Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert; Flatiron Books, 352 pages ($ 18.99) Ages 14 to 18.
Melissa Albert, author of the sublimely creepy “The Hazel Wood,” spins another mesmerizing enchantment in this exquisitely written, disturbing novel of a mother and daughter, and of secrets, magic, betrayal and revenge.
The sinister tone of the narrative is set immediately with the opening chapter. 17-year-old Ivy has just broken up with her boyfriend after a party and is riding home on a dark road when he veers sharply to avoid hitting a naked, young girl standing in the road. The girl is laughing, fearless, taunting them – and calls Ivy by name.
The next morning Ivy finds a decapitated rabbit in the driveway, a discovery that provokes a panicked reaction in her normally stoic mother. Ivy then finds a wooden cigar box of her childhood treasures hidden in a safe in her mother’s closet, a discovery that launches her on a mission to learn her mother’s secret, to learn more about the gaps in her own memory. When Ivy’s mother and her Aunt Fee disappear, Ivy goes in search of the girl from the dark road.
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The narrative shifts between Ivy (“the suburbs, right now”) and her mother and Fee at 15 (“the city, back then”). Dana had rare abilities to sense things even as a little girl; she and Fee began practicing magic in earnest through an older girl named Marion, at first as a way to punish a stranger’s unwanted attentions and moving on to more powerful spells through a book belonging to occultist Astrid Washington, a terrifying figure: “her yellow irises had eaten the whites of her eyes away,” giving her “the two-toned glare of a bird of prey.”
The counterpoint between mother and daughter is fascinating. Ivy ponders: “the times my mother most felt like a mom was when she was furious on our behalf. Like a bad boyfriend. Like a little girl who did not want anyone else playing with her dolls.” Dana muses: “I’ve always liked to watch bad mothers. A mother can be a paring knife, a chisel. She can shape and destroy. I never really thought I would become one.”
This skillfully plotted page-turner offers gripping suspense, unsettling scenes of magic unleashed, and a surprising love story.
The Pear Affair by Judith Eagle, illustrated by Jo Rioux; Walker Books, 288 pages ($ 17.99) Ages 10 to 14.
A girl escapes from her dreadful parents during a trip to Paris and goes in search of her missing au pair in this deliciously entertaining mystery with its vivid descriptions of Paris streets, pastries, underground tunnels and other marvels.
Penelope “Nell” Magnificent has lost touch with her beloved nanny, Perrine “Pear” Chaumet, and has always dreamed of tracking her down at the illustrious Crown Couture fashion house in Paris where she is renowned for her skill at embroidery. But Pear no longer works there, and no one seems to know where she might be. Meanwhile the new mayor of Paris is cracking down on children traveling Paris streets on their own; at the same time a mysterious black mold dubbed “the thing” is ruining bread and baked goods and forcing the closure of family bakeries across the city.
Eagle’s entertaining mystery has everything: a plucky heroine, colorful villains, thrilling action and a most satisfying ending.
Two Dogs by Ian Falconer, Michael di Capua Books, HarperCollins ($ 18.99) Ages 4 to 8.
“Olivia” creator Ian Falconer shifts from pigs to dogs in this delightful picture book of two Dachsund brothers who get into plenty of mischief while their owners are away.
“Like so many other dogs, they were left alone. All day. Most days. They were bored.” Augie is the brainy, cautious one; Perry is the wild instigator. Augie figures out how to flip the lock on the sliding back door, allowing the brothers to enjoy the fun of “watering” the flowers, rolling in raccoon poop, using the seesaw, swimming in the pool and digging a giant hole. Falconer’s droll illustrations are simply marvelous.