Monday, April 13, 2015

MMGM: The Case of the Missing Moonstone (The Wollenstonecraft Detective Agency, Book 1)



A few years ago, while perusing Kickstarter, I came across an intriguing concept for a mystery series about two real-life historical figures (Lady Ada Byron—the first female computer programmer) and Mary Godwin (the author of Frankenstein). Boy, did I want to read that book.  

A few weeks ago I got my hands on The Wollenstonecraft Detective Agency.  I didn’t realize at first that this was the same book. But when I did a little research, I learned the author initially had asked for $4,000 on Kickstarter, but raised over $90,000 on his campaign, got an agent, and a book deal. Three more books in the series are forthcoming.

It seems that I’m not the only one who loves to read about real historical figures solving crimes, especially if the writing is fun with references to math, science, and literature.

The synopsis (from Amazon):

Jordan Stratford imagines an alternate 1826, where Ada Lovelace (the world’s first computer programmer) and Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) meet as girls and form a secret detective agency!
 
Lady Ada Byron, age eleven, is a genius. Isolated, awkward and a bit rude—but a genius. Mary Godwin, age fourteen, is a romantic. Adventurous, astute, and kind, Mary is to become Ada’s first true friend. And together, the girls conspire to form the Wollstonecraft Detective Agency—a secret constabulary for the apprehension of clever criminals. Their first case involves a stolen heirloom, a false confession, and an array of fishy suspects. But it’s no match for the deductive powers and bold hearts of Ada and Mary.

Mystery fans will love this tween girl riff on Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. History buffs will be delighted to see all the real figures who play a role in this story and appreciate the extensive backmatter that helps separate truth from fiction. Parents and educators hoping to promote the STEM fields for girls will be thrilled to have a series where two girls use math, science, and creative analytical thinking to solve crimes. But most especially--emerging readers will love this series filled with humor, action, intrigue and wonderful artwork from Kelly Murphy.

What I loved:

      1. Main characters who showed both sides of intelligence: I loved that Mary was more imaginative, creativity and intuitive, while Ada was more scientific and math minded. They contrasted and complimented each other well. This also showed that all kinds of intelligence are needed in this world.

2. Reads like a who’s-who of 1826: Strafford doesn’t just love science and math, but literature. I loved that Dickens and Percy Bysshe Shelley are characters, and others like Wollenstonecraft and Babbage are mentioned. Literature-geek that I am, I ate all this up.

      3.  Fun language: This book is a book that doesn’t take itself too seriously. “Who the dickens was that boy?” asks a character after Charles Dickens leaves the room. Lines like this kept me smiling and added a lot of whimsy.

      4.  Theme that solving problems is not just about formulas: I think this is a theme that will really appeal to many kids, especially creative-types. You don’t have to be a math genius to  solve complicated problems or even crimes like Mary and Ada do.

      5.  Characterization: The character of Lady Ada was particularly well done. Her ineptitude in social situations provided a lot of humor, but I also enjoyed her character arc.

My only quibble is that the last chapter seemed to be tacked on to introduce characters that would appear in the next novel, so it felt a bit tacked on for the sequel. But that is a small thing in an otherwise brilliantly executed first novel.

This series reminded me a bit of Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes series (about Sherlock’s sister). If you like historical and mysteries and people from the Romantic era in England, you will love this book.

Have you read any great MG historical mysteries lately?

If you're looking for Marvelous Middle Grade suggestions, check out Shannon Messenger's blog.


15 comments:

  1. Sounds like a great story. And wow! That was an amazing kickstarter campaign.

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  2. Now that looks like a fun book. with great young women protagonists.

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  3. Wonderful concept for a story. Could be the perfect read aloud, too, and I loved the author's journey. Thanks for featuring.

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  4. This sounds fascinating to me, but I have trouble getting students to check out historical fiction. The mystery will help. Just requested it from the public library! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  5. This sounds fascinating to me, but I have trouble getting students to check out historical fiction. The mystery will help. Just requested it from the public library! Thanks for the recommendation!

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  6. Oh my! 19th century famous women solving crimes. I'm all over it!

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  7. Most problem solving uses reasoning rather than just math.
    Got all that money, an agent, and a book deal? That's incredible!

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  8. This looks wonderful. My daughter would love it. Thanks for shining a spotlight on this and for doing some of your own sleuthing!

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  9. That sounds awesome! My English class just completed reading FRANKENSTEIN (tonight's reading was the last one, actually), so it'd be really fun to see how the author interpreted Mary Shelley's personality. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Oh my goodness this book sounds wonderful! I love everything that about it! Two different girl personalities, real historical figures, a riff on Sherlock and Holmes!

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  11. I love the sound of this book. There are too few mysteries with female protagonists in adult lit, not to mention MG! I also love the Holmes flavor :)

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  12. Oh, this sounds like a terrific book. My good friend Elizabeth Varadan has a historical MG mystery coming out in June called Imogene and the Case of the Missing Pearls. It is a terrific book as well.

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  13. Have you read The Agency books by Y.S. Lee? Mysteries set in Victorian England with a smart female lead. I really enjoyed them. No famous historical characters, though! Love the concept of the Wollenstonecraft Detective Agency!

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