THE SPELL OF THE SORCERER'S SKULL

The third, least compelling adventure for Johnny Dixon—the 1950s boy-hero of The Curse of the Blue Figurine and The Mummy, the Will, and the Crypt. This time Johnny and Professor Childermass take a vacation trip up to a countryinn in New Hampshire, where the Prof immediately spots an unusual shelf clock that was stolen from his ancestral home some years ago: the bottom half of the clock contains a dollhouse room, a replica of the Victorian parlor wherein Prof. Childermass' great-uncle died in a bizarre fashion. Furthermore, during the night, Johnny sees the dollhouse room come to life (!); a tiny skull, from a shelf within the mini-room, falls out of the dollhouse; and Johnny, under some odd compulsion, secretly pockets this creepy talisman. Unsurprisingly, then, strange things start happening once Johnny and the Prof return to Duston Heights, Mass. A jack-o'-lantern mirage keeps appearing at the windows of the Professor's house. Then the Prof vanishes—appearing to Johnny only in a mirror-vision (mouthing "Help me"), leaving behind a few tiny clues. So, with pal Fergie and Catholic priest Father Higgins, Johnny starts on a sleuthing trail after the Professor; the clues eventually lead to a clock museum, a cemetery chapel, and a demon-possessed Professor—all on an island off the Maine coast. And the drawn-out, rather murky finale involves a book of black magic and a vengeful spirit (out to destroy the Professor because of a long-ago crime), with the devil-fighting powers of the True Cross and the Latin church Mass finally saving the day. Throughout, in fact, this thick occult stew is dubiously flavored with Catholic rites and totems—including a prayer to St. Anthony that produces a miraculous clue. ("It was possible that St. Anthony or some higher power had spoken.") More important, while Bellairs turns up the supernatural heat here, he leaves the characters almost entirely undeveloped: Johnny's home-life problems (father in Korea, mother dead, grandmother ill) barely get a mention this time, and there's little pizzazz in the supporting cast. A disappointing follow-up, then, but brightly inventive enough (especially in the creepy dollhouse notion) to provide a new chill or twist every few pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1984

ISBN: 0142402656

Page Count: 180

Publisher: Dial Books

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1984

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A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense.

A GOOD GIRL'S GUIDE TO MURDER

From the Good Girl's Guide To Murder series , Vol. 1

Everyone believes that Salil Singh killed his girlfriend, Andrea Bell, five years ago—except Pippa Fitz-Amobi.

Pip has known and liked Sal since childhood; he’d supported her when she was being bullied in middle school. For her senior capstone project, Pip researches the disappearance of former Fairview High student Andie, last seen on April 18, 2014, by her younger sister, Becca. The original investigation concluded with most of the evidence pointing to Sal, who was found dead in the woods, apparently by suicide. Andie’s body was never recovered, and Sal was assumed by most to be guilty of abduction and murder. Unable to ignore the gaps in the case, Pip sets out to prove Sal’s innocence, beginning with interviewing his younger brother, Ravi. With his help, Pip digs deeper, unveiling unsavory facts about Andie and the real reason Sal’s friends couldn’t provide him with an alibi. But someone is watching, and Pip may be in more danger than she realizes. Pip’s sleuthing is both impressive and accessible. Online articles about the case and interview transcripts are provided throughout, and Pip’s capstone logs offer insights into her thought processes as new evidence and suspects arise. Jackson’s debut is well-executed and surprises readers with a connective web of interesting characters and motives. Pip and Andie are white, and Sal is of Indian descent.

A treat for mystery readers who enjoy being kept in suspense. (Mystery. 14-18)

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-9636-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.

TEEN KILLERS CLUB

An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Cracking page-turner with a multiethnic band of misfits with differing sexual orientations who satisfyingly, believably jell...

SIX OF CROWS

Adolescent criminals seek the haul of a lifetime in a fantasyland at the beginning of its industrial age.

The dangerous city of Ketterdam is governed by the Merchant Council, but in reality, large sectors of the city are given over to gangs who run the gambling dens and brothels. The underworld's rising star is 17-year-old Kaz Brekker, known as Dirtyhands for his brutal amorality. Kaz walks with chronic pain from an old injury, but that doesn't stop him from utterly destroying any rivals. When a councilman offers him an unimaginable reward to rescue a kidnapped foreign chemist—30 million kruge!—Kaz knows just the team he needs to assemble. There's Inej, an itinerant acrobat captured by slavers and sold to a brothel, now a spy for Kaz; the Grisha Nina, with the magical ability to calm and heal; Matthias the zealot, hunter of Grishas and caught in a hopeless spiral of love and vengeance with Nina; Wylan, the privileged boy with an engineer's skills; and Jesper, a sharpshooter who keeps flirting with Wylan. Bardugo broadens the universe she created in the Grisha Trilogy, sending her protagonists around countries that resemble post-Renaissance northern Europe, where technology develops in concert with the magic that's both coveted and despised. It’s a highly successful venture, leaving enough open questions to cause readers to eagerly await Volume 2.

Cracking page-turner with a multiethnic band of misfits with differing sexual orientations who satisfyingly, believably jell into a family . (Fantasy. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62779-212-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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