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Stravaganza: City of secrets by Mary Hoffman

cover image Bloomsbury 2008.
(Age 14+) Recommended. What would 17 year old Matt do with a book voucher for his birthday, especially when he is dyslexic and books are the last things that he is interested in? He persuades an antique dealer to swap the voucher for an old book and discovers that it is a magical talisman which transports him back in time to Padvia, in 16th century Talia, a country very like Italy. To his amazement he finds that he is a 'Stravagante', someone who can travel between time and worlds with the help of his talisman book. He has an important task to fulfil with Luciano and Arianna and other member of the Stravaganzi.

This is a rivetting adventure full of intrigue, fabulous characters and treachery from the di Chimici. In Matt's new world he gains self confidence as he finds that reading is not a problem and he even works a printing press, making forbidden books. The story goes back and forth from the modern world to Padvia and each strand is equally rivetting. In the modern world Matt has to come to grips with his relationship with his girlfriend Ayesha, which is threatened by his poor self esteem, while managing a normal life of going to school, learning to drive a car and being a family member.

I had not read the previous three books in the Stravaganza sequence, City of masks, City of stars, and City of flowers and certainly this book would have been the richer for knowing more about the characters. However I found that I couldn't put it down and that Mary Hoffman had sufficient background information about the different people and events for the plot to flow along in an exciting way.
Pat Pledger


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