A pleasing, if somewhat derivative, fantasy with a sprinkling of steampunk.

THEO PAXSTONE AND THE DRAGON OF ADYRON

An orphan gets a chance to play a knight in this middle-grade novel.

Orphan Theo Paxstone works in Master Grimes’ steam mech repair shop, but at night he dreams of running away and becoming one of Adyron’s celebrated steam knights: “The knights were the guardians of the kingdom, and kept it safe from monsters.” The best Theo and his sidekick—the shop’s talking cockatoo, Ollie—can hope for is to sneak away to watch the knights parade into town for the royal tournament. But when a rogue dragon appears and torches the tournament grounds, Theo springs into action, helping to repair a broken mech and rescue a trapped knight. As a reward, Sir Bentham purchases Theo’s freedom (and Ollie’s as well). Theo has the opportunity to serve along with Sir Bentham’s surly squire, Riley, though the orphan quickly learns that his new master has a less-than-sterling reputation. The dragon who attacked the tournament kidnapped the king’s daughter, so Theo and his new friends take up the call to rescue her. They aren’t the only ones: Sir Drake, the most famous knight in Adyron (and Theo’s personal hero), also decides to hunt the creature. Challenging a dragon is a nearly suicidal feat for Theo, even with his mech knowhow and Sir Bentham’s fearless (or insane) tenacity. But there are further dangers as their quest leads them to discover dynastic secrets and political plots that threaten the stability of the entire realm. Turner (Rebel Angels, 2013) writes in an easy-to-read prose that manifests Theo’s enthusiasm for the world of steam knights, particularly the gadgetry associated with their mech steeds: “More mighty mechs lumbered past, banners fluttering from their copper antennae. Inside each sat a knight in a gyroscope-stabilized cockpit, set in the front of the chassis, ahead of the thrumming engine.” The geography and culture of Adyron are boilerplate fantasy fare (with some particular indebtedness to George R.R. Martin). What Turner brings to the table is the steampunk element of the impressive, dragon-battling mech suits. For some, this will be enough to keep them interested in Theo’s journey, though more traditional fantasy fans may find the gearhead talk a bit boring. While the characters fit comfortably into archetypes, some manage to shine despite this, including Theo and, particularly, Sir Bentham. The author’s dialogue enlivens the story with wit and color, as do his skilled black-and-white illustrations. Not much in the plot is completely unanticipated (though Riley turns out to have more surprises than expected at the outset). Even so, the world of Adyron should grow on the audience as the intricate back stories of the various parties begin to reveal themselves. For readers, the probability of further adventures with Theo and his friends will likely seem a delightful proposition. Full of dangerous flights, mistaken identities, and kids who show incredulous grown-ups that they are more than able to handle themselves, Theo’s tale should satisfy young readers looking for a bit of speculative escapism.

A pleasing, if somewhat derivative, fantasy with a sprinkling of steampunk.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 412

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 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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