After nearly hanging for thievery, Mary Quinn is rescued and educated at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. She receives an excellent education, but is unsatisfied with her options for employment in Victorian England. When she expresses her feelings, Mary learns the school is a cover for The Agency, a top secret group of female investigators who assist the Scotland Yard in solving mysteries. Mary joins the Agency and begins her first assignment.
Posing as a female companion for the only daughter of a rich merchant family, Mary seeks to find solid evidence for the family’s suspected illegal smuggling. Mary uncovers secrets, but also makes unexpected friends and enemies while completing her first assignment. This is a light mystery, pleasantly low on violence with a nice historical feel. While not entirely believable, the story is entertaining and the characters are well-written.
Once again, Sharon Creech uses poetic writing and endearing characters to create a heartwarming story. Naomi Deane and Lizzie Scatterding are two orphan girls living in the town of Blackbird Tree. One summer day, a mysterious boy falls from a tree and into their lives. With the appearance of the ‘Finn boy,’ unexpected happenings and curious surprises begin to occur. Through these events and a wide variety of characters, Creech shares a tale that illustrates how ‘a delicate cobweb link[s] us all.’
The Great Unexpected is a story of coming of age and finding your place in the world. It also teaches the power of kindness and the importance of forgiveness. Creech’s characters are intriguing, quirky, but also very real. The story is a mystery whose resolution shows the interconnectedness of the world. Creech’s intended audience is tween readers, but I think her story can reach younger and older readers, too. It is a good book for reading aloud in a family with a variety of ages.
Recommended for independent readers ages 9 and up, and reading aloud for all ages.
The son of two attorneys, Theodore Boone knows every lawyer, judge, and police officer in his small town. He also knows more about the law than any thirteen year old and is the first choice for kids (and even some adults) seeking legal advice. However, when Theo learns of an unknown witness for the town’s current murder trial, he finds even his legal knowledge has limits. How does he make sure the truth is known without endangering the witness who trusts him for advice?
John Grisham does a good job of presenting an exciting legal dilemma and intriguing story, while giving young readers some instruction on how the legal system works. He shows the reality of the courtroom without making it boring. I also like the character of Theo Boone, because he is a smart boy who isn’t afraid to ask adults for help when he doesn’t know the answers. This book is a great introduction to courtroom law and always remains age appropriate.
Recommended for ages—10-14 years
Goldie lives in a world where children are safe-guarded treasures. They are literally guarded and chained to their Blessed Guardians until they reach the age of Separation. Instead of feeling protected, Goldie chafes at these restrictions and longs for freedom. When her day of Separation is interrupted by a bomb threat, Goldie escapes and is branded as a runaway. She soon finds a strange group of rebels in the city museum. As she learns the Museum’s secrets, Goldie learns of the danger threatening her city from inside and out.
When catastrophe and dictatorship threaten the city, it is up to Goldie and her new friends to teach people the value of thinking for oneself. Danger teaches the strength and independence necessary for a thriving community and city. This story is filled with intrigue and adventure, but also holds valuable lessons about self-discovery and independence. It is a good read for young readers who enjoy adventure of the Harry Potter level, but without the same darkness.
Recommended for ages 9-12.
When I picked up this book, I expected a Jack London-like outdoor adventure featuring a boy, wolves, and survival. However, this book is more hints of The Call of the Wild with a supernatural, ghost story twist. Authors Golden and Lebbon place a young Jack London in the Yukon searching for gold, but they draw from the myths and legends of that area and time period to add to their story. Jack’s story has wilderness adventures with a spooky, surreal tinge to them.
Although it was different than I expected, The Wild is a good read for teen boys who enjoy frightening, but not too gory stories. The story is fast-paced and intriguing, but doesn’t rely on detailed descriptions of blood and gore for its spine chilling aspects. Jack is a strong character with a good head on his shoulders, a sense of loyalty and a desire to see justice done. This is an interesting and different kind of read for adventure lovers.
Recommended for ages—13 and up.
A brilliant, modern rendering of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Ellen Potter manages to capture nearly all the elements of the classic children’s story, but weaves her details so deftly that the story remains alive and new. Like the garden in the story, Potter breathes life into a wonderful tale of hope and healing.
After the death of her dysfunctional family, Roo Fanshaw is sent to live with a rich uncle she never knew existed. He lives in a strange island home which used to be a tuberculosis sanatorium. As Roo explores her new surroundings, she finds secrets about her family as well as her new home. Potter’s characters are mysterious and often mistrustful, but also very heartwarming. The Humming Room is intriguing for 8-10 year-old readers or good for a family read-aloud.
Sammy Keyes amuses herself by observing the world outside her Gram’s apartment through binoculars. Her sightings are common until one day Sammy witnesses a burglary in the Heavenly Hotel across the street. When she tries to report her findings, no one wants to listen to a middle schooler turned sleuth. However, the burglar is on to Sammy and she has to use her wits to solve the crime and prove her evidence.
This modern-day Nancy Drew has the same deductive brain, but a little more sass. Sammy’s adventures are complex enough for middle school readers, but harmless enough for younger children, too. This first book in the series and the others that follow are great entertainment for clue seekers with a skill for deduction.
Twelve-year-old Alexa Daley has grown up surrounded by walls, but unlike most villagers she knows, Alexa wants to find a way out. As a protection from the unknown evils of the Dark Hills, a man named Warvold created a series of walled cities connected by walled roads. However, the walls meant to be a protection might have trapped danger inside. When Alexa begins searching for a way outside the wall, she finds adventure and truth that she never knew existed. She finds an enchanted stone that allows her to communicate with animals and gains greater understanding of the world outside. Through these experiences she learns that appearances can be deceiving and trust comes when you are able to see people as they really are.
Patrick Carman writes an exciting story for young readers with engaging characters, both human and animal. The mystery of Bridewell and surrounding cities is intriguing and continues on in four other books. The books are perfect for 9-10 year-old-readers and could be good for reading aloud.
Leviathan begins at the start of World War I, but in a world very different from what we know. The Germans, known as Klankers, have technologically advanced war machines. The Britains, known as Darwinists, fight with genetically engineered war animals. In a genre also known as Steampunk, Westerfeld creates wonderful characters and an original rendering of WWI.
In his series we follow Derryn, a girl disguised as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service. She soon meets Alek, heir to the throne of a country that no longer wants him to exist. These two characters develop an unlikely friendship as they are drawn into the battles and politics of an alternate World War I.
With an engaging hero and heroine, Leviathan is a great read for all teenagers. It is especially interesting for historical fiction readers to compare actual and alternate histories.
Olivia Kidney is a great character for 8-10 year old readers. She is clever, creative, and she talks to ghosts. With just a hint of fantasy, Olivia Kidney faces real life problems while encountering zany people. Through a series of encounters with people in her new apartment building, Olivia learns the connectedness of life as well as the power of friendship and family.