Good characterization, but the adventures could have used more excitement.

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MAGIC AND THE TERROR AT LOCH NESS

On a trip to Scotland, an American teenager and his dog fight an otherworldly battle between good and evil in this YA adventure.

Paul Wonder, 13, lives in Venice Beach, California, with his father, Noah, his aunt Rue, and his grandmother Bernice; his mother, Rebekah, died of cancer when he was 7. Magic, Paul’s golden retriever, became part of the family after mysteriously showing up in Paul’s bed three years ago. Only Paul has seen the dog’s eyes turn neon yellow and its fur turn sparkling gold at certain times, as when Magic saved him from a car accident. The family is deeply involved in Bible study, prayer, and church, but Paul shares a taste for adventure with Rue, who’s a police detective. When Noah, a filmmaker, announces plans to bring Paul, Rue, Bernice, and Magic to Scotland for his next job, Paul is thrilled: maybe he’ll see the Loch Ness monster! He has a great time sightseeing and enjoying Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival as well as making new, teenage friends, although one kid—ominously named Judas—scares him. Judas has a goth style and a monstrous, black dog named Goliath who seems as demonic as Magic seems angelic. When the crew gets to Loch Ness, Magic shows just how protective—and magical—a dog can be. In this debut novel, Gene captures Paul’s young-teenage point of view well, including his excitement about traveling, his love for his dog, his budding interest in girls, and how he misses his mother. Some details are unnecessarily repeated, but the book does give solid information about Scotland generally, Edinburgh specifically, and local tourist activities. The book’s title may lead readers to expect a Loch Ness–focused story, but most of the action takes place in Edinburgh; the characters don’t even reach the lake until the final five chapters. Also, although a few scary moments enliven things along the way, the book’s final confrontation is badly underdescribed: Magic’s battle is “amazing”—and then, in the next sentence, it’s over.

Good characterization, but the adventures could have used more excitement.

Pub Date: May 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4908-7763-1

Page Count: 132

Publisher: Westbow Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 22, 2017

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THE CITY OF EMBER

This promising debut is set in a dying underground city. Ember, which was founded and stocked with supplies centuries ago by “The Builders,” is now desperately short of food, clothes, and electricity to keep the town illuminated. Lina and Doon find long-hidden, undecipherable instructions that send them on a perilous mission to find what they believe must exist: an exit door from their disintegrating town. In the process, they uncover secret governmental corruption and a route to the world above. Well-paced, this contains a satisfying mystery, a breathtaking escape over rooftops in darkness, a harrowing journey into the unknown and cryptic messages for readers to decipher. The setting is well-realized with the constraints of life in the city intriguingly detailed. The likable protagonists are not only courageous but also believably flawed by human pride, their weaknesses often complementing each other in interesting ways. The cliffhanger ending will leave readers clamoring for the next installment. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: May 27, 2003

ISBN: 0-375-82273-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2003

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Though the lessons weigh more heavily than in The One and Only Ivan, a potential disappointment to its fans, the story is...

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CRENSHAW

Applegate tackles homelessness in her first novel since 2013 Newbery winner The One and Only Ivan.

Hunger is a constant for soon-to-be fifth-grader Jackson and his family, and the accompanying dizziness may be why his imaginary friend is back. A giant cat named Crenshaw first appeared after Jackson finished first grade, when his parents moved the family into their minivan for several months. Now they’re facing eviction again, and Jackson’s afraid that he won’t be going to school next year with his friend Marisol. When Crenshaw shows up on a surfboard, Jackson, an aspiring scientist who likes facts, wonders whether Crenshaw is real or a figment of his imagination. Jackson’s first-person narrative moves from the present day, when he wishes that his parents understood that he’s old enough to hear the truth about the family’s finances, to the first time they were homeless and back to the present. The structure allows readers access to the slow buildup of Jackson’s panic and his need for a friend and stability in his life. Crenshaw tells Jackson that “Imaginary friends don’t come of their own volition. We are invited. We stay as long as we’re needed.” The cat’s voice, with its adult tone, is the conduit for the novel’s lessons: “You need to tell the truth, my friend….To the person who matters most of all.”

Though the lessons weigh more heavily than in The One and Only Ivan, a potential disappointment to its fans, the story is nevertheless a somberly affecting one . (Fiction. 7-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04323-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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