October 27, 2022


Leila & Nugget Mystery 1: Who Stole Mr. T? By Deserae and Dustin Brady. Illustrations by April Brady. Andrews McMeel. $8.99.

Animal Rescue Friends 2: Friends Fur-Ever! By Jana Tropper. Illustrated by Genevieve Kote and Leo Trinidad. Andrews McMeel. $12.99.

     Adorableness is in, complexity out, in mystery books for preteen readers – and the adorableness quotient is high in the new Leila & Nugget Mystery series. This a-girl-and-her-dog bit of easy-reading fluff is simply fun, because it is such simple fun: large-type story, cute illustrations, and a case of no particular consequence that Deserae and Dustin Brady manage to spin into a story filled with wholesome family and neighborhood connections stretching all the way back to a turtle owner’s father’s days in third grade. The turtle is the “Mr. T” of the title, the owner is Javy Martinez, the father is 32 years old, and thus there is a title reference to a onetime television show called “The A-Team” (with “Mr. T” being a member of that team way back when; the turtle is named after the character). This plot construction is actually rather neatly done, since the authors use it to explain how Mr.T got into the Martinez family and also to solve, eventually, a subsidiary mystery involving Mr. Martinez’ longtime friend, Mr. Margolis, whom Mr. Martinez has suspected for all these years of being responsible for the third-grade mystery (unsolved at the time) of a different case of turtle disappearance. Everything is handled lightly and even deftly here, albeit with a few overdone over-simplifications, such as searching for turtle tracks in the snow in case Mr. T wandered away (somehow nobody connects the fact that turtles are ectomorphs, sometimes called “cold-blooded,” with the impossibility of one escaping through the snow). Ancillary characters are introduced and used to set up planned future entries in the series – notably neighbor Mrs. Crenshaw, originally thought by neighborhood kids to be a nasty witch, who turns out to have been a local-area child detective herself when she was young and to be able to guide Leila on her chosen path of detection. What this Leila & Nugget Mystery is lacking, to some extent, is Nugget: the dog is cute in a formulaic way (all the illustrations of him, and indeed all the April Brady illustrations of everyone, are formulaically sweet), and one element of Nugget’s behavior does give Leila the clue she needs to find Mr. T at the book’s end, but this is more a story of neighborhood friends helping each other than a tale of a girl-and-dog detective team. The whole thing is rather thin, certainly age-appropriate but not as memorable as it would be if Nugget had more than a nugget of personality.

     The critters in the Animal Rescue Friends books have more individuality, to such an extent that they tend to overshadow the humans in Jana Tropper’s story, Friends Fur-Ever! This too is essentially a book about kids’ friendship groups, as the title certainly makes clear. The members of ARF (acronym for “Animal Rescue Friends,” get it?) “take care of injured animals or find vets who can,” and also help animals find new homes. This is a graphic novel rather than a story with pictures, so of course the illustrations by Genevieve Kote and Leo Trinidad are carefully balanced by gender and physical appearance. The kids themselves are on the bland side, but that is scarcely a surprise: the most-interesting of them turns out to be the one who does not quite fit in, a boy named Jimmy who is something of an outsider where the group is concerned, but who proves his mettle when he and a girl named Bell encounter an injured porcupine during a nature walk – and Jimmy figures out how to catch the animal safely and get it to a wildlife sanctuary. Another story here involves a “therapy pig” named Truffles, who visits residents of the local assisted-living center – providing an opening for one of the rather preachy lessons scattered throughout the book, in this case that “when people get older, they can forget a lot of things,” but therapy animals can boost their spirits. Another story is about a missing hamster – with a search providing just the sort of not-too-complex mystery that becomes a natural part of books like this one even if the book as a whole does not have “mystery” in its title. The ultimate lesson of this book, stated in the straightforward way that has already become typical of this series, is that “our plans never really turn out like we think they will – and we still make things work.” That is, things work out thanks to the participation of the animals in the adventures: the animals are not entirely anthropomorphic, certainly not in appearance, but they understand things with more clarity than the humans often do, and it is fun to observe the wide-eyed, knowing way they take in the warmhearted and simplistic action/adventure stories built around them.


