Category Archives: Mystery

Paris Pan takes the Dare

parispanMiddle Grade mystery. Three words that immediately pique my interest. Add to those three words “smart and sassy protagonist” and I’m sold. A good middle grade mystery can shake me out of a funk better than just about any other type of book. I treated myself to Cynthea Liu’s recently released MG mystery, Paris Pan takes the Dare, and I vowed it would be one of my last reads of the summer, before things go all crazy in classroom-land.

Paris Pan is the new kid in town. She has a lot of experience with this role because her family moves every eight months or so, as soon as her father finishes building and then selling their latest house. Paris is keenly aware of the various consequences of this nomadic lifestyle: “One, in the middle of the night, I’ve almost gone to the bathroom in a closet twice. Two, my school transcript is longer than any Harry Potter book. And three, my lifelong friend roster has only one name on it – my dog’s.” While she half-jokes about it, there are real and difficult problems with her family’s unusual way of life. Her dad isn’t around much, since he’s always off supervising the next project, the family’s soon-to-be home. Her mom has to work long hours as a computer programmer to make ends meet, but finances are still a constant struggle. When Paris arrives in Sugar Lake Oklahoma, she discovers it isn’t so hard to find friends when there are only a couple of girls in her class in the first place. Too bad it doesn’t take long for Paris to realize her “friends” are not exactly ideal friend material. Secretly, she’d rather hang around with the class dork and the girl everyone calls Freak. Soon after moving, Paris learns that a girl died very close to her house when undergoing a seventh-grade rite of passage known as “the Dare.” This makes the strange noises and odd night-time sightings Paris has been experiencing all the more disturbing. When her friends decide they should all take the dare together, Paris has to try to make sense of the weirdness, sorting out friends from frenemies and ghosts from perfectly explicable occurrences before things get seriously out of control.

Cynthea Liu has a clean and highly readable writing style. You don’t feel like there are a lot of wasted words on the page but you’re still getting careful characterization (even with the secondary characters) and detail enough to make situations easy to imagine. I thought she captured the middle grade girl voice particularly well. Here’s the opening:

“Where should I start? The first time I felt my life hanging in the balance? Or the moment I believed the deceased had a way of talking to me? Or maybe I ought to begin with the second I walked into that school. Looking back, I should have been suspicious from day one, but now I know that when you want something badly enough, you’ll do anything to get it.

You’ll lie to your friends.

Steal from your family.

Eat a whole box of Creamsicles.

You might even go so far as taking the Dare.”

That’s pretty efficient writing, if you ask me. Talk about a lesson in how to open a novel. Less than 10 sentences in and you’ve already got a solid sense of this character’s personality and funny/sometimes-sarcastic voice, a little foreshadowing, and a teasing intro to the central conflict. Nice work Cynthea.

The plot is exciting, and quite spooky, what with the creepy run-down shed in the woods behind Paris’s house, the night-time laughter, and the freaky porcelain dolls lying around the property. It’s just right that there are unanswered questions about the girl’s death, and that this ambiguity is never really resolved even at the end. Aside from being a page-turning mystery, this is a book about why kids label each other and how even a good kid can find it difficult to risk her reputation by giving outsiders a chance. It’s about learning to make an effort to create relationships that are meaningful and rich, rather than just going with the status quo because it’s simpler or cooler or less painful. Continue reading

Gentlemen

gentlemenSummer is a great time for thriller reading. There’s something about the heat that brings out intense laziness that needs to be embraced. There’s no fighting it. What better way to say yes to lazy than by grabbing a great mystery and spending the whole day reading? Michael Northrop’s recent debut novel, Gentlemen, is the perfect title for exactly this sort of summer indulgence. Dark, thought-provoking and genuinely creepy, this story will grab you in a second, and leave you thinking when your reading marathon is done.

