Review: Malcolm at Midnight, by W.H. Beck, illus. by Brian Lies

“It began with a rat. There was also a glasses-wearing elderly iguana, a grumpy fish who could spell, a ghost in the clock tower, a secret message in the library, and a twisted evil that lived on the fourth floor of our school. But those’ll all come later. First, there was a rat: Malcolm.”

malcolmAnd what an extraordinary rat he is! After being fortuitously mistaken for a mouse at the pet store, Malcolm finds his way to Mr. Binney’s fifth grade classroom at McKenna Elementary School. Life at McKenna is much different from what he is used to, but Malcolm doesn’t mind. He has a Comf-E-Cube for a bed, a water dispenser, plenty of kibble, and the occasional oh-so-delicious crumb; as well as the undivided attention of a room full of fifth graders.

The children, also referred to as “nutters,” aren’t the only ones to notice and take an interest in Malcolm. The Midnight Academy, a secret organization of classroom pets working to ensure the smooth operation of the school, quickly takes Malcolm under its wing.  But when Malcolm’s true identity as a rat is revealed and the leader of the Midnight Academy goes missing, all eyes turn to Malcolm as the prime suspect. For, as everyone knows, rats are not to be trusted.

Malcolm must then embark on a quest to rescue the leader of the Midnight Academy and clear his name, solve the mystery shrouding the fourth floor of McKenna Elementary, and find a way to prove that the labels and stereotypes placed upon him do not define his personality or character.

W. H. Beck weaves a steady reveal of clues throughout, and readers will enjoy teasing out the different threads of the mystery as the novel progresses.

Ultimately, Malcolm at Midnight is just as much about identity as it is about adventure, as Malcolm undergoes a steady character transformation to overcome his own self-doubt, and determine, once and for all, the kind of rat he wants to be: a rat of “valor and merit.”

Posted on ReadKiddoRead, December 2012.

Review: Confessions of a Murder Suspect, by James Patterson

When sirens blare outside of her upscale New York City high rise, fifteen-year-old Tandy Angel believes it is just the sounds of the city …  That is, until two police detectives show up at her door, demanding entry into the apartment she shares with her family. The home quickly turns into a crime scene, as the detectives discover Tandy’s parents lying dead in their bedroom, victims of an apparent homicide.

But Tandy does not have time to grieve their passing or sift through her complicated emotions. The detectives begin to ask questions, trying to manipulate a confession and trap Tandy in half-truths. She and her brothers are the prime suspects. After all, who else had access on that terrible night? Who else had motive to kill the mega-wealthy owner of Angel Pharmaceuticals and his wife?

Could Matthew, her older brother, the burly NFL star trying to distance himself from his family, be a murderer? What about the gentle Harrison, her twin; could the weight of their parents’ expectations be enough to prompt him to kill? Even ten-year-old Hugo, with his passionate temper, is suspect.

Between aggressive and nosy detectives, neighbors with questionable motives, and a stunning New York City apartment building filled with secrets, Tandy certainly has her work cut out for her. How well does she know her family? How well does she know herself?  Tandy’s own confessions weave throughout the narrative and reveal a second layer of intrigue to the mystery at hand.

Fans of James Patterson’s Maximum Ride will enjoy being introduced to the similarly strong and plucky Tandy Angel, who must use all of her cunning and wit to solve the mystery of her parents’ death. The first in the Confessions series, this novel clips along with plenty of suspects and red herrings to complicate the plot and keep readers guessing.

What other secrets remain hidden in the Angel family’s past? What lies? Could Tandy herself be prone to murder?

Posted on ReadKiddoRead, October 2012.

Review: The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, by Ellis Weiner

The Templeton Twins Have an IdeaThe opening spread of The Templeton Twins Have an Idea features a prologue that reads, in a sweeping script, “The End.”

Lest we be fooled, the cantankerous narrator follows up with a question: “Did you enjoy the Prologue? Do you think it makes the slightest bit of difference to me whether you did or not?” And so readers are pulled in by the begrudging wit of the narrator. Although never named, he establishes himself as a character just as lively as any other in the book, skillfully withholding information and revealing the tale of the Templeton twins along the way.

The twelve year-old Templeton twins, John and Abigail, live with their father, a professor and inventor, who has not worked since his wife died earlier in the year. Thinking that the family needs a change, the twins convince their father to buy a dog. Cassie, the Ridiculous Dog, as the narrator calls her, infuses life into the household, reinvigorating Professor Templeton and prompting him to go back to work.

So the family packs up and moves to the Tickeridge-Baltock Institute of Technology (nick-named Tick-Tock Tech), where Professor Templeton is provided a laboratory and teaching position. During a public lecture, the Professor and the twins encounter a disgruntled former student who claims the professor has stolen his invention. The accusation reveals a years-long vendetta and sweeps the Templeton twins into a kidnapping plot.

Readers will quickly learn that the twins are not easily intimidated, and certainly not to be underestimated. And while they prove to be resourceful and clever, relying on teamwork to thwart their captors, they undoubtedly must share the spotlight with the narrator. The sarcasm and humor with which he tells the tale will delight readers and carry them through to the end.

With The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, Ellis Weiner presents the first in a series sure to appeal to both boys and girls. Book two is expected in September 2013.

Posted on ReadKiddoRead, September 2012.