Monday, May 1, 2017

Reviews from the Children's Section - The Virginia Mysteries Books 1 and 2

One of my favorite genres and one that is the easiest for me to push aside is middle grade fiction.  This year to make sure I get a little more children's and young adult fiction I thought I would designate the first Monday of every month Middle Grade Monday.  While a lot of my picks this year are classics I am trying to branch out a little bit and read new or at least recent releases.  Like this month's series!

Summer of the Woods - Ten year old Derek and his eight year old brother Sam have just moved to Virginia in the middle of the summer. They don't know anyone but the woods behind the house are just begging to be explored.  The exploring leads into an old mystery full of coins and treasure maps which makes for quite an adventure.
This was such a fun read!  And for bonus points I think it would be a fun read for adults and children.  I loved the two brothers.  Derek is very independent and wants to do it all himself why Sam has a better perspective on things.  They don't always get along which I think most kids could relate too.  The mystery was also in the possible range. They're not chasing down bad guys or traveling to far off cities - everything that happens takes place in essentially their own back yard.  As well one of the coins the boys find - a wheat penny - is not particularly hard to find and would add to the enjoyment of the story.  There is some history but it doesn't read like a history lesson and I can easily see it making young readers to start their own coin collection.
As an adult reader I really liked that while the boys took care of most things themselves their parents aren't the enemy.  As well, disregarding common sense and personal safety does have some consequences without it being scary.  The end of the first book definitely has me looking forward to future adventures.

Mystery on Church Hill - A few months have passed since Derek and Sam's last adventure and now life has settled down a bit - that is until Sam goes on a field trip to St. John's Church in Richmond, VA and runs right into another mystery - this one from the Revolutionary War era.   The boys head to Williamsburg where they are joined by Sam's classmate Caitlin to as they try and figure out the newest puzzle.  Once again I really enjoyed the relationship between Derek and Sam which is very much a sibling relationship complete with flaws and the occasional stomach punch.  This book was more from Sam's POV instead of Derek's which was fun.  Sam is a little more serious and a little more cautious than Derek and is more concerned with consequences.  I also really enjoyed the addition of Caitlin who is kind of a Hermione type character- smart and brave and not nearly as much of a know it all as Sam thought she was.  The end stretched believability a bit and there was even a "meddling kids" reference a la Scooby Doo but that added to the fun for me.  Plus, I learned a few things about George Wythe that I didn't know before!  This would be perfect reading before a trip to Colonial Williamsburg and lots of fun even if that trip is a ways away.

The first 2 books of this 5 book series were just so much fun!  It's kind of like National Treasure for kids and without Nicholas Cage.  I loved how hands on and accessible the history element was.  So much that is talked about is easy to either see in person or look up online which would add an extra element of enjoyment.  I think this book would be fantastic for children in 1st to 4th grade or so and is a series I'm looking forward to reading to my 7 year old.  I think he'll enjoy them just as much as I have.


  1. I've actually never heard of this series, and I'm a children's librarian. This sounds really fun. I should look into them. Adventure stories with a National Treasure for Kids feel is definitely not a bad thing!

  2. What a great post! Summer Of The Woods sounds good and I love the cover! Thanks for sharing.

  3. This looks like a fun series, Katherine. I haven't read too many middle grade books because I think internally I feel I wouldn't have the patience to read them and would rather the audio version. But I like the idea of two brothers exploring about in their own neighborhood and the concept of some good ol' curiosity.

  4. These sound great. Nice to see there are good clean middle grade mysteries out there still. I like the history is woven in just enough, it sounds like, to maybe pique a kids interest without boring them. And I love that second cover- spooky!

  5. This sounds like such a great middle grade series. I don't read that genre often but the next time I am in the mood I will try to remember these.

  6. They do sound fun. I wish Baz was still young enough to read them. :)