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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Dizzyingly silly.

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTS AND THE TYRANNICAL RETALIATION OF THE TURBO TOILET 2000

From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 11

The famous superhero returns to fight another villain with all the trademark wit and humor the series is known for.

Despite the title, Captain Underpants is bizarrely absent from most of this adventure. His school-age companions, George and Harold, maintain most of the spotlight. The creative chums fool around with time travel and several wacky inventions before coming upon the evil Turbo Toilet 2000, making its return for vengeance after sitting out a few of the previous books. When the good Captain shows up to save the day, he brings with him dynamic action and wordplay that meet the series’ standards. The Captain Underpants saga maintains its charm even into this, the 11th volume. The epic is filled to the brim with sight gags, toilet humor, flip-o-ramas and anarchic glee. Holding all this nonsense together is the author’s good-natured sense of harmless fun. The humor is never gross or over-the-top, just loud and innocuous. Adults may roll their eyes here and there, but youngsters will eat this up just as quickly as they devoured every other Underpants episode.

Dizzyingly silly. (Humor. 8-10)

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-545-50490-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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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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