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TAKE BACK THE SKIES

Affectionate “mecha,” gruesome battles, deathbed confessions and stolen children make all the right ingredients for a result...

A steampunk heroine saves the world in a debut adventure.

Fourteen-year-old Catherine Hunter is a child of one of the most powerful men in the Anglyan government, but that doesn’t mean she’s had a happy childhood. Her cartoonishly evil father presides over a reign of terror in war-torn Anglya, and he has been violently abusive against Catherine all her life. Rather than be forced into a loveless marriage, Catherine disguises herself as a boy and stows away on a skyship. Its jovial, do-gooder crew turns out to be smugglers for justice. They all, from dishy ginger orphan Fox to motherly, stew-ladling cook Alice, happily integrate Catherine—going now by “Cat”—into their ranks. As Catherine learns that everything she’s ever known about her country is a lie, she’s thrust into the usual high-stakes fight to save the world. This struggle is paced just right for her to have lovers’ quarrels while sneaking around the most dangerous building in the country. The pieces are all here for a plucky-girl adventure, but the details—secondary characters right out of central casting, cheesy dialogue, a rushed and badly dissonant conclusion—hang ill-fitting on the age-of-steam framework.

Affectionate “mecha,” gruesome battles, deathbed confessions and stolen children make all the right ingredients for a result not quite baked; send it back to Alice in the galley . (Steampunk. 11-13)

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-61963-367-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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DEAD END IN NORVELT

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

An exhilarating summer marked by death, gore and fire sparks deep thoughts in a small-town lad not uncoincidentally named “Jack Gantos.”

The gore is all Jack’s, which to his continuing embarrassment “would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames” whenever anything exciting or upsetting happens. And that would be on every other page, seemingly, as even though Jack’s feuding parents unite to ground him for the summer after several mishaps, he does get out. He mixes with the undertaker’s daughter, a band of Hell’s Angels out to exact fiery revenge for a member flattened in town by a truck and, especially, with arthritic neighbor Miss Volker, for whom he furnishes the “hired hands” that transcribe what becomes a series of impassioned obituaries for the local paper as elderly town residents suddenly begin passing on in rapid succession. Eventually the unusual body count draws the—justified, as it turns out—attention of the police. Ultimately, the obits and the many Landmark Books that Jack reads (this is 1962) in his hours of confinement all combine in his head to broaden his perspective about both history in general and the slow decline his own town is experiencing.

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-37993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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THE STARS BELOW

From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 26, 2019

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