle, but it would probably be more fulfilling to at least read the first in the series, if not all of them for the fun stories and science projects. I’ve been enjoying this series and look forward to making some cool gadgets with my own kids.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Secret Agent Gadget Battle for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Robot Army Rampage: A Mystery with Hoverbots, Bristle Bots, and Other Robots You Can Build YourselfPremise: In this second book in the series, Twin siblings Nick and Tesla have been sent to live with their Uncle Newt while their parents are in Uzbekistan where they claim to be researching soybean irrigation. In the small town of Half Moon Bay, Nick and Tesla learn about a string of robberies plaguing the sleepy community. Once again putting their scientific knowledge to work, they decide to help one of their friends by attempting to solve the mystery themselves.

Uncle Newt is smitten by Hiroko Sakurai, a former colleague of his from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who also happens to have purchased the Wonder Hut where Nick and Tesla purchase electronics and other scientific doodads for their experiments. She is in the process of cleaning it up when a series of break-ins begin, including at the comic shop, Hero Worship, Incorporated, owned by their friend Silas’ family. A rare comic that could help save Silas’ family from a mound of debt has gone missing.

With the help of some ingenious robots and quick thinking, Nick and Tesla go to task on helping their friends and the town by tracking down the thief. They will just have to watch out for the strange robots that are also popping up around town.

Themes: Robot Army Rampage, as with the previous book, exemplifies the loyalty between siblings and with their friends. As Silas’ shop is in jeopardy, Nick and Tesla do their best to track down the thief of the Stupefying #6 comic book. Nick and Tesla also do their best to protect their uncle, even if it means endangering his relationship with Dr. Sakurai.

Nick and Tesla does a good job of showing that even when it appears that kids are up to no good, they might have more noble reasons for what they do. Even their friend DeMarco, who is always getting into trouble, is loyal to his best friend Silas. And the hijinks that occur because of Nick and Tesla’s investigation are because they care about their friends, family, and the town of Half Moon Bay.

Also: more science!

Pros: Robot Army Rampage has some even cooler projects than High Voltage Danger Lab, especially if you’re into robots. The instructions for building are straightforward for building simple robots, including part numbers that you might need to buy at an electronics store. The dialogue is funny and the tone lighthearted, perfect for kids and fun for adults. With most of the same characters from the previous book, Robot Army Rampage stays consistent by developing each of the characters deeply enough for the reader to care about them and enjoy the story.

Cons: The robot projects will probably require some assembly help from an adult, and will definitely require money to buy parts like batteries, motors, and LED lights. Contains mild peril from exploding robots.

Recommendations: Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage is a load of fun, but kids will probably enjoy it even more than adults. If it weren’t for a little deeper background setting from the first book, anybody could pick this one up and jump right into the action without needing to read High Voltage Danger Lab. As each book contains science projects that correspond to story elements, you probably won’t want to skip it anyway. I think Robot Army Rampage is even better than the first, especially with these projects. They are fun for electronics buffs and for piquing kids’ interest in science, but most of all this is just a fun story.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s Robot Army Rampage for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder & Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build YourselfPremise: Twin siblings Nick and Tesla are sent to live with their Uncle Newt for the summer while their parents study soybean irrigation in Uzbekistan. When they arrive in Half Moon Bay they discover it’s a pretty boring place, but their uncle is far from boring. In his basement is a science lab where he performs various experiments. The incredible thing is that he tells his niece and nephew to have a ball in the lab (with several safety caveats) while he is away. Their time in Half Moon Bay is about to get interesting.

The siblings go outside to test their soda bottle rocket made from materials laying around the lab, but when it rips the necklace from Tesla’s neck as it launches things go awry. This wouldn’t be a problem if the necklace wasn’t one of the special necklaces their parents gave each child right before they were sent to live with Newt. Now they must venture onto the property of the abandoned house next door in order to find the necklace, but there are remodelers there with very large dogs who want them to stay off the property at all costs.

Nick and Tesla craft various devices to attempt to retrieve their rocket and necklace, and in the process uncover a nefarious plot in the quiet town. Along the way the siblings make new friends, learn more about their quirky uncle, and find there is more in the abandoned house than just remodelers. Nick and Tesla are also left questioning if their parents are really studying soy beans in Uzbekistan.

Themes: Nick and Tesla think they have a grasp on who their parents are, but when the siblings are sent away for the summer so their parents can do research they learn there is so much more about their parents that they don’t know. They begin to wonder if their parents really are studying soybeans or if they are even scientists.

