Middle-grade readers in it for the story alone will gallop through this spellbinder; here’s hoping they go so fast the...

THE MAGICIAN'S FIRE

From the Young Houdini series , Vol. 1

A fast-paced mystery finds Harry, an aspiring magician, and his friends on a quest to find Harry’s mentor, Herbie Lemster, who disappears from his dressing room backstage in a puff of purple smoke.

In this British import, Harry and Billie are street kids, while Arthur is the neglected son of a wealthy businessman who wants to send him away to a boarding school. It’s on Arthur’s birthday that Harry tries his most dangerous magic trick to date, and the three go out to celebrate, intending to wind up at the show in which Herbie performs. Their search begins right after Herbie disappears. The task is made difficult by Harry’s unfortunate habit of leaping into action, trusting that the other two will find him. And there are all too many sinister adults surrounding the three companions. The mystery does get solved, Harry learns a few things about friendship, and Arthur gives Harry his professional name of Houdini. Readers interested in actual information about Houdini should look elsewhere, as except for extremely broad background strokes, this character’s childhood has been entirely fictionalized. Most notably, this character has lived alone in New York after being sent by himself across the Atlantic, instead of spending his boyhood in Wisconsin in an intact family headed by his father, a rabbi.

Middle-grade readers in it for the story alone will gallop through this spellbinder; here’s hoping they go so fast the historical license doesn’t stick. (Adventure. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4926-0332-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

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A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff

THE GREAT SHELBY HOLMES

From the Shelby Holmes series , Vol. 1

A modern Sherlock Holmes retelling brings an 11-year-old black John Watson into the sphere of know-it-all 9-year-old white detective Shelby Holmes.

John's an Army brat who's lived in four states already. Now, with his parents' divorce still fresh, the boy who's lived only on military bases must explore the wilds of Harlem. His new life in 221A Baker St. begins inauspiciously, as before he's even finished moving in, his frizzy-haired neighbor blows something up: "BOOM!" But John's great at making friends, and Shelby certainly seems like an interesting kid to know. Oddly loquacious, brusque, and extremely observant, Shelby's locally famous for solving mysteries. John’s swept up in her detecting when a wealthy, brown-skinned classmate enlists their help in the mysterious disappearance of her beloved show dog, Daisy. Whatever could have happened to the prizewinning Cavalier King Charles spaniel? Has she been swiped by a jealous competitor? Has Daisy’s trainer—mysteriously come into enough money to take a secret weekend in Cozumel—been placing bets against his own dog? Brisk pacing, likable characters, a few silly Holmes jokes ("I'm Petunia Cumberbatch," says Shelby while undercover), and a diverse neighborhood, carefully and realistically described by John, are ingredients for success.

A smart, fresh take on an old favorite makes for a terrific series kickoff . (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-68119-051-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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Hilarious but haphazard.

THE GREAT PET HEIST

Five spunky pets go to extraordinary lengths to save themselves from abandonment.

The pets: wiener dog Butterbean; Walt, nee Lucretia, a secretive black cat; Oscar, a dignified mynah; and Marco and Polo, an exuberant pair of rats. The hapless owner: an elderly woman affectionately dubbed Mrs. Food. The incident: a bad fall (entirely Butterbean’s fault, though she hates to admit it) that lands Mrs. Food in the hospital and sends the pets scrambling to become “independently wealthy” lest they be removed from her apartment to the shelter. The accidental discovery of the wealthy Coin Man leads them to plot the “heist of the century” with the assistance of an octopus named Chad and vent-dwelling Wild Rat Wallace. Ecton tells the story from the pets’ perspectives, which, while impressively executed, proves to be this madcap adventure’s biggest shortcoming. The limited experience of the pets ensures that the human issues depicted—international crime, care of the elderly, deployed caregivers, deception of Child Protective Services—are treated more flippantly than their gravity merits. The scenes dealing with the kidnapping of a child are particularly dire; the character of the Coin Man feels almost too sinister for an otherwise lighthearted children’s novel. Yet lighthearted it is: Bantering dialogue, the distinct personalities of the pets (expressively illustrated by Mottram), and the whimsical premise make for an exciting caper. Mrs. Food and the Coin Man present white; the pets’ temporary caregiver has Korean heritage.

Hilarious but haphazard. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-5536-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Atheneum

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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