A diverting if heavy-handed entry for series fans.

ZEPHRUM GATES & THE BELLY OF THE BEAST

From the Zephrum Gates series , Vol. 3

Zephrum Gates and her friends are back and must confront the rising evil that threatens all of humanity.

In Riel’s third novel in the Zephrum Gates series, Zephrum believes the evil Strasidous Rowpe to be vanquished, but she soon learns that the villain has risen from the dead after merging body and mind with a goblin. Now renamed Virgidous, he is out to gain ultimate power over all things and to finally capture Zephrum. Virgidous learns from notorious goblin seer Grizalda the Great that his plan for world domination will only work with the help of the infamous Zephrum. Meanwhile, Zephrum and her friends return for a new school year at the Fiddlesticks School for Alternative Thinkers With Unusual Abilities. Between lessons on “Circus Art,” “Forecasting the Future Through Mathematical Trends,” and “Oceanography,” Zephrum has to learn to wield her power to control the wind while saving the world with the help of her friends and an unlikely ally. Zephrum comes to face her worst fears, meets new dangers, and faces old foes. She also falls a little bit in love with her dreamy friend Gai Holmes. Middle-grade readers familiar with Riel’s series will be better served by this fantasy novel than those completely new to it. Zephrum’s strong friendships with other girls at school and her earnest encounter with first love are the novel’s core strengths. Other elements offer ongoing appeal: the characters’ names (Sarah Bellum, Daphne Gumption, Misty Falls, to name a few), the silliness of its cackling villain with his absolutely nonsensical plan, and the adult characters who fumble helplessly along. Despite embracing its silly side, the novel maintains a weighty environmental message and kills off a beloved dog, creating an uneven narrative tone. Instances of clunky writing (“thought Zephrum in her mind”) jar but don’t fully ruin the experience.

A diverting if heavy-handed entry for series fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-578-75557-1

Page Count: 353

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2020

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A fun and fast-moving adventure giddy with ideas.

CALEY CROSS AND THE HADEON DROP

This debut middle-grade fantasy sees a neglected orphan returning to the magical kingdom of her birth to face a rising evil.

Thirteen-year-old Caley Cross is the oldest child at the Gunch Home for Wayward Waifs, where she is worked like a slave and kept starved and impoverished. Caley gets on with her life as best she can, but if ever her anger is roused, she dies. Her deaths are only temporary—she revives shortly afterward—but they are linked to an innate power that causes dead animals to come alive. One day, Caley’s resurrections bring her to the attention of a metal-winged crow, whereupon she is rescued from the orphanage and taken to Erinath, a realm beyond Earth. Caley, it transpires, is the lost daughter of Queen Catherine, who disappeared shortly after the girl was born and is thought to have been killed by the nefarious Olpheist. Returned to Castle Erinath (which grows like a tree and often shifts its rooms about), Caley must adjust to her royal status—and to the relentless enmity of Ithica Blight, the vain and petty princess she’s supplanted as next in line to the throne. Ithica’s cruelties aside, there is trouble brewing in the kingdom. Castle Erinath is sickening and Olpheist is rumored to have broken free of his prison. Can Caley and her new friends sort truth from lies and keep him from laying hands on the Hadeon Drop, the ultimate source of creation and destruction? In this wildly imaginative series opener, Rosen’s storytelling overflows with creative fancy, so much so that the strong Harry Potter resonances (cruelly treated chosen one, boarding school social dynamic, Quidditch-like Equidium teams) become an unfortunate distraction from the boundless parade of whimsical characters and fantastical new material. Caley’s adventure begins in a breathless rush before settling down and building steadily to a somewhat abrupt end (and the promise of a sequel). The author’s prose is easy to read, with clear descriptions, age-appropriate dialogue, and plenty of humor. While Ithica is over-the-top and Caley and Olpheist are little distinguished from default heroes and villains, all the other characters ooze originality. All told, young readers will thrill at the sparkle of enchantment.

A fun and fast-moving adventure giddy with ideas.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68463-053-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: SparkPress

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters.

NAKED MOLE RAT SAVES THE WORLD

Kit and Clem are best friends, and both are dealing with life-changing adversity.

Kit is tiny and afflicted with both alopecia universalis (a complete lack of hair that strangers interpret as a result of chemotherapy) and a dysfunctional mother who named her “kit”—not Kit—as a reminder to herself to “keep it together.” Clem, a member of her Latinx family’s acrobatic team, is badly injured during a televised performance. Once she’s recovered from the worst of her injuries, Clem endures her distress by taking on an angry goth identity that contrasts sharply with her previous image. Meanwhile, kit, who is white, copes with anxiety (mostly caused by her mother) by turning into a naked mole rat (the ugly animal her mother often compares her to) and scurrying for cover—or so she believes. The girls’ stories are presented in third-person chapters that seamlessly alternate, not only providing an intimate view of each character’s largely hidden despair, but also revealing their bemused, mostly concealed judgments of each other, as their coping mechanisms serve to drive them apart. A rich cast of secondary characters enhances the tale, including kit’s mom’s somewhat witchy helper and the young teens’ former friend, a kindly boy who has many problems of his own. An author’s note explores anxiety disorder.

A warm coming-of-age story populated with a cast of memorable characters. (Fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61620-724-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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