Reviews and Press, Wherein Kate Toots Her Own Horn for a While


The Boneshaker is a 2010 VOYA Top of the Top Shelf Pick.

The Boneshaker is a 2010 YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Pick.

The Boneshaker was listed on the 2010 Recommended Reading List for the 2010 Locus Award for Young Adult Fiction.

The Boneshaker: a magic, latter-day Bradburian novel for young adults

Kate Milford’s debut YA novel The Boneshaker (not to be confused with Cherie Priest’s excellent, award-nominated novel of the same name) is a fine, darkly magical story set in turn-of-the-20th-century Missouri, in a small and haunted town called Arcane. It’s the story of thirteen year old Natalie Minks, the daughter of a gifted mechanic, and what happens when a mysterious carnival comes to town. Doctor Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Magic Show isn’t right. There’s something spooky about how the snake-oil peddler can make the automata in Natalie’s Pa’s shop work, and the pitchmen who perform phrenology and amber therapy are sinister in the extreme (and then there’s the acrobatic jester in motley who scampers over the carny on the guy-wires, wearing a darkly hilarious clay mask from which malevolent eyes peer).

The Boneshaker is filled with the rich Bradbury stuff, that haunting and deliciously spooky stuff that lives in the shadows and ride through the land on creaking wagons with dusty brocade curtains. The mystery of the carny quickly turns grim and urgent, as Natalie realizes that the whole town is in danger, including her ailing mother, and discovers that only she can save the town. But first, she has to solve the riddle of the carny, of the abandoned nearby ghost-town at the crossroads, of the ancient Civil War vet who beat the devil with his guitar there before she was born, of the mysterious town benefactor who seems to know everything but only talks in circles. Oh, and she has to learn to ride the bizarre boneshaker bike she talked her father into rescuing off a scrapheap and rebuilding with her.

Filled with heart-racing suspense and delicious mystery, Boneshaker is a book a kid (or a grownup) could fall in love with, the kind of thing that might fill a summer’s worth of bedtime stories, or a stolen afternoon reading in the park. (Cory Doctorow, BoingBoing)

Enhanced by full-page drawings, this intricate story, set in the early 20th century, unfolds with the almost audible click of puzzle pieces coming together. In the gothic tradition of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (S & S, 1962), The Boneshaker will earn itself a place in the annals of stories about children and the struggle between good and evil. (School Library Journal)

It’s 1913, and in the small crossroads town of Arcane, Missouri, anything can happen.  When a traveling medicine show stops for repairs, bringing with it all manner of bizarre technological contraptions and dubious cures, Natalie Minks is alternately fascinated and worried.  Even at a glance, she knows something’s not right with Dr. Limberleg and his companions.  What she discovers will strike at the very heart and soul of her beloved home, leading to an epic struggle for survival.  A historical steam punk fantasy drawing inspiration from trickster tales, deals with the devil, and other folklore, this book’s crammed full of nifty ideas and awesome moments.  Unique and wonderful, featuring a feisty, resourceful heroine, this book’s definitely a don’t-miss under any circumstances. (Realms of Fantasy Magazine)

Milford nods to a lot of classics with The Boneshaker, from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes to Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and the story of Tom Guyot at the crossroads is right out of the Robert and Tommy Johnson myth of the birth of the blues. But she doesn’t get too close to any of these inspirations, and the story, with its mechanical marvels and determination to hit the heavy questions of good and evil, life and death, remains wholly and completely her own. Milford is careful to make clear, however, as Natalie’s mother shares with her, that “nothing is just a story.” These bits and pieces of America that we have carried around in our collective cultural soul for decades (even centuries) all come with a certain element of undeniable truth: strange things do happen at certain places, some people do have unnatural talents, and if it seems too good to be true then really, it is.

The Boneshaker has elements of true bravery, the kind that anyone, regardless of age, is capable of. It’s about many frightening and many beautiful things, and a place and time that are as real as today. I felt like I was reading an American classic while I turned the pages of this book and I know I’m not the only one who will sense its limitless appeal. (Bookslut)