Micheal (yes it’s… Micheal, not Michael), Mixer, Tommy and Bones are the guys everyone at Tattawa High calls losers. Collectively, they’ve done some stuff to deserve the label, but a lot of things have been done to them, by their families and teachers and peers, that haven’t exactly inspired good choices and good behavior. So when Tommy loses it one day in class after their math teacher bullies him, the rest of the guys aren’t so surprised when he doesn’t go home that night. But when it turns out Tommy is officially missing, and the police get involved, everything gets complicated and confusing, especially when their English teacher, Mr. Haberman, starts acting even weirder than usual, making the boys wonder if he might be in some way linked to Tommy’s disappearance. Adding to the creep factor is the fact that they’re studying Crime and Punishment in Haberman’s class, or at least, Haberman is assigning chapters and lecturing on it, and Haberman is really into it, you might even say he’s passionate about it. It isn’t long before Micheal, the most academically minded of the crew, actually starts reading the book and wondering if Haberman might have more than a little in common with the murderous main character, Raskolnikov. What happens next proves that one half-thought out idea can turn ugly in a heartbeat and change lives forever.

Northrop’s book is gritty, and he’s got the messed-up-teenage-guy-with-heart character figured out just right. It’s gripping the way you find yourself so quickly seeing Haberman the way Micheal does. You’re just as suspicious as he is almost right away, and it makes you think how little it takes for suspicion to grow, even when the circumstance seems crazy and unbelievable when you really think about it. That’s one of the most interesting themes Northrop works on in his book. By the time the climax arrives, you’ll have plenty to think about: how even the most brutal crime can come practically out of nowhere; how friendship can form almost randomly and still produce powerful loyalty; the dangerous potential of suspicion.

And the cover? Holy impact. There could be some amazing conversation just about the cover design and how it relates to the narrative, I’m sure. I see a lot of covers, so it takes something to make me do a double take, which is exactly what happened when I got my copy in the mail. For a little background on the process of creating the cover, check out this behind-the-scenes feature at Melissa Walker’s blog. Warning – once unzipped, you’ll find it hard to put this book down.

Gentlemen by Michael Northrup is published by Scholastic.

This review is cross-posted at Guys Lit Wire.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos

theodosiaR.J. LaFevers offers readers mystery, adventure, plenty of Ancient Egyptian dark magic and a wonderfully spunky main character in Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos. In my mind, there isn’t much more a girl (or boy, for that matter) could want in a book. Did I mention that most of the story takes place in a museum? Just when you thought things couldn’t get any better. I am a sucker for a good museum story. Oh, and it also happens to be the first in a series. Lucky us.

Theodosia Throckmorton spends a lot of time hanging around The Museum of Legends and Antiquities in London, where her father is the head curator. The Museum specializes in ancient artifacts, many of which have been recovered on archaeological digs by Theodosia’s adventurous mother. Even though her parents don’t realize it, the Museum is very lucky to have Theodosia, because she has a talent for recognizing and remedying the ancient curses that cling to most of the artifacts that arrive at the museum. When her mother returns from her latest dig with the Heart of Egypt – an amulet discovered in one of the tombs -  Theodosia must put all of her skills in curse-removal into practice, because this artifact holds tremendous evil powers that could threaten her family, the British Empire and possibly the world at large. (Insert dramatic music here). Will she succeed? Will she save everyone? Not telling. So go read it to find out.

This book reminded me of the best kinds of old-fashioned kids’ books, you know the type where the main character is so much smarter than the adults even begin to know, and she goes up against evil forces without any of the doltish grownups even noticing until she has saved the day. Theodosia is funny and fearless (most of the time) and gifted, and she has an awesome cat sidekick, Isis, who spends a lot of the book cursed and inhabited by demonic powers. So much fun! Kids with any interest in Ancient Egypt (I think that’s probably the vast majority of kids) will devour the details in the story about ancient artifacts, hieroglyphs and curses. There are a few beautiful illustrations by Yoko Tanaka which are perfectly spooky and quirky and made me wish that there were more. Think of Theodosia as a little sister to the fabulous Enola Holmes. She’s equally independent, gutsy and brainy.

