Middle-grade readers (boys especially): Don’t dillydally; grab this nearly flawless book.

BLACKHEART'S LEGACY

BOOK 1 OF THE ODYSSEY OF JON SINCLAIR

In the first book of debut author Copus’ planned series, a boy and his grandmother travel back in time to hobnob with marauding pirates in search of hidden treasure.

Clearly familiar with what should constitute the building blocks of a kid-friendly adventure story, Copus begins the book with a seemingly foolproof plan gone disastrously awry. Alistair and Kathryn (Grammy) Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and full-time guardians following the mysterious deaths of his parents in a plane crash—are gearing up to send Jon to 1776 Philadelphia to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be joining them in the silver time-travel capsule Carousel this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps. But with a loud whirl and a classic sci-fi jolt, the ship’s malfunctioning navigation device instead sends them crashing to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, kicking their journey into high gear. Soon, Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal, led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart. Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of somehow crossing paths with Jon. As the novel picks up speed, so too do the cleverly hidden surprises. BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seems; it’s easy to root for him and his devoted crew during treasure dives and explosive battles with warring buccaneers, especially since he’s taken the ever-trusting Jon under his wing. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous, scurvy-inflicted crew never feels unbelievable, and one character’s just-in-the-knick-of-time appearance adds an element of urgency to an already deliciously thrilling finale. The cliffhanger ending foreshadows an exciting voyage to the lost city of Atlantis.

Middle-grade readers (boys especially): Don’t dillydally; grab this nearly flawless book.

Pub Date: June 23, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450534420

Page Count: 330

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

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Weird and haunting and excellent.

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PIRANESI

The much-anticipated second novel from the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (2004).

The narrator of this novel answers to the name “Piranesi” even though he suspects that it's not his name. This name was chosen for him by the Other, the only living person Piranesi has encountered during his extensive explorations of the House. Readers who recognize Piranesi as the name of an Italian artist known for his etchings of Roman ruins and imaginary prisons might recognize this as a cruel joke that the Other enjoys at the expense of the novel’s protagonist. It is that, but the name is also a helpful clue for readers trying to situate themselves in the world Clarke has created. The character known as Piranesi lives within a Classical structure of endless, inescapable halls occasionally inundated by the sea. These halls are inhabited by statues that seem to be allegories—a woman carrying a beehive; a dog-fox teaching two squirrels and two satyrs; two children laughing, one of them carrying a flute—but the meaning of these images is opaque. Piranesi is happy to let the statues simply be. With her second novel, Clarke invokes tropes that have fueled a century of surrealist and fantasy fiction as well as movies, television series, and even video games. At the foundation of this story is an idea at least as old as Chaucer: Our world was once filled with magic, but the magic has drained away. Clarke imagines where all that magic goes when it leaves our world and what it would be like to be trapped in that place. Piranesi is a naif, and there’s much that readers understand before he does. But readers who accompany him as he learns to understand himself will see magic returning to our world.

Weird and haunting and excellent.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63557-563-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally...

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NINTH HOUSE

Yale’s secret societies hide a supernatural secret in this fantasy/murder mystery/school story.

Most Yale students get admitted through some combination of impressive academics, athletics, extracurriculars, family connections, and donations, or perhaps bribing the right coach. Not Galaxy “Alex” Stern. The protagonist of Bardugo’s (King of Scars, 2019, etc.) first novel for adults, a high school dropout and low-level drug dealer, Alex got in because she can see dead people. A Yale dean who's a member of Lethe, one of the college’s famously mysterious secret societies, offers Alex a free ride if she will use her spook-spotting abilities to help Lethe with its mission: overseeing the other secret societies’ occult rituals. In Bardugo’s universe, the “Ancient Eight” secret societies (Lethe is the eponymous Ninth House) are not just old boys’ breeding grounds for the CIA, CEOs, Supreme Court justices, and so on, as they are in ours; they’re wielders of actual magic. Skull and Bones performs prognostications by borrowing patients from the local hospital, cutting them open, and examining their entrails. St. Elmo’s specializes in weather magic, useful for commodities traders; Aurelian, in unbreakable contracts; Manuscript goes in for glamours, or “illusions and lies,” helpful to politicians and movie stars alike. And all these rituals attract ghosts. It’s Alex’s job to keep the supernatural forces from embarrassing the magical elite by releasing chaos into the community (all while trying desperately to keep her grades up). “Dealing with ghosts was like riding the subway: Do not make eye contact. Do not smile. Do not engage. Otherwise, you never know what might follow you home.” A townie’s murder sets in motion a taut plot full of drug deals, drunken assaults, corruption, and cover-ups. Loyalties stretch and snap. Under it all runs the deep, dark river of ambition and anxiety that at once powers and undermines the Yale experience. Alex may have more reason than most to feel like an imposter, but anyone who’s spent time around the golden children of the Ivy League will likely recognize her self-doubt.

With an aura of both enchantment and authenticity, Bardugo’s compulsively readable novel leaves a portal ajar for equally dazzling sequels.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-31307-2

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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