A smooth story for horse-mad readers, but it’s unlikely to find a much larger audience than that.

NOT BAD FOR A BAD LAD

A "bad lad" combines a passion for horses and music and makes good.

An unnamed protagonist tells his early life story in retrospect for his grandchildren. Born at the end of World War II, never knowing his father, a young boy "no good at anything the teachers wanted me to be good at" learns to play drums under the eye of his only kind teacher. Nevertheless, he falls into worse and worse company, until he becomes a petty thief and then, by age 16, a serious one. Eventually caught, he's sent for a year to a Borstal, a British prison designed to rehabilitate young offenders. He's attracted to the prison's horse farm mostly because the head man plays radio music there, but he soon learns to love the horses, too, particularly an abused young horse named Dombey, with whom he forms a bond. In short order Dombey is sold, the boy's mentor disappears, and the boy is discharged onto the street, where he eventually becomes a soldier and reunites with Dombey. Morpurgo's gently elegant prose makes this slim story flow effortlessly, but there's not much action, and the narrative structure creates a storytelling effect that puts readers at a remove. It reads more like a short story than a novel, even when embellished by Foreman's ink-and-wash illustrations and a 10-page afterward describing the Borstal system and Suffolk Punch horses.

A smooth story for horse-mad readers, but it’s unlikely to find a much larger audience than that. (Historical fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: July 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-8481-2471-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Piccadilly/Trafalgar

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2016

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable.

MILLIONAIRES FOR THE MONTH

A reward of $5,000,000 almost ruins everything for two seventh graders.

On a class trip to New York City, Felix and Benji find a wallet belonging to social media billionaire Laura Friendly. Benji, a well-off, chaotic kid with learning disabilities, swipes $20 from the wallet before they send it back to its owner. Felix, a poor, shy, rule-follower, reluctantly consents. So when Laura Friendly herself arrives to give them a reward for the returned wallet, she’s annoyed. To teach her larcenous helpers a lesson, Laura offers them a deal: a $20,000 college scholarship or slightly over $5 million cash—but with strings attached. The boys must spend all the money in 30 days, with legal stipulations preventing them from giving anything away, investing, or telling anyone about it. The glorious windfall quickly grows to become a chore and then a torment as the boys appear increasingly selfish and irresponsible to the adults in their lives. They rent luxury cars, hire a (wonderful) philosophy undergrad as a chauffeur, take their families to Disney World, and spend thousands on in-app game purchases. Yet, surrounded by hedonistically described piles of loot and filthy lucre, the boys long for simpler fundamentals. The absorbing spending spree reads like a fun family film, gleefully stuffed with the very opulence it warns against. Major characters are White.

Cinematic, over-the-top decadence, a tense race against time, and lessons on what’s truly valuable. (mathematical explanations) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-17525-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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