Cozying Up with Mysteries | New Titles for Middle Grade Readers

When the season turns cool and costumed ghouls and goblins begin roaming the streets—it’s time cozy up with a mystery.

When the season turns cool and darkness and shadows fall earlier—it’s time cozy up with a mystery. Mystery often implies adventure, and, along with that, paranormal makes an appearance in a several of the new books listed below for your middle grade readers.

 

HAHN, Mary Downing. The Girl in the Locked Room. 200p. Clarion. Sept. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781328850928.
Gr 4-6–Jules Aldridge has just moved with her mom and dad from Ohio to Virginia. Now a seventh grader, she can’t count how many times she’s moved; her Dad makes a living restoring old homes, which means the family often moves after each job. His latest task is restoring the spookiest house Jules has ever seen, Oak Hill. Almost immediately, Jules spies a strange shadow in the top floor window, as if someone is looking out at her. This cannot be possible; no one has a key to that room. When Jules experiences strange visions of a long-ago family that no one else can see, she knows Oak Hill must be haunted. Jules is fearful about discovering Oak Hill’s secrets until she meets a new friend at the library, Maisie Sullivan. With Maisie’s help, Jules uncovers the terrible secret of what happened many years ago. The house is haunted by a 10-year-old girl, Lily Bennett, who was left behind in 1889 when her parents were brutally murdered by thieves. Jules and Maisie must figure out a solution to Lily’s horrible ghostly dilemma. Told in alternating chapters by Jules and Lily, the narrative is fast paced and engaging. The resolution is achieved quickly, but it will satisfy young readers. VERDICT An enthralling ghostly tale with a neat and tidy conclusion; a good choice for middle grade shelves.–­Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

ALLEN, Isabella. Through the Barbed Wire. illus. by Cynthia Meadows. 106p. Brown Bks. Apr. 2018. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781612549835.
Gr 3-5–In this debut novel intended to be the first in a series, Allen blends a love of nature and animals with a contemporary rural mystery. Free spirit Isla, 11, spends so much time alone communing with the animals that she has difficulty communicating with humans. Homeschooled due to an unnamed speech difficulty and seemingly suffering from acute shyness, Isla studies with her father on their Texas ranch while her mother tends to Isla’s grandmother in Scotland. Isla lives a solitary existence, but she is not lonely. The animals keep her company. When a new neighboring family moves in, Isla makes a friend named Cash, who enters Isla’s world and draws her out of her shell. When odd things begin happening on the ranch and fires are set, Isla must work to uncover the culprit. The novel is plot-driven and fast-paced, but the mystery element is relatively straightforward and predictable. Allen empowers Isla to solve the mystery and save the day. VERDICT Recommended for purchase by larger collections in need of accessible mysteries, especially for younger middle grade readers who enjoy nature, animals, and gentle realism. A great readalike for Penny Warner’s “Code Busters Club” series .–Eva Thaler-Sroussi, Needham Free Public Library, M

BALLIETT, Blue. Out of the Wild Night. 320p. glossary. Scholastic. Mar. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780545867566. POP.
Gr 4-7–A lyrical, suspenseful ghost story and a love letter to Nantucket. A windless November has settled upon the shores of the island, as Mary W. Chase awakens from the afterlife to fulfill the role of Town Crier and narrator. One night, mysterious footprints shuffle ashore, piquing the interest of the children on the island. These ghosts have returned in response to renovations of historical island houses, an effort headed by the sneaky Eddy Nold. Phee, her grandfather Sal, and friend Gabe, along with the other members of the North End Gang, conspire to help the ghosts in preventing the renovations. Soon, the increasingly violent nature of the ghost’s actions become alarming. Balliett’s vivid descriptions and stunning prose capture the sense of place extraordinarily, casting Nantucket and its rich lore as a character itself. Back matter consists of an authentic Nantucket recipe and glossary of old language. The clever technique of a ghost narrator will appeal to many, yet the meandering plot with several deviations and the introduction of various nonessential tertiary characters require the sustained attention of sophisticated readers. Plenty of spooky scenes punctuate the story and a surprising twist at the end will have readers flipping back through the pages to revisit the clues buried deep within Balliett’s nuanced descriptions. VERDICT Hand this to strong readers who enjoy being transported to another place and who love old ghost stories.–Amy McInerney, Falmouth Elementary School, ME

