The Cayuga Island Kids series features a diverse group of big-hearted friends who work together to solve mysteries, have adventures, and organize community projects. They are fact detectives who think, brainstorm, research, and collaborate to uncover answers and puzzle out solutions. Above all, they are kind, helpful, smart, and resourceful kids who have lots of fun together.
These chapter books are perfect for 7- to 10-year-olds in 1st through 4th grade.
“Any book that begins with a map of an island is my kind of story. Enliven that setting with a diverse group of characters who are consistently kind—and bursting with curiosity—and you’ve got all the elements of a series that is alive with adventure, friendship, and mystery.”
~ James Preller, author of the Jigsaw Jones mystery series
Book 1: The Mystery of the Barking Branches and the Sunken Ship
This entertaining mystery-history adventure is based on real events surrounding one of the biggest puzzles of the Great Lakes! The Cayuga Island Kids set off on a hunt for a certain kind of tree and instead unearth a cannonball thought to be from a treasure ship built right on their island that sank in 1679 and was never recovered. As they hunt for clues and follow leads, they discover that the island they live on is home to a whole lot of history. And, it turns out, a whole lot of mystery, too. We all have history in our own backyards, just waiting to be discovered by inquisitive, adventurous, and fun-loving fact detectives!
Book 2: The Adventure of the Big Fish By the Small Creek
Moving from knowing something has to be done to getting it done takes determination, teamwork, and sometimes, looking in a new direction. In this award-winning second book in the series, the Cayuga Island Kids rescue a mallard caught in the plastic rings from six-pack of cans. Moments later, a girl on a bike carelessly tosses a plastic bottle in the creek. That’s when they decide it’s time for action. How the Cayuga Island Kids go from fishing a plastic bottle out of the creek to bringing the community together to build a recycling bin big enough to hold plenty of plastic makes for a lively adventure. Young readers will be entertained as they come to realize the importance of brainstorming ideas, teamwork, the value of community effort, recycling, and the promise of new friendships. Best of all, readers will cheer on the Cayuga Island Kids as they come to realize that, although we are each just one person, together we can make a BIG difference.
Book 3: The Case of the Messy Message and the Missing Facts
It’s fall as Book 3 of the Cayuga Island Kids chapter book series opens. Julian explores food science as he experiments with recipes for the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Being a cookie sampler takes Mac’s mind off his troubles with fractions. Yoko practices for the school play tryouts, and Maya helps Ms. Choi with the Make-and-Take-Club. Lacey, of course, is searching for the next mystery to solve. And then two of Ms. Choi’s glitter pens go missing. The clues and evidence point to a suspect, but are the Cayuga Island Kids jumping to conclusions? When a classmate jumps to conclusions and shares false information about Julian’s cookies, the kids join forces to set the facts straight. And while researching explorers for a school project, the kids uncover misinformation that blurs the truth, and makes the reasons for being a fact detective crystal clear. Sorting through clues and evidence—just like research—means making sure you have all the facts, and not just a fraction of the truth. Young readers will cheer for the Cayuga Island Kids as they embark on this adventure involving misinformation, faulty assumptions, flour bugs, glitter pens, and chocolate chip cookies.
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Otis Elliott –
This book is a thriller, a killer read. It is a fascinating blend of psychology, will power, carnality, adventure, a tale of true love, deceit and deeply-rooted internal struggles. The main character borders on genius with a Beowulfian dragon fighting within his charming physique that can’t be tamed. Johnny Payne has the ability to weave any scene or dialog with verisimilitude to make the reader believe in the historical reality of his characters. There is excellence to be found in the protagonist but usually it is of the opposing kind, the contrary to a Homeric Arete. Does that mean he’s irredeemable? You’ll discover on the last page. I got an advanced copy to read of this novel and read it in one sitting. I love the poetic quality of Payne’s writing as well as its wittiness and rawness, which is found in both its physical and emotional worlds. Is there a gentleman killer lurking inside all of us?
Stephen-Paul Martin, writer –
“I got the time I was hoping for, and dove into your book. It’s truly outstanding. The assured, well-crafted way of depicting a demented character makes him so compelling, yet a number of the women are forceful presences too. The mother/daughter thing that develops is obviously warped, yet you cleverly bring readers to see it from your main character’s position of desire. Quite brilliant! Kilcairn is a great narrator, at once compelling and repulsive, and your skillful use of historical detail creates a fascinating, treacherous world for him to navigate.Valerie is a magnetic character–beautiful and strong, finally a match for your protagonist. I would have done almost anything to spend a night with her, tied up or not (sorry about the pun). I love the way the book ends, with Kilcairn finally released from toxic London, free to womanize peacefully in his home country. Or will he start killing again? Your last line sounds hopeful, with Kilcairn and his lass doing “”the things that each of us was born to do.”” But who knows what Kilcairn thinks he was born to do?
