Absolutely delightful.

READ REVIEW

THE DARK LORD CLEMENTINE

A daughter must fill in for her indisposed Dark Lord father.

Twelve-year-old Clementine’s father has been cursed by the Whittle Witch and is being slowly whittled into a wooden puppet. While he locks himself away in his laboratory to try to find a way to stop and reverse the curse, it’s up to Clementine to keep their farm running, a task that becomes harder as her father’s magic begins to fail. Helping her are a talking black sheep (who used to be a boy and isn’t so sure he wants to be human again) and a local boy who dreams of heroic knighthood. More worryingly, letters start arriving from the Council of Evil Overlords, instructing Clementine to carry out and report Dastardly Deeds to fulfill their family’s Dark Lord obligations. Shifts in viewpoint reveal the dangerous witch to be after the Dark Lord’s title and their mountain’s unicorn; also after the unicorn is a huntress named Darka, who neglects to give her true motivation when befriending Clementine. After luring readers in with wordplay and tongue-in-cheek, genre-savvy humor, the plot takes an emotionally rich thematic turn, dwelling on community and forgiveness—all the while building toward a mythical, mystical arc involving the unicorn. The few action sequences are mined for utmost impact, as are the slice-of-life scenes and flashback vignettes. The characters seem to default to white.

Absolutely delightful. (Fantasy. 8-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-894-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes.

THE TOWER OF NERO

From the Trials of Apollo series , Vol. 5

In this tumultuous series closer, Apollo, transformed into a mortal teenager, takes on both a deified emperor in a luxurious Manhattan high-rise and an older adversary.

Lester/Apollo’s coast-to-coast quest reaches its climactic stage as, with help from both eager squads of fledgling demigods from Camp Half-Blood and reluctant allies from realms deep below New York, he invades the palatial lair of Emperor Nero—followed by a solo bout with another foe from a past struggle. Riordan lays on the transformation of the heedless, arrogant sun god to a repentant lover of his long-neglected semidivine offspring and of humanity in general, which has served as the series’ binding theme, thickly enough to have his humbled narrator even apologizing (twice!) to his underwear for having to change it periodically. Still, the author delivers a fast, action-driven plot with high stakes, lots of fighting, and occasional splashes of gore brightened by banter and silly bits, so readers aren’t likely to mind all the hand-wringing. He also leaves any real-life parallels to the slick, megalomaniacal, emotionally abusive Nero entirely up to readers to discern and dishes out just deserts all round, neatly tying up loose ends in a set of closing vignettes. The supporting cast is predominantly White, with passing mention of diverse representation.

A brisk, buffed-up finish threaded with inner and outer, not to mention sartorial, changes. (glossary) (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4847-4645-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Disney-Hyperion

Review Posted Online: today

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A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking.

TEEN KILLERS CLUB

An accused murderer is thrust into an assassin training program.

Seventeen-year-old Signal Deere is serving hard time after a hazy night with her former best friend, Rose, which ended with Rose’s body in her lap, an emotional trial, and the media moniker the “Girl from Hell.” After her caseworker, Dave, assures Signal there’s no way she’ll get a successful appeal, he offers her an alternative: being shipped off to a mysterious camp and enrolled in a top-secret government training program unofficially known as the Teen Killers Club. There, Signal and other adolescent Class A felons (the most dangerous kind) undergo various drills—among them, dismembering fake corpses and dissolving flesh in acid—in preparation for eventually being used as assassins against government targets. The teens have been injected with a device remotely controlled by their trainers that will kill them if they attempt to escape the camp or otherwise disobey orders. As Signal nurses an attraction to sensitive tattooed Javier and fights her feelings for handsome sociopath Erik, she begins to piece together what really happened that night with Rose. Sparks crafts a page-turner with a disturbingly unusual premise, snappy dialogue, and characters that go deeper than their heinous crimes. Signal and Erik are assumed White; love interest Javier is cued as Latinx, and there is some diversity in the supporting cast.

A mystery/thriller that’s equal parts heartfelt and shocking. (Thriller. 15-adult)

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64385-229-4

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Crooked Lane

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Good fun with a monster of a cliffhanger.

THE LAST KIDS ON EARTH AND THE SKELETON ROAD

From the Last Kids on Earth series , Vol. 6

The monster-fighting gang from Wakefield departs on a post-apocalyptic road trip.

In this sixth installment of the heavily illustrated, Netflix-adapted series, quirky Jack Sullivan and his friends June, Quint, and Dirk finally leave their creature-ridden town in search of the ultimate baddie, Thrull, who previously deceived them. The quartet takes their tricked-out ride (an armored RV named Bad Mama) onto the open road (with Jack’s Zombie Squad in tow) to find the Outpost, where they believe a certain monster will be able to give them the location of the evil Tower where they believe Thrull now resides. Of course, the journey is littered with all kinds of nightmarish beasts and pitfalls (including an epic water park battle and slime-dripping baby monster), but the kids persist, armed with their endless gadgets and quick thinking. As the group races toward Thrull, the action culminates with an achingly tantalizing cliffhanger; expect audible groans and vociferous demands for the next installment. Fans of this series will revel in this fast-paced escapade with its recognizable black-and-white illustrations and trademark humor. Readers new to the series or those who are only familiar with the animated show may be a bit put off by this later volume that relies heavily on its own language of monsters and weapons. Jack, June, and Dirk are light-skinned; Quint is dark-skinned.

Good fun with a monster of a cliffhanger. (Graphic fiction. 8-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-984835-34-5

Page Count: 250

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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