A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.


Allen’s debut children’s mystery, the first installment of a planned series, introduces a likable kid detective as she takes a case involving unwanted jack-o’-lanterns.

As the story begins, the narrator, 10-year-old detective Samantha Green, mentions a series of previous neighborhood cases that she and her yellow Labrador retriever, Murphy, have solved, including one involving a missing bike and another a lost cat. These successes earn her a new case: Samantha’s spooky neighbor, Mrs. Finkel, has been receiving threateningly carved pumpkins on her front porch, sometimes with even more alarming notes attached. At the same time, Mrs. Finkel finds that broken items in her house are being mysteriously repaired; the home’s familiar creaks and cracks have somehow disappeared. She attempts to enlist Samantha’s help in solving the mystery, but the unkempt woman’s reputation as a witch—suggested by her shapeless black clothing and bloodshot eyes—makes the young detective hesitant to take on the investigation. The Halloween-themed narrative brings to life the novel’s detailed setting and richly developed characters, including Samantha’s goofy little sister. Samantha’s teenage babysitter encourages her to never to judge people by their appearances. After the detective accepts this sage advice, she begins to unravel Mrs. Finkel’s mysteries—including the true story behind her witch-like appearance. Samantha eventually solves the case, but the resolution has no major twists or shocking revelations and may not surprise serious young readers. However, the novel’s emotional depth, engaging prose style, appealing characters and witty protagonist overcome the story’s predictability.

A fine debut for a new series and a welcome addition to the young-detective genre.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478160236

Page Count: 180

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2013

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Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this...


Sentenced to a brutal juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit, a wimpy teenager turns four generations of bad family luck around in this sunburnt tale of courage, obsession, and buried treasure from Sachar (Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, 1995, etc.).

Driven mad by the murder of her black beau, a schoolteacher turns on the once-friendly, verdant town of Green Lake, Texas, becomes feared bandit Kissin' Kate Barlow, and dies, laughing, without revealing where she buried her stash. A century of rainless years later, lake and town are memories—but, with the involuntary help of gangs of juvenile offenders, the last descendant of the last residents is still digging. Enter Stanley Yelnats IV, great-grandson of one of Kissin' Kate's victims and the latest to fall to the family curse of being in the wrong place at the wrong time; under the direction of The Warden, a woman with rattlesnake venom polish on her long nails, Stanley and each of his fellow inmates dig a hole a day in the rock-hard lake bed. Weeks of punishing labor later, Stanley digs up a clue, but is canny enough to conceal the information of which hole it came from. Through flashbacks, Sachar weaves a complex net of hidden relationships and well-timed revelations as he puts his slightly larger-than-life characters under a sun so punishing that readers will be reaching for water bottles.

Good Guys and Bad get just deserts in the end, and Stanley gets plenty of opportunities to display pluck and valor in this rugged, engrossing adventure. (Fiction. 9-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 978-0-374-33265-5

Page Count: 233

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2000

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It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure.


From the City Spies series , Vol. 1

This thriller reads like Miss Congeniality meets Kingsman, starring Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Anishinaabe-kwe water protector Autumn Peltier…kind of.

Puerto Rican–born, Brooklyn-raised Sara isn’t expecting much from her court-appointed lawyer—she has no reason to put faith in the system that put her in jail after she hacked into the city’s computers to expose her foster parents as abusive frauds. But with juvie her only other prospect, Sara takes a leap and agrees to a wild proposition: She’ll join Britain’s MI6 as a kid operative. When she arrives at the covert facility in Scotland, she meets the other kids the MI6 agent, a white Englishman affectionately called Mother, has taken in—all of them, like Sara, have highly developed skills in logic, puzzles, sneakiness, and other useful spy tactics. Mother has a mission for them; he’s taking them to Paris to a competition for youth environmental innovation, where their job is to perform just well enough to make it into the top 10 so they can protect the eccentric billionaire sponsor of the contest from an imminent threat. It’s a fun romp with timely but superficial things to say about environmental activism, though the recruitment process and messy organization stretches the imagination even with a hardy suspension of disbelief. For a spy story, it’s surprisingly interior focused rather than action packed. The cast is technically diverse in ethnic background, but this has next to no influence on the characters.

It’s fine, but it doesn’t live up to its potential as a STEM-plus-caper adventure. (Thriller. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5344-1491-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2019

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