Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Lincoln Project (Flashback Four #1)

Gutman, Dan. The Lincoln Project (Flashback Four #1)
February 23rd 2016 by HarperCollins
ARC from Young Adult Books Central

Four children in Boston are approached by Pasture Company CEO, Chris Zandergoth to take part in an amazing opportunity. Using a team of engineers, Ms. Zandergoth has managed to make a SUPER smart board; one that allows people to travel back in time. She is using this technology to further her own personal goal of getting photographs of famous historical events. Her missing photograph is that of Lincoln delivering his Gettysburg Address. The children are skeptical at first, even though they have no trouble fooling their parents into signing their permission slips, so David travels back in time to watch Wilt Chamberlain score 100 points in a basketball game. Convinced that this is the real deal, the children prepare to travel to the past, getting fitted with proper garments, learning Civil War era slang, and being given instruction on how to use a high end camera and a Text Through Time device. Having been given the standard instructions to lay low and not change history, the four go back... to the day before Lincoln's speech. After meeting Tad Lincoln, the four have to find some food and a place to stay, and show up in time to take their photo. Things go badly wrong when the local police think they are trying to shoot the president, but Lincoln himself manages to save the day. 

Gutman, who has utilized time travel in both his Baseball Card Adventures and Qwerty Stevens books, does a good job at making time travel believable yet again, even though the smart board is a more technological device than the baseball cards! I especially appreciated that the group was not traveling back in time in order to "fix" history-- Ms. Zandergoth's collecting of photographs had some historical value, but was mainly selfish. Why else would anyone go to such trouble to make time travel work?

There is a lot of diversity in the cast of characters, and this is even mentioned by one of them. David is African-American, Luke is slightly overweight, Isabel is of Hispanic descent, and Julia has wealthy parents who let her shop a lot but are largely absent. Ms. Vandergoth has ALS and is in a wheelchair. This is mentioned by supporting characters, but never by Ms. Vandergoth herself. 

The historical details are interesting, and Gutman includes a brief description at the end of the book about what events he made up and which were real. Tad Lincoln's problems are briefly addressed, John Wilkes Booth makes an unrealistic appearance, and the children get introduced to many facets of ordinary life that were at odds with the present day. Gutman's goofy humor and fast paced writing make all of his books good choices for middle grade readers, and this series is no exception. 

25152641Lloyd, Natalie. The Key to Extraordinary. 
February 23rd 2016 by Scholastic Press
E ARC from Edelweiss Above the Treeline
Reviewed at Young Adult Books Central

Emma, who has been told that every woman in her family has had a dream of her destiny, feels that she has no special qualities. She eventually dreams of a key, and thinks that she is getting closer to finding the answers to her magical destiny, but is struggling just to get through the day after the death of her mother. She lives with her grandmother and brother and helps with the bakery, The Boneyard Cafe, that her grandmother runs. She also gives tours of the local cemetery. A developer is trying to buy up the bakery, and Emma hopes that she will be able to stay in Blackbird Hollow, her magical, quirky Southern town. Is saving her town her destiny? 

Like Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic this is set in a town where magic is a part of everyday life. The magical flowers are particularly appealing, and magical baking is always fun. Since everyone has a bit of magic in them, there are unexpected twists all through the book, which makes 

The characters are a bit quirky as well--the tattooed grandmother has an interesting past, although I wonder what sleeve tattoos really look like on 70 year old arms! Topher, Emma's brother, is also struggling with the death of the mother, but has an unexpected love interest show up in the town. 

Readers who enjoy magical realism like Ingrid Law's Savvy, Littlewood's Bliss, or Shulman's The Grimm Legacy will enjoy accompanying Emma on her journey to find out who she is and what her magical gifts are. I do wish the recipe for peach-lavender muffins had been included!

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