Superb, spooky, and unforgettable.

THE SISTERS OF STRAYGARDEN PLACE

In an enchanted house, three sisters face confusing dangers.

Years ago, Mamma and Pappa silently walked out of the large, formal, and daunting Straygarden Place, leaving their daughters a cryptic note: “Do not leave the house. / Do not go into the grass. / Wait for us. / Sleep darkly.” The silver grass outside looms taller than the house itself; always aggressive, it plugs the keyholes, blocks the windows, shakes the walls, and hisses words. It tries to get in. One day, eldest sister Winnow goes outdoors—and when she returns, nothing is the same. The house still nurturingly feeds and clothes the girls using magic, but Winnow sickens and begins to turn silver. Unable to talk, Winnow rages incoherently at middle sister and third-person protagonist Mayhap. The relationships among Mayhap, Winnow, and youngest sister Pavonine tip sideways with anger, bafflement, and terror. Even each girl’s personally bonded droomhund—a small black dog who squeezes physically into its girl’s brain when she needs darkness for sleeping—can’t provide comfort, and Winnow’s droomhund is impossibly missing. Why does the aroma of coffee make Mayhap feel like she’s smothering? Who’s the sudden fourth girl in the house, and what has she woven out of “dirt and bats’ lungs…the darkness of the sky and the silk of the moon…[and]…coffee”? Chewins’ prose is exquisite, her eerie concepts heart-wrenching. All characters are White.

Superb, spooky, and unforgettable. (Fantasy/horror. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5362-1227-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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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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A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes.

THE TOWER OF NERO

From the Trials of Apollo series , Vol. 5

In this tumultuous series closer, Apollo, transformed into a mortal teenager, takes on both a deified emperor in a luxurious Manhattan high-rise and an older adversary.

Lester/Apollo’s coast-to-coast quest reaches its climactic stage as, with help from both eager squads of fledgling demigods from Camp Half-Blood and reluctant allies from realms deep below New York, he invades the palatial lair of Emperor Nero—followed by a solo bout with another foe from a past struggle. Riordan lays on the transformation of the heedless, arrogant sun god to a repentant lover of his long-neglected semidivine offspring and of humanity in general, which has served as the series’ binding theme, thickly enough to have his humbled narrator even apologizing (twice!) to his underwear for having to change it periodically. Still, the author delivers a fast, action-driven plot with high stakes, lots of fighting, and occasional splashes of gore brightened by banter and silly bits, so readers aren’t likely to mind all the hand-wringing. He also leaves any real-life parallels to the slick, megalomaniacal, emotionally abusive Nero entirely up to readers to discern and dishes out just deserts all round, neatly tying up loose ends in a set of closing vignettes. The supporting cast is predominantly White, with passing mention of diverse representation.

A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes. (glossary) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4645-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: Oct. 22, 2020

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