CERVANTES, Angela. Me, Frida, and the Secret of the Peacock Ring. 240p. Scholastic. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781338159318.
Gr 4-6–Paloma Marquez isn’t too excited about her first trip to Mexico. Her mom has a fellowship and has dragged Paloma along to introduce her to her father’s heritage. Paloma is annoyed that she has to study Spanish in summer school instead of heading to the beach with her friends. Despite her low expectations, she quickly makes some intriguing friends and gets involved in a mystery allowing her to emulate her favorite protagonist, Lulu Pennywhistle. Although the secondary characters are somewhat underdeveloped, the plot moves along at a good pace and young mystery fans will want to keep turning pages. The mystery revolves around Frida Kahlo, so readers learn quite a bit about Mexican art and culture. VERDICT A well-paced mystery plot and a rich exploration of the art of Frida Kahlo make this a good purchase for most middle grade collections.–Gesse Stark-Smith, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR

ECTON, Emily Angela. The Ambrose Deception. 368p. Disney-Hyperion. Feb. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484788387.
Gr 5-8–Melissa, Wilf, and Bondi—an enterprising money-maker, a slacker, and a smooth talker, respectively—are unlikely recipients of a mysterious scholarship offer, but that doesn’t stop them from trying to win it anyway. They’re given a driver, a cell phone, a debit card, a camera, and three clues, with the instruction that they are to tell no one what they’re doing. The first kid to answer all three clues correctly wins a $10,000 scholarship. But as the chase progresses, the kids soon see that things aren’t adding up. This realization forces them to work together, prove that they aren’t slackers or criminals, and win a prize bigger than anything they’ve ever dreamed. This fast-paced story set in Chicago takes readers on a scavenger hunt to some of the city’s most famous landmarks, with interesting trivia and history to accompany them. Ecton creates an eclectic and vivid cast of characters from varied backgrounds, lending authenticity to this Chicago-set tale. The addition of text messages, emails, and written notes provides a fun interlude between chapters. VERDICT An appealing adventure story likely to be in high demand. A must-buy for all libraries serving middle graders, especially those in the Chicago area.–Jessica Holland, Univ. of Kentucky, Lexington

GUTERSON, Ben. Winterhouse. illus. by Chloe Bristol. 384p. Holt. Jan. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250123886.
Gr 4-6–Puzzle-loving bibliophile Elizabeth Somers is an 11-year-old orphan living with her impoverished and disagreeable Aunt Purdy and Uncle Burlap. Right before the holidays, Elizabeth finds herself locked out of her home and sent off to the amazing and magical hotel, Winterhouse. While there, she befriends the peculiar proprietor, Norbridge Falls, and is drawn to a unique book which opens up many secrets about Winterhouse and Elizabeth herself. Elizabeth also encounters a suspicious duo who are up to something nefarious and push her deeper into the mystery of the odd hotel. Elizabeth is a daring girl trying to get to the bottom of it all with her newfound and first friend Freddy while also enjoying all the wonderful things that she has been unable to experience living with her Aunt and Uncle. This entertaining mystery romp is a must-have for all young bibliophiles; it is chock full of book titles and literary references, both contemporary (Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabentein) and classic (Anne of Green Gables). Each chapter title also includes a word ladder for puzzle lovers. Bristol’s art is whimsical and enhances the spirit of the story. VERDICT A charming, atmospheric mystery with some fantasy elements, for fans of Kate Milford’s Greenglass House and Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Mysterious Benedict Society.–Kristyn Dorfman, The Packer Collegiate Institute, Brooklyn, NY

HYMAS, Allison K. Arts and Thefts. 352p. S. & S./Aladdin. Feb. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481463461; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781481463454.
Gr 4-7–It’s the summer before seventh grade, and the retrieval (not theft) business is a little slow until one of Jeremy Wilderson’s best friends, Case, shows up out of breath and with bad news. Amateur P.I. Becca Mills is at it again, accusing Jeremy and his friends of stealing an artist’s paintbrushes. So when it appears someone’s set on sabotaging the annual Scottsville Youth Art Show and Competition, possibly with the stolen art supplies, Jeremy must yet again partner with Becca, this time to set the record straight and protect Case’s contest entry in the process. But can Becca and Jeremy ferret out the saboteur—without being spotted by Jeremy’s friends—before their tentative alliance falls apart? Fans of the first installment in this series will enjoy the return of the author’s witty dialog and quirky characters. While the tension between Becca and Jeremy occasionally borders on the absurd, readers’ patience with those moments will be rewarded when the partnership works perfectly. And with some surprising twists and turns, the mystery of whodunit will keep kids guessing until the very end. VERDICT An engaging mystery that proves Hymas’s debut was only the beginning. A recommended purchase, especially for libraries that already have Under Locker and Key in their collections.–Kaitlin Frick, New York Public Library

