The problem with being a conscientious librarian is that sometimes I can't read books for months after we get them. Crocodile Tears came back late Friday afternoon, but darn if TWO boys stopped by after school wanting it. The same thing has happened with the two sequels to Linda Gerber's Death by Bikini-- they are always out and someone wants them when they come back.
Aphra is still reeling from all of the intrigue and danger at the island resort her father runs, but since she has been given the location of her mother, whom she hasn't see in four years, she decides to lie to her father and fly to Seattle to find her. Her mother is not pleased. There is a lot to her mother's story that Aphra still doesn't know-- her involvement with the CIA, her reasons for leaving the family, and the danger she is in all the time. Also, Seth Mulo shows up demanding the ring that he gave Aphra, which has gone missing. When her mother's partner is killed by a poison latte, Aphra and her mother go on the run. Whom do they trust? Ryan seems charming, but is he what he appears? It's hard to tell, and they end up in a plane crash in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, highjacking canoes and braving the river, and generally trying to figure out what the best way to survive is.
In Death by Denim, Aphra and her mother have been trying to lie low in a small French town, but again, this is not possible for long. When their contact in Paris shows up drowned with denim binding his arms and legs, they begin a dangerous journey to Italy, where Aphra needs to contact Seth. Once again, despite her mother's training (think before you act!), she trusts the wrong people, makes some poor choices, and ends up in dangerous situations. At the end of this, things look like they should calm down, but will they? I hope not, because I would really like to see Aphra involved in her own missions.
I loved that the characters were not all black and white, and since even Aphra doesn't know whom to trust, the plot is not predictable. Aphra herself is drawn in such a realistic way-- I can see my daughter, who is nearly the same age, acting in exactly the ways that Aphra does. The plots in these twist and turn but never become hard to follow. These are really more spy adventure books than mysteries; in fact, they do remind me a little of the Dorothy Gilman Mrs. Pollifax books. The sense of place is fantastic-- Gerber's travels have been put to great use in these books and also in her Students Across the Seven Seas installments (Finland and Japan). One of the reasons I enjoyed both of these so much was that I've been a little tired of teen literature, and they read more like nice, clean, adult stories. Again, why are these available only in paperback? A grave injustice.
Another injustice is that only three of Cathy Cassidy's books are available in the U.S. The paperbacks are available from Baker and Taylor, which is a good source of British publications at a reasonable price. Gingersnaps was a good story of friendships and how the change during the teen years, and how important the perception of others is to teen self-esteem. Ginger has changed from a chubby, ridiculed, friendless girl into a slimmer teen with a good friend, Shannon, but she is still insecure. Shannon and Ginger befriend Emily, whose best friend has moved away, and all three work on a school newspaper. Ginger also has a crush on Sam Taylor, who lives on a houseboat, dresses strangely, and plays his saxophone in the school hallways. She worries that Shannon will not want to be her friend because of the boy, and they go through some rocky times, especially when Shannon develops a huge crush on a teacher. The other Cassidy titles in the states (Dizzy, Indigo Blue, and Scarlet) are about girls in even more dysfunctional situations, but this one hit the spot... so many friendships change in middle school, and it's so painful. I would really like to read Angel Cake, about a Polish girl who moves to Scotland. This is the problem with the internet-- I know it's out there and can't get a copy!