Thursday, May 3, 2012

Dinosaurs & time travel! Chronal Engine, by Greg Leitich Smith (fiction)

book cover of Chronal Engine by Greg Leitich Smith published by Clarion Books
Rare fossilized dinosaur footprints.
Heart attack, kidnapping, possible murder?
What a way to start a summer!

No one has seen the Loblolly dinosaur tracks on their grandpa's ranch in years. Max can't wait - he got the family "dinosaur-hunter" genes, Mom says. Kyle and Emma would rather stay home in Austin the summer before their sophomore year , but with Mom leaving to excavate feathered dinosaurs in Mongolia, they've all got to stay somewhere. At least Grandpa's housekeeper has a daughter their age; Petra seems glad to have some other teenagers on the ranch for a while.

Grandpa's security-locked basement looks like a 1920s library, if the library had a humming time-travel device in the center. Predicting his own heart attack to the minute, leaving messages in places no one can reach - has Grandpa really used the Chronal Engine to travel through time?

Greg Leitich Smith's fascination with dinosaurs is firmly woven into this exciting action tale, as our adventurers meet teeny Tyrannosaurs (meat-eaters have horrible bad breath), massive Apatosaurus (even dinosaur expert Max still loves the old name of Brontosaurus), and some human villains back in the Cretaceous Era. You'll enjoy Blake Henry's manga-influenced black and white illustrations, too.

I didn't see any boot prints in the fossilized dino tracks when I visited Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, but that's well north of Chronal Engine's setting in the Texas Hill Country, so who knows? Grab this summer thrill-ride read at your local library or independent bookstore soon!

Book info: Chronal Engine / Greg Leitich Smith; illustrations by Blake Henry. Clarion Books, 2012.  [author's website] [publisher site

My Recommendation:
All summer out at their grandpa’s ranch? Max, Kyle, and Emma know that rare dinosaur tracks are located there, but they’ll miss their friends and Austin’s city comforts so much. His wild time-travel theories turn out to be truer than they could ever imagine!

Sure Mom is headed for the most important dinosaur dig in Asia, but the teens have met her father just once; the only time in 15 years that he left the ranch was to attend their own dad’s funeral five years ago. For decades, Grandpa has refused to let researchers on his land to study the dinosaur tracks, even though that “hard science” might erase the taint of craziness left by great-great-grandfather Mad Jack Pierson’s insistence that he’d invented a time-traveling engine.

At the ranch house, it’s nice to meet Petra, who is their age and enjoys the outdoors as much as Max does. She knows the way to the dinosaur tracks and what perils to avoid in the Hill Country.

When Grandpa refuses pecan pie during their first dinner together because he knows an ambulance will arrive in 15 minutes because of his upcoming heart attack, they wonder about it. After he gets Max to promise that all four teens will go to the fossil tracks in the morning and gives him a heavy envelope to open later, Grandpa shows them the Chronal Engine and its last recall device to return to the present time – then has a heart attack, just as the medflight helicopter touches down! If he knew the timing of his own heart attack, does that mean Grandpa has used the Chronal Engine?

Visiting the dinosaur tracks the next morning, they find human bootprints in the fossilized mud! And Emma’s boot fits the print exactly… but how? A sudden flash of light and a man appears next to their sister, grabs her, and disappears into another flash of light. So Emma has been kidnapped…to the Cretaceous Era? Suddenly Max, Kyle, and Petra decide to travel back in time using the Chronal Engine to rescue her.

Will it work? Will their compass work? Can they survive among huge herbivorous dinosaurs and speedy meat-eaters? Can they outsmart other time-traveling humans who have guns and are ready to use them? Will any of them get back to the present - alive?

This mile-a-minute adventure story includes dromaeosaur babies and bow-hunting, toothed prehistoric birds and T. Rexes and 40-foot-long crocodilians among the adventures encountered by four young teens on a time-traveling mission. The author notes currently known facts and recent theories about prehistoric life at the end of the book, which includes funny/accurate illustrations by Blake Henry. (One of 5,000 books recommended on Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.


  1. I bet Dino fans (like my son) would love this. Lots of action and adventure. Sounds like a winner to me!

    1. Oh, yes! Max is quite the dinosaur aficionado & it's a darn good thing that he is! Imagine traveling back to the Cretaceous...


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