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Unfortunate Events galore, served with relish.

The creator of such picture books as Frank Was a Monster Who Wanted to Dance (1999) and Three Nasty Gnarlies (2003) dishes up a first novel seasoned with the same delightfully twisted, ghoulish sensibility.

Immediately upon arriving in Awkward Falls, a small Manitoba town known for its canned sauerkraut and its Asylum for the Dangerously Insane (“both,” notes the narrator, “to be avoided at all costs, as one was likely to cause gas, and the other, death.”), 12-year-old Josephine meets agemate Thaddeus Hibble. Thaddeus is a scientific genius who has lived alone since infancy on an all–junk-food diet supplied by a robot butler and paid for by re-animating the dead pets of local matrons. Together the two are plunged into personal danger and worse at the clutching hands of hunchbacked lunatic cannibal Fetid Stenchley, former lab assistant and Asylum escapee. With aid from a supporting cast of colorful locals, a half-rotted corpse brought back to partial life and a ravening herd of chimerical monsters created in a secret biotechnology lab, Graves crafts a quick-moving plot composed of macabre twists. These are made all the ickier for being presented in significant part from Stenchley’s point of view. Wordless opening and closing sequences, plus a handful of interior illustrations, both fill in background detail and intensify the overall macabre atmosphere. The central characters receive just, if, under the circumstances, not necessarily final deserts.

Unfortunate Events galore, served with relish. (finished illustrations not seen) (Melodrama. 11-13)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-8118-7814-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Chronicle Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2011

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Not a total nonstarter, though the nonsensical premise fully qualifies as a literary lead balloon.

Shovels full of throwaway gags and silly aliens fail to lighten this overstuffed and entirely predictable debut.

Handed a planetary lease signed by Adam and Eve, 13-year-old Giles learns that since humanity has done a lousy job of caring for the Earth, everyone will be transported to the concrete wasteland of Desoleen to make way for new owners unless he removes all the trash and graffiti from Manhattan Island in 24 hours and adds five million leaves to clear the air. Fortunately he has allies—notably cute, blue-skinned lawyer (soon girlfriend) Tula and gelatinous genius inventor (and shoe fetishist) Melissa Sprinkles. The latter provides both deceptively tiny “flyplanes” with magic paint-removing rays and street-cleaning droids that replicate themselves into an army using the trash they pick up and then turn into giant trees. Unfortunately, purple hyperbrat Princess Petulance is hot to trot from her own despoiled planet and so stands ready to sabotage the clean-up in any cheating way she can. Mihaley squeezes in sibling issues, the requisite bully (who ends up totally pwned by Giles’ new techno toys) and aptly named alien life forms like a “wino tree” before thoroughly contrived last-minute treachery is scotched thanks to hordes of children inspired to finish the makeover by Giles’ wheelchair-bound eco-blogger buddy Navida.

Not a total nonstarter, though the nonsensical premise fully qualifies as a literary lead balloon. (Science fiction/fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: April 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-61891-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Feiwel & Friends

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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The premise is better than the execution, but readers who aren’t bothered by arbitrary notions and unlikely situations will...

A teenager takes up alchemy where his suddenly vanished mom left off and falls afoul of police, vicious thugs and a digital intelligence determined to separate him into generic components.

Battling grief and a loser mentality (the latter reinforced by widespread derision after a quixotic attempt to save a duck frozen into a pond), Steve is electrified when his eccentric great-aunt Shannon transforms an ordinary “clock” into a “lock.” She informs him that he, too, can use words to work transformations—and perhaps discover what happened to his mother. Stronger on action than logic, the plot then proceeds to evolve into a wild tangle. On the one hand, Steve is pursued by police for a series of kidnappings and house trashings that are actually the work of rival alchemist John Dee and his murderous crew, and on the other, he travels back and forth between this plane and a “World of Pieces” where everything is made of numbers and a hypnotic voice urges him to dissolve into a protean liquid. Bunn works a predictable transformation on Steve, who rescues everybody, and caps his debut with a tidy, melodramatic, thoroughly contrived happy ending.

The premise is better than the execution, but readers who aren’t bothered by arbitrary notions and unlikely situations will enjoy the nonstop action. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-938463-60-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bitingduck Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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