The inexpertly juggled overabundance of storylines and themes makes this one to skip.

BACK TO BLACKBRICK

A trip to the past reveals family secrets and tragedies that help an Irish lad adjust to sad events in the present.

Cosmo’s brother, Brian, has recently died, his beloved grandfather Kevin is descending into dementia, his distraught mother has fled to Sydney in response, and his adored horse has been sent away. On a visit to nearby Blackbrick Abbey, he suddenly finds himself back in the 1940s, where he tries to impress the then–16-year-old Kevin with the importance of keeping both Brian and his powers of memory alive in years to come. He also helps Kevin to smuggle beautiful young Maggie onto the estate, but as Maggie proves less interested in Kevin than in the estate’s owner, the plot takes a soapy turn with an illegitimate child who turns out not to be the only one in the story. (Fitzgerald is coy about the sex, leaving Cosmo to puzzle over a character’s claim that Maggie is “unchased.”) Back in his own time, the discovery of hitherto-unknown family connections, along with the returns of his horse and his repentant mother, begins to buoy Cosmo. There’s far too much going on, but the author does thread Cosmo’s narrative with helpful precepts such as, “If you let the past determine your future, you’re probably screwed.”

The inexpertly juggled overabundance of storylines and themes makes this one to skip. (Time-travel fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-8155-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: McElderry

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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