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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mechanisms, Magic, and Mystery

Hi there!
Welcome back to Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers….the place where your addiction to reading is not only understood, it’s shared!

A really quick reminder about the contest currently running on the site where you can score a copy of Charlie: A Love Story by Barbara Lampert….check out the guest post from the author, share a story about your fur baby (and fill out the form!), and be in to win! For more details, just check the right hand column of the page under 'Current Contests'.  Also, if you haven’t heard, the IBBA competition is heating up! First round voting closes 04/23 so be sure to let your voice be heard….I know a lot of book bloggers that would be EXTREMELY grateful (yours truly, included)...for more on that, just click the VOTE button at the top of the right hand column. Now, back to the regularly scheduled post!

Today, we’re stepping away from our furry friends…and right into a mystery. It's of the curious sort that leaves you standing invisibly by the side of the character in an effort to help them solve the clues before them because you just HAVE to know what's going to happen next!  Without too much bravado (although it is certainly deserving of such), I give you today's book of choice.....

Magic, Mystery & A Very Strange Adventure
Lissa Evans

From the publisher
Enter a wonderful world filled with real magic, mystery, and danger.
As if being small and having S. Horten as his name isn't bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart's swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony--a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth--and Tony's marvelous, long-lost workshop. Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who's also desperate to get hold of Tony's treasures.

It’s ironic that this one came to the top of the review stack today as I was JUST talking it up yesterday with a customer. They were trying to decide between one book of an extended series that shall remain nameless…or Horten’s. Well, I told them that despite the popularity of the particular series, the book they had was not the first of it but of it’s secondary spin off…and that Horten’s would be a great magical adventure PERFECT for a summer read; and I stand by that.

The book opens with a tongue in cheek homage to Stuart’s parents and the fact that his name when abbreviated just so, also describes his “vertical advantage” (or lack thereof). How so? Take a look… S. Horten. Now run it together and….yep. How would you like to deal with THAT growing up when in fact you’re not growing “up”? Good thing he’s a clever chap and with a mother that’s a doctor and a father that’s a writer (of crossword puzzles…the difficult sort), it’s no wonder. That doesn’t mean however that he doesn’t stumble in life or in this case…right into an unexpected mystery.

The mystery of which we speak involves a family member which he has never met….and might not ever meet if his disappearance had him greeting a bitter end. But that’s the thing….NO ONE KNOWS. As the story goes, or at least as much of it as most people know, Great-Uncle Tony aka The Great Hortini (aka T.T. TH…you’ll laugh when it’s revealed what all those letters stand for…. ^_^) was performing a feat of magic with his lovely assistant Lily, when a fire erupted…afterwards, the assistant could not be found, and Tony squirreled himself away working on his mysterious mechanisms day and night. Where did she go? WHY did she go (as they were engaged!)? What of his Uncle’s strange reaction as well…

Some questions there are no answers for or rather no EASY answers and this is certainly a case of the later. The mystery of BOTH their disappearances lay dormant until one day a curious and short lad stumbled across a condemned house at the end of his street only to discover a connection to a past that he never knew and a future he couldn’t imagine. With the help of his wits and the assistance of the calendar triplets (aka April, May and June…who live just over the fence and apparently see EVERYTHING), he embarks on a mission to save the house and discover the secrets that are held within. Little did he know the adventure that would unfold…and that you fair readers now have the chance to follow.

It’s really quite a curious read as we uncover secrets and messages left by Stuart’s uncle. One thing leads to another in every case but the trick is in solving the clue to move on to the next. From mysterious calls on phones that should no longer work to discarded mechanisms that may or not be found throughout the town, each piece of the puzzle IS solvable with a little luck and a little help from a friend. The friend in this case? One of the sisters, though I won’t reveal who, that doesn’t necessarily agree 100% with her news writing siblings tactic of “report first, investigate later“. Things are not always what they seem and in this story, it’s proven time and again.

Aside from the mysterious storyline, we have a cast of characters worthy of mention. Stuart and his parents is whom we get to know the most, and considering the mystery involves his family that makes perfect sense. His mother is a smart woman though sometimes aloof; his father is a smart man though much too fond of his line of work if I must say so (speaking constantly in large and unusual words befitting a crossword is a bit tedious and hard for a 10 year old boy to grasp!)…but they love him and it shows. Stuart is a resourceful yet clumsy boy, always up for a good adventure even if he’s feeling a bit down since the family moves away from all his friends and his closest neighbors seem bent on exposing him in some sort of scandal. Speaking of those neighbors…

We’ve mentioned them before, but let’s take another moment to greet April, May, and June; not the months, but the girls. They are reporters and photographers and researchers on the rise, well at least in their own little newspaper, 'The Beech Road Guardian'. It’s a school project they’re working on for the summer and taking it a few steps to far for Stuart’s liking. Every move he makes to connect the dots in the mystery at hand seems to be chronicled by the ever watching eyes of this trio…at least until one makes an alliance with him provided she gets to help him crack the case. It takes the heat off him from one angle, but there’s others that want to investigate just what his uncle was hiding...and possibly reap the rewards.

Enter Jeannie and Clifford; one is in charge of her own mini-school of magic (tricks of the trade and slight of hand, not Harry Potter) and VERY devious….and the other is a bumbling foo…I mean talent-in-training simple minded enough to do her bidding to get the to the next level in his studies. Yeah…you can imagine how truthful that promise is. Anywho, last but not least we have Leonora. She’s a sprightly old woman who knew the missing couple growing up and though her vision may have dimmed, the memories of those times and the wonders of the Horten’s works have not (…and got a long way in aiding him on his quest!). She knows more than one might think and comes in handy more than once as the story unfolds…along with her fun (and smart) helper dog. (Okay, so we didn’t escape the dogs today entirely…) It’s a mixed bag of goodness that you’ll enjoy getting to know along the way.

In the end, a story steeped in the reality of the times it took place but with a magical twist. As for anticipating where the story will take you, good luck! It’s a maze of unexpected turns and false endings that keeps you guessing…in a good way! The adventure that you encounter is much more than expected and will leave you wanting more….aww, but that’s a mystery I can answer for you now. For those that fancy another go round with this wondrous boy, you’ll be happy to note that a sequel has been planned and scheduled for release September 2012 entitled, Horten’s Incredible Illusions (at least according to the publisher site at the time this review was posted). *adds to wish list* A book for middle grade readers and beyond, there’s something in the story for everyone that can capture the imagination and send it soaring to heights unknown….and world’s unknown (dun dun dunnnn….).

ARC for review obtained from my local store…with a pretty cool promo edition of April, May, and June’s ‘The Beech Road Guardian’! This book was released this month from Sterling Children’s Books. For more information about this title as well as their full catalog, be sure to stop by their website, or follow along on Twitter.

Until next time…happy reading!


The1stdaughter said...

This looks like a fantastic read! Definitely one I'd recommend to readers looking for a bit of magic in their middle grade reading. What a fabulous review! I'm so interested in reading this! :o)

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