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A Spy in the House

(The Agency #1)

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  16,861 ratings  ·  1,787 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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Average rating 3.78  · 
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 ·  16,861 ratings  ·  1,787 reviews

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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
Jul 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Having accidentally read book three in this series first I went back and read this one - book one. It's always better to begin at the beginning.
It was nice to see how Mary began her career and how and when James came into the story. Now I understand that later book much better. I always enjoy a good historical mystery especially those set in Victorian London. There's something very special about the history of that city and the spookiness of the docks, the fogs and the streets at night.
I thoroug
Feb 16, 2010 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
It's always a fascinating experience re-reading a novel that my younger self absolutely adored. Each time, I find it's like receiving a warm hug from an old friend: familiar in all the ways that matter, comforting, easy to sink into, and you always come out the other end smiling.

My thirteen-year-old self fell in love with Mary Quinn because she was so delightfully clever, resilient, and opinionated at a time when women were expected to be none of those things. There was a dash of romance that se
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 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 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 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
Jun 23, 2018 rated it liked it
I like it. It was interesting. I love the spying and espionage aspect. Also, I have never seen a heroine with a Chinese heritage (she's mixed) in a Victoria era novel before.

The love interest, James, is cool too. I like the bantering.

I don't really have much to say. I like it, but also I can't say that it knocked my socks off. I did get bored at some parts.

I am hoping to see great developments in the later books. 3 stars

Things that you might want to know (WARNING: Spoilers below)
Aug 07, 2010 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
Feb 01, 2012 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 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
An interesting mystery story! I enjoy a good mystery in an intriguing historical setting - such as the Victorian era, in this case. *smiles* And though they were rather rude and infuriating at times, I do like both Mary and James and want to see more of them! There was a smidgen of romance, but mostly arguing, between our two main characters.

Some minor language and misuses of God's name. Also, mentions of mistresses and affairs. If I ever collected this series, I'd have to do a bit of whiting-ou
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
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
I had forgotten all about this series! The first time I read this book, I was 12 and I had absolutely adored it, but I wanted to see if my feelings would change upon reading it a second time (and this time, in french). I'm happy to say that they didn't!

This was still the fun mystery story that I remember reading, and I'm so glad that I picked it up. I won't be writing a full review for this because I'm lazy but I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it.

I mean, there was:
-a half-asian MC, I know, just
Deacon Tom F
Swing and Miss

I was disappointed with this book. With all it's high ratings, I expected some thing special. Whoops! It was just ok!

As for the pacing of the book, it seemed a little disoriented. It started fast and sort of meandered around through the rest of the book. However, it did have a very good ending.
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.
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
Jun 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
This was one of those books that I could have read in one sitting, if I didn't have to eat, sleep, and work like your typical human. I bitterly set it down between shifts at work, and eagerly snatched it up at every spare bit of time I had. I am guilty of walk-reading with this one!

The heroine is a Grade A Bad Ass who is smart as a whip, extremely clever, and sassy AF. The book never really drags since the author brilliantly likes to skip over the more boring bits like training montages and end
Aug 17, 2009 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
Dec 17, 2009 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.
Elliot A
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 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
Jul 28, 2014 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:
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.
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars - This author did a fine job of creating a lively, likable Victorian heroine for the young adult audience and upwards. Of course I am far beyond young adult, perhaps in the almost senile category (sorry, author...not a ringing endorsement I know), and I enjoyed the book and intend to follow the adventures of this young woman. She was about to be hanged for thievery, but was bustled out of the prison by a woman who took her to a school...
"Here at the Academy, we can give you a better ch
Hana (linh_hermione)
Aug 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2021
Not a perfect book by any means, with several things that should have annoyed me more than they did (perhaps it’s unfair to give it four stars in comparison to objectively better books I’ve rated lower), but, I don’t know, I just liked it! And there were enough interesting thematic threads that I think the rest of the series (hopefully) has real promise.

CW: arson; death of a child; references to death of parents; drowning; opium
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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

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)

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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.
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.” 45 likes
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