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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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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A celebratory song of the sea.

THE HIGHEST TIDE

A shrimpy 13-year-old with a super-sized passion for marine life comes of age during a summer of discovery on the tidal flats of Puget Sound.

Miles O’Malley—Squid Boy to his friends—doesn’t mind being short. It’s other things that keep him awake at night, like his parents’ talk of divorce and his increasingly lustful thoughts about the girl next door. Mostly, though, it’s the ocean’s siren call that steals his sleep. During one of his moonlit kayak excursions, Miles comes across the rarest sighting ever documented in the northern Pacific: the last gasp of a Giant Squid. Scientists are stunned. The media descend. As Miles continues to stumble across other oddball findings, including two invasive species that threaten the eco-balance of Puget Sound, a nearby new-age cult’s interest in Miles prompts a headline in USA Today: Kid Messiah? Soon tourists are flocking to the tidal flats, crushing crustaceans underfoot and painting their bodies with black mud. Dodging disingenuous journalists, deluded disciples and the death-throes of his parents’ marriage, Miles tries to recapture some semblance of normality. He reads up on the G-spot and the Kama Sutra to keep pace with his pals’ bull sessions about sex (hilariously contributing “advanced” details that gross the other boys out). But Miles’s aquatic observations cannot be undone, and as summer draws to a close, inhabitants of Puget Sound prepare for a national blitzkrieg of media and scientific attention and the highest tide in 40 years, all of which threatens everything Miles holds dear. On land, the rickety plot could have used some shoring up. Miles is just too resourceful for the reader to believe his happiness—or that of those he loves—is ever at stake. But when Miles is on the water, Lynch’s first novel becomes a stunning light show, both literal, during phosphorescent plankton blooms, and metaphorical, in the poetic fireworks Lynch’s prose sets off as he describes his clearly beloved Puget Sound.

A celebratory song of the sea.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-58234-605-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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