Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo; illustrated by K.G. Campbell; Candlewick Press, 240 pages ($17.99) Ages 8 to 12.
The incomparable Kate DiCamillo, creator of “The Miraculous Adventures of Edward Tulane” and “The Tale of Despereaux,” has outdone herself in this extraordinary tale of love, connection, healing and finding your way home, themes that run through all of her work. This one is partly told through comic book panels, in keeping with heroine Flora Belle’s love of comic superhero the great Incandesto – unassuming janitor Alfred T. Slipper – who is fond of declaring “This malfeasance must be stopped!” The action begins when Flora’s odd neighbor Tootie Tinkham is given a Ulysses Super-Suction Multi-Terrain 2000X vacuum cleaner for her birthday which runs wild and vacuums up a squirrel, mysteriously endowing said squirrel with speech and a talent for poetry. Flora calls the squirrel Ulysses and swears to protect him from her new archenemy, her mother, Phyllis, who considers this yet another manifestation of her daughter’s weirdness and orders Flora’s father to kill the squirrel. Others in the colorful cast of characters include a shepherdess lamp named Mary Ann; Tootie’s strange nephew William Spiver who insists a trauma has stolen his eyesight so he must always wear dark glasses; Flora’s sad father George who loves superheroes but has lived in the Blixen Arms apartments since the divorce where he is routinely attacked by his landlord’s villainous cat Mr. Klaus; and George’s delightfully eccentric elderly neighbor Dr. Meescham, always reminiscing about her girlhood in Blundermeecen, her fear of trolls and her love for her late husband, who used to bring her sardines and crackers in bed. In scene after scene DiCamillo is laugh-out-loud hilarious (whether Ulysses is making his way back to life after a near-death experience, or narrowly escaping death at the hands of a deranged chainsmoking romance novelist) while delivering lovely asides and beautiful insights about the human condition and the importance of being open to the mystery of the everyday.
– Jean Westmoore
Good as Gone by Douglas Corleone; Minotaur (304 pages, $24.99)
Simon Fisk, the hero of Douglas Corleone’s new series, could easily be a cousin of Jack Reacher.
Like Reacher, the hero of Lee Child’s best-selling novels, Simon is a loner constantly on the move, with a background in law enforcement and a penchant for coming to the rescue of those in need.
And like Child, Corleone delivers an adrenalin-fueled plot with believable, complex characters. As “Good as Gone” proves, Corleone shapes Simon with a unique personality and background, intriguing enough to maintain a long-running series.
– By Oline H. Cogdill, Orlando Sun Sentinel