A Spy in the House (The Agency, #1)
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A Spy in the House (The Agency #1)

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3.79 of 5 stars 3.79  ·  rating details  ·  7,723 ratings  ·  1,031 reviews
Introducing an exciting new series! Steeped in Victorian atmosphere and intrigue, this diverting mystery trails a feisty heroine as she takes on a precarious secret assignment.

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s...more
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by Candlewick (first published April 6th 2009)
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Wendy Darling
I really, really wanted to like this book. I'm a fan of novels set during the Victorian era, as I've always been very interested in how thinking, reasoning people-especially women--manage to survive in such a repressive society. It's the same reason I like Jane Austen novels, because the yearning for connection with other human beings is so often at odds with the strict customs of the day.

There's a tendency now in books for authors to just ignore those rules and just barrel forward with whatever...more
Krystle
Dude, this book rocked my world in all sorts of ways. Asian-American (Woops sorry, she's Asian-Canadian actually) author? Bingo! Asian-ish character? Double bingo! Feisty main character with an even crackalicious chemistry between the two leads? JACKPOT.

My favorite part of the book has to be the interactions between James and Mary. I must’ve cracked up tons of times from their hilarious banter. They just sizzle in their scenes together. After all, if she meets him in a closet there is bound to...more
David "proud member of Branwen's adventuring party"
Mary Quinn displays plenty of charm and wit while working as A Spy In The House. Sadly, tiresome cliches and one-dimensional supporting characters prevent this good read from becoming a great one!

It's 1853 in London, England, and 12-year old Mary Quinn has just been sentenced to die! Convicted for thievery, Mary is saved from the gallows pole at the last moment by a mysterious stranger and brought to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. But much like Mary herself, the Academy is full of secrets....more
Tara Chevrestt
A must read for fans of historical fiction, mystery, and strong heroines. Picture Nancy Drew living in Victorian England and you have the new spunky Mary Lang aka Mary Quinn.

An orphan destined for the gallows, Mary is rescued by a school for girls that is an agency on the side. Her first assignment: Pose as a lady's companion and extract as much information as she can about stolen goods from India. We meet an interesting cast of characters as Mary becomes embroiled in more than the bargained for...more
Sesana
I like the basic concept of The Agency. A group of female spies in Victorian England! It sounds fabulous. A woman posing as a servant, a governess, for example, or a lady's maid or companion, could overhear and quietly collect a lot of things. So I came in ready to love this series.

Unfortunately, Mary Quinn goes directly from being informed that the Agency exists to arriving at her first job. She is apparently given "intensive" training in between, but we don't see even a moment of it. And I don...more
Priscilla
Quick paced, fun, and yes, a cute mystery read! Ah, YA, you are my comfort zone. :)

Initial Thoughts:
1. Great female protagonist! Mary Quinn is strong, independent, determined, and a smart character. She really breaks through society's expectations of 'hollow housewife', and takes risks in finding the necessary information for the case.
2. Ah, sweet romantic tension. This novel is not overly romantic, but the tense relationship between Mary and James is just cute. Seriously, how they meet made me...more
Sara Grochowski
I sometimes find that novels with historical settings can be a bit dry, but Y.S. Lee has rekindled my love affair with Victorian England. A SPY IN THE HOUSE is a fast paced read, narrated by a feisty heroine, bursting with mystery, lies, greed, secret alliances, and, of course, romance.


With her quick wit and adventuresome spirit, Mary Quinn has quickly become one of my favorite main characters! A SPY IN THE HOUSE is set in Victorian London, where Mary’s secret life as a spy is one of the many tr...more
Nafiza
This read like a dream. Yes, I said it. Now if you are anything like me and your bibliophilic life started with raunchy mills and boons (Australian and Kiwi editions) and then widened to include historical romance (which were just as raunchy but did teach me a lot about Bonaparte) you will have some level of familiarity with historical novels boasting of a strong heroine and an intriguing hero. This, I hasten to add, is not to imply that The Agency is a romance novel. Oh no, far from it. Or that...more
Minli
Oh, the Agency. I read you in hopes of reading a version of the Gallagher Girls (spy school!) in the Victorian period (petticoats!), but alas. Here are the ways in which you disappointed me:

1. You play Victorian dress-up, but really, you're a modern girl at heart who likes to swear and call boys by their first names. Also, being a "lady"--I do not think it means what you think it means.

2. I was teased completely by Mary being half-Chinese, but then Lee spoke very little to that experience. That...more
Rachel
Very disappointed in this one as the premise was quite promising. Set in Victorian London, a 17 year old girl goes undercover as a paid ladies companion in a wealthy family to uncover a smuggling scheme. The girl is a student of 'the agency' - a group that takes poor, smart girls and turns them into spies for hire.

