Opens as a thriller, ends as a fantasy, but it’s unquestionably innovative and entertaining from start to finish.


Sam's Secret Notebook No 1


A young boy and his two friends discover an entirely new and fantastic world when exploring an old house in the neighborhood in Jons’ debut young-adult adventure.

Sam’s been keeping an eye on a nearby house where dark figures sprint from the front door but never seem to enter. When he learns that real estate inspectors found gold hidden in the deceased owner’s home, Sam surmises that he’d spotted thieves searching for the treasure. Hoping that there’s more gold to be found, Sam looks for a way inside, joined by his loyal dog, Jack, and his friend Peter’s sisters, Amelia and Jaime. What they find in the house, however, is a tall, shadowy man in a “funny sort of thin hat.” Zachariel claims that he’s an angel, which is only the beginning of the group’s otherworldly journey. This quirky story is written, as the title suggests, in the style of a young boy. Sam, who fancies himself a detective, meticulously details his attempts to make it inside the house. Each of the numerous trips builds suspense as, for example, Jack sniffs out a hole in the garden or the trio enters a murky room. The developing relationships are first-rate: Jack initially exasperates Sam but eventually earns his respect; and Sam learns to trust the headstrong sisters, despite rating all girls “soft and soppy.” The book’s latter half delves into the supernatural realm of angels, and though knowing Zac’s identity disappointingly lessens the dark house’s spookiness, later scenes still excite as the group battles dangerous evil forces. Jons also drops in a bit of flying, invisibility, and time travel. But it’s Sam’s adolescent mentality that makes the story something special. His frequent SSTs (Sam Smart Tips), for one, offer sound advice but are ever evolving to include angel-related guidance—“There’s nothing wrong with showing you’re hurting. I learnt that later.” He likewise adds illustrations to his notebooks and tapes to the pages copies of his written lists, which are typically random thoughts. The novel only scratches the surface of the angels’ world; the ending teases a sequel.

Opens as a thriller, ends as a fantasy, but it’s unquestionably innovative and entertaining from start to finish.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1482723366

Page Count: 348

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 27, 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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Classic action-packed, monster-fighting fun


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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