This gleefully macabre tale hints at a series with great potential.



This middle-grade thriller finds a brother and sister tangling with an impossibly powerful coin and a gruesome stalker.

Twelve-year-old RJ walks with his younger sister one summer evening. Shelly, who’s 10, is much braver than her brother. She stops to examine something in front of a decrepit, “castle-like house” at the end of their cul-de-sac. Behind the house is a wooded cliff and a lake, in which their father, a fisherman, recently disappeared. Shelly, a collector of weird things, picks up a coin and pockets it. As they walk, she suddenly screams in pain: “The coin—my leg!” RJ then hears a strange voice whisper, “Throw it in the lake.” After he throws the coin as far onto the property as possible, Shelly reveals she was kidding. They walk home, and RJ sees what look like red eyes near the castle. Later, RJ notices a scraggly man with a sharp cane, first at the grocery store, then at his and Shelly’s lemonade stand. This is the Impaler, whose presence terrifies RJ while Mom attends an award ceremony with Ed, her scientist boyfriend. Worse, the coin reappears, this time causing bizarre sores and strange evil urges in the normally timid RJ. Now he’s determined to banish the coin to the lake. Crantz begins a series, in the vein of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books, with this chilling blend of mystery and SF. Readers have plenty to juggle early on, primarily the true fate of the siblings’ father. The kids’ exploration of the horrid house kicks off the narrative’s second half. A few characters aren’t who they seem to be, and younger audiences will learn not to judge people by their appearances. The author effectively offers indelible images, like the Impaler, who’s “mangy and dirty like a coyote, but moved like a squid lost on land.” While the danger of the coin is entertaining, Crantz lays impressive groundwork for the series by introducing “Project: FrightVision,” which mentions other cursed objects and explains the whereabouts of Wally Swanson, a missing neighborhood child. Also noteworthy is RJ’s love of video games, which he can’t play while having his own adventures.

This gleefully macabre tale hints at a series with great potential.

Pub Date: April 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-253849-7

Page Count: 164

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun

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From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 1

It’s been 42 days since the Monster Apocalypse began, and 13-year-old Jack Sullivan, a self-proclaimed “zombie-fighting, monster-slaying tornado of cool” is on a quest to find and rescue his not-so-secret crush, June Del Toro, whether she needs it, wants it, or not.

Jack cobbles together an unlikely but endearing crew, including his scientist best friend, Quint Baker; Dirk Savage, Parker Middle School’s biggest bully; and a pet monster named Rover, to help him save the damsel in distress and complete the “ULTIMATE Feat of Apocalyptic Success.” Middle-grade readers, particularly boys, will find Jack’s pitch-perfect mix of humor, bravado, and self-professed geekiness impossible to resist. His sidekicks are equally entertaining, and it doesn’t hurt that there are also plenty of oozing, drooling, sharp-toothed monsters and zombies and a host of gizmos and gadgets to hook readers and keep them cheering with every turn of the page. Holgate’s illustrations play an integral role in the novel’s success. They not only bring Brallier’s characters to life, but also add depth and detail to the story, making plain just exactly how big Rover is and giving the lie to Jack’s “killer driving.” The marriage of text and illustration serves as a perfect example of what an illustrated novel can and should be.

Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun (. (Graphic/horror hybrid. 8-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-670-01661-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2015

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.


From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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