As a bonus for writers, R.J. LaFevers writes a blog that is packed with plenty of outstanding advice for aspiring authors. Super helpful and inspiring. Theodosia has her own website too. Three cheers for Theodosia!

Masterpiece

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Remember I was grousing a few posts back about feeling generally slumpy and wanting a book that would lift my sagging spirits just as well as a slice of Banana Coconut Cake? Well, I found the magic book and I read it and it was delightful. Masterpiece, by Elise Broach is darling. I don’t think I’ve ever called a book “darling” before, but I know that this is exactly the right word for this story. I cannot imagine a child who would not enjoy this one. It seems made for reading aloud (and for lifting spirits), to be enjoyed particularly by sleepy headed kids all tucked up in bed. The story is just complex enough to be satisfying, but is easy to follow, has a cute and imaginative premise and to sweeten the deal, we’ve got some charming ink illustrations by the talented Kelly Murphy.

Masterpiece is the story of Marvin, a beetle who happens to be a gifted artist, and James, an eleven-year-old boy who feels decidedly ordinary. Marvin lives with James, under the Pompaday’s kitchen sink. They may share an apartment, but they have never met, until James receives a pen-and-ink set from his artist father for his birthday and the beetle is inspired to draw the boy a tiny picture. What Marvin produces is incredible – detailed and delicate and very small. James’s family thinks he is the creator of the masterpiece, and as a result, James gets taken to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to take a closer look at the drawings of Albrecht Durer, and to show off his own work to museum experts. Of course, things get complicated as James struggles to hide the truth about the origin of the drawing, and he and Marvin get involved in an art heist scheme that if successful, may bring the friends face-to-face with Durer’s lost drawings.

An intro into the dramatic world of art heists and forgery, a friendship story, and a tidy little mystery, Masterpiece is as fine a piece of work as one of Marvin’s tiny creations. You’ll find gentle humour in Marvin’s relationship with his family and suspense in his escapades in the outside world with James. The friendship rings true, even though the characters can’t communicate conventionally. Broach presents the art history stuff in exactly the right depth for her audience, enough to spark curiosity and make kids feel smart. Think of this as Chasing Vermeer for beginners. Just right.

A few other reviews:

bookami
Em’s Bookshelf
Shelf Talker

Author Interview: MAC

Well gang, you came to the right place for some fun this morning. What better way to launch into the week than by reading a goodie-filled interview with a talented and mysterious author. I present my chat with MAC, author of the delightful Middle Grade mystery, Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink.  Read on for lots of pictures, secrets, and even a sneak peek of several chapters of the second book in The Professionals series. Yay Monday!

What inspires you?

I have two words for you. Marlon Brando. I mean, c’mon. Have you seen that Larry King interview where he’s barefoot, sings show tunes, and kisses Larry on the mouth!? Comedy gold.

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(Marlon and his feet were actually the inspiration for a character in the upcoming Quenton Cohen: Professional Chef named “Feets” Tenenbaum.)

The kids in your book each have a particular, unique talent. So, what’s your secret talent?

Without a doubt, my talent is sleeping. I can do it anywhere and at anytime. On the sofa, at the movies, sitting at my desk, having an outdoor lunch with a friend while donning really dark sunglasses. I’m excellent at it. And my motto is, when you find something you’re good at, you should do it as much as possible.

Where do you write?

Sometimes, if I write too much in one spot, my brain goes offline, and I end up staring at the blank computer screen with my mouth half-cocked open, and a spittle of drool leaking out. Kind of embarrassing. Especially when in public places. So, I try to mix it up a little. I write from the computer in my den. I also take my laptop out and write from various cafés in the Village.

Sometimes, I’ll go with a couple of writer friends, sometimes by myself. My favorite drink to order when it’s cold is a warm apple cider with a cinnamon stick. My favorite snack is hummus with warm pita.

Writer’s block for me is not finding a good seat at one of my favorite cafés. That is why I always pack my remote controlled fart machine in with my pens, paper, and laptop. But I definitely have to change up the locations after draining all of the psychic energy from that particular spot.

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Anna Smudge is the first in The Professionals series. Did you envision a series from the start? If yes, have you got them all plotted out in your head like an amazing authorial master-planner?

Yes, and yes. I always envisioned a series. And I have all six books in the series plotted out. The individual mysteries and how they connect to the bigger Mr. Who overplot was just too complex not to.

I am very meticulous about pre-writing, plotting, and planning. It is just easier to see if something is working earlier on in the process. A lot less time is wasted on sub plots that don’t connect back to anything or tie in. So, I can work faster overall.

Speaking of inspiration, which character came first for you, Anna, or Mr. Who, and where do you think your idea came from?

About six years ago I was working at a diner in downtown Manhattan, and I was miserable. So, I started scribbling on my order pad and Anna just kind of popped into life as this girl who wasn’t good at anything and was just a bit too ordinary. Even her name was the same when you spelled it backwards. But she was a great listener and always there for her friends. The rest of the story just came out of that. My friends tell me I probably needed a bit of therapy working at that diner. So, a book about a kid shrink was just wishful thinking.

Aside from Mr. Who (of course), who do you think are some of the most dastardly evil masterminds in children’s lit?

Lex Luthor (What do you mean comics aren’t literature!?)
Voldemort (two baldies/baddies in a row)
Artemis Fowl
Homer Zuckerman from Charlotte’s Web (the uncle who was going to kill Wilbur for Christmas dinner)
Mrs. Coulter (not Ann Coulter, but her estranged sister from the Golden Compass)

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Continue reading

Anna Smudge: Professional Shrink

anna

This book is a blast. So much so that I will be bold and declare that I can’t imagine a kid who wouldn’t like it. It’s oozing kid appeal. Pure, 100% fun.

Anna Smudge may only be a kid, but she’s got a serious gift for listening to people, so she’s started up her own business as a professional shrink. She’s got clients galore and she does all of her “shrinking” in a storage closet in the lobby of her Manhattan apartment building. Beyond her work helping New Yorkers with issues, Anna is a regular kid, except for when she’s trying to catch Mr. Who, the most devilish and mysterious mastermind in the world, who just happens to be after Anna’s father. Oh, and she does a lot of homework too. Good thing Anna has friends on her side who are up for just about anything. Will she discover who the Who is? Will she save her father? Will she continue her good work with the nuts of New York? All of the answers are wrapped up in a funny, page-turning package. Go grab a copy.

Now we must talk about the cover and the hyper-cool, full page comic-style drawings that begin each new section of the book. This is a case where the cover completely captures the spirit of the story inside – exciting, wonderfully melodramatic in places, a little scary, with a heroine who’s gutsy and independent. The art just pops – I love the way the wind has caught Anna’s scarf and the spooky yellow moon glows from behind the skyscraper. The expression on her face is perfect – knowing and ready-for-anything. Who is behind this, you ask? Comic artist Greg Horn. Who is behind the wonderfully expressive black and white drawings inside? Comic artist Glenn Fabry. Their work really lends further drama to an already action-packed tale. I also think that the style of their art will help to draw boys to this book, because it is absolutely a story that should appeal to boys and girls in equal measure.

You’ll also find there’s plenty of wacky humor here, and a certain element of the unbelievable that will make this book appeal to fans of Lemony Snicket’s work. As I read, I felt that Anna Smudge belonged in the company of Kiki Strike, Alex and the Ironic Gentleman, and to a certain extent the Alex Rider books. All are funny in places, full of smart kids, and take readers briskly along from one dramatic moment to the next.

