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CHILDREN’s

Romeo Blue by Phoebe Stone; Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, 350 pages ($16.99). Ages 8 to 12.

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Stone, who lives in Middlebury, Vt., specializes in excellent coming-of-age novels probing early adolescence, the bridge between childhood and adolescence, and creating memorable narrative voices.

This haunting, lovely sequel to the highly praised “The Romeo and Juliet” picks up the story of Flissy Bathburn, whose parents have left her with her grandmother in Bottlebay, Maine, while they are off in Europe doing something secret and dangerous for the Allied side. Her uncle Gideon, a teacher dubbed “Mr. Bathtub,” fills in the parental role, but then himself must head for Europe on a mission. Stone beautifully evokes the blossoming relationship between Flissy and Derek, a foster child living with Grandmother Bathburn, and the different person Flissy has become from the child she used to be. Among the book’s memorable characters are Flissy’s colorful Aunt Miami and Miami’s beau, the local postman, who turns out to be a gifted poet. U.S. spymaster William Donovan even makes an appearance. Stone is a marvelous writer, and she offers a vivid setting, in the small community of Bottlebay, while hauntingly evoking the terror of an adolescence spent with loved ones in danger, in a world at war, when the outcome of that war was uncertain and spies and Uboats were lurking about. Among her other excellent books for this age group are “All the Blue Moons at the Wallace Hotel,” “Deep Down Popular” and “The Boy on Cinnamon Street.”

– Jean Westmoore

FICTION

The Kings and Queens of Roam by Daniel Wallace; Touchstone, 288 pages ($24)

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“Once upon a time” is probably the most seductive phrase in the language of books. Add a forest, a witch, a giant and a princess, and children are enchanted beyond any reasonable doubt: No need to know the story’s setting (it’s a kingdom!) or the king’s reasons for beheading his daughter’s suitors one by one (they gave the wrong answer!).

Even adult readers still warm to the tall tale, the fable and the fairy tale. Maybe that’s the reason I was already thoroughly sucked into the spooky yet oh-so-familiar world of “The Kings and Queens of Roam” by the time its narrator explained that “it’s impossible to say exactly where Roam is,” and that it was “shadowed by dark green forests full of bears and wild dogs.” It’s the fifth novel from Alabama native Daniel Wallace, best known for “Big Fish,” a book that summoned up a magical realism unique to the South.

Wallace followed up with “Ray in Reverse,” “The Watermelon King” and “Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician.” All share his signature use of fantasy and real life to examine the importance and consequence of story – both those we tell others and the ones we tell ourselves.

“Kings and Queens of Roam” returns to those consequences in the tale of a 100-year-old town inhabited by a handful of eccentric natives and the ghosts of everyone who ever lived there.Founded by greedy industrialist Elijah McCallister, Roam once boasted a thriving silk industry.

Gina Webb, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

MYSTERY

Lucky Bastard by Deborah Coonts; Forge, 352 pages ($25.99)

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Mysteries that feature large swaths of humor must balance the line between the comic and the thoughtful nature of crime fiction.

Deborah Coonts has no trouble brewing a fine mix of wit and seriousness in her highly entertaining “Lucky Bastard,” the fourth in her Lucky O’Toole series.

Coonts finds plenty of laughs in the artificial city of Las Vegas, which may have invented the phrase “over-the-top,” and in her heroine, who is the acerbic head of customer relations at the gaudy Babylon Hotel, a mega casino-resort on the Vegas strip. But “Lucky Bastard” quickly takes a more somber tone when the plot deals with a young woman’s death and the weighty themes of unconditional love, secret lives and past transgressions. And as much as Vegas lends itself to a laugh riot, “Lucky Bastard” also delves into the city’s infrastructure where inefficient storm drains can become deadly when jammed with unexpected summer monsoon showers.

The energetic “Lucky Bastard,” and Coonts’ other novels in her series, may be the only sure bet that Las Vegas can offer.

– By Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel