Hoot and Scat by Carl Hiaasen

HootI know what you’re thinking. Hoot? Are you serious? That book is likScate seven years old! Ms. Ryan is just getting around to reading it? And my answer, sadly, is yes; after receiving dozens of recommendations, I finally listened to Hoot this weekend, on CD, in my car. Last spring, I read Scat, which was brand new at the time. That’s right, I didn’t let the dust settle on that one.

Both novels, as some of you know, are funny, are set in Florida, and feature middle-school kids going up against big, bad corporations in the name of endangered animals. Here’s a fact. I liked Scat so much that I drove down to Southern Florida this summer and visited the Everglades. It was just as wild and weird and beautiful as Hiaasen promised. Wow. (Photos of the trip available for interested readers.)

In Scat, the animal in danger is the Florida Panther; in Hoot, it’s the Burrowing Owl. Some other characters you will encounter on the pages of these uproarious books: a barefoot running boy, a fake-fart champion, a scary Science teacher with a collection of real stuffed animals, a boy who snacks on pencils, a pancake house spokeswoman, several renegade eco-activitsts, and a few regular kids to whom you might actually relate.

Seriously, don’t wait seven years. Give these a try

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A Mysterious Weekend

enolaGildaMystery fans, rejoice! Gilda and Enola, two of the most brilliant young sleuths in literature, are at it again. Happily for us, Jennifer Allison and Nancy Springer have been hard at work, penning new installments of the Gilda Joyce and Enola Homles series, respectively. For those of you who aren’t yet familiar with these charaters, Gilda is a contemporary high-school girl who just happens to be interested in solving paranormal mysteries. Using her psychic abilities (ahem) and her typewriter, she bravely runs into ghostly situations, while most other people are running away. As for Enloa, she’s Sherlock Holmes’s intrepid little sister who refuses to behave as a proper Victorian English girl should; instead, she wanders the streets of London alone, usually in disguise, and always on the run from her older brothers, who are determined to make a lady out of her. As if! Enola loves ciphers and codes, but her penchant for solving puzzles often leads her into dangerous — and even murderous — territory. (The second book in the series, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets, is downright scary.) So, it’s going to be a good weekend for me. I plan to read both books by Monday. Anyone else up for the pleasure? If so, here are the latest titles:

Gilda Joyce: The Dead Drop, by Jennifer Allison

Enola Holmes and the Cryptic Crinoline, by Nancy Springer

The Red Blazer Girls by Michael D. Beil

red blazerOkay, to really get into this book, you’d better like puzzles, mysteries, and math (well, at least a little bit of math). Sophie, Rebecca, and Margaret are seventh-graders at an all-girls Catholic school in New York City. They’re into dances, music, and books. They’re just discovering that boys aren’t always gross and weird (just most of the time). They think this is going to be just another ordinary school year with breakfast at Perkatory and after-school homework sessions at Sophie’s apartment. But then, a lot of stuff happens. For one thing, there’s this new girl Leigh Ann, who looks like a Seventeen model. That’s pretty annoying, especially since the boy Sophie likes seems to get all silly and red whenever Leigh Ann is around. But the main action of the novel surrounds a ring — a really old, really valuable ring that is supposedly hidden somewhere in the church across from school. Soon, the girls are decoding secret messages, digging through moldy books in the library storeroom, breaking into to secret passageways, and hiding under tables from priests! This is definitely NOT your typical middle school mystery. If you read and liked The Puzzling World of Winston Breen, you might like The Red Blazer Girls, which also provides puzzles for readers to solve along the way. If only a fun, exciting mystery would drop into my lap in the middle of a boring Tuesday afternoon.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt

lucretia.JPGCarrie and Lucas are best friends. They’re fourteen. They’re smart, creative, confident, and inquisitive. They don’t let anyone push them around. They’re interested in art, women’s rights, and international travel. So, they’re the perfect people to stumble upon the biggest art crime in the past hundred years. It all starts with a rude man in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and it all ends with a grey-haired nun in Amsterdam, Holland. What comes in between is probably my very favorite young adult mystery ever (or at least it’s up there with Gilda Joyce and Enola Holmes).

