Darlene Foster writes middle grade novels about two plucky girls, Amanda Ross, and Leah Anderson, best friends from different continents. These intrepid travellers visit different places around the world and solve mysteries. Foster puts in considerable travelling and research to ensure that the details she writes about are authentic. Not only are readers entertained by great mysteries with a touch of suspense, they learn about different geography and history. If you haven't read one of these books yet, you should change that.
In this book, Amanda convinces her parents to join Mr and Mrs Anderson on a cruise on the Danube river. The two girls end up sharing their own room on board the ship, which gives them more autonomy. It's a pretty exciting opportunity for two girls who are on the cusp of adolescence.
Before they are even settled in, Amanda and Leah track a trail of blood droplets into a storage room on the cruise ship. Amanda sees some feet, but they are interrupted by an employee before they can figure out what is going on.
While they are on an excursion in Nuremberg, a ragamuffin of a boy gives Amanda his special violin for safekeeping. After that, strange things begin to happen. Another boy on a skateboard tries to steal the violin before they are even back on board ship. Once there, a mysterious older couple introduce themselves. They seem nice enough, but are they? Then the two girls' room is ransacked. Luckily, the violin isn't taken.
At the next port of call, the two girls meet up with the owner of the violin and smuggle him onto the ship with them. They do their best to keep him hidden in their room, but he disappears. Before long Amanda gets a ransom note, telling her she has to trade the violin in for him if she wants to see him safe.
You better go read the book if you want to find out what happens.
I enjoyed seeing the relationship between the two girls evolve as they mature. Leah begins by spending a lot of time texting on her new phone and doesn't seem committed to being with Amanda. It turns out that Leah is caught up in her first romance, and it's going badly. This creates some tension between the two of them, but they manage to resolve their differences.
There is a lot to like about these novels. The girls have strong parents who care about them, but also give them some autonomy. I appreciate learning about all the different places the girls visit and am impressed by how seamlessly the author educates and entertains me all at the same time. I like that the plot moves quickly and has enough action and suspense to keep readers thoroughly engaged. It's a perfect read for kids aged 8 - 12, and even older readers like myself.
I'm looking forward to the next book when the two girls travel to New Mexico!