Skylar Robbins’s Porta-Detective Kit

Porta-Detective Kit
New contest! What does Skylar Robbins’s Porta-Detective kit contain? If you have read Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels you will know the answer. The third book in the series also contains the information you need.

Enter your answer of 3 or more items in the comments here, and you will receive a secret underground Skylar Robbins mystery novella, Gwendolyn’s Revenge–not available for sale anywhere! Guess at least one item in Skylar’s Porta-Detective kit and you’ll get a personal email from Carrie Cross including a free chapter of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress! Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress is available now on Amazon.

Sleuthing MG Style: Author Interview with Carrie Cross

Q. What made you decide to write for middle-grade readers? Was there any particular
author you read that made you think, I could write like that?

A. I decided to write for the middle grade audience because I fell most in love with books when I was between nine and twelve years old. I couldn’t get enough of Judy Blume, and read Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret over and over. Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Changeling and The Velvet Room enchanted me. I loved The Happy Hollisters mysteries and Nancy Drew. But it wasn’t until I was an adult, reading Lee Child thrillers and Robert Crais mysteries, that I wondered if and hoped that I could write like them. My first manuscript, The Dark File, was an adult novel exploring the nasty side of the modeling industry, which I experienced first-hand in my twenties. This book was never published, but while I shopped it around and waited for agents to respond, I had the idea for my first Skylar Robbins mystery, then tentatively titled, Magic Summer.

Q. How long did it take you to write your first book? How many rewrites did you do on
it? Who helped you with the editing?

A. One of my closest friends, Elayne Angel, is also an author, and she and my husband Ed edit the rough drafts of my novels and provide excellent feedback and critiques. I probably worked on Magic Summer for three years before I got it into good enough shape that I decided to hire a professional editor, Beth Lieberman, to proofread my “final” draft. She gave me some excellent advice. For example, I needed to add setting. She characterized mine as “a barely perceptible L.A.” I revised again, she pronounced it good enough to shop, and we began looking for an agent. By this time, I had added a detective angle to Skylar’s character and had renamed the manuscript, Skylar Robbins: Secret Agent.

After several rejections, Writers House signed me. Searching for a publisher is a tedious, time-consuming, frustrating experience. Like agents, publishers do not like it if you “simultaneously submit” to more than one. They don’t want to waste their valuable time reading a manuscript, only to be told when they decide they want it that another house has already snapped it up. So, my agent submitted to one at a time, and then we’d wait between two weeks to two months for a reply. All rejections—but, and this is a big but—some came with constructive criticism. Invaluable!

Q. We have all experienced rejection. Give me an example of how you learned to write
past it.

A. The rejections I received from agents and publishers, one after another, was crushing. But the ones who cared enough to leave constructive criticism gave me the drive to continue to revise, and to not give up on making my book series a reality. (By this time, I had started on a new Skylar Robbins novel and decided this could be a series.) Several of the publishers wrote notes to the effect of, “Great story but we have a similar MG mystery series that this would compete with.” That was better than hearing a plain, “No thanks, we’re uninterested.” But what really helped was when one publisher noted, “Good writing, but I’m afraid this story is just too straight-forward a ride.”

That got me thinking. Good writing: yes! Too straight-forward a storyline? How can I make it better? So, I got back to work and revised again, adding another layer to the plot.

Q. What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?

A. Getting good feedback from publishers, even through rejection letters, was some of the best encouragement I’ve had in my writing career. Give me a challenge and I’ll take it. Make this manuscript less straight-forward a ride? OK! Here you go! Skylar Robbins went from a shy girl spending a nervous summer at her bullying cousin Gwendolyn’s house to a smart, savvy sleuth, hunting for clues using the tools in her detective kit. By the end of what was finally called, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills, Skylar had learned how to determine true friends from phony ones, and had developed self-confidence and expert sleuthing skills.

Better than the feedback from publishers, what really made me feel validated as an author was when more than one group of kids formed their own “detective agencies” after reading my books. Even boys got interested in finding clues and looking for something mysterious—and I thought at first my novels would just appeal to girls. photography

Q. What is the hardest part of writing for you? Starting? Creating a scene? Dialog?
Tension, etc?

A. I think the hardest part of writing a novel is determining how it will end. As author Ayn Rand teaches, you must determine your story’s climax and write toward it so that every scene has purpose. Once you have established the ending to your plot, you can come up with a rough outline of how the characters will progress toward that finale. It’s a real challenge to determine a story’s climax before you’ve written the book, but it’s imperative that you know where the plot is leading.

Q. You indie-publish, correct? What made you choose the indie route? What was the most
challenging part about putting together the book?

A. I do self-publish, through Amazon’s Createspace. After spending years trying to get an agent and more time trying to land a traditional publishing contract, I figured I’d take the plunge and do it myself. My husband and I created our own publishing company, Teen Mystery Press, hoping that having a legitimate publishing company logo on my novels would help me get into bookstores. Bookstores and libraries shy away from self-published books as so many are poorly-written and error-filled. The Skylar Robbins series is in several stores and a handful of libraries, but the bulk of my sales comes from Amazon. The most challenging part of putting together the book was revising over and over until I was satisfied with it. My husband, Ed Ward, is a graphic designer, so he does my cover art and interior design. Shameless plug:

Q. You’ve got a great looking website. Who put it together for you? What are some of
your marketing tips that you would like to pass along?

A. Thank you! Ed designed my website, too. I have a section on my site,, called Advice for Aspiring Writers, where I share writing advice. My number one marketing tip is: advertise. Every month I reinvest whatever I’ve earned from my book sales into ads on Goodreads, Facebook, Bookbub, and other sites. No one is going to look for a self-published book by an unknown author. You need to use every possible social media platform to get your name and your work out there. I’ve run contests on Facebook, giving away toy binoculars for the most shares on my book posts. I’m currently writing a mini-sequel to Shadow Hills called Gwendolyn’s Revenge, and inviting Skylar fans to help co-write it with me. I have a Secret Agent Application form on my website, and recently had my 50th Secret Agent sign up. These kids are encouraged to help Skylar figure out clues in future novels and post their guesses on my site. Several of Skylar’s Secret Agents are mentioned (using their code names) in book 2: Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels.

Q. What do you know now about writing that you wished you had known sooner?

A. I would say that I wished I had self-published sooner, but then I never would have gotten the feedback I needed to hear from the agents and publishers who rejected my work. Authors should look at rejections as learning experiences and as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Q. What is some of the best writing advice that you’ve received or could give?
Are there any other points about writing that you would like to add?

A. The best advice I could give fellow authors is, “Revise, revise, revise!” Don’t submit your work until it is as perfect as can be. You only get one chance to impress a prospective agent, publisher, or reader. Make sure your work is error-free and polished. And never give up. If you can’t get a traditional publishing contract, do it yourself. As Calvin Coolidge said, “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Q. What is the next book that will be coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?

A. In my third Skylar Robbins mystery, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress, Skylar teams up with a brilliant would-be spy, Daniel Gannon, to solve the mystery. He is pictured on the cover, swimming under the Santa Monica pier, searching underwater for a locked box containing a clue.

By the end of book 3, Skylar and Daniel decide to partner up again and plan to take a field trip to a mysterious island called Koma. In my next book, Skylar Robbins: The Curse of Koma Island, Skylar and Daniel must determine the meaning of a strange Koman idol. The locals are desperate to frighten the kids off the island before they discover the truth. I hope to publish Koma Island by the end of 2018.

Q. Lastly, what links would you like to be added at the end?

A. Thanks so much,, for the interview!
Skylar Robbins mysteries are available on Amazon:
Check out Carrie Cross’s website:
Join Carrie on Facebook:
Follow Carrie on Twitter @Carrie_Skylar

Help Carrie Cross co-write Gwendolyn’s Revenge!

Who wants to get creative and co-write Gwendolyn’s Revenge with me?

What happened to the forgotten garden and the gem seeds after Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills ended?

Wicked Gwendolyn stole the gem seeds–but is that actually all they were? Find out by reading the first chapters of this fantasy novella, and help write the ending for a co-writing credit on Amazon with Carrie Cross! Creative questions follow the first chapters. Please respond within the next two weeks to be considered for a co-writing credit.


