Magickeepers: The Eternal Hourglass, by Erica Kirov (Sourcebooks-Jabberwocky, 2009, middle grade, 231pp).
Maybe you've read a few books already that tell of a boy, who, just as a significant birthday happens, discovers he is part of a magical clan who is entrusted with great powers that the dark side wants, and maybe you think that plot has been done to death. But I was quite impressed with the fresh life that Kirov has brought to it in her page-turning story.
In this case, the boy is Nick Rostov, who's spent his life living with his third (or even fourth)-rate magician father in crummy hotels in Las Vegas. On his thirteenth birthday, he discovers he is part of a great family of Russian magic keepers, disguising themselves in plain sight as the greatest performing magicians Las Vegas has ever known. He is whisked away from his father, and, ensconced in a hotel full of Russian cousins he's never heard of, he begins to learn real magic. He also begins to learn, in a much more immediate way than he would have liked, that as well as the Magic Keepers, charged with finding and protecting great talismans of power, that there are Shadow Keepers as well. Led by the insane Russian monk Rasputin, the Shadow Keepers are determined to take from Nick the magic of the Eternal Hourglass that his mother died to protect. Except that Nick has no clue what the hourglass is...
With her world of Russian magicians and Las Vagas magic shows, untamed horses and polar bears (it's a big hotel), crystal balls, and flashbacks to the life of Houdini, Kirov makes a fresh and fun story of Nick's introduction to his magical heritage. It's a fast-paced and detailed adventure, that I imagine will be enjoyed by many middle-grade readers.
But not, exactly, by everyone. Perhaps caught up by her interest and involvement with setting and story, Kirov doesn't quite develop her characters into people with whom one can empathize. Nick is not in the least an introspective, thoughtful character, and this kept me from truly enjoying the story. Why, for instance, doesn't he stop to think at all about his father, left behind in his crummy hotel? He misses pizza, but not his dad, and this seemed rather sad and inexplicable to me.
In short, a bright, entertaining book, which I think would be a great summer pick for a middle school kid (perhaps more boy appeal than girl), whose sequel I will happily read. But not one that I quite took to my heart.
Here's an interview with Erica Kirov at The Enchanted Inkpot, and here are some other reviews: Eva's Book Addiction, Cafe of Dreams, Booking Mama, The Reading Tub, The Written World, Joe Barone's Blog, and YA Books Central.