A potentially compelling historical fantasy that sadly squanders its sense of place.

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NOVEMBER IN SALEM

THE BARGAIN OF WITCHES

From the November Series series , Vol. 2

Russell’s (Death of an H.O.E., 2013, etc.) YA fantasy novel, the first in a planned series, sends three middle schoolers on a quest through time to prevent a dark bargain that’s been centuries in the making.

When her mother and stepfather leave the country, seventh-grader November Atwood is sent to Danvers, Massachusetts, to live with her late father’s sisters and her 12-year-old twin cousins, Jeffrey and Stephen Atwood; the latter is nicknamed “Hawk” after the scientist Stephen Hawking, with whom he shares both a love of quantum physics and the use of a wheelchair. Near the abandoned State Asylum, the three tweens dig up an old wooden box; it contains a cryptic document, dated “In the second year of the reign of our Sovereign King William III,” or 1700. It includes the mysterious instruction to “Go beneath the stones of Hathorne / On The Eve of Hollandtide.” As they puzzle over what this statement could mean, they’re startled by the sudden appearance of November’s supposedly imaginary friend, Dynnis, who explains that the three Atwood children are part of a line of magic users destined to break the Bargain, a more than 300-year-old blood oath that will otherwise doom their town. But can they overcome the ancient evil of the demon called Astaroth, and save their family’s past and future? Russell’s exciting premise promises to connect the well-known story of the Salem witches with the history of the real-life Danvers State Hospital. Unfortunately, the details of these local legends are soon replaced by a standard tale of good vs. evil, and the use of Celtic lore seems irrelevant to the setting. This aspect is particularly disappointing because Russell’s writing is often vivid, incorporating not just visuals but sound and even scent: “it stunk of mildew, rotted plaster, and wood, but there was something more. This smell was almost sweet—like stale gingerbread.” It’s worth noting, though, that November’s narration is frequently ableist until late in the novel: “Up until now I’d done a pretty good job avoiding anyone in a wheelchair. I didn’t even make eye contact with them in public places.”

A potentially compelling historical fantasy that sadly squanders its sense of place.

Pub Date: May 26, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4401-1900-2

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Tiny Cottage Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 10, 2017

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A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

THE ANDROMEDA EVOLUTION

Over 50 years after an extraterrestrial microbe wiped out a small Arizona town, something very strange has appeared in the Amazon jungle in Wilson’s follow-up to Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain.

The microparticle's introduction to Earth in 1967 was the disastrous result of an American weapons research program. Before it could be contained, Andromeda killed all but two people in tiny Piedmont, Arizona; during testing after the disaster, AS-1 evolved and escaped into the atmosphere. Project Eternal Vigilance was quickly set up to scan for any possible new outbreaks of Andromeda. Now, an anomaly with “signature peaks” closely resembling the original Andromeda Strain has been spotted in the heart of the Amazon, and a Wildfire Alert is issued. A diverse team is assembled: Nidhi Vedala, an MIT nanotechnology expert born in a Mumbai slum; Harold Odhiambo, a Kenyan xenogeologist; Peng Wu, a Chinese doctor and taikonaut; Sophie Kline, a paraplegic astronaut and nanorobotics expert based on the International Space Station; and, a last-minute addition, roboticist James Stone, son of Dr. Jeremy Stone from The Andromeda Strain. They must journey into the deepest part of the jungle to study and hopefully contain the dire threat that the anomaly seemingly poses to humanity. But the jungle has its own dangers, and it’s not long before distrust and suspicion grip the team. They’ll need to come together to take on what waits for them inside a mysterious structure that may not be of this world. Setting the story over the course of five days, Wilson (Robopocalypse, 2011, etc.) combines the best elements of hard SF novels and techno-thrillers, using recovered video, audio, and interview transcripts to shape the narrative, with his own robotics expertise adding flavor and heft. Despite a bit of acronym overload, this is an atmospheric and often terrifying roller-coaster ride with (literally) sky-high stakes that pays plenty of homage to The Andromeda Strain while also echoing the spirit and mood of Crichton’s other works, such as Jurassic Park and Congo. Add more than a few twists and exciting set pieces (especially in the finale) to the mix, and you’ve got a winner.

A thrilling and satisfying sequel to the 1969 classic.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-247327-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

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SHAKESPEARE FOR SQUIRRELS

Manic parodist Moore, fresh off a season in 1947 San Francisco (Noir, 2018), returns with a rare gift for Shakespeare fans who think A Midsummer Night’s Dream would be perfect if only it were a little more madcap.

Cast adrift by pirates together with his apprentice, halfwit giant Drool, and Jeff, his barely less intelligent monkey, Pocket of Dog Snogging upon Ouze, jester to the late King Lear, washes ashore in Shakespeare’s Athens, where Cobweb, a squirrel by day and fairy by night, takes him under her wing and other parts. Soon after he encounters Robin Goodfellow (the Puck), jester to shadow king Oberon, and Nick Bottom and the other clueless mechanicals rehearsing Pyramus and Thisby in a nearby forest before they present it in celebration of the wedding of Theseus, Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta, the captive Amazon queen who’s captured his heart, Pocket (The Serpent of Venice, 2014, etc.) finds Robin fatally shot by an arrow. Suspected briefly of the murder himself, he’s commissioned, first by Hippolyta, then by the unwitting Theseus, to identify the Puck’s killer. Oh, and Egeus, the Duke’s steward, wants him to find and execute Lysander, who’s run off with Egeus’ daughter, Hermia, instead of marrying Helena, who’s in love with Demetrius. As English majors can attest, a remarkable amount of this madness can already be found in Shakespeare’s play. Moore’s contribution is to amp up the couplings, bawdy language, violence, and metatextual analogies between the royals, the fairies, the mechanicals, his own interloping hero, and any number of other plays by the Bard.

A kicky, kinky, wildly inventive 21st-century mashup with franker language and a higher body count than Hamlet.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-243402-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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