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Hardcover Book Details
  • 05/2019
  • 9781947860346
  • 148 pages
  • $25.95
Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball
\tSimone LaFray had never questioned one thing - the character of her father. A fourth generation chocolatier and proprietor of a world famous patisserie, in her eyes he could do no wrong. However, her eyes were trained to see everything that was wrong. A covert agent with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this extraordinary 12-year-old was living a double life, walking in the veiled footprints of her mother, icing eclairs, dusting pastries, and darting between the shadows. What could be sweeter? When a notorious thief returns to Paris seeking revenge against her mother, a series of unforeseen and potentially devastating events ensue, leaving Simone to question everything. Her father can’t be the man they say he is, can he? Her concealed life is evaporating, the store hangs in the balance . . . and did I mention she needs a ball gown? Life in a French patisserie may not be as sweet as you thought. Simone LaFray and the Chocolatier’s Ball pulls the invisible girl out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Is she ready?
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.00 out of 10


Plot: O’Farrell's novel boasts a clever mystery plot with satisfying twists and surprises and inspired sleuthing from its heroine, twelve-year-old Simone, in a variety of appealing Parisian settings. This middle grade mystery is buoyant and inviting, but its pacing is inconsistent, and quite a few chapters pass before the plot really kicks in and Simone is tasked with outwitting Le Volpe Russo, a thief of counterfeits. The novel's structure and plotting resembles that of a later book in a series rather than the first, as Simone here already is a respected agent of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, along with her mother. With that status quo already established, the novel's first third offers little suspense or narrative momentum as it introduces Simone's double life, where she already knows everyone, excels at her duties, and faces little conflict.

Prose/Style: Much like the pastries and the Paris he describes, O'Farrell's prose is rich, striking, and memorable -- if occasionally a little indulgent. Simone's world is rendered with wit and vigor, and O'Farrell understands that young readers shouldn't be talked down to. He presents a clever girl's clever thoughts and lets them barrel on. Sometimes, the description becomes a little thick, as in the multi-page introduction to Simone's father's patisserie, and O'Farrell's tendency to overload dialogue tags with description slows some scene's momentum.

Originality: The setting, the characters, the witty mystery, the surprising clues -- simply put, Simone LaFray and the Chocolatiers' Ball stands alone as a young readers' novel of vigorous comic invention.

Character Development: Confident, brilliant Simone is a standout creation, a young girl so certain of her extraordinary nature that she takes pains at all times not to stand out. O'Farrell mines warm humor from the contrast between patient, observant Simone and her pastry chef father, and the story gains power and excitement when Simone's father seems to become a target of Le Volpe Russo. That's essential, because Simone starts the novel as an established spy, respected by the government, and never really has much to prove to herself or to readers. The revelation, late in the book, that she's also one of the most bewitching singers in Paris, might be one extraordinary trait too many for a relatable protagonist.

Date Submitted: July 09, 2020

This colorful middle grade debut from O’Farrell, set in present-day Paris, follows a particularly perceptive 12-year-old girl as she balances a family scandal with the challenges of a budding espionage career. Following in her mother’s footsteps, Simone LaFray is a secret agent for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her mentor, Eloise Pilfrey, assigns Simone to catch the infamous thief Reynard Baresi, aka la Volpe Rossa (the Red Fox), who may be plotting to steal a painting from the Musée d’Orsay. Simone thinks she’s seen la Volpe lingering around her father’s famous bakery, LaFray’s Patisserie, where Simone assists her father, Louie. One Sunday, someone breaks into the patisserie and steals their beloved recipe books that have been passed down for generations. Now she has an additional mystery to solve.

As Simone narrates this story, readers will be amazed by her observational skills, which add a heavily descriptive layer to the story (“Since I was six, I could tell the handwriting and doodle marks of each inscriber”) and provide her with helpful clues. When Louie is accused of being a fraud and baking subpar pastries, Simone discovers someone laced one of their bags of sugar with salt. She becomes determined to find the culprit at the prestigious Chocolatiers’ Ball. The glamor and drama outweigh occasional errors in the non-English terminology and dialogue, and readers will forgive plot-necessary contrivances such as a famous baker never tasting his own wares.

Though Simone is bright (“Doing normal kid stuff made me twitchy,” she confesses) she prefers to be out of the spotlight. O’Farrell skillfully provides two foils: Simone’s theatrical younger sister, Mia, and her bubbly best friend, Gloria V. Cantone (known as the V). Both Mia and the V help dress Simone up for the ball, where O’Farrell reveals several twists. Some readers will wish the ball had been introduced earlier, given its prominence in the title and influence on the plot. This satisfying mystery leaves a few lingering secrets that readers will hope to explore in Simone’s next adventure.

Takeaway: Middle grade readers who love mature protagonists and vivid imagery featuring sweet treats will enjoy this spy story.

Great for fans of Stuart Gibbs’s Spy School series, Lauren Child’s Ruby Redfort series.

Production grades
Cover: A+
Design and typography: A+
Illustrations: -
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: B+

A picturesque summer in Paris turns less-than-sweet as disaster threatens a famed patisserie. When the LaFrays’ handwritten family recipe books are stolen, precocious Simone LaFray, 12, “the most promising agent within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” and daughter of an accomplished spy, must apply her varied skills to help save the books, the business, and the family legacy. O’Farrell presents a high-stakes plot involving Blue No. 2, a coveted painting; La Volpe Rossa, a renowned thief; Sugars Fontaine, a ruthless rival; and a luxurious Chocolatiers’ Ball. Readers will delight in the meticulously detailed cast as the secrets and clues unravel. Though Simone’s voice is unrealistically older, her biting wit and agency make her a memorable protagonist who will appeal to fans of child spies. Ages 8–12. (Self-published)
Hardcover Book Details
  • 05/2019
  • 9781947860346
  • 148 pages
  • $25.95