A slow but delightful fantasy with a likable and powerful young heroine.

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PHOEBE DOUSE

SECRET SOCIETY FOR SPECIAL ABILITIES AND ARTEFACTS

A Texas teen learns that her new school houses a secret society that trains students with special abilities in this debut YA novel.

Phoebe Douse—pronounced “like Zeus, but with a D”—loses her beloved grandmother Naan. Shortly before her death, Naan assures her granddaughter that Phoebe has great (but still unknown) abilities. Phoebe guesses she may have precognition, but once schoolmates hear this tidbit, she becomes an outcast, from middle school all the way to high school. So when she receives admittance to The Murray School in Scotland, despite not even applying, Phoebe is all too happy to accept. It’s a typical school except that a handful of students have abilities, such as knowing what others are thinking. A couple of the teachers, too, are unusual. Dr. Braithwaite teaches chemistry but focuses on strange concoctions like Bobalgong and Totosol. As it turns out, the Secret Society for Special Abilities and Artefacts invites gifted students to The Murray School for potential training. Phoebe is indeed precognitive and capable of even more. But then so was Cara, a former student who inexplicably vanished. Phoebe; her roommate, Zoe Houlihan; and other new friends delve into the Cara mystery and uncover a few of the school’s dark secrets. Though the different special abilities are all familiar (for example, channeling spirits), the gradual reveal of each student’s skill is a treat. Nevertheless, Phoebe, the ever humble and appealing protagonist, has the best ability. As she doesn’t fully understand it, she, like readers, is surprised by certain things she can do. In this fantasy tale, Samuels sets a leisurely pace and thoroughly develops the characters. This enhances the mystery, as it often involves trusting or distrusting fellow students and faculty members. The author rounds out her tale with increasing suspense (disappearances within Phoebe’s small group of pals) and a continually evolving backstory starting decades earlier and including Naan and the secret society’s genesis. As this is a series launch, the novel ends with copious material for sequels.

A slow but delightful fantasy with a likable and powerful young heroine.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-73228-466-1

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Valued Educational Services, LLC

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2019

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Garrett’s failure to produce any sympathetic characters makes her debut tough going.

THE LAST TO DIE

Burglaries turn deadly for a group of spoiled teenagers.

Harper, Alex, Sarah, Paisley, Benji, and Gin come from similarly privileged homes. Their parents make up for a lack of commitment to their high school offspring by providing unfettered access to life’s material benefits: cars, clothes, and costly vacations. When getting drunk on booze filched from their folks’ well-stocked liquor cabinets palls, they invent an exciting new game. Each time one of the teens’ families goes skiing in Vail or snorkeling in the Bahamas, a designated member of the pack breaks into the unattended house and collects an assortment of trophies to be pawned for ready cash. The rules of the looting are strict. Only one member breaks into each house, nothing is to be stolen that can’t be replaced with insurance money, and nothing stolen from other members of the group. Harper adds one more rule: no stealing from her deaf sister, Maggie. After one full round of felonious fun, the wheels start to come off the crime spree. Sarah dies from a drug overdose. The police can’t decide if it’s an accident or suicide, but Harper is sure it’s neither. She thinks Sarah is too smart to overdose on her own and too conceited to kill herself. And since no one outside her little group exists for Harper, one of her fellow thieves must have killed her. Going to the authorities is a no-go because it would reveal the group’s role in the burglaries and spoil their chances of admission to an Ivy League college. So Harper and her chums sit around and wait to see if anything else bad happens. It does. Unfortunately, even Harper’s protectiveness toward her sister carries its own whiff of smugness.

Garrett’s failure to produce any sympathetic characters makes her debut tough going.

Pub Date: April 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-929345-30-4

Page Count: 206

Publisher: Poisoned Pen

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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Bulky, balky, talky.

THE DA VINCI CODE

In an updated quest for the Holy Grail, the narrative pace remains stuck in slo-mo.

But is the Grail, in fact, holy? Turns out that’s a matter of perspective. If you’re a member of that most secret of clandestine societies, the Priory of Sion, you think yes. But if your heart belongs to the Roman Catholic Church, the Grail is more than just unholy, it’s downright subversive and terrifying. At least, so the story goes in this latest of Brown’s exhaustively researched, underimagined treatise-thrillers (Deception Point, 2001, etc.). When Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon—in Paris to deliver a lecture—has his sleep interrupted at two a.m., it’s to discover that the police suspect he’s a murderer, the victim none other than Jacques Saumière, esteemed curator of the Louvre. The evidence against Langdon could hardly be sketchier, but the cops feel huge pressure to make an arrest. And besides, they don’t particularly like Americans. Aided by the murdered man’s granddaughter, Langdon flees the flics to trudge the Grail-path along with pretty, persuasive Sophie, who’s driven by her own need to find answers. The game now afoot amounts to a scavenger hunt for the scholarly, clues supplied by the late curator, whose intent was to enlighten Sophie and bedevil her enemies. It’s not all that easy to identify these enemies. Are they emissaries from the Vatican, bent on foiling the Grail-seekers? From Opus Dei, the wayward, deeply conservative Catholic offshoot bent on foiling everybody? Or any one of a number of freelancers bent on a multifaceted array of private agendas? For that matter, what exactly is the Priory of Sion? What does it have to do with Leonardo? With Mary Magdalene? With (gulp) Walt Disney? By the time Sophie and Langdon reach home base, everything—well, at least more than enough—has been revealed.

Bulky, balky, talky.

Pub Date: March 18, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50420-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2003

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