An ambitious tale with perhaps a few too many narrative elements.

THE SHROUDED SWORD

From the The Gramarye Cycle series , Vol. 1

In debut author Minter’s middle-grade series opener, two boys try to solve a riddle that leads them on an adventure.

Over Christmas break, Ethan Moseby and his younger sister, Jynx, are left with their eccentric, reclusive uncle, Socrates, at his mansion, Gramarye House, in the fictional town of Deadmoor, Virginia. With no TV or internet to distract them, and no curfew or house rules, the children set off to explore the estate. They find an incredible library, as well as a maze “the size of a football field.” Ethan later befriends Amos Sprunt, who’s the son of the local undertaker and a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Together, Amos and Ethan try to solve a riddle that takes them through the library to a secret gallery of paintings, then to a graveyard, a secret doorway, and finally to an ancient mausoleum with a massive painted fresco, guarded by raucous ravens. Meanwhile, fairy witch Morgause is conjuring spells and plotting her escape from a tower, where she’s been imprisoned by a powerful wizard. Later, the boys find themselves sent back in time to a pirate ship. However, someone, who’s later revealed to be the wizard Merlin, has also been tracking the boys, using his special powers of meditation. Literary references abound, from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to Edgar Allan Poe to King Arthur. Sherlock Holmes is referenced many times; Socrates even smokes a Meerschaum pipe. The plot is unquestionably full of surprises. The adventures not only include time travel and pirates, but also portal hopping, a “forbidden room,” multiple riddles, and a cipher. There are so many ideas, in fact, that it’s sometimes hard to keep up with them; as Socrates says, “It gets confusing and all catawampus,” and it’s hard to disagree. Many characters feel underdeveloped, as well. There’s a menagerie of creatures surrounding the house, for example, including Badger, an exotic pet leopard; Puck, a bluetick hound; Admiral benbow, an all-seeing raven; a Mad Hatter-esque goblin named Dwaine; and his salamander sidekick, Salamandra. Fewer characters might have made for a more cohesive read.

An ambitious tale with perhaps a few too many narrative elements.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-578-59369-2

Page Count: 290

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

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Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TERRIFYING RETURN OF TIPPY TINKLETROUSERS

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

Sure signs that the creative wells are running dry at last, the Captain’s ninth, overstuffed outing both recycles a villain (see Book 4) and offers trendy anti-bullying wish fulfillment.

Not that there aren’t pranks and envelope-pushing quips aplenty. To start, in an alternate ending to the previous episode, Principal Krupp ends up in prison (“…a lot like being a student at Jerome Horwitz Elementary School, except that the prison had better funding”). There, he witnesses fellow inmate Tippy Tinkletrousers (aka Professor Poopypants) escape in a giant Robo-Suit (later reduced to time-traveling trousers). The villain sets off after George and Harold, who are in juvie (“not much different from our old school…except that they have library books here.”). Cut to five years previous, in a prequel to the whole series. George and Harold link up in kindergarten to reduce a quartet of vicious bullies to giggling insanity with a relentless series of pranks involving shaving cream, spiders, effeminate spoof text messages and friendship bracelets. Pilkey tucks both topical jokes and bathroom humor into the cartoon art, and ups the narrative’s lexical ante with terms like “pharmaceuticals” and “theatrical flair.” Unfortunately, the bullies’ sad fates force Krupp to resign, so he’s not around to save the Earth from being destroyed later on by Talking Toilets and other invaders…

Is this the end? Well, no…the series will stagger on through at least one more scheduled sequel. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-545-17534-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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NIGHTBIRD

There’s a monster in Sidwell, Massachusetts, that can only be seen at night or, as Twig reveals, if passersby are near her house.

It’s her older brother, James, born with wings just like every male in the Fowler line for the last 200 years. They were cursed by the Witch of Sidwell, left brokenhearted by their forebear Lowell Fowler. Twig and James are tired of the secret and self-imposed isolation. Lonely Twig narrates, bringing the small town and its characters to life, intertwining events present and past, and describing the effects of the spell on her fractured family’s daily life. Longing for some normalcy and companionship, she befriends new-neighbor Julia while James falls in love with Julia’s sister, Agate—only to learn they are descendants of the Witch. James and Agate seem as star-crossed as their ancestors, especially when the townspeople attribute a spate of petty thefts and graffiti protesting the development of the woods to the monster and launch a hunt. The mix of romance and magic is irresistible and the tension, compelling. With the help of friends and through a series of self-realizations and discoveries, Twig grows more self-assured. She is certain she knows how to change the curse. In so doing, Twig not only changes James’ fate, but her own, for the first time feeling the fullness of family, friends and hope for the future.

Enchanting. (Magical realism. 9-12)

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-38958-7

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Wendy Lamb/Random

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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