The first one is called "Winterhouse" by Ben Guterson. It's about a girl named Elizabeth who comes home and finds that her guardians (her parents were killed when she was 4), her aunt and uncle have left to go on vacation. They've left her a train ticket and $3 and directions how to get to where she's going while they are on vacation. All of this seems a little suspicious to Elizabeth-her aunt and uncle haven't wanted to spend an extra penny in the entire time she's lived with them and now suddenly, they want to go on vacation and send her to a hotel? She can only imagine what kind of a terrible place it's going to be. But when she gets there, she's pleasantly surprised, no, stunned, to find that Winterhouse is a beautiful place. It's a lovely hotel, full of amazing amenities. The staff is welcoming and friendly and she even makes a friend, Freddy, who is an inventor and puzzler, just like Elizabeth. But of course, there is trouble afoot, there is a scary looking man and his wife who are trying to get to know Elizabeth and that feels strange. Elizabeth also gets these feelings and then surprising things happen. I really liked this story because Elizabeth is an interesting character and I liked her analytic mind. I loved the anagrams that are tossed in as well as the world ladders at the beginning of each chapter. I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.
Here's a book trailer for the book.
The second book drew me in because of it's very famous author-Neil Patrick Harris. I think he's a terrific actor and I wondered if he was as good at writing. It turns out he is! He has a series that just came out called "Magic Misfits". It starts off with a boy named Carter, who's parents were tragically killed and he is sent to live with an uncle (noticing a theme?). The uncle is not a terribly nice person and he teaches Carter magic and sleight of hand so that the uncle can pick people's pockets. Carter is determined never to steal from people and finds himself running away from his uncle, to make his fortune. He ends up in a small town in New England called Mineral Wells. There is a small fair there and that seems like it might be a good place for a magician to make a living, but the people in the fair seem more like his uncle than Carter was hoping for and ends up at a magic store with a man named Mr. Vernon. It turns out there are two Mr. Vernons-one magician and one chef and they have an adopted daughter named Leila who has a circle of friends. Leila and her friends invite Carter to join them and suddenly Carter is feeling more at home than he ever did with his uncle. Unfortunately, there is trouble afoot. The big boss at the fair is planning an event around the world's largest diamond, and Carter is sure the big boss is going to try to steal it. What's really fun about this one is the magic tricks-there are directions for several different magic tricks in the book, which my students LOVE. The second thing that's fun about it is that there are several different codes hidden in the text. I think the kids are going to like this one too.
The last one is lighter on puzzles than the other two, but it's still a really great story. It's called "The Ambrose Deception". This one is more of a straight up mystery. It's about three kids who are struggling to find their way. Melissa is doing other people's homework for cash, Bondi is sneaky and Wilf is just looking to have a good time. But they are each approached about applying for a $10,000 scholarship. The scholarship has a couple of funny pieces to it- first, there are three clues that need to be solved. Second, they are each given a driver and a debit card with no limits, except that they have to stay in Chicago, and third, they can't talk about this to anyone else. I really can't tell you more about the plot without spoiling it, but let me tell you that the story is full of fun plot twists. The one big thing that is a bit limiting about the story is that if you don't have a good sense of some of the cultural highlights of Chicago, the clues and their answers may seem kind of foreign. My students struggle with the cultural nuances of our own state because of a lack of exposure and I'm pretty sure they have no idea what's in Chicago or even more tragically, that Chicago even exists. I hope that kids will find the story is compelling enough to keep them going. I also think it might be a really fun movie someday.