Stolen Gems

What an idiot! Gwendolyn thought, peering into the car window at her cousin, Skylar Robbins, as she and her father pulled out of the driveway. “Sure, I’ll water the forgotten garden for you ‘til you come back next summer. HA!” Gwendolyn shouted. Then she shut the front door and stomped up the stairs to her room. “Skinny little know-it-all thinks I’m stupid,” she muttered, huffing a bit as her thick legs reached the top step. She tore a pudgy hand through her shrub of frizzy hair and grinned wickedly as she shoved her bedroom door open.
Gwendolyn had plans.
Walking over to her dresser, she slowly pulled open a shallow drawer and stared in at the stolen contents.
She had removed several strands of long brown hair from Skylar’s brush.
Gwendolyn had sneaked into Skylar’s bathroom while she was at summer school and dug into her personal drawer, helping herself to a sample of this and of that.
“The dummy thought I couldn’t find her diary in that great hiding place…a hatbox in the closet!” Gwendolyn screamed, doubling over in a huge belly laugh. “And Ooh, how sneaky! Writing in your diary backwards. As if a five-year-old couldn’t figure out how to hold it up to a mirror and read it.”
Gwendolyn had followed Skylar Robbins and her creepy friend Kat as they’d sneaked into the forgotten garden, too dumb to realize that they had an audience while they were casting their spells. She had peeked between the boughs of the weeping willow tree and memorized their grounding ritual so she could use it herself, making sure her spirit would have a pathway back into her body. Kat had actually convinced Skylar that she was a genuine junior witch. Laughable! Or was it? Gwendolyn wasn’t sure. But if there was magic to be had, she was gobbling up her fair share.
When her mother gave their dead great-aunt Evelyn’s Ouija board to Skylar, Gwendolyn had gone out and purchased her own. And hers was bigger, better, and much more powerful than Evelyn’s had been.
Gwendolyn had even stolen the feather from the bird that Skylar had rescued, and Skylar hadn’t even noticed. Now Gwendolyn had a witch’s starter kit of her own, which would prove to be much more potent than Kat’s. “Skylar thinks she’s a big shot because Kat’s sister is in a coven with twelve other witches. Whoop-dee-do,” Gwendolyn said, cracking open the lid. She poked a fat finger into a compartment that was filled with smelly green goo. Wiping a bit of the slime into a tiny box, she shuddered, remembering the torture she had put the frog through to get it.
Next, she dipped a pewter spoon into a vial of powdered pigs’ feet she had purchased from her new favorite online store, Penelope’s Potent Powders, and added a dash of that to the container. She stirred the mixture with a bristle she’d stolen from the poop broom in the stable, remembering with glee how the missing broom and shovel had upset the stable boy, Carlos. Skylar’s summer friend Kat had a huge crush on him, which made his torment all the more sweet for Gwendolyn.
After mashing in seven dead spiders she had collected from the foyer, the smelly paste was complete. She stuffed the tiny box into her pocket and scurried through the butler’s pantry and into the balmy back yard.
Looking at the raging ocean as she walked toward the forgotten garden, Gwendolyn smirked, proud of how much smarter she was than everybody else. She marched across the nine steppingstones that her dead great-aunt Evelyn had placed there, thankful that someone in her family was smart enough to do something right.
Opening the creaky wooden gate, Gwendolyn stepped inside the garden. She walked up to a crumbling pink fountain that her cousin, Skylar Robbins, had named “the chalice,” and kicked the rotting cushion off its matching stool. She looked at the little puddle of moldy water in the old fishpond that Skylar had brought back to life and sneered, thinking of the ducks that had fled from their home since Gwendolyn had taken it over and drained it.
Staring up at the stormy sky, she reached into her pocket, pulled out the tiny box, and knelt down in front of the special nasturtiums her cousin had planted.
“You thought Kat’s magic wasn’t strong enough, but you were wro-ong!” Gwendolyn sang gleefully, parting round leaves and hunting for flowers. The light green leaves were so big that they hid the magic blossoms. But if you knew where to look, and were smart enough to know there was treasure hiding in the vines, you could steal all the gems you wanted.


Dead Aunt Evelyn’s Magic Box

“See you inside,” Skylar called. Her father nodded as he pulled her suitcase and duffel bag out of the trunk, and her mother smiled, watching her daughter run up to the front door. “By the way, please call me Sky from now on,” Skylar announced. Her mother looked into her round blue eyes queerly, wondering what had happened to her daughter over the summer.
Skylar leaped up the stairs, cradling her art projects from summer school in one hand and her dead, great-aunt Evelyn’s magic box in the other. She couldn’t wait to get back into her very own bedroom and decorate it like Kat’s, with four quadrants symbolizing the elements: air, fire, water and earth. Her macramé and seashell Dream Catcher was perfect for the water quadrant.
“Ahh…home!” Skylar shouted, throwing open the door. She pounced onto her comfortable bed, instantly hating the babyish, pink-flowered comforter she had always adored. “Ugh, Kat would despise this thing,” she said disdainfully, picturing her new friend rolling her almond-shaped green eyes and laughing at her childish bedroom.
“Do you want to come down and have a snack, uh, Sky?” her mom called up.
“Not right now, thanks.” She was hunting in her closet for the perfect place to hide Evelyn’s bag of crystals and witchcraft books, and dozens of memories flooded her brain.
“That’s really pretty,” I said, pointing at a lavender stone Kat wore on a chain around her neck. “What kind of stone is that?”
“It isn’t a stone,” she said, with a mysterious smile. “It’s an amulet.”
“An amulet? What’s—”
“It’s for protection.”
My eyes widened. “Protection from who?”
She looked around; no one was paying attention. “Not protection from who, protection from what.”
“OK, from what?”
Kat rubbed the lavender stone. “Protection from evil. Find an oval
stone and I’ll show you the spell to turn it into an amulet. You need protection right away.”
“Why?” I said nervously.
“There are very negative influences at work in this house.”
I shivered a little and looked up at the ceiling, wondering if she meant dead aunt Evelyn. “What do you mean?”
“Your cousin Gwendolyn. No offense, but she may be an evil spirit.”

“The vibrations are getting stronger!” Kat said excitedly.
We walked through the wooden gate and into the forgotten garden.
“Oh my God,” Kat said in a hushed voice. “There is so much magic here!” She looked around slowly, taking it all in. “This garden can be our sacred place: the doorway to a higher power. When we have our altar all prepared and the garden is ready,” Kat looked over her shoulder to make sure no one could hear her, “we are going to grow gems.”
“Grow what?”
Kat’s eyes were gleaming. “Gems. You know, rubies, emeralds, diamonds? Gems! I copied all the spells and instructions down last night. That’s why I was up so late; I’m not sure when Dianna will need her book back.”
“This sounds crazy!” I said.
But two days ago so did finding a feather from a rescued bird, and I had one in my hand.

It was just Skylar’s luck that, after flubbing the gem spell and conjuring up a rotting plant sporting pods full of maggots instead, the second set of gems seeds finally sprouted, only days before she left for home. She sat down on the bed and slowly unfolded a maroon and magenta nasturtium, holding her breath as she pulled the petals apart, wondering if she had imagined the sparkling red chip in the center.
The velvety blossom opened, and a tiny, precious morsel fell into her open palm. She stared at it for a full minute in wonder. “I can’t believe the gem spell actually might have worked,” she breathed, carefully wrapping the chip inside a Kleenex, and wondering if it could possibly be a baby ruby as she walked over to her big antique desk.
Skylar’s grandfather had been an undercover cop, and had taught her every detective skill she knew. After inheriting his beautiful wood desk, she declared it her temporary detective headquarters—until she could open an office of her own. Just as she stashed the folded Kleenex inside one of its secret comparts, her telephone began to ring.
“You’re home!” a familiar voice cried, and Skylar plopped onto her bed with a big smile.
“Hi, Alexa!” Skylar said, picturing her BFF’s cheeks bunching up in a smile as she pushed masses of strawberry blonde curls over her shoulders.
“When did you get back?” Alexa asked.
“About five minutes ago.”
“Five minutes, Skylar Robins, and you haven’t called me yet?” she kidded.
“I was just about to. And I go by Sky now.” She listened to the silence on the other end of the line.
“Oh. OK, Sky.” Alexa had lived in Texas until coming to California in fourth grade, and she still spoke with a bit of a twang.
“What? I think it’s a much cooler name,” Skylar said defensively.
“Did one of your much cooler friends think it up?” Alexa asked softly.
“No, I did, on the first day of school, where I didn’t know a soul and had no friends. I thought it sounded neat.”
“You’re right—it does. I’m sorry. I’ll try to remember to call you Sky from now on. Maybe we can think up a cool nickname for me to use, now that we’ll be in—”
“Middle school!” they both said gleefully.
“So, did Dustin Coles really ask about me?” Skylar sat on her bed in her favorite position, hugging her knees up to her chest and wrapping an arm around her slim legs while she waited to hear the delicious answer.
“Yeah, he did. Swear.”
“Awesome,” Skylar replied happily, picturing Dustin’s wavy brown hair and white teeth.
“I guess we’ll find out if he’s interested in another two weeks,” Alexa said.
Skylar opened her suitcase and pulled out an ancient wooden box. The lock was decorated with a swirling metal design. “We don’t have to wait that long at all,” Sky said mysteriously, thinking about her dead great-aunt Evelyn’s Ouija board.


Gwendolyn’s Plan

Gwendolyn squatted down next to the nasturtiums that Skylar had abandoned, holding a magnifying glass in one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other. At first, she had planned to harvest all the gems she could find, in case Skylar or her weird friend Kat came back to claim them. But then a greedy idea took over, and changed Gwendolyn’s plan completely.
She rested her knees in the mud, leaned over and peered through the magnifying glass, remembering what her wizened friend Ebekenezer had told her in a shadowy corner of his dusty bookstore: “Search the shadows for a spell; patience will serve you well.”
At first, Gwendolyn had grumbled quite a bit, never having had the patience to wait for anything, and itching to trump her cousin immediately. But then she imagined huge rubies and emeralds literally falling out of flowers, and she decided she could postpone the harvest for a few days to see if the gems grew larger.
She had delved into the dark corners of Ebekenezer’s Previously Appreciated Books until she found a volume that was useful. Toads to Toadstools had every spell from poisoning your enemy—that incantation would have to wait, as there were so many worthy victims—to a Recipe for Enlargement. That was, The One. She opened the tiny box and peered gleefully at the smelly green goo she had concocted.
Using the bristle from the poop broom, she plucked out a tiny morsel of the frog glop mixture and spread it around the base of the magic nasturtiums. Since she had been fertilizing with the potent gunk, vibrant fuchsia blossoms with chartreuse stripes sprouted next to deep blue flowers decorated with hot pink edges. Unfortunately, as she peered through the magnifying glass, she noted that none of them had grown gems that were large enough to harvest.
Gwendolyn tramped up the stairs to her room, looking down hatefully at her thick thighs as she climbed, thinking miserably about the first day of eighth grade. It was right around the corner, and she had a dire emergency to deal with. The kids in her neighborhood had all gone to the same schools together, so the same crowd who knew her since third grade as ‘Lardbutt’ and ‘Pugsley’ would be joining her again next semester. She had regained all the weight she had lost since being sick with mono, and put on some extra.
Gwendolyn opened the book she had purchased from Ebekenezer’s, and read the table of contents. She bypassed the instructions for enlargement, raising the dead, and finding lost pets, and even ignored the spells for enemy revenge, so anxious was she to find the specific incantation she was looking for.
There it was. Gwendolyn shut the thick tome on her ample lap, stared at the ceiling and grinned wickedly: Chapter13: Beautifying Spells.
First and foremost was the spell to grow long beautiful hair. Gwendolyn looked disgustedly into the mirror at her short, brown, frizzy bush. “Ugh,” she said aloud, hastily skimming the instructions for a Hair Exchange. “Oh…I can do this. Before the first day of school!” Gwendolyn exclaimed excitedly, rubbing chubby hands together and preparing to collect the ingredients for her first spell. She had nine days left to grow long, lustrous hair.

