Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Christina’s Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing HahnMister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on 2012
Genres: Adolescence, Death & Dying, Girls & Women, Law & Crime, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues, Young Adult
Pages: 330
Format: Paperback
Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham's junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties—friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is—are shaken or cast off altogether. Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy's guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent—the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove. Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murderer, Mister Death's Blue-Eyed Girls is a suspenseful page-turner with a powerful human drama at its core.

I borrowed this book from Michelle because the book’s description sounded intriguing to me. The story is based off of real-life events that took place in 1955 around Washington, DC involving the author. In Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls, the original events are fictionalized and moved to just outside of Baltimore, Maryland to a quiet suburban neighborhood. The story followed the last day of Junior year for Nora and her group of friends, and how their lives were changed forever.

This story is about accepting death and follows that “coming-of-age” and understanding of life story-line. The author chose to tell the story primarily through Nora’s perspective, but also through the eyes of other characters involved, including Buddy and “Mister Death” himself. The character differentials were hard to get through at first… I could tell the author tried to make their voices sound different, but they felt forced and I did not identify well with any of the other characters except Nora as the main character.

As the summer progressed following the murders and search for the killer, or waiting on the conviction of the guy it had to be, Nora began to question her religious views: Is God real? Why would he let this happen? Why did he take the lives of two young girls? How would things change from here?

Getting towards the end of the read, there was no real climax. The end of the story just happened, and it was not until the “Afterword” that I really grasped why that was. The story was based on events that occurred during the author’s life when she lost two friends to an unknown killer. I believe the book was more therapeutic for the author and meant for her primarily to get out those emotions and the events that haunted her past and present. I did not feel closure in the story, and I did not really identify with the characters or events. In fact, I really just wanted to get through the book and to the end to find out what would happen.

It was a fairly quick read… short sentences, straight-forward content. The book was meant to be a coming-of-age type of read, but I did not get that. To me, it was a story based on real events and meant to be more of a closure for the author than a tale for the reader.

pj - christina


Michelle’s Review: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer

I received this book for free from BEA 2013 in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Michelle’s Review: The Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia SpencerThe Case of the Time-Capsule Bandit by Octavia Spencer
Published by Simon and Schuster on 2013-10-15
Genres: Action & Adventure, Childrens, Friendship, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues
Pages: 214
Format: ARC
Source: BEA 2013
Meet Randi Rhodes, the world’s first ninja detective! Mystery abounds in this delightful new middle grade series from Academy Award–winning actress Octavia Spencer.Deer Creek is a small town whose only hope for survival is the success of their Founder’s Day Festival. But the festival’s main attraction, a time capsule that many people believe hold the town’s treasure, has gone missing. Randi Rhodes and her best friend, D.C., are Bruce Lee–inspired ninjas and local detectives determined to solve the case. Even if it means investigating in a haunted cabin and facing mean old Angus McCarthy, prime suspect. They have three days to find the treasure…the future of their whole town is at stake! Will these kids be able to save the day?

When Octavia Spencer spoke during the BookExpo America Children’s Author Breakfast, she introduced us to her new book as one where she strived for diverse characters. Given the latest push for diverse books, I would definitely place this book on a list of those that feature diverse characters. With a red-haired heroine with a single parent, (an Hispanic?) side-kick with hearing aids, an Asian housekeeper/nanny, a female sheriff, and an African American new friend, there is diversity everywhere.

Randi Rhodes is the Harriet the Spy of the latest generation. She is grappling with the loss of her mother and her family’s move to a sleepy mountain town. But there are mysteries everywhere and Randi embarks on one that allows her to make new friends and perhaps find her footing.

It’s an adorable book with a few pictures and creative activities for children to play along with. Depending on the age of the kid, I would venture to say that adult supervision should be required for all the tasks. I can only imagine the kinds of messes that could be made otherwise!

It’s a Scooby Doo type story. “If it weren’t for you meddlin’ kids…!” (Really, all Randi needs is a furry companion!) If that’s the type of story you (or really, your children) are looking for, this is definitely a good option.

pj - michelle