A young boy takes part in a magical adventure involving fairies, goblins, banshees, mermaids, and other creatures in Dunne’s middle-grade fantasy debut.
This modern-day fairy tale instantly conjures up a feeling of enchantment and warmth with its beautifully evocative opening sentence, “On Ludlow Osgoode’s eleventh birthday, he was kidnapped by a fairy.” Soon, he finds himself trapped in a crate with that same female fairy named Adhair, aka Harry. It’s clear that the abduction isn’t going exactly according to Harry’s plans, because Raghnall and Berneas, the goblins who she’d thought were her henchmen, have locked her into the crate as well. Upon arrival at their destination, the goblin ship Anathema, Harry learns that its banshee captain, Morag, had ordered the goblins to betray her. It seems that Morag hadn’t trusted Harry to grab Ludlow on her own; this was prescient on Morag’s part, as the fairy has no interest in kidnapping children—she only follows Morag’s commands in order to stay alive. This leaves Ludlow, a resourceful young bookworm, to come up with an escape plan that involves not only Harry, but also Raghnall. In this engrossing tale, Dunne consistently intersperses “facts” throughout the narrative about the numerous magical creatures that populate her fictional universe, most of which offer unique, funny spins on classic fantasy figures. For example, at one point, she explains that all mermaids “hate to be called ‘fishface.’ ” There’s a charming matter-of-factness to the humor throughout, which readers may find to be reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams and other British fantasists. Throughout, Ludlow is a smart, winning protagonist that bookish young readers will identify with and root for.
A delightful novel that could comfortably sit on a shelf beside beloved works of children’s literature.
In Bourke’s debut novel, a young veterinarian is inspired and sometimes tortured by her intense empathy with the animals she treats.
Kylie Wheeler’s route to a career in veterinary medicine begins with an after-college job with the National Park Service observing and protecting endangered species of shorebirds on the New Jersey coast. From there, she travels to the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana to work on a National Forest Service project to investigate the feasibility of reintroducing the Canadian lynx to the environment. In both of these jobs, Kylie faces frustrations and rewards as she learns about the unique qualities of the birds and rabbits she studies as well as the human ignorance and indifference that so often contribute to animal suffering. Discouraged by the futility of keeping picnickers from trampling rare plover eggs and alienated by scientific research that requires the deaths of its subjects, Kylie goes back to school to become a vet. She finds that even the healing of sick and injured animals is complicated by money, professional egos, and human error. Bourke does an excellent job of animating Kylie—a cynical but warm and hardworking young woman who is quick to admit and relinquish her prejudices and cares deeply about the animals in her care even when she is supposed to affect professional detachment. The novel is engagingly written and never drags or dithers. The quick changes of scene can sometimes feel a bit disjointed, but Bourke moves Kylie through her interesting careers with skill, maintaining reader interest and allowing her character to grow and develop through her widely varied experiences with animals. As a vet, Kylie articulates the particular pain of a caring medical professional treating creatures who are under the control of owners who may not value their lives or feelings very highly.
An affecting portrayal of the making of a veterinarian and the day-to-day challenges she faces.
In Domanska’s debut adventure for middle-grade readers, a gadget-loving girl discovers that her grandfather was a spy in World War II—and that he knew about a secret invention.
Emily Michael Rizzle, nicknamed “Emic,” loves to pull devices apart, see how they work, and make new ones. She takes after her beloved grandfather, Gregor Rizzle, who died four years ago, when Emic was 8. He was a colonel in World War II, spoke five languages, and said strange things about someone named Tesla and a “free-energy generator.” Emic still has the musty old journal that Gregor gave her with “Nikola Tesla” written on its inside cover. “Keep it safe, child,” he told her. “This book could change the world.” Since then, she’s kept her promise and continued tinkering; largely as a result of her efforts, her sixth-grade robotics team won first prize. But now her family is moving from Chicago to Flat Rock, North Carolina, and in the middle of the school year. Luckily, she meets some kindred spirits there, including the lanky, sarcastic Dublin, who loves British slang. Emic enlists his help in figuring out some strange items, such as a tiny camera from her grandfather’s cigar box, which was discovered in the recent move. Meanwhile, three men in dark suits seem to be following Emic. What are they after? Could her grandfather have been right? Domanska gives readers a delightful heroine in Emic: she’s warmhearted, loyal, smart, clever, and determined to be herself. She also dresses in a trademark mix of contrasting colors and patterns, mixed with vintage pieces, such as her grandfather’s Distinguished Service Cross. Emic knows she stands out, but she thinks, “This is me! This is what I like! Deal with it!” Domanska also provides nice details about Emic’s family situation and illustrates her tinkering well (drat that melted plastic capacitor!). Although spy-thriller plots in YA fiction usually beggar belief, this one is handled fairly realistically: Emic and Dublin have some exciting adventures with a great payoff, and the ending still leaves room for Emic to change the world.