Moritz Moszkowski: Piano Music, Volume Two. Ian Hobson, piano. Toccata Classics. $18.99.

Copland: Piano Sonata; Earl Wild: Seven Virtuoso Etudes after George Gershwin; Michael Tilson Thomas: Upon Further Reflection. John Wilson, piano. AVIE. $17.99.

Schoenberg: Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11; Pierre Boulez: Troisième Sonate pour Piano; Webern: Variationen für Klavier; Gilbert Amy: Sonate pour Piano. James W. Iman, piano. Métier. $18.99.

     It has become fashionable among pianists and producers to search piano literature for lost or merely misplaced gems. This tends to turn up some pieces of value, although it is worth remembering that gems can be semi-precious as well as precious. The early piano works of Moritz Moszkowski (1854-1925), a second disc of which is now available with strongly committed performances by Ian Hobson, fall into the “semi-precious” category. Certainly Moszkowski was a capable craftsman, often a turner of elegant or at least pleasant pianistic phrases, and himself a pianist of some note (so to speak). Nothing in his earlier solo-piano music, however, rises much above a “salon” designation – which is actually a perfectly acceptable musical form and venue, diminished only because the piano and the best composers for it are capable of a great deal more. The new Moszkowski recording from Toccata Classics includes three sets of modestly conceived pieces that Moszkowski wrote in his 20s. These are not really suites but simply collections of mostly unrelated works packaged together as single opus numbers. Indeed, the most-substantial of the pieces, Drei Clavierstücke in Tanzform, Op. 17, was originally published as three individual works – although the three work well as a set. These are virtuosic dance works, nicely varied as to mood – a polonaise, a minuet, and a concert waltz. Only the polonaise has been recorded before, and its many attitudinal changes are nicely displayed in Hobson’s reading. Hobson also does a fine job with the other two pieces, which have interestingly contrasted endings – pianissimo for the minuet and quite dramatic for the waltz. There is less meatiness in the other two collections of works heard here. Sechs Stücke, Op. 15, dating to 1877, opens with a Serenata that is short, pleasant and rather unassuming, and is one of the few Moszkowski piano pieces still heard in recital from time to time. It is the only one of these six pieces to have been recorded in the past. The situation is much the same for Fünf Clavierstücke, Op. 18 (1878): here, only the opening Melodie, a pleasantly Schumannesque little work, has been recorded before. In both Op. 15 and Op. 18, there are elegant and well-planned touches of melody, opportunities for pianists to show off a bit here and there, and a generally light and pleasant musical flow throughout. Nothing here shows Moszkowski to have been a major composer for solo piano, but nothing displeases the ear, either, and Hobson does these works considerable credit by playing them with straightforward eloquence that does not make them seem to be attempting to have greater meaning or importance than they in fact possess.

