LARK RISING

From the Guardians of Tarnec series , Vol. 1

A young seer discovers her destiny in this opener for a new fantasy series.

Timid Lark, rendered vulnerable by her prophetic Sight, prefers solitary gardening to adventure. Yet after a vision in which bestial Troths devastate her village, she bravely agrees to seek aid from the mysterious Riders. At their stronghold in Tarnec, Lark is stunned to be hailed as one of the destined Guardians of Balance, bound to seek the stolen orb of Life. She’s paired with the inexplicably hostile Gharain (quite literally the man of her dreams), who she foresees will break her heart…and kill her. The refreshingly original magical system of this world allows for images of aching beauty, describing Lark’s connection to the Earth and all its creatures. Unfortunately, Lark herself is vacillating, weepy and prone to bouts of melodramatic self-pity. Her successful use of her powers seems more lucky coincidence and authorial fiat than any personal strength. Her torrid romance with Gharain (who exhibits no discernible personality whatsoever) feels equally forced, and the remaining characters are bland, spouting unnatural dialogue constructed of stilted aphorisms and cryptic hints. The slow pacing of the first half accelerates into an exciting climax filled with lurid torture, grisly violence and genuine courage. Unfortunately, the denouement simply waves away all obstacles to a fairy-tale conclusion, leaving just enough dangling to set up the obvious sequels.

Disappointing. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: Sept. 23, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-449-81748-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2014

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Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers...

NEVER FALL DOWN

A harrowing tale of survival in the Killing Fields.

The childhood of Arn Chorn-Pond has been captured for young readers before, in Michelle Lord and Shino Arihara's picture book, A Song for Cambodia (2008). McCormick, known for issue-oriented realism, offers a fictionalized retelling of Chorn-Pond's youth for older readers. McCormick's version begins when the Khmer Rouge marches into 11-year-old Arn's Cambodian neighborhood and forces everyone into the country. Arn doesn't understand what the Khmer Rouge stands for; he only knows that over the next several years he and the other children shrink away on a handful of rice a day, while the corpses of adults pile ever higher in the mango grove. Arn does what he must to survive—and, wherever possible, to protect a small pocket of children and adults around him. Arn's chilling history pulls no punches, trusting its readers to cope with the reality of children forced to participate in murder, torture, sexual exploitation and genocide. This gut-wrenching tale is marred only by the author's choice to use broken English for both dialogue and description. Chorn-Pond, in real life, has spoken eloquently (and fluently) on the influence he's gained by learning English; this prose diminishes both his struggle and his story.

Though it lacks references or suggestions for further reading, Arn's agonizing story is compelling enough that many readers will seek out the history themselves. (preface, author's note) (Historical fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-173093-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

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A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula.

HOCUS POCUS AND THE ALL-NEW SEQUEL

In honor of its 25th anniversary, a Disney Halloween horror/comedy film gets a sequel to go with its original novelization.

Three Salem witches hanged in 1693 for stealing a child’s life force are revived in 1993 when 16-year-old new kid Max completes a spell by lighting a magical candle (which has to be kindled by a virgin to work). Max and dazzling, popular classmate Allison have to keep said witches at bay until dawn to save all of the local children from a similar fate. Fast-forward to 2018: Poppy, daughter of Max and Allison, inadvertently works a spell that sends her parents and an aunt to hell in exchange for the gleeful witches. With help from her best friend, Travis, and classmate Isabella, on whom she has a major crush, Poppy has only hours to keep the weird sisters from working more evil. The witches, each daffier than the last, supply most of the comedy as well as plenty of menace but end up back in the infernal regions. There’s also a talking cat, a talking dog, a gaggle of costumed heroines, and an oblique reference to a certain beloved Halloween movie. Traditional Disney wholesomeness is spiced, not soured, by occasional innuendo and a big twist in the sequel. Poppy and her family are white, while Travis and Isabella are both African-American.

A bit of envelope-pushing freshens up the formula. (Fantasy. 10-15)

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-368-02003-9

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Freeform/Disney

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018

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