Book Reviews: Magisterium by Jeff Hirsch, No Stone Unturned by James W. Ziskin, and The Escape by Kathryn Lasky

MagisteriumMagisterium
Jeff Hirsch
Scholastic Press, October 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-29018-0
Hardcover

A delightful fun read that kept the pages turning quickly. It’s easy to slip back into for those stolen five minute breaks that come along throughout the day. I love how Magisterium gradually pulls you in, without exactly announcing where it is going, through scifi to dystopia and fantasy, all in the young adult world.

We start with Glenn(ora), a 16 year old girl now living with her Dad in the Colloquium, a mostly normal-feeling albeit technologically-advanced world in the future. Even though the book is told in third person, we are limited by what Glenn knows and doesn’t know as we take this journey with her. And her sort-of friend, Kevin – whose differentness I really enjoyed.

There is another world, across the border, known as the Magisterium. I found the Colloquium world more interesting but, for most of the book, we leave it behind. Yet it is the contrast and the struggle between the Magisterium and the Coloquium worlds that gives this book much of its appeal.

Sprinkled throughout the book are some fun imaginative inventions. Now I want one of the gel chairs that mold to my body whenever I sit in it. (Brookstone? Anyone?) I especially loved Aamon – the fulfillment of every child’s fantasy. I would have liked to have more of him.

My only complaint is that when we get to the ending, the writing veered off into the melodramatic and, for this reader, it reduced the emotional impact. Other than that, I liked how the book was concluded.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, May 2014.

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No Stone UnturnedNo Stone Unturned
An Ellie Stone Mystery #2
James W. Ziskin
Seventh Street Books, June 2014
ISBN 978-1-61614-883-6
Trade Paperback


From the publisher:

A dead girl in the woods. Three little oil spots on the dirt road. A Dr. Pepper bottle cap in the shallow grave. And a young reporter, armed with nothing but a camera.

Evening is falling on a wet, gray autumn day in upstate New York. Ellie Stone, twenty-four-year-old reporter for a small local daily, stands at a crossroads in her career and in her life. Alone in the world, battling her own losses and her own demons Ellie is ready to pack it in and return to New York a failure. Then she hears the dispatch over the police scanner.

A hunter, tramping through a muddy wood north of the small town of New Holland, has tripped over the body of a twenty-on-year-old society girl half-buried in the leaves. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. The investigation provides a rare opportunity to rescue her drowning career, but all leads seem to die on the vine, until Ellie takes a daring chance that unleashes unintended chaos.

Wading through a voyeuristic tangle of small-town secrets, she makes some desperate enemies, who want her off the case. Dead if necessary.

 

I tremendously enjoyed this book. No Stone Unturned is the second novel by James W. Ziskin. I will definitely check out his first Ellie Stone mystery, Styx & Stone.

The story is set in the 1960s and follows young reporter Ellie Stone as she pursues the killer of student Jordan Shaw. Ellie Stone is a tough young woman, who drinks too much as she fights to stay afloat in a male-dominated world. There’s something in her that reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone.

Ziskin’s characters are well-developed and believable.

As for the setting, at times I wish the author would have included more details about the 1960s. I feel as if the story could have taken place 10 or 15 years later.

But apart from that a great read.

Reviewed by Anika Abbate, May 2014.

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The Escape Horses of the DawnThe Escape
Horses of the Dawn #1
Kathryn Lasky
Scholastic Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-39716-2
Hardcover


Horses of the Dawn
is a well written, fictionalized documentary of the Spanish conquistadors conquer of the New World written from the point of view of the horses that accompanied the soldiers and traumatized the native Americans.

Estrella, the young colt born on board ship, becomes the unnatural leader of the horses when she and others are thrown overboard without regard for their lives to lighten the ship’s load. As they swim to a nearby island, her mother is killed by sharks.

With the aid of her ancestors’ memories, Estrella eventually leads the herd to a grassland paradise. Along the way, they encounter a dangerous jungle full of predators, and are recaptured by the Spanish. Through a series of events, they escape the humans and continue on their successful journey to the land of plenty.

Though I appreciate the writer’s skillful craft and loved that the story was told through the eyes of Estrella, I was amazed from the beginning that the book was directed to 8-12 year olds. The writing style appeared much more advanced than that age appropriate. Added to that, the graphic descriptions of violence the herd encounter via sharks, crocodiles, Aztec human sacrifice, and the violent beheading of one of the horses did not make me think this was a young child’s book.

Ms. Lasky could have written the story of their journey told through Estrella’s eyes, included her leadership qualities, and tossed in some excitement that the horses might have avoided without describing in such detail the terror and trauma this herd experienced again and again before they reached their destination.

I would not recommend this book for a child under 12.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, April 2014.