The mishmash of popular tropes (steampunk! vampires! Sherlock Holmes!) will bring readers in, but it’s the friendship...

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THE CLOCKWORK SCARAB

From the Stoker & Holmes series , Vol. 1

A vampire slayer and a great detective (-in-training) fight baddies in a steam-powered London.

Alvermina “Mina” Holmes is thrilled when she’s invited to a secret rendezvous at the British Museum; she’ll finally prove herself a fitting successor to her famous uncle Sherlock. The mystery she finds is every bit as fascinating as she could have hoped: bloody murders, a secret society, even a time traveler. Along with pesky vampire slayer Evaline Stoker, Mina investigates the mysterious Society of Sekhmet. Mina deduces, while Evaline (ever ladylike in her split skirts) does violence to their enemies. Between attacking villains and questioning her own prowess, elegant Evaline develops warm feelings for a common thief named Pix. Meanwhile, Mina is troubled by her attraction to the almost-as-clever-as-she-is Inspector Grayling. Some elements fall flat: The time traveler’s Nikes and “egg mick-muffins” clash with the tone, and Pix’s over-the-top guttersnipe dialect—“No’ all of ’em ’re true”—is pure distraction. Nonetheless, the budding friendship between the bickering girls brings heart into this gadget-laden mystery. While Pix and Inspector Grayling will clearly provide romantic interest in forthcoming volumes, it’s the snarky bromance between Stoker and Holmes that stands out.

The mishmash of popular tropes (steampunk! vampires! Sherlock Holmes!) will bring readers in, but it’s the friendship between the two girls that will keep them . (Steampunk/mystery. 12-16)

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4521-1070-7

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Chronicle

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2013

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Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful.

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SALT TO THE SEA

January 1945: as Russians advance through East Prussia, four teens’ lives converge in hopes of escape.

Returning to the successful formula of her highly lauded debut, Between Shades of Gray (2011), Sepetys combines research (described in extensive backmatter) with well-crafted fiction to bring to life another little-known story: the sinking (from Soviet torpedoes) of the German ship Wilhelm Gustloff. Told in four alternating voices—Lithuanian nurse Joana, Polish Emilia, Prussian forger Florian, and German soldier Alfred—with often contemporary cadences, this stints on neither history nor fiction. The three sympathetic refugees and their motley companions (especially an orphaned boy and an elderly shoemaker) make it clear that while the Gustloff was a German ship full of German civilians and soldiers during World War II, its sinking was still a tragedy. Only Alfred, stationed on the Gustloff, lacks sympathy; almost a caricature, he is self-delusional, unlikable, a Hitler worshiper. As a vehicle for exposition, however, and a reminder of Germany’s role in the war, he serves an invaluable purpose that almost makes up for the mustache-twirling quality of his petty villainy. The inevitability of the ending (including the loss of several characters) doesn’t change its poignancy, and the short chapters and slowly revealed back stories for each character guarantee the pages keep turning.

Heartbreaking, historical, and a little bit hopeful. (author’s note, research and sources, maps) (Historical fiction. 12-16)

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-16030-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun.

STARSIGHT

From the Skyward series , Vol. 2

As if the threat of huge, raging monsters from hyperspace isn’t scary enough, hotshot fighter pilot Spensa Nightshade becomes embroiled in an alien empire’s politics.

On a desperate mission to steal hyperdrive technology from the crablike invading Krell who are threatening to destroy her beleaguered home colony on Detritus, Spensa, who is white, holographically disguises herself as a violet-skinned UrDail and slips into a Krell pilot training program for “lesser species.” The discovery that she’s being secretly trained not to fight planet-destroying delvers but to exterminate humans, who are (with some justification, having kindled three interstellar wars in past centuries) regarded in certain quarters as an irrationally aggressive species, is just one in a string of revelations as, in between numerous near-death experiences on practice flights, she struggles to understand both her own eerie abilities and the strange multispecies society in which she finds herself. There are so many characters besides Spensa searching for self-identity—notably her comic-relief sidekick AI M-Bot, troubled human friend Jorgen back on Detritus, and Morriumur, member of a species whose color-marked sexes create trial offspring—that even with a plot that defaults to hot action and escalating intrigue the pacing has a stop and start quality. Still, Spensa’s habitual over-the-top recklessness adds a rousing spark, and the author folds in plenty of banter as well as a colorful supporting cast.

Not quite the wild ride of Skyward (2018) but still great fun. (Science fiction. 12-15)

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-55581-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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