Nick and Tesla discover there are mysteries about the house next door, its inhabitants, and its past that fall on them to solve.

Summer vacation takes on a different spin when it is spent at a strange uncle’s house. Nick and Tesla get to learn more about their Uncle Newt and his unusual inventions. With his inexperience in caring for kids and making his lab available for them to use helps to give the siblings insight into the kind of person he is.

Also: science!

Pros: Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab was way more fun than I was expecting. The science experiments not only introduce some cool concepts, but they fit right in with the storyline. The characters are unique and the story has the perfect tone for kids to be reading: lighthearted and fun. I like that Pflugfelder and Hockensmith didn’t try to add too many characters, but each one is well developed within this first book. Nick and Tesla is a complete fast-paced story, but it also leaves the reader wanting more in additional books.

Cons: One of the experiments might be a little dangerous dealing with air pressure that will probably require some adult supervision. Also, the concept of kidnapping might be a difficult concept for younger kids to grasp, especially the threats made against these kids. Contains some mild peril and the riding of small bikes down the middle of city streets in the dark.

Recommendations: Not only is this a fun read for kids and adults, it offers several science experiments kids can do with parents, including instructions and materials needed. I’m really looking forward to the next book in the series to find out more about these kids and their secretive family. I am also excited about having more science experiments to do with my kids when they are old enough to read these books. Pflugfelder and Hockensmith have introduced a neat series combining science concepts and experiments with good, lighthearted fiction. Nick and Tesla is educational and fun.

Nick and Tesla
Bob Pflugfelder’s website
Steve Hockensmith’s website
Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab: A Mystery with Electromagnets, Burglar Alarms, and Other Gadgets You Can Build Yourself on Goodreads
Buy Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab on Amazon
Download Nick and Tesla’s High-Voltage Danger Lab for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on November 17, 2013 in Childrens, Mystery

 

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Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Premise: It is now seventy-seven days until an asteroid will collide with Earth, and society has continued to break down. Hank Palace is no longer a detective, now that the U.S. Department of Justice police state has been put into place anticipating the coming apocalypse. People continue to die or go missing, but for some strange reason Hank has agreed to go in search of Brett Cavatone, the husband of Hank’s old babysitter. Brett has disappeared and there is no way of knowing where he is. There are still people leaving behind everything they have in order to spend their last days however they want, and there are also those who want to see the end on their own terms.

With the aid of Nico, his sister, and his police friends still on the force, along with the unlikeliest of helpers, Hank learns where Brett might have gone, but it still doesn’t mean he is alive. Even if he is, does Brett want to go back? And as the impact date approaches, Hank learns of a plot to potentially change the outcome of the world. But there are those who would have it another way.

Themes: In a world facing the end of existence, Countdown City takes a sweeping look at how people respond to disaster, but in the context of living in a world with other people. It zooms in on various reactions to the circumstances as humanity copes with impending doom. Most importantly, it posits revealing shades of how people treat each other, especially in times of crisis.

Even though he is no longer a cop, Hank Palace continues to do what he knows when he agrees to attempt solving a mystery. He has no obligation to anyone at this point, yet he still is willing to use his last days risking his life and helping out someone from his past. If anything, it helps him keep his own identity and humanity as he does what he can to help others keep a shred of their own.

Pros: The outstanding part of Countdown City is the question it asks about human nature and how we treat each other. Hank Palace is a good guy in the truest sense of the word, while some of the characters he runs across are less than reputable, including some of those that help him. But even though Hank is a white hat in a world of black hats, he still flawed and makes mistakes that threaten his own life. I felt even more immediacy in this story than the first book, especially as the drop dead date approaches and society continues to crumble exponentially. Ben H. Winters again masterfully pieces together a mystery that leaves you guessing until the end.

Cons: Again, as in The Last Policeman, there is little to look forward to in the long term for these characters, as the end is nigh for all of them. As such, Countdown City contains plenty of language, violence, sex and drug use in a world left with no rules. When there are murmurs about how the crisis might be averted, I was reminded of cheesy Hollywood movies about asteroids heading toward Earth.

