High-spirited fun, with complexity and surprises.

THE SHADOWHAND COVENANT

From the Vengekeep Prophecies series , Vol. 2

Through mayhem and twists, Jaxter’s cheeky attitude keeps this second volume flowing (The Vengekeep Prophecies, 2012).

It opens with classic Grimjinx shenanigans: a craftily narrated sham funeral, arranged to empty the mourners’ houses for easy thieving. Jaxter returns from his apprenticeship (studying plants for the purpose of “negating magic through nonmagical means”) to join the mischief. But soon after not-actually-dead Nanni reappears for supper, Jaxter, Ma and Da are summoned by the Shadowhands, “elite thieves-for-hire” who operate in total anonymity. Jaxter’s stunned to learn that Ma used to be one. Chaos is afoot. Shadowhands are vanishing; five magical relics have been stolen from the High Laird, who’s ordered an entire ethnic group, the Sarosans, arrested and imprisoned. Before Jaxter knows it, he and his nemesis from the first book, Maloch (whose Shadowhand father has disappeared), are kidnapped by Sarosans, led by—startlingly—a famous botanist whom Jaxter always idolized. Making enemies-but-friends with two Sarosan kids, Jaxter and Maloch tumble their way through escapes, traps and fights with creepy monsters, while trying to untangle which adults committed which bad deed. Always “flippant when faced with danger,” Jaxter narrates in humorous first-person: “ ‘Good news, guys. I found more bugs!’ I said cheerfully….Holm made a rude gesture that I was pretty sure he was too young to know.” Well-meaning but worrisome romanticization of simple, dark-skinned nomads somewhat undermines Farrey’s explicit anti-racism.

High-spirited fun, with complexity and surprises. (Fantasy. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-204931-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2013

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Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs.

WRECKING BALL

From the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series , Vol. 14

The Heffley family’s house undergoes a disastrous attempt at home improvement.

When Great Aunt Reba dies, she leaves some money to the family. Greg’s mom calls a family meeting to determine what to do with their share, proposing home improvements and then overruling the family’s cartoonish wish lists and instead pushing for an addition to the kitchen. Before bringing in the construction crew, the Heffleys attempt to do minor maintenance and repairs themselves—during which Greg fails at the work in various slapstick scenes. Once the professionals are brought in, the problems keep getting worse: angry neighbors, terrifying problems in walls, and—most serious—civil permitting issues that put the kibosh on what work’s been done. Left with only enough inheritance to patch and repair the exterior of the house—and with the school’s dismal standardized test scores as a final straw—Greg’s mom steers the family toward moving, opening up house-hunting and house-selling storylines (and devastating loyal Rowley, who doesn’t want to lose his best friend). While Greg’s positive about the move, he’s not completely uncaring about Rowley’s action. (And of course, Greg himself is not as unaffected as he wishes.) The gags include effectively placed callbacks to seemingly incidental events (the “stress lizard” brought in on testing day is particularly funny) and a lampoon of after-school-special–style problem books. Just when it seems that the Heffleys really will move, a new sequence of chaotic trouble and property destruction heralds a return to the status quo. Whew.

Readers can still rely on this series to bring laughs. (Graphic/fiction hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3903-3

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Amulet/Abrams

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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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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