Much rushing about from here to there in this penultimate brick, but it’s basically a smooth ride to the closer.

DEATH WEAVERS

From the Five Kingdoms series , Vol. 4

Cole’s ongoing quest to rescue friends and find four lost princesses in the dreamlike Outskirts takes him to a land where the border between life and death is permeable.

Gaining and losing various allies and princesses as he goes, Cole journeys through both Necronum, populated by the living and also spectral “echoes,” and the “echolands,” a sort of borderland halfway house for the dead, on the way to a face-off with the demonic shapecrafter Nazeem. As if the cast wouldn’t already fill a bus, Mull trots in even more characters—including some from his Beyonders series—as he pushes his young hero into a drawn-out series of chases and races both afoot and atop a mysterious magical horse. The author spins a big, fluent, not entirely earnest yarn, but he seems to be stuck on certain plot devices. Infodumps (along with side topics like the meaning of life), for instance, are repeatedly delivered through extended question-and-answer sessions that read like magazine interviews, and so often does Cole hear some variation on “I don’t know, but I can tell you who might,” that even he finally slaps his forehead: “No offense, but do you know how many times I’ve heard this?” But, by the end Nazeem has been temporarily stymied, Cole has acquired shapecrafting powers of his own, and the ducks are queuing for the upcoming climax.

Much rushing about from here to there in this penultimate brick, but it’s basically a smooth ride to the closer. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4424-9709-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2016

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish.

THE MECHANICAL MIND OF JOHN COGGIN

The dreary prospect of spending a lifetime making caskets instead of wonderful inventions prompts a young orphan to snatch up his little sister and flee. Where? To the circus, of course.

Fortunately or otherwise, John and 6-year-old Page join up with Boz—sometime human cannonball for the seedy Wandering Wayfarers and a “vertically challenged” trickster with a fantastic gift for sowing chaos. Alas, the budding engineer barely has time to settle in to begin work on an experimental circus wagon powered by chicken poop and dubbed (with questionable forethought) the Autopsy. The hot pursuit of malign and indomitable Great-Aunt Beauregard, the Coggins’ only living relative, forces all three to leave the troupe for further flights and misadventures. Teele spins her adventure around a sturdy protagonist whose love for his little sister is matched only by his fierce desire for something better in life for them both and tucks in an outstanding supporting cast featuring several notably strong-minded, independent women (Page, whose glare “would kill spiders dead,” not least among them). Better yet, in Boz she has created a scene-stealing force of nature, a free spirit who’s never happier than when he’s stirring up mischief. A climactic clutch culminating in a magnificently destructive display of fireworks leaves the Coggin sibs well-positioned for bright futures. (Illustrations not seen.)

A sly, side-splitting hoot from start to finish. (Adventure. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-234510-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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