A delightful bit of ghoulish escapism.


From the Max Helsing: Monster Hunter series , Vol. 1

A series opener about a middle school monster hunter.

Max Helsing, of the Van Helsing family, has been raised in the monster-hunting life. Although Max has no problem helping malicious beasts to their eternal rests, he prefers to befriend those creatures that aren’t interested in hurting anyone. Suddenly, on this, his 13th birthday, docile supernatural creatures (and even his own hellhound puppy) are out for his blood. Luckily he has help from his diverse band of friends: his African-American mentor, Latina best friend, and Asian-American neighbor. It turns out a newly resurrected warlock has a grudge against Max’s family—and Max in particular. And if the warlock wins, humankind loses. Chapters usually end either on cliffhangers or with Max’s witty quips, and the narrative is punctuated by annotated pages from a monster reference guide. There are plenty of action sequences—some may go on a touch long—and the best moments involve unorthodox fighting techniques. The gruesome descriptions are limited to the monsters; horrific injuries are mentioned without explicit details. Max’s moral compass, confidence, and knack for getting into awkward situations make him eminently likable. Jobling ably pens a genuinely funny book without allowing the humor to overshadow the horror. While the narration and dialogue occasionally veer into camp, it suits the classic monster-movie vibe. The ending teases a more dangerous foe for the next installment.

A delightful bit of ghoulish escapism. (Horror. 9-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-451-47479-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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


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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Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.


From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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