FLOW

A city ruled by a large number of powerful magical guilds is nearly torn apart from within due to the actions of a corrupt mayor in Benaroch’s (A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child, 2007, etc.) debut work of fiction.

Not simply the title, “Flow” is also the word the characters in Benaroch’s story use to define magic itself. Not unlike the concept of “The Force” in Star Wars, Flow refers to invisible strings of power that ripple throughout the world and bind it together. Representatives of the magical academies test all young children for the ability to interact with and manipulate Flow. Those who test positive are taken from their parents to be trained in sorcery, which is known as “woodcraft.” After years of arduous training, those who don’t flunk out must choose a Guild that best complements their particular strengths. Meanwhile, the mayor is trying to secretly consolidate power into her own hands by setting the Guilds against one another. Her plan is threatened by the unprecedented emergence of a number of people who discover that they can work magic on their own, outside of the Guilds. Benaroch’s fantasy is rich with imaginative detail and strong prose, and a number of creative characteristics (such as magical, anthropomorphized boxes known as “kitties,” and the mayor’s imposing security force, the Tinies) distinguish this novel from other similar tales. The author makes liberal use of satire and dark comedy, as the absurdities of this fictional society humorously comment on our own world’s impenetrable bureaucracies. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t nearly as well developed as the world they inhabit. The villain’s motivations remain murky at best. Benaroch does, however, manage to capture the alienation the magical characters experience quite beautifully, instilling the narrative with a thoughtful and much-needed human touch. Benaroch’s tightly plotted novel presents an expertly crafted world that avid fantasy readers should find rewarding, and its blend of suspense and humor will attract neophytes, as well.

 

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 182

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2012

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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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