Even if not fully disquieting, the fast pace and unusual characters will keep most readers turning the pages.

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THE SHADOW COLLECTOR'S APPRENTICE

Gordon (The Gorillas of Gill Park, 2003, etc.) sets the stage for an eerie fantasy that doesn’t quite live up to its potential.

Cully Pennyacre, 12, reluctantly becomes the apprentice of antiques dealer Batty, who seems to be up to something with his shadow-collecting hobby. In the back of his store, Batty runs an apparatus that neatly removes people’s shadows. He has plenty of willing participants who aren’t warned that, once shadowless, they will be sadly incomplete. Appalled, Cully stays on because he needs the money to help keep his family apple farm running, a job made all the more difficult since his father disappeared a year ago, leaving his quirky aunts to run the business. Batty’s granddaughter, Isabel, a notably unpopular classmate of Cully’s, seems to know more about the shadow business and her malevolent aunt and uncle’s determination to acquire the Pennyacre farm than she’s telling, at least at first. As Cully’s friendship with Isabel strengthens, she develops some emotional energy to defy her nasty relatives. Eccentric characters, both good and evil, add life to the tale, but the bad ones become increasingly caricature-like, diminishing their menacing effect. Unfortunately, as the tale becomes less grounded in reality, it also begins to lose its atmospheric threat.

Even if not fully disquieting, the fast pace and unusual characters will keep most readers turning the pages. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2359-0

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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Another solid adventure that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but spins it quite well.

SPY SCHOOL GOES SOUTH

From the Spy School series , Vol. 6

The spy kids return for another Spy School adventure.

By now, the students at the CIA’s Academy of Espionage have had multiple exciting encounters with the villainous organization that calls itself SPYDER. The CIA is keen to take advantage of an offer made to them by disgraced ex-spy Murray Hill, a captured SPYDER teen agent. Narrator and agent Ben Ripley, 13, and his partner, Erica Hale, 15, are the only agents Murray will lead to SPYDER’s secret headquarters, so the duo reluctantly follows the traitor’s lead while their fellow students Mike Brezinski and Zoe Zibbell stow away. Things go south quickly, and soon the group is stuck in a strange land with no backup. At this point in the series fans know what they’re getting, and Gibbs doesn’t disappoint. The dialogue crackles, the schemes are clever, and the plotting is tight and efficient. Gibbs doesn’t divulge any of the character’s ethnicities, leaving room for interpretation in a key moment that is gracefully organic to the narrative. The book’s finale leaves room for more adventures, and fans’ interest in the series will be just as rabid after this fast-paced, good-humored entry.

Another solid adventure that doesn’t reinvent the wheel but spins it quite well. (Adventure. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4814-7785-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns.

THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF AGES

From the Mysterious Benedict Society series , Vol. 4

When deadly minions of archvillain Ledroptha Curtain escape from prison, the talented young protégés of his twin brother, Nicholas Benedict, reunite for a new round of desperate ploys and ingenious trickery.

Stewart sets the reunion of cerebral Reynie Muldoon Perumal, hypercapable Kate Wetherall, shy scientific genius George “Sticky” Washington, and spectacularly sullen telepath Constance Contraire a few years after the previous episode, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009). Providing relief from the quartet’s continual internecine squabbling and self-analysis, he trucks in Tai Li, a grubby, precociously verbal 5-year-old orphan who also happens to be telepathic. (Just to even the playing field a bit, the bad guys get a telepath too.) Series fans will know to be patient in wading through all the angst, arguments, and flurries of significant nose-tapping (occasionally in unison), for when the main action does at long last get under way—the five don’t even set out from Mr. Benedict’s mansion together until more than halfway through—the Society returns to Nomansan Island (get it?), the site of their first mission, for chases, narrow squeaks, hastily revised stratagems, and heroic exploits that culminate in a characteristically byzantine whirl of climactic twists, triumphs, and revelations. Except for brown-skinned George and olive-complected, presumably Asian-descended Tai, the central cast defaults to white; Reynie’s adoptive mother is South Asian.

Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45264-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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