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‘Borrowed Time’ mixes paleontology with fantasy

Twins Nate and Brady think their eccentric dad is their biggest buzzkill. After all, there was that embarrassing public tirade about time travel in the middle of a movie theater crowded with neighbors and friends. He can’t even show up as promised to pick them up from crew practice, relegating them instead to an impromptu carpool with their coach (who, naturally, teases them about their supposed family time machine).

That was before they found the Recall Device.

The Recall Device is a kind of remote control for the Chronal Engine time machine — yep, what their dad’s been working on non-stop in the basement is real. And when the brothers find the device, it immediately flashes them back to the Cretaceous Period, where they’re plunged into choppy waters infested with chomp-y mosasaurs.

So begins “Borrowed Time,” Austin author Greg Leitich Smith’s middle-grade adventure that’s a sequel to 2012’s “Chronal Engine.” Set primarily in a prehistoric Bastrop area, “Borrowed” also sends the protagonists of “Chronal” — teens Max, Petra, Emma and Kyle — back to the Cretaceous for run-ins with Nate and Brady, telling their stories initially in alternating chapters.

Familiarity with the storyline of “Chronal” would help in navigating the early goings-on, but even those who read “Borrowed” as a stand-alone will find steadier ground as the novel continues. And Smith — who will be at BookPeople Sunday afternoon to read from and sign “Borrowed” – keeps the action coming, the dialogue snappy and the prehistoric creatures plentiful.

“ ‘Do you know where we are, exactly?’” asks Nate, once they’ve bandaged up the mosasaur bite on his leg.

“ ‘Late Cretaceous Texas,’ Brady replied, ‘judging from the Quetzalcoatlus and the mosasaur. I haven’t seen enough of the rest of the flora and fauna to know for sure.’

“To Nate, his brother may as well have been speaking in Farsi. ‘Does that mean we’re going to see a Brontosaurus or a Tyrannosaurus rex anytime soon?’

“ ‘Apatosaurus,’ he replied. ‘Brontosaurus is … never mind. And they didn’t coexist. T. rex is closer in time to us than to Apatosaurus. And if we’re in the latest Cretaceous, then yes, we might see a T. rex.’

“ ‘Really?’ Nate exclaimed. ‘That’s so cool!’

“His brother gave him a wry look. ‘Except that they have teeth the size of bananas and are big enough to swallow you whole.’”

An avowed dinosaur fan, Smith knows his paleontology. A huge part of the fun of “Borrowed” is seeing how he weaves the facts in with the fantasy, particularly for those of us who live in Central Texas and have been to the places he mentions, including areas based on Lost Pines and McKinney Roughs. (A helpful epilogue elucidates Smith’s inspirations.)

The character of Mildred — a 1920s-era pith-helmeted, safari-jacketed girl bent on revenge linked to the Chronal Engine’s creation — adds another level of intrigue to the teens’ adventures.

All in all, “Borrowed” is a slam-dunk for dinosaur aficionados and will appeal as well to those who are fans of literary time travel and outdoorsy adventure. (Ages 10 and up)

Upcoming events

We’ll have plenty of holiday gift picks next month in this space, but for now, be aware that you’ve got two chances to get a jump on your Christmas-inspired book buying the first week of December.

“Over the Hedge” cartoonist and “Odd Squad” series author Michael Fry will be at BookPeople Dec. 3 with his new Yuletide-set middle-grade book, “The Naughty List” (HarperCollins, $12.99), a heavily illustrated comic adventure in the spirit of “Wimpy Kid” and “Timmy Failure.”

And on Dec. 5, the Austin husband-and-wife duo of Chris Barton and Jennifer Ziegler will team to read from their new seasonally themed books: Barton’s picture-book look at the story behind how “The Nutcracker Comes to America: How Three Ballet-Loving Brothers Created a Holiday Tradition” (Millbrook Press, $19.99), and Ziegler’s sassy Brewster-triplet sequel, “Revenge of the Angels,” set at a local Christmas pageant (Scholastic, $16.99). For more information on both events, visit

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