Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Review of Dodger by Terry Pratchett

How did Charles Dickens come up with the character of the Artful Dodger for Oliver Twist? According to this book, the journalist and serial novelist met a street-smart teen who served as the basis for the character. That would be a great premise all by itself, but Pratchett takes it a step further—the book is told from the perspective of Dodger. It is also, according to the author’s note, historical fantasy. Since you won’t come across a shred of magic here, you might find yourself wondering why. Here’s how the author puts it: “This is a historical fantasy—and certainly not a historical novel….” I would say it’s historical fantasy because Dodger performs feats of derring-do that are sometimes a little over the top. Feats, in fact, worthy of a Dickens novel. Or maybe a James Bond movie. (Spy books and movies are secretly fantasy novels, I’ve always thought.) Joan Aiken would be proud of this book, which channels the kind of fantasy/adventure writing you'll find in her Wolves of Willoughby Chase and the rest of the series. So. Strict fantasy? No. But Dodger requires a certain suspension of disbelief. It is also one of the best books I’ve read all year.

This is approximately one-fourth due to the adventure and secondary characters like Charles Dickens; it's three-fourths due to the central character. We learn that Dodger is a tosher. Not only that, but he’s a geezer. Here’s a minor villain explaining to the major villains what they’re up against:
“A geezer is somebody that everybody knows, and he knows everybody, and maybe he knows something about everyone he knows that maybe you wished he didn’t know. Um, and well, he’s sharp, crafty, um, not exactly a thief but somehow things find their way into his hands. Doesn’t mind a bit of mischief, and wears the street like an overcoat. Dodger now…well, Dodger’s a tosher as well, which means he knows what’s going on down in the sewers too—a tosher, sir, being somebody who goes down there looking for coins and suchlike that may have been lost down the drain.”
Dodger mostly considers himself a tosher. He’s even been known to pray to the Lady on occasion. She's the patron saint of toshers—a beautiful woman with rats swarming happily over her feet. But Dodger is meant for something more. It all begins one night when he’s in the sewers and hears a cry for help. He pops out and sees a girl trying to get away from two men in a coach. I should mention that Dodger is a fierce street brawler. He bashes up the men rather handily and takes off with the girl. Here’s where he runs into Charles Dickens and his friend Henry Mayfield. Once they have convinced him of their integrity, he allows them to convey the girl, who has been badly beaten, to Mayfield’s home to be cared for by Mrs. Mayfield. But Dodger comes along to make sure everything is on the up and up.

Then Charles Dickens takes an interest in Dodger and hires him to find out who the girl is. Not only does Dodger have an instant crush on the girl they begin calling Simplicity, but he’s also intrigued by the challenge. He begins asking around—which is what brings him to the attention of the villains. The adventure escalates and escalates in, well, true Dickensian fashion. With a little bit of James Bond thrown in for good measure.

But I was telling you about Dodger. He is dimensional in a rough and ready way tinged with vague ambitions. Fortunately, he has a mentor in the form of the old Jewish man he lives with: Solomon, of course. Solomon has been trying to teach Dodger just a little honesty and now begins to help him take advantage of the opportunities that come his way because of this new adventure. Solomon is an amazing character; later in the book we start to realize just how amazing he really is. Simplicity turns out to be rather complicated, too. Dodger meets one of the richest women in England, not to mention Benjamin Disraeli, police master Robert Peel and, in a Pratchett tour de force, Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street—from whom Dodger seeks a haircut.

