Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Magicians of Caprona, by Diana Wynne Jones, 2001

In both of the dueling magical families of Caprona, spell-making is taught even to the youngest children. But Tonino, of the Casa Montana, can barely summon a spell. All he's good for is reading and talking to cats. If only he could muster some ability, perhaps he could help the Montanas, and the Petrocchis, their enemies, unravel the mystery of why both families' magic seems to be eroding while the Duke of Caprona does nothing but watch Punch and Judy plays. And who's the strange redhead cousin courting cousin Rosa? Great big Italian warmth envelops this ambitious and successful Chrestomanci-meets-Romeo and Juliet. Recommended.

Eyes of the Emperor, by Graham Salisbury, 2005

Pop is furious when he learns Eddy Okubo lied about his age to enlist early in the Army. But when the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, both Pop and Eddy see his service as a chance for honor, to show that though they have "the eyes of the emperor," they are loyal Americans. But what America asks of its soldiers of Japanese descent is only a cause for shame. Exemplary historical fiction, written with authenticity, dignity, and compassion. Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Titan's Curse (Percy Jackson & The Olympians, book 3) by Rick Riordan, 2007

When Percy, Thalia, and Annabeth head to a military academy in Maine to rescue Grover who's in trouble rescuing a pair of half-bloods, they run afoul of Dr. Thorn, a manticore (a poison-dart throwing man-lion) and cross paths with Artemis, goddess of the hunt, and her maiden Hunters. Annabeth is captured, and Artemis leaves on a quest to track down a mysterious beast who may prove the downfall of the gods. But in Percy's nightmares, their dooms are linked. Without Blackjack, his mobster pegasus friend, all might be lost indeed. Adolescent love and angst clash spears with titanic forces in book 3, which nicely escalates all the prior tensions, and shows more depth and heart without sacrificing its breathless excitement or nutty humor. Strongly recommended.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The New Policeman, by Kate Thompson, 2005

J.J. Liddy never knew the scandal that explained why the Liddys were shunned in Kinvara, even though their cíelís (folk dances) were legendary for their fiddle tunes. Neither he, nor his mother, nor anyone knew where all the hours in a day disappeared to. And nobody knew the origins of the absent-minded but handsome new policeman in town, even if some old-timers had their suspicions. Only when a cheese delivery goes underground does J.J. begins to find out. Sophisticated, intricate fantasy dressed in tight, seamless prose. It left this would-be author envious. Most strongly recommended.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Slake's Limbo, by Felice Holman, 1974

Aremis Slake, a neglected and ill-used foster child, had learned how to dodge conflict by slipping into the subway system at the first sign of a threat. One day he slipped in and stayed. His first brushes with order, dignity, and compassion were found underground, where he slept on newspapers in a cave he made his home, and shared his food with a rat. 33 years after publication the novel still feels remarkably current, despite an unusual, omniscient voice; unsentimentalized, candid realism that offers Slake convincing victories and hope. Strongly recommended.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass, 2006

Jeremy Fink gets a box in the mail from his father's lawyer, containing a wooden box with four separate locks, and an engraving saying that it contains "The Meaning of Life." Jeremy and his best friend Lizzy spend a memorable summer hunting down the keys and sniffing out ideas from the colorful characters they meet about what the meaing of life could be. Middle grade realism, intricate, with many bright moments of humor and charm; Jeremy does not feel like a boy, though, and the outcome feels contrived.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Owl in Love, by Patrice Kindl, 1993

14-year old Owl Tycho is in love with her science teacher, Mr. Lindstrom. Hers is no ordinary schoolgirl crush; she's chosen her mate for life, for she is a were-owl, daughter of witches with owl blood in the family, er, tree. But even her unblinking obsession with Mr. Lindstrom, who sleeps in nothing but Fruit of the Looms size 34, suffers distraction when she discovers a deranged boy lurking in the woods outside her beloved's house. Innovative and convincing first-person fantasy, a forerunner in its genre. If Owl's voice felt overly formal at times, well, she's an owl. Strongly recommended.

The End of the Beginning, by Avi, 2004

Avon the snail longs for adventure, so he and his friend Edward the ant set out in search of one. But snails have a slow time of it, which affords more chances for reflection along the way. Edward and Avon are simple minds with warm hearts, and their tale of there-and-back-again is not without its charm. Young readers.