Recommendations: Countdown City does exactly what the first book did, giving us a spectrum of visceral human reactions to the end of existence. The majority of people act with haste and selfishness by going “bucket list” and doing whatever they want regardless of any potential repercussions, while some few continue to do what they always have: serving coffee at the cafe, keeping the peace, or, in Hank Palace’s case, solving mysteries. Search yourself as you encounter the different characters to see how you might react under the circumstance. Start the series with The Last Policeman, but don’t stop there. See the end of the world out to the end by continuing with Countdown City. The end could come quickly, or there might be more to come.

Ben H. Winters’ website
Countdown City on Goodreads
Buy Countdown City from Amazon
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I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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Empire State by Adam Christopher

Empire State (Empire State, #1)Premise: A battle between New York’s greatest superhero and worst supervillain ends in a cataclysmic event: a tear in space that opens a rift into an alternate universe. The Empire State is similar to New York in most aspects, but there is only the island, it is the prohibition era, and it is always wartime. War ships go into the fog surrounding the Empire State to fight the Enemy, but never return.

In the Empire State, private investigator Rad Bradbury has been hired to find a missing girl, but his investigation leads him into a plot that is threatening the very existence of his world. He meets some interesting and dangerous people along the way, but he really has to rely on his wits to solve the mystery and to help him survive. With lurking airships, robots, and men in gas masks, very little makes sense. It is up to Rad to piece together the bigger mystery that he has been thrown into.

Themes: Empire State is a crime noir mystery, where Rad Bradbury is on the job searching for Sam Saturn. But his discoveries are more than just about the girl. Clues lead to questions and questions lead to people, all of which open new doors into places Rad has never before known. We are left guessing until the very end.

In his investigation, Rad quickly learns that everyone and everything is not as it appears. He can’t really trust anyone, and therefore solving the crime and saving the world becomes that much more difficult. Those he thinks he can trust might turn out to be his enemy, or vice versa. In Empire State the lines between trust, friendship, and morality are blurred.

Pros: My favorite thing about Empire State is that it is full of compelling characters. With every character having questionable morality, I found myself rooting for Rad Bradbury through the very end. In spite of his flaws, he is still honorable and just. Though there could have been more world-building and exploration in each element, I enjoyed the various genre elements mashed together: steampunk, superheroes, crime noir, and alternate universes.

Cons: There are certain things that are very difficult to do in fiction, and Empire State is infused with several that I have already mentioned. The alternate universe element is intriguing, but I felt it could have used more time set aside for explanation right from the beginning without giving anything away, especially since it is revealed on the back cover of the book. Because of these things I was confused through a good portion of the beginning, which made it seem to go slower. And the time and technology differentiation between the two worlds has almost no explanation other than “these are two separate worlds so things works differently.”

Recommendations: I read Empire State because I liked the cover and the premise, knowing that it has superheroes, crime noir drama, with steampunk elements. I was a little disappointed in cramming so many different genres into one book only because I felt like each of them could have been given a little more treatment or some of them could have been cut out to make something really great. The good thing is that the characters really started to grow on me, along with the little pocket universe. I think that Adam Christopher has created something special in Empire State. I only hope that the second book expands on the world using the strong points in this one: solid characters and a gritty setting.

Adam Christopher’s website
Empire State on Goodreads
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Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Fantasy, Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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The Insider by Reece Hirsch

The InsiderPremise: Will Connelly has a successful career as a corporate attorney in San Francisco. He is expecting to be made partner when one morning a colleague plummets to his death from the building roof right in front of his window, and Will replaces him the lead attorney for a major merger between two large technology companies. The opportunity to work on this merger could have some huge implications for Will’s career, especially for his chances of making partner.

But Will’s life is turned upside down when he is the prime murder suspect in his colleague’s death, being investigated by the SEC for insider trading related to the merger, threatened by Russian mafia, and caught up in a terrorist plot to hurt hundreds or even thousands of people. It all revolves around his knowledge between these two companies and their involvement with national security. It is up to Will to make sure the information these companies hold doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

Themes: The Insider is primarily a legal thriller with elements of murder mystery and political intrigue. From the beginning Will’s colleague falls from a building and he is instantly plunged into a murder investigation. But when he is thrown into the middle of an increasingly dangerous situation with organized crime elements and terrorists, Will learns that there is more to the merger he is working on than first expected.

Will quickly learns that there are few people he can trust through the murder and insider trading investigations with the threats on his life and he mounting pressure to work with the authorities and admit everything that is entering his life with the Russian mafia and their connections to known terrorists. Even his most trusted coworkers could turn on him at any moment.

