The Screaming Staircase (Lockwood & Co., book one)
By Jonathan Stroud
Published 2013 by Disney-Hyperion
Psychic Investigation Agencies have been protecting people from dangerous ghosts for many years now. Lucy, a talented young agent, hopes for an illustrious career at one of these agencies. Instead, she finds herself working for Lockwood & Co. - which turns out to be just two boys. Soon, they find themselves taking on one of the most difficult cases in recent history. Will they prove that Lockwood & Co. is just as legitimate an agency as any other?
I am so woefully behind in my reviewing and it is bothering me. I might start posting review roundups and, once life slows down, reviews every day. We'll see. Anyway, this book was one of our Cybils finalists this year (and, ultimately, our winner!). I knew of Stroud, of course, having worked in a bookstore when the Bartimaeus trilogy was very popular, but I'd never read the series myself. This new book, however, sounded more up my alley, plus I'd heard good things about it, so I was pleased to see it our shortlist.
I think I've mentioned before that my personal favorite of our Cybils finalists was The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp. However, when it became relatively clear that this was a favorite of most of my fellow judges, I had no problem getting behind this one. Why? Well, easy - it has something for every reader. Though I despise the idea of "girl" or "boy" books, this one will easily appeal to readers across genders and across age ranges as well. The writing is engaging and entertaining and easy to fall into - though this book is nearly 400 pages, I sped through it rather quickly. The characters are phenomenal - I loved them all. Lucy is full of verve - she's someone I'd want to be friends with. Lockwood is quite charming, but it's also clear that he's got some depths that have yet to be explored. And George - oh, I just wanted to give him a hug.
This book has humor and scares in spades - something I love, especially for kids. It has the right amount of creep factor and enough levity to not scare your pants off. I think this book is basically a perfect example of what I think of as middle-grade - that 10-14 year old age range. So, while in my heart The True Blue Scouts can't be knocked from their pedestal, it's easy to see this book as a winner when it succeeds in so many ways. Just brilliant!
And the recently published sequel:
The Whispering Skull (Lockwood & Co., book two)
Published 2014 by Disney-Hyperion
After the smashing success of the solve of the Screaming Staircase, Lucy, Lockwood, and George are eager for their next big solve. When what should be a relatively simple case has a complicated effect on George, they find themselves in a spot of trouble. And it only gets worse when the skull in the ghost jar begins whispering to Lucy.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed book one, so I was thrilled to see the e-galley of book two available. I downloaded and read it furiously in one weekend. I definitely recommend it as highly as the first, and I'm just as excited to see what will come next for the agents of Lockwood & Co. The characters are just as delightful as ever. I've seen some complaints that this book focuses on George, who appears to be most people's least favorite character. I did not have this problem - I adore George just as much as Lucy and Lockwood and I like that Stroud seems willing to give each character their own chance to shine.
Once again, this book has a near-perfect blend of spooks and laughs. It's creepy but also highly amusing and I think kids will definitely appreciate that mix. I'm a little apprehensive that a romance might develop in later books - I'm not sure if I'd want to see that happen or not. I suppose it will all depend on how Stroud handles it. This book ended on a huge cliffhanger - perhaps one of the few times when I've actually said aloud, "No, you can't end the book like that!" Kids will be clamoring for the next book - I know I am!
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via NetGalley.