After my Jane Austen spinoff post, I was very enthusiastic about trying another thematic post. Sadly, I reached page 162 of the third book in my proposed quartet, at a very exciting part (the hero trapped in the basement with no apparent way out) and realized that the printing had gone awry. Instead of finding out how the basement bit worked out, I got a repeat of a few dozen pages followed immediately by the last part of the book. Ugh! Fortunately, Amazon was very cooperative, and a new copy is on its way to me. I was going for a juvenile puzzle-related theme. I read The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. (The misprinted book was Chasing Vermeer, and my fourth was Shakespeare's Secret--I'll come back to these two.)
The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart: What a fun book. Exactly the sort of book I would have loved as a kid. Reynie, an orphan, answers an ad calling on "gifted children looking for special opportunities" and undergoes an odd series of tests. He and three other children are asked to help save the world by Mr. Benedict. Reynie is a problem-solver, Sticky is a font of knowledge (and a sponge), Kate is resourceful in a McGyver kind of way, and little Constance, well, you'll just have to see. This first part is filled with puzzles and mystery. The second part of the book takes the children undercover at a mysterious school. This part, though different from the first, was really fun. It was like James Bond for children. The villain and his nefarious plot for world domination are straight out of a spy movie. The children must find clues and put them together to defeat the villain. Besides the rollicking plot, the book explores the meaning of family, the value of education, and working together (every member of the team is important). It was surprisingly sweet in addition to being an excellent adventure novel.
The Puzzling World of Winston Breen by Eric Berlin: Winston Breen sees puzzles everywhere he goes, and he loves solving them. When he gives his sister an ornate box for her birthday, she discovers a secret panel that hides three puzzle-like pieces of wood. Winston soon teams up with an unlikely group (two treasure hunters, the town librarian, and an ex-cop) to solve the puzzle, which sends them on a treasure hunt. Winston is likable, the puzzles are fun, and the treasure hunt is entertaining, with a few twists that keep it moving. If the premise is a little unlikely, the execution makes me tend to work a bit harder to suspend disbelief.
I assumed that these books would be similar (except that Mysterious Benedict Society is significantly longer), but they ended up going in very different directions. I'd recommend both to bright kids and to adults who loved puzzle-related books.