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A Spy in the House (The Agency #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  11,517 Ratings  ·  1,429 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
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by Candlewick (first published April 6th 2009)
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Daphne Ya! It's a great book, and there really isn't anything inappropriate at all. I would recommend starting with the first book in the series though.

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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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
Feb 16, 2010 Krystle rated it it was amazing
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
David "proud Gleeman in 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.
Jan 15, 2016 TL rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to TL by: xmas gift from Kolleen and Kay
Not bad but not great either... the old/classic "good idea but not great execution"

The premise itself sounded interesting but I couldn't get invested in it. We move too quickly from one event to the next in some cases and some of the connections seem too convenient or not quite believable.

I would have loved to learn more about Mary's school years and the "skills" her benefactors thought she displayed that they thought were good qualities for an Agent. Mental red flags popped up from the beginnin
Mar 25, 2011 Sesana rated it it was ok
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
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
Mar 11, 2012 Minli rated it it was ok
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
Feb 01, 2012 Priscilla rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Tara Chevrestt
Mar 05, 2010 Tara Chevrestt rated it it was amazing
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
Paige  Bookdragon

I thought this is a mystery, action packed book with a dash of romance.

The mystery?
I didn't feel anything.

The action?
Me:I want some dirty fist fight and "running around in London while being chased by the damn crooks" moment.

The book: LOL!No!

The romance?
♪Give me love! Give me love!♪
Sara Grochowski
First read: 6/28/2010
Second read: 4/17/2016 (Just as wonderful as the first time around!!)

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
Aug 07, 2010 Rachel rated it it was ok
Shelves: ya-books
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
Kirsti (Melbourne on my mind)
3.5 stars.

I loved the concept of this book. I mean, a school in Victorian London that trains working class girls to NOT be reliant on men for an income or a roof over their heads? And a school that's actually secretly an agency that sends women out on covert missions for Scotland Yard or whoever, because nobody pays attention to maids and housekeepers and companions? PERFECTION.

I also loved that Mary is a mixed race protagonist. This fact doesn't come out until half way through the book, but I
Hmmm, I liked this, but it also seemed maybe quite not all there? I'm not sure if I think Mary should've put more pieces together or if I think the book should've had more clues. There was also a bit of Mary concealing stuff from the reader--not terribly so, but it inched near the line of being annoying.

Wish I shipped the ship more, too. It's not a major thread, but I always like my romance.
Jul 28, 2014 Maud rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mystery was good, main character was awesome, loved the romantic interest and the ending was amazing. Go pick up this book right now!
Watch my full review here:
Apr 24, 2011 Amber rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 17, 2009 Kristi rated it really liked it
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.
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
Lala_Loopsie [fire breathing B!tch Queen]
This book seemed sooooooo good. Well maybe... it didn't seem, maybe it was.

I can't wait to read the next book.
Jan 26, 2017 Jenn rated it it was amazing
What a great premise this book had; female spies in Victorian England. It was fast-paced, entertaining, contained humour as well as the real struggles women had to face during a time period that is mostly represented as romantic.
The plot was just that, a spy on a mission to uncover secrets, intrigues, shifty intentions and so much more.
The characters, both main and secondary, were very well created and are capable of bringing about a range of emotions from the reader. The protagonist, a multidim
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
Apr 26, 2012 Amy rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 14, 2013 Lindsey rated it liked it
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
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
Aug 17, 2009 Miriam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ya, mystery, victorian
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
Cait S
Aug 08, 2016 Cait S rated it it was amazing
This. Is. Awesome.

A biracial heroine who kicks SO MUCH ass? Yes.

Conversations about heritage and culture and what it means to be biracial and white presenting? YES.


Come ON. This book is everything. These are the kind of female heroines we need. This. All of this. I can't even WORDS IN THIS REVIEW BUT THIS. The writing is awesome, the setting and suspense is built perfectly. I was definitely intrigued by the mystery in the st
Oct 11, 2013 Mandiann rated it liked it
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.
Susan Crowe
Aug 23, 2015 Susan Crowe rated it really liked it
This was a great book. Just a good, old fashioned mystery. No vulgar language. A great reading experience. Already have the next in the series on hold at the library.
Oct 01, 2016 Amanda rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Maybe 4.75 stars, for the one character who seemed to play a pivotal role, but never showed up, and was only mentioned. I thought perhaps by the end, but maybe in a sequel?
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Sinopsis en Español // Synopsis in Spanish 1 3 Feb 20, 2015 09:30AM  
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Palito de Café: A spy in the house 1 9 Feb 28, 2013 06:40AM  
Madison Mega-Mara...: A Spy in the House 1 3 Jul 18, 2012 02:41PM  
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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 about Y.S. Lee...

Other Books in the Series

The Agency (4 books)
  • The Body at the Tower (The Agency, #2)
  • The Traitor in the Tunnel (The Agency, #3)
  • Rivals in the City (The Agency, #4)

Share This Book

“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.
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.”
“It's terrifying, to be on the verge of finally getting what you want.” 42 likes
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