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

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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

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With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded.

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Tiny, sassy Bob the dog, friend of The One and Only Ivan (2012), returns to tell his tale.

Wisecracking Bob, who is a little bit Chihuahua among other things, now lives with his girl, Julia, and her parents. Happily, her father works at Wildworld Zoological Park and Sanctuary, the zoo where Bob’s two best friends, Ivan the gorilla and Ruby the elephant, live, so Bob gets to visit and catch up with them regularly. Due to an early betrayal, Bob doesn’t trust humans (most humans are good only for their thumbs); he fears he’s going soft living with Julia, and he’s certain he is a Bad Dog—as in “not a good representative of my species.” On a visit to the zoo with a storm threatening, Bob accidentally falls into the gorilla enclosure just as a tornado strikes. So that’s what it’s like to fly. In the storm’s aftermath, Bob proves to everyone (and finally himself) that there is a big heart in that tiny chest…and a brave one too. With this companion, Applegate picks up where her Newbery Medal winner left off, and fans will be overjoyed to ride along in the head of lovable, self-deprecating Bob on his storm-tossed adventure. His wry doggy observations and attitude are pitch perfect (augmented by the canine glossary and Castelao’s picture dictionary of dog postures found in the frontmatter). Gorilla Ivan described Julia as having straight, black hair in the previous title, and Castelao's illustrations in that volume showed her as pale-skinned. (Finished art not available for review.)

With Ivan’s movie out this year from Disney, expect great interest—it will be richly rewarded. (afterword) (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-299131-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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