by Kate Milford
First sentence: “There is a right way to do things and a wrong way if you’re going to run a hotel in a smuggler’s town.”
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Content: There’s nothing in the usual objectionable categories. However, it’s a slow book, especially at the start, and there’s some confusion sometimes when the characters switch names. That said, a good reader who loves mysteries would really like this one. It would be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I wouldn’t be adverse to putting it in the YA (grades 6-8) section either.
Milo and his parents run an inn at the top of a hill overlooking a river just outside of the fictional town of Nagspeake. The thing that makes their inn special is that it’s a safe having for smugglers. Milo and Mr. and Mrs. Pine know how to keep secrets.
However, it’s winter break, and Milo is looking forward to spending time alone with his parents. Without guests. So, he’s predictably disappointed when four guests, one right after another, show up for the winter.
Soon, they are in full swing, and have to bring up their usual cook, with her daughter, who just happens to be Milo’s age. Soon he and Meddy find themselves embroiled in an adventure and a mystery: figuring out why each of the four guests are there, their connection with the old house that Milo’s parents inherited, and who keeps stealing stuff.
The comparisons to Westing Game that I’ve read are valid. There is a mystery to solve, and it’s a quietly clever one, with a twist that I should have seen coming, but didn’t. (As we all know, I’m not the most careful of readers.) But it’s more than a mystery: it’s a lovely book, full of stories and quiet adventures (Meddy and Milo play a Dungeons & Dragons-like game for most of the book). I’m impressed that Milford wrote such a compelling book on such a small scale; because of the weather, Milo and Meddy hardly ever leave the house. It’s a very bleak landscape (Think The Dark is Rising bleak), but Milford infuses it with both warmth and mystery.
One more thing: Milo is adopted. He’s of Chinese nationality with white parents, and he feels that difference keenly at this point in his life. So, it’s not only a book with a mystery, it’s a book about belonging and family.
I loved it.