One of the things that really caught my attention about this book is that the author has a Phd in Victorian literature and culture. I expected the book to 'ring-true' in terms of the p...more
Amber
The premise of this first book in The Agency series follows sixteen year old half-Irish, half-Chinese Mary Lang/Quinn, a female espionage working for the mysterious Agency. A Spy in the House is full of witty banters and a charming male lead with an acerbic sense of humor. I will admit that occasionally the banter stretches to the point of being unnecessary that I forget about the plot. I’d be enjoying the fighting so much that after Mary and James finally do stop fighting, I remember, OH. RIGHT...more
Kristi
For some reason, I was really apprehensive about reading this novel. I was intrigued by the summary, I loved the cover, but I was lax about picking it up. And even now, I'm not exactly sure why I was hesitant to start it. But I'm glad I finally read it because I was pleasantly surprised!

The setting itself was enthralling... the cobblestone streets and smelly river of Victorian England, don't tell me that didn't get your attention! I even managed to learn a few things, that is always a positive....more
Nikki
I found A Spy in the House to be pretty entertaining, but fluffy. It didn't require much thought or attention: I wasn't bothered by Mum's snoring in the background (a flight from the UK to Italy is so tiring), or the conversations going on just outside the hotel room. Fun, but not taxing.

The whole idea is quite fun: an academy for girls who're down on their luck (the main character is rescued from the gallows in the opening of the book), which can lead -- for some -- into becoming spies, in the...more
Monica!
So here’s a pet peeve of Monica’s: Characters in books that are supposed to have all sorts of skills or attributes, whether beauty or cunning or archery or whatever, but who actually suck at whatever it is they’re supposed to be doing.

I can’t think of an example offhand, except for this book I am about to review. But I know there are a million of them out there, because this is a frequent complaint of mine.

Books like this drive me crazy, kids, because dammit, it’s like… don’t TELL me, author, ju...more
Jaclyn
A Spy in the House follows reformed thief, Mary Quinn, when she starts her first assignment for the mysterious women's detective agency run by her school headmistresses. Mary is placed in the Thorold household as a paid companion for the family's daughter, Angelica. Mary's mission is to use her position to investigate the suspicious shipping company that Mr. Thorold runs. Mary ends up becoming more embroiled than she was intended, eventually unraveling the mystery. However, she also learns about...more
Lindsey
I enjoyed this but did not love it. Spy/Secret agent books have never been a favorite of mine. However I found myself liking parts of this book while reading.

First it's a quick read, it might seem long to most but once you start you keep reading. Even for someone who does not like Spy books I found myself wanting to finish it. I wish I could have given it a higher rating but it got 3 stars from me.

It's London in the 1850s and everything is going to change for Mary Quinn. She is offered to atte...more
Miriam
I was surprised to see from the author bio that Lee has a PhD in Victorian literature and culture, since to me the historical authenticity was the weakest aspect of this book. The characters, particularly our heroine Mary, seem like modern people plonked down in a prior century; their speech and attitudes are not Victorian, and they buck constantly against the norms and mores of the period.

I wished that improbable feistiness wasn't Mary's only personality trait. Also, she kind of sucked at bein...more
Mandiann
A cute but predictable mystery novel. (view spoiler)

It was a funny, enjoyable read. It drew me in right away. I was quite pleasantly surprised with this book and may even continue the series.
Amy
I completely forgot how much I love mysteries. I LOVE THEM A LOT.
There are many things I love in books: spies, mysteries, England (back in the day), hot guys, and disguises. And these are just some. I love EVERYTHING about this book.

I love Y.S. Lee’s writing style. I love the way she captures the time period, the amazingness of Mary, the total hotness and amazingness of James, the suspense and mystery of the plotline, and the way she had me guessing up until the very end. When describing everyth...more
Heather
I've read other reviews, where the writer expressed not having a connection with the characters. I experienced that disconnect with this book. I've only felt that way one other time, but it was more noticeable with this cast of characters. I really didn't care anything about them or what happened at the end. Not even James, the love interest to Mary, could make me want to swoon. Sorry James, but you didn't even make it on my fictional-crush-list...

I'm a huge fan of dialogue, when it is flirtatio...more
Nisha
I'm impressed. I've discovered another historical fiction YA book that gives me the same thrills that Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary "Jacky" Faber, Ship's Boy does. True, Mary "Jacky" Faber is much more show-offy than the blending-in-the-wallpaper heroine, Mary Lang, but they're both ballsy YA heroines.

Mary Lang, our heroine, was rescued from the gallows at age 12 to attend Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls. 5 years later, teaching has become a bore and she long...more
Dyuti
I absolutely L.O.V.E.D this book. Y.S.Lee rightfully deserves all the 5 stars which I have to offer.

