Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island

Plenty of storytelling magic, although the story’s not yet finished.

Harry Houdini’s niece discovers a talent for real magic in this 1926-set YA novel.

Until age 12, Piper Weiss lives in an orphanage and a series of foster homes that never quite work out, mainly because bizarre things always seem to happen around her. Then Piper’s father—gaunt and pale, with cavernous eyes—arrives, taking her to live with her uncle Ehrich Weiss, who is better known to the world by his stage name: Harry Houdini. He and his wife, Bess, are childless, and they welcome Piper, who enjoys her new life of good food, silk sheets, and a backstage view of Houdini’s performances. Although Houdini is dedicated to exposing fraudulent mediums, Piper has unsettling encounters with the genuinely supernatural (including, for example, zombies). She learns to walk through mirrors and also discovers nefarious plans to reanimate freak-show corpses and create a demonic army. Meanwhile, in London, the 13-year-old daughter of Arthur Conan Doyle has an urgent message for Houdini from the spirit world: “For the human race to survive, the girl must survive. But for the girl to survive, the magician must die.” It seems the end times are coming, and Piper has a role to play—but first she’ll have to escape a black magician’s minion called Flapper, the vampire vamp. Herdling (Fantastic Four/Inhumans: Atlantis Rising, 2014, etc.) offers a wildly entertaining story. Barring a few anachronisms, he uses his Roaring ’20s backdrop to great advantage. The slang-slinging Flapper is a particularly successful creation; like other minor characters, she’s well-rounded and not unsympathetic, which manages to make her even more chilling. Piper is an appealing heroine: a scrappy Annie-like orphan who stands up for her friends with courage and wit. Her rise from orphan to pampered niece is irresistible fantasy, but Herdling seldom takes his story to expected places. He lucidly explains complicated matters, from how to escape a straitjacket to Egyptian theories of the soul. Disappointingly, though, the book leaves readers waiting for resolution with few storylines resolved; however, a sequel is planned.

Plenty of storytelling magic, although the story’s not yet finished.

Pub Date: July 3, 2015


Page Count: 269

Publisher: Wise Herd Enterprises

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015



A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

In the ninth book in the Bluford young-adult series, a young Latino man walks away from violence—but at great personal cost.

In a large Southern California city, 16-year-old Martin Luna hangs out on the fringes of gang life. He’s disaffected, fatherless and increasingly drawn into the orbit of the older, rougher Frankie. When a stray bullet kills Martin’s adored 8-year-old brother, Huero, Martin seems to be heading into a life of crime. But Martin’s mother, determined not to lose another son, moves him to another neighborhood—the fictional town of Bluford, where he attends the racially diverse Bluford High. At his new school, the still-grieving Martin quickly makes enemies and gets into trouble. But he also makes friends with a kind English teacher and catches the eye of Vicky, a smart, pretty and outgoing Bluford student. Martin’s first-person narration supplies much of the book’s power. His dialogue is plain, but realistic and believable, and the authors wisely avoid the temptation to lard his speech with dated and potentially embarrassing slang. The author draws a vivid and affecting picture of Martin’s pain and confusion, bringing a tight-lipped teenager to life. In fact, Martin’s character is so well drawn that when he realizes the truth about his friend Frankie, readers won’t feel as if they are watching an after-school special, but as though they are observing the natural progression of Martin’s personal growth. This short novel appears to be aimed at urban teens who don’t often see their neighborhoods portrayed in young-adult fiction, but its sophisticated characters and affecting story will likely have much wider appeal.

A YA novel that treats its subject and its readers with respect while delivering an engaging story.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 978-1591940173

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Townsend Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2013

Mary's Song

From the Dream Horse Adventure Series series , Vol. 1

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

A novel tells the story of two spirited girls who set out to save a lame foal in 1952.

Mary, age 12, lacks muscle control of her legs and must use a wheelchair. Her life is constantly interrupted by trips with her widower father to assorted doctors, all of whom have failed to help her. Mary tolerates the treatments, hoping to one day walk unassisted, but her true passion involves horses. Possessing a library filled with horse books, she loves watching and drawing the animals at a neighboring farm. She longs to own one herself. But her father, overprotective due to her disability and his own lingering grief over Mary’s dead mother, makes her keep her distance. Mary befriends Laura, the emotionally neglected daughter of the wealthy neighboring farm owners, and the two share secret buggy rides. Both girls are attracted to Illusion, a beautiful red bay filly on the farm. Mary learns that Illusion is to be put down by a veterinarian because of a lame leg. Horrified, she decides to talk to the barn manager about the horse (“Isn’t it okay for her to live even if she’s not perfect? I think she deserves a chance”). Soon, Mary and Laura attempt to raise money to save Illusion. At the same time, Mary begins to gain control of her legs thanks to water therapy and secret therapeutic riding with Laura. There is indeed a great deal of poignancy in a story of a girl with a disability fighting to defend the intrinsic value of a lame animal. But this book, the first installment of the Dream Horse Adventure Series, would be twice as touching if Mary interacted with Illusion more. In the tale’s opening, she watches the foal from afar, but she actually spends very little time with the filly she tries so hard to protect. This turns out to be a strange development given the degree to which the narrative relies on her devotion. Count (Selah’s Sweet Dream, 2015) draws Mary and Laura in broad but believable strokes, defined mainly by their unrelenting pluckiness in the face of adversity. While the work tackles disability, death, and grief, Mary’s and Laura’s environments are so idyllic and their optimism and perseverance so remarkable that the story retains an aura of uncomplicated gentleness throughout.

A short, simple, and sweet tale about two friends and a horse.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: -

Publisher: Hastings Creations Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2016