A pleasing fantasy that occasionally bogs down but usually entertains.

THE WONDERS OF THE PECULIAR PARASOL

In this debut children’s book, three cousins use a magical parasol to visit Storyworld, where they encounter an evil witch who must be stopped.

Cousins Amanda Jane “Mandy” Mandez, Mickey Veen, and Gina Sitzma, all 10 years old, are celebrating Mickey’s birthday at their great-grandmother Gigi’s house. During a game of hide-and-seek, Mandy discovers a parasol in the attic with a wooden handle carved in the shape of a dragon and a dull white knob on top. When Gina rests the parasol on her shoulder and twirls it, she’s put into a short trance that sends her to Storyworld, where she’s greeted by J.T. (short for “Just The Valet”). He explains some conditions for using the parasol (for example, it only works on sunny days) and tells Gina about her ancestor Mathias Phef Venscen. He was a powerful wizard and J.T. was his squire; Phef lives on after his body’s death in the enchanted realm. Now J.T. guides and protects Storyworld visitors, who live “in the story as if it was real.” The cousins all have exciting adventures via parasol. For example, Gina goes to a royal birthday party in a fairy-talelike land; Mickey travels to Mars on a spaceship and helps rescue scientists; and Mandy visits Talon, “the center and the core of Storyworld,” where real dragons live. The secret is revealed to others, who join in. At Gigi’s house in the summer, the whole family gathers to hear the latest escapades. But all is not well in the mystical realm: Mandy’s mother is turned to stone by Loganna, the “Lizard Witch,” who’s amassing an army to invade Storyworld. The group executes a perilous plan to mount a rescue mission and fight Loganna, requiring Mandy to dig deep for her magical powers. In his novel, Even uses some popular fantasy themes, such as an enchanted portal, dragons, wizards, charmed objects, and rescue quests. Also pleasing are scenarios such as discovering a special heritage and acquiring occult abilities. Mandy, for example, gets the delightful news that as Phef’s descendant, she is “of magic—and thus a witch.” The adventures are nicely varied to suit different tastes for types of stories and settings, from outer space to undersea. The escapades themselves are mostly described after the fact, when a more direct account might be more enjoyable. That’s especially true given that the tale can drag a bit during exposition about the rules, exceptions, history, and characteristics of Storyworld and its magical items or creatures. Many of the realm’s rules seem made to be broken, making it hard to justify long explanations of lore. But the author does describe an appealingly affectionate extended family, lifted from the ordinary by their wizardly backstory. The chapter heading images by debut illustrator Canfield are naive but charming. The book ends on a dramatic and promising note of magical exploits to come, presumably less burdened by the need for lore.

A pleasing fantasy that occasionally bogs down but usually entertains.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9889048-2-8

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Cresting Wave Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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