Goblabet (Book Review

Goblabet (Book Review

You’ll love it if
you enjoyed the movie Labyrinth, and you can’t resist a puzzle to solve

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Goblabet: An Alphabetical Murder Mystery

By Ken Priebe

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Can your kids crack the case of who killed the Goblin King?

What a fun concept! The Goblin king has been poisoned, and 26 suspects are called to defend their innocence. Three are guilty of murder, but which three? The answer is encoded into the book.

One goblin for each letter of the alphabet. One short poem per goblin. One simple code to crack. This is a fun, interactive book for kids.

My 8-year-old had fun decrypting the code and solving the case. But I think he had more fun pouring over the illustrations of each goblin, which are so expressive and flawlessly executed, even though they’re presented as “courtroom sketches” and, as such, are done in rough, sketchy form. They’re so funny and original.

The code is easy to crack, so that will appeal to younger kids, but the poetry is advanced, which will appeal to older kids. It would be fun to use this book as part of a poetry exploration for our homeschool—using the author’s concept to write original short-form poetry with a mystery embedded.

4.5
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Book Review)

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re craving a Willy Wonka-type adventure (but with less candy and more books)

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

By Chris Grabenstein

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

A group of kids must escape a game-maker’s library in order to win the grand prize

This was our last read-aloud for the school year. I selected it because I hoped it would be a fun, exciting story to start the summer. My boys did enjoy it, but I was a tad underwhelmed.

I must say, though, that the ending made up for what I thought was a snoozy middle.

When I finished reading the last couple of chapters, my boys (7 and 8 years old) were literally jumping and rolling off the couch and around the carpet. All the tension and excitement they were feeling was manifesting in these funny physical gyrations, and it was hilarious to watch.

The story premise is great. An eccentric game-maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has built a state-of-the-art library in his childhood hometown, and he invites twelve 12-year-olds to a lock-in at the library. The next morning, they opt into an epic game to “escape” the library and win fame and fortune as Lemoncello spokes-kids.

The clues and puzzles were excellent. I felt like they were difficult enough to warrant the fanfare surrounding the game event. The only thing, though, was that SO much went over my boys’ heads. As the adult, I caught all the allusions and Easter eggs, and I wanted to explain them to my boys, but I refrained, haha.

I felt like the writing and the characters were on the weaker side. Granted, this is a plot-driven adventure story, but I was expecting a bit more in the character department. That would’ve helped support the middle of the novel, which dragged for me.

There wasn’t much “there” there, even for our hero, Kyle. The most interesting character is Charles because he’s a worthy villain, who tries to weasel and fake his way to the top. It’s good to see him taken down a notch—my boys loved it—but he’s also something of a caricature.

If each character could’ve displayed more internal conflict, our interest would’ve skyrocketed. There’s one point at which Kyle is tempted to play video games instead of help his team look for clues, and after a quick pause, he resists the temptation. Had the characters had grown and changed to a greater degree, the book would’ve had more to offer.

Also, the grand prize (being a Lemoncello spokesperson) seemed a little strange. I would not wish fame on these poor kids!

3.3
Room One (Book Review)

Room One (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’re looking for a gentle kids’ mystery with a discussable ending

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Room One

By Andrew Clements

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

Who is hiding out in the ol’ farmhouse?

I love Andrew Clements, but this was not a favorite for me or my boys. The book came with our homeschool curriculum, and it sounded intriguing—”two mysteries in one,” says the cover. I think that skewed my expectations. I was anticipating something heavy on clues, puzzles, twists, and gasps.

But this book was very quiet and unassuming. The drama is small, just like the town of Plattsford, Nebraska, where the story is set. The main character, Ted, is a sixth-grader who stumbles upon a family squatting in an abandoned farmhouse, and he does what he can to help them.

The book has gold-standard values, I will give it that. But, everyone in the book seemed to be on his/her best behavior. It would’ve been interesting to have a mischief-maker or a bad guy in the mix to liven things up. There wasn’t enough conflict for me.

The climax of the story is a huge bust—and it’s supposed to be. This made for some interesting discussion. My boys and I were rooting for a magical ending where everyone cheers and the kids hug and the parents cry while the soundtrack swells to a crescendo. The book deliberately bursts your bubble. Asking “WHY?” is a good exercise for kids.

