A worthy whodunit that will keep readers guessing.


In Xavier’s middle-grade novel, a seventh grader and a tiny sleuth gather clues to solve a mysterious missing person case.

It’s 1937, and 12-year-old Nelly’s mother, Davey Morgan, is an aviator; her father, George Melcham, is a ship’s captain for a New York shipping company. The girl stays with a “doddering great aunt” in Chicago while her parents are away. As she’s preparing to get on a plane to Puerto Rico for Christmas break, she meets Tim, a 6-inch private detective who travels in a suitcase; he must get to New Orleans and solve his new case, he says. Nelly convinces the pilot, Charlie, to fly her (and, secretly, Tim) to New Orleans. There, Nelly asks people questions on Tim’s behalf while carrying him in her pocket. The case involves Maj. James MacLaren’s wife, Millie, who’s gone missing; Madame Bellio, a self-proclaimed Voodoo priestess, may somehow be involved. Millie is part of the Hastings family, an old, established name in New Orleans; gold is rumored to be in her family’s mansion, and finding it becomes integral to the mystery. Deep, hidden tunnels and dark, stormy nights will engage readers as Xavier’s cleverly written mystery proceeds. The author slowly reveals various clues for readers to follow, such as the fact that Millie’s brother is also missing; a hidden note offers further hints, such as the phrase “Go to tunnels.” Nelly is shown to conquer fearful obstacles while helping Tim solve his case, for example, being imprisoned in a high tower, being threatened with a knife, and almost being poisoned by deadly smoke.

A worthy whodunit that will keep readers guessing.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 9798361863372

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Saguaro Books, LLC

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2023

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Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark.


From the Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter series , Vol. 2

An animal ghost seeks closure after enduring aquatic atrocities.

In this sequel to The Incredibly Dead Pets of Rex Dexter (2020), sixth grader Rex is determined to once again use his ability to communicate with dead animals for the greater good. A ghost narwhal’s visit gives Rex his next opportunity in the form of the clue “bad water.” Rex enlists Darvish—his Pakistani American human best friend—and Drumstick—his “faithful (dead) chicken”—to help crack the case. But the mystery is only one of Rex’s many roadblocks. For starters, Sami Mulpepper hugged him at a dance, and now she’s his “accidental girlfriend.” Even worse, Darvish develops one of what Rex calls “Game Preoccupation Disorders” over role-playing game Monsters & Mayhem that may well threaten the pair’s friendship. Will Rex become “a Sherlock without a Watson,” or can the two make amends in time to solve the mystery? This second outing effectively carries the “ghost-mist” torch from its predecessor without feeling too much like a formulaic carbon copy. Spouting terms like plausible deniability and in flagrante delicto, Rex makes for a hilariously bombastic (if unlikable) first-person narrator. The over-the-top style is contagious, and black-and-white illustrations throughout add cartoony punchlines to various scenes. Unfortunately, scenes in which humor comes at the expense of those with less status are downright cringeworthy, as when Rex, who reads as White, riffs on the impossibility of his ever pronouncing Darvish’s surname or he plays dumb by staring into space and drooling.

Funny delivery, but some jokes really miss the mark. (Paranormal mystery. 8-12)

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5523-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid.


From the Jake the Fake series , Vol. 1

Black sixth-grader Jake Liston can only play one song on the piano. He can’t read music very well, and he can’t improvise. So how did Jake get accepted to the Music and Art Academy? He faked it.

Alongside an eclectic group of academy classmates, and with advice from his best friend, Jake tries to fit in at a school where things like garbage sculpting and writing art reviews of bird poop splatter are the norm. All is well until Jake discovers that the end-of-the-semester talent show is only two weeks away, and Jake is short one very important thing…talent. Or is he? It’s up to Jake to either find the talent that lies within or embarrass himself in front of the entire school. Light and humorous, with Knight’s illustrations adding to the fun, Jake’s story will likely appeal to many middle-grade readers, especially those who might otherwise be reluctant to pick up a book. While the artsy antics may be over-the-top at times, this is a story about something that most preteens can relate to: the struggle to find your authentic self. And in a world filled with books about wanting to fit in with the athletically gifted supercliques, this novel unabashedly celebrates the artsy crowd in all of its quirky, creative glory.

A fast and funny alternative to the Wimpy Kid. (Fiction. 8-12)

Pub Date: March 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-553-52351-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2016

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