Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Middle-Grade Review: Masterminds: Criminal Destiny

Last year, I was blown away by Gordon Kormon’s middle-grade novel Masterminds. I just listened to the audiobook of the sequel, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny, and it is just as good as the first book, with a unique sci fi plot and nonstop action and adventure.

The trick will be to describe it without any spoilers! (don’t worry - I will) First, if you haven’t yet read Masterminds, go back and read my review of that first novel in the series. There is a big plot twist in the first book, so I will avoid giving that away. First a little background on the series.

Eli and his friends are thirteen years old and live in a very unique place. Serenity, New Mexico, is a town of only 185 residents and is 80 miles from the nearest town. Most amazing, Serenity has no crime, no violence, no unemployment, and no poverty. It is the perfect town, and the kids have been told their whole lives how fortunate they are to live there. The thirty kids in Serenity have grown up together and all know each other well.

Eli goes to school with Amber and Tori who are best friends. Amber is a classic over-achiever, with to-do lists that detail every single day. Tori likes art and is quite talented. Malik also goes to school with them. He’s a bit of a renegade, a rule-breaker, which is highly unusual in Serenity and highly discouraged. Malik often hangs out with Hector, a smallish, nice guy in their class. Eli’s best friend is Randy, a fun guy who often encourages Eli to push against their limits, like figuring out how to unlock hidden features with weapons and car crashes in their very tame, non-violent video games.

The kids’ idyllic life begins to come apart, though, when Randy is sent away abruptly to live with grandparents no one knew he had. Around the same time, Amber finds a USA Today newspaper left by some workers from outside the town and reads about things like murder that she has never even heard of before. Little by little, the group of kids begins to suspect that something is not right with Serenity. In the first book, they figure out what is going on behind the scenes of this perfect-seeming community and manage to escape from town, no small feat.

In the second book, the kids are on their own, out in the real world for the first time in their lives. They know the secret of who they are and why they are special, but they want to know more. Scary security people from Serenity are after them, as well as their parents, but the kids are determined to find some answers. They quickly discover that life in the real world is full of dangers they never knew existed, and they race across Colorado and Wyoming as fugitives.

Even more so than the first book, the sequel is filled with nail-biting suspense and nonstop action, in addition to the mysteries of Serenity and the “special” kids. This story is a thrilling rollercoaster ride, based on a unique premise, filled with unexpected twists and turns. Both girls and boys will enjoy following the adventures of this group of kids and discovering their secrets alongside them. I was riveted by the first book on audio and devoured book two in record time as well! Like the first book, this one was narrated by all of the kids, in alternating chapters, with different voice actors for each kid on the audio. I can’t wait to see what Kormon has in store for these kids in the next installment!

HarperChildren’s Audio

NOTE: There are samples of the audiobooks at the Amazon links below. If you have not yet read book 1, then DON'T listen to the sample audio for book 2, Masterminds: Criminal Destiny! The very first line is a huge spoiler for book 1. If you are new to the series, check out the audio sample for book 1, Masterminds (the first link) instead.


  1. It's always exciting when a second book is just as good as the first! I will have to keep this in mind for when D is a little older.

    1. Yes, it's actually rare for me to feel compelled to read beyond book 1 in most series - I just don't have the time - but this one is great & I enjoyed book 2 just as much!

  2. I'm definitely going to keep an eye on this one. My son will start reading chapter books in the somewhat near future and, well, I am at a loss for books that will interest him. This one, however, sounds like something he would like.

    1. Oh, Melinda - we had 2 boys!! I have LOTS of great ideas :) Let me know what kinds of books your son likes & his other interests, and I will be glad to recommend some top-notch chapter books! A great starter series for almost any kid is The Magic Tree House - my boys both loved it (and it now has hundreds of books!). Has he read the Henry & Mudge books yet? Awesome & a good starting point (even earlier than Magic Tree House). My youngest LOVED the Horrible Harry books - perfect for early readers as first chapter books.

      here's an article I wrote with some great books for both read-aloud and read on his own: