Thursday, October 28, 2010

Booklist Additions, Part 2

So many books, so many booklists. Here are a few new additions.

Past + Future = Steampunk

Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of SpacePhilip Reeve, illustrated by David Wyatt, 2006, Bloomsbury Books (Children’s Fiction/ Science Fiction/ Fantasy/ Adventure) by

The year is 1851. Victoria is queen; Prince Albert is her husband. Plucky Art Mumby and his fussy big sister Myrtle are loyal subjects of the Crown. But they don’t live in England. They don’t live in Canada or Australia or India or anywhere else in the British Empire—the British Empire on Earth, that is. In this Victorian England, Britain’s colonies extend into the far reaches of space (thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, whose discoveries in the 1700s made the “Conquest of Space” possible). So Art and Myrtle live with their absent-minded father at Larklight, a ramshackle old mansion that orbits somewhere beyond the moon. It’s a bit dull out in outer space, but when a pack of giant white spiders invade early one morning and capture their father, things perk up considerably. Rescued by teenage space-pirate Jack Havock and his motley crew of alien misfits, Art and Myrtle embark on a voyage across the galaxy to solve the mystery of the very large spiders. Along the way they encounter moon moths, a mad scientist, and plenty of other space monsters. Art narrates for the most part, with Myrtle’s prim and proper (and very funny) diary entries filling in a few holes. The tone throughout is breezy and whimsical and very merry indeed. Author Philip Reeve delivers a whole lot of futuristic space technology that is firmly rooted in a comical Victorian sensibility, and the whole is a riotous steampunk romp that transcends age and makes for rip-roaring adventure.

How to Read Two Books At Once

Lincoln’s Dreams by Connie Willis, 1992, Bantam Books, originally published 1987 (Fiction/ Fantasy/ Mystery)

Jeff is a researcher for a Civil War-era historical fiction writer. This means he spends his days looking up the history of generals’ horses or finding exactly where President Lincoln’s sons are buried. When Jeff meets Annie, the patient of an old friend who works at a sleep institute, everything he knows about history is turned on its head. Annie is having nightmares, terrible dreams about the Civil War. Her doctor thinks they’re a symptom of a psychiatric problem, but Jeff is not convinced: there are details in Annie’s dreams that she couldn’t possibly know. As Jeff and Annie explore Annie’s dreams, they come to believe that they aren’t hers at all—they are the dreams of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Whisking Annie out of the reaches of both the doctor and the history writer, Jeff and fragile, stubborn Annie drive up and down the east coast, alternately visiting and escaping the Civil War sites, and try to find a way to bring both Annie and Lee some measure of peace at last. Along the way, the couple tries to distract themselves with Jeff’s employer’s new book—a historical novel about a simple southern man who finds himself drowning in the horrors of the Civil War. Lincoln’s Dreams is, like all author Connie Willis’ books, chock-full of historical details and overflowing with absorbing suspense.

The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King, 2006, Bantam Dell Books (Mystery)

Inspector Kate Martinelli has seen a lot of strange things in her years as a San Francisco detective, but the murder of Philip Gilbert might just take the cake. Mr. Gilbert’s body was found in an old gun emplacement in the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Park. Since Gilbert made his living as a Sherlock Holmes connoisseur (even his home is decked out as a replica of Holmes’ Victorian study at 221B Baker Street), it’s a pretty odd place to get killed. The link becomes clear, however, when a manuscript that may be an unpublished Sherlock Holmes story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to light. Gilbert bought the document for a scant $30; it may be worth millions and that may be motive for murder. Kate reads the story for clues: In Prohibition-era San Francisco, “Mr. Sigurson” (one of the aliases Conan Doyle used for Holmes) investigates the murder of a transvestite’s military lover. As the connections between the murders (one in the fictional past of the short story, and one in Kate’s all-too-real present) add up, the no-nonsense inspector follows leads and interviews suspects. She also banters with her gruff police partner Al Hawkin, shares quiet moments with her life partner Leonora, and parents their precocious three-year-old daughter. Author Laurie R. King infuses both stories with her trademark precision and atmosphere—Holmes frequents the gritty dives of 1920s San Francisco while Kate investigates her modern city’s diverse inhabitants. Both mysteries are compelling, and the way they ultimately weave together is storytelling at its finest. 

The Original Good Old-Fashioned Ghost Story

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, 1997, Avon Books, originally published 1938 (Classics/ Mystery/ Romance)

“Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” This simple declaration begins the unforgettable tale of a young bride, her darling husband, his charming home, and his impressive, vivacious, gorgeous—and deceased—first wife. Our nameless narrator is an almost impossibly na├»ve girl barely out of school, but that’s charm enough to captivate aristocratic Maxim de Winter, and the young lady is over the moon that a man so rich and distinguished should take any notice of her. Soon the newlyweds are installed in the ancestral de Winter manor, where the new Mrs. de Winter is expected to run the household with smooth competence. And though the timid young lass does her utmost best, she can’t help but feel overwhelmed by her husband’s busy and important schedule, the wealth and status of her new position, the sly manipulations of the sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and above all, the long dark shadow cast by the first mistress of Manderley, the impeccable Rebecca de Winter. If our in-over-her-head heroine stands half a chance of making her marriage work—or of simply staking out her own place in the world—she’s got to understand the mysterious circumstances surrounding Rebecca’s death, plunge the depths of Mrs. Danvers’ unnatural devotion to the dead woman, and even explore her secretive husband’s own motives. But Rebecca’s very presence haunts every aspect of the new bride’s life, pushing her (and the reader, who’s in major suspense by this time) closer and closer to the brink of despair. A stirring Gothic romance, Rebecca is author Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece. It’s also a superb, understated tale that has withstood the test of time to remain an atmospheric, ghostly little haunt of a thriller.

The Classics Never Die

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, 2009, Wendy Lamb Books (Children’s Fiction)

In 1978 New York City, twelve-year-old Miranda’s favorite book is the science fiction class A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. L’Engle’s book has similarities with Miranda’s life that make the story meaningful to this latch-key kid in the big city. Like its heroine, Miranda is a bookish student who seems to be on the outs with everyone else. Her best friend, neighbor boy Sal, won’t walk home with her anymore. Her upbeat but always-at-work mother is preoccupied with becoming a contestant on the TV game show The $20,000 Pyramid. The harmless homeless man, who frequently sleeps with his head under the mailbox, is making Miranda more and more uneasy. The new constant in Miranda’s life is arguing about the elements of time travel that occur in A Wrinkle in Time with nerdy-cool classmate Marcus—a boy who once inexplicably punched Sal in the gut. And then there’s the strange notes that appear asking for Miranda’s help, beginning with one that reads “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.” The lives of Miranda’s friends, family, classmates, and neighbors may seem tangled into one of the knots that Miranda so likes to tie, but as our heroine picks up a clue here and relates a seemingly simple scene there, the threads of the story weave together into a flawless little mystery that packs a big wow of an ending. A quietly impressive story that lingers long after its last page has been turned, When You Reach Me won the prestigious 2010 Newbery Award for best children’s book.

Harry Potter’s BFFs

The Fairy-Tale Detectives: The Sisters Grimm, Book 1 by Michael Buckley, illustrated by Peter Ferguson, 2005, Amulet Books (Fantasy/ Children’s Fiction)

Eleven-year-old Sabrina Grimm and her kid sister Daphne have been on their own ever since their parents disappeared a year ago. Hoisted from one foster home to another, the girls—especially Sabrina—are tough, quick, and independent. When a woman claiming to be their Grandmother Grimm takes them into her home, Sabrina is suspicious. Their parents told them their grandparents were dead, and no twinkly-eyed lady is going to win her over that easily. Daphne, on the other hand, is enthralled with Granny Relda—because this strange woman also claims that the Grimms are descended from none other than the fairy tale-writing Brothers Grimm, and that the family’s long-time duty has been to solve crimes committed by and against the unusual inhabitants of the town of Ferryport Landing. By unusual Granny really means magical, because the townsfolk are straight out of every fairy tale and childhood classic you’ve ever read, from Prince Charming to Puck to the Three Pigs. And these “Everafters” can cause a lot of trouble—which becomes all too clear when Granny Relda goes missing. Now, like Harry Potter going from Muggle to magician, it is up to Sabrina and Daphne to embrace their untapped magical sides, save that little old lady, and keep their family—such as it is—together. Author Michael Buckley is very clever in his use of fairy tales personalities, but even if your knowledge of storybook folk is a little rusty, there’s still plenty of madcap adventure and tongue-in-cheek wit to go around. 

The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley
1.  The Fairy-Tale Detectives
2.  The Unusual Suspects
3.  The Problem Child
4.  Once Upon a Crime
5.  Magic and Misdemeanors
6.  Tales From the Hood
7.  The Everafter War

Welcome to Dystopia

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde, 2009, Viking Books (Science Fiction)

Every since the mysterious long-ago “Something That Happened,” the world has been drained of color. Only one color of the spectrum is visible to individuals, and society has been organized in a strict hierarchy based on what people can perceive—those who can see purple or green are higher up than those who can see red; the working class is made up of those who can only see in shades of grey. Our hero Eddie Russet is a Red, but he’s annoyed the rule-obsessed Colorocracy and has been ordered to the Outer Fringes with his father. Eddie has a bright future, if he can earn back enough merits. He’s tentatively engaged to a high-ranking Red and he’s a very perceptive Red himself. But then Eddie spots Jane G-23, an adorable but surly Grey who is suspiciously willing to rebel against the many standards and mores that keep everyone under control. Soon Eddie is involved in all manner of mysteries—he talks to an Apocryphal Man (a person who doesn’t fit into the prescribed system and is therefore deemed invisible), gets entangled in a search for the abandoned town of High Saffron, and finds spoons (the rules forbid spoons; no one really knows why but, boy, are they valuable). It takes a couple chapters to really get the hang of this colorless future, but Shades of Grey is a complex, sophisticated dystopia with a healthy dose of wit and charm. The sense of humor and satire is a breath of fresh air, and that’s author Jasper Fforde’s hallmark (he’s also the author of the genre-bending Thursday Next Series). For a lighter dystopia that’s still highly sophisticated, look no further than Shades of Grey—and look forward to the two books-in-progress that will make this into a delightfully colorful trilogy.

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi, 2010, Little, Brown, and Co. (Science Fiction/ Teen Fiction)

The polar ice caps have melted. Oceans cover the cities. Fossil fuels have been used up. In this all-too-realistic future, teenage Nailer is a ship breaker. He works on a scavenging team that scrapes and scratches copper wire and steel from the washed-up oil tankers on the Gulf Coast. It’s dirty, dangerous work and the reward is a grim life of poverty under the thumbs of people who are richer, crueler—or both. Nailer spends his free time dodging his drug-riddled abusive father, but he does have something on his side—luck. After a city-killer hurricane sweeps the Gulf, Nailer finds a beautiful high-tech clipper ship, the kind the swank rich people sail the world on, wrecked on the beach. The luxury inside that torn-up boat is worth more than Nailer could make in a dozen lifetimes. But there’s a survivor, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy shipping company owner, and Nailer can’t bring himself to end her life and take her fortune. Instead, Nailer throws his lot in with this “Lucky Girl” and helps find her way back to the people she can trust. Their harrowing journey inland to the ruined cities of New Orleans and Orleans II is fraught with enemies at their heels (including mercenaries, pirates, and hybrid “half-man” dog creatures), overwhelming hardships, and brutal betrayals. And through it all, Nailer must desperately hope—no, trust—that he’s made the decision that’s both lucky and smart. Ship Breaker is an action-packed page-turner, but with it author Paolo Bacigalupi has also expertly constructed a stark, vivid future world and populated it with characters who are motivated, diverse, and true.

I’d Rather Be Reading

Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by Nancy Pearl, 2003, Sasquatch Books (Nonfiction/ Readers Advisory/ Bibliographies) 

Nancy Pearl is a superstar librarian. And avid lifelong reader and director of the Washington Center for the Book, she also has a weekly book review program on National Public Radio and worked as a public librarian in Seattle for years where she created the program “If All Seattle Read the Same Book.” There’s even a librarian action figure modeled on her. So when Nancy Pearl says “This is a good book,” people listen. With Book Lust, Nancy recommends over one hundred of her personal favorite books. Grouped into creative subjects that vary from “Bird Brains” to “Elvis On My Mind” to “Lady Travelers” to “Three-Hanky Reads” and everything in between, Nancy muses about plot, pacing, setting, character, and gets to the heart of why this book or that book is a good read. Book Lust (and its subsequent companion titles More Book Lust, Book Crush, and Book Lust To Go) is a book to be flipped through and dipped into depending on the moment and your own particular mood. Whether you’re a romance reader or a historical fiction fan, a lover of nonfiction or of fantasy, you’ll come away from Book Lust with reading possibilities galore.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Clever Girls and Classy Lasses

It was hard being a lady back in the days of long skirts and horse-drawn carriages. You were expected to be modest and sweet and to blush delicately when in the company of men. It was unladylike to work or study or ask too many questions or show your ankles. So when an author places a heroine of keen intellect and rebellious spirit in the rigid societies of the 18th, 19th, or early 20th centuries, readers can be sure of one thing—this clever, classy lass is going to break all the rules. Bright and brainy even when weighed down by layers of petticoats and the conventions of their time, these young ladies are sure to save the day (whether the adventure be magical or mysterious) and still be home in time for tea.

The Ruby in the Smoke: A Sally Lockhart Mystery, Book 1 by Philip Pullman, 2008, Knopf Books, originally published 1985 (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Teen Fiction)

On a cold afternoon in 1872, sixteen-year-old Sally Lockhart walks into her deceased father’s London office. By the time she walks out again, Sally is deep in a compelling mystery fraught with murder, betrayal, deception, cursed jewels, secrets from the distant past, and a whole crew of Victorian scalawags and villains. There’s more to her father’s death than meets the eye. A horrifyingly creepy old woman is out for Sally’s blood. A mysterious message warns Sally of something called the Seven Blessings. Danger lurks around every corner and Sally herself is the key to unlocking all the intertwining mysteries that threaten her very life. But Sally is nothing if not resourceful, and with a few understanding friends of her own (including Frederick Garland, a charming young photographer), our intrepid heroine sets out to right wrongs and uncover truths. The reader, needless to say, becomes Sally’s ally right away. Author Philip Pullman, best known for the intricate fantasy worlds of His Dark Materials trilogy, knows full well how to create a heroine who his readers will follow through thick and thin; he also knows the subtle and masterful art of spinning a good old-fashioned rip-roaring adventure story. As the series continues, Sally continues to build a new life for herself—and solves a whole mess of thrilling, chilling, bump-in-the-night mysteries while she’s at it.

Sally Lockhart Mysteries by Philip Pullman
1. The Ruby in the Smoke
2. The Shadow in the North
3. The Tiger in the Well
4. The Tin Princess

The Diamond of Drury Lane: Cat Royal Adventures, Book 1 by Julia Golding, 2008, Roaring Brook Press (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Teen Fiction) 

Abandoned on the doorstep of London’s Theatre Royal in Drury Lane when she was an infant, Catherine “Cat” Royal has spent all the years of her young life reveling in the chaos of life behind the scenes. No one knows the ins and outs of her adopted home better; no one is better acquainted with the theatre’s many actors, musicians, workers, and players. And when newcomers enter the world of the Theatre Royal, no one is quicker to get to know them than curious, kind-hearted Cat. In 1790, the theatre employs a new prompter with a secret identity, features a young ex-slave who is a virtuoso violinist, and garners attention from an upper-crust young Lord and Lady who take a noted interest in Cat. As rival Covent Garden gangs vie for power in the streets outside, Cat and her beloved theatre folk find themselves embroiled in the affair of a hidden diamond—and dealing with angry audiences, political turmoil, social tensions, and all the gritty sights and sounds of a vividly portrayed life in late 18th century London. Lucky for readers, Cat has her freckled nose in everyone’s business and as many questions about the mysterious goings-on as there are seats in the house. Cat Royal is a heroine to rally to and her many scrapes, escapades, and adventures are worthy of any reader’s attention.

Cat Royal Adventures by Julia Golding
1. The Diamond of Drury Lane
2. Cat Among the Pigeons
3. Den of Thieves
4. Cat O’Nine Tails
5. Black Heart of Jamaica
6.  The Middle Passage (ebook)

A Spy in the House: The Agency, Book 1 by Y.S. Lee, 2010, Candlewick Press (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Teen Fiction)

In 1853 London, twelve-year-old orphan Mary Quinn, arrested for stealing, is about to be hung from the gallows. She’s resigned to her fate; her short life has been miserable and cruel. But then, at the last minute, Mary is rescued from certain death and installed at Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. For the next five years, Mary is brought up to be an intelligent, resourceful, independent woman—a real rarity in her day and age. At seventeen, Mary is presented with another surprise: The Academy is really the Agency, a secret detective firm comprised entirely of female investigators. Mary rises to this new challenge and is soon on her first mission. Posing as a prim and proper companion to a spoiled society belle, Mary’s goal is to uncover a possible smuggling ring run by the master of the house, shipping merchant Mr. Thorold. But things quickly get out of hand. Everyone connected to the Thorold establishment has an agenda, even petulant Miss Angelica and especially enigmatic James Easton. Separating the good guys from the bad guys—while juggling Victorian England’s strict gender roles, racial discrimination, and social class consciousness—is no easy task. Lucky for the reader, it makes for a great adventure. Penned by author Y.S. Lee, an honest-to-goodness Victorian scholar, A Spy in the House is a richly detailed and entirely compelling historical mystery.

The Agency Trilogy by Y.S. Yee
1. A Spy in the House
2. The Body in the Tower
3. The Traitor and the Tunnel (due 2011)

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos: Theodosia Throckmorton, Book 1 by R.L. LaFevers, 2007, Houghton Mifflin (Historical Fiction/ Fantasy/ Children’s Fiction) 

In 1906, eleven-year-old Theodosia Throckmorton roams the halls of London’s Museum of Legends and Antiquities. Her mother is an archeologist who sends precious artifacts to Theo’s father, the museum’s head curator. It’s something of a lonely life for a girl whose parents are so busy and important, but Theo is never bored—because the museum’s Egyptian wing is teaming with ancient objects of dark magic, and Theo is the only one who can sense the evil forces at work. With her trusty carpet bag of curse-breaking ingredients (it is surprising how effective wax, thread, and linen can be when the right words are chanted over them), Theo’s self-appointed mission is to de-curse the museum one artifact at a time. This task is severely complicated when her mother returns home with a new shipment of ancient Egyptian relics, one of which—the Heart of Egypt amulet—is pulsing with more dark magic than Theo has ever encountered before. Theo’s efforts to rid the museum of this object’s power lead her through a maze of dangerous secrets, German operatives, secret Brotherhoods, and international intrigue. Author R.L. LaFevers has combined history (including hints of the impending Great War), archeology, and Egyptian mythology to create a series about a plucky new heroine who is equal parts Nancy Drew and Indiana Jones and is sure to thrill readers of all ages.

1. Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos
2. Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris
3. Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus

The Case of the Missing Marquess: An Enola Holmes Mystery, Book 1 by Nancy Springer, 2006, Philomel Books (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Children’s Fiction)

When fourteen-year-old Enola Holmes discovers that her free-spirited mother has disappeared, she enlists the help of her much-older brothers Sherlock and Mycroft. To Enola’s dismay, the gentlemen theorize that their mother has run off with the family money. The brothers have a low opinion of women; Enola (whom they haven’t seen since in years) is little more than a pest. Enola’s concern for her mother changes to envy and she determines to find her wayward parent and join her. Making an escape is easy—Enola is a Holmes after all, with all the powers of observation that the family name implies—but the little sister is as attracted to crime as the older brothers. Soon Enola is involved in the case of a missing young nobleman and her desire to solve the mystery makes it that much harder to evade her tenacious big brother Sherlock. The reader immediately takes Enola’s side in the family feud—she’s an engaging, winsome narrator who steady gains in confidence and charm. Enola shows her pluck as she follows the clues her mother left, runs away in disguise, and makes her own way in the big bad city of London. With Enola Holmes, author Nancy Springer has created a gutsy girl sleuth who is more than capable of outwitting and outsmarting her infamous brothers and equally able to rally readers to her cause.

Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer
1. The Case of the Missing Marquess
2. The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
3. The Case of Bizarre Bouquets
4. The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
5. The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline

Sorcery and Cecilia, Or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot:  Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the County by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, 2003, Harcourt Books, originally published 1988 (Historical Fiction/ Fantasy/ Teen Fiction)

England, 1817. Cecelia is at home in the countryside while Cousin Kate is off to the big city for her first London season. The girls write to each other, and the book could be a comedy of manners based on the likes of Jane Austen—except that this is an England where magic is real. So when Kate blunders into a secret garden during a ceremony at the Royal College of Wizards and is nearly poisoned by a witch, and when Cecy spots a strange young man spying on her and finds a charm-bag under her brother’s bed, it’s precisely the sort of mystery that the clever cousins relish. And when the conundrum in London and the confusion in the country turn out to be related through a tangled web of magic spells, corrupt sorcerers, enchanted objects, and infuriating (but handsome) young men, Kate and Cecy must listen harder, creep quieter, and write more letters to uncover the clues and save the day. Sorcery and Cecelia is a collaborative novel written by two authors. Patricia C. Wrede wrote as Cecelia and Caroline Stevermer wrote as Kate, and the story grew out of the chapters they mailed back and forth to each other. The result is a charming and witty tale of wizards, chocolate pots, and Proper Etiquette in Polite Society. The (mis)adventures continue in two sequels to date.

Kate and Cecelia Mysteries by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
1. Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
2. The Grand Tour, or, The Purloined Coronation Regalia
3. The Mislaid Magician, or, Ten Years After

The Illyrian Adventure:  A Vesper Holly Adventure, Book 1 by Lloyd Alexander, 2000, Puffin Books, originally published 1987 (Historical Fiction/ Fantasy/ Children’s Fiction)

When Professor Brinton Garrett arrives in Philadelphia with his wife in 1872 to take care of their new ward, the orphaned daughter of a fellow scholar, he expects to find a polite, somber, modest young lady. What he gets is sixteen-year-old Vesper Holly, a feisty, precocious wild-child who wins him over instantly, nicknames him “Brinnie,” and whisks him away on an adventure half-way across the world. Vesper longs to investigate first-hand her deceased father’s theories about the national and cultural legends of Illyria, a tiny country on the Adriatic Sea, and she won’t take “No” for an answer. When Vesper and Brinnie arrive in the itsy-bitsy ancient kingdom, they are immediately plunged into a centuries-old civil conflict between Illyria’s two proud ethnic groups. One adventure follows fast on the heels of another—Vesper and Binnie uncover a conspiracy against King Osman, have an exciting encounter with rebel leader Vartan, and search for long-lost national treasure. Along the way, Brinnie (narrating this first of five globe-trotting adventures by author Lloyd Alexander) learns to expect the unexpected from his new charge. Vesper is anything but the placid girl of the Victorian era. She’s brilliant, fearless, honest, and good-humored; she wears billowing trousers, is familiar with five languages, and can cuss in all of them. Smart, lively, and action-packed, The Illyrian Adventure and its fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants heroine are nearly impossible to resist.

Vesper Holly Adventures by Lloyd Alexander
1. The Illyrian Adventure
2. The El Dorado Adventure
3. The Drackenberg Adventure
4. The Jedera Adventure
5. The Philadelphia Adventure
6. The Xanadu Adventure

The Mysterious Howling:  The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1 by Maryrose Wood, 2010, Balzer and Bray Books (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Children’s Fiction)

Miss Penelope Lumley, smart, sensitive, resourceful, recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Ladies and just fifteen years old, is hired on the spot to serve as governess at luxurious Ashton Place. Only then is she allowed to meet her charges—three children who, due to their tendency to gnaw, nip, and growl, appear to have been raised by wolves. Lord Fredrick caught them on his estate when he was out hunting and as he says, “Finders keepers.” Penelope is not daunted by her task. She gets on swimmingly with Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia Incorrigible, as Lord Fredrick names them (or Alawooooo, Beowooooo, and Cassawoof, as they call themselves). The children respond to poetry and games of fetch, and Penelope feels sure that French and Latin cannot be far behind. But then Lady Constance drops a bombshell. The children are expected to appear at the mansion’s Christmas ball. This means table manners, fancy dress, and the ability to stand still when a squirrel is spotted. As Penelope and the kiddies rise to the challenge, they begin to discover that there are many dangerous secrets at Ashton Place. Author Maryrose Wood adds plenty of amusing details to her unusual premise—her heroine’s overactive imagination, the children’s endearing mischief-making, and a tone that is droll, cheeky, and thoroughly giggle-inducing. Readers will be howling for a sequel. 

The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood
1. The Mysterious Howling
2. The Hidden Gallery (due 2011)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery, Book 1 by Alan Bradley, 2009, Delacorte Press (Historical Fiction/ Mystery)

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is a sly, secretive child. Her favorite hobby is concocting poisons in the upstairs laboratory of her old manor home. She has an extensive vocabulary, a knack for picking locks, and an unflappable sense of determination. So when a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck through its beak is found on the doorstep and a murdered man is found in the cucumber patch, Flavia rises to the occasion like no other detective, young or old, we’ve ever met before. Set in a small English village in 1950, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is chock-full of traditional mystery characters—the gossipy cook, the gardener with a mysterious past, the stoic police inspector. Then there’s Flavia’s family—a deceased mother whose presence still lingers, a passive father who is devoted to his stamp collection, and a pair of older sisters who cling to their own interests as obsessively as Flavia clings to her chemistry flasks and beakers. Of course out of all these finely-drawn characters, it is Flavia who takes the cake, saves the day, and wins the hearts of readers. This is author Alan Bradley’s first book, and besides winning the prestigious Canadian Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, it is only the first of a series that stars this highly original girl sleuth.

Flavia de Luce Mysteries by Alan Bradley
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring without Mustard (due 2011)

Petronella Saves Nearly Everyone:  The Entomological Tales of Augustus T. Percival, Book 1 by Dene Low, 2009, Houghton Mifflin (Historical Fiction/ Mystery/ Teen Fiction)

Lords, ladies, foreign dignitaries, and the cream of Victorian society have turned out to celebrate Petronella Eunice Arbuthnot’s sixteenth birthday. But Petronella herself has bigger fish to fry. Her beloved guardian, the honorable Augustus T. Percival, has met with an unfortunate accident that has unexpected side effects—he has inadvertently swallowed a beetle and now has an insatiable appetite for insects. Such an impulse poses many opportunities for social embarrassment, particularly at an event as important as a young lady’s coming-out party. But things go even more awry when two particularly esteemed guests are kidnapped right from under Petronella’s elegant nose. Aided by her guardian (who keeps plucking moths from the air and popping them into his mouth), her best friend Jane (another pretty young thing with the heart of a prankster), and Jane’s well-connected big brother James (whose virile charms make her stomach do flips), Petronella plunges into a political mystery laden with ransom notes, midnight meetings, and hordes of oppressive Victorians determined to keep an upper-crust young lady from having the adventure of a lifetime. Petronella, needless to say, outwits them at every turn. Author Dene Low invests her debut novel with sly humor, charming period slang, and deliciously absurd details. Readers will be pleased as punch to learn that more adventures starring intrepid Petronella and her bug-hungry guardian are on their way.