Strong messages about female empowerment permeate an inventive fantasy waiting for its conclusion.




In the second volume of the Shamra trilogy, Dara must learn who she is and where her people came from if she plans to confront the Chaos that threatens her people.

After defeating the Trocs in Curse of the Shamra, the first volume of The Shamra Chronicles, child hero Dara returns to assess the damage and prepare for her next battle against her greatest foe yet. But, despite the previous novel’s momentum, she must first learn about her people, the Shamra, their struggles and how they came to leave their homeland. Briana, who had appeared in Dara’s dreams, relates the lengthy history of the Shamra people as the two girls evade their enemies in a game of cat-and-mouse. Two hundred years ago, the Shamra were enslaved by the Kimra; Dara’s ancestor Drea led the rebellion to overthrow them. In a prescient move after the Pyrrhic victory, the priest, farmer and artisan clans fled the land in search of safer realms. But the fierce hunter clan, led by Drea, stayed, although a core group of hunters traveled with the priest-led refugees to ensure that their true history was not lost. The refugees suffered under the priests’ demands for female subservience—a pervasive issue in the saga—while Drea struggled with in-fighting and betrayal among her clan. As new generations mature, a pattern of misogyny and disloyalty develops in the Shamra people, with recurrent themes of the burden of leadership, the thrill of the hunt and the general unreliability of males. The repetition grows tiresome. Eventually, the Shamra discover that their immorality is not innate—it’s the working of Chaos, a force that infiltrates societies and destroys them from within. Dara’s ancestors defeated and temporarily contained Chaos, but now it threatens to break loose and corrupt the Sharma yet again. Being the middle book of the trilogy, this volume contains mostly backstory with no attempt at conclusion, which wouldn’t disappoint if its presentation weren’t so muddled. Fans of the first volume and readers looking for another realm to explore will enjoy the world-building, but they’ll have to wait until the series’ next volume to see if Dara truly is the savior she’s prophesized to be.

Strong messages about female empowerment permeate an inventive fantasy waiting for its conclusion.

Pub Date: May 10, 2010

ISBN: 978-1934267165

Page Count: 303

Publisher: Edge Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2012

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A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end.


From the Peculiar Children series , Vol. 1

Riggs spins a gothic tale of strangely gifted children and the monsters that pursue them from a set of eerie, old trick photographs.

The brutal murder of his grandfather and a glimpse of a man with a mouth full of tentacles prompts months of nightmares and psychotherapy for 15-year-old Jacob, followed by a visit to a remote Welsh island where, his grandfather had always claimed, there lived children who could fly, lift boulders and display like weird abilities. The stories turn out to be true—but Jacob discovers that he has unwittingly exposed the sheltered “peculiar spirits” (of which he turns out to be one) and their werefalcon protector to a murderous hollowgast and its shape-changing servant wight. The interspersed photographs—gathered at flea markets and from collectors—nearly all seem to have been created in the late 19th or early 20th centuries and generally feature stone-faced figures, mostly children, in inscrutable costumes and situations. They are seen floating in the air, posing with a disreputable-looking Santa, covered in bees, dressed in rags and kneeling on a bomb, among other surreal images. Though Jacob’s overdeveloped back story gives the tale a slow start, the pictures add an eldritch element from the early going, and along with creepy bad guys, the author tucks in suspenseful chases and splashes of gore as he goes. He also whirls a major storm, flying bullets and a time loop into a wild climax that leaves Jacob poised for the sequel.

A trilogy opener both rich and strange, if heavy at the front end. (Horror/fantasy. 12-14)

Pub Date: June 7, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59474-476-1

Page Count: 234

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2014

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A richly satisfying, Poirot-like ending for Johnson’s inspired and inspiring teen sleuth.


From the Truly Devious series , Vol. 3

The final, riveting chapter of the Truly Devious murder series.

The initial incident in the series involved the 1936 abduction of newspaper tycoon Albert Ellingham’s wife and daughter; the present volume probes several unsavory events that transpired afterward, including Ellingham’s own death in 1938, in a sailing accident on Lake Champlain, and the recent immolation of University of Vermont history professor and Ellingham mystery enthusiast Dr. Irene Fenton. Fenton was introduced to protagonist and contemporary “Ellingham Sherlock” Stevie Bell in The Vanishing Stair (2019). As Stevie gets closer to making good on her resolution to solve the Ellingham case’s past and present riddles, Johnson makes the most of the exclusive institution’s remote, wooded mountain locale, provocatively setting the climax of Stevie’s investigations during the throes of a cataclysmic blizzard. Stevie and her motley crew of misfit high school geniuses are stranded à la Agatha Christie with members of the Ellingham Academy administration, who may have a stake in the revelations of several secrets linking the Ellingham kidnappings with present-day murders. Throughout this intricately woven, fast-paced whodunit, Johnson demonstrates how proximity to wealth and power can mold and bend one’s behavior, whether with good or—here largely—devious intent. The brainy secondary characters' quirky talents and interests complement Stevie's sleuthing skills; while mostly white, they include diversity in socio-economic background, mental health challenges, physical disability, and sexual orientation.

A richly satisfying, Poirot-like ending for Johnson’s inspired and inspiring teen sleuth. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-233811-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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