Light fantasy with wholesome messages for tweens.


Wilhelmina and the Willamette Wig Factory


From the The Wilhelmina Adventures series , Vol. 1

Dineen (She Sins at Midnight, 2014) incorporates spirit advisers into a feel-good, small-town mystery for middle-grade readers.

A trio of otherworldly female conspirators set the stage, telling readers that the Willamette Wig Factory must reopen, and that they will nudge events to make it so. The story immediately shifts to 11-year-old Wilhelmina Rhonda Snodgrass, aka “Willy,” who has “red hair she hated, freckles she loathed,” and who’s been uprooted by a family move. Leaving behind her best friends and swim team, a lonely Willy now finds herself in Oregon, friendless and dreading the start of seventh grade. When she meets Thomasina Franchesca Andretti (aka “Tommy”), she finds that they share more than boyish nicknames. Tommy recently dyed her hair blue, and together, the wholesome, brightly coiffed duo set out to explore the town. Along the way, they teach a lesson to the bullying head cheerleader and aim to bring an important town industry back to life. They meet elderly Georgianna Carbunkle (who dispenses etiquette along with advice), and discover unknown family connections. They and a host of other oddly named characters inevitably get the factory open in time. A broken carousel with a ghostly teen attendant also pops up throughout the story, which could have used tighter editing. However, Dineen’s introduction sets a tone that’s maintained throughout: this is a story that’s set around a mission. Aimed at the misfits, the bullied, the peer-pressured—in other words, most preteens—the tale also has an undercurrent of advice: make a friend, listen to elders, find the right dress and the right hair, and things will work out. The author’s humorous tone, meanwhile, keeps things light, and several recipes provide a nice final touch.

Light fantasy with wholesome messages for tweens.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4974-3194-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: Kissing Frogs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 22, 2015

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A lighthearted mystery starring seriously smart kids.


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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Full of puzzles to think about, puns to groan at and references to children’s book titles, this solid, tightly plotted read...


From the Mr. Lemoncello's Library series , Vol. 1

When a lock-in becomes a reality game, 12-year-old Kyle Keeley and his friends use library resources to find their way out of Alexandriaville’s new public library.

The author of numerous mysteries for children and adults turns his hand to a puzzle adventure with great success. Starting with the premise that billionaire game-maker Luigi Lemoncello has donated a fortune to building a library in a town that went without for 12 years, Grabenstein cleverly uses the tools of board and video games—hints and tricks and escape hatches—to enhance this intricate and suspenseful story. Twelve 12-year-old winners of an essay contest get to be the first to see the new facility and, as a bonus, to play his new escape game. Lemoncello’s gratitude to the library of his childhood extends to providing a helpful holographic image of his 1968 librarian, but his modern version also includes changing video screens, touch-screen computers in the reading desks and an Electronic Learning Center as well as floor-to-ceiling bookshelves stretching up three stories. Although the characters, from gamer Kyle to schemer Charles Chiltington, are lightly developed, the benefits of pooling strengths to work together are clear.

Full of puzzles to think about, puns to groan at and references to children’s book titles, this solid, tightly plotted read is a winner for readers and game-players alike. (Mystery. 9-13)

Pub Date: June 25, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-375-87089-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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