I can’t even begin to tell you how wonderfully well all of this is executed. The writing itself is strong, but the ideas are even better. For example, Dickens teaches Dodger about the way journalists spin stories, explaining it using fog as an analogy. We see variations of London fog crawling here and there in the story to reinforce the theme. Then Dodger coopts the metaphor in a truly useful way as his life careens down the increasingly dangerous streets of the city. For example, Dodger meets Disraeli and draws his own conclusions. Here he talks to Solomon about it. The old man is describing social stratification. “Intrigued, Dodger said, ‘Am I downtrodden?’” The old man answered:
“You? Not so you would notice, my boy, and neither do you tread on anybody else, which is a happy situation to be in, but if I was you I shouldn’t think too much more about politics, it can only make you ill.”
Dodger may not think a lot about politics, but he knows how to play people. After turning into a reluctant hero to the entire city and laying his fists about in a couple of dark corners where he is meant to die, Dodger hatches an elaborate plot to save Simplicity. Then he takes an odd crew a-toshing in the sewers, where he meets up with the worst of the villains hired by the major bad guys to kill him.

Pratchett has a marvelous time with his conclusion, which is unexpected and unbelievable and absolutely perfect. But the book sings because of the people in it. I have long admired Pratchett for his talent with characterization, and here he does it again—in spades. Dodger’s dodgy yet sincere thought processes are a compelling, heart-warming mix of an utter lack of morals combined with a true-blue determination to put certain wrongs right.

We also get Pratchett’s signature humor, though it’s considerably toned down in this book as compared to the satire in the Discworld series. The passages about Dodger getting a better class of clothing, first in a shonky shop and later on Savile Row, are a prime example, along with the follow-up joke that will make you think of celebrities wearing the same designer dress to a fancy party. A lot of the humor has to do with Dodger as a fish out of water, but Dodger is so valiant and so aware of himself in the world that he is not, after all, the brunt of disdain. All of this struts its stuff on the stage of filthy, colorful nineteenth-century London.

You simply can’t go wrong with this book.

I’m not crazy about the trailer—Dodger isn’t tough enough and the fight is too slow paced. But watch it if you want.

Also: This cover is not the best ever, but I think the UK cover is worse. It's just doofy. Good thing the inside of the book is so wonderful!

Note for Worried Parents: Dodger is a book for teens, with a good dollop of peril and violence plus a few relatively mild references to prostitutes and just basically the sordid nature of the streets. And there’s a joke you wait for the whole book due to the unfortunate name of Dodger’s very smelly dog. Even that is not spelled out, though. In general, it’s just a mature book about an older teen character.

A Review of The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

I really liked this book. Like other readers whose reviews and reactions I’ve seen, I was a little irked by the lack of payoff on certain plot points at the end, but that’s syndrome series, and its all too common these days. What the author does very successfully is develop an Outsiders-worthy cast of characters struggling with the very act of being themselves. I say The Outsiders, but the titular Raven Boys are at least in part a fabulously wealthy bunch. The book’s first major perspective, though, us that of a girl from the town of Henrietta who doesn’t have a lot of money. She lives in a home full of women who are fortunetellers, or more probably witches. The odd group of people living in her house are presented in such a mundane, slightly quarrelsome way that they do not seem contrived or staged. We start with a wonderful first line: “Blue Sargent had forgotten how many times she’d been told she would kill her true love.”
Which, I will tell you right up front [SPOILER!] is the promise that is not fulfilled in this book. A promise that is set up, however, rather beautifully. Although The Raven Boys ends up being about a particular kind of danger that is dealt with here, its focus is primarily on character and the interactions between characters. Blue, in fact, turns out to be less important and even less interesting than the four boys she meets. She’s right to be dubious about this group from the elite boys’ school on the edge of town, Aglionby: two wealthy boys named Gansey and Ronan, a quiet boy named Noah, and a scholarship boy named Adam.

Adam takes a shine to Blue that she cautiously returns, but that’s only after Blue has had a supernatural encounter with what appears to be the ghost of Gansey in a graveyard. You can tell Blue is meant to be with Gansey and that that’s going to cause trouble. Gansey’s relationship with the other three boys is fascinating. He is on a quixotic quest to find the ley lines and a mythological figure in Henrietta. He leads the other boys, saves them, but also controls them in ways that Adam, at least, resents furiously. The themes Stiefvater brings up with this web of lives and personalities are thought-provoking, and they read simply as offshoots of these characters.

If anything, The Raven Boys reminds me of Margaret Mahy’s book, The Tricksters, which is high praise indeed.

