The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate, by Donna St. Cyr (CBAY Books, 2009, middle grade, 161 pp), required of me a leap of faith combined with an extreme suspension of disbelief (more so than is the case with many other middle-grade fantasies). The reader must accept the existence of the secret order the Cheese Syndicate, some of whom appear to be living cheeses (!!), and who rely on the magical properties of various cheeses (!?!) to bring their goal to fruition--the lofty goal of "restoring peace, harmony, and good taste to our world!"
But Robert Montasio, age 13, has more immediate goals--to restore his obnoxious little sister Janine to her full height (an unfortunate potion gulping incident shrank her more than a little), and to find his lost father. When he learns that his father was an honored member of the Syndicate, who disappeared while on a quest to find the legendary cheese that is the only thing that will save Janine, these two goals combine nicely.
And Robert, bringing along Janine in a waterproof dollhouse, is off on an adventure that has him fighting monsters, bartering with mythical creatures (how much is a wheel of cheese really worth?), and learning the true power of Muenster.
For instance, when riding on the back of a dolphin, being pursued by a very nasty ozaena:
"As we sped closer to the mouth, I hoped all my free throw shooting would pay off. I lobbed the cheese in from about twenty feet away. A perfect shot.
The effect was spectacular. The ozaena shrieked and groaned the instant the Muenster hit. It crashed from side to side across the ocean surface, like a fish flopping on the floor. I guess it was trying to get rid of the cheese. Finally, it vomited out its guts and lay still." (pages 70-71).
It's a fun book, once the cheese is swallowed, as it were. It's not one I'd necessarily be quick to press into the hands of an adult reader, but for a nine or ten-year old (especially one who has an interest in Greek mythological creatures), it might very well strike a chord. The language is straightforward, the adventure episodic (which I think is helpful for readers that age who still don't have tons of confidence), and the monster encounters are exciting.
(review copy received from the author)