September 6, 2016 middle grade debuts

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself... until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

"Engagingly blending the fictional world of dames and private eyes with keen insights about adolescent friendship, Lyall’s debut is a winner."
-- Publishers Weekly

My review: HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is the hilarious and delightful story of a lonely, well-meaning kid who desperately wants to be the Sam Spade of his middle school--and manages it, more or less, with varying degrees of success ranging from actual success inevitable disaster. 

I laughed out loud several times, and I was cheering for Howard and Ivy's friend (and detective partnership!) to work out all the way. The mystery is suitably light-hearted, with enough characters of all ages to make guessing at the answers fun. Howard's family is wonderful, and his relationships with other kids at the school are just perfect--both the good and the bad. Also: The noir detective voice and tropes are so playfully and hilariously deployed.

And above all, the whole book is just so funny and heartwarming and charming. Reading it made a bad day get so much better.


Sam knows she wants to be a drummer. But she doesn’t know how to afford a drum kit, or why budget cuts end her school’s music program, or why her parents argue so much, or even how to explain her dream to other people. 

But drums sound all the time in Sam’s head, and she’d do just about anything to play them out loud—even lie to her family if she has to. Will the cost of chasing her dream be too high?  

An exciting new voice in contemporary middle grade, Mike Grosso creates a determined heroine readers will identify with and cheer for.

"Author Grosso is a musician and teacher, and his passion for music comes through in his writing. Readers will feel Sam’s desire to play and sympathize with her decision to sneak around in order to pursue her dream. VERDICT A great read for middle graders with their own obsessions and dreams."
-- School Library Journal

"This is a worthy and entertaining read about how talent develops and what the potential consequences of pursuing it are: drumroll, please, for a fine homage to spirited single-mindedness."

-- Kirkus reviews


Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes.

But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop. That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next. 

"Black-and-white illustrations add visual dimension to Thelma’s peculiar haunting, punctuated by secrets from the past, paranormal happenings, diverse and devoted friends, and a fiery finale. Such humorous details as a car named Gary Indiana and the bickering of Thelma’s friends in the Riverfish Valley Paranormal Society keep the tone light. An inventive debut ghost story starring a contemporary girl with ancient powers."
-- Kirkus reviews

Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is anything but happy when her parents force her to move from New York City, the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress, to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s not much for Lissa to do there, except play Monsterville, a Candyland-esque quest to survive, which Lissa’s little sister, Haylie, has becomed obsessed with, and hang out with her new neighbor, Adam, who is intent to prove to her that Freeburg is a great place to live.

But even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring when a trek into the woods lands her face-to-face with a sea monster looking for brains to eat and then a Sasquatch that moos! With Adam’s help, she discovers a monster secret . . . or maybe just a monster: a poor little goblin they name Blue, who’s fled the world Down Below, desperate to decide on his scary form.

And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? You make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.

But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and Blue must venture Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.