A lively, jaunty mystery with a terrific cast of characters.


In this middle-grade novel, a tween becomes entangled in a mystery when an unknown vandal targets the West Virginia shopping mall where she resides.

Twelve-year-old Chloe Lamont lives in a modest house with her mother—right in the middle of the Oasis Mall. Shoppers treat the family home like a novelty, often tossing coins into the chimney from the mall’s upper level. But living there has some advantages; Chloe’s mom, Ursula, runs one of the shops, and they’re minutes away from such conveniences as groceries and hair salons. But now, someone is damaging mall property, first egging a storefront. Subsequent vandalism shows a pattern, as it occurs in the early-morning hours inside the locked mall. Authorities naturally look at the Lamonts, who have opportunity though no apparent motive. But it only gets worse for Chloe and her mom, who notice items missing or disturbed in their home—things the vandal probably used, like eggs. It’s not just a question of who is doing the misdeeds, but also how someone stealthily bypasses their bolted doors. Meanwhile, Chloe starts a new school year in the seventh grade. She doesn’t make friends easily and dreads being stuck in a new teacher-formed group in English class. On the plus side, the group’s focus is on mysteries, Chloe’s favorite genre. As it turns out, the other members of the “Mystery Group” are a lively bunch and enjoy a good mystery as well. When they learn Chloe is living in the midst of one, the students realize that there’s an entire mall and a tiny home filled with potential clues.

Baer delivers a brisk, entertaining tale. The story’s young protagonist is appealing and sympathetic. Years ago, she lost her firefighter dad, who died heroically, and not long after, her grandfather as well; he had stopped a real estate developer from tearing down the Lamont home. Readers will surely embrace Chloe even with her flaws, such as moroseness being her temperament of choice. After all, peers at school mock her, and her backyard is “synthetic grass” that she vacuums. The author astutely concentrates on the Lamonts, including the eventual revelation of why Ursula deems her estranged parents “evil.” While the family’s living situation has more downsides than upsides, this breezy tale is not without humor. An amusing, recurring bit involves Chloe continually hearing about nature—in random shoppers’ conversations. She hears one woman while standing in the kitchen: “Whatever happened with that friend of yours who found the nest of opossums in her sock drawer?” Supporting characters are outstanding, particularly the members of the Mystery Group. The charming new guy at school, Robby Morales, draws Chloe out of her shell almost immediately while Ashley Elizabeth Hutzell, readers soon learn, isn’t as haughty as her reputation suggests. Despite the Mystery Group’s determination to solve the mall crimes, there’s unfortunately little in the way of evidence gathering or piecing together clues. Still, the students’ enthusiasm is infectious, and the big reveal is rewarding. Chloe, along with Robby and the others, is a prime candidate for a series of books or spinoffs.

A lively, jaunty mystery with a terrific cast of characters.

Pub Date: March 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5092-3512-4

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Wild Rose Press

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure.


From the City Spies series , Vol. 1

This thriller reads like Miss Congeniality meets Kingsman, starring Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Anishinaabe-kwe water protector Autumn Peltier…kind of.

Puerto Rican–born, Brooklyn-raised Sara isn’t expecting much from her court-appointed lawyer—she has no reason to put faith in the system that put her in jail after she hacked into the city’s computers to expose her foster parents as abusive frauds. But with juvie her only other prospect, Sara takes a leap and agrees to a wild proposition: She’ll join Britain’s MI6 as a kid operative. When she arrives at the covert facility in Scotland, she meets the other kids the MI6 agent, a white Englishman affectionately called Mother, has taken in—all of them, like Sara, have highly developed skills in logic, puzzles, sneakiness, and other useful spy tactics. Mother has a mission for them; he’s taking them to Paris to a competition for youth environmental innovation, where their job is to perform just well enough to make it into the top 10 so they can protect the eccentric billionaire sponsor of the contest from an imminent threat. It’s a fun romp with timely but superficial things to say about environmental activism, though the recruitment process and messy organization stretches the imagination even with a hardy suspension of disbelief. For a spy story, it’s surprisingly interior focused rather than action packed. The cast is technically diverse in ethnic background, but this has next to no influence on the characters.

It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure. (Thriller. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1491-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice.


After receiving a letter from her incarcerated father, whom she’s never met, 12-year-old Zoe sets out to prove his innocence.

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and aspiring pastry chef Zoe sets her sights on perfecting her baking skills to audition as a contestant on Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. One day, she receives a letter from her father, Marcus, who was sent to prison for murder right before Zoe was born. She’s never met Marcus, and her mother wants her to have nothing to do with him. So Zoe keeps the letter a secret and begins corresponding with Marcus on a regular basis. He shares his favorite songs and encourages Zoe’s baking-competition dreams. When Marcus proclaims his innocence, Zoe is shocked: How could someone innocent end up in prison? With the help of her grandmother and her friend Trevor, Zoe begins to learn about systemic racism and how Black people like her and Marcus are more likely to be wrongfully convicted of murder than White people. Zoe’s relationship with Marcus is at the center of the novel, but her relationships with her mother, stepfather, grandmother, and Trevor are also richly conveyed. This powerful debut packs both depth and sweetness, tackling a tough topic in a sensitive, compelling way.

An extraordinary, timely, must-read debut about love, family, friendship, and justice. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-287585-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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