Gwendolyn stomped back into her room after dark, sweating and dirty. Her parents had gone out, so she easily stole the last items she needed for the ‘Grow-Long Hair Replacement Gel’ from the forgotten garden without anybody noticing. She unloaded her pockets, and then hustled down two long, skinny hallways to collect the rest of the ingredients from their hiding spot.
Gwendolyn had stashed little jars full of pond scum and duck dung in the bedroom her cousin had stayed in during the summer, figuring that if anything was found out, she could easily blame it on Skylar. She crept back down the dim hallway, jars in hand.
After locking her bedroom door, she reached up onto the closet shelf and pulled down a moldy old box she had dug out of the forgotten garden after Skylar finally went home. Dividing it into compartments, Gwendolyn stashed what she had purchased from Penelope’s Potent Powders inside three of them. She spooned the duck dung and pond scum into the last two compartments, added the long, straight hair she had stolen from Skylar’s brush, and began mixing a concoction together.
She spread a towel across her pillow, anxious to get into bed and turn out her lights before her parents came home. If they thought she was asleep, they wouldn’t bother to check on her, and she wouldn’t get caught sporting a head full of smelly, puke green goop. Looking disgustedly into the mirror for the last time, she stuck pudgy fingers into the Grow-Long Hair Replacement Gel and smeared it all over her head, dreaming of long, lustrous locks.

Gwendolyn woke up the next morning and the first thing she did was reach up to feel her head.
“Uck!” she grunted, her fingers sticking to the hardened gunk. Creeping over to the door, she pressed her ear against it, listening for evidence that her parents were awake. There wasn’t a sound.
Sneaking down the long, narrow hall to the bathroom, she stepped inside the shower and pulled the curtain closed behind her. After giving her rotund body a perfunctory soap, she poured a generous dollop of shampoo into her palm, and scrubbed the ‘Grow-Long Hair Replacement Gel’ out of her fuzzy brush of hair.
Gwendolyn padded back into her bedroom, removing the towel from her head and tugged on her stubby locks, hoping they had grown longer overnight.
Back on Gwendolyn’s bed, dozens of short, frizzy hairs decorated the towel on her pillow.


Magic Number

“I’ve been practicing putting makeup on in my closet all summer,” Alexa giggled, looking at Skylar’s astonished face. “Well, I had to do something while you were busy with all your new friends in Malibu,” she said seriously.
The smile dropped right off Skylar’s face. “I have a lot to tell you about this summer.”
“The one time you managed to call, you said something about a forgotten garden, a buried box with an ancient key, the spell using a feather that led you to a Ouija board, a Book of Shadows, and all sorts of cool stuff.” Alexa peered into the makeup mirror and concentrated on applying a coat of mascara to her lashes while she waited for Skylar to answer.
Sky looked at her best friend’s face in the mirror, and wondered where to begin. “I met this girl Kat in art class, and her sister has this book…” she trailed off, thinking it all sounded too incredible to believe. But Alexa just set down the makeup and stared at her, one eye decorated with thick lashes and the other one plain.
“OK,” Skylar said, settling in to tell the whole story to her best friend. “I was exploring in my aunt’s backyard and I came upon this old, half-dead garden. It used to belong to my dead, great-aunt Evelyn, who was supposedly…a witch. I know, it sounds crazy, right?”
Alexa nodded, but her green eyes were wide and looked frightened. “Go on.”
“So, the garden was full of magical things and Kat recognized them right away.”
“Like what?”
“Well, like there were nine steppingstones that led up to the gate, and they were bordered by ferns.” She stopped, looking at Alexa’s puzzled face. “Nine is a magic number and ferns have special powers.”
“OK, then what happened?”
“So, this beautiful old garden had been left alone since Evelyn died, and we brought it back to life. Kat’s sister Diana is a Wiccan Goddess and we—”
“What?” Alexa laughed.
Skylar looked at her seriously. “If you knew what happened to me over the summer you wouldn’t be laughing.”
“Sorry,” Alexa apologized, looking at her face next to Skylar’s in the makeup mirror and swiping on a little blusher. “Go on.”
“OK, swear you won’t tell anybody about this?” Skylar looked at her closed door and lowered her voice as Alexa nodded. “I slept over at Kat’s and we crept down to these caves on the beach at midnight, looking for magic seeds to use in this spell. We were trying to grow gems,” Skylar whispered, leaning toward her friend and looking into her widening eyes. “We found these seed pods and planted them in the garden, and fertilized them with all this special stuff from Kat’s sister’s witchcraft box and used a spell from the Book of Shadows, but—OMG it was so gross!”
“What?!” Alexa shrieked, looking at her friend.
Skylar gulped before she continued. “We grew these hideous rotting pods with maggots crawling out of them.”
“Ugh! You did?” Alexa squeaked.
“It was awful. So hideous.” Skylar shuddered, remembering it. “So right before we left we tried a different spell using normal nasturtium seeds,” Skylar trailed off mysteriously.
“Dang, Skylar. Your summer sounds like it was so exciting. Then what happened?”
“I didn’t get to stay long enough to find out what else we grew, but I did stay long enough to harvest…” Skylar opened the secret compartment hidden behind her desk drawer, withdrew the folded Kleenex, and showed the shimmering chip to her friend. “This.”
Alexa peered into the Kleenex suspiciously. “What’s that? It looks like a little piece of broken glass.”
“That’s what grew in the center of a flower that we cast the second gem spell upon. I’m going to ask my dad if I can borrow his microscope and examine it. Try to figure out what it really is.” The curtain on Sky’s bedroom window billowed into the room on a cool breeze, revealing a full moon in the dark sky outside.
Alexa slowly lowered the mascara wand and stared at her friend. “What about the rest of the flowers? What did you leave behind?”
Skylar took a long time to answer. “I don’t know,” she finally said. Kat hadn’t had a chance to sneak back to the forgotten garden and check on the magic nasturtiums yet. “There could be a garden full of diamonds, rubies, opals and emeralds, waiting for us. Or there could be nothing. This might have been a fluke,” Skylar said, replacing the folded Kleenex in her antique desk and returning to the makeup mirror. “Or a fake. You never know, with Kat,” Skylar admitted, looking out her window. Dense fog edged in, turning the sky a murky gray-white.
Skylar she turned back to her BFF and pointed at the make-up mirror. “Hey, scoot over, it’s my turn. And I need all the practice I can get.” She applied as much mascara to her eyelid as she did to her eyelashes, and Alexa laughed and handed her a tissue. After her cheeks were coated in a thin film of pink powder, Skylar looked excitedly at her BFF. “Now I have something really important to show you.” Walking into her closet, Skylar pulled down the Ouija board and carried it over to the bed. “Face me and sit cross-legged.”
They sat down across from each other and Skylar opened the Ouija board, setting it across their laps. Alexa looked at the two rows of letters that spelled out the alphabet, and at the numbers and Wiccan symbols that decorated the board. “Place your fingers lightly on the pointer.” They rested their fingertips on a flat, wooden triangle. “Now, ask it a question.”
“Will Brendan Tadman break up with Ashley and go out with me?” Alexa asked. A moment later, the pointer began to move. “Are you pushing it?” she whispered, and Skylar shook her head, looking at their slender fingers as they moved around on top of the triangle.
“That’s what I thought the first time I used it too. Let’s see what it spells.”
The wooden triangle zipped across the board picking out letters. When it had completed the sentence, Alexa looked up, horrified at what the Ouija board had spelled:


Gwendolyn’s Secret Stash

By the time Gwendolyn reached Ebekenezer’s Previously Appreciated Books, she was huffing and puffing and sweating up a storm. Parking her bike by the front door, she wiped the moisture off her forehead and trudged inside the familiar gloom. It was too dark to notice the layer of frizzy hairs that had stuck to the back of her hand.
“Hi, Eb,” Gwendolyn grunted.
“Hullo, Gwendolyn,” he answered pleasantly, peering at her through the particles of dust that swirled through the shadows. “Did you find the incantations you needed in Toads to Toadstools?” He scratched his wrinkled chin and smiled, lost in memory. “That’s one of my favorites.”
“Yup. It’s great.”
“Make sure you follow every instruction to the letter, or you never know what you’ll conjure up,” he warned in a whispery croak.
Gwendolyn nodded, remembering the maggot plant Skylar had grown out of seaweed pods, and how she and Kat had screamed and scrabbled backwards trying to get away from the worms.
“OK. Hey, I brought one of those gems to show you. Do you have a magnifying glass or anything? This one’s real puny.” She dug a little box out of her pocket while Ebekenezer hunted through a messy drawer. He came up with a beautiful old magnifying glass, and held out a gnarled hand to accept Gwendolyn’s secret stash.
“Follow me.” Ebekenezer unfolded himself out of a rickety chair and she followed his bent body into a cramped back office. Old magazines and used books were stacked in teetering piles, covering most of the floor. They picked their way through the maze and he sat down at a table. Flicking on a bright light, he bent forward slowly and examined the tiny chip under the glass.
“Is it a ruby?” Gwendolyn asked impatiently. “How much is it worth?” she demanded, looking at the back of his fuzzy gray head as he continued to gaze through the lens.
He finally straightened up a bit and looked at Gwendolyn over his shoulder. “No,” he said, gazing at her oddly. “This isn’t a ruby.”
“Aw, darn it,” Gwendolyn said petulantly. She stamped her foot, causing a sprinkle of frizzy hair to rain down behind her. “I knew Skylar didn’t do the gem spell right. Throw it away.”
“Oh no, on the contrary,” Ebekenezer answered, tweezing the chip back into its box and handing it to Gwendolyn. “This isn’t a gem. It is something far more interesting.”
“What?” she demanded, looking inside the tiny box at the shiny little bead. Just then the bells on the front door tinkled, signaling a customer.
“I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. Toads to Toadstools will help you find the answer. And good luck with the Grow Long-Hair Replacement Gel.” He pulled a cane from behind the table and leaned on it as he stood up.
Gwendolyn’s sparse eyebrows shot up, and she touched her hair. “How did you know? Is it longer already?” she piped hopefully, following him toward the door.
“Why good afternoon, Mrs. Vanderpool!” he exclaimed, clasping his hands together in anticipation of a nice fat purchase.
Gwendolyn’s eyes narrowed. She hated to be ignored. “I said, is it longer already?” she demanded, stepping between Ebekenezer and his customer.
He looked up at her head, shaking his ruefully. “Not yet. You are just entering the first stage of the replacement. Be patient my dear, it will come. If you followed the instructions properly,” he warned.
“Instructions, shmucktions,” Gwendolyn mumbled as she mounted her bike and pedaled away. “Mix it up, slap it on, who reads fine print?” But as she parked her bike in the garage and headed for her room, a nervous feeling began to bother her stomach. She had not, in fact, read the spell very carefully at all.
“Best thing to do is forget about it for now and try to figure out what the old geezer meant about the gem spell,” she mumbled, pulling down Toads to Toadstools. After skipping around and skimming for several minutes, her eyes lit on something curious, which she read aloud: “If two opposing forces cast a spell together with different intentions in mind, ‘Dubious Wish Beads’ may result.” Gwendolyn’s thinning eyebrows crept up her forehead in surprise.
She remembered spying on Skylar and Kat one day in the forgotten garden when they had gotten into an argument about the Gem Seed Spell. They repeated an incantation seven times and blew out a red candle, watching the smoke mingle with the air as they envisioned the spell becoming one with reality.
Kat’s eyes flashed in Skylar’s direction. “Did you remember?”
“Yes! I pictured nice strong plants with lots of flowers.”
“No, DUMMY!” Kat shouted. Skylar stared at Kat with her mouth open. “You were supposed to imagine gems, DUH!” she stood up. “Now you’ve ruined it,” Kat said, glaring at her.
“Maybe you should go,” Skylar suggested, and Gwendolyn hightailed it down the nine steppingstones so she wouldn’t get caught spying.
“Dubious Wish Beads,” Gwendolyn repeated with a smile. “Hmm.”



