Friday, September 28, 2007

Half Magic, by Edward Eager, 1954

Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha wish for adventures at the start of a hot, dull summer ruled by stern babysitter Miss Bick. They get more than twice what they wish for when a shiny nickel -- or is it? -- appears on the sidewalk. Wishes that are only granted by halves pose messy and inventive problems indeed, but the magic nickel has romance along with moralizing up its sleeve. A nostalgic and charming read, wonderfully witty; E. Nesbit's plots meet C.S. Lewis's genial voice. The four co-main characters are painted warmly and convincingly. Strongly recommended.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, by Jennifer Allison, 2005

At thirteen, Gilda Joyce's star-studded careers as novelist, psychic, and spy are off to a frustrating start. When her best friend heads off to music camp, Gilda cooks up a scheme to travel to San Francisco and visit her wealthy second cousin, whose antique house just might be haunted. This could be a lucky break for Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, and she and her leopard-skin disguises aren't about to miss it. Fun, absorbing, well-paced, substantial. Strongly recommended.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Traitor's Gate, by Avi, 2007

John Huffam's life as the son of a profligate London gentleman dissolves the day his family's belongings are seized and they're hauled to a "sponging house," their last stop on the way to debtor's prison. Strange people approach John's father, and still stranger ones follow John, for reasons that must go beyond mere gambling debts. This mystery, tour through Dickensian London, and love letter to Dickens introduces the memorable characters of Sary the Sneak and Mr. Snugsbe, great of coat and cauliflowered of hair. Recommended.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Half-Moon Investigations, by Eoin Colfer, 2006

Fletcher Moon is an official detective with a badge, even if he is only twelve. When popular April Devereux hires Fletcher to investigate the theft of a lock of celebrity hair, the case gets personal. And Red Sharkey, the charismatic scion of the notorious criminal Sharkey family, has reasons of his own for making sure "Half-Moon" solves the case. Hilarious middle-grade detective fiction, set in in Ireland, with Colfer's trademark ratcheted stakes. Strongly recommended.

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, by R.F. LaFevers, 2007

(1905) 11-year old Theodosia Throckmorton sleeps in a sarcophagus and lives in a dusty London museum of antiquities, because her father usually can’t be bothered to go home at night and send her to school like he ought to. Her mother returns home from Egypt bearing loads of artifacts positively steeped in curses, which only Theo can detect and eradicate. But when a plot of German conspirators steal the Heart of Egypt from Theo’s mother, Theo takes matters into her own hands.

The Lemonade War, by Jacqueline Davies, 2007

It was the letter from the school that ruined Evan’s summer and turned his friendship with Jessie, his younger sister, sour. Their lemonade-stand hobby turns into a fierce end-of-summer rivalry to see who can earn the most money selling lemonade before Labor Day. But there’s more at stake than just the money. Engaging middle-grade realism told from dual points of view. Recommended.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, 2007

Hugo Cabret lives alone among the rafters of a Paris train station. It’s 1931, and he winds the clocks, steals food to live, and tries to repair a strange machine that his father had discovered in the attic of a museum before he died. But Hugo needs parts, which he can only get by stealing wind-up toys from a strange toymaker who runs a shop in the train station. A wonderfully inventive story, mixing fiction and film history, rendered in an unusual mix of hundreds of moving black and white illustrations, with snippets of text throughout. Rewarding on many levels, and strongly recommended.