Time Castaways: the Mona Lisa Key, by Liesl Shurtliff, for Timeslip Tuesday

If you enjoy quirky time-travel heist stories for middle grade readers, you'll love The Mona Lisa Key, the first book of Liesl Shurtliff's new Time Castaways series (Katherine Tegan Books, Sept. 2018).

Matt, adopted from Columbia, and his two younger (non-adopted) siblings, Ruby and Corey, have grown up spending almost as much time at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as they have at home--both their parents work there.  They've also been very sheltered by their parents, forbidden to roam the city and never using public transportation.  Then one morning the kids, running late for school, decide to take the forbidden subway.  And it turns out their parent's rule was warranted, when the subway car turns into a time-travelling sailing ship.

The captain of the Vermillion crews his vessel with kids more-or-less randomly plucked from different times, and a few grown-ups of mysterious origin.  His interest in these particular kids, as it turns out, is not random at all.  Captain Vincent needs Max to solve a centuries old puzzle.

The first step is stealing the Mona Lisa in early 20th century Paris, at the exact same time that would-be art thieves are trying to abscond with her.  Captain Vincent explains that he's not a thief himself; he simply plucks treasures in danger from their moments of peril to be returned later.  And since the kids know the Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre in their own time, they accept that he's not a bad sort of time-travel pirate.

The Mona Lisa has a secret, and once that secret is unlocked, it leads to another clue, even harder to crack. , Captain Vincent become ferociously driven to solve the puzzle, pressing Max to use his gift for puzzle-solving deduction, and pressing the Vermillion on time-trip after time-trip, using the magical compass that lets him pick and choose when and where to go.

At the court of Queen Elizabeth, the kids' suspicions about the Captain prove justified, and only Max's strange rapport with the compass gives them any chance of seeing their own home place and time....

It's a whirlwind adventure.  The kids themselves would have welcomed more peaceful time on the ship in its home ocean between times, getting to know the crew (mostly friendly, all quirky), and the ship herself (she has a mind of her own, and I liked her lots).  Nor do they get to do much sight-seeing back in the past....it's mostly a series of in and out hops, with little interaction with people.  Character development is not a strong part of the story, especially for the two younger kids  (Corey, in particular, was a bit one-note), perhaps that will happen in the sequel.   So not my own personal favorite sort of time-travel book.  That being said, it is a fun mystery-infused adventure, though not, at this juncture at least, wildly original.  The feel of the story reminded a bit of Adrienne Kress, and I think if you like her books you'll like this.

The Kirkus review reaches much the same conclusion as I do: "Time-traveling pirates, whimsical humor, a sentient ship, and cliffhanger predicaments deliver generous helpings of quirky, retro-tinged entertainment." (Except I'm not sure what exactly they mean by "retro-tinged."  The kids had a cell phone, which made it seem totally au currant to me.  But possibly I am so old now that what seems normal to me seems retro to the youth of today....thinking even more about it, perhaps the fact that they shared a cell phone is retro.)

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