Older readers may scratch their heads at some story elements, but 10- to 12-year-olds will eat this fantasy tale up.

THE MUSES

ESCAPING MONTAGUE MANOR

In McEvoy’s debut YA adventure, two American kids discover more than they’d bargained for when they’re sent to live with their great-aunt in Australia.

When the parents of 10-year-old Sarah McGuire and her slightly older brother, Nickolas, are seriously injured in a car accident, the kids want to go live with their grandmother, Vera. However, a sour social worker, Ms. Grey, determines that Vera isn’t fit to take care of them, and improbably awards custody to their next-of-kin, Vera’s sister, Vivian, who lives in Sydney, Australia. There had always been something strange about Vivian’s family; for example, Vera owned an invisible dog named Sparks ever since she was a girl, which no one but she could see; she eventually gave him to Sarah, who could see him as well. When Sarah and Nickolas arrive at Vivian’s mansion, the servants also see Sparks and recognize him. When the kids finally meet Vivian in person, she looks no older than 25. Soon after, the children discover a statue in Vivian’s garden which turns out to be the imprisoned form of a muse named Audiva, whom they accidentally restore to life. Audiva informs them that the ancient Greek myths had it wrong: There are far more than nine muses, and Vivian has had 14 of them trapped in her garden as statues for years. This extremely inventive, unusual YA story has an intriguing central mystery and relatable protagonists. However, as the plot unfolds, its strange mélange of mythology and science fiction doesn’t always fit together effortlessly; for example, the characters’ seeming immortality doesn’t have an explanation that’s as interesting as the tantalizing early chapters promise. That said, the prose has an easy, comfortable tone that young readers should find appealing. Vivian is a strong, eerily monstrous villain, reminiscent of Mrs. Coulter in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the fictional world, while unlikely, is filled with good-natured imagination and heart.

Older readers may scratch their heads at some story elements, but 10- to 12-year-olds will eat this fantasy tale up.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2014

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Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires.

LITTLE BLUE TRUCK'S VALENTINE

Little Blue Truck feels, well, blue when he delivers valentine after valentine but receives nary a one.

His bed overflowing with cards, Blue sets out to deliver a yellow card with purple polka dots and a shiny purple heart to Hen, one with a shiny fuchsia heart to Pig, a big, shiny, red heart-shaped card to Horse, and so on. With each delivery there is an exchange of Beeps from Blue and the appropriate animal sounds from his friends, Blue’s Beeps always set in blue and the animal’s vocalization in a color that matches the card it receives. But as Blue heads home, his deliveries complete, his headlight eyes are sad and his front bumper droops ever so slightly. Blue is therefore surprised (but readers may not be) when he pulls into his garage to be greeted by all his friends with a shiny blue valentine just for him. In this, Blue’s seventh outing, it’s not just the sturdy protagonist that seems to be wilting. Schertle’s verse, usually reliable, stumbles more than once; stanzas such as “But Valentine’s Day / didn’t seem much fun / when he didn’t get cards / from anyone” will cause hitches during read-alouds. The illustrations, done by Joseph in the style of original series collaborator Jill McElmurry, are pleasant enough, but his compositions often feel stiff and forced.

Little Blue Truck keeps on truckin’—but not without some backfires. (Board book. 1-4)

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-27244-1

Page Count: 20

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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