Snicket-lite without the clever wordplay, it’s a ghoulish though not gross thriller.

Is it really paranoia if the monsters turn out to be real?

Twelve-year-old Charlie Oughtt’s overactive imagination can supply a frightening or deadly outcome to any situation. His younger sister, Georgie, however, is ready for anything. When children in their gaslit Victorian neighborhood begin to vanish, their widowed mother begins acting strangely and talking of sending them to stay with their grandmother…but both their grandmothers are dead. No matter; off they go. Charlie naturally fears the worst, but Grandmother Opal and Grandmother Pearl’s farm and what lurks beneath it make Charlie’s most terrifying nightmares look like pleasant daydreams. The grandmothers (it turns out there are many of them) separate the children and assign strange tasks and punishments. Then Georgie vanishes…and when Charlie goes looking, he uncovers a terrifying plot. Can Charlie summon the inner courage to save Georgie and the other missing children from a dream-devouring menace that threatens the whole world? Following Skary Childrin and the Carousel of Sorrow (2011), Towell’s sophomore effort is a slow-ish, Gothic-y adventure. The main characters are stock, but the surrounding cast of monsters is satisfyingly creepy, and they are really the point anyway. The eerie line drawings have the effect of a high school literary magazine, but they add to the unsettling atmosphere.

Snicket-lite without the clever wordplay, it’s a ghoulish though not gross thriller. (Horror. 8-11)

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-375-86860-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2015


From the Lemonade War series , Vol. 3

A fine emotional stretch within reach of the intended audience.

When siblings Jessie and Evan (The Lemonade War, 2007, and The Lemonade Crime, 2011) accompany their mother on the time-honored midwinter holiday visit to their grandmother’s home in the mountains, the changes are alarming.

Fire damage to the house and Grandma’s inability to recognize Evan are as disquieting as the disappearance of the iron bell, hung long ago by their grandmother on Lowell Hill and traditionally rung at the New Year. Davies keeps a tight focus on the children: Points of view switch between Evan, with his empathetic and emotional approach to understanding his world, and Jessie, for whom routine is essential and change a puzzle to be worked out. When Grandma ventures out into the snow just before twilight, it is Evan who realizes the danger and manages to find a way to rescue her. Jessie, determined to solve the mystery of the missing bell, enlists the help of Grandma's young neighbor Maxwell, with his unusual habitual gestures and his surprising ability to solve jigsaw puzzles. She is unprepared, however, for the terror of seeing the neighbor boys preparing a mechanical torture device to tear a live frog to pieces. Each of the siblings brings a personal resilience and heroism to the resolution.

A fine emotional stretch within reach of the intended audience. (Fiction. 8-11)

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-56737-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012



From the Ryan Hart series , Vol. 2

The second installment in this spirited series is a hit.

A new baby coming means Ryan has lots of opportunities to grow love.

Ryan has so much to look forward to this summer—she is going to be a big sister, and she finally gets to go to church camp! But new adventures bring challenges, too. Ryan feels like the baby is taking forever to arrive, and with Mom on bed rest, she isn’t able to participate in the family’s typical summer activities. Ryan’s Dad is still working the late shift, which means he gets home and goes to bed when she and her older brother, Ray, are waking up, so their quality daddy-daughter time is limited to one day a week. When the time for camp finally arrives, Ryan is so worried about bugs, ghosts, and sharing a cabin that she wonders if she should go at all. Watson’s heroine is smart and courageous, bringing her optimistic attitude to any challenge she faces. Hard topics like family finances and complex relationships with friends are discussed in an age-appropriate way. Watson continues to excel at crafting a sense of place; she transports readers to Portland, Oregon, with an attention to detail that can only come from someone who has loved that city. Ryan, her family, and friends are Black, and occasional illustrations by Mata spotlight their joy and make this book shine.

The second installment in this spirited series is a hit. (Fiction. 8-10)

Pub Date: April 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5476-0058-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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