In 1890s America, a father-daughter mind-reading act who used their illusionism and acuity to solve crimes committed during Vaudeville tours face a deadly conspiracy in lawless San Francisco.

Imagine a magic show whose first act is charming legerdemain—and whose second act is ghastly mutilation and death. In this wildly uneven YA novel, Wiley, a stage-magic buff and historian, combines elements of real-life illusionists and Harry Houdini contemporaries into a fetching heroine. Adolescent Kyame Piddington and her widowed dad, John, cross an occasionally lawless Victorian-era America as the Impossible Piddingtons, a mind-reading act. They wow crowds with seemingly supernatural feats—actually products of Kyame’s photographic memory (inherited from her tuberculosis-victim mother), Sherlock-Holmesian logical deduction, acute peripheral vision that sees around blindfolds and a secret language of nonverbal cues worked out on the sly with her adoring father. Consequently the Piddingtons not only appear psychic but also sniff out deceit and mischief by bandits, gamblers, second-storey men, bankers and unscrupulous showbiz rivals, not to mention helping police solve crimes as a publicity sidelight to hype the act. After a captivating first half, Wiley has a 2-year narrative “intermission” (taking the opportunity to explain magic trade-secrets in a nonfiction sidebar), then returns in a darker mode. Kyame is now a young woman, still honing her mesmerism and shooting chops while attending art school. John Piddington, retired from touring, works in a Sacramento bank and uncovers a crooked financing/white-slavery/opium dealing scheme that results in a San Francisco tong war and gruesome torture-murder. By the bloody conclusion, Kyame is a girl who seems ready for her dragon tattoo—and two more installments are promised in a proposed Piddingtons trilogy. Wiley deftly renders the period atmosphere, attitudes, action and dialogue, and Kyame could develop a loyal following of readers of all ages and sexes—if only the material’s shifts in tone from PG to R were less schizoid. Still, one looks forward, admittedly with a little trepidation, to whatever Wiley plans to do with the heroine next. A magical concept and a miraculous heroine keep the pages turning in a YA adventure-fiction that feels like two different books fused together at mid-point—the second half far more violent and grim than the first.


Pub Date: July 12, 2010


Page Count: 557

Publisher: Barry H. Wiley

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.


From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Did you like this book?

A witty addition to the long-running series.


From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 15

The Wimpy Kid hits the road.

The Heffley clan has been stuck living together in Gramma’s basement for two months, waiting for the family home to be repaired, and the constant togetherness has been getting on everybody’s nerves. Luckily Greg’s Uncle Gary has a camper waiting for someone to use it, and so the Heffleys set off on the open road looking for an adventurous vacation, hoping the changing scenery will bring a spark back to the family unit. The winding road leads the Heffleys to a sprawling RV park, a setting teeming with possibilities for Greg to get up to his usual shenanigans. Greg’s snarky asides and misadventures continue to entertain. At this point the Wimpy Kid books run like a well-oiled machine, paced perfectly with witty lines, smart gags, and charming cartoons. Kinney knows just where to put a joke, the precise moment to give a character shading, and exactly how to get the narrative rolling, spinning out the oddest plot developments. The appreciation Kinney has for these characters seeps through the novels, endearing the Heffleys to readers even through this title, the 15th installment in a franchise boasting spinoffs, movies, and merchandise. There may come a time when Greg and his family overstay their welcome, but thankfully that day still seems far off.

A witty addition to the long-running series. (Humor. 7-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4868-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?