A satisfying bridge, setting up for the next in the series

THE BURNING MAZE

From the Trials of Apollo series , Vol. 3

Apollo’s mortifying punishment continues as he battles a notorious historical villain while in pursuit of an Oracle.

Apollo (still trapped in the body of a teenage boy) finds his way out of a terrifying underground labyrinth with his demigod master, green-thumbed Meg McCaffrey (she’s a daughter of Demeter), only to find himself in a tense Southern California desertscape. The state has been plagued with droughts and wildfires, and climate change isn’t the only thing to blame. As in most of Riordan’s mythology novels, Apollo and his friends must fight their way through a variety of challenges, meeting gods, monsters, and spirits along the way. In this installment the main allies are dryads, a welcome spot of green in the desert. Caligula (“Little Boots”) is a mastermind of unparalleled sadism. The captive Oracle Herophile contrasts effectively with the power and determination of Medea. “Power,” Apollo muses, “makes good people uneasy rather than joyful or boastful. That’s why good people so rarely rise to power.” He continues to grow as a sympathetic narrator, his egotism and vanity slowly giving way to humility and self-sacrifice. His flashes of vulnerability, especially around the reminder of his long-departed lover Hyacinthus, are endearing—but the constant deprecating references to his “flabby” and “softly curved…in all the wrong ways” reinforce tiresome body-image assumptions. The book assumes a white default, though some secondary characters are not white.

A satisfying bridge, setting up for the next in the series . (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: May 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4643-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

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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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