THE PICKLE KING

The plot of this rain-soaked dark comedy doesn’t quite hold water, but Promitzer chucks in so many bizarre twists and revolting details that readers will likely forgive her. In getting to the bottom of several ugly secrets in their seemingly ordinary town, 11-year-old Bea and five other local children squabble and bond as they gather clues from a long-dead corpse, two ghosts, a stolen bag of human intestines, a serial-killer surgeon, a community of mentally disturbed outcasts, a mansion stocked with human parts and more. Punctuated by attacks from human punks and oversized rats, a race up a dark staircase against a tide of roaches and like rousing events, the young sleuths’ investigation ultimately winds up in an encounter with a centuries-old tycoon kept alive by a steady supply of replacement organs harvested from the town’s terrorized residents. Bea weathers it all with shaky but admirable fortitude—retaining enough aplomb in the end to keep her vanished father’s eyeball in the freezer as a memento. Must reading for fans of Jack Gantos’s Love Curse of the Rumbaughs (2006). (Detective fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: March 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-545-17087-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Chicken House/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last.

THE STARS BELOW

From the Vega Jane series , Vol. 4

The rebellion against an evil archmage and his bowler-topped minions wends its way to a climax.

Dispatching five baddies on the first two pages alone, wand-waving villain-exterminator Vega Jane gathers a motley army of fellow magicals, ghosts, and muggles—sorry, “Wugmorts”—for a final assault on Necro and his natty Maladons. As Necro repeatedly proves to be both smarter and more powerful than Vega Jane, things generally go badly for the rebels, who end up losing their hidden refuge, many of their best fighters, and even the final battle. Baldacci is plainly up on his ancient Greek theatrical conventions, however; just as all hope is lost, a divinity literally descends from the ceiling to referee a winner-take-all duel, and thanks to an earlier ritual that (she and readers learn) gives her a do-over if she’s killed (a second deus ex machina!), Vega Jane comes away with a win…not to mention an engagement ring to go with the magic one that makes her invisible and a new dog, just like the one that died heroically. Measuring up to the plot’s low bar, the narrative too reads like low-grade fanfic, being laden with references to past events, characters who only supposedly died, and such lines as “a spurt of blood shot out from my forehead,” “they started falling at a rapid number,” and “[h]is statement struck me on a number of levels.”

Awful on a number of levels—but tidily over at last. (glossary) (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-338-26393-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scholastic

Review Posted Online: March 27, 2019

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GUTS

THE TRUE STORIES BEHIND HATCHET AND THE BRIAN BOOKS

Paulsen recalls personal experiences that he incorporated into Hatchet (1987) and its three sequels, from savage attacks by moose and mosquitoes to watching helplessly as a heart-attack victim dies. As usual, his real adventures are every bit as vivid and hair-raising as those in his fiction, and he relates them with relish—discoursing on “The Fine Art of Wilderness Nutrition,” for instance: “Something that you would never consider eating, something completely repulsive and ugly and disgusting, something so gross it would make you vomit just looking at it, becomes absolutely delicious if you’re starving.” Specific examples follow, to prove that he knows whereof he writes. The author adds incidents from his Iditarod races, describes how he made, then learned to hunt with, bow and arrow, then closes with methods of cooking outdoors sans pots or pans. It’s a patchwork, but an entertaining one, and as likely to win him new fans as to answer questions from his old ones. (Autobiography. 10-13)

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-385-32650-5

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2000

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