Interesting things happen to those fictional characters who get up and face the challenges ahead of them. At least, that is the case with this month's protagonists, who find adventure and danger in their paths.

  • "All Fudged Up" by Nancy Coco (Kensington, $7.99, 352 pages) There's no shortage of stories about spunky women reinventing themselves in new locations. Allie McMurphy fits right into their ranks.

    She has inherited from her grandfather a funky old hotel and fudge shop on Mackinac Island, Mich., and she is determined to make a success of them both. Although she has been on the island for many summers, she finds the place insular and not very welcoming to "outsiders." But what really throws a spanner into the works is the discovery of a body in the hotel's utility room.

    In the tradition of independent women everywhere who become suspect No. 1, she starts her own investigation.

    It's probably best not to read this while you're too hungry, as the assorted fudge recipes may send you right into the kitchen.

  • "Eternally 21" by Linda Joffe Hull (Midnight Ink, $14.99, 360 pages) Maddie Michaels responds to her family's financial crisis by starting a bargain hunter's blog and calling herself Mrs. Frugalicious in this series debut. It's a particularly audacious move, since her husband, Frank, is a well-known financial expert who fell victim to a Ponzi scheme.

    Maddie then runs afoul of the manager of the teen shop Eternally 21, who accuses her of shoplifting. When the manager dies shortly thereafter, Maddie is neck-deep in the investigation.

    Maddie is a great character -- a caring mother, smart and gutsy -- but the story veers off course with her focus on the mall cop. Plus, the trainer she considers a close friend is downright hostile half the time -- that can't be good. Still, it's an interesting concept and a mostly enjoyable read.

  • "The Sayers Swindle" by Victoria Abbott (Berkeley, $7.99, 304 pages) It's Jordan Bingham's job to find rare books for her persnickety employer's collections. Now she has to retrieve some books -- a rare set of mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers -- that were accidentally sold by her predecessor.

    Since Jordan is a Lord Peter Wimsey devotee, and she wants to keep her job, she is highly motivated. The book dealer who unwittingly sold them sustained a head injury, and her memory is erratic. Eventually, she recalls enough to allow Jordan to trace the books to a strange family in a nearby town. Then the family disappears -- and a body is found.

    There's some interesting detective work here, but the thing that sets this book off is Jordan's family, consisting of a bunch of uncles who are somewhat less than law-abiding. Her uneasy dance between her job and her family is what makes this story funny as well as compelling. And it won't hurt if you're already a Sayers fan.

  • "The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches" by Alan Bradley (Delacorte, $23, 338 pages) Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old chemistry whiz growing up on an impoverished English estate in the early 1950s, faces her most trying experience. The body of her long-dead mother, Harriet, is finally being returned from the Himalayas for burial, and Flavia, who idealizes the mother she doesn't remember, is overwhelmed by the occasion. She doesn't know why the government seems to be involved or why a man died when the train bearing the coffin came to town.

    But Flavia is nothing if not resourceful, and she tries, with that peculiar mix of adult intelligence and childlike wishful thinking for which she is known, to make her seriously depressed father feel better. Flavia is growing up, which is both exciting and sad, and echoes the elegiac feel of this well-written and engaging story.

    Roberta Alexander is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Reach her at ralex711@yahoo.com.