Not to be confused with Cherie Priest’s steampunk novel of the same name (though there is just the barest whiff of steampunk here), this historical fantasy uses the classic devil-at-the-crossroads motif as the foundation for an elaborate and intricate gearwork story set in the little town of Arcane, Missouri, in 1913. Milford weaves a lot of strands into this tale. The most prominent involves the town’s resident ancient bluesman, who is said to have had a run-in with the devil ages ago, and 13-year-old heroine Natalie, whose latent powers as a sort of seer are awakened when Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show arrives in town. She just knows that there’s something more sinister at work than the typical hucksterism of snake-oil salesmen, and the plot soon encompasses everything from the original fall of Lucifer to the Jack tales of classic American folklore. This is not light reading, as readers will have to pay close attention to keep track of the large (but excellently drawn) cast of characters and detailed, but hardly belabored, descriptions of mechanical contraptions, bolstered by an array of fine-lined illustrations that enhance the already vivid and cinematic read. Both impressive and ambitious, Milford’s first novel rarely overreaches as it lays out an eerie and atmospheric vision of early-twentieth-century Americana, electrified by supernatural traces and a generously complex look at good, evil, and the wide swath in between. (Booklist, starred review)

Set in 1913, Milford’s debut is a sure-footed, slow-burning thriller. Feisty 13-year-old Natalie has grown up in a small Missouri town located near a mysterious crossroads, listening to the local myths about it that her mother shares. When Dr. Limberleg opens the Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show, the townspeople (afraid of catching the neighboring town’s flu) take to his products and team, who promote phrenology, hydrotherapy, magnetism, and amber therapy. Mechanically minded Natalie, however, is determined to get through the smoke and mirrors, and she finds that Dr. Limberleg’s cures come with strings attached. “Most people are much older when they discover their world isn’t the place they thought it was,” he warns. “By then… sometimes… it’s too late.” The tale is shrouded in mystery and explores themes of gaining confidence and recognizing evil, and Milford’s detail-rich prose makes it all the more haunting. (Publishers Weekly)

If you’ve ever read and enjoyed Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine or (much closer to this book) Something Wicked This Way Comes, Milford acts like a natural successor to the man. Her characters are believable and sympathetic, even some of the villains. And I’ve never read prose that traipsed so effortlessly along the path of Bradbury’s storytelling as this author’s. Milford’s great at bringing together disparate elements into a tale so that they fit together beautifully with one another. Bicycles with personalities, bee sellers, Jack tales, crossroads, music, automatons, perpetual motion machines . . . this book is a veritable curiosity closet of ephemera…The sheer Americana of the book is yet another one of its charms. In some ways the book feels like the middle grade equivalent to the film Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? In both cases, the music of the American South plays a part, and in both you’ve a Robert Johnsonlike guitar player who had to battle the devil himself in a musical contest…Keep your vampires, angels, and dystopian worlds for yourself. I’m a fan of the girl on the bike going head to head with the master of hell himself. (Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse 8 Production)

This unusual story, with elements of folklore, tall tales and steampunk, has rich details of small-town America in the early 20th century as well as the impact of budding technology. Natalie is a well-drawn protagonist with sturdy supporting characters around her. The tension built into the solidly constructed plot is complemented by themes that explore the literal and metaphorical role of crossroads and that thin line between good and evil. (Kirkus Reviews)

Milford has created a unique book here with its amazing mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and horror. The steampunk elements of the book keep it current and hip, but there is far more going on here than automatons.  It is a story filled with the horror of demons on the Devil himself.  The book’s pacing adds to the dynamic nature with leisurely sections leading into almost frantic pacing.  It is a book that lures one in, offers one book and then changes, amazingly into another sort of book instead.  It is a book that blazes and burns against the setting of a small town in 1913. (Menasha Library)

There is a certain danger in reviewing books that I really, really love. They render me inarticulate, which leads to excessive use of CAPS LOCK. You may have already noticed this. There is also a danger in reviewing books that have already been reviewed a hundred times over by professional critics, bloggers, and the like, for reasons that are a lot more obvious. There’s no way I can do a book the same kind of justice, particularly when everyone seems to think said book DESERVES A NEWBERY. See? The caps lock? It’s already started. I finished The Boneshaker, by Kate Milford a month ago, and have been humming and hawing, sitting on it ever since. Making matters more confusing, is the fact that I still can’t put my finger on who the audience is for this book. Young readers? Middle-schoolers? Teens?…The book’s characters are mid-grade, but younger readers will be riveted by the mystery, and teenagers will grasp the deeper, darker implications that lie just beneath the surface of the story. It’s the sort of book where the meaning is so multilayered, that readers of different ages will understand what is happening and what’s at stake in very different ways…I know that readers of all ages will love The Boneshaker, but in very different ways. I could tell you that the writing is amazing, about the incredible sense of mystery, the characters, the heart-stopping action, but in the end, it is about Milford’s ability to suspend our disbelief. Smoke and mirrors help us spot the smoke and mirrors, and truth is more truthful when it’s slippery. I guess it just might win a Newbery Honor after all. (The Book Scout)