“Oh my God!” Alexa shrieked, tearing her fingers off the pointer. “Were you pushing it?” She looked at Skylar with a hurt look on her face.
“No. That’s exactly what I thought the first time I tried it: that Kat was moving it around, but she wasn’t. Pretty scary, isn’t it? And it totally can’t spell.”
“Yes, it is scary. But it’s fun! Let’s see what else it will say.” Alexa pushed strawberry-blonde curls over her shoulder and stole a peek into the makeup mirror, practicing a cute pout to use on Brendan. “OK. If Brendan were to break up with Ashlyn on his own, would he like me next?”
The triangle instantly began to move, motoring across the board, pointing at letters:

“Why not?” Alexa demanded, and their fingers zoomed around, picking out the terse answer:

“Wow,” Alexa breathed, staring at Sky wide-eyed. “At least it isn’t my fault. Now you ask it something.”
“Will Dustin Coles be in any of my classes?” The pointer sat still for a moment, as if it was thinking, then moved slowly toward the row of numbers and hovered between the 2 and the 3. Then it began to move again and picked out an odd message:


“What do you think that meant?” Skylar asked.
“Either he’ll start out in three of your classes and drop one, or start out in two and add one? That’s my guess.”
“Or someone else will change one of our schedules,” Skylar said, just as the telephone began to ring. They both looked at it curiously, wondering who could be calling. She tapped her cell. “Hello?”
“Sky,” a familiar voice said.
“Kat?” Skylar asked, the shock showing on her face. Alexa stared at her, waiting to see how she would greet her summer friend.
“I just had to call,” Kat said quietly.
“Is something wrong?” Skylar asked, detecting something strange in Kat’s voice. She sat next to Alexa on the bed and held the phone between their ears so they could both listen.
“Yes. I had a premonition that something had gone wrong with the Gem Seed Spell, so snuck into your aunt’s backyard last night and went into the forgotten garden.”
“You did?” Skylar asked, her eyes widening. “And did something go wrong?”
“I’ll say,” Kat answered angrily. “I checked the magic nasturtiums for gems.”
“Yes?” Skylar asked breathlessly.
Kat growled the answer. “And the flowers have all been stolen.”
“Gwendolyn,” all three girls said at once.
“Who’s that?” Kat wanted to know.
“I’m her best friend, Alexa,” she answered loudly, nodding at Skylar, and then pressing her ear against the telephone to hear the response.
“Hmm,” Kat said thoughtfully. “That’s funny, she never mentioned you once. I’ve gotta go. Sky, call me when you can talk and we’ll figure out what to do about the gems.” Click.
“Oh,” Alexa said with a sour expression on her face, “I can’t stand her!”
“You don’t even know her,” Skylar replied, realizing that sometimes she had trouble standing Kat herself.
“You’re sticking up for her after what she just said?” Alexa screwed up her face in a sneer and mimicked Kat in a snotty voice. “Call me when you can talk and we’ll figure out what to do about the gems. Click. Yuck. Whatever.” Alexa finished.
Sky looked at her friend with the Ouija board’s warning echoing in her mind.


Dubious Wish Beads

Gwendolyn fell asleep four days before school started with Toads to Toadstools open across her stomach. She woke up stiff and sore. “Ouch,” she barked, casting the heavy book aside and swinging her thick legs over the side of the bed. Lumbering into the bathroom, she looked down at her big belly and vowed to find a slimming spell today.
She bent over and washed her hands and face, never peeking into the mirror until she started to brush her teeth. When Gwendolyn looked up, the toothbrush fell out of her hand and clattered noisily into the sink as she stared at her reflection, horrified.
“AAAGH!” Gwendolyn screamed, grabbing her head.
Big tufts of hair had fallen out overnight, leaving shiny, pink, bald spots decorating her scalp like a patchwork quilt.
“No, no, NO!” Gwendolyn shouted, squeezing her head as if that would prevent any more hair from falling out.
Her mother’s footsteps pounded up the long, narrow stairway and she burst into the bathroom. “What’s wrong—Oh my GOD!” she shouted, “What happened to your hair?”
“Leave me alone,” Gwendolyn demanded, stomping back into her room and slamming the door and locking it. “I can fix it,” she snarled, reaching for Toads to Toadstools as her mother continued to knock.
“Read the fine print, follow the instructions to the letter,” Gwendolyn spat nastily, thumbing through the pages. “Now you tell me!” Finally locating the directions for the Grow Long-Hair Replacement Gel, she read them slowly aloud.
“Combine aforementioned ingredients in a non-aluminum bowl. I did that. Apply replacement gel to hair and leave on overnight. Check. Original hair should begin to…fall out within three days? I never read that!” Gwendolyn spat. “Long, lustrous replacement hair will start to come in as soon as original hair is completely gone? NO!!!!!!!!!!” Gwendolyn shouted.
The first day of eighth grade was four days away.
Someone would be starting it bald.
“OK,” she said, thinking quickly. “If the slimming spell works as fast, at least I can start school thin and bald,” she said with a gulp, opening the book.
“Weight Backwardsing,” she read aloud, paying very careful attention to every single detail. “To achieve calorie elimination, the following steps must be followed…” She painstakingly read the long and complicated spell, and shut the book with a heavy sigh. “There’s no time,” Gwendolyn lamented.
Suddenly she remembered the Dubious Wish Beads, and opened the tome back up, her stubby fingers smashing through the pages.
“Dubious Wish Beads may grow as the result of two opposing forces combining to cast a single spell.” Gwendolyn pictured Kat yelling at Skylar about flubbing the Gem Seed Spell as light waned in the forgotten garden. “One of the conflicting partners will not achieve their goal; therefore, the remaining magic will be borne out in the Wish Beads.
“Now: If Skylar had imagined nice strong plants with lots of flowers, and she got her wish, then the Dubious Wish Beads must have grown because of the gems that Kat had wanted.” Gwendolyn grumbled a bit, realizing that the magic nasturtiums wouldn’t be sprouting any diamonds or rubies.
“Dubious Wish Beads may be used for three purposes. 1: Granting a single wish of equal or lesser value than the original, ungranted wish.” This sounded too much like math to Gwendolyn, so she read on. “2: The Wish Beads may be transferred to a third party, granting them one wish. Forget that,” Gwendolyn said with a snort. “I’m not giving them away.” She touched the tufts of hair that remained on her patchwork scalp and read the last option. “3. Dubious Wish Beads can be planted, watered with frozen spring water, fed with warm, living fertilizer and—Yeah, right!” Gwendolyn shouted, picturing the poop shovel in the stable and imagining trying to catch ‘live fertilizer’ as it fell out of some horse’s butt. She went back to Dubious Wish Bead definition number one: Granting a single wish of equal or lesser value than the original, ungranted wish.
“OK,” she said, reasoning it out, “the original, ungranted wish was Kat’s: to grow gems inside the nasturtium flowers. So, if I use the beads to get skinny, that is definitely of lesser value than growing rubies.”
She opened Evelyn’s moldy box and peered into the corner compartment, counting the Dubious Wish Beads. “Thirteen,” she said, wondering if any new ones had sprouted in the forgotten garden since she had last checked.
“Hope that’s enough.” Gwendolyn stared into the mirror at her balding head and plump body. She continued to read. “Use the appropriate number of DWB, depending on intensity…now that’s unspecific,” Gwendolyn complained.
“Place DWB in a chalice—at least I have one of those,” she said, picturing the old fountain in the forgotten garden, “and fill with freshly running water. I can do that.” She thought of the trickling stream in the back yard. “During the light of a full moon, drop the beads into the chalice while the water is spinning doesil, repeating your wish aloud until the beads come to a complete stop. When they finally come to rest, your wish will be granted. YES!” Gwendolyn shouted, looking out her window at the moon.
She neglected to read the final line of the Dubious Wish Bead spell:
You must then bury three of the Wish Beads three feet underground, or your wish will reverse within three days.