The point of this book is not to get kids thinking about Deep and Important Issues in the world today. The point of this book is fun. We all need books like that, and I imagine that Anna Smudge will prove to have as much talent for entertaining kids as she does for listening to people’s problems. I can’t wait for the next title in this series, in which one of Anna’s pals, Quenton Cohen, takes centre stage as a Professional Chef. Visit the author’s website for more information (she of the mysterious name “MAC”). There is a cool book site as well: whoismrwho.com. Stay tuned for an interview with MAC right here in the weeks ahead.

Additional blog reviews:

Cheryl Rainfield
Jen Robinson’s Book Page
Book Nut


Author Interview: Susan Runholt

mystery

You’re in luck gang! Another author interview is up today for your reading pleasure. Susan Runholt, author of The Mystery of the Third Lucretia, is here at Shelf Elf to chat about writing, travel, art and inspiration. Welcome Susan!

What inspires you? (People / Places / Food / Music / Works of art…)

In a sense, all those things — people, places, food, music, art — have inspired me in one way or another. And all of them, with the possible exception of food, have had a bearing on the fiction I write. (I am, in real life, a dedicated “foodie,” and one of my great frustrations is that the audience for my books tends to be a great deal less interested in food than I am, limiting my ability to really give scope to what I write about this particular sensory pleasure. Drat!)

But as far as inspiration for fiction is concerned, place is probably first among equals. Here’s an example. My upcoming book, Rescuing Seneca Crane, is about a 15-year-old piano prodigy performing with an orchestra at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland. I had known for quite some time that the book would involve the kidnapping of that young musician, and I knew who had masterminded her abduction. I knew a three-year-old boy named Parker was going to play a major part in the story’s resolution. Beyond that, I knew very little about the details of the tale I was going to write.

To ensure authenticity and to generate the ideas that would give the narrative texture and excitement, I traveled to Scotland during the Edinburgh Festival in 2006. In addition to the week I spent in Edinburgh itself, my journey included several days each in Glasgow, Inverness, and on the Isle of Skye. A primary question was where the central character, Seneca Crane, had been taken after she was abducted.

Thanks to the Sunday Philosophy Club books by Alexander McCall Smith, I was familiar with the prominent Scottish name Dalhousie. Traveling by bus on my way back from the Isle of Skye, I had an idea. The name Dalhousie is pronounced very much the way an American might say dollhouse, with the addition of a y at the end. Dollhouse. Dollhouse. Skye. Might a three-year-old hearing these words together mistake them for “dollhouse castle in the sky”?

This idea became central to the work as a whole.

In a couple of months I am off on another trip where I seek inspiration. Book number four in the Kari and Lucas series will be set in Venice during Carnevale. My daughter and I went to Carnevale 12 years ago, and I’ve been to Venice a number of times since then. This time I’m going back in search of inspiration, and I fully expect I will find it, given the lapping of the ocean around (and sometimes on the streets of) the islands, the chill of Venice in winter, the breathtaking architecture, the maze of streets that makes even reputable maps of this mysterious city unreliable, the canals, and the masked figures that appear out of the dark, foggy air during this world-famous pre-Lenten celebration.

I would imagine that plotting is a complex exercise for a mystery writer. Do you outline? Write scenes and then see how they fit together? Just start and see where you end up? What’s your process?

I once read an essay by the late, great mystery writer Robert Campbell that brilliantly described his process, which, as it happens, is similar to my own. He said that for him, setting off on a new book was a lot like beginning a journey. He knew where he was starting and he knew where he was going — who did it and why, and sometimes what would lead to the discovery. He knew a few of the events he would encounter along the way, just as I know, in the book about Kari and Lucas’s safari adventure I am now writing, that there will be a balloon ride, a night safari involving danger, something having to do with lions and possibly one or more hippopotamus, and a few other elements. But he didn’t know what was over the next hill, and wouldn’t know until he got to the top and could see the view beyond.

That’s how it works for me. I often find it inefficient — I routinely find I write a scene and have to scrap it because of something that happens in later pages — but I rather like the opportunities for puzzle and discovery this process offers.

Where do you write?

At my computer. Most often this is in the office in my home — boring, boring — but I occasionally take my computer with me and go away for a weekend to, say, a place with a view of Lake Superior, where I can both write and look out the window. I hope in coming months to be able to reduce the amount of time I spend on my other profession, which is serving as a fundraising consultant for nonprofit organizations. When I’m able to do that, I plan to do a great deal more traveling with my trusty computer in my bag. Continue reading

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets

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(Shhh… at this stage of the game I’m not really supposed to review titles that are under consideration for this year’s Cybils MG Fiction award (supposed to wait until the finalists are named since I’m a judge). I figure that reviewing Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes: The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets is fair, however, since I have reviewed the first two in the series and I think it’s already pretty obvious that I love these books. So, onwards!)

If you don’t know Enola yet, I’m not sure whether to waggle my finger at you and tsk tsk, or to feel jealous that you’ve got such a treat in store. Don’t just sit there! Rush out and grab the first two books, The Case of the Missing Marquess and The Case of the Left-Handed Lady. Quick recap of major events so far: Enola is the much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, and she’s every bit as brainy and bold and logical as her famous brother. After the disappearance of her mother in the first book, Enola’s brothers come to collect her and send her away to a finishing school to make her a proper young lady. Well, Enola will have none of that, so she runs off to London. Once there, she gets caught up in a mystery and proves that she is most definitely worthy of the name “Holmes.” In Book Two, Enola works on solving another mystery while doing all she can to evade Sherlock, who is bent upon locating his missing sister.

Which brings us to The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets. Dr. Watson has disappeared and Enola is on the case. She chooses to disguise herself as a beautiful young woman (thinking it impossible for Sherlock to imagine her as a beauty), and she pays a visit to Dr. Watson’s wife, to learn more of the circumstances of the doctor’s disappearance. While there, Enola notices a strange bouquet full of unusual and eerily symbolic blooms, denoting death and grief. Enola decides that the sender of the bouquet holds the key to Dr. Watson’s fate and so she makes it her single-minded purpose to discover the origin of the flowers. This investigation takes Enola deep into the seedier parts of London, and puts her detection skills and her courage to another serious test.

Just as the first two titles in this series were completely satisfying, so Springer does not let readers down here. Enola’s cleverness shines at every turn as she solves this mystery entirely on her own, using her knowledge of ciphers, flower symbolism and the art of disguise to piece together all of the clues and hunches and leads. It’s really Enola’s gumption, practicality and cleverness that lights up these stories and makes you want to read them all in one happy gulp. Alongside great characterization is a convincing setting and just enough historical detail that you feel you’ve stepped back into late 19th century London, with its bustle and mess and socioeconomic disparity.

Only one complaint – too short! I tore through this installment in a single day. Now I’m looking for the next adventure: The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan. (Are you listening Santa?)

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia

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(FYI – I am being watched. I am writing this review with a Siamese cat snoozing on my mouse pad and an Irish terrier wagging at me from under the desk. He’s also not blinking. Not at all. How does he do that? How’s a girl to concentrate? Their cuteness / persistence is sort of distracting).

So the book – I gobbled up Susan Runholt’s debut MG mystery. As soon as I’d finished The Mystery of the Third Lucretia I thought, “Now there’s a story that’s going to be a crowd-pleaser.” There is something in the honesty and directness of the main character’s voice, combined with the twisty, one-adventure-after-the-next plotting that makes this a wholly satisfying mystery, absolutely right for the Middle Grade crowd. Not heavy. Not too complicated. Full of suspense. Toss in a little art crime, some snazzy European settings and I think we’ve got a winner.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia introduces us to best friends / girl detectives extraordinaire Kari Sundgren and Lucas Stickney. Both girls are art crazy. In fact, they met when they were only ten while taking a summer drawing course at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. They love to create art, to think about art and to admire great works of art in museums and galleries. So it’s pretty much perfect that Kari’s mother just so happens to be embarking on a new job as a journalist that offers her the chance to travel, with the girls, to Europe. Kari and Lucas end up in London and Paris and Amsterdam, and along the way, they get caught up in investigating what they believe to be a major forgery case. Kari and Lucas think that a man, nicknamed Gallery Guy, is secretly copying one of Rembrandt’s famous Lucretia paintings. What begins as a bit of seemingly harmless entertainment and drama at the Art Institute, ends up taking the friends on a European journey into the dangerous, high-stakes realm of art crime.