     The one world première recording among the three works played by John Wilson on a new AVIE release is considerably more substantial than anything on the Moszkowski CD. It is Upon Further Reflection by Michael Tilson Thomas (born 1944). Best known as a conductor, Tilson Thomas shows in this suite that he is thoroughly versed in pianism – he is, in fact, a fine pianist himself. Indeed, if anything, Tilson Thomas is a little too well-versed in the piano literature: Upon Further Reflection quickly becomes a kind of “spot that tune” that incorporates music by Schumann, Debussy, Berg, Monteverdi and others – and scarcely interpolates from the classical field alone. There are hints of gamelan music and ragas here, bits of various forms of pop and dance music, and more, all of it free-flowing and intermittently enjoyable, but tending to sound a bit like the reminiscences of a somewhat dispirited club pianist – think of Octavio at the conclusion of Lehár’s Giuditta. The crepuscular mood is especially pronounced in the second movement, Sunset Soliloquy, which is longer than the other two movements combined. Wilson plays the piece with considerable feeling and all the requisite technical skill, but the work itself is less convincing than the performance: it is a kind of tour de force of references to and development of music and motifs of the past, nicely packaged but ultimately insufficiently convincing on its own to justify its 24-minute duration. As it happens, that is the same length as Copland’s Piano Sonata, a piece that tends to cause listeners who do not already know it to ask, “That’s Copland?” The work has nothing in common with the composer’s much-better-known Americana, including his famous ballets. It is cast in thoroughly modern style for its time (1939-1941), and is a predominantly inward-looking work, its two outer movements marked Molto moderato and Andante sostenuto (its middle and by far shortest movement is designated Vivace). The dissonance and rhythmic hesitations and complexities are unsurprising for a work of this time period, but they tend to come across as unexpected simply because the work is by Copland yet seems so far from his other music. Really, it is not – it is simply another area of his interest – but certainly the sonata, although popular with many pianists, is understandably less so with listeners at large. Wilson handles the work’s angularity and its emotional searching very well, although there is a degree of pretension in the performance that can certainly be found in the music but that does it little good when accentuated. It is Earl Wild’s Seven Virtuoso Etudes after George Gershwin that actually comes across best in this recording. Wild was a pianist of very considerable ability, and, like Tilson Thomas, a very musically adept one. But these etudes work because Gershwin was such a marvelous tunesmith, and Wild builds the music on what Gershwin originated – instead of trying to create a piece of his own with echoes of other works. The fact that the individual etudes are fairly short does not hurt, either: seven pieces in 21 minutes, each a small gem of melody embellished as only a first-rate piano virtuoso, well aware of the capabilities and limitations of his instrument, can embellish them. The tunes are mostly quite recognizable: they are Liza, Somebody Loves Me, The Man I Love, Embraceable You, Lady Be Good, I Got Rhythm, and Fascinatin’ Rhythm. Wilson seems to lighten up when playing this music, not seeking anything portentous here but just letting the material flow in pleasant and engaging ways – but different ones in each etude, which is why the music works so well as a whole instead of seeming to be a disconnected series of smaller pieces. The very fine pianism throughout this CD will be a pleasure for many listeners, but the heavier and more intention-driven works do not come across as satisfactorily as Wild’s grouping of varied and variegated ones.

     The pianism is also top-notch on a new (+++) Métier CD featuring James W. Iman, but the musical collection here is somewhat off-putting, despite the skill with which Iman presents it. Iman is devoted almost entirely to music of the 20th century and 21st, focusing especially on serial and modernist works that, even 100 years after their composition, tend to come across more as dry mechanical productions rather than exercises in effective communication. They do communicate, to be sure, but while the Romantic era brought emotional communication, pieces such as the four on this disc are more in the realm of intellectual communication. That is, the abandonment of the emotive was largely by design – but that does not help make the pieces any more appealing than if their largely unemotional approach had been accidental. Schoenberg’s Op. 11 set of three pieces, dating to 1909, is an early example of his use of atonality and sounds considerably tamer than some of his later work or, for that matter, the other pieces on this CD. Iman gives the pieces an appropriately intense, brooding quality that stands them in good stead. Pierre Boulez’ Troisième Sonate pour Piano is a much later work (1955-57) that was never completed and has aleatoric elements. The movements Iman presents, Trope and Constellation-Miroir, are quite extended, lasting 24 minutes altogether, and suffer from a common modernist-music syndrome of being carefully created but sounding as if they were thrown together haphazardly. Webern’s 1936 Variationen für Klavier, on the other hand, show the meticulousness and miniaturization that are the composer’s hallmarks. The three movements last a total of eight minutes and have a kind of concise intensity that is engaging if not in any way emotionally moving. Finally, Iman offers a sonata by Gilbert Amy (born 1936, the year Webern’s work was composed). Dating to 1957, essentially the same time as Boulez’ Troisième Sonate pour Piano, Amy’s piece is in fact closely tied to the older composer: Amy created it under Boulez’ direction. The work is not imitative of Boulez and does not quite come across as any sort of homage – in fact, in its widely separated short notes and patterns of atonality, it resembles Webern more than Boulez. But Amy spins out his material at far greater length: the sonata lasts 25 minutes, which is more than enough. There is nothing especially compelling in it, or indeed in any of the other music on this CD, but it has to be said that Iman is a fierce and forceful advocate for the material and that he handles it with both understanding and technical skill. For those to whom material like this already appeals, this release will be very welcome indeed – but it will not be found particularly appealing by listeners who are not already committed to what Iman here puts on offer.


