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

THE LEAGUE OF BEASTLY DREADFULS

From the League of Beastly Dreadfuls series , Vol. 1

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. 11, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

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 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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