Monday, December 3, 2012

Secret Letters

Secret Letters
Leah Scheier
ISBN: 978-1423124054
Hyperion, 2012

Plot Summary: Dora Joyce has been born in the wrong century. She could care less about high fashion, coming out balls, and the ultimate goal of a girl’s life—marrying well. She’s much more interested in mysteries and asking questions. Living with her cousin after her parents died, she is left with an even bigger mystery she’s keeping to herself. She found a letter her mother was writing to her that states that her father might not have been her real father. She had been in love with one man who didn’t want to marry and when she got thrust into the relationship and marriage and found herself pregnant she had to hide it and pass it off as her husband’s or be shamed. The most interesting part of this mystery is that her father might in fact be the Great Detective Sherlock Holmes. When she cousin, Adelaide, wants to go to London to seek Holmes’s assistance in retrieving some love letters from before her marriage that she is now being blackmailed with, Dora jumps at the chance to possibly meet her real father and show off her own detective skills that she feels must have come from him. If she impresses him maybe he will take her on as an apprentice. Once there she learns the sad news—Holmes was recently killed in an accident at Reichenbach Falls. Instead she meets Peter Cartwright, a former apprentice of Holmes who now works with another detective and rival of Holmes who is quite the pompous jerk. When this detective decides Adelaide’s case is beneath him he gives it to Peter and Dora soon finds herself caught up in the possible connection between Adelaide’s blackmailer and the recent disappearance of Lady Rose. She convinces Peter to let her help and infiltrates the estate of Lady Rose as a maid. Will she uncover the connection or will she put her own life in jeopardy?

Critical Evaluation: As a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, I was sad to see a chapter or so in that the book takes place after Holmes’s “death” and that he wasn’t going to be in it at all! However, the open ending suggests the possibility of a sequel in which I hope Holmes comes back and meets Dora! Dora is a character out of her time period. A lot of readers will be able to relate to her and the constraints that she finds. Dora wants to be a detective in a time when all girls could hope to aspire to be was a pretty wife married to a well-off (and oftentimes older) man. Therefore, Dora is constantly getting in trouble for her bold and unladylike actions. Peter is a sweet boy with a sad past (his family was massacred before his eyes and he blames himself was surviving) whom readers will want to see get together with Dora. The mystery of Lady Rose and her disappearance is intricately woven into Dora’s story and includes some red herring that will trip up even the most confident of mystery lovers. Overall, it is a great book to recommend to mystery lovers.

Reader's Annotation:  Dora has just discovered that the famous detective Sherlock Holmes might actually be her father. Traveling to London to meet him, she discovers he has died and gets wrapped up in a mystery case with his former apprentice. Can her deductive skills live up to her potential of her real father?

Author Information: Leah Scheier decided she wanted to be a writer around the same time that she learned to read. From an early age she filled notebooks with her thoughts and observations, convinced that one day these scribblings would be unearthed and hailed by literature critics as the beginnings of a great career. She has since carefully hidden away those notebooks. Sometime during high school, wise adults convinced her that writing was not the smartest career choice, unless she wished to spend her life unemployed and hungry, waiting sadly by her mailbox for the publisher’s letter which would never come. So she chose pediatrics. In the evenings after office hours were over and her own children were in bed, she took up writing again. She worked on Secret Letters for a year and a half. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Modi’in, and in her free time enjoys horse-back riding, watching movies, playing the violin, and visiting with family and friends in Atlanta and Baltimore (Scheier, 2012).

Genre: Mystery, Historical

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas: 

Reading Level/Interest Age:  13+

Challenge Issues: Minor violence

Challenge Defense:  If this book were challenged, I would make sure the library has a Challenge Defense File ready for such a situation. Inside the Challenge Defense File, librarians and the public could find:

·        A copy of the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at
·        A copy of the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read Statement (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at
·        A copy of the library’s own selection policy (my library, the La Vista Public Library, has a policy but it is not online so I can’t link to it as an example).
·        A copy of the library’s citizen’s complaint/reconsideration form (my library, the La Vista Public Library’s, form is called the City of La Vista Service Request form).
·        Copies of reviews—both good and bad—from reputable library and publishing services to justify why a book was selected for inclusion in the collection. These include not only reviews from such journals as School Library Journal, VOYA, Horn Book, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist, but also any mention of books on YALSA lists and other copies of articles about any awards or nominations such books may have received.
·        Include a short rationale file for other coworkers so if the librarian in charge of selecting materials is not available when a challenge occurs the other staff members have some information to go by (the rational would include such information as a short summary, what could be challenged, reviews, awards and nominations, etc.)
·        Include for staff members a copy of “Strategies and Tips for Dealing with Challenges to Library Materials,” a document written by the American Library Association. Make sure that staff reviews this document periodically so they are prepared and know how to face such situations. (Can be found and printed from ALA’s website at

Reason for Inclusion: Great historical/mystery book.  


Scheier, L. (2012). All about Leah. Retrieved from

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