An intriguing mystery that doesn’t offer much more than thrills but should still serve as a solid base for future adventures...

The Niello Necklace Mystery

The fast-paced first installment in a new YA mystery series.

Bun, a precocious 14-year-old Australian, comes home to a horrific sight—his mother gravely injured after falling down the stairs and “a fiery red mark in the shape of a handprint stain[ing] her left cheek.” She manages to whisper in his ear: “Your mother loved you,” but then, “N-no…your mother—in the flour bin.” With the help of plucky friend Katie—who “dress[es] like a scarecrow sometimes” but “looked like she owned the world”—Bun unravels this eerie clue and stumbles upon a disturbing family secret. Eventually, an old American passport and a beautiful gold necklace confirm that he is not related to his brutish father or mean-spirited brothers. In fact, he’s not even Australian. His real name is William Thomas Buntain II, of New York City. Katie and Bun make a run for the Big Apple to search for his biological parents and piece together how Bun ended up in Australia. The first person they meet, Silas, is a smooth-talking cabdriver with a constantly changing accent and knack for arriving out of nowhere just when they’re in danger. He’s either their guardian angel or part of the expanding list of people hunting Bun for reasons he doesn’t understand. In New York City, it seems like behind every corner  there is someone waiting to grab him: “There was only one thing he was quite sure about. If he was going to survive long enough to solve the mystery he had to get moving—now.” Collins creates compulsive reading through huge revelations and frequent shocking incidents, but the pace becomes exhausting after a while and makes the story feel too outlandish. Bun and Katie never stay in one place long enough for Collins to cover anything other than chase scenes and plot development; for instance, Bun seems to forget about the death of his adopted mother for about a week. Still, younger readers will be drawn in by the excellent use of suspense, well-crafted action sequences and an abrupt end, which nicely sets the stage for a sequel.

An intriguing mystery that doesn’t offer much more than thrills but should still serve as a solid base for future adventures in the series.  

Pub Date: Feb. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1494258092

Page Count: 186

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

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Only for dedicated fans of the series.


From the How To Catch… series

When a kid gets the part of the ninja master in the school play, it finally seems to be the right time to tackle the closet monster.

“I spot my monster right away. / He’s practicing his ROAR. / He almost scares me half to death, / but I won’t be scared anymore!” The monster is a large, fluffy poison-green beast with blue hands and feet and face and a fluffy blue-and-green–striped tail. The kid employs a “bag of tricks” to try to catch the monster: in it are a giant wind-up shark, two cans of silly string, and an elaborate cage-and-robot trap. This last works, but with an unexpected result: the monster looks sad. Turns out he was only scaring the boy to wake him up so they could be friends. The monster greets the boy in the usual monster way: he “rips a massive FART!!” that smells like strawberries and lime, and then they go to the monster’s house to meet his parents and play. The final two spreads show the duo getting ready for bed, which is a rather anticlimactic end to what has otherwise been a rambunctious tale. Elkerton’s bright illustrations have a TV-cartoon aesthetic, and his playful beast is never scary. The narrator is depicted with black eyes and hair and pale skin. Wallace’s limping verses are uninspired at best, and the scansion and meter are frequently off.

Only for dedicated fans of the series. (Picture book. 5-8)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4926-4894-9

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2017

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


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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