Monsters notwithstanding, weak characterization and uneven pacing create a rather toothless read.


From the Goolz Next Door series , Vol. 2

Wheelchair-using seventh grader Harold Bell and his ghost-hunting neighbors return to take on the town monster.

Days after the events of A Bad Night for Bullies (2018), Harold and the Goolzes—horror author Frank Goolz and his daughters, beautiful Ilona and her impish kid sister, Suzie—accept a gruesome new assignment. The unnervingly “synchronized” Farrell twins explain that their mother has disappeared…except for the severed foot they’ve found. Claw marks, discarded teeth, and an ominous message—“I’ll be back for you”—suggest that their mother’s turned into the dreaded Mallow Marsh Monster, Bay Harbor’s local legend. Anyone the monster bites becomes a monster themselves—so when the monster bites Harold, the Goolzes must act fast to lift the curse. Unfortunately, this sequel to a likable first volume feels unevenly paced and somewhat halfhearted. Though budding monster Harold’s seismic belches might raise some giggles, the previous book’s humor is largely absent. Harold and Ilona’s budding romance is awkwardly sweet, but most characters are one-dimensional caricatures, lessening suspense. The twins, in matching, old-fashioned clothes and perfect unison, resemble “creepy mannequins in a tacky haunted house,” and their “nerdy” scientist parents are “discreet, bespectacled, and unfashionable”; a “giant,” likely overweight character is messy and inexplicably eats napkins. However, the Goolzes’ matter-of-fact inclusion of Harold is heartening. After a somewhat hasty resolution, a cliffhanger ending sets up another adventure. Most characters appear white; one twin has two different-colored eyes.

Monsters notwithstanding, weak characterization and uneven pacing create a rather toothless read. (Horror. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-62979-678-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Boyds Mills

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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