JOHNSON, Varian. The Parker Inheritance. 352p. Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Bks. Mar. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780545946179.
Gr 4-6–Part historical fiction, part critical problem-solving exercise, part suspenseful mystery, this story weaves through the past and present of one town’s struggle with hatred and racism. Candice and her mother have moved temporarily from Washington, D.C., to her mother’s hometown in Lambert, SC, while her parents finalize the plans of their amicable divorce. Candice is miserable until she meets Brandon and finds an old letter addressed to her from her deceased grandmother with a puzzle enclosed. Twenty years prior, her grandmother had tried unsuccessfully to solve the puzzle that would yield a great deal of money to the town and the person who solved it. Together, Candice and Brandon make their own attempt. Who were Enoch, Leanne, and Siobhan Washington? How does an illegal tennis match played in 1957 between the white Wallace School and African American Perkins School factor into the solution? The characters are varied, authentic, and well developed. The plot moves along quickly and seamlessly between the past and present, with chapters from the 1950s shaded in light gray for a smart visual effect. The present day isn’t sugarcoated, showing readers that racial equity is still an unresolved problem. Appended author notes offer additional context, making it an excellent link to social studies or history units. VERDICT A must-purchase for most libraries, especially where Johnson’s previous titles have fans.—Anne Jung-Mathews, Plymouth State University, NH

KANE, Karen. Charlie and Frog. 256p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781368005821.
Gr 5–8–Charlie Tickler is once again abandoned by his globe-trotting parents. This time they're off to South Africa in search of giant golden moles. They usually leave him with a nanny, but this time he is sent away to his grandparent's in Castle-on-the Hudson, a Victorian resort town with a real castle. While exploring the town, Charlie visits the library, where an agitated old woman mysteriously disappears after trying to confess something dire to Charlie in sign language. Charlie smells a mystery and is told to enlist the aid of Francine "Frog" Castle, an expert detective-in-training who is Deaf and uses American Sign Language (ASL). Charlie and Frog work together to find out who the mysterious old lady is and why two men are trying to find her as well. Enduring a whole host of adventures, including shaky gondola rides across a river, meeting an odd fortune-teller, and exploring a creepy graveyard, the two must put together a set of clues, including a mysterious gravestone cipher. This fast-paced tale features a host of offbeat characters. Kane, who has worked as an ASL interpreter for the Deaf community, warmly depicts Frog's fluent signing and Charlie's efforts to learn the language. VERDICT In addition to a fun-filled adventure, Kane's novel explores the difference between hearing and truly listening. A strong secondary purchase or for larger collections .–Carol Connor, Cincinnati Public Schools, OH

MACKNIGHT, Wendy McLeod. The Frame-Up. 384p. reprods. HarperCollins/Greenwillow. Jun. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062668301.
Gr 3–6–Inspired by the author's lifelong love of art and the moving portraits in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, this inventive fantasy gives a second life to its painted subjects. For the past 100 years, Mona Dunn has watched the world go by. Like the rest of the pieces at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, she is alive but only allowed to interact with the other painted inhabitants of the gallery. Communicating with the real world is strictly forbidden. These rules keep the gallery's secret safe but make life lonely and boring for the eternally 13-year-old Mona. So boring, that one afternoon she is caught recklessly moving in front of the gallery director's son, Sargent. Sargent's own loneliness prompts him to develop a friendship with Mona. Their mutual insecurity with peers is relatable despite the magical circumstances. Readers will delight in the canvas world that exists on the other side of the frame. Mona's gallery neighbors are equal parts quirky and endearing, while a sinister threat propels the plot forward. The book includes a full-color insert of the masterpieces referenced, which could be a great starting point for readers to imagine stories and worlds of their own. VERDICT Not just for art enthusiasts, this middle grade read paints fantasy, humor, and mystery into a satisfying tale about the power of friendship–Sophie Kenney, Vernon Area Public Library District, IL

