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 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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A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

ADORKABLE

In O’Gorman’s YA debut, two best friends try to fool people into thinking that they’re in love—and then discover a new facet of their relationship.

Sally Spitz is a frizzy-haired 17-year-old girl with a charming zeal for three things: Harry Potter (she’s a Gryffindor), Star Wars, and getting into Duke University. During her senior year of high school, she goes on a slew of miserable dates, set up by her mother and her own second-best–friend–turned-matchmaker, Lillian Hooker. Sally refuses to admit to anyone that she’s actually head over Converses in love with her longtime best friend, a boy named Baldwin Eugene Charles Kent, aka “Becks.” After a particularly awkward date, Sally devises a plan to end Lillian’s matchmaking attempts; specifically, she plans to hire someone to act as her fake boyfriend, or “F.B.F.” But before Sally can put her plan into action, a rumor circulates that Sally and Becks are already dating. Becks agrees to act as Sally’s F.B.F. in exchange for a box of Goobers and Sally’s doing his calculus homework for a month. Later, as they hold hands in the hall and “practice” make-out sessions in Becks’ bedroom, their friendship heads into unfamiliar territory. Over the course of this novel, O’Gorman presents an inviting and enjoyable account of lifelong friendship transforming into young love. Though the author’s reliance on familiar tropes may be comforting to a casual reader, it may frustrate those who may be looking for a more substantial and less predictable plot. A number of ancillary characters lack very much complexity, and the story, overall, would have benefited from an added twist or two. Even so, however, this remains a largely engaging and often endearing debut. 

A familiar but heartfelt romance for easygoing readers.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64063-759-7

Page Count: 340

Publisher: Entangled: Teen

Review Posted Online: Jan. 7, 2020

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