A sometimes-predictable fantasy but one that’s vibrant enough to satisfy eager young readers.


In this sequel, Neftzger (The Orphanage of Miracles, 2013, etc.) delivers a middle-grade fantasy adventure tale full of genre hallmarks but with a few surreal twists of its own.

This fantasy’s young main characters face the daunting task of saving their kingdom, which is under the thrall of an unnamed Sorcerer whose spells blur the line between reality and illusion. Hotheaded Kelsey, fresh from training with the king’s army, reluctantly teams up with Maggie, a sensitive intellectual who aspires to be a diplomat. Along with Roland, a wise spirit whose day job is harvesting souls as a gentle grim reaper, the two girls set out on a quest to protect the nation’s threatened supply of sweetly scented hope trees. Maggie’s friend Nicholas stays behind in the castle with a batty magician and an animated stone gargoyle, who teach him the ways of sorcery. Overall, the story hews closely to the traditional fantasy models of authors such as Lloyd Alexander and Tamora Pierce, and fans of the genre will find that the plot contains few surprises. The characters, too, are somewhat one-dimensional, and they remain largely defined by the roles they play in the story: Kelsey is a fighter, Maggie is a negotiator, and Roland is their steadfast guide. However, Neftzger’s skillful wordplay and imaginative worldbuilding set this book apart. In a style reminiscent of Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth (1961), it abounds with unexpected relationships between language and reality. For example, a wise woman wears a dress “woven from the fibers of knowledge and sewn together with the threads of learning,” while a shop of memories sells hope-filled dreams. “Emotions and beliefs,” Nicholas’ sorcery instructor tells him, “color much more of the perceived world [than] any one of us can imagine….Things spoken in love always become reality.” Neftzger’s themes of perception and agency are refreshingly sophisticated, and watching them play out within the kingdom’s surreal logic is this book’s greatest joy.

A sometimes-predictable fantasy but one that’s vibrant enough to satisfy eager young readers.

Pub Date: June 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940894034

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Fog Ink

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2014

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A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016

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A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.



In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

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