Thoughtful and perceptive, with offbeat humor, twisty puzzles, and exciting action.

THE MEMORY TRAP

Asked to investigate the pranks he’s suspected of executing, a boy uncovers something much more dangerous in this middle-grade novel.

Henry Dunne, 12, is new to Fountain Green Middle School in Maryland after his family moved. His parents’ Italian restaurant is no longer nearby, so instead of going there after school and enjoying the kitchen’s friendly camaraderie, the seventh-grader spends many hours alone at home. To cope, he practices his card tricks and a technique called the Memory Palace that, in Henry’s case, links each card in a deck to certain well-known locations from his beloved old house. The practice calms him, which he needs even more now that he is suspected as the prankster who’s been plaguing the school—and leaving behind, as a calling card, the joker from a blue-backed Bicycle deck (Henry’s favorite), along with other evidence meant to frame the boy. When Principal George Pal’s car disappears from inside its locked garage, he proposes a deal to Henry: “You help me figure out what happened to my car, and I’ll help you figure out who’s causing all the trouble.” Henry is challenged to leave behind the cool, calm reason of his Memory Palace to confront the problem, work with friends and allies, deal with shaken trust, and discover the sinister motives behind the pranks—leading to a perilous, dramatic, and thrilling showdown. Pranks are a not-infrequent topic for middle-grade novels, but Koren (Do Over, 2016) makes something more complicated and poignant from the theme than adolescent high jinks. Characters have rich backstories; Pal, for example, can’t get over a failed relationship, insisting on “closure.” Henry’s friend Lamont loves parkour—but is there another explanation for why he’s always covered in bruises? Brook Leahy, who’s interested in Henry, is a talented artist, not just a pretty girl. And Henry’s loneliness, homesickness, and need for human connection are movingly explored, leading to the tale’s central insight: “Maybe home wasn’t a place, he thought….Maybe home was people.”

Thoughtful and perceptive, with offbeat humor, twisty puzzles, and exciting action.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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