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CHILDREN’s

The Water Castle by Megan Frazer Blakemore; illustrations by Jim Kay; Walker Books, 337 pages ($16.99) Ages 8 to 12.

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This beautifully written adventure, of the hunt for a Fountain of Youth across generations of three families, was inspired in part, the author reports, by the home of Poland Springs water company in Maine. A banner on the cover declares “believe the unbelievable,” and Frazer-Blakemore allows the reader to do just that as she deftly weaves a tantalizing blend of science, history and imagination. Ephraim Appledore-Smith is the awkward middle child (between athletic older brother Price and genius younger sister Brynn) and discovers he doesn’t fit in at all at his new school in the small town of Crystal Springs where his family moves after his father suffers a stroke. Expecting to be far ahead of his classmates, he finds instead he is way behind. Ephraim also discovers that his family’s ancestral home is a sore point with two classmates, whose families across the decades have had special claims to the place. The author shifts the narrative between the present day and 1908, paralleling Robert Peary’s race to discover the North Pole with the Appledore family patriarch’s experiments with the magical water below the house. The vivid descriptions of the home, with its Byzantine layout and secret rooms,add a realistic dimension to the mystery.

– Jean Westmoore

SUSPENSE

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus; Minotaur, 374 pages ($24.99)

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An exciting residual of the popularity of Stieg Larsson’s dragon-tattooed girl is that international crime fiction has become more attractive and accessible to U.S. publishers and readers.

“Snow White Must Die” by German author Nele Neuhaus quickly became a best-seller in Europe when it was released in 2010. It is just now being published in the United States, and its engrossing plot, intriguing characters and unpredictable twists should make it a rival for the acclaim that Larsson and other Scandinavian authors have amassed.

Although translated into English from German, the adaptation seems flawless. “Snow White Must Die” is a powerful psychological tale of how the murder of two teenage girls a decade ago continues to reverberate through a small community. It is a story of greed, gossip, hatred and revenge, of lives ruined and of extreme cruelty.

More than 11 years ago, two teenage girls vanished from the close-knit German village of Altenhain. Although their bodies were never found, 20-year-old Tobias Sartorius was convicted on circumstantial evidence. Now released after 10 years in prison, Tobias’ return to his hometown is anything but smooth. Unknown to him, his parents have separated, his father’s once thriving bar and restaurant are shuttered and their farm is in tatters. The entire community has ostracized Tobias’ family and now turns its venom on him, despite his only allies — the town’s wealthiest man and a famous actress who was a childhood friend.

Police detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodenstein become involved when Tobias’ mother is attacked and thrown from a bridge. Although they believe Tobias is guilty, the two detectives begin an independent investigation into his case. Neuhaus explores a large cast of characters with depth and compassion. No one here is entirely evil, nor entirely good. While Neuhaus concentrates on the town’s residents, she does not forget the compelling cops. Pia’s stable relationship contrasts with Oliver’s increasingly messy home.

“Snow White Must Die” moves at a brisk clip, delivering a gripping universal story. While myriad details are unique to Germany, “Snow White Must Die” could easily have taken place in any small town in America.

– By Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel