As a stand-alone work, less than satisfying.


From the ZomBert Chronicles series

Bert, the cat Mellie adopted in series opener Rise of ZomBert (2020), may not be a zombie…but she’s sure he’s special.

Former stray Bert has put on weight, and his fur’s filled in in the month that fourth grader Mellie has been taking care of him. With him, she hopes to win the Best Pet Contest at the Lambert Harvest Festival (sponsored by omnipresent YummCo) so she can pay her parents back for Bert’s vet bill. Her friend Danny’s (kind of) helping with Bert’s training while filming the rough-looking feline for a trilogy of ZomBert movies on social media. Bert has his own plan: to rescue all of his former test-subject companions from YummCo’s labs. Meanwhile, the Big Boss and lab techs Kari and Greg scheme to get Bert (or Y-91, as they call him) back into the lab for more tests. Whose plans will succeed? Perspectives alternate chapter by chapter among Mellie (related in the first person) and Bert (in a third-person cat voice) and the Yumms (third-person bad guy), and the story moves at a nice clip. However, it’s less spooky and mysterious than the first installment and has a truncated feel; it’s definitely a middle chapter in a longer work, leaving little resolved. As seen in the illustrations, Mellie’s family is interracial (she and her mom have brown skin and textured hair, and her dad and younger siblings present White); her friends are racially diverse. Entertaining enough, but young readers might want to wait until the final volume is out before picking up the first.

As a stand-alone work, less than satisfying. (Science fiction. 6-10)

Pub Date: July 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0107-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Candlewick

Review Posted Online: June 1, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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An effort as insubstantial as any spirit.


Eleven-year-old Maria Russo helps her charlatan mother hoodwink customers, but Maria has a spirited secret.

Maria’s mother, the psychic Madame Destine, cons widows out of their valuables with the assistance of their apartment building’s super, Mr. Fox. Madame Destine home-schools Maria, and because Destine is afraid of unwanted attention, she forbids Maria from talking to others. Maria is allowed to go to the library, where new librarian Ms. Madigan takes an interest in Maria that may cause her trouble. Meanwhile, Sebastian, Maria’s new upstairs neighbor, would like to be friends. All this interaction makes it hard for Maria to keep her secret: that she is visited by Edward, a spirit who tells her the actual secrets of Madame Destine’s clients via spirit writing. When Edward urges Maria to help Mrs. Fisher, Madame Destine’s most recent mark, Maria must overcome her shyness and her fear of her mother—helping Mrs. Fisher may be the key to the mysterious past Maria uncovers and a brighter future. Alas, picture-book–creator Ford’s middle-grade debut is a muddled, melodramatic mystery with something of an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink feel: In addition to the premise, there’s a tragically dead father, a mysterious family tree, and the Beat poets. Sluggish pacing; stilted, unrealistic dialogue; cartoonishly stock characters; and unattractive, flat illustrations make this one to miss. Maria and Sebastian are both depicted with brown skin, hers lighter than his; the other principals appear to be white.

An effort as insubstantial as any spirit. (author’s note) (Paranormal mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-20567-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A mystery, a school story, sibling rivalry and the loss of a pet blend surprisingly well in this engaging chapter book. Charmingly awkward fifth grader Edgar Allan decides to solve a series of minor thefts that are plaguing his teacher, Ms. Herschel. Clues are plentiful—and rhymed—but the competition to solve them is fierce. Edgar’s nemesis, Patrick Chen, seems to have the inside track since his dad works in forensics. Edgar, however, finds that the friends he makes along the way provide the winning edge. Including transcripts of Edgar’s ingenuous interviews as well as poems written by a number of class members in her narrative, Amato provides a clear picture of both social and family dynamics while keeping the story moving smoothly along. The author’s characteristic humor is somewhat muted, but examples of amusing wordplay abound. Some readers may guess the identity of the culprit more quickly than Edgar and his friends do, but whodunit is not really the point. Solving puzzles, making friends and learning to see the world more clearly are the true aims of this adventure. (Mystery. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-8234-2271-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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