Skylar Robbins: Excellent children’s fiction, enjoyable by all ages

SHADOW HILLS COVER

By T. Ormiston-smithon September 18, 2014

It’s not easy to write well for children, and Ms. Cross has done a superlative job in this entertaining adventure story.

The book starts with a couple of familiar tropes (the creepy old house, the keen boy/girl detective) and in the opening pages I was expecting a standard ‘Nancy Drew’ kind of offering, albeit very well done. But The Mystery of Shadow Hills unfolds layer by surprising layer, revealing with each turn something that takes us completely off guard. Oh, there’s witches. Oh, no wait, the witches are real and dangerous! Oh, but wait….

Skylar is a wonderfully down-to-earth heroine; there are no child prodigies here, no soaring intellects or paranormal abilities. Just an ordinary little girl with a consuming passion and the patience to learn to use her tools. As we follow her through some really hair-raising experiences, we watch her discover the difference between real and false friendship, and after a few false starts, find her way onto a solid path of common sense.

A wonderfully enjoyable read for ages 8 to 13, but able to be enjoyed by all ages.

Coolly Believable Protagonist and Wise Lessons in an Exciting Adventure Mystery

4 Stars
 This review is from: Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills (Kindle Edition)
     Thirteen-year-old Skylar’s been collecting items for her detective kit, and plans to be just like her grandfather. What she didn’t plan on was staying at her annoying cousin’s mansion in Shadow Hills for eight weeks while her parents tour Europe. The Hills and the attic are off limits, and that’s just got to mean adventure, or even “escape from Malibu!” But by the end of this tale, Skylar won’t be the only person needing to get away.
     Skylar has a nice convincing voice as the first-person narrator of this tween mystery. Teens in her summer art class include the hearing-impaired boy with a happy, outgoing attitude, the genius artist, the skateboarder, the wannabe Wiccan and more, and they make a fine group. But outside school, Sky is soon puzzling over a Ouija board with her new best friend. She practices the arts of magical distraction on the grass of a secret garden, but who can she trust, and will she find a way to be true to herself?
     A pleasing blend of careful detective work, fanciful ritual, nature’s beauty, and tense excitement makes this a cool tween adventure as Skyler grows up, conquers her fears, solves a mystery, and learns wise lessons in friendship and how to live with bullies. Shadow Hills keep their mystery hidden right to the end, but this summer is one to remember, as is the book… and there’s even the chance to develop your own detective kit at the end. Don’t let those magic tricksters fool you!
     Disclosure: I was given a free ecopy of this novel and I offer my honest review.

MYSTERY OF SHADOW HILLS: Fun for the Whole Family! Who Knew?

Amulet and earrings inspired by Skylar Robbins

Amulet and earrings inspired by Skylar Robbins

Another Skylar Robbins reader makes an amulet for protection.

Another Skylar Robbins reader makes an amulet for protection.

Samuel also makes a protective amulet like Kat's and Skylar's from The Mystery of Shadow Hills

Samuel also makes a protective amulet like Kat’s and Skylar’s from The Mystery of Shadow Hills.

After reading the following passage from SKYLAR ROBBINS: THE MYSTERY OF SHADOW HILLS, one family was inspired to copy the creative projects suggested to 13-year-old Skylar by her new BFF, Kat, the Malibu middle school witch:

“I don’t have any ideas yet,” I admitted to Kat. “How about you?”

“I have a bunch of them,” she said, leaning toward me. “We can decorate a special box for our amulets. We can go down to the beach and collect stones with different powers and weave a basket for them. We can embroider spirit pouches and fill them with herbs, feathers, incense, and seashells. We can use our leftover liquid lead and glass stain and decorate a candle holder with Wiccan symbols.”

My new friend was amazing. “What’s Wiccan?” I mouthed.

She looked around. No one was listening. “Witchcraft.”

Interview with Bookingly Yours

Bookingly Yours recently asked me to write a 500-800 word guest post about my inspiration for the Skylar Robbins mystery series:

book cover

book cover

I’ve devoured books since discovering Goodnight Moon as a young child, and when I was four years old I decided I wanted to write. My first “book,” Blackie the Little Black Dog and the Flying Washing Machine (composed in crayon), was surprisingly never published. But I’ve written ever since, inspired by a variety of disparate authors. Many of my favorite books were those I read as a ‘tween. All-time #1 fave? Judy Blume’s, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret. Others include Harriet the Spy, Happy Hollisters mysteries, The Secret Garden, and Zipha Keatley Snyder’s, The Changeling and The Velvet Room. My current influences are Lee Child, Deb Caletti, Sarah Dessen, and Ayn Rand. The series I’m writing features an intelligent thirteen-year-old sleuth named Skylar Robbins, similar to Nancy Drew, but more modern, quirky, and fun. Skylar is rational, independent, and smart, like Ayn Rand’s heroes and heroines. As in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels, Skylar Robbins is the brave, strong-willed protagonist in each book, although every mystery is it’s own separate entity that picks up where the prior novel leaves off.

The initial seedling of inspiration for Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills–the first book in the series–occurred when I was six. My parents decided we needed to move into a bigger house, and we looked at an ancient fixer-upper in Santa Monica canyon. While playing hide-and-seek with the little girl who lived there, I discovered secret passageways and hid inside little closets that opened into other rooms. I never forgot that house and later wondered, “What if there were clues or coded messages hidden in those secret passageways?” And the idea for the Skylar Robbins mystery series blossomed.

I’m an only child, and when I was a young girl I spent a lot of time creating scenarios to act out by myself or with a friend. In middle school we liked to experiment with witchcraft. My friends and I would cook up love potions out of witchy ingredients like peaches, candle wax, and 7-Up, and mutter spells while we flushed burning scraps of paper down the toilet. Truthfully, we weren’t surprised when our spells didn’t have any effect on the cute boys in our class.

But what if they had?

This thought was another nugget of inspiration for the Skylar Robbins series. What if a rational teenage sleuth grudgingly agreed to cast spells with an odd classmate in an abandoned garden–and the witchcraft actually started to work? What if their incantations gave the school bully a serious illness? Or enabled them to grow something unbelievable from seeds they found in a dank cave on the beach at midnight? Imagine the look of horror on that brainy detective’s face when the unimaginable happened. What would that do to a smart 13-year-old who was brought up to believe that there is always a logical explanation for everything? I decided to start fireworks by pairing up this practical sleuth with a feisty teen witch who started to convince her that magic could actually work. And then I lit the fuse.

The Mystery of Shadow Hills inspired several of its beta readers to buy detective tools, and a group of sixth-graders in Oregon even started their own detective agency. Ten of them use the secret codes and detective skills they learned from Skylar to solve mysteries and crack cases at their school. I hope the Skylar Robbins series will continue to inspire readers to use their brains to look for clues, solve problems, and have fun in creative ways. Please stay tuned. Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels comes out next June.