Copland: The City; Silvestre Revueltas: Redes. PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez. Naxos. $13.99.

Mark Abel: Trois Femmes du Cinema; Two Scenes from “The Book of Esther”; Reconciliation Day; Out the Other Side; The Long March; 1966. Hila Plitmann and Isabel Bayrakdarian, sopranos; Kindra Scharich, mezzo-soprano; Dominic Cheli, Carol Rosenberger, Sean Kennard, and Jeffrey LaDeur, piano; Dennis Kim and Adam Millstein, violin; David Samuel, viola; Jonah Kim, cello; Max Opferkuch, clarinet; Jeff Garza, horn; Christy Kim, flute. Delos. $16.98 (2 CDs).

James Cook: Liebestod Symphony. Helen Lacey, soprano; Paul McKenzie, piano. Diversions. $13.99.

Music from SEAMUS, Volume 31. New Focus Recordings. $16.99.

     The importance of sound to the effectiveness of movies can scarcely be underestimated. There may not have been synchronized sound before Don Juan in 1926 and The Jazz Singer in 1927, but film studios and filmmakers alike already knew the importance of audio elements to the moviegoing experience. As early as the 1930s, films were using sound in highly creative ways, in some cases employing music commissioned from such great composers as Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The importance of the musical component to movies’ effectiveness is especially clear on a Naxos CD featuring the music from Redes (1935) and The City (1939). The disc is sort of a re-release: it contains the films’ soundtracks as originally heard when the movies themselves were released as DVDs. The PostClassical Ensemble conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez handled the accompaniments with its usual excellence in DVD form, and there is something extra-satisfying, in a different way, in hearing the music on its own, without the “distraction” (so to speak) of the visuals for which the audio was originally designed. Interestingly, in Redes, there is little overlap of dialogue with music, meaning the music itself carries important elements of the story, a product of the Mexican Revolution that focuses on victimized fishermen. There are concert suites of Silvestre Revueltas’ music created by him and Erich Kleiber, but hearing the music as a totality – which runs only 34 minutes – is more involving, even without knowing the story. There is a well-designed musical arc to the material that gives the nine sections a sense of forward motion toward a dramatic conclusion that, in the film, makes a strong political point, and on its own makes a strong aural one. Copland’s music for The City is even more impressive. The film was made for the 1939 New York World’s Fair and contains no dialogue whatsoever: the whole thing is visuals plus music, with narration by Francis Guinan providing story continuity. No suite from The City was ever made, making the opportunity to hear the whole film score – which, like that by Revueltas, runs 34 minutes – a particularly important one. The City, like Redes, is essentially a film fraught with political messaging, a fact that means this CD, in a sense, takes the music out of context. In a broader sense, though, given the datedness of the political messages of both films, the disc shows the storytelling power of music created originally for movies, presenting material of strength and character that may be on the simplistic side when compared with concert-hall music, but that affirms the storytelling prowess of the composers even without the presence of the visuals they illustrated.