Overall, though, I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who is looking for a page-turner to keep the interest of a reluctant reader. Good but not great.

3.3
Hickory Dickory Dock (Book Review)

Hickory Dickory Dock (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you want a small-time mystery with a big-time cast of charactersce

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Hickory Dickory Dock

By Agatha Christie

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

When a collection of strange items is stolen from an international boarding house, Poirot takes an interest in solving the puzzle.

Hercule Poirot is my favorite fussy detective. And Hugh Fraser did a fantastic job of narrating the audiobook version of this novel. It was everything I wanted in a Christie book, and it was a quick win for me, but it just wasn’t my favorite Christie book.

We start with a boarding house filled with 20-somethings from all over the globe. An odd collection of things go missing. Some turn up again. Some are destroyed. Then, people are in danger… What starts off as a puzzle turns into more.

I like the stage: an international boarding house, which is basically like a college dorm full of students from different countries, different backgrounds, and different worldviews. I liked the varied cast of characters, although I can see how they might not sit right in today’s tiptoe political climate. I like Poirot because he’s old-fashioned, and so am I. That’s why I like Mma. Ramotswe, too. There’s a tension between modern ways and old ways, and there’s something inside me that loves to see the old ways win, but not from a pulpit.

The plot was good, but it wasn’t gripping. The characters were what made this book enjoyable for me. I would’ve liked a little MORE Poirot here, actually. His police colleague, Detective Sharp, (I may have the name wrong) got just as much page time, although he’s not as entertaining as my Belgian.

Content warnings: Nothing graphic, but people die and plot, as you’d expect. Some mention of opiate use and the mishandling of drugs. One character has a drinking problem.

3.5
First Lie Wins (Book Review)

First Lie Wins (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you puzzle-y thrillers that are low on graphic content

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

First Lie Wins

By Ashley Elston

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

When a young spy needs to redeem herself in her boss’s eyes, she finds herself tested in twisty ways

I needed something different. I saw that this popular thriller was high on twists and low on sex and violence, so I gave it a try. I’m NOT much for thrillers, but about once a year, I’ll pick one up. I never seem to love them, so take my review with a grain of salt.

Here’s what appealed to me: I knew this was going to be a plot-driven book. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of character arc, and, turns out, there wasn’t much of one. The plot was interesting and did deliver some twists and turns that I enjoyed and didn’t see coming. It was fast-paced and short. A nice palate cleanser.

I could’ve done with MORE character, especially from the lead.

I won’t spoil the end, but…I had issues with the note it ended on. It didn’t have good resonance, even though it is discussable.

Content warnings: The book didn’t rely on graphic scenes for shock and awe. So, no graphic violence or sex. The main character is living with a man. Some deaths occur. There was the usual foul language that you’d expect, but it was moderate—not minimal but not everywhere. Of course, this is a worldly book, so it comes with, well, worldliness.

3
Timmi Tobbson: Legend of the Star Runner (Book Review)

Timmi Tobbson: Legend of the Star Runner (Book Review)

You’ll love it if
you’ve got a clue-loving kid who can’t resist an interactive mystery

This book review contains affiliate links. Here’s my disclosure policy.

Legend of the Star Runner (Timmi Tobbson)

By J.I. Wagner
Translated by Tracy Phua
Illustrated by Cindy Foehlich

Character
Plot & Pacing
Writing Craft
Moral Value

At the end of each short chapter, there’s a clue to solve that moves you a step closer to uncovering a mystery.

That made me curious enough to give this book a try with my 7- and 8-year-olds. They have short attention spans, so we read one to two chapters per day, and we had fun solving the little clues. Some were easy and satisfying, but others were tough enough to flex our mental muscles.

The story is written from the POV of Timmi Tobbson, average kid. He has two friends, Lilli and Marvin. One summer day, they realize they need to help save Lilli’s grandpa’s house from getting repo’ed. This leads them on a wild goose chase through many crazy locations in their historic town.

The fun thing about the clues is that you must look closely at the illustrations that appear at the end of each chapter, and those pictures give you clues to help you answer the accompanying “clue question.”

The concept of this book is just wonderful. The clues and illustrations are very well done. The writing and story elements were not quite as strong. We do have the second and third books in the series, so my boys will see how the series unfolds if they choose to read these independently. I won’t be continuing the series as a read-aloud.

3.3