MAGAZINER, Lauren. Case Closed: Mystery in the Mansion. 400p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Aug. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062676276.
Gr 4-6–Carlos knows his mom’s detective agency is in trouble; the agency has lost clients and money after several failed cases. But a major case has just been handed to his mom and her partner, and their money problems may soon be over. When his mom comes down with a terrible case of the flu, Carlos decides to step up and take on the case himself. Along with his best friend Eliza and her little brother Frank (short for Frankenstein’s Monster), Carlos meets the client, Guinevere LaCavalier. Guinevere has been receiving death threats that are getting scarier and more specific. The three children must follow a winding set of clues to figure out culprit. Plenty of toilet humor and silly puns will keep younger middle grade readers engaged and giggling, though the death threat notes may prove too scary for some. The “choose your own adventure” format adds a fun twist, offering readers different options, like whom to interview, what to examine, and which clues to follow. The strength of the book is in the riddles that readers must solve in order to move forward in the mystery. ­VERDICT An entertaining romp that will appeal to fans of humorous mysteries .—Corey Hall, Manheim Central Middle School, PA

MAKECHNIE, Amy. The Unforgettable Guinevere St. Clair. 272p. S. & S./Atheneum. Jun. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781534414464.
Gr 4–6–Impetuous and mischievous, sixth grader Guinevere (Gwyn) relocates from New York City to the small Iowa town where her parents grew up. Her dad recently moved them in the hopes of finding a cure for her mother who has struggled with memory loss since Gwyn was very young. When her only friend, Wilbur, goes missing, Gwyn suspects her next-door neighbor, a giantess named Gaysie Cutter. Gwyn's detective work is complicated by Gaysie being the mother of Guinevere's new friend Micah. Gwyn and her little sister Bitty soon find all kinds of trouble, mostly in attempts to prove Gaysie's crimes. In the background, but well integrated, is the story of Vienna's own daredevil ways. Gwyn is on the wrong track from the first and her determination blinds her to what readers gradually begin to see. The underlying mystery keeps the pages turning, and the strength of plot and characters overcomes the somewhat stereotypical portrayal of a small town. VERDICT A promising debut and a strong secondary purchase for middle grade collections seeking realistic fiction.–Carol A. Edwards, formerly at Denver Public Library

MCMULLEN, Beth. Power Play. 288p. (Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls: Bk. 2). S. & S. Jul. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481490238.
Gr 4-8–Abby and friends are back in this rip-roaring second installment. This time, Toby’s dad has been kidnapped by a mysterious villain. Abby, Izumi, and Charlotte must help Toby complete a series of tasks in order to beat the deadline to save his father. The story meanders through various locales with lots of action, sometimes making it tricky to keep up with the chain of events. Initially, it seems like Toby’s complicated relationship with his father will be explored, but that is set aside in favor of a new character with whom Toby has a troubled past. This new character feels like a throwaway bad guy, making it a little difficult to emotionally invest in the story’s resolution. Readers may also struggle to relate to the very privileged lifestyle of Abby and her friends, who can call up a private jet at a moment’s notice. Even with these challenges, Abby’s delightfully quick and witty sense of humor and the continual excitement of the plot provide pleasant and satisfying escapism. Young readers will enjoy the quirky spy gadgets, as well as the fact that it’s the kids who save the day. VERDICT A celebration of friendship and girl power, this exciting spy story will keep readers on the edge of their seats. Purchase where the first book has fans.—Alyssa Annico, Youngstown State University, OH

PRIESTLEY, Chris. Curse of the Werewolf Boy. 256p. Bloomsbury. Jul. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781681199320.
Gr 3–6–Friends Arthur Mildew and Algernon "Sponge" Spongely-Partwork share a mutual disdain for their education at Maudlin Towers School for the Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy. It's no wonder that they're quite flummoxed when Mildew spots an odd little Viking sprinting along the ditch at the end of the sports field. They set out to discover the identity of the mysterious Viking as well as the whereabouts of the School Spoon. Without the Spoon's return, their teachers have threatened to cancel the school holidays. It's imperative the boys persevere despite encountering multiple red herrings, a ghost in the attic, and a time machine. Young readers will enjoy the silly shenanigans as much as they will delight in putting the pieces together to solve the mysteries. The unconventional characters, mildly menacing ghostly presence, and dramatic plot twists are sure to keep readers hooked. Quirky Britishisms sprinkled throughout the text plus the engaging illustrations add to the narrative's strong Victorian flavor. VERDICT More humorously odd than creepy, this engaging read is sure to serve as a solid warm-up to Trenton Lee Stewart's The Mysterious Benedict Society or Lemony Snicket's "Series of Unfortunate Events."–Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

