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From the Carmer and Grit series , Vol. 1

Shaky—but with undeniable potential.

Magical stagecraft, steampunk mechanisms, and glittering faerie dust intermesh in a debut middle-grade fantasy.

Felix Cassius Tiberius Carmer III may be a shy and shabby orphan, but his tinkering genius has encouraged Antoine the Amazifier and his traveling show to try their luck at a prestigious competition for stage illusionists. While exploring the host city, Carmer accidentally joins forces with one-winged faerie princess Grettifrida (or, as she insists, Grit) to foil the schemes of an evil industrialist enslaving faeries as a cheap source of power. First in a projected series, this adventure overflows with imaginative conceits; unfortunately, the disparate genres feel slapped together with little consistency or depth in a jarringly unmoored world. There is barely any sense of setting and, except for a stereotyped Romani fortuneteller and a discordant Yiddish toast, no reference to ethnicity. The book’s default for both humans and faeries is white. Carmer makes for a charming hero—clever, compassionate, and exceedingly humble—but Grit, despite her refreshingly matter-of-fact representation of disability, is little more than a selfish brat. Meanwhile, every potential hint of interesting nuance to the villains is hurriedly deflated by a bout of mustachio-twirling depravity. If the narrative voice is a bit too arch and the whimsy somewhat forced, the insidious creepy horror and galloping pace are still effective, right up to the unexpectedly gruesome fate of the nefarious evildoers.

Shaky—but with undeniable potential. (Fantasy. 10-14)

Pub Date: April 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61620-663-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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From the Captain Underpants series , Vol. 9

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

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 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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From the School for Good and Evil series , Vol. 1

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic.

Chainani works an elaborate sea change akin to Gregory Maguire’s Wicked (1995), though he leaves the waters muddied.

Every four years, two children, one regarded as particularly nice and the other particularly nasty, are snatched from the village of Gavaldon by the shadowy School Master to attend the divided titular school. Those who survive to graduate become major or minor characters in fairy tales. When it happens to sweet, Disney princess–like Sophie and  her friend Agatha, plain of features, sour of disposition and low of self-esteem, they are both horrified to discover that they’ve been dropped not where they expect but at Evil and at Good respectively. Gradually—too gradually, as the author strings out hundreds of pages of Hogwarts-style pranks, classroom mishaps and competitions both academic and romantic—it becomes clear that the placement wasn’t a mistake at all. Growing into their true natures amid revelations and marked physical changes, the two spark escalating rivalry between the wings of the school. This leads up to a vicious climactic fight that sees Good and Evil repeatedly switching sides. At this point, readers are likely to feel suddenly left behind, as, thanks to summary deus ex machina resolutions, everything turns out swell(ish).

Rich and strange (and kitted out with an eye-catching cover), but stronger in the set pieces than the internal logic. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: May 14, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-210489-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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