An engrossing fantasy and a thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

THE RED ABALONE SHELL

From the Last Crystal Trilogy series , Vol. 2

In Schoonmaker’s fantasy-series installment, a powerful dark-magic object is tied to the fate of a boy in World War I-era America.

This trilogy for middle-schoolers began in The Black Alabaster Box, (2018) set in 1856, in which the preteen Grace Willis is kidnapped by Hiram Swathmore from a wagon train bound for California. After she’s rescued by the mysterious Mr. Nichols, Grace became the chosen guardian of “the last crystal,” an ancient object of immense healing power that she must keep out of the hands of Celeste, a corrupt, once-immortal enchantress. By the end of the first book, Celeste’s efforts to retrieve the crystal had dire consequences for then-adult Grace, her husband, and two children. The second book skips 20 years (as the author explains in her preface) to the beginning of World War I, and centers on Grace’s 12-year-old son, James, who’s found on a church step in a rural Oklahoma town. He has only hazy memories of his family, and his only possessions are a rolled-up map and a red abalone shell. James is accompanied by Old Shep, a canine harbinger of fantastical elements to come. After the boy is adopted by a loving German-American farming couple, he becomes more relatable as he matures over the course of the book; his self-doubt, fears and anger, and his impulse to do the right thing ring true. His memories of his family’s shocking fate, and those responsible for it, flood back with the reappearance of Mr. Nichols, who takes James back to an odd pocket of time to visit his forgotten little sister in a village where she’s safe from the threat that destroyed their parents. He returns to the present to become the magic crystal’s next protector, dangerously drawing the attention of evil Celeste. The author effortlessly weaves together fantasy, history, and real-world dilemmas into a compelling narrative that touches on pacificism, the anti-German sentiment that arose in the United States during the First World War, an appearance by the infamous criminal Dalton Gang, and the return of the vicious brother-and-sister outlaw duo from the first book. A satisfying setup for the final installment of the trilogy hints at another player in the fate of the “Last Crystal,” and the significance of James’ map.

An engrossing fantasy and a thoughtful coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-9979607-8-5

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Auctus Publishers

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2020

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A worthy combination of athletic action, the virtues of inner strength, and the importance of friendship.

LEGACY AND THE DOUBLE

From the Legacy series , Vol. 2

A young tennis champion becomes the target of revenge.

In this sequel to Legacy and the Queen (2019), Legacy Petrin and her friends Javi and Pippa have returned to Legacy’s home province and the orphanage run by her father. With her friends’ help, she is in training to defend her championship when they discover that another player, operating under the protection of High Consul Silla, is presenting herself as Legacy. She is so convincing that the real Legacy is accused of being an imitation. False Legacy has become a hero to the masses, further strengthening Silla’s hold, and it becomes imperative to uncover and defeat her. If Legacy is to win again, she must play her imposter while disguised as someone else. Winning at tennis is not just about money and fame, but resisting Silla’s plans to send more young people into brutal mines with little hope of better lives. Legacy will have to overcome her fears and find the magic that allowed her to claim victory in the past. This story, with its elements of sports, fantasy, and social consciousness that highlight tensions between the powerful and those they prey upon, successfully continues the series conceived by late basketball superstar Bryant. As before, the tennis matches are depicted with pace and spirit. Legacy and Javi have brown skin; most other characters default to White.

A worthy combination of athletic action, the virtues of inner strength, and the importance of friendship. (Fantasy. 9-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-949520-19-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Granity Studios

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one.

THE WILD ROBOT ESCAPES

Roz, a robot who learned to adapt to life among wild creatures in her first outing, seeks to return to the island she calls home.

Brown’s sequel to The Wild Robot (2016) continues an intriguing premise: What would happen to a robot after challenges in an unexpected environment cause it to evolve in unusual ways? As this book opens, Roz is delivered to a farm where she helps a widower with two young children run a dairy operation that has been in his family for generations. Roz reveals her backstory to the cows, who are supportive of the robot’s determination to return to the island and to her adopted son, the goose Brightbill. The cows, the children, and finally Brightbill himself come to Roz’s aid. The focus on Roz’s escape from human control results in a somewhat solemn and episodic narrative, with an extended journey and chase after Roz leaves the farm. Dr. Molovo, a literal deus ex machina, appears near the end of the story to provide a means of rescue. She is Roz’s designer/creator, and, intrigued by the robot’s adaptation and evolution but cognizant of the threat that those achievements might represent to humans, she assists Roz and Brightbill in their quest. The satisfactory (if inevitable-feeling) conclusion may prompt discussion about individual agency and determination, whether for robots or people.

If not as effervescent as Roz’s first outing, it is still a provocatively contemplative one. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-38204-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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