THE LEAGUE OF BEASTLY DREADFULS

From the League of Beastly Dreadfuls series , Vol. 1

A yummy debut, though readers with sensitive stomachs would be well-advised to check them at the door.

Two sinister spinsters spirit a seemingly ordinary fifth-grader away one day to a moldering former asylum, informing her that she's become an orphan and they are her great-aunts. Yeah, right.

"Now sit up straight and eat your Lumps." Locked into her room at night by "Aunts" Primrose and Prudence and fed only Mystery Lumps, Anastasia nearly succumbs to misery at first. But like her capable literary heroine, detective/veterinarian/artist Francie Dewdrop, she's made of sterner stuff—and is soon turning up startling clues, terrifying discoveries and, in the asylum's darker reaches, other young captives with decidedly peculiar abilities. Along with drawing most of her characters from Roald Dahl's casting company and concocting an eerie setting positively made for Unfortunate Events, Grant threads her narrative with direct addresses to Readers and delicious turns of phrase: "A pink-patterned carpet runner spooled down the steps like a monstrous spotty tongue." Not to mention multiple atmosphere-lightening references to Anastasia's "tragic flatulence" and the odd wade into the nearby bog to gather leeches for, ugh, nonmedicinal purposes. Anastasia herself displays a few quirks, such as a sudden appetite for moths. Despite revelations following a rescue by a pair of shape-changing allies, the author leaves at least one sequel's worth of unexplained puzzles. Portillo's frequent vignettes add a properly cobwebby Gothic look.

A yummy debut, though readers with sensitive stomachs would be well-advised to check them at the door. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: March 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-37007-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 10, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 1

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

THE BAD BEGINNING

The Baudelaire children—Violet, 14, Klaus, 12, and baby Sunny—are exceedingly ill-fated; Snicket extracts both humor and horror from their situation, as he gleefully puts them through one terrible ordeal after another. After receiving the news that their parents died in a fire, the three hapless orphans are delivered into the care of Count Olaf, who “is either a third cousin four times removed, or a fourth cousin three times removed.” The villainous Count Olaf is morally depraved and generally mean, and only takes in the downtrodden yet valiant children so that he can figure out a way to separate them from their considerable inheritance. The youngsters are able to escape his clutches at the end, but since this is the first installment in A Series of Unfortunate Events, there will be more ghastly doings. Written with old-fashioned flair, this fast-paced book is not for the squeamish: the Baudelaire children are truly sympathetic characters who encounter a multitude of distressing situations. Those who enjoy a little poison in their porridge will find it wicked good fun. (b&w illustrations, not seen) (Fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 1999

ISBN: 0-06-440766-7

Page Count: 162

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1999

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