     Theatricality is prominent on a new Delos release featuring a potpourri of music by Mark Abel (born 1948), performed by a wide variety of singers and instrumentalists. Abel himself wrote the texts for Trois Femmes du Cinema (Anne Wiazemsky, Pina Pellicer, and Larisa Shepitko) and 1966. Kate Gale wrote the words for Two Scenes from “The Book of Esther.” These voice-and-instrument pieces are interspersed with chamber works for instruments only. The release is quite obviously a feast for existing fans of Abel’s music, but even for them, its hour-and-a-half of mixed material, of different vintages, is a bit much – listeners will likely enjoy listening to individual works here more than trying to hear the entire two-CD set straight through. The topics of the music can also be on the abstruse side, by design. The three women of the cinema who are profiled by Abel, for example, were participants in art films of the 1950s through 1970s; without knowing their movie roles, preferably through actively seeking them out, listeners may have difficulty connecting Abel’s musings on their talents with the musical accompaniment. As for 1966, it is a highly personal work in which Abel tries to capture, or recapture, his feelings about the year of the title and the way it felt to be 18 years old at that specific time. The material on the Biblical story of Esther sounds somewhat operatic, and in fact what is heard here is part of an opera on which Abel is working: the soprano voice represents Esther; the mezzo-soprano is Vashti, the queen ousted by King Ahasuerus in favor of Esther. All the vocal works are well-written from a musical standpoint, the interplay of voice and modest instrumentation handled adeptly, and the performances sensitive to Abel’s dramatic and emotional concerns. The non-vocal elements here come as something of a relief from the vocal ones, even when their mood is rather dour and downcast, as is the case with Reconciliation Day. This viola-and-piano duet is melancholy without being sour, and has a feeling of uneasiness throughout. Out the Other Side, for violin, cello and piano, is brighter, with a compressed feeling and a significantly more-upbeat ending than Abel usually composes. The Long March, for flute, horn and piano, mixes the instruments in interesting ways, centering on the piano and having the flute and horn dance around the keyboard elements – or, more accurately, march and occasionally stumble around them. This release is a specialty item, to be sure, being in effect an “Abel sampler” that showcases his handling of chamber music both with and without vocal elements. For fans of his music, it will be a must-have – if not one for modern-classical-music lovers in general.

     It is lovers both of Wagner’s music and of modern interpretations/reinterpretations of his music dramas – a rarefied group, to be sure – who will be most interested in the James Cook song cycle, Liebestod Symphony, on a new Diversions CD. The five songs making up this not-really-symphonic work have words by Cosima Wagner, A.C. Swinburne, Gabriele d’Annunzio, Sidney Lanier, and John Janeway. Originally scored for soprano and orchestra and heard on this disc in an arrangement for soprano and piano, this half-hour cycle is about both Tristan und Isolde and the man who composed the opera. Indeed, Cook (born 1963) focuses more on Wagner than on the opera: the first four songs all set poetry about the composer. The music, like much of Wagner’s, is tonal but pushes the bounds of tonality: Cook has clearly studied Wagner and absorbed, to some extent, the harmonic world in which his later operas, such as Tristan, exist. Neither the poetry nor the music, however, is particularly revelatory of anything about Wagner the man or Wagner the composer. The piano carries much of the mood of the material, especially in the first four songs, Eulogy, Romanza, Venetian Requiem, and Westward Home. The fifth song, Sacred Love-Death, makes it clear from its title that its subject is the topic explored by Wagner in Tristan, and Cook’s music here has more sensitivity and warmth than in the earlier songs – although it would likely sound better in orchestral form than on piano. Helen Lacey sings feelingly, and Paul McKenzie’s piano accompaniment – which often assumes the leading role – is sensitive and emotionally involved. The whole song cycle, though, is a bit odd. It is hard to know for whom, other than himself, Cook wrote it: it sheds no great light on Wagner or Tristan, and seems mostly the creation of someone who, himself an opera composer, wants to pay modest homage to a far greater one. Liebestod Symphony does not, however, actually incorporate material by Wagner, as (for example) Bruckner did in the original version of his Symphony No. 3, which is dedicated to Wagner. Liebestod Symphony comes across as Cook’s musical thoughts on Wagner, expressed through settings of the words of other people. That is fine for what it is, but the whole cycle is thin in content and seems content to reach out to a very, very limited audience.

