Author: Mary Hoffman
The Stravaganza Series started with City of Masks in 2002. Lucien is a high school boy in England dying of cancer. He finds an old notebook, falls asleep with it, and is magically transported to 16th century Talia, like our Italy, in a parallel world. He is not plagued with cancer in Talia and is able to help the citizens of Bellezza (Venice) with their crisis. City of Masks sets the stage for the rest of the series--in each one a relatively unhappy English student stravagates to the Talian world and must help their city overcome some obstacle. The series continues in City of Stars, City of Flowers and City of Secrets.
In City of Ships the stakes are getting higher in the Talian world. The independent city-states are on the brink of war with the Gate people, as well as the constant threat of the Di Chimici family. Isabel is the newest Stravagante and overcomes her poor self-image and low self-esteem while helping the city Classe defend itself against a naval attack from the Gate people and a land attack from the Di Chimici. The former Stravaganti all lend a hand, both in England and in Talia, to help protect the country they've all come to love.
I love this series. It's great for book discussion groups, for classes. The author includes notes detailing what Italian city she's based her cities on and how she's changed them (Classe is based both on the Italian Ravenna and Classe). Students could research the modern cities and show similarities with their fictional counterparts. They could compare the Di Chimici family to the Medici family of Italian history. This series would be great for one of those interdisciplinary projects--read the book in English class and talk about the real history in History class.
Despite the fact that it's so great for teachers to use with students, it's still a good series for teens to read for fun! There's adventure, suspense, and a little romance in each book. Arianna/Luciano fans will not be disappointed in City of Ships. Although the story is Isabel's to tell, our favorite original couple is not forgotten and plays a pivotal role in the latest novel as well. The romance is not overwhelming but just enough to satisfy the curious and not turn off the uninterested. The book, as well as the whole series, is good for boys and girls, middle through high school. I am eagerly awaiting the next book City of Swords which should come out in 2012.
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