THE TILTING HOUSE

Llewellyn, a letterpress artist in Tacoma, Wash., inks this first adventure with a mysterious house as its fulcrum. Narrator Josh and younger brother Aaron move into long-vacant Tilton House. Its tilting floors and walls covered in cryptic equations and diagrams captivate Dad (a museum employee) and unnerve Mom (a harried school office-worker). The boys, with Hermione-esque neighbor girl Lola, uncover layers of mystery involving a rat-infested attic and a crawlspace that might include a body, buried treasure or both. The appeal here is also the source of a cavil: The author includes so much kid bait that the narrative’s nearly trumped. There are creepy neighbors, a wooden-legged grandpa, invisibility, a dog, a mysterious box containing “grow powder,” stinky rat poop and much more. Additional, more authorial elements tackle family finances, yellow journalism and the fickle art world. A thread including a pair of undertakers whose long list of names portends death seems tacked on. Yet the author also nails the sibling cadences and camaraderie, delivering a genre-blending page-turner with plenty of room in its eaves for sequels. One to watch. (Fantasy/mystery. 8-11)

Pub Date: June 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-58246-288-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Tricycle

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2010

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Comical and clever in spots but overall, a sad follow-up to Mystery on Museum Mile (2014).

MYSTERY IN MAYAN MEXICO

From the Eddie Red Undercover series , Vol. 2

A free trip to the Yucatán pitches Edmund, a young artist/sleuth with a photographic memory, and his OCD pal Jonah into a new investigation involving an unsolved old crime and disappearing gold.

Edmund opens his account sitting in a jail cell, clad in a wet Darth Vader costume, covered in scratches, blood and barf (“I smell awesome”), his wrist in a cast—and really not looking forward to calling his parents. Following this magnificent lead-in, though, the tale goes downhill rapidly, from the disappearance of an ancient gold mask to the climactic struggle with a knife-wielding thief atop a rain-swept Mayan ruin. In between, Wells concocts a nonsensically contrived caper involving Hebrew orthography, poorly integrated “evidence” from false fingerprints to glimpses of the bad guy dressed as a museum guard, and an obvious, no-brainer clue to where the gold is hidden that has somehow gone misunderstood for decades. Moreover, even less-reflective readers will wonder how Edmund and Jonah can break into an apartment and bend various other laws in the course of their investigation without suffering any legal consequences. Along the way, Jonah’s practice of smearing a gift-store Mayan effigy with peanut-butter and blood “sacrifices” comes off more like cultural mockery than harmless fooling. Calo’s accomplished drawings bring characters and details to life but are both rare and, sometimes, too finished to believably represent Edmund’s quick sketches.

Comical and clever in spots but overall, a sad follow-up to Mystery on Museum Mile (2014). (appendix of Mayan gods) (Mystery. 9-11)

Pub Date: April 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-30206-8

Page Count: 224

Publisher: HMH Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE TROUBLE WITH CHICKENS

From the J.J. Tully Mysteries series , Vol. 1

Popular farmyard chronicler Cronin (Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type, illustrated by Betsy Lewin, 2000, etc.) makes the jump to middle-grade fiction in this faux–hard-boiled mystery featuring talking animals. Her deadpan humor is much in evidence as she describes the circumstances under which retired search-and-rescue dog J.J. Tully undertakes the case of the missing chick. Puns abound, and J.J. is definitely not quite as clever as he believes himself to be, allowing readers to gently laugh at as well as with him. Sophisticated vocabulary and a complicated plot suggest the older range of readers as the most likely audience, but frequent illustrations and a relatively large font should make the story accessible to the younger end as well. Cornell’s black-and-white drawings extend both the humor and the action. In some pictures J.J. is slightly reminiscent of Scooby-Doo, another canine sleuth, while in others he is both distinctive and dogged in his determination to solve the puzzle. The chickens, mother and four chicks, are seriously silly looking and utterly adorable, which suits their surprisingly rounded characters just right.  Finding out how “Vince the Funnel” fits in, whether J.J. is being double-crossed by his client and how the climactic rescue will be resolved should keep readers engaged while Cronin’s constant word-play will keep them giggling. Fast and funny. (Comic mystery. 8-11)

Pub Date: March 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-121532-2

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2011

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