“Go away,” the man at the Rembrandt exhibit snarls at Kari, when she tries to take a look at what he’s painting. He covers his canvas and gives her a menacing look. What’s the big deal? she wonders. What’s this guy hiding? Is he just embarrassed that maybe he’s a really bad painter or something? But when, almost a year later, Kari and Lucas see the same man, at another museum, parked in front of another Rembrandt painting, in disguise, the girls suspect there’s something more going on with this guy than just low self-esteem. Together, Kari and Lucas conspire to uncover the identity of this mystery man and figure out what he’s up to. But when the investigation leads them into dangerous territory involving kidnapping, fraud, and maybe even murder, will the girls be able to manage it without getting killed – or grounded?

This novel makes it into my top five of 2008, easily. Before long, it will probably start showing up on recommended reading lists all over the place. Read it now, before somebody tells you the end and ruins it for you!

The Big House by Carolyn Coman

bighouse.jpgWhen Ivy and Ray’s parents are sentenced to 25 years in prison, the kids are sent to live with Marietta Noland, the wealthy, child-hating old woman whose testimony landed their parents in jail in the first place. On the bright side, Ivy and Ray’s new home features limousines, butlers, luxurious bedrooms, and a mansion filled with dark passageways and mysterious corridors. At first, Mrs. Noland leaves the children to explore the estate in peace, but before long, she tires of their antics and threatens to send them away to separate boarding schools. Desperate to free their parents from jail, Ivy and Ray begin an investigation into Mrs. Noland’s life, certain she’s guilty of something — they just don’t know what. This is a spooky and wacky mystery with all the usual elements: shrouded portraits, secret intercom systems, midnight meetings, and a hidden document that everyone is frantic to find. Nobody in this novel is innocent, not really; but who’s the biggest villian?

The Postcard by Tony Abbott

postcard1.JPGJason Huff didn’t plan to spend the summer in Florida with a bunch of old people. But what can he do? His grandmother died, and somebody has to help Jason’s father sort through her things and sell the house.

The whole situation is weird from the start: the heat is punishing, there’s not a single normal person in St. Petersburg, and Mr. Huff is – well – in a huff ever since his mom died. As for Jason, he isn’t exactly racked with despair. He’s never even met his grandmother, so how can he miss her? No, he’s not sad. He’s just bored, miserable, and hot.

And then…

And then things become NOT boring at all. Jason begins finding evidence all over the place of his grandmother’s mysterious and checkered existence. A shady crew of people show up at her funeral, a crime story in a magazine seems to be based on her life, a yellowing decades-old postcard turns up with a baffling message, and an anonymous caller challenges Jason to put all the pieces together.

Soon, Jason and Dia, the girl who mows his grandmother’s lawn (and the only other teenager in Florida, so it seems) begin a dangerous investigation into the truly bizarre secrets of the Huff family’s past.

Me, the Missing, and the Dead by Jenny Valentine

memissingdead.jpgLucas Swain is almost sixteen years old. On October 16, 2002, his father disappeared without a trace. Has he been kidnapped? Died? Lost his memory? Abandoned his wife and children for a better life? Nobody knows. As for his family, they can’t decide whether to worry about him, hate him, or plan his funeral.

One morning at 5:00 a.m., Lucas stumbles into a London taxi-cab office and notices an urn on the storage shelf — the sort of urn that holds the remains of a dead person. This particular urn contains the ashes of one “Violet Park” a 75-year old lady who passed away several years ago. Right away, Lucas becomes weirdly obsessed with the urn and with finding out its story – who was Violet Park? – why were her ashes left behind in a taxi? – and, most importantly, why is she suddenly communicating with Lucas from beyond the grave?!?

Suddenly, innocently, Lucas finds himself entangled in a bizarre supernatural intrigue. What is Violet trying to tell him? Could it have anything to do with his father’s disappearance?