SCHWAB, Victoria. City of Ghosts. 304p. Scholastic. Aug. 2018. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781338111002.
Gr 4-8–Cassidy is looking forward to a mostly ghost-free summer vacation when her parents, paranormal history authors, break the news that, instead of a summer at the shore, their family will be traveling to Edinburgh to investigate the most haunted places in Scotland. This trip of a lifetime is exciting but also scary for Cassidy, who has the power to cross "the Veil" and see ghosts ever since her brush with death. Thankfully, her best friend, a ghost named Jacob, comes along for the trip and helps her navigate the haunted streets of Edinburgh. Cass encounters some scary haunts and is forced to reckon with the strongest ghost she has ever met, all while learning the true purpose of her powers. Schwab paints an eerie portrait of haunted locales and her descriptions of the various ghosts and their terrible ends will send shivers down even the bravest readers' spines. She also portrays modern Edinburgh with accuracy, and readers will be eager to look up pictures of the medieval castle looming over modern streets. The story moves quickly, and children will be intrigued enough to keep reading even in light of the terrifying events. VERDICT This fast-paced, spooky ghost story filled with international adventure is sure to please horror enthusiasts and armchair travelers.–Ellen Conlin, Naperville Public Library, IL

STEVENS, Robin. The Guggenheim Mystery. 336p. Knopf. Oct. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780525582359.
Gr 4-6–Ted understands patterns but not people. Due to his ability to see details most people ignore, he was able to find his missing cousin Salim in the first book in this series, The London Eye Mystery, written by the late Siobhan Dowd. Aunt Gloria and Salim now live in New York. Aunt Gloria is a curator at the Guggenheim and has invited her younger sister Kat and Ted for a week’s visit. Ted hates change and knows he will miss his father who remains in London; his dad is his explainer who tells him what idiomatic expressions mean and helps him navigate an often confusing world. The family goes to the museum when it is closed to the public and at that very moment smoke bombs are dropped and an expensive Kandinsky painting is stolen. The police arrest Aunt Gloria and everyone panics. Now it’s up to Ted, Kat, and Salim to solve the mystery and clear Aunt Gloria’s name. Through a process of deductive reasoning, they work through the list of suspects. Swift pacing and smartly integrated clues allow readers to make connections along with the characters. Stevens’s portrayal of Ted, who is on the autism spectrum, is positive and empowering without being trite or falling prey to tropes. VERDICT A top mystery for middle grade readers .—Lillian Hecker, Town of Pelham Public Library, NY

TEELE, Elinor. The Treasure of Mad Doc Magee. 352p. HarperCollins/Walden Pond. Aug. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062345134.
Gr 4–6–Jenny, 12, loves the valley where she lives in 1870s New Zealand, even though it means dealing with the aftermath of the recent Central Otago gold rush. When she learns that her father has lost his latest job and that they will be forced to move from her beloved home, she is determined to find a way to stay. After talking things over with her best friend Pandora, she decides to track down the giant golden nugget that was rumored to have been hidden in the nearby hills by an eccentric miner named Mad Doc Magee. Jenny drags the clever but reluctant Pandora along, and they embark on a treasure hunt that takes them—and their friends Kam and Lok—on a Wild-West—style escapade, complete with ghost towns, treacherous mountain travel, and a devious schoolmaster. Along the way, Jenny learns quite a bit about friendship, loyalty, and how to stand up to prejudice. Peppered with colorful phrases and puzzles, this wild adventure will captivate readers from its humorous opening scene until its breathless climax involving a mountainside holdup and a surprising savior. VERDICT A good pick for collections where middle grade readers are clamoring for action-packed stories of daring deeds.–Sarah Reid, Four County Library System, NY

TUBB, Kristin O’Donnell. The Story Collector. (New York Public Library). Holt. Aug. 2018. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250143808.
Gr 4-6–This vibrant historical mystery is based on real people and true events. Viviani Joffre Fedeler lives in the New York Public Library. As the daughter of the library's superintendent, the stacks are her playground. When an expensive display of stamps is stolen, Vivani, her brothers, and her friend Eva try to solve the mystery. To complicate matters, they also think the library might be haunted by the spirit of a careless construction worker. When Viviani shares a little too much about her adventures at school, she draws the negative attention of worldly new student, Merit. She wants desperately to prove the ghost is real, solve the crime, and win Merit's approval, but her questionable methods will leave readers chuckling. Viviani's rambunctious nature makes her a heroine young readers will cheer for. Each chapter begins with a Dewey Decimal designation that provides a clue to what's coming in the next chapter, and black-and-white illustrations throughout help capture the feel of the Roaring 20s setting. VERDICT A love letter to libraries and bibliophiles of all ages, this novel sings with warmth and charm; a good choice for most middle grade mystery collections.–Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

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