A thrilling look at the 19th-century age of automata—“a time of curiosity-seekers”—and the riveting story of a likable...

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CURIOSITY

Twelve-year-old Rufus Goodspeed is dangerously good at chess.

Rufus’ “freakish prowess” for the game—and his unusually small size—lands him in a tight spot indeed when he’s employed by an ill-tempered showman named Johann Maelzel to be the brains behind “the Turk,” a wax-headed mechanical man in Turkish garb advertised as “the Original and Celebrated Automaton Chess Player.” Wedged inside a hidden wooden cabinet and breathing acrid candle smoke, Rufus plays chess on stage with unseen opponents via an ingenious mechanical system—all in the hope of earning money for his imprisoned father. The Turk was a real-life 19th-century contraption, and this novel focuses on its history after Maelzel brings it from Europe to Philadelphia in 1835, spurring wild public speculation about its inner workings, the intense scrutiny of then-journalist Edgar Allan Poe and man-vs.-machine debates that continue to this day. The suspenseful narrative unfolds through the first-person voice of the fictional Rufus, a sickly, stooped yet strong-spirited boy who never loses his insatiable curiosity or his passion for chess even through bouts of abuse, near-starvation, deceit and, alas, unrequited love.

A thrilling look at the 19th-century age of automata—“a time of curiosity-seekers”—and the riveting story of a likable Philadelphia boy whose life of the mind helps him transcend his extraordinary, oft-cruel circumstances. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 11-14)

Pub Date: April 10, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8037-3924-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF AGES

From the Mysterious Benedict Society series , Vol. 4

When deadly minions of archvillain Ledroptha Curtain escape from prison, the talented young protégés of his twin brother, Nicholas Benedict, reunite for a new round of desperate ploys and ingenious trickery.

Stewart sets the reunion of cerebral Reynie Muldoon Perumal, hypercapable Kate Wetherall, shy scientific genius George “Sticky” Washington, and spectacularly sullen telepath Constance Contraire a few years after the previous episode, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009). Providing relief from the quartet’s continual internecine squabbling and self-analysis, he trucks in Tai Li, a grubby, precociously verbal 5-year-old orphan who also happens to be telepathic. (Just to even the playing field a bit, the bad guys get a telepath too.) Series fans will know to be patient in wading through all the angst, arguments, and flurries of significant nose-tapping (occasionally in unison), for when the main action does at long last get under way—the five don’t even set out from Mr. Benedict’s mansion together until more than halfway through—the Society returns to Nomansan Island (get it?), the site of their first mission, for chases, narrow squeaks, hastily revised stratagems, and heroic exploits that culminate in a characteristically byzantine whirl of climactic twists, triumphs, and revelations. Except for brown-skinned George and olive-complected, presumably Asian-descended Tai, the central cast defaults to white; Reynie’s adoptive mother is South Asian.

Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45264-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved.

ESCAPE FROM ZOBADAK

Four children find their way into another world through a hidden doorway in a mysterious old piece of furniture.

Gallagher elaborates on this oddly familiar premise by (eventually) explaining that the right sort of wooden joinery will link furniture from any place or time. Billy, his little sister Sophie and their friends Chris and Maggie discover a seemingly endless maze of hallways lined with doors and drawers full of strange artifacts by crawling into a nightstand belonging to missing Uncle Gary. The labyrinth is actually a “cabinet of curiosities” that brilliant carpenters of many generations have been building to store treasures like Excalibur and the Thunderbird Photograph. Before this is explained, however, the four children have spent many chapters wandering the halls at random—and also being menaced in the outside world by animated wooden puppets from the fictional “Zobadak Wood Company,” who are after Uncle Gary and the nightstand at the command of a shadowy figure named Brope. Along with introducing scads of enigmatic elements from flocks of aggressive crows to a mischievous fairy, the author injects artificial melodrama into the tale by having Billy and Sophie rescue their pointlessly kidnapped parents. He clumsily tries for comic relief by casting the puppets as inept Abbott-and-Costello types and with no perceptible rationale closes by having all of the adults stonewall or downplay everything that has happened.

Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-934133-32-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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