Rushed pacing and ineffective character development keep the story from living up to its potential.


A young boy gets lost and then kidnapped on a school trip to Jamaica’s Cockpit Country.

High schooler Kemar McBayne is looking forward to the school’s Ecology Club trip, along with his older brother, Oshane, and his younger brother, Tyrik, who’s only 10. His contentious relationship with his little brother causes trouble when an act of mischief on Tyrik’s part almost immediately leads to Kemar’s separation from the group. Unable to make his way back to them, he is later found and befriended by a stranger who turns out to have ulterior motives and holds Kemar hostage in the notoriously difficult-to-navigate Cockpit Country. Kemar decides to try to figure out a way to escape his captor and return to his family. At the same time, Oshane is determined to find his brother despite the others’ support, eventually enlisting the help of one of the region’s Maroon communities in order to track him down. Elm includes interesting, detailed aspects of Jamaican geography and culture that help readers visualize the characters’ experiences. However, this aspect of the novel is not enough to make up for jumpy pacing and storytelling that fails to build suspense or create attachment to the characters or plot. Characters are mostly Black, with some secondary characters mentioned as having pale skin and foreign accents.

Rushed pacing and ineffective character development keep the story from living up to its potential. (Adventure. 8-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-976-8267-31-3

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Blouse & Skirt Books

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A fun and fast-moving adventure giddy with ideas.


This debut middle-grade fantasy sees a neglected orphan returning to the magical kingdom of her birth to face a rising evil.

Thirteen-year-old Caley Cross is the oldest child at the Gunch Home for Wayward Waifs, where she is worked like a slave and kept starved and impoverished. Caley gets on with her life as best she can, but if ever her anger is roused, she dies. Her deaths are only temporary—she revives shortly afterward—but they are linked to an innate power that causes dead animals to come alive. One day, Caley’s resurrections bring her to the attention of a metal-winged crow, whereupon she is rescued from the orphanage and taken to Erinath, a realm beyond Earth. Caley, it transpires, is the lost daughter of Queen Catherine, who disappeared shortly after the girl was born and is thought to have been killed by the nefarious Olpheist. Returned to Castle Erinath (which grows like a tree and often shifts its rooms about), Caley must adjust to her royal status—and to the relentless enmity of Ithica Blight, the vain and petty princess she’s supplanted as next in line to the throne. Ithica’s cruelties aside, there is trouble brewing in the kingdom. Castle Erinath is sickening and Olpheist is rumored to have broken free of his prison. Can Caley and her new friends sort truth from lies and keep him from laying hands on the Hadeon Drop, the ultimate source of creation and destruction? In this wildly imaginative series opener, Rosen’s storytelling overflows with creative fancy, so much so that the strong Harry Potter resonances (cruelly treated chosen one, boarding school social dynamic, Quidditch-like Equidium teams) become an unfortunate distraction from the boundless parade of whimsical characters and fantastical new material. Caley’s adventure begins in a breathless rush before settling down and building steadily to a somewhat abrupt end (and the promise of a sequel). The author’s prose is easy to read, with clear descriptions, age-appropriate dialogue, and plenty of humor. While Ithica is over-the-top and Caley and Olpheist are little distinguished from default heroes and villains, all the other characters ooze originality. All told, young readers will thrill at the sparkle of enchantment.

A fun and fast-moving adventure giddy with ideas.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68463-053-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A touching, playful, and satisfying tale of a silver-screen wonder dog.



Before Rin Tin Tin and Lassie there was Strongheart, the first canine movie star, whose real-life career serves as the basis of this fast-paced, dramatic story from Fleming and Rohmann.

In the silent-film era of the 1920s, director Larry Trimble decides his next big movie star will be a dog and in Berlin finds what he is looking for: a thoroughly trained, 3-year-old, male German shepherd with a fierce disposition named Etzel. Renamed Strongheart, Trimble’s find becomes an instant superstar with the release of his first film, The Silent Call, in 1921. Strongheart has an off-screen romance with his leading lady in the appropriately titled The Love Master, resulting in a litter of puppies. The climax of the story is a dramatic courtroom trial in which Strongheart stands accused of attacking and killing 6-year-old Sofie Bedard, but boys from an orphanage produce Sofie in court at the last moment. Strongheart is vindicated when it’s discovered Sofie’s parents orchestrated her disappearance for an extortion scheme. Like a silent movie plot, Fleming’s narrative is full of adventure, romance, and suspense. An author’s note explains the facts behind the story. Rohmann’s expressive illustrations beautifully capture Strongheart’s personality; their integration into the book’s design is striking. Particularly notable are three two-page spreads depicting the dog contemplating and then stealing a doughnut.

A touching, playful, and satisfying tale of a silver-screen wonder dog. (photos, bibliography, notes) (Historical fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-93410-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade/Random

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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