Let’s hope for more from Domanska, as Emic the inventor is a very appealing invention herself.
Carriker evokes comic-book action and disturbing current events in this debut novel.
Rusty longs more than most for the heady early days of superheroes. When he was a child, a mysterious event called the Shift granted some people superpowers, and unaffected Rusty was fascinated by them. But as years went by, things changed. The new heroes were outlawed by a fearful public who deemed superpowers (and vigilante activities) to be a net detriment to society. But echoes of the Shift were still felt in the post-hero world; soon, Rusty’s own superabilities appeared—the power to manipulate magnetic fields—but they seemed to cost him more than they gave him. Growing up gay and superpowered in north Texas, Rusty faced bigotry, but he was mostly happy, and even now, he still believes in heroes. So when a friend named Kosma—whom he was just starting to get to know online—disappears in Odessa, Ukraine, Rusty can’t let it lie. He also tracks down his idol, the hero known as Sentinel, to help him in his search. It feels like an unlikely partnership, at times, but people who fall through the cracks need heroes to band together to pull them out. This novel’s effective, understated worldbuilding is a treat, and the action is tight and fast-paced, but it’s the characters that really make the story exceptional. Rusty’s bright, colorful disposition is a welcome change from the grim, brooding countenances that often dominate modern superhero tales. That optimism makes the story’s harsher realities even more affecting. Readers also get to know a diverse ensemble cast, such as Rusty’s best friend, Deosil, including their hopes and fears. The alchemy between the characters’ chemistry, the story’s action, and the world’s pressing—and sometimes painful—similarities to our own make the book nearly impossible to put down.
An engaging story that punches, kicks, and takes flight, just like its heroes.
Based on a true story, this debut novel tells of identical twins separated at birth and the harsh realities of life in Romania under Communist rule.
Spanning nigh on a century, the tale opens during the Depression in rural Romania. Economic strain has taken its toll on the Antonescu family. As heads of the household, Georgi and Olga steadily realize that their farm is no longer producing sufficient revenue to support everyone under their roof. Their ultimatum to their older children is harsh yet necessary: leave or die. So begins a story of heartache and displacement. Harald, who has acted as a caretaker to his younger siblings, packs the group into a cart and, taking the reins, sets out to find a brighter future. Immediately, Ana, his 11-year-old sister, distinguishes herself as the most discordant of the band, given to sulking when she’s asked to walk behind the cart to relieve the burden on their horse. Harald finds land to farm, and over the course of years, the family forges a new life, although Ana is never really happy. After running back to Georgi and Olga, she decides that she never will return to Harald. Instead, she marries a local policeman, Ion Pavenic. After Ana gives birth to identical twin girls, she suffers a chronic illness and is unable to look after both babies. Harald and his wife, Sophia, take one of the twins, whom they name Viki, and raise her as their own. Viki’s life is a remarkable one, raised in the suffocating conditions of Communist Romania under the scrutiny of the country’s secret service; will she ever find true freedom or discover the truth about being a twin? The author skillfully illuminates the family’s lineage, revealing precisely where the members have come from and the events that have shaped them. Their story is told with sincerity and intense conviction, which makes it all the more captivating. Bennett’s observational skills are highly tuned and effortlessly poetic, to the degree that the atmosphere of a room is wholly palpable: “In the weak lantern light, the family’s mingled breath gusted clouds of vapor that floated up and disappeared into the low ceiling’s exposed rafters.” The culmination of such talents is a beguiling, expertly balanced work played out by characters that are easy to care about and root for.
An ambitious and intricate Eastern European tale that reaches across decades and generations.