Max Cassidy: Escape from Shadow Island by Paul Adam. Set in England and in the fictional Central American nation of Santo Domingo, this thriller/detective story features fourteen year old escapologist Max Cassidy. Max is a typical fourteen year old, except that he performs Houdini-like feats of escape and magic and he’s determined to effect his mother’s release from prison where she is being held for the murder of his father. Is Max’s father really dead? Can Max prove that his mother is innocent? Will ma be able to escape from notorious Shadow Island? This one skews older; maybe 12-15 year olds will enjoy it. The book starts off with a murder, and although it’s not very scary, it would make a good introduction to the crime fiction genre. Unfortunately, this book is one of those beginning-of-a-series books, and I can’t tell when the second book will be published.
The Max Cassidy Fact File.
Grease Town by Ann Towell. O Canada! This entry from our neighbors to the north confused me at first. Because of the photo on the cover, I thought the narrator, Titus Sullivan and his brother Lemuel, were black. But it turns out that Titus and Lemuel are white Canadians living at the time of the U.S. Civil War, and when they go to Oil Springs, Ontario to work in the oil fields, Titus meets a black boy named Moses. The two become friends, but not everyone in Oil Springs is pleased about living and working side by side with black people, most of whom are former slaves from the United States. Titus is a talkative young man and a brave one, but when tragedy strikes, it takes Titus’s voice away and threatens to take his courage and his reason, too. This one would pair well with Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis, also about escaped slaves living in Canada. (Semicolon review here)
My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjan. Kind of a Wimpy Kid wannabe. Derek is looking forward to a summer with no school and lots of fun, but his teacher is forcing him to do summer reading! I give the book points for not having Derek predictably and magically turn into a book lover as he struggles to complete his summer reading assignment, and the mystery subplot is interesting, even if the solution is somewhat unsurprising. Reluctant readers who have read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series might find this one an acceptable follow-up.
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne. Hamlet Kennedy’s family loves Shakespeare. Her parents teach Shakespeare at the local college, dress up like Elizabethans, live Shakespeare, breathe Shakespeare. Hamlet, despite her name, is not so passionate about Shakespeare. Then, when her little sister Desdemona the seven year old genius, joins Hamlet in middle school, Hamlet realizes that her life is about to become a total tragedy.
I would have expected to love this one since I’m something of a Shakespeare geek myself, but I just liked it. Hamlet’s woes fall fall short of tragedy, but her reaction to the embarrassment of having a family that’s far from average seems typically middle school-ish. Maybe that’s what left me a little cold; I’d prefer a character who’s not afraid to be different.