Weight Backwardsing

Gwendolyn sat down on the moldy cushion, facing the fountain in the forgotten garden, and read the next step of the spell aloud: “Use the appropriate number of Dubious Wish Beads, depending on intensity.” Figuring that this had to be the most important spell of her entire life, she took out the tiny box and dumped all thirteen of the sparkling chips into the crumbling fountain that Skylar and Kat had called, “The Chalice.”
“Fill with freshly running water.” Gwendolyn emptied a thermos that she had filled in the trickling stream. “During the light of a full moon, drop the beads into the chalice while the water is spinning doesil, repeating your wish aloud until the beads come to a complete stop.” She remembered spying on Skylar and Kat when they chanted a similar incantation, stirring the water with the feather from a skinny bird that Skylar had rescued. Gwendolyn pulled out the stolen feather and twirled it in the stream water, spinning the water doesil, or clockwise, like they had. She watched the Wish Beads begin to move as she chanted, “Backwards my weight by fifty pounds, and grow my hair by leaps and bounds. Backwards my weight by fifty pounds, and grow my hair by leaps and bounds…” until the beads finally came to rest.
Gwendolyn breathed a sigh of relief, confident that the spell would work before the first day of school. She pictured herself walking through the front gates and beginning eighth grade fifty pounds slimmer, sporting a new head of thick, lustrous hair.

Gwendolyn woke up sluggishly the next morning, stretching her hands slowly up to feel her head. Her fingertips landed on large, smooth, bald patches between some tiny tufts of leftovers. She sat straight up in bed, grabbing her scalp frantically. “What?!” she croaked in a panic, heaving her body out of bed and stumbling toward the bathroom.
“What the–” Gwendolyn stared into the mirror aghast. “I must be imagining things,” she said, turning away. Lumbering down the hallway to her bedroom, she reached up to feel the few wisps that were left on her head, and wrapped a thick arm around her sizeable belly. “There’s three days left,” she said hopefully. “The Hair Replacement and Weight Backwardsing must just be beginning to work.”

The next day she pedaled toward Ebekenezer’s in a panic. She had gained seven pounds and could barely move her bicycle forward. An ugly scarf covered her bald head, where a stray strand of frizz fought to survive on the shiny pink surface. She staggered angrily into his shop and yelled, “Hey!” when he didn’t notice her immediately.
“My, my. You didn’t heed, you didn’t heed.” He scratched a wrinkled cheek and evaluated her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gwendolyn accused, hands on hips.
“You didn’t bury the beads, did you?”
“Once again, you neglected to follow the instructions to the letter.” He shook his gray head, which reminded Gwendolyn of a dandelion that had gone to seed. “Come, come, there’s no time.” Ebekenezer took Gwendolyn’s fattening hand and led her through the maze inside his cramped back office. Brushing dusty magazines aside, he plopped down on the floor and leafed through an ancient tome.
“What are you doing?” Gwendolyn demanded, licking her dry lips. She scratched her head and the remaining strand of hair came off on her fingertips. “Ah!” she shrieked, flicking the wisp away. “You have to hurry! School’s about to start.”
“Patience, my dear,” he said calmly. “There’s an antidote for everything.”
Gwendolyn sat down on an ancient couch that let out a horrific creak as the wood groaned under her weight. She ripped the scarf off her head, looked angrily at her friend, and pointed at her shiny crown. “Even this?”
“Everything. Even that, if you are prepared to pay attention to each fiery word,” he admonished, arching a pointed eyebrow at her.
Gwendolyn imagined walking into school as hundreds of students pointed at her ballooning body and laughed at her bald head. “Anything,” she agreed.
“It won’t be pleasant,” he warned.
“THIS ISN’T PLEASANT!” Gwendolyn screamed.
Ebekenezer locked the front door and she followed him down a pitch-black staircase into a musty cellar below the bookstore. “I believe I have all the ingredients we need,” he wheezed, mumbling, “I hope you have a strong stomach,” as he pulled dirty bottles off a high shelf and mixed their contents in an old clay bowl. He opened his wizard’s box and poured a second set of ingredients into another container.
“Ugh, that stinks!” Gwendolyn cried.
“One for the head, the other you will drink,” he said, handing her the biggest bowl. “This goes on the empty scalp. Smear it all over and rub it in well. Then we’ll melt the fat.”
Gwendolyn glopped the paste onto her head and rubbed it in, thinking, “Anything beats starting school bald!”
Then she took a whiff of the vile-smelling Weight Backwardsing liquid and debated remaining fat. She had caught a glimpse of a label on one of his dusty old bottles: Bone Marrow Mold. “If I drink this stuff, I’m gonna puke.”
“Well, which’ll it be? Fat or thin, popular or un?” Eb asked, evaluating her. “Pick yer poison.” He planted gnarled hands on his skinny hips and looked at her puffy face.
“This will really make me skinny in two days, if I drink it? You swear?”
He tapped his foot impatiently as the door chimes dinged, and he smiled a peculiar little smile.
Gwendolyn pinched her nose with a thick finger and thumb and gagged down the retched-tasting liquid. She dry-heaved once and forced a burp back down, vowing not to throw up. Moldy bone-marrow fumes tickled her nose. She knew if she sneezed, projectile vomit would fly across the office. Worse than that, she would reenter school as ‘Lardbutt’ with a shiny bald head.
“What’s next?” Gwendolyn rasped.
“Go on home; we’ve done our best. You’ll find out if the antidote worked in forty-eight hours. And when it does,” he called after her, “don’t let your ego turn you nasty!” Gwendolyn let the door slam shut behind her as Eb finished. “Or the spell will slowly reverse.”


Rich and Famous

Malibu was full of snobs. It had been that way since nursery school, where the offspring of rock and movie stars bragged about their rich and famous parents from the time that they could talk. Malibu middle school was no exception. Girls with names like Scout and Moon and Rebel fought for places in front of the mirror in between classes as they planned to pierce, tattoo, and enlarge various body parts.
“Got a smoke?” a tall blonde named Madelyn asked, adjusting her water bra and jiggling herself into place.
“Sorry,” a snotty-thin eighth-grader answered as she brushed her gleaming chestnut hair.
“Hey!” Madelyn squealed happily as the door opened and her girlfriend Darma walked in, pulling a cigarette out of her purse and lighting it. She took a big puff and handed it to Madelyn. She took a hit, and turned to the skinny girl next to her who was busy applying lipstick.
“Want some?” Madelyn asked.
The pretty eighth grader shook her head as she popped her lipstick into her purse, smiling at her reflection. “Don’t smoke,” she said curtly. She had hated Madelyn since kindergarten and wouldn’t put anything in her mouth that she was offering.
“What-ever,” Madelyn said, handing the cigarette to her friend, rolling her eyes and looking enviously at the girl’s lustrous brown hair as she walked out of the bathroom.
Someone had just made an enemy.

The enemy crossed Madelyn’s path again at lunchtime. The cafeteria line was another place where Malibu teens had a chance to one-up each other.
“I’ll take one, non-fat yogurt please,” Madelyn announced.
“Tuna salad, dry, lemon wedge,” Darma said loudly, looking around to see if anyone who weighed a few ounces more than she did had heard her.
The skinny eighth-grader was next. “Cheeseburger and fries.”
Madelyn and Darma turned around and looked at her. “Blegh,” Madelyn said, looking at the hamburger and shuddering. “Dead cow is so disgusting!”
“How can she eat like that and stay skinny?” Darma hissed, and Madelyn shrugged.
The eighth-grader heard it all. She dipped a long French fry into a huge pile of Ketchup and stepped up close to Madelyn, holding it out. Several girls who had heard the exchange swiveled around to look, hoping Madelyn was about to get pelted with Ketchup. The pretty brunette twiddled the fry in Madelyn’s face before popping it into her mouth. “Mmm…” she said, “bet you wish you could eat like me.” She swished away with half the class watching her, impressed.
Gwendolyn had won that round.
Baiting Madelyn was fun. Remembering that it was she who had first named Gwendolyn ‘Pugsley’ in second grade, and realizing that Madelyn had absolutely no idea that old Gwendolyn was hiding inside the skinny eighth-grader’s body, Gwendolyn took advantage of her twiggy new frame and long-haired disguise.
She made all new friends and brand new enemies.
In remedial math, Gwendolyn leaned over, letting her hair brush across the arm of a cool guy named Rock as she whispered in his ear. “Did you hear the news? That girl over there—I think her name is Maddening or something?”
Gwen nodded.
“Yeah?” Rock asked, leaning into this cute new girl, anxious to hear a secret about his ex-girlfriend.
“We were in the bathroom at the same time and I heard her tell her friend…” Gwen looked over her shoulder to make sure Madelyn knew she was gossiping about her. “She said she’d been cheating on him the whole time they were together.”
Rock faced the chalkboard seething with anger, and Gwendolyn smiled smugly.

A redheaded girl with knobby knees and big feet desperately needed to make a cool new friend. She passed Gwen a note in American History: That cute guy in the back row has been staring at you since the bell rang. She looked over hopefully, wishing that the thin girl with gorgeous brown hair would write back.
“I know,” she penciled, as if she couldn’t care less.
“I’m Kimbra and you’re lucky!” the redhead wrote. “You should say hi to him after class.”
Never having spoken to a cute boy before, previously-unattractive Gwendolyn decided to pretend she wasn’t interested. Anything was better than making a fool of herself. She shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. And intrigued him with her disinterest.
The good-looking guy caught up with Gwendolyn on the way to the bus stop after school. He jogged up behind her, tapped Gwen on the shoulder and smiled as he thought up something interesting to say. “History sucks.”
“I like it,” Gwen retorted, tossed her new long hair over a shoulder. “It teaches you not to make a dumb mistake twice,” she said, holding her breath and hoping she sounded cool. The cute boy walked away from her, feeling stupid. Gwendolyn watched his back, wondering why her smart comment hadn’t made her feel as good as it should have.
On the bus ride home, Gwendolyn found a seat alone, and was disgruntled when a hefty seventh-grader wedged onto the seat next to her. “Excuse me,” Gwen said rudely, scooting over as far as she could into the corner and giving the boy a dirty look. The bus trundled down the canyon for a mile and then pulled over and stopped.
“I have a thyroid problem that medicine will help,” the boy said softly. “Too bad there’s no cure for your attitude.” He ambled off the bus leaving the rest of the passengers laughing at Gwendolyn as her cheeks turned bright red.