The supernatural elements in Steifvater’s story wind in and out in ways that only serve to heighten the tensions between characters. The boys wonder if the paranormal is real. Gansey has his reasons for believing, and Blue knows all too well that it is. Her own power is not what she wishes it were. Even the villain of the piece has an uneasy relationship with the supernatural. He has longed for it, sacrificed for it, and done terrible things for it. It’s easy to see him as a symbol of the future for one or more of these boys, especially considering his past.

The writing itself is superb. Here is Blue talking to Adam for the first time. She doesn’t know any of the boys’ names yet, but she’s given them nicknames.
To her surprise, it was Elegant Boy, face gaunter and older in the distant streetlight. He was alone. No sign of President Cell Phone, the smudgy one, or their hostile friend. One hand steadied his bike. The other was tucked neatly in his pocket. His uncertain posture didn’t quite track with the raven-breasted sweater, and she caught a glimpse of a worn bit of seam on the shoulder before he shrugged it under his ear as if he was cold.

You get a strong feeling of fate in The Raven Boys, a feeling that for all their personal struggles and thoughts, this group of people is being driven madly in a direction far past their own understanding. Like classic characters along the lines of Oedipus or Romeo and Juliet.

Another complaint about the book I’ve heard is that it moves too slowly. This is certainly not The Lightning Thief or even The Hunger Games. But are we past enjoying a subtle plot that relies heavily on character to smolder towards certain conclusions and then other, later destinies in YA fiction? No, that first sentence does not entirely play out in this initial volume. But other plot points do. Perhaps more important, the set-up is eerily powerful and touching in aching, personal ways. If that works for you, please do read The Raven Boys.

Here’s the book trailer, insufficient to my way of thinking even if it is by the author.

Note for Worried Parents: This is just not a middle grade book. It’s thoroughly YA, mostly because of mature themes and the way it reads. Don’t bother giving The Raven Boys to anyone under 12, or maybe even under 15. They won’t get it.

A Review of Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas

The Hunger Games meets Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series. I’m not saying it’s as well written as Turner’s books, but then, most things aren’t. It is, however, a good series start that mixes fights to the death with palace intrigue.

Eighteen-year-old Celaena Sardothien is the best assassin in the entire region, if not the known world. This is not as Mary Sue as it sounds because Celaena has paid dearly for her knowledge and abilities. She is currently locked up in a horrible prison camp, though she was only caught because someone betrayed her. Now a prince has come to free her so she can represent him in a contest to become his father’s assassin. Murderers and assassins from all over the kingdom and beyond are gathered at the tyrant’s glass palace for the competition.

Celaena is confident even though prison life has taken a toll on her health. Her keeper and trainer is a guard captain named Chaol. Against their better judgment, both he and Prince Dorian are drawn to Celaena. So yes, this one has all the ingredients for a typical paranormal/fantasy, with two hot, powerful guys falling for our heroine. But Maas mostly manages to write her way beyond the clich├ęs. She does this by making her characters complex and by making us care about them. In addition, the plot takes some nice twists and turns. These are practically gothic, involving creepy deaths, a hidden chamber, uncertain alliances, and conspiracies. All of this is very fun and makes Throne of Glass a swooshing ride of a story.

Celaena is the best, but she’s up against some scary competition, particularly a giant of a man named Cain. The final battle is not what you are expecting, which is a very good thing from a storytelling standpoint.

Along the way, Celaena has moments of romance or at least connection with both of the men in her life. She also makes friends with a foreign princess named Nehemia and the ghost of a famous queen.

The fact that Dorian’s father is a terrible man adds to the plot tension. If Celaena does win, she will have to work for the person who has conquered and essentially destroyed many kingdoms, including the one she came from. We get a few faint hints that Celaena may be a lost princess, kind of like Princess Anastasia surviving the deaths of the Romanovs.

The supernatural elements blend nicely with the rest of the plot. There’s an evil magic powering the bad guys’ nefarious plans, and Celaena has connections to its opposite number, the good magic. None of this is overdone.

