A cozy family adventure that’s sometimes overly superficial.

THE CAPTAIN'S DAUGHTERS

A space captain’s daughters are kidnapped in this debut middle-grade SF novel.

Twelve-year-old sisters Diane and Robin were born eight months apart to Daniel and Beth Marsh, but their parents died in an interplanetary war when they were babies. Daniel’s brother, Capt. William Marsh, adopted the sisters. While they were first raised by his parents on their ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, they’ve been living with William on his spaceships since they were 5 years old. He often needs to rein in their mischief and impose discipline when they stubbornly insist on not following rules, but he does so with love. In March 2297, the tweens are exploring an area around their grandparents’ ranch when a transporter beam suddenly whisks them away. They find themselves imprisoned on an alien vessel by Cmdr. Blassen, whose people—the Mog—were conquered by the warmongering Frazon, enemies of the League of Universal Planets, to which Earth belongs. Having discovered a portal between parallel universes, Blassen has concocted a villainous scheme to kidnap children in one and sell them in the other. Usually he nabs infants, but he’s taken the sisters to fulfill a special order from the Frazon imperial governor, Gen. Malon, who seeks revenge against William; the captain led the battle that killed his son. Blassen has a double cross in mind that will allow him to keep Malon’s stealth-technology bounty while selling Diane and Robin and pocketing the money. Although the resourceful sisters manage to escape to an LUP space station and then the Marsh ranch, their troubles are just beginning. They never existed in this universe, and no one knows them, including this world’s William. Reuniting the family will present multiple challenges—and Blassen still has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Berger sets her book in a Star Trek–like world, with technology such as phasers, transporter beams, starbases, equivalents for the holodeck and the turbolift, and so on, giving the cosmos a familiar feeling. The heart of the story, though, lies less in SF elements than in family relations. Vignettes from the past show William and his adopted daughters navigating the girls’ frequent testing of his limits, which he meets with fatherly justice. The abduction allows the parallel universe’s childless William to learn what he’s lost by not having kids to teach him patience and open him up emotionally. But the mischief/discipline scenario becomes repetitive, and despite the sisters’ hijinks, the novel provides little to characterize the girls except that Diane likes to read and Robin’s hobby is geology. At times, the style feels unnaturally slick, as in “Some even paused to watch the merry scene,” or generic: “The girls enjoyed living in space and they loved being with their father.” Similarly, overused dialogue tags (“teased with a grin”; “asked pleadingly”) slow down the pace and give an artificial tinge to the writing, analogous to adding a laugh track. They tell rather than show.

A cozy family adventure that’s sometimes overly superficial.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

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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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Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror.

THE ICKABOG

Rowling buffs up a tale she told her own children about a small, idyllic kingdom nearly destroyed by corrupt officials.

In the peaceful land of Cornucopia, the Ickabog has always been regarded as a legendary menace until two devious nobles play so successfully on the fears of naïve King Fred the Fearless that the once-prosperous land is devastated by ruinous taxes supposedly spent on defense while protesters are suppressed and the populace is terrorized by nighttime rampages. Pastry chef Bertha Beamish organizes a breakout from the local dungeon just as her son, Bert, and his friend Daisy Dovetail arrive…with the last Ickabog, who turns out to be real after all. Along with full plates of just deserts for both heroes and villains, the story then dishes up a metaphorical lagniappe in which the monster reveals the origins of the human race. The author frames her story as a set of ruminations on how evil can grow and people can come to believe unfounded lies. She embeds these themes in an engrossing, tightly written adventure centered on a stomach-wrenching reign of terror. The story features color illustrations by U.S. and Canadian children selected through an online contest. Most characters are cued as White in the text; a few illustrations include diverse representation.

Gripping and pretty dark—but, in the end, food, family, friendship, and straight facts win out over guile, greed, and terror. (Fantasy. 10-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-73287-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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