Only complain: I wish it was longer, so that I could enjoy it even more!

Confession

To begin with, I do not particularly like reading Y.A novels, as there have been very few which lived up to the hype. Somewhere in my mind I had started to associate them with poor plots, poorer characters and even extremely melodramatic love triangles. But oh no, this book actually made me step back and eat my own...more
Nancy O'Toole
Twelve-year-old Mary has been sentenced to death by hanging due to her crimes as a thief. Before she can meet her fate, she is rescued by a representative of Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, a school dedicated to giving women independence in a world where their options are very limited. Mary accepts, and later becomes a teacher for the school. But at seventeen, Mary finds herself yearning for a more fulfilling career. It's then that she learns that the school is actually a cover for The Agency, an...more
colleen the contrarian  ± (... never stop fighting) ±
I really enjoyed this. I even stayed up late to finish it - it was a quick and light read, and definitely kept me turning pages.

The premise is pretty absurd and I classify it as historical fiction is the loosest possible sense that it's a fictional book that takes place in a generally historical time period - i.e. Victorian London - but it's not based on any real people or events. The Agency is a group of sort of private investigators/spies who are all women - the concept being that because wome...more
Sherwood Smith
I've begun reading this, and about a third of the way through.

Things I like: Mary potentially being other than white bread (though there is very little hint of that so far). The idea of the agency--women trained as spies. Mary relying on her brains and wits. I like Angelica's complexity, and the hint that the mother is not the namby-pamby witless woman she seems.

Things that put me off: In spite of the careful research about London of the time that is shouldered in here and there, the story doesn...more
Jenna
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Cindy
This is a case of complete and total alternate history. Having done quite a bit of research on the condition of women (especially poor women like Mary Quinn) in Victorian England, I can completely understand Y. S. Lee (who is a scholar of Victorian literature) desiring to invent the Academy and the Agency, fictitious organizations that gave positions and power to women who weren't content with their lot or had no other options. The main plot point is obviously completely inaccurate (intentionall...more
Trisha
what a fun little mystery. Mary Quinn is not your average girl, especially in her time and lot in life.

After having a rough childhood, she's been given a second chance. Now that's she trained, she's out for her first case. It should be easy. And it should be pretty straight forward, perfect to train her in the ways of spying as a paid companion to the wealthy.

but things are never as they appear.


Mary was wonderful. strong willed, stubborn and quick to remain polite but not be talked down to or h...more
Lady Salford
I've tried several pre-20th century setting mystery novels but they always seem either a bit too dry or filled with things that I don't like. Not quite exciting. However, I must say that this book was an exception. The plot isn't complicated but it still retains the charm & sadness of the Victorian era mixed in with mystery.

Mary Lang/Quinn evolves throughout the book as she takes her first steps as an agent. It will be interesting to see how her career and her romantic life progress througho...more
Harini Srinivasan
I had high expectations of this book, which promised to bring together some of my favourite genres -- Victorian, mystery, girl power, detection and romance. What a let down! Both plot and characterization are poor, they are just too full of holes and inconsistencies and improbabilities. The Chinese connection was the only strand that actually held my interest, and that unfortunately is the one marked out for being resolved at the end of the trilogy. Too bad I can't be bothered ploughing through...more
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Young Adult Histo...: A Spy In The House - April 2013 9 29 Apr 28, 2013 06:33PM  
Palito de Café: A spy in the house 1 9 Feb 28, 2013 06:40AM  
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Y S Lee was born in Singapore, raised in Vancouver and Toronto, and lived for a spell in England. As she completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, she began to research a story about a girl detective in 1850s London. The result was her debut novel, The Agency: A Spy in the House. This won the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s inaugural John Spray Mystery Award in 2011.

The Agency quart...more
More about Y.S. Lee...
The Body at the Tower (The Agency, #2) The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency, #3) Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4)

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“He laughed, then became serious once more. "Mary............"
The expression in his eyes set her heart pounding. "Yes?"
Twice he began to frame a sentence, and twice his voice seemed to fail him.
And she thought she understood. What could he possibly say to her now, when he was on the verge of leaving forever? Even something as simple as asking her to write to him carried a distinct sort of promis, the type of promise he was ten years and a half a world removed from being able to make.
She forced a polite smile and held out her hand. "Good luck, James."
Regret-and relief-flooded his eyes. he took her hand, cradling it for a long moment. "And to you."
It was foolish to linger. She slid her fingers from his grasp, turned, and began to walk away in the direction of the Academy. She'd gone about thirty paces when she heard his voice.
"Mary!"
She spun about. "What is it?"
"Stay out of wardrobes!"
She laughed, shook her head, and began to walk again. She was smiling this time.”
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“It's terrifying, to be on the verge of finally getting what you want.” 29 likes
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