Pros: There are many facets to The Insider that make it interesting. Not only is there the murder mystery, but there is the peril constantly plaguing the protagonist, with criminal investigations of insider trading, organized crime, and terrorists. Reece Hirsch has created some interesting characters with flaws that make them pretty realistic. There are some very descriptive action scenes that really move the story along, especially as it pertains to the pacing of the story. There is one scene that was quite cringe-worthy involving Will, the Russians, and a box cutter.

Cons: One of my biggest gripes with The Insider is that it has too much telling instead of showing. Some of the decisions that Will makes are just not very intelligent. The problems are compounded mostly by Will not taking action when he should, such as the box cutter scene where I almost shouted out loud, “Why would you get in the car with them?” His immoral choices of drinking too much and seeking a one night stand only get him into deep trouble. At times Reece Hirsch manages to paint a lawyer in good light, but mostly fulfills the stereotype of them having no conscience or compunction. He also makes the implication that most law enforcement are corrupt, as just about every one of them seem to only be looking to convict Will.

Recommendations: As a debut novel, The Insider has a lot to offer. I was surprised by how well The Insider kept my attention even when I thought the protagonist was making horrible decisions. Reece Hirsch’s debut novel has good characters and some solid action, but the narrative has a little too much telling instead of showing. The pacing is pretty quick and there are some surprises along the way that make this a legal thriller worth a shot for those looking for something by someone other than Grisham.

Reece Hirsch’s website
The Insider on Goodreads
Buy The Insider on Amazon
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I received a copy from Goodreads to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2013 in Mystery

 

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Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes by Matt Kindt

Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange CrimesPremise: The city of Red Wheelbarrow has had a spike in crimes, but only because the new detective in town is solving them with a perfect record. With his amazing deductive thinking and use of new spy technology, Detective Gould is catching every criminal in town.

But the recent string of crimes are as strange as they are seemingly connected, and Detective Gould is facing his biggest challenge yet. As he attempts to track down the culprits of these confusing crimes, Gould might just have found his match for solving crimes. In fact, the challenge to solve the crime might be much more intentional and personal than he knows.

Themes: Becoming too immersed into a job can cause strain on personal relationships. Detective Gould begins to learn this as his marriage suffers, as do his other relationships, as the expense for being extremely good at his job and pouring everything into it.

Another theme in Red Handed is the questioning the contrast between law and justice. As Detective Gould makes arrests, the criminals are arrested under the law, but justice is still under scrutiny by the manner in which they are made. Can causing something terrible to happen through intentional yet completely legal means be considered justice?

In pure crime fiction fashion, Red Handed poses mysteries to be solved by a crack detective searching for clues and motives. With a twist of an ending, solving the crimes becomes more personal as the crimes themselves are turned back onto Detective Gould.

Pros: I love that we get a little glimpse of a story before we know what it means, only to see it later on and to have it make more sense and continually bring a new layer of depth to the main plot. The little previews of upcoming and past threads in each of the different character stories add so much more depth to each thread and to the overall story. The retro noir feel of the art style fits perfectly with the crime genre. Kindt knows when to be sparse with his art and when to be more elaborate. I especially like how he makes the newspaper clipping type scenes of Detective Gould solving the crimes actually look more like early sketches with remaining pencil lines compared to the rest of the book. With hints at violence and sex, Red Handed manages to stay fairly clean by doing the more risqué things off screen.

Cons: I actually found myself flipping back constantly as new story threads were introduced to find the little hints and previews that only made sense once you reached them later on. It was a bit confusing as it jumps around and could be something that might either keep people from appreciating the story from start to end or confuse people so much that the story makes less sense on the first read through.

Recommendations: The interweaving stories in Red Handed make the seemingly inconsequential threads come together into a masterfully woven tapestry full of depth and intrigue. Crime fiction and mystery readers will absolutely love what Matt Kindt has done with Red Handed. Not only does he tell a deep, multifaceted story, but he is an incredibly talented artist. The story jumps around a bit and the art looks retro with a hint of noir, but it feels timeless in that it could be placed anytime within the last seventy years or so. If you are looking for a crime fiction graphic novel that gradually gives you new revelations but leaves you guessing until the very end, Red Handed is probably right up your alley.

Matt Kindt’s website
Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes on Goodreads
Buy Red Handed: The Fine Art of Strange Crimes on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Graphic Novel, Mystery

 

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