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

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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