Beyond all that, I found myself reading your sentences and not just enjoying your story. So many fine word choices, well-made phrases, musical sentences. Not Joyce reincarnate. Your prose is its own thing. Its white paint remains bright despite continuous beating from the sea. The words seem to have fought their way onto the page, and they hold up nicely all the way through.
Kent Johnson –
Johnny Payne is an insanely brilliant writer, lost in the mountains. And across the genres. One day he will be found. I don’t know him, but I wish I did. Though I’d be almost afraid to meet him. He directs a university creative writing program, so he must be a congenial and sociable person. But he seems, in his writing like someone in some kind of off the grid cabin, bomb-making equipment included, deep in the Lost Coast of British Columbia, eating things he picks and kills. I hope this review doesn’t hurt his reputation. Again, I don’t even know him.
Cathy Geha –
“Confessions of a Gentleman Killer by Johnny Payne
Set in the mid-seventeenth century we are quickly introduced to The Gentleman Killer – a moniker that is ascribed to him by the papers, police, and population. He seems to be a likable, intelligent, interesting man who recites poetry, woos women, works hard and yet has a darker side that sees his blood rise in a way that pushes him into some dark deeds.
The chapters of the book are women’s names bookended beginning and end with the focus on the protagonist of the story. Kilcairn, The Gentleman Killer, tells his story in first person venturing into his past to elucidate portions of his life and perhaps give a glimpse of his career as a lawyer and a killer. He is a bit like a dichotomous seed with two parts that make him whole and both sides are quite different though they feed on one another.
The way Kilcairn tells his story is forthright and honestly told without gruesome bloody details. It is a matter of fact statement of life events as he saw and experienced them. Kilcairn was always a bit “dark” but that darkness seemed to leap out from time to time in a way that lead to the death of women he happened to be with. The feel of the story is of the era and took me to the place and times as I read what was written.
The ending of the book had me thinking about what would come next in Kilcairn’s life, if he were a leopard we would know he could not change his spots but as a man, would he continue to kill from time to time when his blood was high or turn over a new leaf?
Did I enjoy this book? Yes
Would I read more by this author? Definitely”
Ethan Cooper –
“Don’t know how it happened; but three of the last eight books that I’ve read have serial murderers as characters. In two of these books—THE QUEEN OF PATPONG and THE HOUDINI KILLER—the authors—Tim Hallinan and P. Moss, respectively—endowed their killers with some redeeming qualities. In QUEEN, for example, the odious Howard Horner had moments of appealing seductiveness. And in HOUDINI, Evie Eastway first kills in self-defense, shooting a rapist with his own gun, and then progressing to murdering scoundrels who have scandalously evaded justice.
So what about CONFESSIONS OF A GENTLEMAN KILLER? Well, Kilcairn, the protagonist and murderer in CONFESSIONS, has rage within him that Johnny Payne, this book’s author, does, to some extent, try to explain. Indeed, Kilcairn’s strange and once abused mother actually connives with a woman friend who has sex with the uncomprehending Kilcairn, who, at the time, is just a boy. But is the murderer Kilcairn, who is psychologically scarred, ever sympathetic? Nope, not even once. What he is, instead, is a male who is susceptible to rage, which he disgorges by murdering women, usually with a knife. He is a repellant character.
While Kilcairn does not have any redeeming qualities, he does have an interesting mind, which has a philosophical bent. And this enables Kilcairn to address, while never rationalizing, his misdeeds. Here, I point out that Kilcairn’s murderous spree is set in London in the 1840s. And here is a snippet of his thoughts.
“Only sex and carnage, those messy fluid activities, had filled me with exaltation. I’d always assumed that learning and remembering the words of the great sages would let me float over the trail of corpses, rendering them irrelevant. Bishop Berkeley’s philosophical proof that the mind’s perception exists prior to all physical reality appealed to me ever since I first read his words at Oxford. I had ardently desired to live as an idealist, outthinking the muck. But really, I was little more than a creature stuck in the world of animate and inanimate objects, a body with a mind attached like a tumor, controlled by instincts, unable even to point to their origins. I wished, for a fleeting moment that I could enter into the cycle that others call guilt, repentance, and redemption… Really, though, they were just words to me, an artificial catechism… I was, indeed, immersed in a bizarre experiment called living from which there was only one escape.”
At one point, the evil Kilcairn admits to 14 murders. And I’m not really sure; but I think more occur as his story progresses. Fortunately, for this reader, Johnny Payne gets graphic with only three—the murders of the flower girl, Lois, and Mattie—and even then, the murders are a matter of technique, not gore. Still… very disturbing.
The title of CONFESSION is surely a reference to CONFESSIONS OF AN OPIUM EATER. In fact, Payne has Kilcairn take a scruffy Thomas De Quincey to his club. I don’t know this writer or this book. But I just looked on Wikipedia and see that De Quincey “inaugurated the tradition of addiction literature in the West.” Maybe that’s what Payne is getting at; but in Kilcairn’s case, the addiction is murder.
CONFESSION has lots of craft and it is weirdly involving. Regardless, not for the squeamish.”