The Cordovan Vault is J Monkey's debut novel. When fourteen-year-old Kayla Livingston and Quinn Wexford's older siblings (and legal guardians) duck out of their wedding at the beginning of the reception, Kayla and Quinn have no idea what's about to happen to them. The next day, they receive heartbreaking news from the police that Jim and Lorelei have been found dead, and that Kayla and Quinn are emancipated minors. However, a frantic phone call from Lorelei- whose death has apparently been faked- puts Kayla and Quinn on a secret escape and journey to The City of Brotherly Love, where mysteries await them.
During the story, we find out that Kayla and Quinn's families have some interesting history involving secret societies and special powers. I really enjoyed this mystery/adventure aspect. The story is linked to Masonic and United States' history, similar to National Treasure, and I learned some interesting historical information, such as about the history of libraries and other city facts. A large chunk of the story takes place at a very very old inn, where Kayla and Quinn help out the elderly owner.
Kayla and Quinn are likeable main characters, but I would age them at around 16 or 17, not 14. Their hyper-maturity is acknowledged in the story, but they really do behave with much more confidence, street smarts, and personal responsibility than the 14-year-olds I know. Kayla is fun and very smart- she loves solving puzzles, and this is an important element in the story. She is, however, subject to mood swings and temper tantrums, typical of a teenager. Quinn is very tall and noble- he has very good social skills and is able to work most situations to his advantage. When the book begins, Kayla and Quinn are not friends- they treat each other like bitter step siblings, but that quickly changes under the extreme circumstances of their escape.
There is very little boy-girl tension present in this story- presumably to make it appropriate to a wider audience, but possibly the author just chose not to focus on it because of the adventure genre. I would like to see a more natural, realistic development of the relationship between Kayla and Quinn in #2- even if there is no physical attraction between them, I feel like the boy-girl element deserves some more attention. As a child/teen I had a very close family friend who was a boy- we never were romantically interested in each other, but there was still tension between us, such as when he had a crush on my best friend, or when I introduced him to my new boyfriend.
My favorite element of the story is the puzzle-solving. Throughout the story, Kayla and Quinn are faced with mental challenges, and it's really cool to see them work through the puzzles and to see the pieces fall into place. Some of the things I figured out while reading, but some solutions were surprising to me, which was exciting! If I could change anything about the story, I would make the paranormal element stronger. It's not a major part of the story until about the last third, but I expect that this will change in #2.
I would recommend this story to younger teens or anyone who enjoys fun adventure stories. There is a very small amount of language and some brief but scary violence/torture parts, but I would still recommend it even to middle schoolers whom I don't know very well. Book #2, The Peacock Tale, will be out in the fall, and I look forward to finding out what happens to Kayla and Quinn!