I'll start with a recommendation for younger readers: The Sherlock Files: The 100-Year-Old Secret by Tracy Barrett. Tracy is a good friend of mine and a terrific writer. If you haven't read Cold In Summer, On Etruscan Time, or Anna of Byzantium (my personal favorite), you've missed out. Get them and read them! But on to the latest: The 100-Year-Old Secret kicks off a new middle grade mystery series by Barrett featuring the sibling sleuths Xena and Xander Holmes. Two typical American kids, they are less than certain about their futures when their parents move the family to London, England. They have to get used to new words ("biscuits" for "cookies"), new foods ("scones and clotted cream") and a new school (complete with uniforms— horrors!). But things get even crazier when they learn their great-great-great-grandfather was the real Sherlock Holmes— and they are given his casebook of unsolved mysteries as a gift. Xena and Xander can't resist a challenge, and pretty soon are off to track down a famous painting that's been missing since 1904. The book is a lot of fun and the two heroes are easy to like. Clues abound throughout the book, aided by sketches of the casebook's pages, so reading detectives can figure out the clever solution along with Xena and Xander. Suitable for ages 9-12, but older mystery lovers will enjoy it too!
When it comes to good reads, there's just something about England— specifically, the British Empire— that makes for great stories. Two recent jewels in the crown are Philip Reeve's Larklight and Starcross, set in a fanciful Victorian era Empire that has expanded into outer space. Mix a pirate yarn with an espionage novel, stir in massive quantities of steampunk science fiction and add a dash of Lemony Snicket style humor and you wind up with these two tall tales. The narration by the eleven-year-old Art Mumby (interrupted by his not-so-prim-as-she-tries-to-be fifteen-year-old sister Myrtle) is spot on. Our stalwart hero is convinced that no alien plot, however dark and devious, can stand up to British pluck— and off he goes to prove it, in rollicking style. These books are meant to be read, especially as the over-the-top illustrations just add to the humor (when the very proper Myrtle expresses certainty that the illustrator won't depict her in her nightgown, the next page does just that!). Indeed, the best way to give you a full appreciation for these two books is to repeat their full titles:
Larklight : Or the Revenge of the White Spiders! or to Saturn's Rings and Back!: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space
Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats
What more needs to be said? Read 'em, by Jove!
And huzzah! A third book will be released on October 15:Mothstorm: The Horror from Beyond
Yes indeed, life is good!