Lynn: Today we have two mysteries set by the sea. I get to start with one that is also an orphan story—and who doesn’t love a great story about a plucky orphan? Not only are parents already out of the picture, requiring the young protagonists to solve their own problems, but it opens the door for delightfully awful surrogate caregivers and mysterious hints about the orphan’s heritage. A recent example of a POS (plucky orphan story) is Withering-by-Sea (2016) by Australian writer Judith Rossell.
Meet Stella Montgomery, who is in the care of her three incredibly horrible aunts: Aunt Temperance, Aunt Condolence, and Aunt Deliverance. The aunts suffer from mediocre health and drag poor Stella from one health spa to another. Currently, they all reside at the Hotel Majestic, overlooking the town of Withering-by-Sea. Poor Stella’s lonely life consists of dull lessons on deportment, pianoforte, French conversation, and needlework, with a daily promenade along the waterfront. But like all plucky orphans, Stella has a hidden life and sneaks out as often as possible to pore over her beloved atlas while dreaming of exotic adventures and huge snakes that could swallow up the aunts.
Of course, an exotic adventure is exactly what does happen one night when Stella, perusing her atlas in the conservatory, witnesses a murder and and is entrusted by the victim with a mysterious magical object. Her life will never be the same as she outwits an evil magician, rescues his abused assistant, makes friends (including a troupe of singing cats), and uncovers hints about her own past. This delightful tale is not to be missed!
Cindy: The Maypop Kidnapping (2016) by C. M. Surrisi features a quirky small town on the coast of Maine and a young home-schooled girl, Quinnie, who becomes involved in the mystery of her missing teacher. It’s the first day of school and Ms. Stillford is a no-show. Quinnie’s dad (who runs Gusty’s, the local diner) and her mother (who wears multiple hats as Maiden Rock’s mayor, sheriff, postmistress, and real-estate agent) aren’t worried. They’re sure there is a reasonable explanation, but Quinnie starts investigating and the clues indicate that her teacher may have been kidnapped. There are many suspects to consider, including the joyride-loving nuns at the town’s defunct convent, the newly arrived crime novelist and his daughter, the tattooed rockers passing through, and several other locals who might have a motive. Quinnie has her work cut out for her, and she needs to investigate on the sly so her sheriff mother doesn’t worry or ground her.
There’s more to this book than the mystery and the delicious descriptions of food served at the diner. Quinnie is lonely without her best friend (who is away for a year) and she’s navigating the full range of emotions that comes with early adolescence, especially when dealing with her loving but frustrating parents. This is a perfect read-alike for Three Times Lucky featuring Mo LoBeau, which we highlighted during 2012’s Mystery Month.