If the first book in this series is any indication of what I can expect in the future books of this series, author Chris Grabenstein definitely has a winner on his hands! The Crossroads is, by far, the absolute best children's series book that I have read in a long, long time - - and I've read some good ones here and there, believe me.
Grabenstein brings all of the characters to life so vividly - from the main character of Zack to the supporting cast of his father, step-mother, new friend Davy, the cranky Greta Spratling, the not-so-bright Billy O'Claire, and readers even get a small taste of what Zack's real mother was like before she died of cancer. While some of the characters are somewhat stereotyped, they are not so overly done that they become caricatures; instead, Grabenstein gives them just enough to cause readers to like, dislike, love, or hate the characters as you rightfully should.
The story itself is extremely well-paced, and while I don't usually like authors to alternate points-of-view throughout a book, Grabenstein manages to do it in such a way that it not only flows smoothly, but it actually enhances the reading of the story. You get to know each of the characters in their own way, rather than from the perspective of just the protagonist. You ever gain some understanding as to why characters such as Greta Spratling do the things they do, making them a little less villainous and a bit more human.
And lest you think the "Haunted Mystery" title of the series is a misnomer, there is definitely a supernatural element to the tale. From the very beginning, Grabenstein introduces ghosts - good, bad, and indifferent - as well as a fifty-year old thirst for revenge and the idea that a hatred can burn so strong it can become embedded in and tied to inanimate objects, such as a tree. Grabenstein plays a bit loose with the idea of ghosts, and in some cases, the reader is left to wonder who is a ghost and who isn't (although all is revealed by the end of the story). While there is death and a couple of murders in the story, there is no profanity, no adult themes, and quite frankly, I would have gobbled this up back when I was a pre-teen.
This book definitely has it all - mystery, supernatural, page-turning cliffhangers, touching moments, and sorrow and joy, all within the 325 pages of story. Without a shadow of a doubt, I would recommend this to older children and adults alike, as it is a thoroughly enjoyable read that leaves me anxious to read the next book in the series (and pray that is goes well beyond just the four books that are currently out).
RATING: 10 pails of white roses out of 10 for a thrilling, spine-tingling, page-turning mystery well-worth the read!