     Some contemporary composers are seeking new ways to produce works of dramatic impact or to comment on matters of importance to them. For those who use electronic and electroacoustic means to those ends, the SEAMUS conferences of the Society for Electro-Acoustic Music of the United States is the place to be, to be seen, and to be heard. A New Focus Recordings release of Volume 31 from SEAMUS includes nine works that, in some cases, aim for the dramatic; in some, employ the human voice; and in some, go entirely their own way. Brian Riordan’s Succubus, for example, employs soprano voice (Anna Elder) and electronics to create what may be an impression of the creature of the title – here, a being expressing itself through screeches and shrieks and door-closing creaks, through nonsense syllables and voice-over-voice overlays that eventually produce a whole set of choking sopranos. On the other hand, the awkwardly titled and sometimes wind from the south, in memoriam Robert Gregory (2020) – no capital letter at the start, a typical affectation for some contemporary works – is based on an audio recording by poet Robert Gregory and incorporates Gregory’s altered and occasionally unaltered voice, but focuses mainly on electronic sounds that are intended to expand and express the poem’s thoughts about the aftermath of a loved one’s death. Most of the pieces on this disc, though, fall into the “go entirely their own way” category, and without knowing the composers’ intentions, it can be very hard to discern the reasons for their use of particular electronic and electroacoustic sounds and patterns. Think by Jon Fielder, for example, is supposed to portray schizophrenia, but its disconnectedness and nonsensical speech could just as well fit into Succubus. Maggi Payne’s Heat Shield includes electronically modified or created insect sounds as well as white noise and other artificial audio forms. Convergence by Douglas McCausland is for augmented double bass plus electronics, but it is never quite clear why the enhanced and expanded growls of the acoustic instrument are needed, since pure electronics could easily make the same noises. Always and Forever by Nina C. Young is the shortest work here and, partly as a result, among the most effective. Its resonances and vaguely choral sounds seem always to hint at some deeper meaning, although what that may be is never quite clear. Sonic Crumbs, by Eli Feldsteel and Kerrith Livengood, employs two different sets of electronics, one for each composer/performer, with some audible interaction of differing approaches making the work interesting even though, in the long run, there is not enough differentiation between the electronics to produce a sense of duality. Becky Brown’s dark parts (another no-capital-letters title) is the second-shortest work heard here, using some irritating (apparently deliberately irritating) scratchy sounds in contrast to women’s voices clearly saying the word “inside” – although what is inside what is, unsurprisingly, never clarified. The last work on the disc is David Q. Nguyen’s Whale Song Stranding, and at 11 minutes it is also the longest piece here. As might be expected, it contains some vaguely water-like sounds that go on and on, with many sorts of repetitive clangs and bangs and occasional silences that loom larger because they interrupt so much of what is happening. Music of the sort heard on this disc is very avant-garde and very much for members of the self-proclaimed avant-garde: it neither reaches out to nor seeks to engage anyone beyond the cognoscenti. As examples of what is being done at SEAMUS now, this disc, like its predecessors, is interesting. But there is nothing on it that really bears repeated hearings, and nothing that will convince the not-already-convinced that music conceived and produced at SEAMUS reaches out, or is intended to reach out, beyond a tiny core group of aficionados.

October 20, 2022


Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches, Journey 2: Archibald Finch and the Curse of the Phoenix. By Michel Guyon. Illustrated by Zina Kostich. Andrews McMeel. $24.99.

     The wonders and frustrations of Michel Guyon’s Archibald and the Lost Witches series reappear full force in the second volume of the sequence. It is absolutely obligatory that readers of Archibald Finch and the Curse of the Phoenix already know what happened in Journey 1, because so many painstakingly built-up matters are tossed aside lightly within the first few pages of the second book. Those include issues such as the parallel adventures of Archibald and Faerydae in Lemurea, and of Archibald’s sister, Hailee, and her newfound-in-the-first-book friend, Oliver, in modern London; the death-but-not-really of Archibald’s grandmother, her lofty position within Lemurea, and her uncertain motivations; the evil deeds of Jacob Heinrich, a depraved sort-of-priest resembling the author of an anti-witch screed that dates to Leonardo da Vinci’s time – in fact, Heinrich dates to Leonardo’s time, and Leonardo’s role in matters of Lemurea is crucial; and much more. The characterizations and relationships of this motley crew are taken for granted in the second book, and anyone wishing to know just how their various arrangements came to be must consult the first.

     It may not help all that much, though. Archibald’s personality, which kept metamorphosing in not-very-satisfactory ways in the first book, has settled in the second into fairly straightforward preteen-hero mode. Oliver’s streetwise and rambunctious persona from the first book has turned into a rather irritating, naysaying attitude in this second volume, for reasons that are never apparent – it is as if Guyon is not quite sure who or what he wants his characters to be, so he has them trying on various elements of personalities and relationships according to the exigencies of particular scenes, the result being that the roles of the characters are clear, but their personal attributes flicker in and out like the ghosts of Faerydae’s three long-dead sisters.

