Kent, Gabrielle. The Secrets of Hexbridge Castle
October 25th 2016 by Scholastic
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central
Alfie Blook and his father, a misguided inventor, are barely scraping by, and school is unpleasant as well. Shortly before his 12th birthday, Alfie gets a letter from the solicitor Caspian Bone, telling him he has inherited a castle! Alfie and his father prepare to move to Hexbridge, which is conveniently near family in the British countryside. Once there, Alfie is amazed at the castle, and his cousins Madeleine and Robin join him in investigating the premises as well as the secrets of Orin Hopcraft, the Druid who left the castle to Alfie.
Hopcraft's secrets fill this book with interesting twists and turns which I don't want to reveal! Let's just say that there is a talking bear rug, a shapeshifter, and time travel. In time honored British fashion, there's also a decent amount of tea being brewed, a helpful butler who cooks delicious meals, and a canopy bed.
There's a pleasant tension between Alfie's real life, which includes reigning in his single father, getting settled in his new community, and surviving at school, and the magical dilemmas. Alfie holds a very big secret, and the fate of magic in the world, as well as the castle, falls on his slim shoulders. While he has some help from Caspian and Orin, they are not always present, and more adept at giving him enigmatic clues than actual help.
In the grand tradition of L.M. Boston's The Children of Green Knowe and Lawrence's Withern Rise series, Hexbridge Castle gives us a plucky hero, a fascinating mystery, and a venerable house packed with comforts as well as conspiracies. Readers who have enjoyed Stroud's The Last Siege, Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden, or Bellair's The House with a Clock in Its Walls will enjoy this modern classic and be eager for a sequel.
Gidwitz, Adam. The Inquisitor's Tale
September 27th 2016 by Dutton Books for Young Readers
ARC from the publisher
In 1242 France, a group of various characters share their stories in an inn. The big news: three children have been wandering around with the ghost of a dog, trying to effect social change. They are a girl from the dog's family, Jeanne, who sees visions and has fits; William, a young monk whose father was a pilgrim and whose mother was Saracen; and Jacob, a Jewish boy whose village has been burned down. Together, they fight the injustices they see around them, although initially they were wary of each other, having been brought with social preconceptions. In Canterbury Tales style, their story is told from the point of view of various people (a nun, a jongleur, and the inquisitor, who collects all of their tales), and the finished copy of the book is to have illuminated pages.
Strengths: Engaging enough, and the characters seem more historically accurate-- Jeanne isn't a spunky girl, the children don't automatically get along. The idea of a ghost dog venerated by villagers is interesting.
Weaknesses: I have tons of medieval books that sit on the shelves gathering dust, including The Seeing Stone by Kevin Crossley-Holland, Karen Cushman's books, and Beckman's fabulous 1973 Crusade in Jeans. I've had a lot more students reading fantasy lately (to the point where I might have to break down and get the rest of Michael Scott's The Alchemyst series), so maybe there will be an uptick on traffic for books with the Adam of the Road vibe as well.
What I really think: For $10.79 at Baker and Taylor, I'll buy a copy because it is sure to appear on a Battle of the Books list at some point. And it's shiny. I suspect Gidwitz is one of those authors who seems to appeal more to adults (like Betsy Bird, who think this is awesome) than to tweens.