An engaging introduction to a world of wonder and intrigue.



A teenager goes on the run and flies with pirates in this middle-grade Victorian steampunk adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Annabel Pickering lives in an alternative history version of Victorian England, where all mechanical devices are steam-powered and airships flood the skies. Annabel is from the upper classes. She attends an elite girls’ school and from an early age has taken riding lessons. Her parents are both scientists. Annabel believes in England’s greatness and the sanctity of the queen. She’s never questioned the status quo. But then her parents are abducted—not even formally arrested—by the police. Suddenly everything changes for Annabel. She is forced to hide with the odd spinster from down the street (Miss Doubtweather) and her nonverbal niece and take flight with a crew of rough-but-kind pirates. Miss Doubtweather, it turns out, is part of a secret society of freethinkers, to which Annabel’s parents also belong. The pirates are more accurately smugglers; breaking the law, yes, but upholding their own moral code. The more Annabel sees, the more she must question her assumptions. But where will this get her? Will Annabel escape the Queen’s Guards and rescue her parents or spend the rest of her days in prison? Shaffer (Urban Yogini, 2017, etc.) writes in the third person, mostly from Annabel’s point of view but also from other characters’ perspectives when she isn’t present. Annabel is a naïve protagonist and tends to follow rather than lead the plot. But she is courageous, determined, and can think for herself. All told, she makes a good guide to the steampunk setting. This tale is well described and very imaginative, featuring not merely the standard elements, but also several novelties (such as the fabulous notion of using liquid to store information). To a large extent, this series opener focuses more on worldbuilding than storytelling, but the action does heat up, and the pirates in particular come into their own (albeit while talking in heavy buccaneer accents that can be a bit off-putting). A smattering of high-contrast, black-and-white illustrations by Garbay (Le Voyage Extraordinaire, 2019, etc.) adds to the impression of Victoriana. Though not entirely satisfying as a stand-alone adventure, this volume has enough captivating material to draw middle-grade readers into the series.

An engaging introduction to a world of wonder and intrigue.

Pub Date: Nov. 19, 2019


Page Count: -

Publisher: Fantastical Contraption

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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