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Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Stroud’

Halloween is coming, and I’m in the mood for something mysterious and magical and kind of marvelous, something by Alice Hoffman, like Blackbird House or Seventh Heaven or Practical Magic. Fortunately (now there’s a suitable word), Hoffman returns this month with The Rules of Magic (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), a prequel to Practical Magic and featuring the potion-brewing, spell-casting Owens sisters. Not the younger ones, Gillian and Sally, from the first book, but their aunts Franny and Jet, depicted here as teens and young women growing up in 1960s and ’70s New York City with a magnetic and musical younger brother, Vincent. Although their mother Susanna forbids black clothes, red shoes, Ouija boards and the cats and candles that might speak to their Owens’ heritage, the siblings know they are different. How else to explain Franny’s way with birds, or Jet’s reading others’ thoughts, or Vincent levitating small objects?

When Franny turns 17, the three go to spend the summer with Aunt Isabelle in Massachusetts, absorbing the rules of magic as handed down from their Salem witch ancestor Maria Owens. But it’s not all black soap and moonlight potions and secret books; there’s also a curse that spells doom for those they dare to love. There has to be a way around that, the siblings think, but a tragedy soon after they return home has them reconsidering the future. Still, as the Vietnam War incites their generation to make love not war, Franny, Jet and Vincent all tempt fate in their own ways and learn to live with the consequences.

Hoffman’s writing is as luminous and lyrical as ever; the story, bittersweet. Ah, The Rules of  Magic. “What is meant to be is bound to happen, whether or not you approve.” I approve.

Other treats and/or tricks suited to the season include Jonathan Stroud’s The Empty Grave (Disney Press, library hardcover), the rousing fifth book in the Lockwood & Co. series, in which our favorite London ghostbusters uncover a conspiracy that takes them to the shivery Other Side, where spirits linger.  Narrator Lucy has a sinking feeling. Although written for the middle-grade set, Stroud’s witty adventures are for anyone who likes good ghost stories. Creepy good fun.

 

Maggie Stiefvater spins YA magical realism in All the Crooked Saints (Scholastic, advance reading copy), set in 1962 Colorado and centering on the miracle-working Soria cousins. But the pilgrims who venture under the desert stars for a cure find the young saints can only do so much when it comes to inner darkness. When elder cousin Daniel interferes with a miracle, he also falls prey to the dark by way of a family curse, and it’s up to Beatriz, Joaquin and their friend Pete to rescue him, perhaps via pirate radio. Readers of Stiefvater’s fabulous Raven Boys cycle will recognize similar themes and signature style.

 

Naomi Alderman’s dystopian The Power (Little Brown, digital galley) looks back to the early days of a female-centric society when teenage girls first awoke to a tingling in their arms. At first, it’s a thrill for the girls to shock boys’ bad behavior, but then they discover their taser-like power can also kill. Furthermore, they can ignite the power in older women. Girls rule! Still, the role reversal is more than a one-trick pony plot as Alderman cleverly explores the ways in which women wield power, not always to the benefit of humankind. It’s speculative fiction that provokes and entertains.

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skullI’m late to the party when it comes to fall books. I missed Halloween and most of the last month due to a series of unfortunate events. Books went unread, blog posts unwritten, e-mails unanswered. Now we’re catching up: Three books aimed at kids with crossover appeal for teens and grown-ups.

The Screaming Staircase, the first entry in Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co. series about teen ghost detectives, was both frighteningly funny and wickedly smart. The follow-up, The Whispering Skull (Disney, digital galley) is all that and more, offering some genuine chills as Anthony, George and narrator Lucy pursue malignant spirits and evil grave robbers in an alternate London. The teens have the necessary psychic abilities — along with swords, silver chains and flash powder — to battle their supernatural foes, but they compete for business with larger, more established firms such as the Fittes agency. The rivalry is exacerbated when Scotland Yard puts both Lockwood and Fittes on the case of the mysterious “bone mirror,” stolen from the corpse of a Victorian doctor who tried to communicate with the dead. The doctor supposedly met a grisly end in a roomful of rats, but such rumors don’t explain the bullet hole in his head, nor the power of the mirror, which strikes such fear in onlookers that they go mad or die on the spot. While George researches the case, Anthony contacts an unusual source and Lucy tries to discern if a skull in a jar ever speaks the truth. Action and adventure ensue as the trio infiltrates a museum, eavesdrops on a midnight auction, leaps from rooftops and crawls through crypts. Don’t miss it.

