June 24, 2015

A family of shape-shifters

Aesop's Secret
by Claudia White

Melinda is a ten-year-old girl who one day discovers that she can turn into a horse! She and her family are Athenites, an ancient race of shapeshifters who can take on the form of any animal. Melinda revels in her newfound ability, but her brother Felix wants nothing to do with it. He's more interested in science and goes off to study at the Stumpworthy School of Science in Paris. But things take an ominous turn when Felix falls into a coma, his father disappears, and his mother starts acting strangely. It's up to Melinda to find out what's really happening in order to save her family. She is helped by her pet rabbit Aesop, who is more than what he seems.

White does a good job of blending the mythical with the real, but doesn't allow her story to properly develop. Everything happens too quickly and conveniently, with adult characters explaining key plot points. I find it disappointing that Melinda and Felix are the only children in the story. Another puzzling aspect are the characters' reactions to various situations. They laugh when they should be scared, are reckless when they should be cautious (Melinda makes no attempt to hide her shapeshifting), and seemingly unconcerned at bad news. Part of the problem may be White's attempt to use a word other than "said." So Melinda sneers or drawls or giggles, which often doesn't fit with the serious conversations that she's having. It's also a major letdown that the villain, Professor Stumpworthy, is the boastful type who enjoys revealing his nefarious plans.

Surprisingly, Aesop's Secret has spawned two sequels, Key to Kashdune and Servalius Window, each with beautiful cover art by Larissa Kulik, which is what initially attracted me. 

White has another book on the way, so she does have her fans. But sadly, this reader isn't one of them.

June 17, 2015

Dream of diving horses

The Girl on the High Diving Horse
by Linda Oatman High
illustrated by Ted Lewin

Ivy Cordelia and her photographer father spend summer 1936 in Atlantic City. Of all the sights and sounds, Ivy most loves the Steel Pier and the high-diving horses. She watches the act every day and dreams of being the girl on a high-diving horse. Will her dream come true?

Poetic words and old-fashioned, postcard-style pictures make for a nostalgic, magical read.