Walking through her queer house after school, Gwendolyn looked out the window at the Malibu hillside as a thick bank of fog rolled in across the ocean. She hurried out the back door, passed a burbling stream and a bunch of weeping willows, marched between two eucalyptus trees, and came out in front of a fern-lined path.
Quickly striding across nine steppingstones, Gwendolyn opened a little wooden gate and stepped inside the forgotten garden. She stomped past dead ferns that had died of thirst, and crushed the tall weeds that had sprouted up all around the dried-up pond. Bending down in front of the magic nasturtiums that she had managed to water, Gwendolyn parted their round leaves, searching for any buds that may have just opened.
A tangerine-colored flower with bright yellow blotches on the petals had grown a tiny Dubious Wish Bead in its center. She plucked the flower and crushed the petals around the bead, stuffing the whole thing into her pocket.
A brisk wind wafted through the forgotten garden, distracting her. Gwendolyn failed to feel the angry pair of eyeballs that were staring a hole in her back.


“She isn’t the thief.”

“Come home right after school,” Skylar’s mother said, planting a kiss on her cheek. “We’re going to Caroline’s for dinner for my birthday.”
Skylar’s heart sped up as she thought about the magic garden in her aunt’s back yard. I can finally check on the gem seeds! Maybe I’ll even call Kat.
Walking out the door, a nervous feeling tickled her stomach as she remembered what had happened over the summer. Upstairs in Kat’s room, she led me to the fire quadrant, and we sat down inside a ring of sparkling red crystals and purple amethyst geodes that Kat had found in the Malibu hills. She lit some rose-scented incense and a fat red candle, and then opened a black box.
“What’s all that stuff?” I asked, peering inside. The interior of the box was separated into tiny compartments containing little crystals, snips of herbs, sacred stones, and other smelly items I couldn’t identify.
“A witch’s starter kit my sister helped me with.”

Sitting in the backseat on the way to Malibu later that afternoon, Skylar pulled out her new cell phone and dialed nervously.
Kat picked up on the second ring. “Hello,” she said calmly, as if she knew who would be calling.
“Hi, Skylar.”
“How did you know?” Sky felt the familiar tingle, remembering how psychic Kat was.
“It was time,” she said vaguely. Skylar figured maybe Kat had gotten caller ID and was acting mysterious to impress her. “What’s new?”
“I’m on my way to my aunt’s house for dinner for my mom’s birthday. I’m going to check on the forgotten garden, and thought maybe you’d want to stop by and look at it with me.” Her father rounded a curve in the canyon and Skylar felt dizzy as the car climbed the steep hill as she waited for Kat’s answer.
“Oh, I’ve been there plenty since you left.” Her voice darkened. “I told you, someone has been stealing the gems. I thought at first it was Gwendolyn.”
“What?” Pressing her finger to ear as they descended deeper into the canyon, Sky hoped the phone wouldn’t cut out before hearing the answer.
“She isn’t the thief.”
“Who is?” she asked loudly, cramming the phone into her ear as they drove into a thick bank of fog.
The phone died in her hand.

Twenty minutes later Skylar walked through a tall, skinny entryway into her aunt’s house. She looked up the narrow walls into the second story skylight that was covered with spider webs.
“Samantha,” Caroline sang. “Happy birthday!”
“Thank you,” Skylar’s mom answered, hugging her sister. “Where’s Gwendolyn?”
Gwendolyn had tormented Skylar from the time she was four and Skylar was three. They had barely tolerated each other, until the last day of summer when Gwendolyn promised to water the forgotten garden until Skylar returned. Skylar had her doubts that her cousin had gone in there even once, and worried that all the magic nasturtiums might have already died. Until she heard from Kat that someone had stolen them instead.
“She should be down soon. I think you’ll be shocked at the changes she’s made when you see her,” Caroline bragged. “Apparently, she was hiding under a LOT of clothes and losing weight while grew her hair out. She shocked us all on the first day of school, I’ll tell you that.”
Skylar tensed as she walked into the living room and heard a floorboard creak in a hallway far overhead. She looked up at a round mirror that was bolted to the ceiling above a spiral staircase. It made the stairway seem to go on forever, but it really went nowhere. Just as Skylar started to get dizzy staring into the never-ending stairs, a pretty girl walked into the room.
She did a slow pirouette with her skinny arms held out to her sides, then swished long, lustrous hair over one shoulder.
“Hello, Skylar.”


A Wicked Smile

“Gwendolyn?” Skylar and her parents said in unison, staring at her with their mouths hanging open.
Gwen arranged an amused look on her face. “Hello.”
“What…you?” Skylar’s mother sputtered.
“Got thin? Grew my hair?” Gwendolyn guessed sarcastically, planting a thin arm on a narrow hip. The other hand was in her pocket, fingering a flower containing the last Dubious Wish bead.
“Yes dear, you look beautiful,” Skylar’s father said nicely, patting Gwendolyn on the shoulder gingerly, as if he were afraid to touch her.
“Thanks, Unc.”
“Shall we all go into the den and have a cocktail?” Gwendolyn’s father asked, ushering everyone out of the entryway, past a staircase and into the den. Sky raised her eyebrows at her mom, shocked at the drastic change in Gwendolyn’s appearance.
While her father poured the drinks, Gwendolyn stared at Skylar smugly. “So, Skylar, what’s new?” she sneered.
“My name, for one. I go by Sky now.”
“OK, Sky, and you may call me, Gwen. Like all the popular kids in Malibu do.”
“Been on a crash diet, Gwen?” Skylar asked under her breath while their parents toasted.
“Must be all that exercise I got tending the nasturtiums,” Gwen retorted, smiling wickedly.
“What?” Skylar asked, clamping her jaw shut as Gwen walked away laughing. “Excuse me, I need to use the ladies’ room,” Skylar said to no one in particular, running down the hall and digging her cell phone out of her pocket. Slamming the door, Skylar spun around, sat on the toilet, and dialed frantically. It only rang once.
“Hi Sky.”
“Kat,” she whispered.
“I knew you’d call me tonight.”
“The gems. Quick. Who stole them?” Sky asked with her heart pounding. “Tell me.”
“Not Gwendolyn. Some skinny girl with long—”
“That’s her! Call you back,” Skylar spat, slamming her cell phone shut.
Skylar flushed the toilet and stared at herself in the mirror, her blue eyes narrowing as she thought about her dilemma. If I accuse Gwendolyn of stealing the gems, she thought, then I’ll have to tell everyone about the witchcraft, sneaking down to the beach at midnight to search three caves for magic seeds, the Gem Seed Spell…I’ll get in trouble and so will Kat. This won’t work. I’ll have to figure out another plan.

After dinner, while their parents were talking over coffee, Gwendolyn and Skylar met in the kitchen. “So, what were you saying about the nasturtiums?” Sky asked politely while glaring at her cousin’s back.
Gwen whipped around, tossing long hair away from her new, thinner face. “Nothing, Skylar. You asked me to water them after you left, and I just kept my promise.” She let a chuckle escape. “Boy, did I,” she said gleefully, slamming a clean frying pan into a cupboard.
“What about them, Gwendolyn?” Skylar asked.
“Oh…” she answered thoughtfully, folding thin arms across her chest while she stared at the ceiling, “it wasn’t really the nasturtiums themselves that were so interesting.” Gwendolyn leaned forward and spat the next words into Skylar’s face. “It was all of the gems they contained.”
“So, it was you!”
“Of course it was,” Gwen retorted. “You and your freaky friend thought you were sooo sneaky. I knew what you were up to the whole time. With the Gem Seed Spell and the maggot plant…”
“You were spying on us,” Skylar whispered.
“It’s my back yard,” Gwen spat, “my garden, my nasturtiums. They aren’t real gems anyway,” she said, and then abruptly stopped, before she gave anything else away.
“What do you mean, not real gems? What are they?” Skylar sputtered. “And how do you know–”
Aunt Caroline walked into the kitchen then and announced, “Time for desert.”
“They’re something even better,” Gwendolyn said evenly, and her smile gave Skylar the chills.

* * *

“She said they aren’t gems,” Skylar explained, casting a worried glance down the mountain at the rumbling ocean below them. Kat had ridden her bike over as soon as Skylar had called her back. “I have to hurry before they notice I’m gone.”
“Go on, then,” Kat said angrily, boring a hole into Skylar’s face with her fierce green eyes. She pushed curly black hair away from her thin cheeks and leaned in to hear Sky’s whispers.
“Gwendolyn was spying on us all along. She knows about the Gem Seed Spell and the maggot plant, and she’s the one who took the gems. Except she says they aren’t gems.”
“How does she know that?” Kat demanded.
“I’m not sure. But they must be something magic. You should see her. She must have lost fifty pounds and her hair grew about a foot. In a month!”
“Whatever they are, I want them back,” Kat said angrily.
“Me too. I’d better go,” Sky said, creeping back towards the doorway. “I’ll call you if I find anything else out,” she whispered, slipping inside.

That night at midnight, Kat snuck out of her house. She mounted her bicycle silently and peddled furiously over to Gwendolyn’s, her black hair billowing out behind her in a dark cloud. She knew the route by heart, even in the dark, from spending practically the whole summer there when Sky had been visiting. When she reached Gwendolyn’s street she got off her bike and ran around the back of the grounds, crept past the stable, and came upon the forgotten garden from behind. She walked silently across the steppingstones and through the faded wooden gate.
Bright moonlight shined into the garden, and Kat sucked in her breath as she realized how badly it had been neglected since Skylar had gone home. “That little witch,” she whispered, thinking of Gwendolyn, “of course she didn’t water or weed the flowerbeds. Even the pond has been drained.” Kat rubbed the lavender amulet she wore around her neck, bending down by the empty pond where she knew wild sage was growing. She pinched off a sprig and tore off a little jasmine too, rubbing these around in her pocket with three sacred stones she had brought with her for luck.
“Now,” she mumbled to herself, “the magic nasturtiums.”
Kat turned on a tiny flashlight that was fitted with a purple Black light bulb, and pointed it toward the area that she and Skylar had cleared before planting the gem seeds. Peculiar-looking rosebuds and shriveled hibiscus blossoms glowed evilly in the fluorescent light. Kat whirled around when she heard a crunching sound behind her as a rat scurried into a dead bush. A moist ocean breeze blew silently through the flowers, chilling Kat’s neck and rustling dead leaves around in a nervous little circle.
Shaking off her fear, Kat remembered that the last time she snuck into the forgotten garden there had been a tangerine colored bud that was poised to open. She knelt by the plant and aimed her flashlight at a scrawny, empty stalk. “Gwendolyn,” she hissed. Kat parted more of the flat round leaves and searched for new blooms. At first, she didn’t see anything but the bent and broken stems that Gwendolyn had ravaged.
Then the Black light lit on something new.
Kat bent forward and held her breath while she parted two tall shoots and stared at a creepy new bud.
Something inside the bud stared back at her.


