Just like gelato: dense, tasty fun that you can eat with a spoon.

READ REVIEW

MIDNIGHT IN THE PIAZZA

Moving to Rome unexpectedly would be hard for any 13-year-old, but via a series of mysterious synchronicities, Beatrice Archer soon finds herself embroiled in international art intrigue as well.

One night Beatrice witnesses a (bronze) turtle theft from her bedroom window overlooking the Fontana di Tartarughe (Turtle Fountain) in the Piazza Mattei. While her father, who heads the history department at the American Academy of Rome, is skeptical of what she saw, soon redheaded, white Beatrice is drawn into the legend behind the sculpture and the history of the Mattei family who commissioned it, including the fate of the long-suffering 16th-century duchess Caterina. Forced to marry a harsh man that she didn’t love, the duchess found solace in her diary (excerpted in the book) and a secret room below her palazzo, which Beatrice and her new friend Marco, a white Italian boy who’s fluent in English, seek to find. Eventually Beatrice deepens her understanding of the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood. Although a few plot details strain credulity, debut author Parks keeps the story moving at a jaunty pace, with rich context, footnoted Italian phrases, and art history pitched at just the right level and tone for middle graders. Readers can find online photos of the sculpture and the Palazzo Mattei di Giove to follow along, and an author’s note provides further context.

Just like gelato: dense, tasty fun that you can eat with a spoon. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-264452-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2018

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.

THE AMBROSE DECEPTION

A mysterious scholarship contest launches this middle-grade mystery.

The action begins when three Chicago middle schoolers—Bondi Johnson, a black boy; Wilf Samson, a white boy; and Melissa Burris, a white girl—are selected to compete in the Kaplin/Baron scholarship contest. No one at the three students’ schools has heard of this scholarship, and even stranger, none of these students is known for exemplary academics. In fact, they are better known for scheming, daydreaming, and schmoozing. The scholarship rules appear straightforward: untangle the clues, provide a photo of each, and win $10,000. With these guidelines, a provided cellphone, a personal driver, and a no-strings-attached debit card, each student is ready to tackle the task. Bondi attacks his clues with diligence; Melissa, though suspicious, enjoys the chase; Wilf would rather cross items off his bucket list than solve the riddles. When the hunt for clues draws to an end, Bondi, Melissa, and Wilf discover there is another mystery surrounding this scholarship and the money, leading them to band together to unravel the remaining clues and unearth the truth before the $10,000 slips out of their hands. In the tradition of The Westing Game or Chasing Vermeer, this is a plot-driven brainteaser centered on Chicago landmarks and Chicago history. The twists and turns are well-paced and believable, and transcripts of texts, emails, and letters within the chapters add dimension to the strong cast of secondary characters.

A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids. (Mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-8838-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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Written in workhorse prose, it’s an amiable enough read.

ALI CROSS

The prolific king of the beach read is back with an intergenerational mystery for the 9-to-12-year-old set.

Ali Cross, the son of Patterson’s most famous creation, African American homicide detective Alex Cross, is “starting to think the worst might have happened” to his mixed-race friend Gabriel “Gabe” Qualls, who disappeared on Dec. 21 and hasn’t been heard from as of Christmas Eve, when the book opens. Ali offers an impromptu prayer for Gabe at the pre-holiday service at his all-black church as well as an impromptu press conference outside of it as journalists and paparazzi confront Alex about his alleged coma-inducing assault of a murder suspect’s father. Then someone robs the Crosses’ home that night along with four other homes; the Crosses’ Christmas gifts are stolen. Ali, obsessed with finding Gabe and feeling that these events will distract his dad and the police from searching for him, starts his own investigation—complete with looking at some contraband footage of Gabe’s unusually loaded backpack obtained by Ali’s stepmother, also a cop—and questioning his school and gaming pals, a diverse group. Writing in Ali’s voice with occasional cutaways to third-person chapters that follow Alex, Patterson sprinkles the narrative with pop-culture references even as he takes readers through the detective process.

Written in workhorse prose, it’s an amiable enough read. (Mystery. 9-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-53041-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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