     Oh – those sisters’ ghosts are on modern Earth, not in Lemurea. It is a trope of other-world fantasy for preteens and younger readers that when someone from today’s Earth visits a magical, different place on some other plane of existence, it is incumbent on one of the beings from that other place to then visit Earth. So Guyon, who apparently never met a cliché of the preteen-fantasy genre that he did not like, focuses Journey 2 on today’s Earth after focusing Journey 1 on Lemurea. But Guyon almost gets away with this sort of expected approach – as he almost gets away with a great deal of his sometimes-creaky plotting – simply because he writes so well and entertainingly, and gives his shapeshifting (or rather personality-shifting) characters enough interesting quirks to keep readers turning the book’s pages. Furthermore, although only one preteen from Earth finds the way to Lemurea in Journey 1, there are two beings from Lemurea on Earth in Journey 2. Unfortunately for the heroic foursome of protagonists, but very fortunately indeed for the plot of Journey 2, the second being visiting Earth – in addition to Faerydae – is a Marodor, one of the strange composite creatures of Lemurea with which the witches who live there (having been brought to that place to protect them against the depredations of anti-witch evildoers on Earth) are constantly at war. The forms of that war were one of the attractions of Journey 1, and the underlying question of just what the Marodors are and what they want (if they want anything intelligible) was a satisfying mystery in the first book.

     Not so in Journey 2. Here the primary point early in the book involves Faerydae’s attempts to adjust to life on Earth 500 years after her own time – a situation that is neither as dramatic nor as humorous as it could be, although it does contain some drama and amusement. Archibald needs her help to hunt the Marodor that he inadvertently brought to Earth when he returned to his home and time from Lemurea. Luckily, Earth is populated entirely by adults who are, not to put too fine a point on it, idiots. Feckless grown-ups are a standard element of preteen fiction, but here as in so many other ways, Guyon strains the formula by pushing things to the nth degree. The Marodor is able to do all sorts of destructive things, for example, because all the adults in and around London think it is not a monster but some sort of prank. Also, Archibald’s and Hailee’s parents are even too absurd to be funny: no matter what lie the protagonists tell them, and no matter how badly they tell it, the parents believe whatever it is, thus clearing the way for the young people to have their adventures. For instance, Faerydae and Oliver are introduced to the parents as refugees from an orphanage sponsored by the not-dead grandmother – they have escaped and found their way to Archibald’s and Hailee’s house because the grandmother told them how to get there, and there is no reason to check up on any of this because the house (now belonging to Archibald’s and Hailee’s family) is undergoing reconstruction by a couple of contractors who would be almost sinister if they weren’t so unceasingly ridiculous.

     The more enjoyable elements of Journey 2 are the ones in which Faerydae encounters apparently magical elements of modern Earth – everything from cars and airplanes to modern shopping emporiums – and those in which she calls on residual magic that, it turns out, remains in certain parts of modern Earth even though today’s science-based world is unaware of it and unable to use it. Eventually, inevitably, Journey 2 makes a journey back to Lemurea, where some of the issues raised in Journey 1 reappear and some new ones are discovered – resulting, as the book ends, in preparation for an apocalyptic battle that never happens in Journey 2 because Guyon likes to leave readers extremely frustrated by breaking off these books just when things get really interesting. So just as Journey 1 ended with a cliffhanger that was exceedingly disappointing for readers looking for a satisfactory conclusion to the book plus a lead-in to its sequel, so Journey 2 concludes just as big things are very close to happening. But they don’t. Guyon is obviously holding them for the next novel. Archibald Finch and the Lost Witches is clearly the sort of series that is best read after the whole sequence is available – but, alas, that is not yet the case. So readers who find Guyon’s cleverness and frequently intriguing concepts engaging really have no choice but to start with Journey 1, which lays all the groundwork, then continue to Journey 2, and then howl in frustration or otherwise express their displeasure until the time shall come for the next journey on this well-traveled but often very scenic road.