Nesbet, Anne. The Cabinet of Earths.
Maya and her family, including five-year-old brother James, move to Paris. Her mother has cancer and has always wanted to go, so when her father gets a fellowship from the Society of Philosophical Chemistry to study there, Maya can hardly complain. Shortly upon arrival, strange things start to occur-- odd relatives show up, Maya's face appears on a statue, a packet of pictures appears. Maya and James spend a lot of time with their colorless cousin Louise, who is helping with their French, and the very strange Henri de Fourcroy who tells them a little about their strange family history. The Cabinet of Earths turns out to be a way to make people immortal-- their "earths" are bottled and kept in the cabinet, and they are fed "anbar", the essence of lively children, to keep them happy and vibrant. Once Maya finds out about this, and finds that she is the keeper of this cabinet, she is torn-- she can keep her mother alive, but must then be a part of this evil process that could strip the livliness from her brother.
Strengths: My readers are trending away from medieval fantasy, and I know just the student to whom I would hand this. Even though the cover and the title on this one set me into defensive "I don't want to read anymore fantasy!" mode, I was drawn into the story very quickly.
Weaknesses: Maya's life in school was touched on much too briefly-- I think I would have left it out. Even the friend she makes there doesn't add much. The father's position was also rather vague, although the family needed a reason to be in France. This writer show a lot of promise, but I have a feeling that her next book will be much better. Don't mean to damn with faint praise, this one was oddly compelling and yet bothered me at the same time.
Levin, Mark and Jennifer Flackett. The Family Hitchcock.
Maddy, Benji and the entire Hitchcock family are traveling to Paris even though family finanaces are tight and the children would really rather stay at home. Swapping houses with a Parisian family, the Vadim's allows them to afford this, and luckily, the Vadim's home is much posher than their own. Opera tickets show up at the door, the family is able to borrow swanky clothes and go, and things seem to be looking up. However, a case of mistaken identity gets them involved with dangerous if attractive villians involved in an international crime plot.
Strengths: Lots of action and adventure, car chases, and a humorous tone make this a book that will intrigue elementary students.
Weaknesses: Every character was reduced to an annoying stereotype with irritating catch phrases. Also, if this is "written by Dan Elish", how can this be Levin and Flackett's first children's book? Coming up with an idea is very different from writing this, and the writing in this is definitely very much like Elish's The School for the Insanely Gifted.