Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns.

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THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY AND THE RIDDLE OF AGES

From the Mysterious Benedict Society series , Vol. 4

When deadly minions of archvillain Ledroptha Curtain escape from prison, the talented young protégés of his twin brother, Nicholas Benedict, reunite for a new round of desperate ploys and ingenious trickery.

Stewart sets the reunion of cerebral Reynie Muldoon Perumal, hypercapable Kate Wetherall, shy scientific genius George “Sticky” Washington, and spectacularly sullen telepath Constance Contraire a few years after the previous episode, The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma (2009). Providing relief from the quartet’s continual internecine squabbling and self-analysis, he trucks in Tai Li, a grubby, precociously verbal 5-year-old orphan who also happens to be telepathic. (Just to even the playing field a bit, the bad guys get a telepath too.) Series fans will know to be patient in wading through all the angst, arguments, and flurries of significant nose-tapping (occasionally in unison), for when the main action does at long last get under way—the five don’t even set out from Mr. Benedict’s mansion together until more than halfway through—the Society returns to Nomansan Island (get it?), the site of their first mission, for chases, narrow squeaks, hastily revised stratagems, and heroic exploits that culminate in a characteristically byzantine whirl of climactic twists, triumphs, and revelations. Except for brown-skinned George and olive-complected, presumably Asian-descended Tai, the central cast defaults to white; Reynie’s adoptive mother is South Asian.

Clever as ever—if slow off the mark—and positively laden with tics, quirks, and puns. (Fiction. 11-13)

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-45264-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Megan Tingley/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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

THE SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL

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

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. 13, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved.

ESCAPE FROM ZOBADAK

Four children find their way into another world through a hidden doorway in a mysterious old piece of furniture.

Gallagher elaborates on this oddly familiar premise by (eventually) explaining that the right sort of wooden joinery will link furniture from any place or time. Billy, his little sister Sophie and their friends Chris and Maggie discover a seemingly endless maze of hallways lined with doors and drawers full of strange artifacts by crawling into a nightstand belonging to missing Uncle Gary. The labyrinth is actually a “cabinet of curiosities” that brilliant carpenters of many generations have been building to store treasures like Excalibur and the Thunderbird Photograph. Before this is explained, however, the four children have spent many chapters wandering the halls at random—and also being menaced in the outside world by animated wooden puppets from the fictional “Zobadak Wood Company,” who are after Uncle Gary and the nightstand at the command of a shadowy figure named Brope. Along with introducing scads of enigmatic elements from flocks of aggressive crows to a mischievous fairy, the author injects artificial melodrama into the tale by having Billy and Sophie rescue their pointlessly kidnapped parents. He clumsily tries for comic relief by casting the puppets as inept Abbott-and-Costello types and with no perceptible rationale closes by having all of the adults stonewall or downplay everything that has happened.

Inventive worldbuilding, but way too much is left unexplained and unresolved. (Fantasy. 11-13)

Pub Date: July 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-934133-32-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Charlesbridge

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2011

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