Thursday, April 04, 2019

Mystery Thursday

Cummings, Pat. Trace
April 2nd 2019 by HarperCollins
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

Trace lives with his Auntie Lea in New York after the car accident that took his parents' lives and left him with PTSD and a lot of guilt. His aunt isn't a textbook parent, but she surrounds Trace with a support community and also makes sure that he sees Dr. Proctor, a therapist who is helping him with his grief. He has friends at school, and when his class is doing projects on the 1800s, he has a good group that includes his best friend Ty. When he goes to meet the group at the New York Public Library, he ends up in a restricted level, following a ragged four year old who is crying. Eventually, he meets a man named Dallas Houston who tells him that he, too, has seen the ghost of the child. When Ms. Levy, Trace's school librarian, mentions a fire at the Colored Orphanage Asylum that occurred during the time period his group is studying, Trace looks into it and realizes that Cholly might have perished in that event. Family papers from a great aunt's estate shed more light on Trace's family ties to it, and add a lot of interesting information to his project!
Strengths: I had never heard of the Draft Riots, but now I want to find a nonfiction book on the topic! The history was woven into the narrative very nicely. I was very glad to see that for once, a grieving child is receiving therapy to help deal with problems. That is very, very rare. The friend group is nicely portrayed, and there is even a light romantic angle. Presley and her big words are quite fun, and I love that the teacher uses the word absquatulate, which was a favorite of my students from our word-a-day calendar this year!
Weaknesses: This had a lot of coincidences that seem unlikely, and Trace at one point supposes that his aunt's friends might be lesbians in an odd, out-of-nowhere way.
What I really think: While this has a decent mystery, is has an Avi Something Upstairs sort of vibe, rather than the murder mystery type that my students always request. Still, I will probably purchase it, because until publishers start publishing murder mysteries for 11-year-olds, I need mysteries!

Shelton, Dave. The Book Case (An Emily Lime Mystery)
April 5th 2018 by David Fickling Books
E ARC from Edelweiss Plus

When Daphne is kicked out of her boarding school, her parents are relieved when she is approached by St. Rita's School for Spirited Girls. They offer her a scholarship and place as a library assistant, which is great, since Daphne loves to read. When she is on the train to her new school, she is approached by a woman who wants her to return a rather lurid mystery to the school library. Upon arrival, Daphne is taken to the library and finds that the librarian is gone, but Emily Lime, a student, is running the greatly diminished library after a fire and funding problems have drastically reduced the number of books. She also makes friends with George, and the two get involved in all sorts of shenanigans while trying to solve a book related mystery. This is most likely set in 1950s England; there is talk about a girl losing her parents in the Blitz, but the war is clearly over.
Strengths: If your readers like Robin Stevens' Wells & Wong Mysteries, definitely take a look at this one. There are lots of good details about boarding school life during this time period, decent detective practices, and a great fictional library. Daphne and George have a great friendship. I also enjoyed the line drawings that were scattered through the text-- I wish there were more spot illustrations in more middle grade novels.
Weaknesses: There are a lot of things that aren't well explained; why is the school so unorganized? Why is Emily in charge of the library? Is anyone actually learning anything?
What I really think: While I enjoyed this, I just don't have the readership to support buying it. The Wells & Wong Mysteries go out occasionally, but not nearly often enough for me to justify another similar series.

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