Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin; Little, Brown & Co., 288 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.
Author-illustrator Grace Lin offers an enchanting tale, rich in humor and wisdom and the possibility of transformation, in this companion novel to her Newbery Honor Book, “When the Mountain Meets the Moon.” Lin, who lives in Somerville, Mass., said she had long resisted her parents’ efforts to teach her about her heritage until her travels to Taiwan, China and Hong Kong awakened her interest in the evolution of the traditional Chinese folktales she had heard as a child. This is the story of Rendi, a boy who arrived at a remote village as a stowaway in a merchant’s wine cart and is given a job as a chore boy at the local inn. Rendi, whose unhappiness is clear to all around him, is the only one in the village who notices the moon is missing from the sky. There are other problems as well: The village’s mountain was transformed into an endless stone pancake, the innkeeper’s son is gone, Master Chao and his neighbor, the Widow Yan, are always arguing. Then a mysterious woman with a gift for storytelling, arrives and her stories, and the stories she draws from others at the inn, seem to have some sort of magical healing power. Lin does a masterful job grounding her story in a vivid reality, a reality that at the same time is full of mystical possibilities. Her full-page color illustrations done in traditional Chinese style are lovely.
– Jean Westmoore
The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets by Diana Wagman; Ig Publishing, 240 pages ($15.95)
A brisk and vividly drawn kidnapping tale, Wagman’s fourth novel hinges on the 7-foot-long lizard of its title.
Winnie Parker is a 38-year-old single mother who split from her wealthy game show host husband some years ago. During a morning of wrestling with the moods of her 16-year-old daughter, Parker is abducted by Oren, the caretaker of the exotic pet in question.
Though at its root a hostage thriller – and a pretty tense one at that – the power of Wagman’s book lies in the details. Winnie’s kidnapping comes early, with an unsettling banality that’s too easy to imagine for anyone who has been too caught up in their day-to-day to be careful, and Wagman does a terrific job in tracking Winnie’s shift from confusion to terror as she understands the gravity of her situation.
The tension moves closer to a boil as she’s pulled into Oren’s overheated house, which is kept at a saunalike temperature in deference to the iguana’s needs.
Oren’s back story is a bit over the top, but Wagman captures his disturbed state with a variety of on-a-dime mood swings and a habitual desire to ask “Why me?” while deflecting any blame for his actions as he slowly unravels.
– Los Angeles Times