Somewhat overpacked but still highly entertaining.

Piper Houdini

NIGHTMARE ON ESOPUS ISLAND

After running away to a Coney Island “Freak Show,” Houdini’s niece gets drawn into an apocalyptic battle with an occultist and his evil minions in this YA novel.

In Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island (2015), Herdling (Deadpool Classic Omnibus, 2015, etc.) introduced his plucky, redheaded heroine, who grew up in orphanages before going to live with her famous uncle, Erich Weiss (aka the great stage magician Harry Houdini). After some complicated adventures, supernatural and otherwise, Piper ran away to Coney Island’s Dreamland Circus Sideshow. Now it’s the summer of 1926, and Piper, nearly 13, is thrilled to live and work with her family of sideshow “freaks”—a term of endearment among them: “It’s just another way of calling us unique,” says Johnny “Half-Boy” Hart. Piper reunites with her Creole friend, Sal, and his brother, a zombie, who joins the sideshow as “Punchinello the Painless Man.” But the performers are in danger from Dr. Roy Crandon, a surgeon who performs grotesque experiments at the bidding of Aleister Crowley (the famous, real-life occultist), who’s possessed by the demon Choronzon. Piper investigates her own true identity, following clues such as an H.P. Lovecraft story that was ghostwritten for Harry Houdini. Meanwhile, Crowley engineers Piper’s participation in a ceremony meant to help demons possess humankind, leading to a dramatic, supernatural confrontation involving Piper’s friends, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s daughter. As with the first book, Herdling combines period detail—such as flappers, speak-easies, Rudolph Valentino, and spiritualists—with an engaging heroine and Lovecraft-ian supernatural horrors into a nonstop action adventure. However, it leaves little time to consider the characters and their relationships or for events to have much impact on them or for significant realizations to sink in. That said, the book still retains an underlying emphasis on friendships and family relationships, no matter how oddly assorted they may be, and this offers a good, important counterpoint to all the supernatural weirdness. Herdling also has a good ear for dialogue and 1920s slang, adding a note of fun to the dark, occult shenanigans.

Somewhat overpacked but still highly entertaining.

Pub Date: July 3, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 284

Publisher: Wise Herd Enterprises

Review Posted Online: Sept. 14, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

Aspiring filmmaker/first-novelist Chbosky adds an upbeat ending to a tale of teenaged angst—the right combination of realism and uplift to allow it on high school reading lists, though some might object to the sexuality, drinking, and dope-smoking. More sophisticated readers might object to the rip-off of Salinger, though Chbosky pays homage by having his protagonist read Catcher in the Rye. Like Holden, Charlie oozes sincerity, rails against celebrity phoniness, and feels an extraliterary bond with his favorite writers (Harper Lee, Fitzgerald, Kerouac, Ayn Rand, etc.). But Charlie’s no rich kid: the third child in a middle-class family, he attends public school in western Pennsylvania, has an older brother who plays football at Penn State, and an older sister who worries about boys a lot. An epistolary novel addressed to an anonymous “friend,” Charlie’s letters cover his first year in high school, a time haunted by the recent suicide of his best friend. Always quick to shed tears, Charlie also feels guilty about the death of his Aunt Helen, a troubled woman who lived with Charlie’s family at the time of her fatal car wreck. Though he begins as a friendless observer, Charlie is soon pals with seniors Patrick and Sam (for Samantha), stepsiblings who include Charlie in their circle, where he smokes pot for the first time, drops acid, and falls madly in love with the inaccessible Sam. His first relationship ends miserably because Charlie remains compulsively honest, though he proves a loyal friend (to Patrick when he’s gay-bashed) and brother (when his sister needs an abortion). Depressed when all his friends prepare for college, Charlie has a catatonic breakdown, which resolves itself neatly and reveals a long-repressed truth about Aunt Helen. A plain-written narrative suggesting that passivity, and thinking too much, lead to confusion and anxiety. Perhaps the folks at (co-publisher) MTV see the synergy here with Daria or any number of videos by the sensitive singer-songwriters they feature.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02734-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: MTV/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1999

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A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing.

THE STARS WE STEAL

For the second time in her life, Leo must choose between her family and true love.

Nineteen-year-old Princess Leonie Kolburg’s royal family is bankrupt. In order to salvage the fortune they accrued before humans fled the frozen Earth 170 years ago, Leonie’s father is forcing her to participate in the Valg Season, an elaborate set of matchmaking events held to facilitate the marriages of rich and royal teens. Leo grudgingly joins in even though she has other ideas: She’s invented a water filtration system that, if patented, could provide a steady income—that is if Leo’s calculating Aunt Freja, the Captain of the ship hosting the festivities, stops blocking her at every turn. Just as Leo is about to give up hope, her long-lost love, Elliot, suddenly appears onboard three years after Leo’s family forced her to break off their engagement. Donne (Brightly Burning, 2018) returns to space, this time examining the fascinatingly twisted world of the rich and famous. Leo and her peers are nuanced, deeply felt, and diverse in terms of sexuality but not race, which may be a function of the realities of wealth and power. The plot is fast paced although somewhat uneven: Most of the action resolves in the last quarter of the book, which makes the resolutions to drawn-out conflicts feel rushed.

A thrilling romance that could use more even pacing. (Science fiction. 16-adult)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-328-94894-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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