FLAWED DOGS

THE SHOCKING RAID ON WESTMINSTER

Breathed’s fans won’t be surprised by the dark tone of this outlandish tale, but readers expecting a heartwarming pet story may be taken aback by the difficulties that face Sam, the canine hero. Luckily, smooth writing and humorous exaggeration make it relatively easy to get through the violence of a dog-fighting ring, the perfidy of an envious poodle and three long (mercifully undescribed) years in a research lab. Characterization of the humans is sketchy at best, but the various canine and feline players are an endearing mix of odd attributes and engaging personalities (except for the murderous poodle). Sam’s clever plot to infiltrate the Westminster dog show combines the suspense of an over-the-top caper film with the slapstick of the Marx Brothers (Mrs. Nutbush bears a striking resemblance to Margaret Dumont). Clearly growing out of, but not a simple expansion of, the 2003 picture book of the same name, these pups’ tale carries the same message of caring and concern and will likely worm its way into the hearts of readers able to persist through the problems and pain. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-399-25218-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Philomel

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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THE TIGER RISING

Themes of freedom and responsibility twine between the lines of this short but heavy novel from the author of Because of Winn-Dixie (2000). Three months after his mother's death, Rob and his father are living in a small-town Florida motel, each nursing sharp, private pain. On the same day Rob has two astonishing encounters: first, he stumbles upon a caged tiger in the woods behind the motel; then he meets Sistine, a new classmate responding to her parents' breakup with ready fists and a big chip on her shoulder. About to burst with his secret, Rob confides in Sistine, who instantly declares that the tiger must be freed. As Rob quickly develops a yen for Sistine's company that gives her plenty of emotional leverage, and the keys to the cage almost literally drop into his hands, credible plotting plainly takes a back seat to character delineation here. And both struggle for visibility beneath a wagonload of symbol and metaphor: the real tiger (and the inevitable recitation of Blake's poem); the cage; Rob's dream of Sistine riding away on the beast's back; a mysterious skin condition on Rob's legs that develops after his mother's death; a series of wooden figurines that he whittles; a larger-than-life African-American housekeeper at the motel who dispenses wisdom with nearly every utterance; and the climax itself, which is signaled from the start. It's all so freighted with layers of significance that, like Lois Lowry's Gathering Blue (2000), Anne Mazer's Oxboy (1995), or, further back, Julia Cunningham's Dorp Dead (1965), it becomes more an exercise in analysis than a living, breathing story. Still, the tiger, "burning bright" with magnificent, feral presence, does make an arresting central image. (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7636-0911-0

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2001

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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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