CAPTURE THE FLAG. By Kate Messner. For ages 8-14.

Like a light version of “39 Clues,” this tale wraps together history, mystery and adventure with kids who have important relatives.

Anna, Jose and Henry are all middle-school students from Vermont who happen to be in Washington, D.C., at the same time. They are complete strangers who become fast friends when “The Star-Spangled Banner” is stolen and everyone is snowed in at the airport.

Soon they are running from a man with a snake tattoo on his arm, stealing baggage cars and getting wrapped up in political intrigue as they try to solve the mystery before the airport opens and the flag disappears forever.

What’s good: Action, adventure and a little light peril to keep things interesting.

What’s bad: The plot depends on cliches and is predictable.

THE FALSE PRINCE: Book 1 of the Ascendance Trilogy. By Jennifer Nielsen. For ages 13-16.

This action-packed fantasy is all about political intrigue and whether one quick-witted orphan can save a kingdom. Sage is chosen to become the long-lost Prince Jaron and assume the throne in hopes of keeping the kingdom from falling into civil war.

As he trains, he discovers the seedy underbelly of the treason plans his benefactor is devising.

Sage is a likable, smart-aleck character who will appeal to teens, and the plot twists will keep readers wondering what will happen next.

What’s good: Intrigue and a well-developed hero to which teens can relate.

What’s bad: The plot twists come a little too often and without much subtlety.

McGeath Freeman reviews children’s books for Lowcountry Parent magazine. To see previous reviews, go to