Eyes round with Terror

Kat could not believe that she was staring right into another pair of eyes! She looked at the clouds swirling against the black sky, and then back at the possessed plant. The bud blinked at her and then sealed itself shut.
“I must have imagined that,” Kat whispered, but she didn’t believe her own lie. She looked up at Gwendolyn’s huge house. All of its windows were dark, but something shadowy was moving around behind a small dark one upstairs. “The attic,” Kat muttered nervously, as ocean wind crept silently through the forgotten garden, rustling dead leaves and branches in a crackling symphony.
Kat focused her attention on completing her mission. Shining her flashlight deeper into the patch of nasturtiums, she crawled forward an inch at a time, parting stems and searching methodically for flowers. When she reached the back garden wall and was about to give up, she was suddenly rewarded. Thinking of the Gem Seed Spell that she and Sky had so carefully planned and painstakingly carried out, she remembered picturing their spell becoming one with reality. She had envisioned dark red blossoms spawning giant rubies, blue-white flowers growing massive diamonds, and purple-pink nasturtiums with round opals in their centers.
Kat shined the Black light into a dense patch of leaves, held her breath, and parted them. “What the…” Kat’s mouth snapped shut. She leaned forward for a closer look.
Inside the tall leaves bloomed a thick batch of cherry-red flowers. Embedded in the center of each one was a thick nest of beads. As she leaned forward to pick them, Kat heard footsteps hurrying toward the nine steppingstones. Gwendolyn!
“My power is stronger than Gwendolyn’s.” Kat grimaced, facing the gate and reaching into her pocket. She drew a pentagram in the air with the jasmine sprig and grabbed her amulet with her other hand. After rubbing the sage against three sacred stones and kissing her fingers, she flicked the sage toward the gate.
The footsteps stopped.
After muttering a quick safety spell, Kat crawled back to the nest and plucked off the beads as fast as she could, jamming them into her pocket. A grim smile crept across her lips as she decided to leave a little surprise behind for Gwendolyn.
She pinched off each of the five main stems at a different height, and rested a sprig of jasmine across them, hoping Gwendolyn was smart enough to realize someone had visited the forgotten garden. Her and Sky’s garden!
Kat clenched her teeth with determination as she walked bravely back down the steppingstone path.

Thick fog ballooned over the sand at Zuma beach Sunday morning. The slate gray ocean was deadly still. The house that everyone in the neighborhood thought was haunted perched silently on the hill, shrouded in shadow.
Gwendolyn trotted down the faded rose carpet towards her bathroom, smiling to herself, remembering the look on Skylar’s face when she first laid eyes on her new, slim body. And she loved the comeback she’d retorted at her sputtering aunt: “What…Got thin? Grew my hair?” HA! Gwendolyn thought. That was hilarious.
But it wasn’t as funny as Madelyn’s expression when the skinny new girl twiddled a French fry in her face as her classmates laughed. And it wasn’t as funny as Rock’s shocked look when Gwen dropped the bombshell that his recent ex had been cheating on him for a whole year.
Grabbing a sweatshirt as her skinny body was suddenly chilly all the time, Gwen ran out the back door and headed for the forgotten garden. She needed a new crop of wish beads for an urgent purpose, and nothing would stand in her way. I need to get enough confidence to talk to the popular boys before they figure out I’m a former geek, Gwendolyn thought, remembering with embarrassment how her snotty comment about history had offended the cutest guy in her class.
Creeping through the dead weeds and wilting flowers, Gwen crawled up to the nasturtium patch: the only part of the garden she had bothered to water. “Come on, gimme some wish beads,” she hissed, bending down to take a look. “What the heck?” she spat, noticing the bent and broken stems and examining the jasmine stems Kat had left for her to find. “Who stole the beads?” Gwendolyn rasped. And her voice was pure evil.
After searching the nasturtiums and coming up empty, Gwen sat down in front of the chalice, bent over, and gazed into a cloudy puddle of rainwater and dew. When she looked at her reflection, last year’s chubby, round face stared back at her.
“No!” Gwendolyn screamed. She shot up off the stool and bent over the chalice for a second look. Her new, slim face gaped back, eyes round with terror.

Here’s where we left off:

1. Kat stole the new crop of wish beads. What will she do with them?
2. Gwen saw her previously chubby face in a puddle and was terrified. She should remember Ebekenezer’s warning: “Don’t let your ego turn you nasty!” Gwendolyn let the door slam shut behind her as Eb finished. “Or the spell will slowly reverse.” What will happen to Gwendolyn?
3. What does Gwendolyn do with the hair she stole from Skylar’s brush?
4. Skylar realizes the gems are something else: “But they must be something magic. You should see her. She must have lost fifty pounds and her hair grew about a foot. In a month!” How will Skylar ruse her detective skills to figure out what the “gems” actually are?
5. How should this story end?

The winner of the best creative ending to this story will get a writing credit with Carrie Cross for Gwendolyn’s Revenge, which will be published on Amazon! The winner will also receive a free autographed Carrie Cross novel.

Enter to Win a FREE autographed copy!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Mystery of Shadow Hills by Carrie Cross

The Mystery of Shadow Hills

by Carrie Cross

Giveaway ends July 07, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Mystery of the Missing Heiress by Carrie Cross

The Mystery of the Missing Heiress

by Carrie Cross

Giveaway ends July 14, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress chapter 1


  1. Nerves
  2. Confrontation
  3. The Diamond
  4. A Test
  5. Daniel Gannon
  6. Secret Code
  8. The Principal’s Office
  9. ACE
  10. Decoding the Secret Message
  11. “You’re ditching?”
  12. Totally Annoyed and Completely Attracted
  13. A Trap Door in the Library
  14. Secret Passageway
  15. Horrible Mural
  16. In the Black Light’s Glow
  17. A Clue in an Article
  18. 3 Palms at 10
  19. Threatened
  20. A Map in the Door Handle
  21. Secret Weapon
  22. PMS
  23. Partners
  24. Jealousy
  25. A Fake, Pretend Member
  26. Daniel’s Challenge
  27. 7 x 17 x 37
  28. No Time to Run
  29. Inside Daniel Gannon’s House
  30. Xandra’s Diary
  31. Broken
  32. Coded Clues
  33. The Hidden Message
  34. A Mysterious Key
  35. AFX
  36. Clues in the Diary
  37. Rage
  38. Honesty
  39. The Pier
  40. Seven Rocks by Seven Rocks
  41. The Locked Box
  42. A Shocking Call
  43. The Kiss
  44. Registered Letter
  45. A Limousine Ride to a Secret Location
  46. Solving the Case
  47. Broadcast
  48. The Curse of Koma Island

7:05 a.m. Ruthcat:

Welcome back Pacific middle school Tigers!

7:06 a.m. Double D:

Tigers rule! Undefeated in hoops—Yeah Baby 😉

7:08 a.m. Madpat:

Check yourself. Did U get the diamond? Don’t be a left-out.

7:10 a.m. Trishbliss:

What Diamond?

7:11 a.m. Anonymous:

What dinomd? Duh—THE dinomd.

7:15 a.m. Ruthcat:

TB, ignore Anonymous. Hey Dummy—we all know who can’t spell.

7:16 a.m. Double D:

True dat.

7:22 a.m. Madpat:

Anonymous: Watch ur back.

7:24 a.m. Anonymous:

O now Im scraed.

7:25 a.m. Madpat:

U shd b. It’s on.

7:35 a.m.  Anonymous:

Yeah, right. LOL. Bring it.


Chapter 1: Nerves

The first day of school always makes me nervous. I worry that I won’t find my classrooms on time and I’ll walk in late while everyone laughs. To make things worse, on the first day of the Spring semester of seventh grade, it was pouring. I mean really pouring. I’d looked forward to going back to school all through Christmas vacation, hoping I would have some cute boys in my classes. Specifically, the one I’d been crushing on for three years: Dustin Coles. Plus, nice teachers and as few mean girls as possible. But a horrid thought was rattling around in my brain. Would I be stuck with the bully crew in my core subjects—or worse, gym class? Seeing them online on our school’s underground website was bad enough. Sharing classrooms with those girls would be my worst nightmare. I couldn’t wait to get back to Pacific to see who I’d be spending the semester with: friends, or enemies?

Outside, the rain pounded down, bouncing up off of puddles in the yard and sheeting down our kitchen windows. While I ate a bowl of cereal, I worried about what would happen when I walked onto campus. Ever since I solved my last case, my mom, dad, students at my school—basically everybody has given me a bit of a hard time. Reporters call me everything from “the teen sleuth” to “the 13-year-old genius.” How embarrassing.

Truthfully, I think they’re all a little jealous. The adults: because I decoded a bunch of clues and dug up a hidden jewelry box that they should have been able to find, but couldn’t. Everyone else: because I got attention, was interviewed on TV, and got to keep the jewels. Not that I could sell them or anything until I turned eighteen. They were locked up in a safe, and I was still just regular Skylar Robbins, teen detective. To be honest, I wished everyone would just forget about it. Unlike some of the girls at Pacific, I didn’t enjoy all the attention. Except maybe from one particular extremely cute boy.

“Ready?” My mom trotted down the last few stairs. Her briefcase was in one hand and she smoothed down her shoulder-length, brown hair with the other. Mine was darker and much longer, and I twisted it around one hand impatiently while I waited for her. “Have everything you need, like an umbrella?” she asked me.

“Yes. Umbrella, laptop for lessons, spiral notebooks for taking notes, pens, bus money for the ride home.” My Porta-detective kit was shoved in the bottom of my backpack in case I discovered clues to a new mystery, but she didn’t need to know that.

