From acclaimed novelist Mary Wesley (Haphazard House, 1993) comes this smug, obnoxious YA novel set in the contemporary English countryside. Kate is given a bullfinch by her big sister Angela; one day, Kate learns that the pet—called Mr. Bull—and all the other animals she comes in contact with are actually able to talk. But rather than maximizing the marvelous juxtaposition between the well-observed realism with which Kate's life is described and the magical possibilities offered by a world in which all the animals, domesticated and feral, speak a perfectly comprehensible and even witty English, Wesley just glosses over this marvel to present a plodding, quasi-morality play about animal rights. The plot—which involves getting all the animals to warn other species about upcoming hunts and so forth—is muddled to the point of utter tedium. Eventually Kate and Angela's parents and various adult members of the community are drawn into the struggle, as are a pair of neighboring children, Andrew and James. But none of the characters comes to life; most interesting is Mr. Bull, who is unfortunately confined to saying and doing very little. Despite its delicious premise, Speaking Terms is a crashing bore. Readers will turn away long before the end, which is confusing and wholly without dramatic import. (Fiction. 12+)

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1994

ISBN: 0-87951-524-4

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Overlook

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1994

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Too much hat, not enough cowboy.


From the Ashlords series , Vol. 1

A dystopian flip of colonialism mixes with horses on fire.

In the Empire, the dark-skinned Ashlords are a minority but have all the power. Each year they stage a spectacular multiday race on phoenixes—horses that rise from ashes at dawn only to die in flames each night. Pippa, the teen daughter of former winners, is this year’s favorite, but she’s challenged by Adrian, a tough Longhand cowboy from an oppressed group of rebels, and Imelda, the lone Dividian given free entry into the contest. The light-skinned Dividian were invaders who failed to conquer and who now live subject to the Ashlords (who credit their superiority to the intervention of their many gods). Phoenixes can have magical powers, depending on what you add to their ashes. It’s a lot of stuff crammed into one novel. Reintgen (Saving Fable, 2019, etc.) fits it all in, mostly (the gods never do make sense), with economical, crisp writing, at the expense of character development and overall clarity. The most well-developed relationship, between Imelda and her friend Farian, is abandoned after the first chapters. The worldbuilding falters, too: They have sophisticated computerized technology, including holograms and video streaming, but rely on horses and carriages for all transportation. It requires close reading to understand that the pale, invading Dividian majority are oppressed; the facts are told piecemeal without the analysis that might have given readers insights into our own world's history of colonialism

Too much hat, not enough cowboy. (Fantasy. 13-18)

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-11917-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A literary psychological thriller, hauntingly told, of a lonely, ostracized boy who “since childhood had been building a wall meant to protect [him] from the worst of the harm.” Anwell, renamed Gabriel, “the messenger, the teller of astonishing truths,” is 20 years old and dying of an unnamed illness. Through flashbacks, and from alternating perspectives, Hartnett’s grim, beautifully written tale of adolescent yearnings gone awry gradually unfolds. Isolated in a home with punitive, repressive parents, trapped in a country town that “has as many eyes as a fly,” where he can never live down a fatal mistake he made when he was seven, Gabriel makes a secret, binding boyhood pact with Finnigan, an unpredictable gypsy-child, in which he surrenders his right to do wrong, and after which unsolved violent incidents occur. The reader is caught by the many layers of mystery, and by the resilient lyricism, the powerful imagery. The clues piece together masterfully, as what was set up as a complex friendship between two boys and their beloved dog evolves into a chilling story of love, guilt, revenge and sorrow. Sophisticated young readers will be awed by the delicate, measured, heartbreaking portrait that emerges. (Fiction. YA)

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-7636-2768-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2006

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