Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

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DEAD END IN NORVELT

An exhilarating summer marked by death, gore and fire sparks deep thoughts in a small-town lad not uncoincidentally named “Jack Gantos.”

The gore is all Jack’s, which to his continuing embarrassment “would spray out of my nose holes like dragon flames” whenever anything exciting or upsetting happens. And that would be on every other page, seemingly, as even though Jack’s feuding parents unite to ground him for the summer after several mishaps, he does get out. He mixes with the undertaker’s daughter, a band of Hell’s Angels out to exact fiery revenge for a member flattened in town by a truck and, especially, with arthritic neighbor Miss Volker, for whom he furnishes the “hired hands” that transcribe what becomes a series of impassioned obituaries for the local paper as elderly town residents suddenly begin passing on in rapid succession. Eventually the unusual body count draws the—justified, as it turns out—attention of the police. Ultimately, the obits and the many Landmark Books that Jack reads (this is 1962) in his hours of confinement all combine in his head to broaden his perspective about both history in general and the slow decline his own town is experiencing.

Characteristically provocative gothic comedy, with sublime undertones. (Autobiographical fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-37993-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.

THE STARS BELOW

From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

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Much rousing sturm und drang, though what’s left after the dust settles is a heap of glittering but disparate good parts...

THE ENCHANTRESS

From the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series , Vol. 5

Scott tops off his deservedly popular series with a heaping shovelful of monster attacks, heroic last stands, earthquakes and other geological events, magic-working, millennia-long schemes coming to fruition, hearts laid bare, family revelations, transformations, redemptions and happy endings (for those deserving them).

Multiple plotlines—some of which, thanks to time travel, feature the same characters and even figures killed off in previous episodes—come to simultaneous heads in a whirl of short chapters. Flamel and allies (including Prometheus and Billy the Kid) defend modern San Francisco from a motley host of mythological baddies. Meanwhile, in ancient Danu Talis (aka Atlantis), Josh and Sophie are being swept into a play to bring certain Elders to power as the city’s downtrodden “humani” population rises up behind Virginia Dare, the repentant John Dee and other Immortals and Elders. The cast never seems unwieldy despite its size, the pacing never lets up, and the individual set pieces are fine mixtures of sudden action, heroic badinage and cliffhanger cutoffs. As a whole, though, the tale collapses under its own weight as the San Francisco subplots turn out to be no more than an irrelevant sideshow, and climactic conflicts take place on an island that is somehow both a historical, physical place and a higher reality from which Earth and other “shadowrealms” are spun off.

Much rousing sturm und drang, though what’s left after the dust settles is a heap of glittering but disparate good parts rather than a cohesive whole. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-73535-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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