Sunday, July 23, 2023

Drew Leclair Middle Grade Mysteries


As I mentioned in my last post, I've been on a huge mystery kick lately. After reading a couple YA mysteries and mystery series, I found Drew Leclair Gets a Clue by Katryn Bury as an ebook at the library and added it to my TBR list. There are currently two books in the series, and before I even started the first, I got an offer from Wunderkind PR to read the second! I love nothing more than reading sequels and series back to back, so I jumped at the chance.

In Drew Leclair Gets a Clue, true crime fanatic Drew (named for Nancy Drew) tackles a cyberbully that is embarrassing kids at her middle school. On top of wanting to solve the mystery, Drew also deals with her mother leaving the family for a new boyfriend---who just happens to have been the counselor at Drew's school! So she's dealing with that humiliation in her social life and also the devastation of her home life. Beyond that, Shrey, her best friend, is now romantically interested in her, and Drew just doesn't feel that way, for him or anyone. It's a lot to tackle, but Drew is 12, and that's the age when this type of problem seems to pile up.

In Drew Leclaire Crushes the Case, Drew now knows her two best friends will help her solve mysteries at school, so she has a good support system. However, her mom is swooping back into her life and messing it all up in the process, and her dad is starting to date, but hides it from Drew. Shrey has a girlfriend and Drew can't process her feelings about that development, especially because she realizes she also has feelings for someone in her friend group.

These middle-grade books seem ideal for all ages. While Drew and her friends are 12, in seventh grades, the parents are just active enough in the story to keep me interested, but not to the extent that they bog down the action for younger readers. Drew has unique relationships with both parents - her dad loves true crime and totally gets her, while her mom wants her to be something else and makes her feel abandoned. I think these are great dynamics to address in a middle-grade series.

Drew's friend group is incredibly diverse, with people of all skin tones and cultural backgrounds. Drew herself has chronic illnesses, and other characters in the books have differing abilities yet are completely accepted at school and in their social circles, which is refreshing. Above it all, Drew is bisexual and has gay and lesbian friends. There's no issue of LGBTQIA+ being acceptable in school or by parents, so I think this series is one that will empower younger children to embrace who they are, as well as those around them.

All of these elements work together to make a compelling cast of characters, but still - mysteries are the highlight of these books. Drew walks the readers through her detective process, including making notes about the case, eliminating suspects, and designing her famous crime boards. Author Katryn Bury is a true crime fanatic herself, which shows in the plotlines. I can't wait to read more in this series and see what mysteries Drew will solve next!

Sunday, July 9, 2023

Truly Devious YA Mystery Series


I read Maureen Johnson's Little Blue Envelopes books back when they came out, so I knew her name but didn't seek out more of her books until I had a hankerin' for some mysteries. I love any type of mystery, but was on a cozy mystery kick, and wanted to see if that was a genre within YA or not. Thankfully, it is - and Maureen Johnson is amazing at it!

I first read the Shades of London series, which made me want to re-visit England and also reminded me of how obsessed I was with Jack the Ripper as a teenager. Aka the perfect series for me! I usually love books that have intense character development so I can feel like I'm living another life for a bit, but cozy mysteries don't really do that. However, with Shades of London, it was so well-written that I felt like I knew the characters well enough as-is.

The same is true with Truly Devious. The first three books take place at a boarding school, which is already enchanting enough to a former public school student. The fourth is at a spooky summer camp and the fifth is in London for a study abroad program, so basically this series had everything I dreamed of as a teenager. 

Some things I loved about this series was how I never really knew who was the culprit - though I had a good guess in the fourth book, The Box in the Woods. But not knowing never made me feel like I was kept in the dark throughout the story, as it sometimes does in suspense novels (looking at you, unreliable narrator in The Girl on the Train). Also, I used to hate reading series if I didn’t read them back to back because I’d forget so much of the action in the previous book, but Maureen Johnson adds recap sentences throughout the beginning of the book to remind readers, without being too heavy-handed about it or devoting a whole chapter to a recap. I mean, I did read these back to back, perhaps with an adult novel in between, but there was still just enough recap to remind you of the previous book. But you can also read them as standalones without missing anything.

I can't recommend this series - and everything else I've read by Maureen Johnson - enough. I was especially delighted by Your Guide to Not Getting Murdered in a Quaint English Village, which cracked me up with each page. I gave it as a gift and also recommended my mother gift it to a friend who loves mysteries, so it's only natural that I recommend it to you, too!

Have you read any of Maureen Johnson's books? If I enjoyed these so much, do you have any similar recommendations for me?