A few missed notes don’t prevent this novel from delivering a satisfying story even if the tune is familiar.

THE MYSTWICK SCHOOL OF MUSICRAFT

A toe-tapping fantasy novel mixes music and mystery.

Aficionados of middle-grade fantasy may find the premise recognizable: A parentless 12-year-old with unusual magical gifts is summoned to attend an elite boarding school in order to hone their craft. What makes this, YA author Khoury’s middle-grade debut, stand out is the focus on a special type of magic involving spells cast by playing musical instruments. After narrowly being accepted into Mystwick to study Musicraft with the most talented musicians in the world, Amelia Jones must prove that she has what it takes to perform musical spells and secure her spot at the school—or risk expulsion. Amelia struggles with difficult classes, mountains of homework, plus a roommate who hates her, and she quickly learns that someone—or something—seems to have it out for her. Staying at Mystwick will be more difficult than she ever imagined. Amelia’s only hope is the music she knows she is capable of creating, but she must find the courage and confidence to play it. Frenna’s lightly cartoony grayscale illustrations bring some of the pivotal scenes to life. Sparse physical descriptions paired with student names from a variety of cultures seem like a missed opportunity to describe ethnic and racial diversity explicitly; Amelia is white. Victoria, a guitarist who uses a wheelchair, is a featured secondary character.

A few missed notes don’t prevent this novel from delivering a satisfying story even if the tune is familiar. (Fantasy. 9-13)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-62563-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...

HOLES

Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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