Read this book. Now. Why? Because this book is so very, very good. It’s one of those books where the moment you finish it, you want to start it all over again. You don’t want it to be over. You want to keep experiencing it. What did I love about this book? The characters, the story, the storytelling, the setting, the atmosphere, the descriptions. It was such an amazing blend of history, mystery, and fantasy. It had me from hello. (Becky’s Book Reviews )

Before I started, this novel, I thought it was going to be different and I was not disappointed. Milford’s writing is beautifully layered. All good stories have a rhythm the great ones, you can actually feel it. Then there are novels like The Boneshaker, that are on yet another level. Milford’s words have lyrical flow to go along with the rhythm. (The Happy Nappy Bookseller)

Natalie is a 13-year old girl in 1913 Arcane, Missouri whose father tinkers with bicycles and automatons, but nothing as intricate as the terrifiying perpetual motion machines built by Dr. Limberleg, who has brought his sinister medicine show to the edge of town. Limberleg is accompanied by four inhuman assistants who each specialize in a different nostrum: nightmarish versions of phrenology, animal magnetism, hyrdrotherapy, and amber therapy that show off the author’s flair for creepy visuals. Con-men used the phrase “burn the town” back then, but Dr. Limberleg means it in more ways than one. What he doesn’t suspect, however, that he’s stepped into the middle of a battle that has already been brewing in Arcane for years, between Satan himself and a Robert-Johnson-esque guitar player…Give material like to this to a director like Guillermo Del Toro and I think the visual appeal of clockwork creatures and steam-powered junk science could finally make for a great movie. (Matt Bird,ScriptShadow: Matt Bird Reviews Books!)

Fans of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes will find lots of echoes in Kate Milford’s debut novel The Boneshaker. It’s a connection that is impossible to avoid, what with the small-town young protagonist facing off against a mysterious carnival filled with creepy workers and an even creepier head showman. But this is no rip-off of Bradbury; nor is it simply a pleasant homage. From the same basic plot trappings Milford has woven her own highly original and enjoyable tale, one that builds slowly and patiently into a wonderfully compelling and satisfying conclusion…Natalie is a strong character and carries the reader effortlessly through the action:  sharply honest, full of energy, always curious, she’s a joy to spend time with from the start and the pleasure only deepens as we watch her grow to match her increasingly serious situations. Doctor Jake is a compellingly mysterious figure whose character deepens as the story goes on…With a wonderful companion of a protagonist in Natalie, lots of sharply interesting side characters, a great mix of folk ghost tales (bets with the Devil, Clever Jack, etc.), some hints of steampunk (automatons), and a fond nostalgic spicing of Bradbury, Kate Milford has cooked up just a thoroughly enjoyable tale that only gets better as it goes along and leaves you wanting more at the end. Highly recommended. (

Milford’s title is set in 1913 Missouri and includes a traveling medicine show with ulterior motives, a newfangled bicycle, dealing with the devil, a fallen angel who quotes Rilke (maybe he’s a fallen angel) and a town at the crossroads which paid a heavy price…Like Ellen Klages’ Dewey, Natalie loves nothing better than to work with gears and wheels and hang out in her father’s shop. He is a mechanic – especially of bicycles – and right out of Dick Van Dyke circa Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Through Natalie we meet all the denizens of Arcane, MO including her pack of friends, the storekeepers, mysterious musician Tom (who might have pulled a Robert/Tommy Johnson deal with the devil) and the town’s richest man. Then one day Doctor Jake Limberleg’s Nostrum Fair and Technological Medicine Show arrives and turns the town upside down with its insidious promise to cure all ills. Natalie is suspicious at first but then, as events unfold, becomes terrified. In the end she has to make a stand at the crossroads for everybody and everything she cares about. In this way she is very reminiscent of Meg Murray and her climactic moment to save Charles Wallace (and the universe). Natalie’s moment is just as thrilling – actually even more so as it involves a breakneck chase on bicycle and terrifying moments with all sorts of mechanical creepiness. It’s very Something Wicked This Way Comes but also so much more. It’s certainly not a rewrite of that classic (or anything else I’ve mentioned here), but wholly its own story with its own heroes and villains.

I loved it, plain and simple. And I totally see this one as a novel any of the 10 & up crowd (boys and girls) would enjoy the heck out of. (And all you librarian people out there you really need to read this one so you can recommend it.) (Chasing Ray)

Milford’s work hints of magical realism and Alfred Hitchcock’s subtle touch rather than today’s scare-a-minute horror stories. A rich and shivery historical fantasy—or what I like to call rural fantasy—The Boneshaker will appeal to kids who are willing to take the time to watch fear unfold in increasingly unnerving detail. (The Book Aunt)

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