sisterhoodI bet Julie Berry had fun writing The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook Press, library e-book), even with her tongue planted firmly in cheek. I certainly chuckled my way through this madcap murder mystery set in a Victorian boarding school for girls. The seven students, from Dear Roberta to Dour Elinor, are shocked and dismayed when their skinflint headmistress and her no-good brother both drop dead at Sunday dinner. They’re not so worried about a killer on the loose as the prospect of the school being closed and the girls sent home. Then Smooth Kitty proposes a scheme whereby they’ll cover up the murders, bury the bodies in the garden and run the school themselves. One lie leads to another as nosy neighbors keep dropping by, and before long Stout Alice is impersonating the late headmistress while her classmates go sleuthing. So clever. Such fun.

witchboyThe title character in Kelly Barnhill’s coming-of-age fantasy The Witch’s Boy (Algonquin, review copy) is also known as Ned, “the wrong boy,” because his mother’s magic saved him from drowning with his twin brother, Tam, and then bound their two souls together. Ned believes Tam should have been the one who lived; he grows up awkward, shy and unsure himself. In a nearby kingdom, the girl Aine is also suffering from the choices her father — the Bandit King — has made. Ned and Aine’s lives are linked by an ancient prophecy — “The wrong boy will save your life, and you will save his” — as well as by her father’s scheme to steal his mother’s magic. Assertive Aine and quiet Ned make for unlikely friends as they begin a quest to discover the secret of nine stone giants and prevent a devastating war. Barnhill’s lyrical language and use of classic fairy tale elements gives her involving story a magic all its own.

 

 

 

 

 

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dicamilloWhen a vacuum cleaner swallows a squirrel, obsessive comic-book reader Flora Belle Buckman rushes to the rescue, resucitating the now-not-so-furry creature only to discover she has a superhero on her hands. Ulysses — as Flora calls him after the vacuum cleaner model — has somehow acquired the superpowers of strength, flight and poetry-writing.

That, in a nutshell, is the premise of Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures (Candlewick, purchased hardcover), which this week won author Kate DiCamillo her second Newbery Medal, the most prestigious award in children’s literature. She won her first 10 years ago for The Tale of Despereaux,  and her first book, Because of Winn-Dixie, set in the small-town Central Florida where she grew up, was a Newbery Honor Book in 2000. She now has more than a dozen books for young readers to her credit, including the popular Mercy Watson series. I wrote about her when I was at the Orlando Sentinel and again on this blog a few books back, http://tinyurl.com/owbs4av.  I was getting ready to write about her again because earlier this month, Kate DiCamillo was inaugurated as the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature at the Library of Congress. Then came word that Flora and Ulysses had captured the Newbery. Super!

Or holy bagumba, as Flora might say. Like her creator, Flora has a “capacious” imagination, a super-sized vocabulary, a droll wit and a tender heart. All are shown to advantage in the book, where the narrative is nicely complemented by K. G. Campbell’s illustrations and cartoon panels. It’s altogether funny and charming, a whimsical winner if ever there was one.

lockwoodI love books that successfully bend/blend genres. Jonathan Stroud kicks off his new series about teen ghost detectives, Lockwood & Co., with the frightfully funny and wickedly smart The Screaming Staircase (Disney-Hyperion, digital galley). London has a Problem: disagreeable ghosts, spirits and spectres of all kinds. The solution: teenagers with specially honed psychic abilities who have the best luck vanquishing the supernatural foes. Narrator Lucy Carlyle, who hasn’t always been lucky, joins the independent psychic detection agency, Lockwood & Co., teaming up with ambitious Anthony and aggravating George. They rid one London structure of its ghostly occupant only to discover a corpse and burn down the house in the process. Nevertheless, another haunted mansion awaits — Combe Carey Hall, site of way too many sudden deaths, surprising secrets and, of course, the screaming staircase. Great fun for kids (and adults indulging their inner kid).

hollowI’m halfway through Ransom Riggs’  Hollow City (Quirk Books, purchased e-book), the sequel to his fascinating fantasy Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar  Children. So far, it’s just as good, if not better, as Jacob and a group of other peculiars flee their Welsh island time loop to participate in the war against the nightmarish creatures known as “hollows.” They’re accompanied by Miss Peregrine in bird form — they’re hoping to find help to change her back — and meet other peculiars, including animals. Really, you have to read the first book, you must, to fully appreciate the exciting and well-crafted backstory in which Jacob discovers he’s more like his mysterious and extraordinary grandfather than he ever supposed. Again, odd black-and-white vintage photos enhance the the tale. I’d write more, but those pages won’t turn themselves. At least not yet . . .

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