Made of metal and covered in pink leopard spots, my Porta-detective kit contained smaller versions of my most important spy tools. Mini-mag glass, and tiny binoculars. A round mirror disguised as a compact was perfect for spying on people behind me. And my Uniprinter. This was a one-inch square stamp pad with black ink and a tiny tablet of paper attached to the back, useful for taking a single fingerprint.

Porta-Detective Kit

I glanced at my watch. “Mom. We need to leave, like right now.”

While we headed for the garage, I thought about my detective agency. I’d always figured my first big case as a professional sleuth would be an easy one. Finding a missing pet, solving a petty theft, or spying on someone’s boyfriend to see if he were cheating. Nothing that would get me in trouble, put me in danger, or change my life forever. Well, I was wrong. Way wrong. And as soon as I’d located the hidden jewels, a much more challenging mystery fell into my hands.

Three years ago, the famous heiress who’d owned and hidden the jewelry box mysteriously disappeared. The only child of an oil tycoon, Xandra—pronounced Zandra—had inherited millions. She donated huge amounts of money to charity, and she had dated more than one celebrity bad boy. Then suddenly, she went missing. The media loved her, and they reported that she hadn’t left a single clue behind. The police reports agreed that Xandra Collins had disappeared without a trace. Her hundred-year-old mansion was abandoned. Three years later, my parents bought it.

Well, I know one thing from the detective skills my Grandfather taught me: It is almost impossible to disappear without leaving a trace. And if anyone could find a shred of evidence, it was going to be me.

I would end up risking my life trying to solve the mystery of the missing heiress. And worse than that, without meaning to, I’d put my friends in mortal danger too.

Keep on the lookout for this new Skylar Robbins mystery, coming soon in paperback on Amazon.




Skylar Robbins Fun Facts

Please check out my latest interview from Mystery and Thriller Week to learn new Skylar Robbins fun facts!



haracter Interview

  1. Character Name: Skylar Robbins
  2. Role in your story: protagonist
  3. Age: 13
  4. Description: Funny, quirky, vulnerable teen sleuth
  5. Nickname: Teen Detective Skylar
  6. Occupation: amateur sleuth
  7. Location: Santa Monica, CA
  8. Goal in life: to become a private detective like my grandfather and to  open my own detective agency
  9. Motto: Never give up!
  10. Family: Only child of intelligent mom (teacher at UCLA) and dad (scientist/chemist)
  11. Best friend: BFF Alexa O’Reilly: dyslexic, intelligent assistant detective
  12. Current conflict: taking dangerous chances while trying to solve my next mystery
  13. Favorite Food: Peanut butter on Graham crackers, and sushi (not at the same time!)
  14. Addictions: hunting for clues
  15. Pet Peeve: bullies and liars
  16. Favorite Hobby: decoding secret messages
  17. What do you do for fun? Explore new neighborhoods on my bike with my BFF, Alexa.

Favorite childhood memory:
My grandfather’s face popped into my mind, and within seconds I was longing to see him again. Grandpa had taught me all sorts of important skills for finding clues, investigating mysteries, and solving cases. I remembered how he taught me to lift fingerprints like it was yesterday:
 Grandpa treated me to a blue-eyed smile. Then he winked at me and held out his hand with a Kleenex covering his palm. “Let’s see that juice box.” I put the box of Juicy-Juice I’d just finished on the tissue. He moved it onto the table in front of him, careful not to touch the surfaces of the box with his fingers. “This is fingerprinting powder,” he explained, holding up what looked like a jar of dark ash. “Watch,” my grandfather said, sprinkling some of the powder onto the side of the juice box. Then he took a big soft brush and whisked most of the powder onto a napkin.
I leaned closer. A crisp, gray copy of my fingerprint stuck to the side of the waxy box like a decal on the back of my bike.
“Now we lift the print.” Grandpa removed a clear, sticky piece of tape from a roll. He pressed it down on top of my fingerprint, and then very slowly peeled the tape off of the box. “See?” he said, showing it to me. My fingerprint made a perfect picture on the clear tape. “Now let’s mount this on a Case Solution card.” He took a card off the stack he had in his detective kit, and pressed the tape down onto the card, trapping my print. I watched him fill in the case line. Since there was no case number he just wrote, SKYLAR ROBBINS’S FINGERPRINT.

Grandpa handed me the card. “It’s yours to keep. Next weekend we’ll print someone else and I’ll teach you how to compare fingerprints to see if you can find a match.”
“OK,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Let’s print Mom.”
“Let’s,” he agreed, his eyes full of fun.


  1. Dream job: Secret Agent
  2. Favorite part of your day: Getting to school before first period, hoping a cute boy will sit next to me in class.
  3. Pessimist, Optimist, or Realist: Optimist
  4. Beverage of choice: iced tea
  5. Most annoying person in your life: Pat Whitehead, school bully
  6. Taken or single? Single. Any love interests? Dustin Coles and Daniel Gannon
  7. Pets: none right now…
  8. Biggest Fear: failing to solve a mystery
  9. Guilty Pleasure: Telling secrets in sign language with Alexa
  10. Most embarrassing moment: Squirting Ketchup on my pink pants and smearing it into a big stain before going to class with Daniel.
  11. Greatest Strength: Using the tools in my detective kit to find clues and solve mysteries
  12. Greatest Weakness: I feel bad when I take dangerous chances and hide it from my parents.
  13. Who do you most admire? My grandfather: a retired police officer.
  14. Are you keeping any secrets? I take my Porta-detective kit to school in my backpack in case I need to dust for fingerprints or examine something using my Mini-Mag glass.
  15. Where do you see yourself in ten years? As a secret agent, traveling the world on top secret missions.
  16. Advice for the reader as they follow you through your journey? Learn to solve riddles and decipher clues using my detective skills. Crime scenes are three-dimensional: look for clues on the floor, all for walls, and the ceiling. Palm a compact to spy on people behind you. Learn sign language and Morse code so you can communicate without talking or when solving a mystery underwater.

The Mystery of Shadow Hills (The Skylar Robbins Mysteries) by Carrie Cross 
4 stars out of 5

​Of course, I am not part of the intended audience for this book, so my view might be a bit skewed by my age. Despite my age band, I was able to read it, and that in itself says something, considering the fact that I’m – unfortunately – a very picky reader and I get bored easily.
That being said, I definitely recommend this book to teenagers. The tone of the narrative is light enough to encourage them to continue reading and the plot is interesting enough for a twelve or thirteen-year old. It really made me remember some of the books I read when I was that age.
The protagonist is Skylar Robbins who wants nothing else in life but to be a Private Investigator like her late grandpa. The writer did a good job in presenting this young girl. It is believable and well anchored in the reality of the respective age. She has all the confidence and doubts characteristic to someone of her age and a young reader could identify themselves with her. The character is well developed and I think that the narrative in first person might have contributed seriously to that.
I always try to avoid writing a synopsis of the books I review and I will do the same here. Keeping in mind that the novel is for a young audience, I would say that the author succeeded in her task. Either she remembers how it felt and how one thought at that age or she is a good psychologist. Anyway, she did an amazing job in her incursion in the young psyche.
One thing might detract from the quality of the book (again, I repeat, I am trying to see the book through the eyes of a young reader): too detailed descriptions. I, for one, liked them, however, a young reader might not have the patience to read them.
On the whole, this is a good book for the intended audience. I would recommend it. 

The Mystery of Hidden Jewels (The Skylar Robbins Mysteries) by Carrie Cross 
5 stars out of 5

I read this second book of the series the same day as the first and probably that’s why the impact is so strong. If the first book in the series seemed good enough for a teenager, this second book was good enough for an adult, even though the protagonists kept being the same teenager as in the first one.
This novel is a real surprise. Authors evolve in time. Their writing gets better and better – if the writer is good to begin with, of course. However, it is surprising to see so much development in a second book. The fluidity of the story mesmerizes and simply catches you in: you can’t put the book down. I read it in one sitting.
The main character was developed in the first book, but here there’s much more substance. The author surprises the teenager’s evolution and if the first book Skylar was just a curious girl, tattering on the brink of evolution, now she becomes really interesting: there are some doubts but not so definite. She has the courage to stand for her convictions and thus the story becomes catchier.
I recommended the first book – mostly to children between 10 and 13. This one goes beyond that age band. If someone likes a good mystery, a fluid plot, catchy dialogue, then, they should read this book.

Skylar Robbins Book 3: Next Clue



Right after 13-year-old sleuth Skylar Robbins solved The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels, a new mystery tapped her on the shoulder. Three years ago, wealthy heiress Xandra Collins disappeared without a trace, leaving her Santa Monica mansion abandoned. Three years later, Skylar’s parents bought it. Xandra had left just one mind-bending clue to her disappearance behind: a secret message written in code.


Once Skylar finally decoded that message, she was in for a world of danger. Teaming up with the smartest, cutest boy in middle school, Skylar and Daniel follow Xandra Collins’s clues, trying to determine what had become of the missing heiress. They ultimately discover a hidden box containing the key to the whole mystery.

What do you think the box contained? Post your guess using your secret code name in the comment section. If you don’t have a code name, get one here. Every entry qualifies to win a signed copy of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress. Winners will be announced when the book becomes available.


Carrie Cross performs a Live Reading of Skylar Robbins

Live Reading by Carrie Cross at the Waterford Public Library

It was wonderful meeting everyone at the Waterford Public Library in Waterford, Wisconsin Friday August 7th during my live reading of Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills. The librarian, Tricia Cox, planned some fun crafts for the kids, including drawing with invisible ink pens, and using a fingerprinting kit with different colored ink and stamp pads.

After reading chapter one from The Mystery of Shadow Hills (Author Carrie Cross, Teen Mystery Press 2013), I signed books and took pictures with all of the Skylar Robbins fans. Then we had a drawing for prizes! Five kids won free toy binoculars to start their own detective kits, and one girl won a signed copy of The Mystery of Shadow Hills. Thanks to everyone who attended, and to Marjorie Stark Suto photography for recording the event. It was a lot of fun and I hope to come back again next year after publishing, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress (Teen Mystery Press, 2016).