Book review: The Eye of the North, by Sinéad O’Hart

O’Hart, Sinéad. The Eye of the North. Alfred A. Knopf, 2017. 346 pgs. $16.99. ISBN 9781101935033. Ages 8-12. P7Q7.

Emmaline grows up in a creaky old house, mainly kept company by the butler and house keeper. Her scientist parents are often away for work, but have now disappeared for real! She is put on a boat to Paris to ask a family friend for refuge, meets the stowaway boy Thing, and then the fun really begins! Criminals try to kidnap her, and she and Thing end up on a crazy adventure to the far north in an attempt to rescue Emmaline’s parents from the villainous Dr. Sigfried Bauer and his evil plan (which involves a kraken). The story is fast paced and exciting, and I enjoyed the watching Thing’s character develop. It has a bit of a steampunk quality in places, and a variety of interesting characters.

VERDICT: Middle grade readers will find this a fun adventure.

April 2018 review by Carol Schramm.

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Book review: The Boggart Fights Back, by Susan Cooper

Cooper, Susan. The Boggart Fights Back. (The Boggart, book 3). McElderry, 2018. $16.99. 210p. ISBN 978-1-5344-0629-2. Ages 9-12. P9Q9

In the 1990s, this Newbery-winning author introduced the Scottish mischievous shape-shifting creature to young readers in The Boggart and The Boggart and the Monster. The Canadian protagonists have grown up with children, and two of them, 10-year-old twins Jay and Allie, return to the boggart’s home to visit their grandfather. The boggart and his friend Nessie introduced in the second of the series join the humans’ efforts to preserve the castle, surrounding property, and Loch Linnhe from a wealthy bullying rude American real estate developer who wants to tear up the land and buildings to install a tacky luxury resort. Throughout their efforts, they meet other legendary Scottish Old Things called up to assist in the efforts to frighten away the developer.

Verdict: The plot is reminiscent of the resistant to Donald Trump’s Scottish golf course, and the cadence of William Trout’s speech patterns will be familiar to anyone who listens to Trump. Comedy and adventure blend in a fast-moving tale filled with lore and environmental concerns. The theme of perseverance in the face of seeming helplessness is valuable for young people, especially in the current culture. A great sequel which will encourage young readers to visit—or revisit—the two earlier boggart books.

March 2018 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Afar, by Leila Del Duca, illustrations by Kit Seaton, edited by Taneka Stotts

Del Duca, Leila. Afar. Illus. By Kit Seaton. Ed. by Taneka Stotts. Image Comics, 2017. $14.99. 168p. ISBN 978-1-63215-941-0. Ages 12-15. P8Q8

In this fantastical graphic novel blending African and Arab cultures, two teenagers are left on their own after their parents leave the family’s new home in Yopan to make money as salt shepherds. Out of money, the two siblings set out across the desert to find their parents. Each has problems: 13-year-old Inotu is running from a man who caught him eavesdropping in a cemetery, and his 15-year-old sister, Boetema, has injured a young man during her astral projection to a planet light years away. Out of resources, the siblings are forced to ask for help from possible enemies, and Bo cannot return to the alien planet.

Verdict: Seaton provides a richly-realized world in both the cities and the arid landscape, and her people are stunningly depicted. Both the teenagers are developed, but in different ways. Inotu grows into an able assistant willing to learn from Bo’s knowledge of survival on the desert, and Bo finds an understanding of her gift on a far planet where she becomes Lindu, a girl with dark red skin and hair. The book is mysterious and satisfying at the same time.

January/February 2018 review by Nel Ward

Book review: Almost Paradise, by Corabel Shofner

Shofner, Corabel. Almost Paradise. FSG, 2017. $16.99. 296p. ISBN 978-0-374-30378-5. Ages 9-13. P8Q9

In a rich Southern voice, 12-year-old Ruby Clyde tells about her failed attempt to care for her mother after her father’s death and wakes up in the backseat of a car to find that her mother’s boyfriend has tried to rob a convenience store. They have already “rescued” (aka stolen) a pig from its abusive life at a small circus, and Ruby grabs “Bunny” the pig while the police pick up her mother and boyfriend. Ruby’s only shelter is with her mother’s twin sister, Eleanor, who Ruby had not heard of until just before her escape from the car. The characters are unforgettable—the no-account boyfriend, the hapless mother, and the no-nonsense Episcopalian nun aunt–and the relationships ring true despite the far-fetched plot.

Verdict: Great twists in the plot, quirky characters, and poignant humor along with the strong narrative style make this debut novel stand out.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: Wormwood Mire, by Judith Rossell

Rossell, Judith. Wormwood Mire. Atheneum, 2016. $16.99. 281p. ISBN 978-1-4814-4370-8. Ages 9-13. P8Q8

The nasty aunts—Deliverance, Temperance, and Condolence—have banished 11-year-old Stella after her kidnapping in Withering-by-Sea to a dilapidated family home far away to learn obedience. Much to Stella’s surprise, she finds that she likes her cousins for their interest in science and animals, and the governess is kind to Stella. The mystery in this sequel comes from Stella’s determination to find the secret of her past, especially after she finds a photo that she believes to be of her mother and two infants. The setting appears to the English countryside during the Victorian era, and the plot follows one of a youthful protagonist finding her own answers with no help from parents or other adults.

Verdict: A fun read for young readers who enjoy a blend of history and mystery that shows well-developed characterization and a fast-moving plot.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Stone Heart, by Faith Erin Hicks

Hicks, Faith Erin. The Stone Heart. (The Nameless City Trilogy, #2). First Second, 2017. $14.99. 246p. ISBN 978-1-62672-158-6. Ages 12-15. P9Q9

In the second book in the trilogy that began with The Nameless City, a Dao, Kaidu, and city native Rat, find more danger after stopping an assassination attempt on the General of All Blades as he joins Kai’s father to allow all the city’s residents a part in its government. Erzi, the General’s son, is determined to stop the unification plan because he believes that dictatorship is his birthright and seeks a weapon secreted by monks who are hiding Rat, Kai, and his wounded father.

Verdict: Hicks provides a more in-depth look at the characters from her earlier book and an accelerating adventure between those determined to maintain fascist control and those who fighting for democracy. Like the first comic in the trilogy, Stone Heart has a strong plot, dynamic characters, and a feel of China in the artwork.

Summer 2017 review by Nel Ward.

Book review: The Courage Test, by James Preller

Preller, James. The Courage Test. Feiwell and Friends, 2016. 212 pgs. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-250-09391-2. Gr. 4+. P7 Q8

William Meriweather Miller, what a name–all due to his professor father who loves anything to do with the Lewis and Clark Expedition. William has plans for the summer, playing on the all-star baseball team. His mother and father are divorcing and his mother wants him to spend time with his dad. William, does not want to go on a road trip that follows the Lewis and Clark Trail, he wants to play baseball. Loaded with his essentials, phone, computer and his  iPod they start out. William is on a journey of growing up and coming to terms with himself, his father and a family crisis.

Verdict: This book would be a great read aloud to students who are studying the Lewis and Clark Trail.

April 2017 review by Carol Bernardi.