Life on Mars by Jon Agee; Dial Books $17.99. Ages 4 and up.
In this silly story from perennial favorite Jon Agee, a young astronaut arrives on Mars, so certain he will find life there – even though “everybody thinks I’m crazy” - he has brought a box of cupcakes as a gift. He sets out to explore the gloomy landscape, completely unaware he is missing out on a friendly-looking large red creature standing right behind him. He’s about to give up (“Mars is nothing but miles and miles of rocks and dirt!”) when he finds another living thing, happily returning to his spaceship, where a surprise awaits on his journey home. The idea of exploring the unknown awakens the curiosity, and the youngest of readers will appreciate being in on the joke. Agee’s expressive illustrations, of Mars in black, grays and whites with touches of muted red, are marvelous.
The Last of August: A Charlotte Holmes Novel by Brittany Cavallaro; Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 336 pages ($17.99) Ages 13 and up.
Brittany Cavallaro brilliantly revives the Sherlock Holmes tradition, Moriarty family and all, in this trilogy featuring teenage Charlotte Holmes (complete with substance-abuse issue) and Jamie Watson. In this cleverly plotted second novel, Jamie and Charlotte are at the Holmes’ family estate taking a breather (after nearly getting killed during their fall semester, from Book 1) when Charlotte’s beloved Uncle Leander disappears after leaving Charlotte a suspicious voicemail message. Leander had been investigating an art forgery ring in Germany, so Charlotte and Jamie find themselves in considerable danger as they explore the underground art scene in Berlin. Cavallaro does a marvelous job portraying the difficult, obsessive relationship between Holmes and Watson (“she looked like a whisper made real”) and the dark and dangerous connections between the Holmes and Moriarty families, right up to the novel’s disturbing finale.