One of the most interesting things about the story is the way Celaena is maneuvered by people like the prince and Chaol. And by maneuvered, I mean that she is a prisoner. She is locked in her chambers under guard, and she is constantly being told what to wear and where to go. How can she maintain her sense of self and plan for her future? She finds ways, but always within the constraints laid upon her. The glass palace is a strangely successful metaphor—like her life, it is transparent and fragile, yet obscure and powerful at surprising moments.

The writing itself is ordinary, even a bit purple in spots, but it does the job. Here is Celaena exploring a hidden passageway deep beneath her rooms.
Celaena soon found herself before the other two portals. What other disappointments would she find in them? She had lost interest. But the breeze stirred again, and it blew so hard toward the far right arch that Celaena took a step. The hair on her arms rose as she watched the flame of her candle bend forward, pointing to a darkness that seemed blacker than all the rest. Whispers lay beneath the breeze, speaking to her in forgotten languages. She shuddered, and decided to go in the opposite direction—to take the far left portal. Following whispers on Samhuinn could only lead to trouble.

Follow the whispering passages with Celaena and see what you find. I was afraid I wouldn’t like this book because of its “fighting assassins” premise, but that’s a surprisingly small part of the plot. The palace intrigue makes the book much richer than I expected. I think you’ll like this one.

The trailer’s not bad, maybe because it doesn’t attempt to be narrative.

Note for Worried Parents: Another teen book with violence and mature themes. Nothing too awful for teens, but not well suited for the under-12 crowd. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pandas, Dragons, and Dinosaurs

It’s Tongue-in-Cheek Week here at Book Aunt as we talk about three picture books I think parents will like because the humor works for them as well as (in a somewhat different way) for young readers. Do try to keep a straight face.

Chu’s Day by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Adam Rex

This is an extremely simple story that—Neil Gaiman hype or no Neil Gaiman hype—needs just the right illustrations to work. Fortunately, Adam Rex is in the house. Let’s hear a big round of applause for neo goth-cool Gaiman and geek chic-cool Rex!

You might like to know that the target audience for this book, which is due out in January (so yep, I’m totally jumping the gun), is the Chinese government.

I’ll bet you think I’m kidding.

A few years ago when Neil Gaiman was doing research in China, he learned that his books, such as The Wolves in the Walls and The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, are banned there. Here is part of Gaiman’s own explanation about the discovery that the books aren't allowed in China. (Sorry, but my quote function doesn’t want to allow paragraph returns.)
“Why not?” I asked. I was told it was because of their disrespect for authority, because sometimes children knew better than adults, because sometimes children do bad things and are not punished. I thought, “I should write a picture book that not even the Chinese can resist publishing.” I wrote it in a tea-shop in China. It is about a little panda who sneezes.
It was nice to find out that Gaiman specifically requested Adam Rex as an illustrator. Good call, Neil!

Anyway, the entire plot can be summed up as “Aaah— Aaah— Aaah—…Choo!” But be forewarned: little Chu’s sneezes are extraordinary. That’s why, when his parents take him various places and he seems like he’s going to sneeze, they get a little worried. But it’s a false alarm, another false alarm, etc. etc.—until it isn’t. Then WATCH out!

As I said, the plot is fun, but Adam Rex’s genius takes it to another level. First of all, little Chu with his sneeze-pun name is really cute, though just the teensiest bit wild-eyed, in my opinion. He wears a green striped t-shirt and yellow aviator goggles pushed up on the top of his head. He seems at first glance like a Bambi-eyed Disney character, but turns out to be Adam Rex’s truly subtle take-off on such a character. Don't miss the back cover, which is literally a back view of the front cover. Plus snail.

In his signature style (e.g., see Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich), Adam Rex creates an all-animal cast for scenes set in a library, a diner, and a circus. Each spread in these locations is marked by little in-jokes. Check out the mice in the card catalog, the diner name and counter person, and the different animals who are acrobats and their facial expressions at the circus, for example. We also get nice touches like the way a gold ring that’s part of the circus equipment frames Chu’s face right before he loses it. I was especially delighted by the way the locations that earlier escaped Chu’s sneeze don’t go unscathed in the over-the-big-top climax.

Clever premise and good pacing on Gaiman’s part, but Rex’s artwork steals the show. Your 3- or 4-year-old will really like this one.

The final sentence of Gaiman’s explanation about the book? “There is no word yet on what the Chinese government thinks.”

Note: If you like this book, look for an older favorite of mine, My Little Sister Ate One Hare by Bill Grossman, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.

Also: Thanks to the publisher for a review copy of Chu's Day. Neil Gaiman's note was part of the publisher's materials, so you won't find it in the book. But I'm guessing you can look for it online.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

This book has an oddly parallel plot to Chu’s Day, though it may not seem that way at first. We hit that high, high point in the climax, actually.

But let’s get down to basics. As the intrusive narrator and even the title explain, “Dragons love tacos.” Check out the cover art: The big pink dragon sprawled out in a taco-drugged haze has at least 9 tacos in his mouth, 15 sitting on top of his belly, and another 12 lying beside him. Not to mention all the ones you can’t see from this angle.

As the book begins, the narrator addresses his dragon/taco “how to” to a boy who looks like he’s about 10.
Hey kid! Did you know that dragons love tacos? They love beef tacos and chicken tacos. They love really big gigantic tacos and tiny little baby tacos as well.
The kid is obviously the perfect vessel for such knowledge because his bedroom is filled with dragon art, dragon toys, dragon stuffed animals, and dragon action figures. The informative narrator suggests that if the boy wants to make friends with dragons, tacos had better be involved. “But wait!” There’s a caveat here. Dragons like MILD tacos. They hate spicy salsa. “Just one single speck of hot pepper makes a dragon snort sparks.” It also gives dragons tummy troubles.

Our friendly narrator continues to coach the boy, convincing him to throw a taco party and invite all the neighborhood dragons. We find out that dragons love parties, too. The boy gets his hands on positively oodles of tacos. He takes the precaution of pouring all the hot taco sauce in a hole in the backyard and burying it. But he MAY have missed a bottle…

The artwork in Dragons Love Tacos has a fresh new look. The dragons are a bit like birds and a bit like dinosaurs. They come in different colors and manage to show distinct personalities. The little boy has a blocky body with a fireplug head and bowl-cut hair, along with froggy eyes and skinny little arms and legs. His dog is his sidekick. And of course, Daniel Salmieri is the ultimate taco artist: he must have drawn a hundred for this book. (Take a look at the endpapers!) All of this is set on a creamy background speckled with pale brown. Simple but effective.

Watch for the jokes—such as the spread where a dragon, responding to the narrator’s request, plays dead to act out just how much he hates spicy salsa. Also the spread showing how much dragons like different kinds of parties. I know I never want to go to another party that doesn’t have taco balloons, let alone a dragon that flies and juggles tacos at the same time. Shades of the tree party in Go, Dog. Go! It’s a good thing this kid’s parent are never around, especially considering what happens next.

Adam Rubin’s narrator sounds a little like Grover narrating There’s a Monster at the End of This Book. He is certainly full of good advice and warnings. Too bad it doesn’t necessarily work out! But the wry humor should amuse you along the way, and the author throws in a nice twist at the end of the book. Dragons Love Tacos will make a great read-aloud for your kids. I suspect you’ll be having tacos for dinner shortly thereafter, with or without spicy salsa.

Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems

You know you’re in for a treat when you open this book to the front endpapers and see 65 or 70 crossed-out titles, things like Goldilocks and the Three Clams, Goldilocks and the Three Orthodontists, Goldilocks and the Three Robots, and Goldilocks and the Three Meerkats. If you’re like me, you’ll immediately turn to the back endpapers to see if they’re a repeat. And they’re not! We even get Goldilocks and the Three Stooges, not to mention Goldilocks and the Three Underwear Salesmen and Goldilocks and the Three Foot-long Hoagies. There’s more fun to be had, but I’ll restrain myself from listing the rest of the unused titles and move on to the actual book.
Once upon a time, there were three Dinosaurs: Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who happened to be visiting from Norway.
Yes, Baby Dinosaur (or Bear) has been replaced by somebody presumably occupying the guest room. Though he is rather short. And pay attention to visual details like the phone, which has an extra-long receiver to suit a dinosaur head. The tale continues:
One day for no particular reason, the three Dinosaurs made up their beds, positioned their chairs just so, and cooked three bowls of delicious chocolate pudding at varying temperatures.
Wink-wink, nudge-nudge. We soon figure out that the Dinosaurs are setting an elaborate trap for the kind of little girl who might be inclined to walk into someone’s house without asking. But this is all conveyed ever-so-slightly indirectly. In other words, your kid is going to LOVE being onto those crafty dinos! Especially when we get lines like: “Then the other Dinosaur made a loud noise that sounded like a big, evil laugh but was probably just a polite Norwegian expression.” (I won’t attempt to reproduce the Norwegian laughing sounds pictured around his head in the artwork, but you get the idea.)

Sure enough, while the Dinosaurs ostensibly go Someplace Else, a little girl shows up and walks into the very large house. Her interaction with the pudding and the chairs is way past hilarious. The phrase “sugar high” comes to mind, and something else is too high, as well. (Don’t miss the asteroids poster on the wall.)

Finally, just in the nick of time, little Goldie gets a clue. And readers get, not one, but two morals to the story.

Kids who know the bears version are going to fall over laughing when they hear this one. I'm pretty sure parents and teachers will be chortling, as well.

Of course, anyone who’s met Pigeon or Elephant and Piggie will not be surprised to find that Willems’ dinosaurs are priceless. Mama’s hair or wig is a shorter, tamer version of Marge Simpson’s—anyway, it’s pale blue. And Papa has this absurd scribbly villain mustache. The two of them are green and sort of T-rex-shaped. The visiting dino is rust-colored and built more along the lines of a Triceratops. Goldilocks, for her part, will remind you of an older version of the kid in Knuffle Bunny. Terrific facial expressions abound.

Mo Willems has captured all the fun of the original tale and then transformed it with his usual panache, wry humor, and appealing artwork.  Another great offering from the undisputed new king of picture book comedy.

Just in case you were wondering, one of the title ideas on the endpapers is Goldilocks and the Three Pigeons. Oh, and the three bears do make a cameo appearance, like aging actors showing up for ten seconds in a hot new action flick.

Note for Worried Parents: I'm sure somewhere some parents will be worried about the dinosaurs' plans to eat Goldilocks, implied by references such as the one to "delicious chocolate-filled-little-girl-bonbons." These would be the parents without a sense of humor. No, really, little kids seem to be unfazed by this sort of threat in fairy tales. They know dinosaurs don't wear ties. And are extinct. But then, you know your kids, so make the call.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Review of The Seven Tales of Trinket by Shelley Moore Thomas

I already liked Shelley Moore Thomas’s books, the Good Knight series, which are picture books and easy readers about the interplay between a very patient, kindly knight and three difficult yet sweet little orphaned dragons. So of course I was excited to read her middle grade fantasy, The Seven Tales of Trinket.

This book is deliberately episodic and self-reflective, which is a little tricky to pull off. Fortunately, Thomas pulls it off. We follow a girl named Trinket and her friend Thomas the Pig Boy as they travel to find out what happened to Trinket’s father, a handsome bard who has been missing for years. Along the way, Trinket also collects stories, turning each one into a song. The stories are Trinket’s and Thomas’s adventures, but they later become tales that Trinket tells in other villages.

