Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage

BookPixar have made their fortunes by providing an easy shorthand, a brand identity built on children’s movies that adults will actually enjoy on their own merits. Children’s books that pull off the same trick can be more difficult to find. Even as adults reading YA lit has become a commonplace, it’s unusual to consider the adult appeal of books in the children’s section. Which is a shame, because the best children’s novels can be every bit as entertaining to older readers, hidden gems that are too often left on the shelf.

Three Times Lucky, the first in the four-book Mo and Dale Mysteries series and one of the most transportively atmospheric books I’ve read all year. Three Times Lucky is chock-full of charmingly eccentric characters drawn with marvelous literary efficiency, especially the narrator, eleven-year-old Moses ‘Mo’ LoBeau. A literary cousin to Scout of To Kill a Mockingbird, Mo is a believable mix of precocious and naive, scrappy but allowed to be scared in situations too big for a child, a smart-aleck and a schemer with buckets of charisma and bottomless loyalty. The mystery and adventure plots of Three Times Lucky are a little too much to be wholly believable (a decades-old bank robbery and a dark and stormy night are involved), but to mind about that would be missing the point. There’s too much to love about Mo, her adoptive family, her friends, and their tiny town of Tupelo Landing, N.C.

It may sound strange to compare a PG-rated children’s book to the dark, heavy, adult subject matter of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects–especially the excellent miniseries version–but actually, it’s surprisingly apt. In both cases, the perfectly-rendered atmosphere of a small southern town, and the outsized characters living there, make for stories that will linger in your consciousness long after their conclusions. While the perhaps more obvious comparison would be to Flavia de Luce (and any Flavia fans should absolutely seek Mo out), I would also recommend Three Times Lucky to anyone who enjoys stories driven by eccentric characters like those in Maria Semple‘s books, or who loves a book with a palpable sense of place.

Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

Book – Anything Is Possible is a set of connected short stories about the people living in the small, rural town of Amgash, Illinois. Retired school janitor Tommy Guptill reflects on the lives of some of the former students as he shops for a birthday gift for his wife. The three Barton siblings attended the school and  we learn about their difficult childhood and lives as adults. Linda Peterson-Cornell relates the consequences of her husband’s voyeurism and infidelities. A war veteran searches for love and redemption. I loved seeing characters through the eyes of different townspeople, as they encountered them in their daily lives. Despite the obstacles and difficulties they faced, there were also moments of grace and hope. I have found myself reflecting on these stories and on the bonds of families and friends. Stout also wrote Olive Kitteridge, My Name is Lucy Barton, Amy and Isabelle and other popular novels.