As I mentioned above, Susan Runholt has really nailed the voices of her 14-year old heroines. The girls come across as funny and smart and gutsy, with a strong sense of right and wrong. They’re the type of girls you’d want to hang out with. I enjoyed how Runholt emphasized that Kari and Lucas have different talents and skills and that helps to make them a stronger team – better detectives and better friends. All of the art references – to famous museums and particular paintings - add to the reader’s sense of escaping into an exciting and mysterious world, different from plain old everyday life. In the Notes to the Reader at the end of the text, Susan Runholt encourages readers to visit the museums mentioned in her story and seek out the works of art that feature in Kari and Lucas’s adventures. Runholt describes the girls’ encounters with these famous works of art in such a way that readers will likely get some sense of how powerful and exciting it can be to encounter a famous painting in a gallery for the first time. I imagine this mystery will inspire a few budding artists and hopeful world travellers.

Aside from its entertainment value, The Mystery of the Third Lucretia touches on some deeper themes that would make this title worthy for book club and classroom discussions. Runholt’s novel has a definite feminist bent. She doesn’t shy away from presenting the story of Lucretia, her rape and suicide, and the misogynistic aspects of Roman society. Later in the book, the girls’ investigation leads them to Amsterdam’s red light district and brings them into contact with a group of nuns who run a mission for women in the neighbourhood. Of course, the two central characters exhibit tons of gumption and smarts and integrity. I guess you could call it “girl power.”  

Visit Susan Runholt’s Website to learn more about this debut, and tune in soon for an interview with her, here at Shelf Elf.

The Mystery of the Third Lucretia is published by Viking. A sequel will follow in 2009.

Enola Holmes: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady

I’m feeling pretty lucky at the mo’ because I’ve been fortunate enough to run across another fabulous sequel in my recent reading (the first being Hate that Cat – see post below). This one’s the second Enola Holmes mystery, and I’m just going to say it straight up, “I love these books.” Love them. Every reader has a certain type of book that is almost guaranteed to yank them out of a terrible funk. For some it might be mindless chicklit, or goofy romances, or great fantasy epics. For me it’s mysteries. A great mystery with Victorian flavour? Better still. Nancy Springer’s mystery series delivers in every way, and for that reason, I’m a firm believer in Enola’s happy-making powers.

To begin, read my review of the first book here. Now, don’t go running away to get the first book just yet. You might as well read my review of #2 and then go searching for both. Enola is in hiding in London, still searching for her mother, with her brother Sherlock doing all that he can to find his younger sister. But Miss Enola isn’t a Holmes for nothing. She shares many of her famed brother’s skills in disguise and detection and she decides to put those abilities into practice when a certain young lady, Cecily Alistair, disappears without a trace. Lady Cecily turns out to be a young woman far more complex and secretive than Enola imagined, and the spirited detective ends up on quite the journey into London’s seedy and sinister streets as she journeys towards solving the mystery.

Best Bits: The atmosphere in this story and in its predecessor is spot on, without being overdone. You do feel caught up in the sights and sounds of Victorian London. Enola herself is completely charming – clever and bold but with a streak of insecurity and uncertainty about the unorthodox path she has chosen. While the cover and larger-print format of the book might make you think it’s more middle grade, it is quite dark (deliciously so), and so is just right for teenage readers.

There’s a third Enola mystery out already (The Case of the Bizarre Bouquets), and a fourth slated for September (The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan). Good news for all mystery-lovers.