To give you an idea about their adventures, I’ll just list the chapter titles, which are numbered tales: “The Gypsy and the Seer,” “The Harp of Bone and Hair,” “The Wee Banshee of Crossmaglin,” “The Faerie Queen and the Gold Coin,” “A Pig Boy, a Ghost, and a Pooka,” “The Old Burned Man and the Hound,” and “The Storyteller and the Truth.” As an author’s note explains, Thomas’s tales are based primarily on Celtic folklore. But the author adds her own twists in the telling, created dimensional characters as she goes.

The language is clean and clear, with occasional touches of poetry to burnish the narrative. For example, Thomas the Pig Boy is always hungry. He explains, “Never was a lad born with as fierce a beast in his belly as myself.” And here's my favorite paragraph:
There were bones on the shore. Bones of large sea beast called whales. Whiter than the clouds, they rose from the rocks like the ghosts of old tree branches. I could hear Thomas gasp at the sight of them.
The tales are touched with humor, magic and intrigue. “As if she read my mind, the dark-eyed girl spoke. ‘You wonder about me, as well you should.’ I paused, my bread midway to my bowl of broth. ‘I am a liar,’ she said.”

Fragments of some of the stories show up in later stories as certain characters reappear for different reasons. The overall arc is Trinket’s search for her father, but as she moves onward, she becomes something in her own right, a singer and storyteller. In fact, a young bard. She also handles herself pretty well and learns along the way, though the book is far from didactic. Thomas the Pig Boy makes a sturdy, if hungry, companion. He and Trinket take turns saving each other when things go wrong. (These are pre-teens, however, and there isn’t the slightest hint of romance between them, just loyalty and friendship.)

The author did something a little different with the ending, and I’m not sure quite how well it flows. However, readers will regain their footing by the last page and will be very glad they’ve read Trinket’s seven tales. Shelley Moore Thomas’s Good Knight books are charming, and so is The Seven Tales of Trinket—a well-paced, magical middle grade read.

Note: You can watch the book trailer for The Seven Tales of Trinket here.

A Review of The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons by Barbara Mariconda

There’s a hint of Joan Aiken’s books in this one. At least, it reminded me a little of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. Lucy’s very nice parents are drowned under odd circumstances in the first chapter, and her home is soon commandeered by her greedy aunt and uncle. The unpleasant pair is determined to squelch Lucy in every way they can.

Then an old woman with silver hair stands on the beach and sends her magic Lucy’s way. Imagine her surprise when the woman later shows up posing as the mistress of an exclusive boarding school—just what Lucy’s aunt and uncle want. But the truth is very different, as are Lucy’s fellow fugitives.

Meanwhile, Lucy’s aunt and uncle plot to steal her inheritance, mostly the house. But they are in for a few surprises when Lucy and her new friends show up to try to stop them. Maybe when all’s said and done, Lucy will go in search of her true guardian, her intrepid world explorer aunt. (That’s looking like the plot in Book 2!) But is her family really cursed?

This cheery little adventure might make you picture Polly Peerless tied to the railroad tracks as Dick Dastardly twirls his mustache. Yet Lucy and her friends are not one-dimensional characters, even if the aunt and uncle are. Two other characters you’ll like are a little dog named Mr. Pugsley and a maid called Addie. You will not like the man Lucy has named the Brute, however.

The book begins in New England in 1906 with the ringing of a bell, but it’s no ordinary bell:
There it was again—the sound of the ship’s bell. Though there was no ship, and no wind, it clanged, echoing across the rocks and out over Simmons Point. Addie stepped through the front door onto the veranda, where I sat snuggled in one of the oak rockers facing out to sea. Buried in my book, I hummed a scrap of the old sea chantey Father had taught me. “A la de dah dah, a la dee dah dee…” “There ‘tis—that accursed bell,” Addie exclaimed….

The magic in this book doesn't overwhelm the story. The author sneaks in bits and pieces of magic in just the right way: the mysterious bell, a strangely helpful mist, and the surprising, enchanting conclusion. The Voyage of Lucy P. Simmons is an altogether satisfying book for the back-to-school crowd.

Note: This MG novel will come out on October 2. I received a review copy from the publisher.