A heartwarming and innocent upper-middle-grade fantasy.

THE BLAMELESS

A young princess adopted into an extended family of magic wielders discovers her own special powers in Christison’s debut novel for children ages 10 to 14.

On the night the castle at Aldestone is attacked, 13-year-old Princess Briana, known as “Brie,” sees her parents and brother murdered. Brie flees but is hunted through the streets. She escapes thanks to three mysterious rescuers: Derek the archer; Kove the knife-thrower; and big, gentle Flinton, whose sword appears out of nowhere whenever it is needed. These three are “the Blameless,” or heroes who can “control the weather, heal the sick, and end wars.” Each has committed a great selfless act and, in consequence, has manifested magical abilities, as has Brie. By putting the kingdom’s interests first, the princess develops powers of her own. Derek, Kove, and Flinton become her honorary uncles. Vowing to protect and train her, they take Brie to Mount Elrad, the secret stronghold of the Blameless, where she joins Flinton’s household and becomes best friends with his sister Cassie and—begrudgingly—Kove’s brother, Taeo. Despite the murders that caused her to flee her castle, Brie finds happiness at Mount Elrad. But her life is soon upended again. The ruthless usurper Vaylec has found a way to take control of individual Blameless. By harnessing their powers, he snatches Brie and returns her to the castle at Aldestone. What cruelties does he have planned? Will Brie ever be reunited with her new family? Christison takes the tropes of epic fantasy and strips them of their angst, crafting a feel-good page-turner. Brie is a likable protagonist surrounded by good-natured, slightly larger-than-life companions. Flinton is especially striking with his bearlike size and caring nature, but even Vaylec—the villain—has a personality and depth beyond the genre’s typical evilness for evil’s sake. Christison refuses to manufacture conflict, focusing instead on a central premise and the characters that underpin it. Though the plot is simple and the book is long, Brie’s story plays out with an endearing breeziness. As is often the case with series, the ending of this first novel comes as an interruption rather than a denouement. Nonetheless, there’s a great deal here to ensnare young readers.

A heartwarming and innocent upper-middle-grade fantasy.

Pub Date: July 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951565-82-4

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Belle Isle Books

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when...

ASHES TO ASHEVILLE

Two sisters make an unauthorized expedition to their former hometown and in the process bring together the two parts of their divided family.

Dooley packs plenty of emotion into this eventful road trip, which takes place over the course of less than 24 hours. Twelve-year-old Ophelia, nicknamed Fella, and her 16-year-old sister, Zoey Grace, aka Zany, are the daughters of a lesbian couple, Shannon and Lacy, who could not legally marry. The two white girls squabble and share memories as they travel from West Virginia to Asheville, North Carolina, where Zany is determined to scatter Mama Lacy’s ashes in accordance with her wishes. The year is 2004, before the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, and the girls have been separated by hostile, antediluvian custodial laws. Fella’s present-tense narration paints pictures not just of the difficulties they face on the trip (a snowstorm, car trouble, and an unlikely thief among them), but also of their lives before Mama Lacy’s illness and of the ways that things have changed since then. Breathless and engaging, Fella’s distinctive voice is convincingly childlike. The conversations she has with her sister, as well as her insights about their relationship, likewise ring true. While the girls face serious issues, amusing details and the caring adults in their lives keep the tone relatively light.

Some readers may feel that the resolution comes a mite too easily, but most will enjoy the journey and be pleased when Fella’s family figures out how to come together in a new way . (Historical fiction. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-16504-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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